BLUE BUTTERFLIES

You may choose to believe this narrative, or not. It doesn't matter to me. But somewhere out in our big, wide world, if nothing of ill nature has happened to them, there are four witnesses to the following story. And because strange things happen all the time...

Daniel, David, Jennifer, and Elizabeth, I hope you cherish this memory. (Should you ever read this - or write your own, I hope you'll remember me fondly.)

About 6 or 7 years ago I was living in Bullhead City, Arizona - across the Colorado River from Laughlin, Nevada, and about 20 miles from Needles, California. Daniel was then 14 years old; Jennifer, 12; Elizabeth, 10; and David was 9. I was a parole violator, so I was trying to live completely 'off-the-grid'. I was literally camped out on the river in a no-camping area.

I need to explain this. Bullhead City was then almost TWO towns, known to the locals as 'old' Bullhead and 'new' Bullhead. 'New' Bullhead had Don Laughlin's money being used to build a retirement town in a beautiful desert setting. Saguaro, Cholas, Mesquite, Paddle and Prickly-Pear cactus ruled, but Palm trees and varying fruit trees were being planted. New commercial enterprises - bars, Wal-Mart, restaurants, and a massive new homes project were all a part of this 'newness'.

All of it had to be built by a workforce that was not big enough to handle the job locally. Workers, mostly homeless modern-day cowboys: Veterans, construction workers, drug-addicts and alcoholics, illegal aliens - all poured into 'old' Bullhead, straining the temporary housing available there. There wasn't enough motels, hotels, or rooms for rent. Much of the workforce moved into the space between 'old' and 'new' Bullhead out of convenience.

Between 'old' and 'new' Bullhead was a section of desert belonging to the Parks and Recreation Department. On the 'old' Bullhead end was a city park with restrooms, water, and pavilions with tables and cooking areas.

Beyond that park was a 'day-fun' desert. It was about 200 yards wide from the river to the main road. From the park to the nearest apartments in 'new' Bullhead was about 500 yards of unstable sandy river bottom and 2 flash-flood wash areas, one reinforced, the other, natural.

The higher portions of this area were quite safe, especially in the daytime. The lower areas of the flood wash plain and the river bottom were PERFECT for experienced homeless folks to hide and live in. Sand everywhere meant the police couldn't get down to arrest anyone for illegal camping unless they either came by All Terrain Vehicles - which meant we could hear them coming from quite some distance away - or walk.

The thing about most homeless villages (and this WAS a village. In just that one section, about 30 people lived), there is no such thing as 'normal' police. Drugs, alcoholism, theft and prostitution abound. There was SO MUCH methamphetamine use there (It was very literally easier to get meth so we wouldn't have to eat, than to get food), that someone was ALWAYS awake. If you know anything about methamphetamine, then you know that one of the effects of it's use is sleeplessness.

No law enforcement officer EVER - NOT ONCE - slipped up on us, unaware. They got tourists, but never the homeless population.

While there are campsites everywhere in the bottoms, (I suspect people have been camping there since the Native Americans ruled that area,) most of the current sites were full of trash, cast-off furniture, cars; An old, unregulated dump, stolen and abandoned shopping carts...and self-arrainged toilet areas. The trail system, while being heavily 'guarded' by the deep and heavy brush, was also well-known to everyone, including the police. I decided to make my own camp rather than use one of the 'established' camps.

*A quick side note*

After I made my camp, I found a garden rake and a shovel. In my (considerable) free time I went camp-to-camp cleaning up, leaving trash bags 'up top' (on the highest sides of the riverbank where the Parks and Recs sandy roads were), so the Parks and Recs guys could get them easily to be hauled off to a dump somewhere.

One afternoon they and the police were on a 'sweep' to remove the homeless, illegal campers. This happened about once per month, the Parks guys leading the way, scouting out camps for the bulldozer behind them. The police would bring up the rear to make sure no one came back to dig out personal items. (In their defense, these camps REALLY were a terrible fire hazard! More than one had resulted in use of town emergency vehicles.)

Anyway, they found me bagging trash down away from my own camp, and asked if I was the one who had been cleaning up all the camps? I replied in the affirmative. They asked the location of my own camp, THANKED me, warned me the police were coming, and SKIPPED my camp with the bulldozer, and directed the police away from my 'home'.

Later that day I saw their dump truck driver on the road with many of my 'neighbors' beds, furniture, kitchens, etc., being hauled to the dump. He recognized me, gave a little salute and smile - and later that evening when I went back to see if anything was left of my camp, I found it totally untouched.**

My camp:

Most of that section between 'old' and 'new' Bullhead was short 'scrub' desert plants or brushy, thorny river bottom greenery. Almost exactly center between the apartments and the park were the two equally spaced flash-flood washes, dividing the whole section into thirds. Almost exactly center between the two washes were four 'salt' Cedar trees; Very large ones on the edge of the riverbank, near the top of a 30' tall, 45 degree slope. One end of this particular slope had been cleared by fishermen for a traveling path from bottom-to-top (and vise versa). On the other end was HEAVY brush, loose sand, wasp nests, and beaver holes. (Yes, BEAVER.)

It was also MUCH, MUCH cleaner, quieter, well-hidden...just needed some excavation work and I'd have a nice SHADY, hidden camp unknown to ANYone. I got to work.

Four days later I had the most enviable camp in the bottoms. Before the week was out I had much of the village coming by just to 'shade' and relax. My camp wasn't wide. From 2' to about 10', at most, but was 30' to 40' long. ...'Bedroom', with cot and sleeping bag (it's COLD in the desert at night!), kitchen/social area, hidden trail entrance, tool storage on the other side of the down slope access trail, and beyond that a hidden camp toilet that could be used repeatedly and carried out or buried (NO defecated tissues blowing around MY camp!!). I even built a brush arbor out into the river big enough that, even in the daytime I could stand totally nude and bathe and wash clothes without (much) fear of discovery. It usually served as a pretty good refrigerator as well. It was comfortable, to say the least. I had wasps for security (gotta know which branches NOT to grab!), quail and skunks as occasional visitors, and a 'pet' chipmunk with babies (she LOVED frozen waffles!).

One of the transient family units I met were 'big' Dan, his wife (I forget her name. She was an older, heavy-set, 'housewife' type who didn't work), and the four kids, Daniel, David, Jennifer, and Elizabeth. As it was summer and mom COULDN'T keep up with them, they pretty much ran wild, wherever, mostly in the park area...but not always.

These were good kids. Mom and Dad were wanted somewhere in California for meth sales, I think, so the kids knew all about the drug world and all it entailed. Two of them had already had sex, three had smoked pot, three had smoked cigarettes...all of this the parents knew.

Things were pretty hard on dad. As the only worker in the family, he would leave the clan in their old bread delivery truck (that served as 'home' to them) in the park during the daylight hours while he went to work - the idea being that mom could watch the kids, as such. No such luck, that.

Very shortly the girls knew how to dress provocatively and scam the boys on the baseball fields for money, hot dogs and sodas. The oldest boy sold newspapers he got from vending machines to sympathetic business people, and the youngest boy learned how to turn on the charm and beg. As a little blond-haired, blue-eyed, rapscallion pixie, he was incredibly successful in his endeavors.

These kids weren't always right with the law, but they were SPIRITUALLY 'mint'. I never saw any of them be mean or bullyish to anyone, nor steal from any individual. In very short order I was in love with these kids. Gawd, how I wished they were MINE. They were fun, and caring. They always shared everything they had with anyone who was nearby, they were curious about EVERYTHING, they helped work and clean, and were respectful of their mom and dad, even when I thought they shouldn't have been! FABULOUS kids!!

They were allowed in my camp at any time, day or night, whether I was there or not. I'm pretty certain they liked me pretty well also. They visited a LOT, with mom and dad's blessings.

...As they were to do on the day of the blue butterflies.

Having lived in California, I knew of Monarchs and others, but I'd never seen live, solid blue butterflies before. And here in the desert, I hadn't seen ANY butterflies at all.

Another (then) homeless friend of mine, Tiffany Capello, gave me my 'Arizona name' of 'Maverick Dundee' by accident. She thought I was some kind of naturist guru because I happen to live well outdoors. The kids loved her. (She had the thought process of an approximate 12 year old, due to Cerebral Palsy.) She made sure the kids knew my camp was the safe place to be, because I was 'the real deal' outdoor guy.

**Not really, but I've learned over the years to be comfortable and SAFE outdoors. Tiffany, being newly homeless, mistook my experience for natural mysticism.**

Early one afternoon I heard the kids coming up the trail, headed toward camp. (It was easy to tell it was all of them - and maybe a friend or two - ...boisterous Elizabeth, rambunctious David, and calm Daniel keeping them in check...they never would've been in that configuration without quiet Jennifer....) I love these kids, and am quite liberal about what I allow them to do around me, but some things still had to be cleaned up and put away. I don't leave meth needles and porn out for 9 year olds to see. So I started cleaning up, getting out the extra camp chairs for them, listening to their progress as they got closer.

Very soon they were at the top of the trail 'helloing' down to me (a camp courtesy, akin to knocking on the door). I hollered for them to come on in, and looked up to see them starting down the access trail. As I looked up to them I saw movement above my head. I looked straight up...into this BEAUTIFUL BLUE CEILING OF BUTTERFLIES over my head, spread out over my sleeping and 'social' areas! It was so...SURREAL!!! I lifted my arms to reach up into the 'cloud' right as the kids reached the turn into my camp. I saw Daniel stop suddenly and put out an arm to stop the rest of them at the entrance as he saw what I did. They all stopped and stared open-mouthed.

At the exact moment they all stopped, all these beautiful blue butterflies began to land on my arms and head, beginning at my upraised hands, moving down to my elbows, then head and shoulders - until almost the whole cloud had settled on me! There must have been hundreds! I was covered, from hands held high to my waist!!

I didn't know what to do! I didn't want to hurt them. Here's the REALLY cool part. I REALIZED THAT I HAD A SPELL-BOUND AUDIENCE. So...

Out loud I said "O.K. you guys. I have company. You'll have to come back later."

And very gently, starting at my right shoulder, I blew down (up?) my right arm to my fingertips, sending butterflies back above my head to flutter around at ceiling height again.

(*Smiling hugely to myself!*) I said "You, too;" And repeated the blowing on my left arm. After they were all cleared, I gently shook my head and said "ALL of you!"

The whole 'cloud' had gathered above me again as a fluttering blue ceiling. I raised my hands, moving a little faster (lest they try to land again), and using an upward 'air patting' motion, said "Really. I'll talk to you guys later. Go on, now. The kids are here. LATER, I promise."

And OH. MY. GAWD!! The whole ceiling lifted and dissipated through the tree branches (!!!) like I'd ordered them to leave and come back later!!

Keep in mind, I AM ABSOLUTELY FLABBERGASTED at this moment, but I'm STILL aware of four TOTALLY SPELLBOUND kids who haven't so much as twitched!

When the butterflies had all left, I dropped my arms and looked directly at my human visitors. Quiet Jennifer, Bless her heart, took two or three tentative steps toward me and asked breathlessly "HOW DID YOU DO THAT?!!?!!"

I've since tried to picture this from their viewpoint. I always see the 'Walt Disney/princess' moment. You know, the princess or Cinderella, or Snow White sings a song with all the forest birds and deer and critters..."Whist-le while you woooork! Ta - da da - ta - la- dee - da - dum..."

...Only now instead of a princess, they saw an honest-to-goodness nature wizard TALK TO BUTTERFLIES...a LOT of them!! ...AND THEY LISTENED!!!

How amazing that must have appeared! I am forever thankful to the powers-that-be that I was allowed the presence of mind to 'speak magic' into the moment...into the moment that I, MYSELF, was being blessed by a vision from Mother Nature.

My answer to Jennifer was: "Hon, when you live with nature long enough, you become part of it. Those guys are my friends just like YOU are. (Like this was a normal, everyday happening for me.) Are you guys going to come in and sit down?"

