Sunday, October 31, 2004

Doing battle with Microsoft

The weekend was dominated with the computer. I found out the hard way that the combination of Office 2003 and FrontPage (any version) breaks things, and there is no way to unbreak them. True, they are annoying things and not vital things, but still a pain in the ass. So I copied a bunch of shit to the D drive and nuked it. Reloaded, pulled it all up to the configuration I wanted, copied files to a "in case I need to do this again" CD, then stepped away from it before I would be tempted to overdo it. The only problem is with desktop themes...which fixes itself if the jpg files are converted to bmp. I have laughed to myself in the past about Kathleen wasting hours on end wrangling her computer through similar contortions. Now the joke is on me. But now that it is running again, it sure is sweet.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Ring around the Moon

"If I looked for my glasses in the morning in the way that most seekers search for god, I would stumble around half blind all day." – Dr. A. W. Tozer

The ritual Thursday night was interesting. It looks like the group might be worth hanging with , even if it is full of young crazy people with way too many addictions and hang-ups. (Maybe they are just normal, but less occult – if I may use the word – in their shortcomings).

Once enough of the gang arrived at Steamers, I was recruited to play taxi. I dropped one kid off in east Provo, then it was to Geneva road near UVSC. On the ride there was a kid in the front seat who reminds me of Rick before he joined the army. He was wearing a black trench coat that I was jealous as hell of. He is...interesting. I find that the more I know him the less he reminds me of Rick in look, sound and mannerism, but more in dress habit and attitude. Does this make sense? Then there was the drunk chick in the back seat, whose name I didn't know at the time. She comes back into the story later. She was drunk. All the way over, she was going on about here addictions and problems, talking to no one in particular. I smiled at the part about "I don't need a man...I can just masturbate to get an orgasm..." I am thinking to myself that it was certain she would get laid within 12 hours, maybe with someone whose name she didn't even know.

It was at Emily's house (Emily being the Coffee Goddess in Harem pants from a previous post). She had one room of a house being shared by a rather wild bunch of people, connected with the coffee shop and with the smoke shop next door. It was a party house, which ended up being sort of a bad thing in the long run. The ritual was in Emily's room, which made for cramped quarters. Casting the circle had the HP calling the quarters while the rest of repeated a goddess chant. Then a reading or sermon of sorts, then a wine ritual, stating our personal wishes, our wishes for the Coven, then combining those wishes to a single container then separating them back out and consuming them. My wishes? For myself, it was to control some issues with alcohol and to find focus (more on these later). For the Coven, my stated desire was that it simply endure. The only hitch was the drunk chick – she was a bit of a distraction, but seemed to do a fair amount of sobering up for circle – she went from full blown slosh, the "Weebles Wobble..."

But then there was after ritual. The habit of the group is to gather with the others who live in the place and get drunk, smoke a bowl, etc. I stayed for a little of the drinking part (watching, not drinking) and followed the crowd outside when it was time to smoke (cigarettes). Then someone pointed to the sky and said, "Look at the ring around the moon." Remember past journal entries about rings around the moon? Well this one was as big and as bright as any of those I've seen before. One of the people looking at it was Drunk Chick. Well Drunk Chick decided she needed a hug. From me. A very long hug, complete with pulling my head down on her shoulder. Then after a short breather, she needed another hug. Fuck.

So here is Andy building his emotional walls, digging moats and laying mine fields, then this little girl makes an assault on it. I talked to another attendee later, in a sort a "What the fuck was that?" conversation and found that Drunk Chick didn't mean anything by it, and that if there was a problem with it I could just tell her straight up what I expected and it would be cool.

Before I went to ritual I made up my mind that the Monkey Boy member of my inner committee would be banished I wouldn't allow myself to let the "Sex Thing" have a place in my thoughts. I also did a general banishing of ego, feeling it wise to play a suitably small and proper role in the ritual. I succeeded. I was proud of myself. Then the drunk chick thing happens, pulling me out of that zone, dangling forbidden fruit in front of Monkey Boy, and bringing to the surface all that I had tried to banish.

I'm sure it will all turn out well. Nevertheless, there is a part of me that wonders what would have happened if I had taken advantage of the situation – how far I could have gotten in getting her to bed. Maybe the 'big change' indicated by the circle around the moon was that I would finally 'get it' and keep Monkey Boy in his place. [Six weeks later, this seems to be true. Proper decorum has been maintained, Drunk Chick acts a bit uncomfortable around me, but I'm trying my best to put her at ease. It is good, but Monkey Boy resents not getting laid or at the very least nuzzled a bit.]

My wish with the Alcohol was nothing so foolish as to stop drinking. entirely At this time it is neither desired nor proper (not to mention doable). Instead, it is to draw a few lines to keep the booze from screwing up a few of my ambitions. For example, as I write this I've had a little Sherry and I'm going to have some more right now. [yum] But I have kept to my goals so far this evening, and I committed during gnosis earlier this evening to keep to my goals (one of them being to catch up on my journal entries). The problem comes when there is no gnosis or other resolve, then I indulge in overeating or ignoring my goals. In the last few months I've gained back at least 5 pounds and fallen behind on a number of personal projects, small and large. As for focus, that is an ongoing thing. I'll make up my mind what I want to do (which is better than the land of indecision where I usually live) but then piss away my efforts with diversions and distractions. Focus.

(But what is focus really? Am I just focusing on more finely defined distractions? The questioner strikes again.)

Gnosis. More accurately it is Sexual Gnosis. [Details redacted]

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Baby Bats and Coffee Shops

It is past my bed time (9:30 to be exact) on a Thursday night and I'm at Steamers. I am hoping to meet with the crazies of a local coven and see if there is a place for me in their circle. Before driving over here, I was cruising the internet and hit a Christian ministries web site. It was linked from an e-mail on Wasatch Web to an article on how to use (or twist) that awful pagan holiday Halloween to witness for Jesus. The draw that got me to go to the site was someone wondering out loud on Wasatch Web if this site was serious or if it was a parody. So I looked at it with the object of passing judgment. If it is serious, they are just a bit naive. If it is parody, it is extremely subtle...subtle enough to earn some praise. But as I shut down the browser I was taken back to a place, emotional and mental, that I've been a few times before over the past 20 years. In putting together the quick notes for this journal entry I jotted down this phrase: "The awful lure of Jesus."

I'll be damned if there isn't a part of me that wants to leap into the abyss of belief and become a Jesus Freak. It is a difficult thing to write about. It is hard to be totally honest about it, or to find words to really relate what was going on. Relating it honestly almost brings the shame that comes with confession. The shame and the shock is that the pull is so strong I actually feel myself being sucked into it. And not in a small way...I mean I seriously feel myself getting ready to believe. Trying to describe it is like describing the difference between knowing that you could jump off that bridge if you wanted, and feeling the muscles actually start tensing, pulling you over the rail, and wondering if you will stop yourself or just let the motion have its way. I mean it is really, honestly SCARY.

So what is the draw? Why the reaction?

The first time I was in this place was on my mission, in a classic 'bash' where the guy we were talking to was really driving it home. It shook me up...bad. There may have been a few more times over the years when I felt this pull, but only one other before tonight stands out. That was listening to one of the authors of the Left Behind series of books being interviewed on NPR. But tonight was the worst.

So picture it. Andy as a Born Again Christian. Scary, isn't it?

Why does this happen? What is the draw? What is the attraction? Certainty is part of it. Xtianity is just so simple, so straightforward. All you have to do is believe, to accept, and everything else falls into place. Sure, there are still challenges and questions in life, but now there is a core of faith to hold to. So many issues that used to be shades of grey are now drawn to sharp edges, polarized to the twin purities of black and white. There is also the instant community that comes with it. All you have to do is walk into any four square gospel church in the land, announce your belief, and there is instant acceptance as family. More than that, you have that sense of belonging that comes from a feeling of 'us against the world", a sort of tribal or familial belonging.

On the drive to Steamers I saw the lights on at the district court building, third floor corner office. Eleven years ago that was my father's office. It sort of jerked me out of my reality and back into the past. There was no pointed epiphany, and no set reaction...just feeling the past nuzzle up against me for a moment before fading back into the background.

Flash I've been here a half hour and the coven mistress finally noticed me. This reminds me that I need to banish ego.

Crap...going way back to a previous post about the little blonde at steamers (you gotta go where the toys are), I thought I had noticed one of her ears being deformed. Yup, it is. Now I am picking up that the little twerp is deaf. But she is making noises, so I could be wrong. Mom is teaching her ASL, and she is picking up on it pretty well.

Gads. It is 10:00 and some people are showing up, possibly members of the coven. Baby bats. Why is it? Where are the middle aged people? Why don't the hang at coffee shops and join covens and just act like something other than reclusive farts? Then again, this is Utah. They're all doing their "Church Jobs".

