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"STARS IN OUR EYES" — SHORT STORY COLLECTION

— excerpt from 'Vintage Snapshot':

I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d driven coast to coast. It’s hard to swing it though. To drive round-trip, you need time, money, and stamina. But if you do one-way, your car ends up stuck on the wrong end of the continent. Still, I found myself jonesin’ for the Midwest, of all places. The fields and farmers, the Heartland. I didn’t have roots there or friends, just felt disconnected from Middle America. The Dust Bowl, the Corn Belt, the Bible Belt didn’t really exist for me; I was always flying over, never touching down.  

It was there and in the deep South, on back roads, where you’d come upon rickety pick-up trucks with rickety drivers in straw hats and overalls. Honest smiles with missing teeth. Waggy-tail dogs with waggy-tail kids. Haystacks. Where a pitch-fork wasn’t a Hollywood prop. I was jonesin’ for rustic, uncoiffed, unselfconscious, unkempt. I had the vision of a faded navy blue 1949 pick-up with a loose back fender and a whole family wedged in amongst their wooden table and chairs and everything the truck could hold, as they drove too slowly down a two-lane highway. On their faces you could see all they’d left behind, as well as the glimmer of hope about where they were headed. The kids would wave if you were in the car behind them.

. . . . .

—excerpt from 'Jungle Fantasy' : 

Ernesto was still shaking his head, sadly now. “The people here is…evil. They make up crazy things. All the people here is like that. They try to hurt people. It’s very bad. They make lies.”

“For fun?”

“Yes, for themselves. It’s very evil.”

“But I saw you go in that house.”

“When?”

“About an hour ago.”

“That must’ve been my brother. He look just like me—same size. He knows her.”

I studied his sincere face. “I don’t believe you, Ernesto. I don’t believe anybody here.”

“It’s true.”

“What’s true?”

“She’s not my girlfriend. I don’t have a girlfriend.”

I shook my head in bewilderment. He seemed so sincere, yet I felt any moment he’d go back across the street. “I’m so confused,” I lay back staring at the ceiling. We were silent.

“Ernesto?”

“Yes?”

“Why did you write those things to me?”

“Because it’s the truth,” he said, looking straight into my eyes without a trace of dishonesty.

“Really?”

“Yes,” he said, as though there was nothing more to it.

I was quiet for a while.

“Are we going to the farm?” I asked then.

“Yes. Tomorrow morning, at nine o’clock.

. . . . .

—excerpt from 'Liberal Agenda' :

After some pensive bike rides, Zazu got some journalist assignments going again. She drew the blinds. It was dark in her little flat but at least she didn’t have to watch the red-haired annoyance zig-zag from office door to Mercedes and back all day. Getting in and out of his car was clearly his preferred exercise, explaining the premature paunch.

“What do you see in him?” shrugged Annette.

“We’re just alike,” said Zazu, confusing her friend altogether. “I mean, you know that house on Pacific Avenue that they just painted dark turquoise?”

“You mean the one where they painted their picket fence that color, too?”

“Yeah. Well, the other day me and Freddy were driving by it and I asked him what he thought of the paint job, and he said, ‘It’s so awful that I kind of like it.’ And that’s exactly how I feel.”

“Do his feet touch the floor when he sits at his desk?” Annette wanted to know, “or does he swing them?”

“That’s mean,” said Zazu. 

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Excerpts "EXPEDITION COSTA RICA" :

"With a serious face, Orlando requested a word with me. I was wearying of trying to follow him and his commands—with no information as to where we were going, who our guides were, or whether there was any overall plan. But I accompanied him to a secluded bush to talk. We were so radically different that even our most innocent attempts at working together could clash. Now he wanted a promise that everything was going to be smooth sailing, that I would do whatever he said no matter what. I told him I couldn’t make that promise.

 

He had no tolerance for this attitude and mentioned having one of the boys guide me to Vesta from whence I could jump a ride with a Standard Fruit Company truck back to civilization. I said I’d prefer staying with the group until Alto Relibo, supposedly two days from here. (Alto Relibo, at the top of the Relibo River, was the home of the Locandila Tribe.) 

 

Orlando's talk of sending me out was a ploy; he actually wanted me to stay. When calm, he frequently reaffirmed that the success of the expedition, in relation to the 'Western World,' hinged on the four gringos getting through it."

. . . . . 

"There were fifteen of us tonight, a solid group with good cooperation and a sense of unity. It was a toasty feeling, coming in out of the rain after a mudslide day of many sensations, to just sit by the fire and drink hot tea made from lime leaves Orlando had picked. This, we hoped, would be the core group to continue the journey."

. . . . . .

"Ironically, it was turning out that we learned more about the Indians and their lives by traveling through their jungle and experiencing their battles with nature than we did by standing around watching them watching us in their huts. The hiking was what brought us closer to them. And, as far as they were concerned, the fact that we’d appeared here at all, in their remote village, could only mean we’d climbed for days through rain and mud and camped in the jungle…that we were strong."