They did, of course, constantly watching the trees to see if the butterflies would return.

I loved those kids with all my heart and soul, and I am eternally grateful that I got to share that moment with them.

JUST FOR A MOMENT

Have you ever heard the saying "Living in a moment you would die for"?

...Florida, mid-to-late 80's, and I'm a piece of trash...and I know it. 'Street' trash. My days are spent working day-labor jobs or casing houses to rob for dope money so I can sell illegal substances to the tourists and party kids on the weekends. No one would miss me if I disappeared. No one would even know to look for me.

'Trash'...on any given day and time but Sunday mornings. These are special times for me, and I won't give them up easily. This is the beach where...well, it's the beach. ALL beaches have one thing in common. They remind you of another beach back in time somewhere. The smell, the color of the sand, the traffic or nightlife, the FEEL of a place. My hard-living doesn't exclude me from this.

One Sunday morning I was strolling farther up the beach than was normal for me after an 'all-nighter', just enjoying the solitude and the morning, feeling like I felt when I was a young, healthy, idealistic U.S. Marine walking the beaches of Hawaii, where I'd been stationed. As I continued down the beach I found a beachside cafe open and decided to stop in for coffee. As soon as I walked in it was like being transported back in time instantly. The cafe smelled EXACTLY like 'Keones', another tiny cafe in Waikiki. The wooden seating, the table arraignment, the atmosphere, all like Hawaii. I WAS YOUNG AND A MARINE AGAIN!!!

The older woman working as the cook/waitress I later learned was the 'Mom' in the 'Mom-and-Pop' operation. She was there early to get ready for the lunch crowd, but opened in case any stray beachcombers came by...which was rare where we were located. Mostly the tourists were farther south, and the locals didn't do much early morning walking here. It wasn't really safe until later.

That was fine by me. Just she and I, and I didn't want any company. I just wanted to bask in the atmosphere and be alone for awhile. Our entire time of being acquainted, we probably never spoke a total of 200 words to each other. I explained how her place made me feel and why I liked to just sit there watching the waves. I didn't tell her what I REALLY was at this moment in my life. For some reason I felt ashamed to THINK this 'Mom' might find out...

I never did tell her. It would've ruined the whole situation somehow, but for some reason I couldn't to this day explain, I felt she understood. She wasn't MY mom, but she was A 'mom' - and that was enough. No one wants their mother ashamed of them. That began a weekly tradition of me spending my Sunday mornings at that cafe, where no one knew who nor what I really was, where I could be who I was meant to be in my mind.

As I said, I'm a piece of trash...except on Sunday mornings. Then I become that young Marine again, and make my way to the cafe and spend a glorious two hours or so 'hiding' from the rest of my life and the people who know me, resting and enjoying the beauty of Mother Nature.

Unbeknownst to me, this is my last weekend there. I'm early. I've watched the sun creep up and 'the Marine' is very near the surface, ready to take over at any moment. I'm walking slowly because I'm not sure what time the cafe opens. It's within sight, but just barely. I can also see on the beach, up near the sedge grass, a...

...a what..?

...a CHILD?!?

Surely not. NO local would allow a child on this beach alone this early. This is a fairly dangerous place to be for the night-movers who are experienced, much less someone who doesn't know what can happen....

Certainly no place for a child to be building sandcastles, or whatever whatever she's...

MUST be some tourist's kid, visiting, or...

Hmmm...

Maybe she's not as young as I first suspected--But she DOES look like she's building a castle or...

I don't know. She's quite a ways up yet. Not quite to the cafe, but closer to that than to me. Really not even sure it's a 'she'. ...Yes, I am. It's a 'she' in my mind. And she's young. Too young to be out here like this.

'The Marine' takes over. He'll stand guard until she leaves, and make sure she gets somewhere safely, or better, go tell her she needs to be gone until later, and escort her 'home', wherever that is. She's WAAAAAY too early...The sun is just coming up good. Stupid tourists. This is how kids get stolen. GRRRRRRR!!! It's o.k. for her now, though. 'The Marine' won't let anything happen to her.

As I get closer I realize she isn't just a little child. She's got to be at least 12 or 13. She's just waifish. Tiny.

Closer yet and I realize she's even older. Maybe 18? 19? What the hell is she doing out here building sandcastles at this time of the morning? ...Or for that matter, AT ALL? She's sort of old-ish for that.

Ahhh....

I recognize her! I don't know her, but I 'know' her. She's one of the nightlife denizens that inhabit the beach the same way I do. Sometimes she sells dope, sometimes turns a trick, sometimes robs someone, I'm sure. Eats when and where she can, does drugs when she can't eat because it's easier than finding food. No wonder she's small. Probably had a late night herself and couldn't find a place to crash for the night. No blanket. Clothes stained and ragged around the edges. No telling what...

Oooohhhhh.....

(As I get closer I recognize the signs...)

She's stoned 'out-of-her-mind'. Yup. Even from here I can tell.

I've actually gotten pretty close now. Once I realized it wasn't a child, and could comfortably approach her. The cafe is now close enough that I can see its open, and 'Mom' is standing out, shading her eyes, looking in our direction.

I don't know what I'm going to say, but it seems rude to just pass the girl by without acknowledging her presence. Maybe ask if she's alright? Don't know yet. She finally realizes that someone is approaching her, but the sun is in her eyes. Gawd! She really DOES look like a cute 10 year old, just being a kid, unless you look closely. She's not building a castle after all.

Shells...

She's got a collection of shells in front of her, all lined up in perfect(?) rows of sizes and colors.... And she's SMILING BIG!!! I recognize that smile, the glassy eyes... yeah. Mushrooms or acid... But hey, she's happy, and not hurting anyone, so it's none of MY business. I've done my share, and I can tell she recognizes me.

Just as I'm about to speak, she holds up a hand, palm up, offering me what she's got. More shells. She gives her hand a little shake in a 'take them' gesture.

So I do.

She's handed me 8 or 10. Nothing particularly special about ANY of them... but that SMILE... I can see that she thinks they are treasures beyond words at the moment...

...And she has just offered to share with me something beyond the streets, beyond the prostitution, beyond the drugs and schemes and scams and misery...

She just offered ME a moment of her beauty. She knows I'm like her. She's seen me around too. She KNOWS!!! Yet she offered me her treasures. These shells aren't special. They're small, cracked and chipped, kind of dull and faded. I'm pretty sure that her sight is being affected by her drug trip. She would never look at these shells twice in a sober state of being. But it doesn't matter. right now they are the world's most beautiful shells, and she just offered them to... ME.

All of this realization in an instant. How could I NOT find them wondrous?

"They're beautiful!" I tell her. (Ahh, that smile!!)

I crouch down and take my time looking at each of them. Giving them each an examination worthy of the world's most beautiful seashells. Plenty of 'oohs', 'aahs', wows, and 'oh my's'.

I try to hand them back to her, but she wont take them. (Keep in mind she has not spoken one word to me during this whole encounter!) I try again to return them to her. I can't keep her treasures! Again she refuses. I kneel down holding them out flat in my hand, presenting them to her as regally as I can, the same way she presented them to me, and said "The most beautiful seashells in the world MUST ONLY belong to the most beautiful mermaid. Won't you please take them back?

Can you imagine a smile EXPLODING into a morning? Most women have prettier smiles than they realize... wedding days, graduations, newborns... The times you get those HUGE smiles... were DWARFED by hers!! It simply challenged the sun for the morning! in that instant, I fell in love with a girl I didn't know, on drugs, and had never spoken to before today. In that instant, I would have died for her, and died a happy and honorable man. I wanted to reach out and caress her face, but no....

I told her I had to go, and with shining eyes, she waved me a child-like goodbye with her hand. Almost to the cafe I looked back. She was crouched down, picking up her treasures to leave. She stood up and looked my way, gave a quick wave, and walked off the beach and out of my life.

When I arrived at the cafe, 'Mom asked me if I knew her? "No. Do you?"

She said that she had seen her around a time or two, but that was all. Maybe once a week. I ordered breakfast, had coffee, and watched the beach where she'd been, hoping to see her again, hoping she would find a blessing somewhere.

When I paid my bill, I gave "Mom" an extra $10.00 (which was almost all the money I had at the time), beyond her normal tip. "The next time you see her around," I asked her, "strolling around looking lost or hungry, would you please feed her good once or twice? Will you do that for me?" She said she absolutely would.

"You really like her don't you?"

"I don't even know her name... but for just a moment, I loved her."

I'm pretty sure 'Mom' didn't know what I was referring to, but somehow I felt like she understood. She gave me an impromptu hug and went back to work.

I never saw either of them again, but I hope a 'street' girl got a good meal, or two - and I would bet she did;

And I hope and pray that someday I'll see that smile again, somewhere, sometime...just for a moment.

Social Garbage

There I was, homeless and not caring about anything, hanging out outside of the local video arcade, selling illegal products to immoral youngsters. I didn't know most of them, but the few I did helped me by acting as go-betweens so teens and preteens could spend their allowances on things not approved of by most parents.

As I stated, I didn't care...about ages, nor where the money came from, nor even what bodies these products might be entering. I just needed money for my own habits.

I should enter a note here - however little good it will do me. I never sold anything to anyone under age 20 that might kill them, even accidentally. Products to an 'underage' buyer might include no more than a pint of any liquid, a small bag of marijuana, or (up to) 3 'hits' of LSD (never more than that per customer), cigarettes, information on where to go to hide, or varying forms of pornography, etc., etc.

Hey! I already said I was social garbage.

-Anyway...

Of the ones I DID get to know, most of them were 'street' kids. They either were as homeless and uncaring as I was, or they HAD homes where the parents either didn't care themselves (this usually involved large quantities of drugs or alcohol in the home), they weren't home enough to know what their kids were doing (LOTS of this going on!), or the parents were in denial of what was happening.

Occasionally there was the rare case of a kid that was SMARTER than the parents. Oh, the parents cared, all right. ...Would've beat that little 13 or 14 year old butt - IF they had known. But let's face it...Some kids ARE smart enough to cultivate good cover stories that hold up pretty well under scrutiny.

They didn't have to hold up well with guys like me around.

"Mom, I'm going to the arcade for awhile. Can I get some money?"

"Okay. Get $10.00 out of my purse. Be back by dark."

" 'K."

...And he SWEARS later on that he only saw the $20.00 bill (so that's what she MUST HAVE meant); And he was INSIDE. How could he know it was dark so soon? In the meantime he's met with me, spent $5.00 on weed, found his girlfriend, charged three other friends $5.00 each to smoke a joint with him and his girl - and he's now 'up' $10.00 from what he started with AND hooked up his girl and his friends, making him look like a junior high kingpin, and now he has...more...to do whatever with - and I'm still close by, eager to help.

Of course, things don't always go well for them, any more than they do for adults or full-time 'streeters'. For the good hustlers, street kids or not, like the adults, I'll provide credit. (Believe it or not, only ONE credit debt ever went unpaid to me by anyone under age 17...this one.)

- No real names, please. for obvious reasons -

Aaron was 14. He was the best hustler of the 10 to 16 year old set in that area. He would sell weed, porno mags, rob a house or turn a trick (Oh yes. Your kids ARE out there selling themselves without pimps or protection, at ages as young as 10 and 12. It's not nearly as uncommon as you might think. And yes, boys sell themselves to men, as well as girls sell themselves to women. Happens every day). He was, I assumed, 'street', and he was good at it. I saw him almost everyday at the arcade, plying his trades. His credit was good.

On this occasion he was having a run of sour luck and asked for a 3-hit LSD 'loan'. Sure, why not? But two weeks later he hadn't repaid me. Three weeks and he had started avoiding me. A month later I saw him on his bicycle and called out to him...and he saw me and pedaled off in a hurry.