If a bug had pants, would they have a fly??

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (redacted)

Redacted: Nasty events, frustrated dealings with family members, etc.....

[As I write this, in Steamers, the local middle aged drunk sits across the table from me, head in hands, feeling the pains of too much booze, assuming a pose and persona I have lived once or twice]

On my evening walk, I was musing over Thelema and why it has attracted me since I first heard of it, over 20 years ago. No answer to that, but another line of thought emerged. I realized that I was tending to think of it as a "Religion". As such, any action regarding Thelema would be in the manner of other Religions where devotion is for the sake of the religion (treating it as an end unto itself, as a nearly incarnate entity), not for the sake of the worshiper. But with Thelema, taken as it should be, it is all about the worshiper. Call him a "practitioner" instead. Seen in that light, the only god IS man. And the whole point of each ritual, each devotion and each action is rightfully ME. Me, me, me, me, me. This may have to be meditated upon then expressed in more full and eloquent terms.

So if Thelema, and my whole reason for acting and being, is all ME centered, what is the profit to be found in helping others? If they have no connection to me, then none. But if connected to me, then some attention must be given. To keep them from becoming a drag on me. To cultivate them for what might be needed later. In rare instances because they are "Brothers"…as brothers fight ye. In still rarer instances, because there is a synergy where Wills are aligned and the disparate efforts and attentions combine to a result greater than the sum of parts.

On the topic of Liber Resh: It is not so much to praise the gods (at least not as external powers) but to guide the aspirant and enflame in the prayer of self. For example: "…even unto thee who art Ra in thy Strength…" What better way to begin the day than to praise and, by extension, invoke Strength. And at the middle of the day, when in the midst of the days labors? Triumphing and Beauty. Then to the evening, with the labors of the day completed: "even unto thee who art Tum on thy Joy". And finally, in the hours of repose...Silence and Hiding. Works for me.


Then there was the night I got drunk, found a "Magic Marker" and started re-labeling shit in the house. What is a Drunk sexually frustrated middle aged man supposed to do when confronted with a label that says "Extra Virgin Olive Oil"??????

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Go North, young man

The drive home was another straight shot. It must have been a real prize winner if the quick notes I wrote about it amounted to this:

Adventures of the pee cup. All the way to Cove Fort on a tank. Beer in Page (Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale).

The "Adventure" was that it was full, tipped over, and soaked one side of my hat. Dang. But it dried out and I started wearing it the next day. No need to wash it (snicker, chortle).

One of the more disgusting moments was suffering "Coffee Shock" at Cove Fort. I stopped for fuel and caffeine. A few miles down the road, after it had cooled a bit, I took a snort of the coffee. It was such a rude shock. After a full week of good coffee, to suddenly partake of the dull and the weak was almost more than I could take. I choked it down, but it wasn't fun. The stuff I drink during the week at work may just be Folgers, but at least it is brewed strong enough to keep the hair on my nads healthy and thick. When I got home there was a cute little red car in the driveway that hadn't been there before. Midway through the week Kathleen called to talk about Melinda then mentioned that she had –oops- purchased a car. This was no surprise in itself, because I knew she was looking.

I also arrived to find the house torn apart and Kathleen stripping glue and gunk from the walls and ceilings in the living room. No sooner had I finished unpacking than I got to help put the house back together. Some time during the evening I posed the question to Kate: If the beer I was drinking was made in Sedona, does it get you 1)drunk, 2)new age woozy, or 3)brain cells move out due to increased property values.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Epic Revalations

Every trip like this carries a temptation to look for the "Big Aha!". The Big Aha is a generic description for the moment of enlightenment, or realizing that one thing (big or small) that I can take home with me.

But there is seldom such a moment. The last few trips I have pushed this expectation to the background (which is good, because I came away empty, but not disappointed). In spite of this, that is in not looking for it in some sort of a large way, there is still an undercurrent of hope that something will reach out and bite me. So I remain aware of the chance of a discovery, but if I feel a desire for it creeping up on me, I try to ignore it.

Nevertheless here is the journal entry recording the aha's that snuck up and bit me on the ass on this trip.

  1. The thing with getting tired when visiting Kate (and other times) is when I am 'doing for the other' when it is opposed to 'doing for myself'. This is covered above.

  2. Appearances. I'm getting a bit tired of the way I interact (or not) with others in a public setting. It's not all the same issue, but a small number of issues. One is tending to sink into the background and get roundly and soundly ignored. (See the entry for November 16, 2004 for more on this.) Another is what might be called the "Cute Chic" reaction – to act out of character, or just plain like an ass, in order to call attention to myself. Although it may not always be a cute chic that I am trying to get the attention of, the script is still the same.

  3. Focus at work. I'm tired of chasing appearances at work, going for the shit that looks good, when it is obvious that there is clear work to be done. Nebulous versus real. Numbers versus reality. I'm having a tough time describing it. I guess the bottom line is that I know what needs to be done, now just move the fuck out of my way and let me do it.

The other side of that coin is getting stuck in the trenches not seeing the new stuff to be done, the larger items (and all those other buzz words). I'm also having a hard time defining the 'bigger things' (maybe the buzzwords really work and I'm just loath to admit it).

[ed. In the annual PMF review I managed to get some "must do" items pushed ahead of the fluff stuff]

"Live long and crossbreed." – Jeff of the Phoenix O.T.O.

The quote above started as Spock's "Live long and prosper." But the noise of the Denny's and my propensity to hear what isn't said twisted it into a far better quote. This is the monthly meeting of EPIC – Eclectic Pagan something or other. They meet then eat then someone gets up and waxes eloquent. I don't know the conversations that took place, but somehow Kate had it in mind that she could get me to do a thing for them on Ceremonial Magick. I had to sit Kate down and, like I could swear I have done before, explain to her that she was operating more on assumption than reality. I wasn't the sort of CM she thought, she was fucked on her definition of CM to start with, and she really needed to stop causing me to grind my teeth on the topic. Then we ran into Jeff Hardee of the O.T.O. at Pagan Pride. Problem solved.

He agreed to do the presentation and did a REALLY GOOD JOB. Lessons learned are, in brief:

  1. CM Really is a sort of self tweak psychology like Mike said many years ago. Remember Crowley and his phrase "Invoke often?" Well we immerse ourselves on a constant basis in negative affirmations. "Oh, I can never..." The idea then is to develop positive affirmations to replace them, then wrap them in the robes of vibration, invocation and ritual. Then invoke often – often enough that it becomes the new background noise to push out the old bad noise.

  2. The key to it all is Vibration. The exercise is to concentrate on a part of the body, just become aware of it, then vibrate nothing more than a hum. Then add to this by stages visualizing a change in what is being pictured – see it becoming warm, for instance. Then replace the hum with a word, god name, mantra, etc. Then visualize something that has meaning, either as adoration or as desired result. Build on this (remember to do it REALLY OFTEN) until it causes change in the universe.

  3. Get good at the basics. Then move on to...the basics. He drew the example from martial arts, where there are only a small number of ways to block a given attack. The idea then was to practice this small number of methods until they became second nature. Then move on to the next basic set. Then build them into a string or flow.

I didn't ask Kate about it later. I wonder if her opinions and misgivings of the CM thing changed. I do note that she hasn't made fun of it (or my interest in it) since then [Nov. 16]

"Learn to love the question" - Rilke

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Revenge of the Guitar Instructor

It was another day of recovery. Even so, it was just a bit more than sitting around twiddling thumbs. We did a bit of laundry so I wouldn't be forced to go home either smelly or naked. We also shelled the pecans purchased in St. David. This ended up taking a surprising amount of effort and skill. For ten pounds, the two of us were at work for a full hour or more. Once this was done they were fed into a blender and became an ingredient in pecan pumpkin butter.

There was a surprise in the mail – a CD from "The Guitar Instructor". It was from some poor lonely angst ridden artiste in Provo, with The Guitar Instructor being listed as engineering (or producing, mixing, or whatever). So we listened to it on a drive that day. It was pretty bad. I'm sure The Guitar Instructor's bit of it was good, but no amount of post production artistry can do anything to reform some music. Garbage in, garbage out. The album was off to a bad start with a couple of whiney "oh forsooth, feel sorry for me" songs. This wasn't helped by the fact that the man sang as if afraid of his own voice. After the first few tracks it got better – he belted a bit better (not much) and the tunes picked up in mood and tempo, but by then the momentum of the first few tracks had ruined it all.

Kate tells m that she later wrote a nice note to The Guitar Instructor with a thank you, and chatty edging around the whole "why the hell did you send me this?" note. But it sat for a few days before she sent it. In that time she thought about it real hard and pasted to the letter another that just said, "So what do you want?" In those words...actually in words a bit more direct and confrontational than that. So far [November16] she has received no response.