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EXCERPTS "I DID INHALE—MEMOIR OF A HIPPIE CHICK":

"Our route took us way up into the peaks where I lost all sense of direction and just braced both arms against the dashboard as we careened around hairpin turns. Louis, this starlight charioteer, had found roads that wound around the Alps like balls of yarn, and he seemed to relish terrifying me. Then, as our ears popped, and with no warning, he lit into a chauvinistic tirade against hippies and women—female hitch-hikers in particular. He ranted on, all the while doing a mad tango with the steering wheel. He didn't seem to care about our lives, but had grave concerns about women trying to get equal rights. 'Who do you think you are,' he asked, 'hitching alone through Switzerland? We don't like that. And you won't have a very nice time in this country if you think you can hitch-hike wherever you please. You're a hippie, aren't you? And you think you can do whatever you want! You American hippies come over here and travel through and never even learn our language.'

'I'm not a hippie. I'm a person traveling from one place to another. You shouldn't have offered me a ride if you don't approve of me.' 

'You should be married, and you should travel with your husband if you want to go somewhere. It's very bad for Swiss young people to see people like you....they get bad ideas about trying to change their lives. They get bad ideas about sex, too, when they see young women like you traveling alone. You're not even married, but you still have sex with men, don't you? I know you do. All young people like you have sex whenever they please with whoever they want.' The background music was getting eery. 'You believe in free love, don't you?'"

. . . . .

"The Santa Fe Chief was a fast train that whistled steamily into Albuquerque from Denver and back. Still hooked on trains, I’d had my eye on The Chief for a while. Supposedly its route through the Rockies was breathtaking. Riding the freights, I thought, would make a man of me. And Anna was game. One Saturday morning we decided the day had come. We bundled up, though the March weather was mild, and thumbed out to the rail-yard.

It was a bit confusing, with freight trains all over the place. 'Let’s look for some bums,' I suggested. 'They’ll have the beat.' Jack Kerouac or somebody had led me to believe that rail-yards were bursting with unshaven hobos who played guitars and knew the freight schedules by heart. But we didn’t see anybody, just shiny tracks everywhere and segments of directionless trains. We were only interested in The Chief—riding with new Oldsmobiles to Los Angeles had no appeal—but didn’t know where to surreptitiously await its awesome arrival. But it was bound to come soon.

'You look lost,' said a voice behind us. It was a uniformed person.

'We are.'

'Whatcha lookin’ for?' he was friendly enough.

'The Chief,' I said. Didn’t want to sound new to the game.

'The Santa Fe Chief?'

'Yeah,' said Anna. 

'It’s comin’ through in about fifteen minutes…' he eyed us with interest. 'Doesn’t take passengers, you know.'

The woolly hats were the culprits. 'Yeah, we know,' we replied politely, then looked at each other… We needed to know what track to wait beside. We really had to be in a good spot to position ourselves for quick and discreet embarkation."

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EXCERPTS:  "SOME SWAMIS ARE FAT" :

"I'm coming to terms with the fact that less is truly more. The second mango, the second bowl of cereal, the second anything—even smelling a rose the second time—isn't as good as the first. So keep moving on to the next experience. You can smell a rose each day and each day it will smell beautiful. But if you stand there sniffing it, the pleasure fades fast. Why? Because it's what it is, it's not more than it is. Too much of anything—pizza, walking, even yoga—won't work. Too much love? Yes, everyone knows that's exhausting. When you have too much of anything it becomes something else. So we have to stay willing to let go and move to the next experience. Trusting that we can't keep today or this sensation. It's only what it is now; it can't continue and stay the same."

. . . . . 

"I seem to get further off track by the hour.  I've now denounced about five friends, my job, my vegetarianism, love, and a five-year commitment to no sugar. Solvency's next on my list. Meanwhile I'm hopelessly seeking some spiritual thread running through this weave. It's a mess.

'It's humorous to stay up all night writing about getting up early,' commented my friend Jordan.

I wish it was humorous. Which brings me back to fun, what I really think the quest should be for. God and purpose couldn't be this dry, this flat, this elusive.

So I don't know where to take this from here… 'Something different from my current reality' is pretty much all I have left. (Ironic that what I don't have is all I have.) As another friend, Tom Omara said, 'There's only time for rejoicing now. We've done all the rest.'"

. . . . . 

"Three years ago, Aunt Doris (an older family friend), balked when I told her I was dating a lifeguard. 'Honey, re-e-ally, a lifeguard??' She envisioned the kiddie pool at Motel 6, would never witness Clay's prowess in a crushing set of granite waves.

'Very comforting to swim with,' I replied. 'And he saves people for a living.'

Aunt Doris would prefer someone in a suit, not of the bathing or birthday variety. Who did she have in mind for me, I wondered, a lawyer, a producer? But asking would be provocative—we all have unlikely things in mind for others. Still, it's challenging conversing with people who have no inkling of your reality."

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