Wait. WHA?! A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD thinks he's going to beat ME out of a credit debt? REALLY?? (I'm thinkin' maybe not. I carry a loaded pistol all the time. Would I shoot a kid over $18.00? Of course not. But I WOULD scare the ever-lovin' B'Jeezus out of him!) I put out the word that he had two weeks to 'get right, or...' A week passed. No sign of him. Week #2 came and went. Then I put out the word that I was now actively hunting him with plans to make his nose and ears change places on his head - permanently. The arcade was now 'off-limits' to him. ( I KNEW that would hurt. It was where he did most of his money-making.)

On week #4, after continually making it known that I was indeed mad, but indeed waiting to be paid so that I wouldn't have to be mad anymore....

Another Saturday, early evening. Business outside the arcade has been good. I'll be able to leave soon to go do 'big-boy' things in the night. The arcade has a very wide concrete walkway on two sides of it, one of which has a low brick wall running along it, much like a beachside boardwalk. This is where I'm sitting, watching the world go by, listening to the bells and buzzers and jingles and music coming from the open wall of the arcade. ...Just a few more customers and I can go...

...Ahhh. Here comes one now. I recognize her. Kelly something-or-other? A slightly pudgy (but certainly not fat, nor even chunky) 12 year old, smokes weed sometimes. Not always out with the street kids, but enough to know what's going on. I've never actually spoken to her, but I've seen her around enough to make inquiries. She's actually one of the 'better' kids out and about. I'm sure she knows, if not ME, then certainly who I am and what I do.

You know, growing up, I've learned to love or hate certain mannerisms done to me by different people. I loved the way Grandma would come up behind me and hug me. To this day I love being hugged from behind. Evil step-dad had a 'mad' habit of poking a finger in my chest repeatedly to drive home a point. "YOU are the oldest! you should've known..." Poke. "You could've done..."Poke. Poke. "WHY DIDN'T YOU THINK?!?!" Poke,Poke,Poke. GRRRRR!!

To this day, if you wish to start a fight with me, don't hit me. Poke me in the chest with one finger. GAME ON.

So here comes cute lil' pudgy Kelly-something in her cute little shorts with her cute little top and her...VERY determined looking walk and mad-as-hell face? Huh?? ...STOMPING my way.

This incredibly brave, incredibly foolish, incredibly INCREDIBLE young lady, stamps up to me on a semi-crowded public walkway, up to a KNOWN drug dealer that she's never spoken to before and...

Oh. My. Gawd!!

Stretches her face up to mine in absolute defiance and anger, and starts POKING ME IN THE CHEST with one finger!!!

(W.T.F?!!?!)

"I want to talk to you!"

"Not while you're poking me, you don't. (Menacingly leaning down into her face and grabbing her hand) Don't do that."

Smart girl. She 'got it' immediately. She 'stood down', but didn't physically back up at all. Still within arms reach, left arm akimbo on her hip, pointing at my face, emphasizing...

"I want you to stop selling drugs to Aaron."

"Whoa. Whoa! WHOA!! First of all, lower your voice. Second, get your finger out of my face. Third, I HAVE stopped selling to him. He owes me money and as long as he does, he can't get s**t from me. Fourth, you obviously know who I am, so who the f**k are YOU to come tell me ANYTHING about who I do business with?!!

"Well, he's got a family who cares about him. He doesn't have to be out here. He goes home every night."

"Yeah. They care SOOO much they know he's out here on Saturday afternoons giving blowjobs to strangers and robbing houses at 3 A.M. Don't give me that s**t, girl. Why should I give a damn about his home life or you making his habits your business?"

(Raised voice, again with that finger, poking me ONCE) "BECAUSE I CARE!!" (as I catch her hand again.)

Three simple words spoken in exasperation and anger, (and love), caused the year-long silence between us.

I noticed the people walking by, staring. I look back into this young girl's face and see that she's on the verge of tears. (Oh no. Oh NO. No, no, no. Not crying. NO! Ahh, DAMN IT!!) I release her hand and 'stand down' myself, deflated.

This girl...this TWELVE YEAR OLD girl...cared enough as a friend to approach a known, gun carrying drug dealer at least double her own age, that she had never spoken to previously, and ORDER him to stop doing business with her friend - because SHE CARED.

Honor is a funny thing sometimes, isn't it?

This girl had just done a more honorable thing in 2 minutes than I had done in the last 5 years, AND shown a hell of a lot of REAL courage in the process. There she stood in front of me, still defiant, shaking slightly and on the very edge of bawling - but not backing down a bit - for her friend - waiting for me to speak.

Now you tell me... HOW IN THE HELL am I going to be less honorable than a 12 year old, and still collect my money? Answer: Ain't happening.

(Considerably calmer and quieter) "Kelly, right?"

"Yeah."

"I wish I had a friend like you. (pause) You tell Aaron he doesn't owe me anything. I'm not coming looking for him. He can come back here safely, with no problems from me. O.K.?"

"Okay."

"You also tell him that from now on - EVER - I don't exist to him if he wants ANYTHING. EVER. I'll see him, say 'hey', but he's not allowed to ask me for anything else, ever again. Got it?"

"You mean it? Really? You won't sell him...?"

"Shhh! Yes, I mean it. Nobody has ever come to me to ASK me to stop selling to someone else, much less DEMANDED it because they care, like you did. I think he's got a really good friend in you - and he probably doesn't even know it. Let me say this again: I wish I had a friend like you"

(Throwing herself at me in a giant hug, THEN I felt the tears on my neck.) "OH THANK YOU! THANK YOU!"

"Yeah, yeah. (People watching again. One quick hug back for a brave young lady, and) Stop crying. Whatcha cryin' for? Quit. *sniffles* Go on. Get out of here. *wipes her eyes and turns to leave* Hey, Kel?"

"Yeah?"

"If you ever need anything, you know, not THAT stuff, but, like, help or anything, you give me a holler. You know where to find me."

" 'K."

"I mean it."

"Okay. I will."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

*She turns to leave* "Oh yeah. Hey, Kel?"

"Yeah?"

"You got a cute butt!" :)

*Snort - rolled eyes - big grin and a back-handed wave, and she's headed back into the arcade*

Aaron found me later that week. Rode straight up to me on his bicycle, obviously a little nervous, but...

"Hey, Cheyenne. I got your money. Can I get a couple more hits?"

"Nope."

"Huh?"

"Don't want your money. Did you talk to Kelly?"

"Yeah. She told me what you said, but it's O.K. I got your money, plus some more."

"Dude. Listen to me. You don't owe ME anything, but don't you EVER ask me for anything ever again. You got it?"

"Yeah, but I got your money."

(Now I'm leaned into HIS face, poking my finger into HIS chest!) "Let me tell you something...That girl, Kelly? She loves you, you dumb-ass. I know she's a little chunky, but dude, you better grab ahold of her, make her your girlfriend, grow up and marry her, and stay with her FOREVER. If you don't, you're even dumber than I thought. It's HER you owe."

"Aww, c'mon man. You aren't gonna stick to THAT, are you? She's just some...."

*leaning into his face in a VERY menacing manner* "Aaron, Get. Away. From. Me. Don't you ever come near me again. I mean it. And if I find out you've been mean to Kelly for ANY reason, I'll smash your legs. I'm not kidding. You understand me? Now go find her and tell her your sorry for making her come see me. ...And tell her I said 'Hey Girl"

Can I call myself 'honorable' for honoring the request of a young girl to cease illegal activities that I probably shouldn't have been doing anyway?

I don't think I should...But it sure FEELS like it.

By all the 'powers-that-be', I hope that brave little 12 became the Grand Old Queen Swan.

She certainly had a damn good start.

SOMETIMES THE BEAR EATS YOU

SMUGGLER'S BLUE'S (By Glenn Frey)

There's trouble on the street tonight. I can feel it in my bones;

I had a premonition that he should not go alone.

I knew the gun was loaded, but I didn't think it'd kill.

Ev'rything EXPLODED, and the blood began to spill.

"So baby, here's your ticket, with a suitcase in your hand;

Here's a little money. Now do it just the way we planned.

Be cool for 20 hours and I'll pay you 20 grand."

Yeah, I'm sorry it went down like this, but someone had to lose....

It's the nature of the business; It's the Smuggler's Blues...

...Smuggler's Blues...

The sailors and the pilots, the soldiers and the law...

The payoffs and the rip-offs, and the things nobody saw...

No matter if it's heroin, cocaine or hash,

You got to carry weapons 'cause you always carry cash.

There's lots of shady characters, lots of dirty deals...

Every name's an 'alias' in case somebody squeals.

It's the lure of easy money. It's got a very strong appeal.

Perhaps you'd understand it better standin' in my shoes;

It's the ultimate enticement; It's the Smuggler's Blues

...Smuggler's Blues...

You see it in the headlines, hear it every day;

They say they're gonna stop it, but it doesn't go away.

They move it through Miami, sell it in L.A.,

Hide it up in Telluride; I mean it's here to stay

It's proppin' up the governments of Colombia and Peru...

You ask any D.E.A. man, he'll say there's nothing we can do...

From the office of the President, right down to me and you....me and you...

Well it's a losing proposition, but one you can't refuse.

It's the politics of contraband, it's the Smuggler's Blues...

...Smuggler's Blues...

I had just written a true story called "Just For A Moment" about an event in Florida that made me ALMOST feel like a decent human being during a period in my life when I knew in my mind that I was what most of society would call 'gutter-trash'. The story involved two other people that I knew very briefly, but had imprinted my soul for the better. Unfortunately, immediately following that event, I never saw either one of them again.

A friend who read this story asked why I never saw them again?

I couldn't decide on a title for this: "Close", "Escaping the Gutter", "I Chose the Gift"....

They are all appropriate.

In "Just For A Moment" I had given my last ten dollars to a cafe owner so that a 'street' girl might have a good meal or two later. It WAS my last ten, but I gave it freely and without hesitation because I KNEW without a doubt that before the day was over I would have plenty again. I'm gutter-trash, and I know how to survive.

If you read the words to Glenn Frey's song "Smuggler's Blues" then you know mostly how I was living. Mr. Frey was completely honest in his song about 'how it is'. The one thing I feel Glenn left out was that if you are stationary in your living arraignments, then if someone robs or beats you, you only have three options.

1) Become a 'mark' - If you get robbed or beaten and do nothing, then eventually all the 'street' people hear of it and it will continually happen over and over;

2) Deal with it - Extremely severe beating or murder of the person who robbed you is considered proper etiquette - keeping in mind that a robber only beaten, no matter how severely, may come back and demand retribution on you...and so the cycle continues; Or

3) Leave. Yes, you'll be talked about as a coward in that area for awhile, but who cares? You can always start over ANYWHERE else and be who you want to be.

I'm certain all of this was too long to explain in song. No worries, Glenn. Thanks for the honesty. Love your music!

So...

Mid-morning, Sunday on the beach, I'm broke and looking to make some money. My partner, Gary (Boy! You KNOW I'm not dropping HIS real name!!!) is nowhere to be found - probably off robbing a house. He's the one that taught me how, and he's probably just as broke as I am after an 'all-nighter' Saturday night.

That's O.K. I've got a bicycle and some steady customers for sexual encounters, and there's plenty of residences close to the beach that just BEG to be robbed, and Gary and I can always make a quick, easy sell of a gun or two. We keep them handy at all times. By 3 P.M. I won't be broke.

Sure enough, even though Sunday isn't a good day for residential robbery, I've found a house, got in and out, made away with some more pistols, some cash and jewelry. About 4 P.M. I've found Gary and we've decided that we would each take one pistol to 'The Zone' for sale.

The Zone...

Short for "The War Zone". No kidding. I spent one summer in that area. In less than a month the police had been shot at TWICE in the daylight, and once at night JUST FOR DRIVING THROUGH! They don't go into this large, rectangular neighborhood very often. If you were a Caucasian, you could ENTER unmolested by anyone. LEAVING, on the other hand... If the police noted your entry or presence, you absolutely were getting detained and searched upon your departure from the area. ALWAYS. That was the bad news.