Wandering the streets of Phoenix

"If I think well of my life, for the same reason I must think well of my death." – Chuang-tzu

At first I was assuming that today would be a stay at home sort of day, but someone mentioned taking the bus downtown and going to the Heard Museum. It sounded good to both of us, so off we went. Kate got us off the bus a few blocks early, but that was OK. Walking is good (and for some reason, I sometimes have to remind Kate that I agree with her on that point).

Before going to the museum, Kate wanted to drag me to a café about a block away. I was under the impression that she had been there before and wanted to share the discovery with me, but she only just spotted it in passing, had never been there, and wanted to check it out. It was a good find. The food was remarkably inexpensive and was more than worth the money and the effort. Kate informed me when we walked in the door that it was originally built as a Sambos. From her first job at the truck stop in Payson, Kate had been in and out of waitressing jobs working for a dozen chains or private enterprises. The apex of this career was with the Country Kitchen franchise in Colorado Springs, where she started as a waitress, moved up to manager, then moved up farther to where she was in charge of setting up new locations and troubleshooting the ones that ailed – sometimes firing an entire staff and starting over from scratch. She also did a stint as waitress at a five star steak house in the springs called Fin's that regularly aced out the Broadmore for best of the year. So this makes her an expert on all things having to do with restaurants, from the paint on the siding to the grease traps to the slightest action or emotion of the wait staff. For the captive audience (me) this can be by turns entertaining, educational and wearying. But leaving all of that aside, by initial reaction to this place was, "How can such a great place exist?"

But I digress. The Heard Museum. I will confess to being let down. This visit just didn't measure up to my first visit. First, it wasn't a new experience, so the gilt edge was off of it. Second, one of the highlights of the first visit was a special "Clay People" exhibit that had since moved on to bless other museums. Third, there was a new exhibit going in, scheduled to open just after I return to Provo, making for a large empty spot in the tour. Finally, the museum was undergoing a renovation of sorts that resulted in some of the ongoing displays being cut down in size and pressed into corners. Having said all of this, it was still time and money well spent.

After the museum was a short walk to a place that had been described to me before in the past few days, in the most colorful of terms: a Coffee shop called Willow House. From what had been said, you would have thought it was a thinly disguised house of horrors or the gathering place for the local chapter of the Insane Clown Posse. But much of that description was based on how Ange and Kathleen remembered from a visit a few weeks before. So I was ready to dismiss most of what I was told, and did so when I actually went there. Willow House was great. It was fun. It was an old house, much like mine, that had been turned into a coffee house in the best beatnick and teenage angst tradition. In the main room there were a few shelves with merchandise and it was all the best off the wall sort of stuff. For example, there were the "Action Figures" – Sigmund Freud, Cat Lady, Barista, etc. The dolls themselves weren't worth having half so much as the descriptions on the back. "You might be a Cat Lady if…" The only thing missing something like a Ted Bundy, shopping cart person, tyrannical CEO or Marylyn Manson doll. One thing that I meant to purchase but never had the chance was the Devil Girl figure. I thought she would have been perfect to place in the back window of my car.

The one dire story of Willow House that did hold true was the paranoid bum on the front porch. The porch had been enclosed, the doors and windows looking out to it taken down, and it was a permanent part of the place, forming in a way two small private areas for patrons to nestle into. I had been told there was one guy the grrrls ran into who seemed to frightened or paranoid about everyone, mumbling to himself and moving to another table when someone got too close to him. Yup. That was him. I guess every coffee shop has to have its resident wingnut, and this one had laid claim to Willow House.

Next stop was home. We had the good fortune to select a bus stop across from a High School. Better yet it was an Arts High School and class had just let out. So we shared the stop, and later the bus, with a gaggle of existential angst ridden, goth dressing, cell phone toting mosh pit of greasy little teenagers. OK... maybe I exaggerate, but only a little. Also, as much as I like to moan and groan about it, it really was an entertaining bunch. I wonder what their reaction would have been to knowing that the Old People in their midst were pagans and were committing adultery with each other.

Pumpkin for supper. I dragged a couple of pumpkins from the garden down with me. We just jut them up and boiled them like any other squash (except that this squash needs to be peeled before you eat it). It was total yum. It was also nice to see them put to good use.

I am in the living room of the Kate's house now Glendale. Watching the Vice-Presidential debate. Once again The Wombat is silently screaming to the guys, "Answer the question she asked, not the question you were hoping she had asked!" Alas, because of this, Edwards is allowing Cheney to beat up on him just a bit. I'm also waiting for them to move on from the 9/11 Iraq debacle to something else. Beer. Beer is the answer.

One thing I have grappled with on every visit to Kate has been what I call "The Tired Thing." This is where I just become dead tired, or something like that, and end up losing all interest and energy for any activity or participation. This includes, most alarmingly, sex. Since when do I lose interest in Sex? On this trip, and right near the beginning of the trip, I think I nailed it down. I actually formed the theory on this months ago, after a previous visit, but this trip I tested it out. What it boils down to is this: It is a reaction to doing what someone else wants me to do, or what they want me to be (whether real or perceived, which is a topic that would take volumes to explore) in stead of just being me and doing what I want. Simple as that. So, as mentioned above, I tested it out. Once Kate and I were done with the "Us" activities and I started to feel the tired thing coming on, I asked what myself where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing. On the first instance, the answer was. "In the front room reading." So I grabbed my issue of Parabola and headed into the front room. I read. It felt good. It did NOT feel tired. So far so good. Later in the evening, before the debate, I wanted beer. Kate knows of my issues with alcohol, so the initial reaction was to back off and not drink (I had to grow a whole new set of balls just to buy the stuff). But I took the experiment into this choice. I drank, I got a bit drunk,, the world did not collapse around me in an avalanche of guilt and accusation and – best of all – I didn't suffer from The Tired Thing. Score.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Can't go home again

Today was the second of the planned road trips. If the first one was for Kate (which, in my own slightly slanted way of thinking it was), then this one was purely for me. In that light, it is worth noting that the "Kate" road trip was definitely on the schedule, while this on, the "Andy" trip, took a secondary place. I wonder if this ties in with the whole "Tired Thing" set of observations? The course I had outlined offered a number of attractions, but for me it all boiled down to one thing: St. David and the old family homestead where my father grew up. SO – to that end, we set off.

This time we got out of town without messing with all of the city traffic. My first observations were that Phoenix was growing as viciously to the south as to the north, and that I never remembered the air in the valley looking so dirty. Kate's observation, oddly enough, was that she had no idea there was so much agriculture in the valley. Later, on the way up through Thatcher, she expressed surprise at all of the cotton farming.

We stopped at a rest area about an hour south of town. In the parking lot was a woman seated on a folding chair at the back of her car. The trunk was open, she had a few small cases open, a mirror set up and was applying her makeup and doing her hair. She really didn't look like a lot lizard or like she was living out of her car. But she did have Florida license plates. The only theory I could formulate, only half joking, was that this was her version of evacuating for the hurricane season.

A few miles further we stopped at the Truckstops of America where Kate's friend Mike worked for a while. Breakfast in the diner did NOT impress me. Too pricey, too slow, no atmosphere. Yech. According to Kate, it used to be better. It was the only place I ate at the entire trip that I wouldn't go back to. Kate mentioned something about calling Mike and telling him the place had started to slide downhill.

Tucson we skipped, at least as much as we could – we stayed on the freeway and pretended it wasn't there. That made the rest of the ride a straight shot to St. David. I got us off the freeway and into town without any problem, which I only mention as a mirror of a few comments by Kate: Softened versions of the "Are you sure you know how to get there?" sort of thing. I'm scratching my head a little at that. Where does the doubt and questioning come from? When she's driving, I take something of a "That's why God invented the U-turn" sort of attitude. It won't kill you to miss a turn then have to backtrack to it.

But then we actually got there, and that's when failing instincts and the passage of time combined to foil me. I slowed down as we got close, then pulled off the road where I thought the place should be. As I later discovered, my instincts served me well and I was dead on in front of the place. But the brush just off the road had grown thick and high, not only at the old homestead but also at the adjoining properties, and I couldn't see anything more than 10 feet off the shoulder of the road. So I pulled back out and made it as far as the Golden Bell (now called the Twin Lakes RV park) before turning around and going back.

So I parked across the road from where I had been before, staring down a road crew in the process, and walked down the drive far enough to confirm that we had found the place. Then I trotted back to the car and we drove cautiously down the drive. I'll have to admit to being shocked that the place was still standing at all, and had changed little enough that I could still recognize it. More shocking still was that it had taken on even more of a Ma and Pa Kettle look and feel than it ever had when Gramps and Nanna were living there. It had become some sort of a white trash paradise. Then I knocked on the door.