The good news was that you could buy, sell or trade any illegally obtained item, day or night. There were dozens of 'fences', and even more if you were willing to trade for drugs (A dangerous thing to do if you KNEW you were going to be stopped by the police).

- Unless -

The Zone was bordered on two sides by swampy, brackish water full of wildlife...alligators, in particular. NOBODY wanted to disturb them, not even a guy like myself, used to living in the wild outdoors. No one went into 'Alligator Alley'. ...But neither did the police try to sneak through there to spy our activities.

On another side was a residential area that opened onto secondary roadways. There were only two entrances on that side, within view of each other, so the police sat and watched who came and went...or if the police weren't in immediate view, you knew they were VERY close nearby, waiting and watching.

On the fourth side of the War Zone rectangle, 'zone-houses' were the border. They fronted the main tourist beach avenue, with wide sidewalks for the daytime tourist foot traffic. Three or four streets turned off of this avenue into The Zone between the houses. These houses were highly prized. On one side, tourists that the police (rarely, if ever) NEVER harassed. On the other side, private entrance intoThe Zone that the police COULDN'T watch. VERY CONVENIENT for the successful fences!

If you knew someone in one of the houses...

Dress like a tourist...flip-flops, t-shirts, bright swimwear, sunglasses, small day-pack...

...and walk all the way up or down the beach with your illegal gains. You enter the house, the proprietor takes your merchandise out the back door into The Zone; Buys, sells, or trades for you, keeping a 'commission' for themselves; They return with your cash or drugs or gun(s) which you put in your day-pack - and walk back out onto "tourist country" again, quite safe from law enforcement. It was a beautiful set-up for everyone...except the police.

Two young men and their current girlfriends occupied one of these houses. The guys specialized in weapons trade. When a seller arrived at their door, the rule was 'leave the gun loaded with at least two shots', because...

In the closet of the master bedroom was a hole in the floor about one foot in diameter. They would stick the barrel down into this hole and test-fire each weapon where the whole house acted as a giant silencer. If there were no problems, when they took the goods into The Zone, their buyer(s) could test-fire it also. Gary and I had presented them several opportunities to test-fire weapons that we had brought for sale, always without incident until that Sunday.

I took a nickel-plated .357 revolver, and Gary brought a blued .45 automatic pistol. Both loaded, of course. When we arrived I sat down on a couch and handed mine to the 'leader' of the household. Gary sat on another couch and handed his off to the other guy, expecting an examination and test-firing. Sure enough, they turned them over and over, checked the safety's off, pulled the hammers back, and...

...OH. MY. GAWD!!!

The guy holding 'my' .357 stuck the barrel tight against my head, right between my eyebrows (hammer back, mind you!) and said "I'm keepin' it."

Now...

This wasn't the first time I'd ever had a pistol pointed at me, nor would it be the last. But the difference was that THIS time I KNEW it was loaded, with good ammo, because I had cleaned and loaded it. I KNEW the safety was off because I'd been watching as he handled it. I KNEW that the hammer was back and it would only take a twitch to... ...and if I moved wrong, I could CAUSE the wrong twitch! Inside, I was Jell-O-on-a-jackhammer, my stomach doing Olympic-sized flips and twists. But outside, I was quite proud of myself later. I looked at him and very calmly said "Maaan, don't be f##kin' with me like that." (Holding VEEERY STILL, of course.)

He said "Does it LOOK like I'm f##king with you?"

"No, but I HOPE you are."

"I told you, I'm keepin' it."

(Pause) "It's yours."

It's amazing to me how fast my human mind can think in moments of duress. I've always done well in emergencies, but THIS...!

Stolen pistol + fight = ...death.

Stolen pistol - fight = cowardice (intelligence?)+(live longer?)(+ retribution?)

I admit, feeling that barrel tight against my head, well, Gary didn't even exist at that moment. But as soon as I said "It's yours", the other guy spoke: "This one's been talkin' s--t about (one of the girlfriends. I forget her name. We'll call her) Lisa. I should kill him right here." (Which told ME that he REALLY didn't WANT to kill us - only if we forced the situation.) That was bulls--t anyway. I spent most of my waking hours with Gary everyday. He didn't speak 100 words to ME in a day. He damned sure never gossiped about our business associates girlfriends.

The 'leader' told me to get out so they could deal with Gary. He backed up, I stood up, looked at Gary (trying to tell him "Hey man, no sense TWO of us dying here. I'll get them for you.") I could tell they'd worked together before. As soon as I took a step toward the door, 'Gary's guy' shifted his aim to me. 'My guy' immediately covered Gary again.

"NO! Man, he's gonna go tell the police!" said Gary's man.

(Even though guns are pointed at me, for some reason I felt like I'd just gained the upper hand. Go figure.)

I said "What? Tell them WHAT?! That I went and robbed a house, took the guns i stole down to the dope-man's house, who stole them from ME?! REALLY?!!? WHAT THE FUCK am I going to tell them?!!"

The 'leader took over again, pointing back and forth. "Both of you get the fuck out. Don't come back."

Gary stood, we both turned our backs and calmly walked out onto the screened front porch, down the steps and...

Maybe Gary didn't notice. Maybe he didn't care. We were back in 'tourist country' with people walking by - but those guns were still pointed at us from the screened-in porch. I'd seen them follow us out. We'd taken no more than Three steps onto the sidewalk when Gary looked at me and quietly said "They're as good as dead;" ...and faced forward again and kept walking.

WHEN THE STARS DANCE

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Being homeless in America isn't ALWAYS a bad thing.

As an adult I've mostly, BY CHOICE, opted to live 'homeless'. (Or rather, 'house-less'. 'Home' is anywhere I choose to travel.) But not ALWAYS.

In mid-July, 2006-ish, I was on the run from the law. Very literally. I'd suspected one night that they were coming for me in a homeless shelter in North Carolina. Sure enough, without time to grab anything but my shoes, cut-off jean shorts, a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt, the police came in to get me from one direction, and I circled around them and headed out at an all-out run. Outside were TWO police cars blocking my way! I climbed the 8-foot high wire fence (with the concertina-like 'grab' wire on top), rolled over it, suffering the cuts, pokes, gashes and painful slices that come with desperate escape - and RAN!

First behind business lots, then through a low swampy forest area, through a darkened high school grounds, then the lighted track area full of exercising walkers; Through the government housing project across the street from the school where I found sanctuary for the night in an apartment that had previously been broken into.

I was lost, alone, had no money, no identification, no help to call on, no clothes other than what I was wearing, no cigarettes, lighter nor supplies of any sort. Not even a bottle to put water in (...and I can say from experience that when running scared for any length of time from something, the human body ABSOLUTELY will need copious amounts of water VERY QUICKLY). A search of the empty apartment turned up a filthy jean jacket slightly too small for me, but as I was shaking from cold, fear and adrenaline, dirty though it was, it seemed Heaven-sent. I also found the electricity off, fridge and cabinets empty, but the VERY cold water was still on. A gift from the powers-that-be! Cold or not, I bathed, rinsed out all my clothes (swamp mud STINKS!), and put them back on to dry.

After a very restless night of planning, catnaps and startled awakenings, my friend the sun finally rose to allow me to warm up, see my surroundings, and better assess my situation. Directly across the street in back was a 'quick-stop' not yet open for business, and a set of railroad tracks.

Again fortune smiled. The plan I'd formulated was: Get a bottle from somewhere (ANYwhere!), probably off the side of the road or out of a dumpster, wash it out, fill it...and start walking - Eastward, until I hit the Atlantic Ocean, then south until everyone was speaking Mexican-sounding Spanish (Not the Cuban or Puerto Rican version). That was my big plan. It wouldn't matter if it took me 2 years to accomplish. I was in no hurry now except to leave the immediate area. By walking the beach to Mexico I could eat whatever washed up onshore, and there would be plenty of fresh water enroute. More importantly, police generally don't look too closely at 'beachcombers'.

Until then...

'Quick-stops' meant dumpsters. Dumpsters meant bottles. Businesses usually have water spigots to fill bottles with. It was time to go.

I thanked the guiding spirits for the rest at the apartment and the jean jacket, and climbed back out the window. I hurried across the street, over the railroad tracks to the back of the store. Sure enough, I quickly located a suitable bottle with a cap, tied a cord around it so I could sling it over my shoulder, filled it and...

While reapproaching the road to follow the rising sun I had to re-cross the railroad tracks. When I stepped onto them I looked to my left and saw a small, green, roadway-type sign that read simply 'East'. (*Well now...Is this a SIGN, or what??*) Roadway? Possibly cops - in fact, likely. Railroad? No telling where I might end up, but the sign said it was the right direction, and certainly unlikely to meet law enforcement personnel. Eastward on the tracks it was!

The story of the next two days and 18 miles is another story altogether. I found more clothes. I found food (of sorts). I found a deserted hobo camp that yielded treasures (Yes, there are STILL such things as hobos and hobo camps). I saw wild views and farmers' barns, and had little adventures until...

At the end of the second day between the towns of Liberty and Siler City it was going to rain. No maybe's. I was headed into a thunder-boomer that was building up, and I had no shelter in sight. It was already late afternoon and it looked like I was going to get wet and cold, and stay that way all night again (*Sigh.* Well, if you're gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.)

Again, benevolent spirits noted my plight. As I came around a bend of the tracks through a stand of pine trees, Off to my right I saw a low, rolling-hill cow pasture with what looked like the top of a barn peeking over a rise. (Aaahhh. Thank you again, Spirits!)

I quickly slipped through the barbed-wire fence and headed across the pasture for the barn that seemed to welcome me.

...And as I topped the rise, walked DIRECTLY into the view of the farmer and his 14 year old son, out removing dead logs from the area. **Oops! Damn..**

Well...

...Nothing to do but ask, as if I'd been planning that all along. I walked straight up to them.

"Hello!"

"Hiya."

"I was just passing through, and it looks about to rain. I was hoping you wouldn't mind if I made use of your barn for the night? (Holding up my right hand) As God is my witness I won't steal anything from you or burn anything down. I'm just trying to get out of the rain. I'll be moving on first thing in the morning, I swear."

"Nope."

(Aww, damn.) "Alright. Sorry to have trespassed. I'll be going..."

"No, Sir. Won't have anyone in my barn. But there's a trailer down there. Got no 'lectric ner water, but the boy can bring ya some in just a bit. We're about done here. You stay there overnight or all year. Don't matter none."

(Ummm...) "That's incredibly generous of you, Sir. But I've got some water (holding up my 2-liter on a cord) and I'll only need a shelter 'til morning. Then I'll be heading out. And thank you."

"One night, all year. Don't matter. Go git settled. We'll be through in just a bit."

"Well, if you're sure...Then, can I help you here? Looks like you could use a hand."

(starting to sprinkle)

"Nope, you go on. Rest a bit. (Looking at the gray, leaden sky) Looks like we're done now. (pause, looking pointedly at me) You eaten recently?"

I COULDN'T afford to lie. I was hungry. "Well, I ate some wheat heads in a couple fields, and I plucked a shirt full of plums from a church back yonder. Didn't figure they'd deny me. Tried some field corn. That didn't go too well."

"heh heh heh. I bet not. Alright. Go drop yer things. You'll come eat supper with us."

Now, when older southern folks give orders, 'youngins', - no matter how much younger, nor who they are - are expected to follow them. Especially whereas concerns 'doin' right' by someone (as this farmer was doing for me). But I'm skittish. Being a southern farmer makes him a candidate for the law-and-order-upright-pillar-of-the-community-American-citizen club. I didn't want to go sit at his table, eat his food, and have him sneak off to call the police - or WORSE, try to talk me into turning myself in, so that I would have to jump and run from his house, leaving my meager possessions behind in his trailer (with no 'lectric) in the cow field.

"No. No. That's Okay. I'm not dressed to be fit company. I probably smell something terrible. I'll be fine tonight and just move on. But thank you for the off..."

"BULLSHIT. Go drop yer things and we'll be right there. Go on, now."

(*Damn.*) "Yes, Sir."

That evening I ate. As the farmhouse was about a mile down the road, his son drove me 'home' to the trailer on a tractor carrying two 55 gallon drums of water for my use. The next morning the farmer picked me up early and we went to the local gathering spot for breakfast, and later that day I began a new job working for his other two older sons. In the afternoon they would drop me off at the dirt track leading through the trees to 'my' trailer. I'd stand outside, naked, on a piece of plywood and wash up, then slowly stroll the mile to the farmhouse. After eating, he or his son would always drive me back.

...But I'm an outdoor-sy person who left home at age fifteen. I'm very self-reliant and don't care to count on other people, even for short rides. The day finally came about 5 days later when I refused the ride back.

"Look. Really. You've done so much for me. Good Lord! I walk UP here every evening and you feed me. I'm pretty certain I can walk back. I promise I know the way. I LOVE nighttime strolls anyway. I love summer nights, period. I have nothing better to do for the next few hours other than enjoy the evening. PLEASE?!? Stay here with your family! I'm okay. Really. Enjoy THEIR company and relax."

"You sure? You ain't got a light or nuthin'..."

"Oh, for the love of...YES! I'm sure. I'll see you tomorrow. G'night."

Wow. He was right about one thing: The farther I got down his dirt drive, away from the yard light, the VERY MUCH darker it got. His drive had cow pasture on both sides, but was separated from the drive on each side by a single line of trees and bushes that blocked out the moonlight, leaving only the porch light visible. (Made me want to keep looking back to be sure of...of...I' don't know. But every time I did, my night vision was compromised because of the porch light, making it seem that much darker.)

As I neared the paved road the thick pines edging it blocked out any light from other houses nearby, or car lights from unseen roads. Darker and darker....

Gawd. This is like some weird horror movie...until I actually stepped onto the pavement and turned left, and...

HO. LEE. SHHH....

I'd stepped into a magical... a magical... I don't know WHAT to call it! This can't be REAL!!

Of course, I'd seen fireflies before, near a pond or in a front yard of a friend, but THIS...!! Never in such complete darkness. Hundreds, no, Thousands...No. MILLIONS of fireflies flickering in the canyon of darkness formed by the pine trees on both sides of the road! Millions and millions!! OH. MY. GAWD!

I walked into the center of the road, stretched my arms out and spun in slow circles. They were everywhere in front, back and all sides. Just myself and all these beautiful tiny green dots and sparkles of light, zipping and floating, flitting, bouncing and tumbling, here, there, and EVERYWHERE!!

I looked up to see how high they flew, and then I knew....They weren't really fireflies. It looked exactly like stars dropping and flying down to dance in the pure darkness for a few moments, then returning home to the sky. Up and down, round and around, on all sides - just for me. I was the only human being to witness this dance of the green stars!

I held out my arms, slowly spinning almost the entire trip back. I don't know how long it took, but it was a wonderfully long, slow walk, watching the stars dance.

I made that trip several time that year, but always the dancing was interrupted by cars and trucks. The magic was never the same again.

...And I never would have experienced it had I NOT been homeless and on the run.

Eventually I left and dealt with my legal problems, but, oh, how I hope that one day I can take a child there. Mine or someone else's doesn't matter in the slightest. Maybe see if that farmer is still there, still farming - My bet is that he is. Maybe I can invite myself and said child (or children) to supper one summer's eve and visit until it's good and dark...

And maybe...just MAYBE...I'll again witness the dance of the green stars - and the kids will see Mother Nature plying her trade as I saw her doing it.

It's pure magic when the stars dance!

HIS OWN RESCUE

Colorado River, Arizona/Nevada border - Summer, 2005

I had made a good semi-permanent camp on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, about halfway up a sandy riverbank that was about 30 or 40 feet high off the water of the river. I had found the only shady spot under a few Salt Cedar trees for 300 yards in either direction. I had excavated my camp out of the bank to avoid trying to find a litter-free, pre-made camp so often occupied by tourists and partying high school teenagers.

Mine was clean, about 30 feet long, total, and grew, from the entrance trail to the 'end' of the camp from 2' wide, to about 10' wide. I had a 'kitchen' area, a 'bedroom' with a white plastic poolside lounge chair for sleeping, that overlooked the river at night; A 'bathroom', storage area, tool and clothing area, a small brush-woven 'fence' to keep the skunks and rabbits out, a tarpaulin 'ceiling' to keep the bats out and a degree of light and camp-smoke in (to keep the bug population down).

I had security. Unless you knew exactly where I was located, it would be highly unlikely that you would stumble upon my camp by accident. I even had a 'bathtub' and 'water-activated' refrigerator. I'd dug rocks out of the riverbed to form a man-sized depression in the shallows of the river, and built a brush arbor around my 'tub'. I could be totally nude in the daylight, bathing or washing clothes, and not have to worry about the prying eyes of boating or jet-skiing tourists and their kids. When not bathing, my 'tub' held deli-meat, cheeses, drinks and fruit from the supermarket.

The bad news was that, being 300 yards from ANY people (and hidden), that if anything happened to me or anyone else nearby, then I was totally on my own for first aid and getting to help. (Not usually much of a problem unless you've been bitten on the toe by a Vampire bat and think you're bleeding to death and contracting rabies **shudder!!** ...Not that I would know anything about THAT....)

The good news was: Only my friends knew where I was, and it WAS only 300 yards to help. Mostly, when not at work, I would sit in my wonderfully shady camp, in the coolest area around, watching the tourist kids zip up and down the river on their jet-skis, having fun being kids. The occasional fisherman would walk and fish his way right past my camp and never know I was there, watching his every move for some distance. (I quietly cheered them when they caught their catfish below me, and quietly 'tsk-tsked' them when I saw them walking back empty-handed on the 'upper side' of the bank - up in the mesquite and cactus. Fishermen like WATER, not dry sand and rocks. To be up there meant they had surrendered to ill-luck and the desert. Ah well....)

Weekends were crowded and lovely. For a guy who enjoys sitting in the shade, watching kids in swimsuits being kids in swimsuits, well, my camp was THE place to be. But there is always a price to everything, isn't there?

After only being there about a week, sitting in my 'living room', I witnessed my first jet-ski crash that had me throwing down my soda and running down to the water's edge, ready to throw myself in to attempt a water rescue.

A teen couple about 16 or 17 years old, each on their own water-cycle, had been jetting up and down the river; The boy showing off for his girl, all kinds of giggling and laughing and chasing going on. He was chasing her when she stopped suddenly. He didn't stand a chance of stopping in time.

My vantage point about 12 feet above the river allowed me to see it all. He tried to lift and turn - WAAAAAY too late. He ran his jet-ski up the back of hers, smacked her down as he went airborne using her back and head as a ramp. She went down into the water immediately; He, due to the tilt and angle of the accident hit the water hard as his jet-ski landed almost sideways. Both crafts' motors died instantly - and even the birds seemed to go silent.

OH. MY. GOD!!!

I thought I'd just witnessed TWO deaths.

I RAN. FAST. NOW!! (Oh God! Oh God! Not the kids! Oh God...!)

It could only have been seconds for me to cover the 30 feet of sandy trail from where I was to knee deep in the water, but it took F-O-R-E-V-E-R. By the time I got there, the boy was already up, calling for the girl who, AMAZINGLY, was seemingly mostly unhurt! She was actually able to pull herself back onto her craft, pick him up, go get his ski; ...And they 'called-it-a-day' and headed back upriver to the landing - Neither ever knowing how close to a heart attack I had been.

From that day on I decided that I needed to be ready for a river rescue at all times. A sort of self-appointed lifeguard, if you will. I collected water rope and floats and a first aid kit to keep close by, just in case. Then I expanded my assistance capabilities to include vehicles stuck in the sandy river bottoms, vehicle removal from flash flood wash areas, lost and/or confused thirsty tourists...a one man, self-appointed 'first-responder'. Nothing big, but it was nice knowing I could unexpectedly help when someone needed it. (Warm, fuzzy glows all around, thank you.)

...And then I watched the boy rescue himself.

Again, it was a Saturday and the river was moderately full of tourist-y people. Not so many this far down the river, but a few of the more adventurous came down this far. I didn't see what caused him to be in the water instead of atop his jet-ski.

I wasn't even in camp. I had been in the town park and was on the uppermost level of the riverbank, heading back for camp when I heard a 'YELP', and heard the (by now familiar) sound of a jet-ski going 'dead-in-the-water', and the silence. It took me only a moment to locate the jet-ski drifting on it's side downriver with no rider. (Uh oh.)

I quick dropped down to the central tier of the riverbank and located the rider. He was about 12 or 13, maybe 14 years old, head up and swimming for his watercraft which was steadily escaping him, being further out in the current than he was. As he was already downstream of me and I realized he might need help, I knew I would have to be downriver from him. I ran back to the upper level of the bank. It was a more demanding path up there. Up and down and much loose sand, but it was the clearer and faster path - if I was up to the task. I ran!

...And as I came even with him, I heard him call out for help. (Oh SH#T!)

I looked down and realized there were other skiers on jet-skis in the water - two of them. The boy had his hand and arm up and out and was calling to them....and they didn't see him! I ran harder.

...And I knew I wouldn't be able to catch him from up here. I HAD to take the lower path through the brush and mesquite. (Have you ever been stuck by a mesquite thorn? They HURT. ...And I was RUNNING through them! Oooch...OW...ouch!!) I couldn't even go all the way down to the water's edge because I had to keep an eye on his drift progression. I ran harder, mesquite thorns be-damned! He kept trying to catch his jet-ski by turning and swimming downstream. I kept hoping he would just leave it and come to the bank. I would be able to get the jet-ski much easier than him, and much more safely. But no, of course not.

I was almost in front of him when I heard him call out again (FASTER! FASTER!! Oh God, PLEASE don't let him drown with me this close. PLEASE don't let him....over and over was my mantra)

...and I saw them. Another young couple on individual watercraft - go WITHIN 10 FEET of the boy - AND DIDN'T STOP!! I SAW the male look right at the boy! They HAD to go right past the overturned jet-ski! (SON. OF. A. BITCHES!!! FASTER! GO!!!)

I watched the boy turn downstream once again to make an effort at catching his craft. Thankfully, the 'powers-that-be' finally saw fit to help this time. The boy must have seen the opportunity and thought to cut across a bend in the river that brought him closer to his ski, because the jet-ski had taken the 'long' way around the bend. Then the jet-ski caught a back eddy...and THE BOY CAUGHT IT!!!

...But he was tired. I could tell even from where I was. I slowed, but didn't stop, holding my breath, wondering if he had the strength to climb back on, and if it would start. He had been in the water, fighting, for at least 15 or 20 minutes now, but (Oh, my heart swelled with pride for him!!!) he fought his way back astride!

He didn't immediately try to restart the ski. Just slumped over the steering and rested and drifted. I continued to follow, in case it wouldn't start. He wasn't ABSOLUTELY safe yet - but certainly better than he had been.

Now, having been a 12 year old boy myself at one time, and knowing how parents react to potentially deadly situations of their children, AND having an idea of how much fun jet-skis are, I got to thinking....

This boy will probably NEVER (at least, until he's an adult no longer living at home) tell his parents what happened,

- OR -

He'll never be allowed to ride another jet-ski alone until he's 21 years old (if then, according to Mom), and maybe not even be out of Mom's sight for the next 3 years. (Oh, this is such a not-good situation for a young teen boy)...Which is truly unfortunate. This kid FOUGHT. He fought HARD. When TWO sets of people went by without helping, he didn't give up; Not on himself OR his equipment.

After a few moments of rest he tried to start his ski, which fired right up. He slowly turned around and slowly headed back upriver, still obviously tired, but VICTORIOUS.