Keith answered. Maybe it would be closer to truth to say that Keith's gut answered, large and hairy and uncovered, dragging Keith to the front door along with it. I introduced myself, explained why I was there and asked permission to wander around the grounds and take some photos. That was fine with him. In that first conversation I learned that he purchased the place only a few years after the family sold it, and that the name McGuire was familiar with him – that during the first few years he lived there, a few people had referred to it as "The McGuire Place". After getting the quick history of the place, Keith went inside while I started taking pictures. He was back out in a few minutes. This time he was in charge and his tummy was safely tucked away in a

The first I noticed, as already mentioned, was the growth up by the road. This extended to the neighboring properties and may have been a concerted effort to block out the noise from the highway. The next thing I noticed, and the saddest, was that the pond was bone dry. The pond had been fed by an artesian well with the outlet being a small pipe that poured water into on end. A cottonwood tree had grown near this outlet and gradually its roots had broken the pipe somewhere underground and shut off the flow. Keith claimed to have tried to correct it, but based on my observations of him and the property, I'm assuming that when it didn't magically come back to life after turning a few spades of earth, he walked away from it. This really was too bad, because the pond was one of the defining features of the place and many memories were tied up in it, both my own and those related by my father (many having to do with catching dinner in the form of frog legs).

The entire yard was unkempt and ignored. There had been some attempt at landscaping, making a waterway and related cutsie shit going from the pond and past the house, but it had long since fallen into disrepair. The old water pressurizing system was gone, replaced with city water. The garden area had a number of small trees growing in it. This was something that Keith was quite proud of, stating that the trees were growing so well and were so healthy. They were Chinese Elm. I could feel generations of ancestors, mainly on my mother's side, cry out in anguish.

The house itself was changed but could still be recognized. Keith had closed in the porch and turned it into the living room slash office (or so I assumed, seeing a computer monitor through the window). The back of the house appeared to be squared off where it had a few corners and protrusions the way I remember it. I could swear it the change was from having been added onto, but Keith didn't know what I was talking about when I mentioned the dining room floor and how it sloped from one end of the room being slowly lifted by the cottonwood root growing beneath it. One explanation for the state of the house that I found both fitting and amusing was this: The city required you to bring it up to code before making any changes that required a building permit (or similar improvements). This would have cost so much money that it was beyond the realm of reason. So Keith was pretty much stuck between the extremes of keeping hands off and allowing it to slowly decay or razing it and starting over. I never ask for, or was offered, a tour of the inside of the place. I figured it wasn't worth it for me and would have been too much intrusion for Keith.

The root cellar was still there, along with the remnants of the old tool shed. But there was an entirely new structure out where the rabbit hutches had been. It was mainly roof and screening, and I could see power tools and workbenches inside. I asked Keith about it, and that's where things started getting interesting. He dragged us inside and started showing us around. He was an "Artisan". His specialty is copper. He cuts out a shape in a wafer thin piece of wood, then cuts two or more pieces from sheet copper that will combine to cover the wood. Some of the copper is left alone, some of it is treated with acid to get the corrosion and green coloring. Then all is applied to the wood for a two tone piece. His works ranged from 2 dollar refrigerator magnets up to $100 pieces that were fairly impressive. All of his stuff was packed away in his van (he had recently returned from a show) so the only thing out for us to look at was a tray of the $2 magnets. Kate and I scooped up enough to dispose of a twenty dollar bill with plans to distribute them among family and friends.

By this time I was ready to go, but Keith was acting like he wad warmed up to the company and wanted us to stay a while. So after a few trial attempts I succeeded in getting into the car and getting back on the road. Turning back onto the highway I noticed the place across the street. It was a junk, antique and sundries shop. It came back to me that the same business had been there last time I visited, well over 20 years before. It was odd to see something so ephemeral have such staying power.

On the way into town I noticed a couple of roadside stands selling pecans and other local produce. In all the years I had traveled here as I child, and for all the stories from my father, I had no idea that this was a big area for pecans. I stopped at the most promising of these places. It was pretty darned cool. The selection was varied and impressive, all of it home grown (or from similar small places within a county or two). In the corner was an ancient machine with a hopper on top, wheels and gears in the guts, and a chute out the bottom. It was running steadily and slowly, cracking the shells of pecans. Cool. We got 10 pounds of nuts and some other stuff (I can't remember what, but I think it was for the old man).

The woman who ran the place was an interesting study. About my age, in good shape but you could tell she had gone some hard miles. She also seemed to be almost manic in flitting around the place, arranging and dusting and making sure everything was Just So. It was really odd, like she was trying to hide from us. There was sticker in her car window, the text reading "You know you want me." The car was old enough that the sticker may have dated back to her twenties. If Kate hadn't been there I might just have given it a try. So...more stuff in the car, and less money in my pocket, and back on the road we went. Next stop – THE THING?!!!!!!!!

Anyone who has driven I-10 across southern Arizona has seen them – the billboards with the yellow lettering, skewed a bit from side to side, and the extra curly question mark at the end, advertising The Thing?. Somewhere just less than 10 years ago Kate and Barry had driven this road on the way either to or from Austin. Being the kitsch junkies that they were, the stopped to check it out. We saw the first sign on between Phoenix and Tucson. After Tucson they became more frequent, then nearly a barrage after getting back on the main road at Benson. From the beginning of the trip we had been camping it up, acting as if THE THING? was the be-all and end-all of all destinations. It was the very cosmic reason for existence, if our mood and actions were to be trusted. Of course it was all camp, but as we approached our play acting took on life of its own and some genuine anticipation began to grow.

Finally we arrived. As tourist traps go, this one was a bit more useful than usual. There was a gas station and a Dairy Queen, with nothing much on the freeway for miles in either direction, so it was a good spot to stop even for the most jaded of travelers. Then there was a gift shop, an explosion of useless stuff like Meteor City, but on a slightly higher level. There were also some THE THING? branded items, winking at us and begging to be remembered after we were done and enraptured by the grand tour. Ah…the grand tour. There was a door opposite the entrance, of heavy oak and framed in iron. There was a sign near the cash register announcing "No Refunds". The price of admission was a dollar. (Who the hell would ask for a refund after putting down a whole buck?) So we paid our admission and took the plunge through the door.

For some reason I was expecting THE THING? to be waiting right on the other side. It wasn't. The door lead out the back of the building to a sidewalk. Painted on the sidewalk, a bit faded from the sun, were big yellow footprints showing us the path. These lead to the open entrance of a metal outbuilding with a sign and arrow above the door, hinting that THE THING? lay beyond. We followed it.

This was the first of three similar buildings, metal prefab barns arranged to form a circuit back to a side entrance of the gift shop. Together they formed an odd sort of museum – there was no common theme to the displays, but it had more the appearance of a number found items combined with the artwork of someone who, years ago, had some paint, some power tools and WAY TOO MUCH TIME ON HIS HANDS. The first of these works of art was a full size diorama of a torture chamber from the Spanish Inquisition. The "art" itself wasn't too shocking, but the idea of what it was portraying really bothered me. From there the art got stranger, but much more to my liking. It mainly consisted of pieces of what resembled driftwood, but most likely culled from the desert, shaped and joined and painted to look like animals from another dimension. I think the way I phased it was "Dr. Seuss meets Salvador Dali" (or was it …meets H. R. Giger?) About the time I was grooving on the surreal artwork the realization slowly dawned on me that I had been here before.

We finally made it to the third and final building. THE THING? was just inside the entrance. I nearly missed it, thinking that the suspense would be drawn to the last possible moment and it would be the final stop before returning to the gift shop. But here it was. THE THING? is supposed to be a mummy, or rather a pair of them (an adult holding a child). The implication is that they were found somewhere in the expanse of the desert and brought here for display. There is a sign mounted on the case posing the question, "Is it Real?" The whole thing is dried out and constructed in such a way as to hint of the odd bit of exposed dried flesh or even bone. But I think it is just one of the better works of the same artist who produced the other oddities on the grand tour. It was convincing to an extent, but the dimensions weren't right (especially the head being too small on the baby) and the supposed skull had something supporting the lips, but they weren't teeth. I can't help but wonder if maybe it wasn't a High School art of history project of some sort that grew beyond its mandate and took on a life of its own (so to speak).
Regardless of the authenticity, once we returned to the gift shop it wasn't a matter of "if" we were going to purchase a memento or two of THE THING?, but "what" those mementos would be. I was expecting there to be more THE THING? items among the usual junk, but it turned out there were only a few items to choose from. So we left with matching THE THING? T-shirts and bumper stickers, a THE THING? shot glass for me (I almost got a beer mug, but figured it was better to stay with the shot glass theme of the week) and matching black leather vests to wear over our THE THING? T's. Then a goodie from the Dairy Queen and we were of for Safford, Thatcher and points north.