I wanted to jump and cheer with two raised fists pumping the air for him. He EARNED it. But his concentration on his return was total, and I didn't want to break it, nor let him know that he'd had help close by. Help WAS close, and coming as fast as possible, but I watched a young man rescue HIMSELF and didn't want to take that away from him. I'm sure he learned some lessons and grew up a little in those minutes. He would, I'm sure, one day realize that he had every right to be proud of his accomplishment...even if he couldn't tell anyone at that moment.

Young Sir, if ever by chance you read this and recognize yourself, my hat is off to you in a 'job-well-done'. CHEERS!

(But next time, swim for the shore! PLEASE?!?!?!?)

ISLANDS

Being homeless in America isn't always a horrible thing. There is a LOT of freedom out there, waiting to be had once you shed the shackles of mortgages, electric bills, water bills, Christmas shopping, televisions, dishwashers and trash compactors, computers, world news - basic 'normal' 9-to-5 everyday living; When all I mostly have to worry about is keeping track of a backpack with 3 changes of clothes and a blanket, keeping a job of sorts, eating, bathing, and (for some) avoiding contact with law-enforcement officials, or where I'm going to sleep tonight...Well, it isn't all bad.

Keep the backpack with me at (almost) all times - That's 'home'. The job? Maybe construction for a month of good pay, maybe cleaning up a yard for a meal for an older lady who needs the help more than I need the money, maybe a 'temp' job or 'day labor' that will pay me that day.

Eating?

Hmmm. Difficult question. Dollar menus are good. So are 8-for-$1 ramen noodles. A loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter can be a feast for several people. Sometimes it's easier to find cocaine or methamphetamines than food. ...Don't HAVE to eat, that way (and generally a lot of fun, too!). And one should NEVER speak ill of dumpsters behind grocery stores. (Yes, I realize it sounds HORRIBLE, but often it's quite nutritious, those bruised tomatoes and cantaloupes, potatoes with eye growth, and semi-wilted heads of lettuce.)

Bathing?

Beachside showers, streams, rivers, national park lakes, farmer's ponds, behind the houses of middle-class America at midnight in your garden hose (the dogs aren't ALWAYS barking at nothing), in city park facilities and bathrooms of every type of business you can imagine.

-Avoiding law enforcement-

ALWAYS. (This should be 'enough said', but for those who don't know yet...)

Homeless people are often 'invisible' people, even standing RIGHT THERE next to anyone in mainstream society. This often makes some of our 'freedoms' easier. We can steal a wallet, handbag, jewelry or motorcycle in the blink of an eye, because people refuse to see us. I'd like to say it's because we're hungry (and often it IS), but truth be told it's probably for drugs or alcohol, because THAT'S a LOT more fun than eating (Eating is WORK; And really, how many REALLY overweight homeless people have you ever seen? For that matter, how many homeless people have you SEEN?)

The police know this, and as much as many of us don't like them, their presence in certain areas helps keep the 'mainstream' safe. (For any officers reading this - You COULD ease up some on the homeless villages though. C'mon! We gotta sleep SOMEwhere, SOMEtime, without constant harassment. Homelessness is STRESSFUL! We need some 'down' time that doesn't involve jails. We aren't ALL drunks, drug addicts or thieves ALL the time.)

...And sleeping-

Yes, there's those newly homeless or 'citified' homeless that really DO sleep in cardboard boxes or under bridges. (Would you believe the boxes are safer than the bridges? Just so.) Actually, most of the homeless go for friends houses, motels, shelters, cars and trucks of all natures, tents, weeded fields and factories, abandoned buildings, tool sheds, farmer's barns..; Little 'hidey-holes' everywhere - behind the back wall of a supermarket, amongst the half-grown trees in the abandoned lot, behind the garbage collection walls of restaurants or in neighborhood alleys...

...Maybe even in the bushes behind or beside your suburban home after your lights go out. (Don't worry. That late, we don't want to rob you. We just use the hose, pee somewhere, sleep, use the hose again in the morning, and skedaddle before you wake up - Maybe pluck a tomato or cucumber from your garden before setting off whispering "Thank you."

But as I said, it isn't ALWAYS stressful. Sometimes WE get lucky, too (and generally appreciate it more than most people do).

My First Island

The state of North Carolina is a physically beautiful place. It has beaches, mountains, rivers and lakes; Even the larger cities of Charlotte, Ashville, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington seem to be 'tucked' into the beauty, with small-town America scattered all over in-between. I understand why the native peoples of old fought to keep it, and why the emigrating masses spread into it so rapidly. Every little nook and cranny and 'holler' has critters and a water supply. Most every farm, regardless of size, has a fish pond; Every county, a park of some size with a recreational lake or river.

The state as a whole seems to be mostly populated by descendants of friendly native tribes, mountain 'folk', and those of Nordic blood, mostly farmers and people who naturally love the land. Knowledge passed generation to generation from the original settling conservationists have created a modern state of well-managed resources for farmers, hunters, and tourists who come to visit.

It's a fisherman's paradise. The inland waters are full of bass, catfish, trout and all kinds of critters I don't know the names of. But I DO know that to get the BEST EATING, BIGGEST catfish and bass, all those farmers ponds are the place to be.

The 'catch' is: It's private property owned by descendants of 'mountain folk'. Clannish peoples. Protective peoples. Protective people who own guns - and aren't afraid to use them, even today. Not that a person should be scared. But visitors should be VISITORS, not TRESPASSERS. These clannish, protective people are usually very friendly and agreeable when ASKED for permission to hunt or fish. You only have to MEET them first, somehow, even if it's by just driving up to the house and introducing yourself and letting them know what you'd like to do. (Don't be surprised if 'The Missus' tells you that you'll have to come back this evening when 'The Mister' is back from...pick one: the fields; Fixin' the fence back yonder; Gittin' back from the Co-op, etc., etc.)

Almost always, once permission is granted, it's granted permanently. (Always ask to be certain though.) Those folks either like you - Or THEY DON'T.

While in the U.S. Marine Corps I was stationed in Hawaii where I met a nurse who grew up in North Carolina. She had already returned to a little town called Summerfield in that state. Upon my release from active duty and anxious to see some more of this wide world, she invited me to come see if I'd like living in 'the south'. She assured me there was work available and was sure we could find me my first car. An incredibly fun bus ride carried me to my destiny.

I learned about grits, bar-b-que (beef, out west - pork, in 'the south'), growing weed and doing cocaine, poison oak, southern 'Belles', beachside Shag dancing, bass and cat fishing, huntin' whitetails (deer), and learned how to build HOMES (instead of houses) from quality-minded workers...and indeed, I got my first car - a white 1970, Olds Cutlass.

In the spring and summer months the weather was such that I could sleep in my car rather comfortably rather than chance driving home drunk or high from early morning country dance club closings.

I met Scott, my nurse friend's boyfriend (who became my best friend). He eventually married someone else and moved into a house just north of Greensboro near Lake Higgins Watershed Park. His hobby was refurbishing bass boats. Being from that area he already knew many of the locals. As a bass-boat-fixer living near a lake, he made it a point to know and cultivate friendships with all of his neighbors for miles around - especially the neighbors that had fish ponds on their property.

A friend being young, footloose, and a nature-lover were wonderfully advantageous to a guy who had heart problems, like Scott, who owned boats and often needed assistance with his projects. Whenever he called me and said "Let's go get high and...(again, pick one: put the boat out on Lake..., go check something up in the hills, go shooting, or go visit so-and-so)," and myself likely to drop whatever I was doing at the time and go with him, well, it was a good symbiotic relationship. He provided weed, knowledge, and fun. I provided muscle, time, and 'emergency knowledge' - just in case...which I eventually used with him twice; During an Aortic Aneurism at a Pink Floyd concert, and again at 'my' island.

'My' island - wasn't mine at all. Scott had nearly died during the concert emergency. Good luck, timing, and 'doing exactly the right thing' on the part of several people allowed Scott to live and find out he had Marfan's Disease. Afterwards he no longer did weed or cocaine, but kept a bottle of Jim Beam in the tackle box for us. (Fishing is for relaxing, right?) We no longer drove 200 mile round-trips to try new spots on the river. Now we spent afternoons at all the little farmer's ponds near his house...and there were a LOT of them!

-BBBRRRRIINNGGGGG-

"This is me. Is that you?"

"Hey. There's a pond right down the road near the house. It's already got a rowboat on it. It's a farmer friend of mine. He says we can fish anytime. Whatcha doin' right now?"

"Gettin' my stuff. Be there in about 30."

"Get some ice."

" 'K. Bye."

CLICK.

About a mile from his house we turned left onto a dirt drive leading to a farmhouse somewhere ahead. About 100 yards down the drive was a dirt track that cut left over a dried creek bottom and into a stand of pine trees. Another 100 yards brought us a surprise. A beautiful little pond - with an island in it, and a homemade rowboat sitting on the bank. All totally hidden from view of the paved road so close by. There's no telling how many times I'd gone right by that very drive and never saw nor suspected a thing! Coooool!!

And so began my affair with "my" island. Of course we 'explored' the island. It very literally was just big enough for a pup tent and tiny campfire under the one pine tree and the bushes (Have to be REAL careful with THAT!),and a beach just big enough to land the rowboat. I eventually met the farmer who gave us permission to fish anytime; Yes, we could use the boat ("Be careful. She's leaky.") We would catch big bass and tiny baitfish with nets; And Scott would have his second heart event while we were in the rowboat. Often I would go there alone to get high because it was convenient and quiet.

Eventually family life and heart trouble would mostly keep Scott at home and totally sober, but not so myself. Dope and alcohol ate up rent money until I became homeless. (Oh, I didn't know it. If you had asked me then I would've said I lived in my car, which was truthful. But I parked different places for different reasons, never realizing that I really was homeless.)

And then I thought of the island.

The farmer said I could fish there and use the boat ANYtime. (Did that mean AT NIGHT also? Guess I'd find out.) I needed a bath and a 'hidey-hole' to cook ramen noodles and masturbate alone. The island would be PERFECT...if I didn't get run off. (All the trips Scott and I made there, we only saw the owner twice. Only ONCE close enough to speak to.) SURELY he wouldn't mind a guy finding a safe spot to sleep away from the prying eyes of cops, where said guy could take a bath, right?

I spent almost all summer there. After work I would stop at the store for eats, go to the pond, load my whole camp outfit into the rowboat, row out to the island, set up camp and live until tomorrow. In the morning I would clean up EVERYTHING, haul it all back to my car, go to work, and do it all over again the next day.

One time some other young guys came fishing, but my car was locked and I had the boat on the island with me, where I was hiding quietly. Other than looking in my car they left with no problems. Another time I noted when I returned from work one day, that there were fresh tractor tire tracks going all the way to the pond and back. I noticed the boat had been moved. Likely the farmer had finally noted my continuous coming and going, and had come to see what mess or damage I'd done. He never returned and I wasn't accosted for trespassing, so I guess I passed inspection. I spent many quiet weeks on 'my' island, communing with God and Mother Nature. It's one of my happiest memories.

But modern society seems to always intrude...again, which isn't ALWAYS bad. The title of this narrative is "Islands" - with an 's'. Plural.

Just because I spent much time on my farm island doesn't mean I was anti-social. Far from it. I was young, had a good job, and a car. I was meeting LOTS of people, and living wild and free.

One of the people I met in my travels was another young man who invited me out to meet his friends out in Belews Creek (locally pronounced 'blues'), which wasn't a creek at all, but a small town very near a large man-made lake.

Belews Lake was only about 20 miles from where I'd been staying, but when Scott and myself and 'the gang' went, it was always an 'event', and seemed much farther due to all the twists in the road, and the hills and forested area we had to navigate to get to 'our' spot.

But this was an invitation to a different area of the lake. Different people. ...Same TYPE of people, apparently, but a different perspective. We travelers are ALWAYS up for different perspectives!

My invitation included some information.