I had told Kate about the trip my dad and I had made along this route years ago, and how he was retracing the steps of his long lost first love. But that was very early in the trip and she appeared to have forgotten about it. So after we left the freeway, and as we drove north, I kept an eye out for the bridge where the young lady's car had left the road and she had died. We crossed one stream or wash, and I wondered if that was it, but then dismissed it, sure that we would pass a dozen such places. As it turns out, this was the only place we passed that could have matched the spot. If I had known it was the place, I probably would have just driven on without comment. As a side note, one of the nights I was at Kate's there was a movie on that had Bruce Willis playing the part of Tom Mix. I later read that Tom Mix was an actual cowboy who made it into Hollywood, and that he died in a similar accident to the one that claimed my dad's fiancé. His car left the road and hit a bridge abutment, etc. about 100 miles to the west of where we were and about 20 years before my father's tragedy.

The next bit of the drive northward, through Safford and Thatcher, was unremarkable. Kate was surprised at all of the cotton farming. Other than that, it was just white lines and buzzing tires.

The mountains then crept up on us. We found ourselves climbing into territory that became rugged but by small enough degrees that it wasn't noticed. Somewhere in this we hit one of Arizona's Indian reservations and, by extension, one of the ubiquitous Casinos. This one was called Apache Gold. It was a simple one building mirror of the whole zeitgeist behind Las Vegas: Out in the middle of nowhere, with no reason to be, and sucking up money anyway, graced only by the partnership of greed and legal inequities. Stupid. Getting to the part of the rez where the natives live, we got stuck behind the cotton, behind The School Bus From Hell. Slow and stopping every 10 yards or so. There was no passing lane and no such thing as pulling over. Finally, after what seemed like forever but was only a few minutes, it turned to a side street, revealing in front of it…another bus. Isn't that just how life works?

After finally losing the last of the buses (there were three, and only the first was a real problem), we started hitting the rugged country in earnest on our way up to Globe and Miami. Globe was once described to me as a "Three M" town: Mining, Mexicans and Mormons. The last two of the M's I'm not sure about, but the first one is the very definition of the town. Mining built this town and still sustains it. It is an open pit copper mine nestled between the peaks and in the valleys near the top of a small mountain range. Going through town is interesting enough. Mining towns drip a unique sort of history, with old grand building erected when the fortunes were being made and couldn't be spent fast enough, rail lines that were built with equal largess and that wound where they please, allowing homes and businesses to nestle only after its thirst for right of way had been slaked. And best of all, this great history and display is all still used and preserved – not as museum pieces, but as vital parts of the current community and commerce. I love it.

The mine itself came after passing through town. It is a sort of "Oh My God" experience. It takes a second to realize that this is a mining operation that rivals Kennecott in size and revenue, only it is right there off the main road, not flung to the far side of a broad valley.

Miami was next. It was less grand and more quaint – more the type of place to find a good café or used book shop. Then came the canyon.

The canyon was impressive and by itself almost worth the entire drive. Combining it with the previous 50 miles, it's like a jump ramp for a titan sized Evel Keneval – something of a steady drive up, then the mountains dropping off leaving a series of steep and deep cut canyons leading down to the lowlands. Near the top of the whole thing was a spot where a cable was strung from one end of the canyon to the other, with a car slung beneath it. I don't know if it was for use by the mining company, ADOT or what, but the terrain was impressive enough that I'm sure this was by far the easiest way for miles to traverse the gorge. A few miles after that was the tunnel. I'm sure it wasn't even a half mile ling, but just the fact of there being a tunnel was impressive. Better yet was the view when you emerged from the tunnel, looking almost directly into the canyon, then above it (yet below you) to the bridge you would soon be crossing. It was a steel arch, looking like a 1930's "Age of Streamline" design. It was just breathtaking.

* Sigh*

From there the trip was anticlimactic. We passed the grounds where the Renaissance Fair is held, and got disgusted at how far the city is growing, out to (and past ) Apache Junction. Even so, it wasn't a straight trip home. Nestled in the back of the car was a family heirloom that was on its way to the proper family member. Many years ago, Gene brought an old 30.40 Craig rifle up to Provo and left it with my father. The plan was that my dad would take it to a gun smith and have it looked at. Then, based on what he learned, the rifle would be repaired and/or returned to Gene. It got past the evaluation but no further when my father died. It was forgotten, then a few years later Gene died. If he ever mentioned the rifle to anyone, they either forgot or didn't care. So it ended up in my hands.

I never really wanted the thing, and had no plans for it. I just didn't want it to pass from the family. It seemed logical to me that it should go to one of Genes children, and Patrick was the only one who seemed stable and available enough to take possession. I had intended to take it down on previous trips and finally I put it on my packing list so it wouldn't be forgotten. I also gave Patrick a call in order to get his address and tell him what I was thinking. So, armed with address, we got off the freeway in Mesa with plans to pick up a phone and call for directions. Yeah. Right.

As it turns out, no one answered the phone. So I bought a map. Much to my surprise, I found that, of the 10 exits from Highway 60 into Mesa, I got off the exit that was closest to where we wanted to go. Better still, in the process of chasing down a phone and map, I turned the right direction and stopped for directions at the exact intersection where I would have turned to cross the freeway and get to Patrick's house. Such luck as this makes me pause and scratch me head, wondering if The Universe is trying to yank my chain a bit. But when we arrived, Patrick wasn't there. We delivered the rifle, talked for a while with Mary (the wife) then extricated ourselves. I use that phrasing because Mary tried to invite us for dinner or another visit or something, and for some reason I just didn't feel right with it. Don't know why. Just being The Andy, I guess. But they did have a nice house, which they can afford because both Mom and Dad work for the Salt River Project (one of the two major power companies in the area). The few family members I saw looked like typical surly McGuires.

And after that…home and bed and ready for another day of recovery.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Mystic Sedona - and a big hole in the ground

Today was the first of two planned road trips. The planned course was to skirt Scottsdale then turn north and head up through Payson and the other small towns and mountains up to I-40. Then left and a short jaunt to the turnoff for Meteor Crater. From there in to Flagstaff. Then down the old highway into Sedona. From there we would have dinner, maybe stay the night, then head home ad our leisure. Some of it played out that way, but some of it was a bit different. The 'Skirting Scottsdale' thing may not have been the best of choices. It was an hour just to clear the congestion and get to something that could be called "On the Road". But I'm not sure we could have found a better route, so it was no big deal.

City swiftly gave way to hills and high desert and more hills and more high desert. I have to tip my hat to ADOT for the roads. Kate liked to gripe a bit, but most of it was four lane divided, or two lane with frequent and generous passing lanes. As one might expect, there were a number of hawks. At first they were all perched atop cacti, leading to jokes along the line of, "So Fred. Is coffee break over yet?" But soon enough we encountered a group of no fewer than a dozen of them all in a loose group, catching a large thermal (break's over boys – get some altitude and get back to work).

On the way out of Scottsdale I was thinking of stopping to get something to eat, but then I thought it would be nicer to eat somewhere other than the big town, and the map showed a few small places along the way. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The first town we were planning on for breakfast ended up being closed. The entire town was closed. All two buildings worth of it (one of actually looked like it was up to code). So we set our sites on the next town. Not much better. That left Payson. In retrospect, this ended up being a good thing. We fond ourselves having a pretty good darn breakfast, for a really nice price, in a place that felt very homey and comfy.

On the way out of Payson I saw a sign at the roadside, marking what must have been one of the classiest businesses in town: "Rim Liquor". It was just too good to pass up. I swung the car around and stopped to get a photo, chuckling all the while as I pictured myself sending a copy to Rol.

The drive north from Payson took us into higher country, and eventually into mountain roads and a forest of pine and oak. At one point Kate asked me to stop the car so she could get out and walk a bit. While she did that, I looked for a tree or bush with a parched look that I could relieve (myself on). After taking care of my business I turned to look for Kate. It looked to me as if she was hugging a tree. I slowly ambled her direction. When I caught up with her I found her brushing away a few tears. She had been (sort of, but not quite) hugging the tree. She also collected a few acorns from the oak we parked next to.

A few miles further down the road was Long Valley, where we found a café in the middle of the forest and stopped for fries and onion rings.

Further north we began to drop down from the mountains and make our way back into flat high desert landscape. Were keeping our eyes open for the back road to Meteor Crater, but missed it. It was an unmarked, unnumbered road. I was surprise it was even on the map. And there was no sign telling us which of the little side roads it was. So we resigned ourselves to taking the main road in. This ended up being a fortunate thing for two reasons.

The first of those reasons was Jacks Canyon. In the middle of what had become a vast expanse of very flat land, there was suddenly a sign, some guardrail and a flash of open space on either side of the road. I hit the brakes and turned the car around, crossed the bridge again (slowly) and pulled over to the side of the road. We walked over the bridge and took a good long look. Later research revealed that this was one of several Jacks Canyons in Arizona, and not the one that pops up when you search for it in a web browser. (In fact we saw another Jacks Canyon sign much later in the day and wondered if our little canyon really did have such long legs.)

As one might predict, if you looked directly below the bridge there was trash, and at least one plastic bag full of clothes that had spilled its guts over the rocks (what it is with that? Is there a special unit of ADOT that dumps an obligatory Arkansas Samsonite at every bridge? Is this how the illegal immigrants mark the path to freedom and riches in America?). But if you looked further out into the canyon, it was gorgeous. The rocks were gorgeous, sort of like The Grand Canyon in miniature. There were some trees in the canyon, as if all the trees that were once on the plain had come together here to seek some sort of refuge. In top of one of the trees was an old crow, who was voicing every once in a while, then flew off in pursuit of a buddy who passed overhead. It is difficult to convey the whole thing in writing…it was just a canyon. But it was a REALLY COOL canyon.

The next landmark on the road was Winslow. Perceptions are funny things. I saw a town that was quaint, rustic, hiding its secrets and taking a decades long nap (the kind that feels really good and gets you caught up on rest for days). Kate saw a place that depressed, abandoned and confounding the proper order of death and decay.

Neither of us saw any flatbed Fords.

We were no sooner on the freeway out of Winslow when we saw a sign advertising Meteor City, a few miles before the exit for Meteor Crater. I was willing to pass it by as a useless tourist trap. But Kate had other ideas. The idea of a tourist trap tickled her fancies and she just HAD to stop. She even said something about how wonderful it would be, hope against hope, to find a Concrete Teepee or two. So we pulled up in front of a big geodesic dome, with a couple of smaller structures to the side that I ignored at first. Then, with mock dismay (and genuine surprise), I noticed they were concrete teepees. We went inside. As predicted, it was the typical tourist trap. It was an explosion of merchandise, ranging from 'shit cheap' to way too much, from kitsch to sublime. And, of course, there were the rocks. Sigh. Kate and her rocks.

After some time spent wandering the aisles and smiling, frowning or arching eyebrows at the offerings, we finally we split the difference between the extremes and took our treasures to the cash register. I got Kate a Katchina doll (later research, some done at the Heard Museum, identified it as a generic corn maiden). For myself, it was a shot glass with a comic rattle snake glued to the side. I declared that, given the visible attitude of the snake, this was destined to be no mere decoration, but a well used appliance. To that end, it was later baptized with a generous shot of (what else?) Tequila.

After a cursory examination of the old cars parked on display out front, we turned the Camry back to the freeway and headed to the crater.

When you think of a crater, you think "hole in the ground". It isn't until you approach it that you realize that all the stuff that used to be "hole" had to go somewhere. If I had been paying attention as we approached the crater, I would have noticed an increase n the number of large rocks littering the desert, and realized that were part of the debris field. I noticed this later when looking out from the top of the crater. But what was obvious when driving up to the crater, as well as impressing and awing, was the earth thrown up to form the circular hill surrounding the crater. As for the crater itself, it was an odd reaction on first seeing it. I was expecting something larger, something more spectacular, something that grabbed hold of the eyeballs and made you stop breathing for a second. None of that happened. It was...a hole. But the longer I was there, and the more I looked at it, the more I realized how my perceptions and judgments had deceived me. It really WAS that large, and it really was that impressive. Beyond that, I'm not sure I want to describe it. Want details? Hit the internet and look it up. I'm sure the photos there are better than the ones I took.

Of course there was a gift shop, and of course we had to get a few things. Keeping with my pattern, I got a shot glass. This one was a little baby alien, standing on the rings of his own personal little planet, hugging the shot glass.

We hit the road again, somewhat reluctantly, heading for Flagstaff. Once there, we skirted the edge of town by staying on the freeway, then got off the freeway just south of town. This put us on the road down Oak Creek Canyon. It has been more than a few years since I drove the canyon. I told Kate it was gorgeous, and breathtaking and had the most glorious hairpin curves. Then I started to doubt myself, wondering if my fond memories and more recent hype lived up to the reality. Then we came to the scenic overlook.

Like many people, the phrase "Scenic Overlook" means little more than "Place where stupid people slow me down while the are looking slowly and carefully where to turn, then having a bit if a problem remembering just how to turn without slowing down traffic in three contiguous counties all at once." So my initial reaction WAS to drive past it. Big mistake. Lucky for me, I overcame my initial impulse to drive on and I headed for the scenic overlook (making only one false move, and only causing the reaction described above in a few of my fellow drivers).

Unlike the initial reaction to the crater, this one was right on track from the start. Oh... wow... I really mean it. OH FUCKING WOW.

I suddenly understood why I had been gushing about the canyon before. It seems there was a bone in my head that retained the true memory of this place. This bone was tickled, it took over, and without revealing any deep secrets, it caused god's own truth to come falling out of my mouth. Again, as with Meteor Crater, you can look up photos on the internet. The Arizona Highways magazine might be the place to start. But I will gush for a few moments. To call this a "Scenic Overlook" is to tie two words together in an attempt to label something that leaves these words, both separately and combined, pale and trembling and clutching each other in awe and reverence. "Overlook" – There you stand next to a rock retaining wall, looking first to a canyon rim about a half mile away, then down into a precipice that plunges to a dizzying thousand feet or more. "Scenic" – Flaming rocks and spires and terraces. Deep crags and mighty pines that perch against all odds on slopes and ledges that defy the most adoring descriptions. Back when I had first describe he canyon to Kate, I caught the "Yeah….sure" vibe from Kate. She knew I was gushing about something that would end up being little more than a small hollow scooped out of a mud puddle. Then we got there, she was confronted with the reality, and when I heard her draw in her breath and say, "Oh...Andy", I knew I had scored dead on with the woman. It is these little moments of moral victory that are all that keep me going at times.

Of course we weren't alone. There were the other tourists and gawkers, serious travelers in search of a restroom, and the Navajo women selling trinkets. And then there was the crow, nestled in the top of a pine tree. He was large, and loud and gorgeous. No doubt he was a bit overfed on the leavings of the tourist, and we could only hope he was also over happy from the odd "Bright Shiny Thing" to be had from a careless vendor. In the midst of all this geologic beauty, it was odd and amusing to be spending so much attention on this crow. But it was fun. Crows are always fun.

We had arrived with perfect timing: Shortly before closing time, but not too soon to get our fill of the scenery. After we got that fill, we followed the last of the vendors across the tire rippers, turned left as they all turned right, and headed down the canyon. The canyon proper and the road that wound down it also lived up to the expectations I had set. It was all turns and brake lights and well respected guard rails. Toward the bottom of the canyon, I noticed a small sports car in my rear view, getting closer. I worried that I was getting in his way and if he would be able to pass me. But then he pulled over, just as the 'good' part of the canyon ended, and turned around, heading back to the top of the canyon for another run at it. Smart man.

We were now in the tame part of the canyon. The road straightened out and became closer to level. Trees surrounded us, and there was the occasional cabin. At one point the canyon opened up a little and there was a pull-off to the side of the road, and a rather striking panorama of rock formations around us. We pulled over to take in the view and get some photos. But in addition to the view, there was something else. Between the odd passing car, the canyon was very silent. But there was a stream at the bottom of the canyon, hidden in the trees, and you could hear the water running. It had been a long time since Kate had listened to running water (come to think of it, the same is true for me), and she stopped to enjoy and savor it. She commented on it once, then was silent. I guess it rated right up there with her tree hugging moment from earlier in the day.

About this time the sun was finally setting and dusk was beginning. We got in the car and headed for Sedona. I was still going with the plan of finding a place to spend the night, and I was looking out for likely spots. We passed a few homely looking inns, and if I had known what lay before us, I would have pulled into one of these parking lots and checked in. But, alas, I was looking for a better bargain than the 40-something dollars advertised and kept driving. Silly me. I obviously had no idea what sort of beast Sedona had grown into in the fifteen years since I had last visited. This became obvious when we turned the corner and hit...

...Tourist Mecca. Neon heaven. Restaurant row. The strip mall from hell. It was shocking and glaring. It was pure façade and glitz, all consumption and too much makeup and bellies hanging over tight belts and mystic shit and worthless Chinese merchandise and god know what else. All desire to stay the night evaporated. I later learned that this section of town was a new development and was built to very narrowly target the tourist trade, so it was no wonder that is was such glaring schlock. But at the end of it all, almost hidden (and gratefully so) was a little coffee shop called Raven Heart. It was either that or Starbucks, and neither of us could handle Corporate Coffee in the wake of the shock of driving into Sedona. So we parked a full block away (amazing that we got that close – and it wasn't even the weekend), and walked to the shop.