Jason: "Dude! You aren't going to believe this place! There's five little trailers end-to-end along this little hidden cove. Everyone just parties in whichever trailer you end up in, back and forth. There's a 'party boat' (a pontoon boat) and a 'fun boat' (the boat used for skiing, water boarding, and travel to and from the marina), a rowboat, a kid's boat....Anyone is allowed to use any of them, just put in gas and help with maintenance.

Cheyenne: "Man, I haven't driven a big boat in years, and NEVER a pontoon."

J.: "Won't matter, trust me. You'll learn, probably the first or second day you're there. There's weed and all kinds of beer and alcohol. If you don't have any, just ask ANYONE for some, you'll get it. Just gotta provide when YOU have it, and be ready to share also."

C.: "Yeah. That's no problem. I always do anyway."

J.: "And THAT'S why I invited you out there. You gotta be ULTIMATE cool to get in there. Speaking of which, when we get there, we might have to leave immediately"

C.: "Huh? Why?"

"I can't tell you, but you'll see. Trust me, I don't think we'll be leaving"

"Are there any hotties?"

"HELL YEAH!! Dude! There's EVERYONE there who's cool. There's hunnies, bunnies, kids, older men, single moms, guys like us, teenagers..."

"With all that partying going on?!?"

"Ahh...these kids KNOW. They get it. Don't worry. You'll see."

"Well, what if I want to hook up with someone and..."

"Then HOOK UP! I'm tellin' you, ANYthing goes out there! If you hook up with someone's mother or daughter...or son, for that matter...someone ELSE may come in and want to join you!"

“What if I DON'T want to? What if I just want to pass out somewhere? Are we safe? ...And where will we sleep? Do I need to bring a tent?"

"Nah. Pick a trailer. There's a couple rooms reserved for the leader and some folks been there forever, but all else is wide open. Sleep in a bed with someone. Sleep on the porch. Lay down near the fire. You'll be okay no matter where you crash. And get this! No one has to be there AT ALL! If you show up and no one is there, you're still welcome to do whatever you want, eat whatever, drink anything, take the boats out, fish - ANYTHING, no questions. You just have to use some sense and be willing."

"Willing to what?"

"Can't tell you. You'll see."

"...Anything I SHOULD bring?"

Social Island (Insane Sanity)

After loading the car trunk with one cooler full of cold beer and sodas, and another full of cold foodstuffs, a large bag of other food items, my travel kit (Swimsuit, towels, cut-off and regular jeans, t-shirts galore; Underclothes, extra shoes, sweatshirt-n-pants, toiletries, a well-stocked first-aid kit, flashlight, lighters, extra cigarettes and drug paraphernalia, and varying knick-knacks), we set off late one Saturday morning to go 'meet the folks and meet my fate.'

**HUH?!!?**

He wasn't kidding.

He timed it so that when he lit the joint, we were only about halfway through it when we arrived. He got out of the car with it in his hand. A slightly older guy came up the hill where I was unloading the trunk and getting us fresh beers out.

As he arrived Jason handed him the joint, which he hit, then walked around to the rear of the car, handed it to me and stuck out his hand.

"Hi! I'm ----. I see you brought refreshments. Need a hand?"

(shaking his hand) "Yeah. Have one. I'm Cheyenne. How are ya? And yes, could use a hand. We got both coolers, the big bag, 2 smaller ones and fishing gear. Take your pick. Thanks."

He hit the joint again, grabbed a cooler and headed down to the trailer with us following behind with most everything else. By the time we got it all to the communal fire pit area, a crowd of about 20 had gathered...older folks, kids, and everything in between. This area had a fire pit, a couple of picnic tables and some log seating. (And, I later learned, room to dance in the moonlight!) One of the 'hotties' walked up to me.

"Hi! I'm ----. Glad you could come. We're waiting on ------. He's kinda the leader here. If you want, just have a seat any-ol'-where and he'll be here in a minute. Mind if I grab a beer?"

"Naw. Go ahead. Anybody who wants one can get one. There's sodas, too. Food in the other cooler. You're welcome to that. Other food in the big bag. By all means, if you're hungry or thirsty, get in and get it."

(Big smile) "Thanks. (Turning around to face the group) You guys hear that?"

Jason nudged me from behind, leaned in and whispered in my ear: "That was EXACTLY the right thing to say."

About then a 60-ish year old man came around the corner of a trailer. Greetings were bestowed upon him from all sides, which he acknowledged in a friendly way, with all the pomp and banter involved with popular people. This guy was charismatic, no doubt about it. I liked him immediately.

He walked straight up to me and stuck out his hand. "Hello, greetings, salutations, and all that. I'm ------. This bunch of psychopaths will call me the 'old man', the 'leader', the 'G.I.C.' - that's 'guy-in-charge'. Don't you believe that drivel. I'm just the oldest and obviously the coolest, and the most well-informed. (Nudging me) I guess when you get older they figure you already know stuff, so everyone tells me everything.

Now then...(addressing the crowd) I see that not everyone is here, but there's only a couple missing. It won't affect the vote."

(*Huh?* - looking at Jason.)

Jason: "shhh."

G.I.C.: "Anyone have anything to say? You all know Jason. He brought young Mr., uh..."

Me: "Cheyenne T--------; But really, 'Cheyenne'."

G.I.C.: "...Brought young Mr. Cheyenne to our little group."

Me: "Just 'Cheyenne'. No 'mister'.

G.I.C.: "Anyone?"

The guy who helped unload the car spoke up: "As soon as they got here I went to help unload. He had a joint AND beer, in his hand."

Crowd: "Ooooooohhhh..."

Me: *uh...wide-eyed, looking back-n-forth from Jason to the crowd to the G.I.C.* "Um, Jas...? I..."

Guy: "He offered me both while we were still in the drive."

G.I.C: "Anyone else?"

Hottie: "As soon as he got in the pit he said I could get a beer. Can you IMAGINE? ...And me only 17!

(WHA...?!!?) Me: "Jas...? I..."

Jason: "SHHH!"

Hottie: "Of course, he also offered all his drinks and food to anybody who wanted it."

G.I.C.: (looking at me) "Is that right? You offered it all to everyone? Even this pretty little tease who is really 22?"

(Oh my Gawd! WHEW!) Me: "Yessir. Anyone is welcome to whatever I have."

G.I.C.: "Oh DAMN!" I need your car RIGHT NOW. I'm sorry everyone, I forgot I had a ...Could I...? I'll need it until Sunday afternoon."

Me: "Do we have enough food for everyone until then? Or a ride to get more?"

G.I.C.: "Yeah, no problem."

Me: (Tossing him my keys) "Here. Watch it. It pulls to the left. Check the oil often. Tank's almost full."

(Jason surreptitiously pats my back with a big grin.)

G.I.C.: (Tosses back my keys, again, addressing the crowd.) "All those in favor?"

Hands go up everywhere, including Jason's. As soon as I saw his, I raised mine.

G.I.C.: (looking at me) "Do you know what you're voting on?"

Me: "No, but I trust Jason. If HE'S voting yes, then so am I."

*A few scattered claps from the crowd, here and there*

G.I.C.: (Huge smile on his face) "All opposed?"

No hands.

G.I.C.: "Good!"

He grabbed me in a big bear hug and said "Welcome to insanity. There's some things you should know about here. There are unbreakable rules we ALL follow: 1). We are family. As you trust Jason now, you can trust us all, down to the youngest member and up to the oldest. You'll come to believe that very soon, I think. And we will trust you the same. 2). You never, EVER bring anyone here unless they are ULTIMATE cool. Again, you'll see why eventually. Jason gave us a 'heads-up' on you - and EVERYONE gets a vote upon your arrival. If ANYONE had voted 'no' on you, you would likely have been treated like an honored guest...but after you left, the person who brought you here would be asked to not ever bring you again. People would've acted 'normal'. 'Normal' is NOT our way here! You now have the same voting right as everyone here.

3). We don't lie to each other here. (Pointing uphill toward the macadam lake access road) What you do once you hit that road up there is what you do UP THERE. We don't care what happens out there. I don't even know where half of this motley bunch lives, because that belongs to 'OUT THERE'. But once you get on the dirt leading down here, YOU ARE US. And we don't lie to each other - EVER.

4). We don't call police for anything. Obviously, common sense rules. If someone is seriously hurt, or there's real danger somewhere, well, we trust your judgment. ...BUT...

Eventually you will see ('air' quotation marks) 'underage' people drinking and having sex. You will eventually see girls with girls and guys with guys. You will see every type of drug and alcohol available to whoever wants it. To WHOEVER....We don't place restrictions on anyone for anything. Whatever you want to do or be is okay with us. We treat our kids as short people with their own minds, and try to educate them about everything safely. We treat older folks as if they've usually got better knowledge. You'll see people running around naked. You'll see partners sharing time with others. EVERYTHING here is consensual. We won't tell you who owns the trailers or boats because we ALL do. You do too, now, if you accept us. The food is yours, the skis are yours, the clothes, beds, EVERYTHING is yours. It's also THEIRS (waving an arm over the group). ULTIMATE COOL means ultimate respect. We've never had a fight here. We disagree on occasion. When that happens we come to the pit and everyone works it out.

All that being said, there's benefits to being in this crazy group. Eat when and where you like. Same with drinks. Same with, uh, other party favors of the fleshly kind and illegal kinds. If you need something - ANYTHING - you can ask ANYONE here. Example: (putting his arm around a girl about 12 in a wet t-shirt and yellow flowered panties - also quite wet and visibly tantalizing), You could ask this young lady here for oral sex (smiles from the girl), and she would probably tell you she already has a girlfriend."

(*WHOA! Did he really just say that in front of....?!!*)

"...But she would also tell you that your friend, Jason, there behind you, gives the best blowjobs of anyone here."

(*HUH?!!? WHA..?!!? I turned to look at Jason. He was smiling and nodding. The crowd is giggling, nodding, and snickering as well!)

"Everyone here knows where emergency help is, where boat gas is, where firewood is, where to eat, sleep, and who to ask if they don't know. You'll get it all figured out pretty quick. You okay so far?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Good. Anyone can take any boat out at any time. Put in gas. Help with maintenance. PLEASE try not to sink them. (pause) That's about it. Guys' did I miss anything?"

Crowd, from several directions: Hugs! hugs... HUGS!!!

It was quite a rambling little speech. As I've related it here may not be exactly-EXACTLY word-for-word...but it's damn close - including the young lady portion that is indelibly, wonderfully, imprinted on my visual memory, forever. It was the craziest s**t I'd ever heard...and the most in-line with my own way of thinking. I'd found an island of Insane Sanity. Or Sane Insanity. What a group to be a part of!!

G.I.C.: "Cheyenne, do you accept this crazy crew as your friends, brothers, sisters, moms, dads, boyfriends, girlfriends, nieces and nephews...as your 'family-by-choice'?"

Me: "Ab. So. F**king. Lutely!"

G.I.C.: (Throwing his arms in the air) "HUGS!!"

EVERY person there came up to me, introduced theirselves, and hugged me. (A few kisses, too! Woo Hoo!!) Those that weren't present were told of the morning's proceedings, and THEY all came, introduced, and hugged me as well. I'd never felt more immediately and COMPLETELY drawn into a group - certainly not one like this that THOUGHT like me! I had been beginning to think I was the only one who believed...like this whole group did, apparently.

What a weekend that was, getting to know everyone (some of them intimately, relearning how to pilot different boats, relearning how to speak to kids who weren't kids - and some adults who WERE! The G.I.C. was correct. In the grand scheme of society, it was an island of sane psychopaths. Their ideas for living life seemed the sanest I'd ever heard. How they went about that living was at times emotional, comical, whimsical, and almost always spontaneous. They LIVED.

...And so did I, once I understood it all. Yes, drugs and alcohol and sex played a huge part of everyday living there. But so did love, compassion, sharing and caring. I fell in love with ALL of them.