The coffee was good, but the view was better. The terrace overlooked one of the older parts of town, a strictly residential enclave nestled down in the bottom of the canyon. It was rather pretty, with the occasional street lamp or porch light, and the odd Pink Jeep winding through the trees on its way back from one of the many tours of the surrounding area, offered by the Pink Jeep Touring Company (or something like that). The terrace was also just far enough removed from the main street that we were insulated from the noise and lights. It was nice – perhaps this was the Sedona that was being sold in the brochures and web sites. We enjoyed it almost so much that for a moment I was tempted to look for somewhere to stay. But the temptation passed, and we got back on the road.

Eventually we came to the Sedona that I remembered from years ago – shopping centers and fast food joints. It was the part of town that honestly engaged in business, making no apologies and not pretending to any other purpose, and sort of tolerated the upper new age part of town as some sort of an unavoidable evil (or at least a distraction). From there, it was down the canyon, onto the freeway and to Phoenix. It was interesting passing through some of the places that I always marked as noting more than void landmarks to my true destination and here Kate comment on them. Chief of these was the town of Anthem.

I had always dismissed it as mere fluff – a spot on a map that mattered only because of the factory outlets that lined the freeway. But it seems the town is much "more" than that. It was built as a bedroom community to Phoenix, with some sort of a Family and Community theme to it. Hearing this much, I had sneaking suspicions that it took its name from the Ayn Rand novel of the same name and, to that end, was really a shrine to greed and status. Kate went on to explain that not long after the town really got rolling it was rocked by scandal. It seems that the contractors that built the first developments didn't do their job on the Rock and Dirt part of the job, and homes were settling into the shifting sands of the deserts, cracking foundations, breaking water and sewage lines, etc. This only led me, in my cynicism to hold harder to my theories about the name of the place. Why is it that people who read Ayn Rand just don't get it? Why don't they understand that the Sign of the Dollar that stands above Galt's Gulch is only true to its meaning if there is integrity on the getting of the wealth? Alas, they go to the ball to dance with the dress, and not with the woman who wears it.

Then home. A trip to the grocery store to get munchies for supper and a six pack of Nut Brown Ale. Yum. A relaxing evening, good coffee, then to bed.

Strip Mall Chic

There wasn't much to report for Sunday. It was a day for Rest and Recovery and for doing laundry. It was refreshing to hang cloths out on a line instead of shoving them into a tin box and letting them burn coal from a hundred miles away.

Somewhere in the day we went out for an early dinner at an Indian Restaurant. The food was wonderful, and the tea was excellent (Indian tea...yum). But I had to laugh inwardly when I went to visit the little boy's room. The strip mall with the restaurant appeared to be fairly new (less than five years old, which fit what I already knew of the neighborhood). But when I stepped into the bathroom, it looked as if the room had been subjected to several decades of hard use. Is this something intentional, sort of like 'distressing' furniture to make it look older than it is, or stone washing jeans so they look like cast-offs while on the rack? I can just see some poor strip mall builder looking at his notes and saying to a colleague, "Hey Ralph. Remember that place we tore down in old Tucson last week? Do we still have the plumbing and fittings from that down at the yard?" I wonder if the Indian and Chinese places pay extra for this. Maybe they move the business in and say to themselves, "You know, this stuff is a LOT better than the stuff we have in our house..."

On the way home from dinner we stopped at a wonderful little mid-eastern market called 'Open Sesame'. I got some Hot Mustard (which I forgot to bring home to Provo), some tea (most of which did make it home), and some dark chocolate that somehow ended up being spirited away from me and being declared property of The Old Man. Oh well...if Andy wants chocolate, then I guess Andy will have to have chocolate.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Pagan Pride Day

We were out of bed at 4:00 in the morning (5:00 Utah time - my usual time to get up on weekdays), but it was still a ungodly early. We made coffee, packed a few remaining things in the cars, and headed off to the park – me in the Malkuth-Mobile and Kate in the van. Brace yourself for this shocking news, but…we were the first people to arrive. Someone else showed only a few minutes later, but is was nice to know that the two earth babies were the first to arrive. The setup for our corner of the festival was routine (once they figured out just where we were supposed to be) and taken care of in mere minutes.

After finishing with our site, we pitched in (groan) to help with the big tents. Why don't these things come with instructions, or some sort of color or letter based scheme to offer a few hints on what attaches to what? But it didn't take us long to figure it out. Even with something like this, there is always that little secret to make it work so much better, and there is always that one person who knows the trick and is willing to pass the knowledge along. In this case, what I learned is how to tie a line to a tent stake. Loop the line once, with the tail off the bottom and slide it down over the stake. Hold in place. Loop again in the tail, with the tail coming off the top. Place over the stake. Cinch tight. Now start wrapping the rope around the stake, traveling up and trapping the head of the rope in the coils. Note that this shortens the head as it goes, increasing the tension from the tent. When you get near the top of the stake, very little tension is needed on the tail to hold it tight. One last loop over the stake and cinch, just to keep the tail from unraveling, and you are done. This will hold 3000 lbs – usually the stake or the tent will give way before this "knot" will release.

But Murphy's law still rules, hand in hand with monkey actions from the crowd. Murphy's law is that I learned how to tie down a line in time to do it only once. Monkey in the form of "Dave the Younger". This is a name given by Kate, and it is a cause for some consternation. Back in Utah there were a few Daves, known as The Elder and The Younger, who were ne'er do well's (and who also informed some of Kate's perceptions of the Ceremonial Magician…of which there will be more later). So every time she used the name, I would first think of the Provo version, then wonder if she was using this name as a sort of derisive term, then realize it was just an economy of words, and there really wasn't any other name she could use to separate him from the older Dave. Anyway…Mr. The Younger came along about the time we were finishing up with the last two tents and informed us that they had to be moved.


Kate had a word or two to say, all of them nice, but there is always the message behind the words. In this case the message was, "Sure. We'll move the tents. But we'll also spend the rest of the day casting raw looks at you and mumbling under out breaths when we pass you on the grounds." Lucky for us, another soul arrive, skilled in the art of diplomacy and also in the art of speaking words that have also have a message behind the words.

I don't know the name of our savior, I can't even recall his face, but he was a rare man indeed. He also knew how to say one thing while delivering another message. What he said was something like this: "Man, I agree with you, it should be moved. And if it was an hour ago, we'd move it. But it isn't an hour ago, so I think we're just going to have to leave them where they are." What he was really saying was, "You are NOT going to make these people move these tents, thereby negating their hard work and trashing their good will. Next time, if you just HAVE to have the tents set up 'just so', you better have your ass here early enough to take charge and have it done your way, instead of showing up late then throwing a hussy fit because these good folks didn't read you mind and do it the way you wanted." As it was, the performance stage worked just fine. No one was killed or maimed from things being in the wrong place, the earth did not tilt or wobble on its axis, and this place the audience just that much closer to the belly dancers…and this is a good thing.

There were a few other members of the gang that were there with us, or that put in a brief appearance. Ange was there all day (leaving the old man home alone all day, cruel people that we are). Kimie and her kids showed up and spent a surprising length of time with us. The kids loaded up on enough sugar to stay hyper for a week. There was also an appearance by Kate's Pentecostal (but very cool and mellow) friend (whose name escapes me). He was all bubbly because he bowled a 300 game a few days before. He was also supposed to be there working 'security', but that was little more that mere gesture or appearance. Like garbage patrol, it was mostly wandering around marveling at how little work was needed to get the job done.

The actual purpose for my being there, that of taking care of trash, deserves some mention. The overall layout of the festival was sort of like a mall, with booths (or rather tents) set up along each side, and a long open corridor down the center. The trash cans were set up on each side of the corridor, four to each side, like pillars holding up the roof of a long passage. s one might expect, there was a bit of work expended in hauling off bags as they became full, then placing fresh bags in the cans. There was also a time when we thought the park staff was going to have us haul them over hill and dale to the far end of the park for final disposal. But a lucky break when a crew came in and opened the gates to a closer works area with a dumpster took care of half the problem. The other half was solved when, impressed with how clean and well behaved we were, the park workers reversed themselves and told us to leave the rest of the bags outside the locked gates to this area, and they would take care of it for us. I think we impressed them.

As to picking up loose trash on the grounds, there was almost nothing to be done. The pagans of Phoenix were a very clean crowd that day. In fact I got a complement from the woman who had the same job last year, saying we (that is all 300 of us) did much better than last year. As it was, the wind stealing stuff from tables accounted for half the trash. Leftovers from previous days was also in the mix. I figure I picked up fewer then 6 pieces of genuine litter.

There was more to my day than just trash. For example, there was the polyamory discussion group – yawn. Even ignoring the fact that the topic had this one hobbled from the start, it was pretty bad. It was led by a fat chick. Little wonder. I left early.

The next presentation was by Kate, and was on Runes. Of course, she forgot her notes. And her brain did a big ol' flush as she started. But it was still better than the poly thing.

I made a point of wearing my OTO shirt to the event, hoping that at least ONE person would notice it and comment. I am pleased to say it ended up a bit better than that. In fact, much to my surprise and pleasure, the OTO had a booth there. There is a body in Tucson and the folk at pride day were on the verge of having a Phoenix body chartered. I found out later that they were all but approved and the only item still undecided was the name of the body. The guy in charge of the OTO effort was Jeff Herdee, and he makes a few more appearances in this narrative. Jeff was also the first to notice my shirt and comment on it. When I stopped by the OTO booth I picked up a few buttons (the OTO lamen was one, the other has a quote from the Book of the Law, "But to love me is better than all things…"). On a later trip to the booth I got a pair of short Tarot read from Jeff. I can't recall the cards that came up, but I can recall the questions and the answers.

The first question was whether or not to make an internal commitment to Kate. Not that this was NOT the flip side of the question, which is whether to break off the sexual commitment. In other words, do I formally forsake the possibility (and, if can be done, the actual desire) of sex with another woman, with the idea in mind that she and I will some day be living in the same airspace and having a more formal relationship. The answer was "No". So I guess this means to leave the relationship as it is, and accept that if some sweet young thing crosses my path and leads me to her bed, I should not allow thoughts of Kate to stop me from following. (Note that this doesn't mean I should just go without thinking. There may be a dozen good reasons not to be led down the primrose path, and they should be heeded. But Kate should not be among those reasons. On the other hand, and going back to the dozen valid reasons, I better be able to defend my actions if and when Kate levels the inevitable charges of insanity against me.)

Tarot read number two was on the wisdom of seeking an initiation with the OTO in Salt Lake City. On this on, I do recall the cards: Ten of Swords reversed, Ace of Swords reversed, then Ace of Cups (not reversed). In other words, do it. You'll have major trouble in the realm of intellect as you pursue this course (10 swords). You really WILL have trouble in the realm of intellect – trust me, you will (Ace Swords). But it will have a payoff (Ace Cups). Jeff didn't say anything about the fact it was the ace of CUPS (emotion, love, etc), only that is was an Ace. So I filled in the gaps (insert here a clip of Animal, drummer for Dr. Teeth, saying "Woman!"). Am I right? Then again, it could be Nuit and not a woman of mere flesh and blood.

Then there was the cast of characters, taken in order from ridiculous to sublime. Somewhere around the middle of the day we were graced with the brief presence of a gentleman I have chosen to call Mordachi The Foul. This man was dressed a robe of gold and black, flowing and regal, with a hood that even Crowley could envy. The image crossing my mind was of the top ten grand poobah's of the Golden Dawn, all pump to full brim of ego, with broom handles suitably inserted in ass, rolled into one person, and sent to pass judgment. He swooped onto the grounds and proceeded in regal if solitary procession in a single grand circumambulation of the grounds, starting at the southeast corner and proceeding widershins (of course), stopping for nothing yet acting as all that he passed paused in awe and reverence of his noble person. (They didn't – I doubt more than a dozen people even noticed him, and I am equally sure that each of us sniggered at the sight.) Then he passed out by the route by which he entered and was gone. I am guessing that we all managed to pass the scrutinizes of his judgments, for the earth did not open and swallow any booths, people or venues – as surly must have happened had we proved unworthy.

Then there was the usual collection of baby bats. What surprised me was how many of them knew Kate, seeming to hold her in some regard. I am told that this was largely the result of one remarkable young man who dragged his friends to a Rune class taught by Kate. I have some photos of a few of them playing a rousing game of slap and tickle, although it looks like they are dancing. I guess the difference between the two can be blurred at times.

Then there was the booth of The Astrology Shop. This is where I purchased a shot glass. On it was the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. The caption was, "Did the wizard ever get back to you about that brain?" Alas, this started a pattern that plagued me through the visit, resulting in a small collection of shot glasses following me home. Better than the shot glass was the two men running the booth, and owners of the shop. They were obviously and painfully gay. They were also from Utah, having moved out of Zion some 20 years previous.

Another memorable character, even though I studiously avoided her, was this little old lady, grizzled and wrinkled, who had the appearance of being the crone's own crown. The few times I crossed her path I found it hard to make eye contact with her, preferring very much to adopt a duck and run response. There was no visible reason why she had this effect on me. Under the surface of my psyche I think it felt like she could see through me, and that made me feel uncomfortable. It took me while to figure out that she also belonged to a guitar case sporting a flurry of stickers on the outside and housing a gorgeous 12 string on the inside. (of course this surprised me, because old people aren't musicians, right?). During Kate's Rune presentation, this woman took over the acoustic stage and started playing. At first it looked like she was just playing for her own pleasure, but then she waved a few people over to listen, and before long she had a small collection that included most of the baby bats. Whatever she was performing, it obviously captivated them. Every once in a while there would be laughter or some other response, indicating that she was playing well to her audience. Were is not for my fealty to Kate, I would have gone over to join her audience.

I learned later that the woman grabbed Kate's friend Rowan near the end of the day and stated flatly, "You. I'm going to teach you everything I know about the craft." Who could say no? Rowan is a member of the women's group Kate has been doing ritual with, having moved to Phoenix about a year ago. She was in a bad situation where she was living. Her children, living on dire straits themselves, did all that they could do for mom in buying her a one way bus ticket to Phoenix and sending her off to her future. She stepped of the bus without a dime and started a new life. It appears that she has done well for her prior resources and situation, and should be proud. So it may be that the crone could see through souls, took a look at this one and said, "Yes. This is good. This will do."

The day went pretty fast – one of my fears was that it would drag and leave me silently begging for an end to it. But it pleasantly enough, just the right pace, and over when I was ready for it to be over. Tearing things down went faster and more peacefully than setting up. We had plenty of helping hands, all of us feeling very good about the day. One of the helpers, still dressed in her dancing garb, reminded me very much of Willow. It was quite invigorating, distracting and frustrating, all at the same time. We pulled the last stake, emptied the last trash can and took down the last table with perfect timing,, finishing exactly when it was too dark to go on. I call that good timing. My car pulled out of the park at 7:20 – for a 14 and a half hour day.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Road Trip - Day 2 - 'West and We-waxation'

One of the central points of this trip was to be one of Kate’s helpers (or the “slave of the slave”, as she described it) for the Phoenix Pagan Pride Day. To that end, my original plan was to arrive noonish on Friday. Then I would attend Kate to the blessing of the grounds and get a good night’s sleep before helping out on Saturday. Arriving ahead of schedule allowed for this and more. I was able to get a good nap and have more than enough time to ‘get into the saddle’ on Friday. When we went to the blessing, I met a few of the people I had heard Kate talking about (none really stood out), but sat out of the actual blessing. This caused a bit of consternation to Kate, but I explained that is was her Pride Day, not mine, and that I didn’t feel right being an active participant in the blessing. She understood this, but I think she didn’t completely agree with my choice.

Road Trip Day 1 - Getting there

This starts the account of the road trip to Arizona to visit Kate. The plan was to have as much of my stuff packed up as possible, then drive down. I also planned to stay the night somewhere on the road, between Kanab and Flagstaff. But instead, I drove all the way through to Glendale. Each time I got to one town I would thing, “Just make it to the next.” The urge to stop, and to continue, started in earnest at Page. I drove into town, saw the motels a bit crowded for my liking, then hit the road. Maybe Flagstaff ….maybe not that far. Not more than two miles out of Page a shooting star came down – a large bright one – heading directly to where the road vanished into the darkness. I laughed, choosing to treat it as a sign.

Then Flagstaff, and the same choice. This time I didn’t bother going into town. I did the math and figured it was another two hours. Why bother stopping now? So I hooked into the Interstate at the north side of town and continued. After skirting Flagstaff and leaving the city proper, again only two miles past the last Flagstaff exit, there was another shooting star. As with the first, it was large, it was bright, and it aimed for where the road led into the night. I laughed and kept driving. The last hour was tough, but I long ago learned to stop at all the rest areas and put my head under a faucet, run around the parking lot, and pump myself up for another 40 minutes.

I arrived at 1:00 AM local time (2:00 AM my time, or 10 hours after leaving Provo).