MY GREATEST MARITIME RESCUE

-At the Island of Insane Sanity-

We were SOOOOO drunk..!! It was early evening. The marina was closed and no one had filled the boats or gas cans with fuel. There was just enough to make it the couple of miles to the marina and back, maybe, in the ski boat, and the pontoon was out, Out, OUT.

So, yeah, but we were drunk and someone suggested that we go out to the island. The island was a tiny speck on the lake about 2 miles away...or so...up-current, and all the way on the other side from the trailers. It was big enough for about 6 people to comfortably camp a night on, or 10 to 12 people to hide from the kids, to party and have sex on for a couple of hours. It was much like my farm pond island, only slightly bigger. Fire circle in the center, log seating in the small clearing of pine and brush that circled the island. There was only one real 'beach' big enough to actually pull a boat up onto.

Mostly nobody actually camped there because it was a great party spot at night - all kinds of folks coming and going - and it was a fun spot for sober adults to take the kids in the daytime for family outings.

Hey...I told them I didn't think we'd make it there AND BACK on what fuel we had...but we were SOOOOO drunk!! So, vote taken, four males and three females all set out on the fun boat. We arrived safely and I began to feel better about making it back - Of course, that was AFTER we'd mostly killed another cooler of beer and several joints....

Oh yes! Fun, we had!!! Then it suddenly got cooler, and beings all of us were in swimsuits, sans extra clothing (Who needs clothes for PARTYING on the lake, right? Drip-dry is the preferred method...). We began our return trip, yours truly unsteadily at the helm. (It's a good thing said lake was so large. LOTS of weaving room!)

I had been taught that, at night, stay on the far side of the lake until I spotted a specific light configuration onshore. From down-current, it looked like such, from up-current, thus. When I saw it I could begin traversing the lake diagonally until I got close enough to see the 'home' cove. Sure enough, there were the lights, as promised. I began the final leg of our return.

About half-way across, it happened.

Sput. Sput. K-huh. Sputter. Khuh. ...silence.

There wasn't even any reason to try to re-start it. We all knew instantly what the problem was - and no sense killing the battery needlessly with useless restarts. I'm pretty certain that seven minds - all at the same time - went "Oh s**t."

Me: Uh...Guys....

Male #1: "No problemo (slightly slurred). We'll use the oars to row back."

Male #2, already looking : "Umm...No we won't. They ain't here."

Everyone: "What?!" "Huh?" "Whadda ya mean...?" "Bullsh*t!"

Female #1: "You just looked in the wrong spot. Look in/over...."

No. No oars to be found.

Me: "Are you telling me we got into a motorboat with almost NO gas...WITHOUT OARS?!?"

Male #1: "S'ok. Trollin' motor in the bow..."

Crowd: "Yay!!" "Yeah!" "Oh, that's right." "Get it!"

Female #2, looking: "Uh...there's nothing in here but life vests."

Everyone, again: "WHAT?!?" "Huh?!" "Ah, sh*t!"

(Pause)

Me: "Now what? We're drifting, and the battery won't last long (for red and green 'underway' lights)."

Female #3: "We could tow it."

Crowd: "Huh?"

Female #3: "There's 3 or 4 tow ropes here. Lifejackets for everyone. Everyone on a rope and head for the lights. Six pulling, one rests. Switch out. Shouldn't take long."

Ah...This idea has merit, decides a very drunk group of healthy young adults. We can (drunkenly) swim about 2/3 of a mile, towing a boat, in darkness, sans fins, flippers, or any other assistance. Just pull for the lights. Yeah. This'll work. We'll be there in half an hour.

Yeah.

Tow ropes? (Umm...) Check. Two of them. (That's okay. Three swimmers on each, right? No prob.)

"No. TWO each. Two PUSHING, one on watch."

"Yay! Hand us another beer."

Running lights? Check. Still on.

Life vests for all? Check.

All actually ON each person? Yes. Check.

"Who's on the port (left) rope?" (hands) The speaker and female #2

"Starboard (right)?" "Us." (Duo #2)

"Pushing?"

Me: "That leaves me and (female #1)..."

"Okay, B---, that's you on watch, relief and beer guard. Everybody in."

All in the water in the black of night - "Can everyone see the lights?"

Pushers, playing 'touchy-feely' behind the boat: (laughingly) "No!"

"Very funny. You don't have to. You just push. We'll steer. READY?!?"

All: "YES!"

"SWIM! PULL LIKE YOU MEAN IT!"

The disadvantage in being a 'pusher' is: You can't see ANY progress. You feel like you're going nowhere. The advantage?: If you get tired you can hook your feet in the recovery ladder...and just float...or relax - especially if you have an overly friendly lady friend who needs 'help' floating - and likes being kissed and tickled...in all kinds of spots, with all manner of things. (Can you see the smile on my face?) Another advantage: The watch-guy is close, without being observant.

"HEY B---!"

"Yeah!"

"Light us two cigarettes and hand us two beers, please?"

"Comin' right up!"

Eventually the lack of beer and cigarettes started to get to everyone (ahem...except maybe us pushers). All came in for a break - and realized we'd gotten basically...nowhere. AND it was COLD out of the water. FOR REAL cold!

Female #3: "You guys, this ain't working. And I'm freezing."

Female #2: "Me, too."

Male #2: "Yeah."

Silence, as the reality of the situation begins to sink in through the alcohol fuzzed minds, while the running lights get dimmer and dimmer. -

Looooooooong silence-

Me: "I can swim good."

(Hopeful optimism in the looks of some, skepticism in others.)

"I'll swim back, get the rowboat, put a motor on, come back and tow us in."

Male #1, looking toward shore: "I don't know, Dude..."

Me: "What? Are we gonna stay here and die of hypothermia IN THE F**KING SUMMERTIME? No way! I can do it. We got no towels, no clothes, no oars, the lights are dying...We gotta do SOMEthing! I'll have a life vest. I'm not going to sink from here to there. The current might put me ashore on the other side of the cove, but that's only a 1/2 hour walk around. Even with that I should be back here at the LATEST...2 hours, tops.

I can do it. Let me smoke one more cigarette, I'll take a couple beers, you all huddle up together and stay warm. Use the vests for covers. We'll be O.K. Two hours. (Female #1 says nothing, but hands me her 1/2 finished cigarette.)

Minutes later I had a beer in my hand, one in my back pocket, a ski vest on, and was swimming into the darkness alone. (This SO goes against EVERYTHING I've ever been taught about potential emergency situations...My Grandfather would be having an absolute FIT if he knew!)

The beer didn't last long. The one in my pocket created a drag that I could feel. The other was just too hard to keep out of the lake...and I saw no good reason to get the fish drunk. By the time I'd gone halfway I was mostly sober and starting to think things over. This really wasn't funny anymore. They could die out there, no bullsh*t, unless I got back to them VERY soon with help. I checked my bearings. I'd done well. I was actually going to land on the point of land on the near side of the cove, if the current didn't change and I could keep the pace. That meant I'd be out of the water faster and could take the trail to the trailers. (F**K!! I didn't bring my shoes, and that's a rocky trail! DAMMIT!)

I could no longer see the boat's running lights (*Damn! SWIM!*) But I could now hear voices on the shore in front of me. (Halleluiah! Someone with a boat, maybe? Please, Please, PLEASE?)

Fishing-

They're fishing...and partying. (Well...my kind of crowd, anyway.)

Now...Wouldn't it be funny if I just swam up, nice and quiet, to the fishing pole, pulled the line REAL hard, and as soon as someone went to reel it in, stood up like a giant jumpin' fish?? (I said I was MOSTLY sober. hee hee hee)**

*S-l-o-w...q-u-i-e-t...f-e-e-l for the line...(YANK! YANK-YANK!!)*

"HEY! Hey! Holy Sh*t!! Get your pole! HURRY!"

"I got it. I got it!"

Two male voices: "Holy sh*t! He's HUGE! Gotta be..."

(Me, suddenly jumping up about 10 feet from them)

"YEEAAAHHHH!!!"

(Guys falling, stumbling backwards, cussing and laughing - but NOT dropping the pole!) "WHAT THE..??!

Their crowd, laughing, pointing...rolling in laughing fits....

Me, laughing my azz off: "Sorry. Couldn't resist. Seriously, I need help. For real. Anyone here have a boat?"

Negative answers all around.

Me: "Damn. Alright. I'd explain, but there's no time. I'm Cheyenne. Got friends out there you can't see. Gotta go. I'll stop in tomorrow and explain. Bye! (Gimping up the trail to the trailers) Uh...good luck with the fishing! (More gales of laughter behind me)

A few minutes later I was at the trailers, and the place was absolutely deserted! I quickly got some warm, dry clothes for me, thought of blankets and found a couple pairs of sweats that might fit the others. More cigarettes. Lighters. COFFEE, brewed quickly while I get a boat together.

I ran down to the dock to see if by chance the rowboat already had a small motor on it (used by the younger kids when they wanted to go see their friends in the next cove over from us), and there was NO ROWBOAT! What!? Where the hell is...?! (I can't row the pontoon by myself. SH*T!)

Back to the other trailer to look for a gas can that may have bee overlooked. No gas, but a note from Colleen, one of the younger set: "We're all over at -----(next cove over)"

Well of COURSE they are! And another note, from the older couple that was here when we left: "Gone to town for -------. Back in A.M."

SON. OF. A. BITCH!!!!

(Now, smarter, more sober people would have gotten in a car and driven over to the next cove, where there was a boat - or two - and adult help. More sober people....)

You gotta be kidding me! The ONLY boat available that I can handle alone (Completely forgetting there was a CANOE somewhere around!), is a kids Styrofoam swimming pool boat about 6 or 8 feet long. It had been a 'sailboat', but the sail had long ago disappeared. Now the kids used it like a canoe to get to the muddy, other side of our cove to play. I wasn't even sure it would hold my weight.

So I tested it. Surprisingly, it held up quite well. Hmmm....

If I could attach a trolling motor, it would be slow, but....

There were plenty of trolling motors around. I grabbed one, grabbed some scrap plywood that was there, sandwiched the Styrofoam stern between two pieces of plywood, and attached the motor. It held. Now all I needed was a good battery. Plenty of those around too. I grabbed a couple and tossed them in, ready to be off.

...Except they were BOTH dead. Of course.

Okay. Try again. It's not like there aren't plenty to...

WHAT THE F**K!?! THREE more dead! F**k this! I got my wrench out, ran up to my car and took my own battery out of the car. Back to the boat. One good battery would just have to be enough. This was taking too long! They're probably freezing by now.

I put the clothes, towels, blankets, cigarettes, etc. in a bag, grabbed a flashlight and the coffee...Oops. ANOTHER flashlight, too, (running lights dead...), hurry. HURRY!

(Please, God, let this work.)

I put it all in this toy boat and headed out, oh-so-slowly. Fortunately, the current had drifted them closer than I could have hoped for. My arrival back at the ski boat was met with enthusiasm AND incredulity. I was treated like the returning sea hero knight for the blankets, clothes, coffee and cigarettes.

...But...

"You're going to tow us back in...THAT!?! Where's the rowboat?"

"Don't ask right now.

"Don't ask right now. Trust me, this was the best I could do for the moment." Notes found from the kids would explain my predicament later.

The return to our cove was actually somewhat anticlimactic. Everyone (else) was (STILL!) drinking, warm, dry, safe. The battery lasted...sort of. It was on it's last-legs when we reached the dock. We were probably towing faster when we were swimming - but we made it. Everyone climbed out and headed for parts unknown.

I was beat...but the sun was just cracking over the top of the mountains that surround the lake. I sat on the dock for a few minutes, quietly thanking the powers-that-be, and watching the sun come up. My lady friend-of-the-moment came back out, handed me a cup of coffee, sat down next to me, and snuggled up with her head on my shoulder.

"That could've been bad, huh?"

"Yeah, it could've."

"I'm glad you were here."

"Me too. Wouldn't have missed it for the world."

We finished our coffee, then went in and slept well.

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