Category Archives: Short Fiction

short or “sudden” fiction stories from 1987 onwards – vaguely related but really standalone pieces exploring love, loss, loneliness, deceit and abhorrence of work

Escalante Flashflood – From Community College to Canyon Bottom

flashflood dave marty tent

With my right hand, I gripped on to the side of the cliff. There wasn’t much to grab on to. The rock was red and sandy. I was perched on the tiniest of ledges which is sleek with the fresh rainfall. Below me was a waterfall that dropped off 12 feet or so. Down below, Marty was bobbing up and down in the swirling pool.

The rain had picked up now. Large branches and small trees that we’ve passed hiking just a day or so ago were now shooting off the ends of the waterfall — torpedoing, javeling their way towards Marty.

He tells me to throw down the second pack. I’m grasping it with my left hand. As I hang out over trying to lean to get enough leverage to throw it over the lip of the waterfall — so it doesn’t get caught right underneath in the froth. Instead makes it out to the pool where Marty can grab it before it rockets down the river and meets the torrents of water. I gripped hard. The harder I grip the less there is to grip. I heave and I tried to swing with my left arm through the strap at the top of the backpack and, he bend over.

The backpack floats forward a scant few feet but far enough where Marty can scramble after it. He’s already holding the first backpack which is only floating because of foam mattress lashed to the outside.

I’m not sure what comes next. I looked down after the pool — the bottom of the waterfall. There was nothing but straight up canyon walls. The walls were maybe 20 feet across. Went up well, it wasn’t really worth counting feet at this point. The only thing that matters was to get out of there. After the waterfall, the river took a bend and, beyond that there was no way of knowing what lay ahead.

We were only into the trail a couple of days and started along the side of the river. It seemed comical at this point to think about it. First, we were like concern about getting shoes wet, getting boots wet. Now, I just needed to get off this rock over the waterfall without breaking my neck and, somehow land and grab my backpack. Then, float down the river and then — I don’t know what next. I don’t know what next.

It wasn’t so much to jumping as a controlled fall. I pushed off with my feet and tried to keep my feet pointing downwards. My body flay all over the waterfall and splash down in the pool below. Immediately, the shock of the coldness — but also realizing that the rocks were burling over the waterfall as well turning around at the bottom with their banging up against ankles and knees.

I scramble to get above water and chase down my backpack and, Marty who was being pulled away by the current. But I knew we’re going to be alright because I believe Marty was invincible. Not entirely but practically.

There’s really no chance of rescue and you know we had it. There’s no one aside from brother Bob who had any idea where we’re at. Even now the name of the canyon, it was one of the Escalante canyons — but there’s hundreds of them. There are thousands of paths you can take. All sorts of trails and adventures you can lose yourself on. I’d made a habit of always taking the weird trails — always taking the ones that you weren’t likely to come across.

The groups of Cub Scouts or the cheap pierced swigging rednecks, or the uber hikers, who just spent yearly income at the Patagonia store before heading out. No, we’re looking for solitude and weirdness and adventure. We’ve found it!

Marty was the coolest guy at the local community college. This is no damning statement! This community college on the outskirts of Provo, Utah wasn’t eclectic mix including fifty something steel workers laid off from the aging World War II era, toxic plant that loomed over the horizon.

After numerous labor disputes, in which the labor had no bargaining power, the steel mill was constantly changed and people were constantly laid off. Many of them realizing that they didn’t really have the skills to get a new job. Find a way into the community college and mixed with the high school drop outs like myself — vaguely stumbling towards the degree that will eventually be called Adult High School.

Mormon Kids would come out to BYU, the giant Mormon-church owned university nearby but hadn’t made the grads but ended up biding their time at the community college. To their parents, we keep sending the checks and tell the folks back home that, “Oh, he’s going to school in Provo.” It’s a badge of honor.

In amongst this, eclectic mix even Marty was unique; shaggy blond hair, a couple of years older than me. I went to a different high school or dropped out of a different high school but everyone knew he was a top-end skateboarder, old school punk rock fan, and drug experimenter. Now, he was at the community college studying ceramics. When I say studying, he was actually taking it seriously.

Me, seventeen years old drop out and taking classes about mountaineering, photography, and creative writing. I’d seen him around from the window of my Volkswagen bus or when I’d post up on campus and hold court with my comrades each day in the hallway with the ragtag group of odd balls.

Big Jerry who wore a cheap dark suit and talk in naval military terms and, rented on about conspiracy theories that will leave John Birch looking like a shrinking liberal. There was the old Alaskan gold miner who kept on trying to talk me up and, they coming up spending summer mining gold with them. I knew that, that adventure just involve way too much work and not enough women.

There is Gary from Taber, Alberta who’d come down and was trying to break free of his constrictive Mormon bonds. But with Gary, came his Aunt who’s really the same age as him — an effervescent striking blonde with a super square husband. She’d hang-out with us. We avoided him and she made us look great.

I finally went up and talked to Marty and said, “Hey man, someone came up to me and thinking that I was you.” It was the best line I can think of. He came up asking if I have some weed, “Oh man! I don’t do that!”

“Who was it, man?” A shaggy blond hair and a penchant for Hawaiian shirts — he was always wearing vans and corduroy shorts. He vaguely knew who I was and somehow we’d started making art and playing music and going on adventures together.

Marty had a certain design about everything he was doing. He had gone to the high school across town with the fancier kids but he wasn’t fancy. His parents were working class and stable and square — where Marty was a free spirit. Everything he was doing seemed to be around making art. He was weird. There’s no doubt about it. He draws old with the burnt out voice of someone who’s had probably a couple too many LSD trips but came out just fine the other side of it all.

Since meeting Marty, we’re loaded up with bright tag cruise heading to Grateful Dead shows in Eugene, Oregon and, California and, Arizona; some kind of caravan with Volkswagen buses things, old vans, pick-up trucks and every which way.

Marty was relentless; never seemed to be tired, never seemed to give up, and never seemed to be too buzzed. He was always grinning, always going. Not hyper but constant movement but when he stops, he stopped and crawled up like a baby bear and slept and slept. He moves slow but always.

So, chase up after Marty in the river. He held on to both backpacks but then let go of one as I caught up to it. We held on the best we could as we jumbled down the river.

There’s no good way to get down there. The water is too deep — although, your feet want to seek the bottom. But once seek on the bottom; you’re banged by the rocks and boulders — ankles each one getting battered.

Logs coming down — we’re dodging from side to side. Sometimes your foot gets caught. Sometimes you try to huddle around the backpack. Wrap your legs around it but then, your back gets nailed. You stretched up behind it and you kept rocking your balls. There’s no proper way to do this. We drift around the corner. The river takes it bend. There’s nothing but straight walls either side of us and, then another bend coming up.

The Escalante canyons are notorious for getting lost, for getting twisted and for flashfloods. We weren’t naive. We knew all these things but I just don’t think we really paused we just didn’t pause to care.

Now we are going somewhere and somehow we’d come out the other end. We figured out the way to come home from there. Now, I wasn’t so sure we are getting out the other side.

You always heard horror stories about people getting trapped in flashfloods and here we were and somehow we’re riding it out. Somehow

As I held on to the backpack stumbling down the river, I thought about how I got to this place. This was all strange and foreign to me. This was a different kind of wilderness.

I accustomed to growing up on the West Coast of Canada. Amongst, the temperate rainforest, giant ciders, dog furs. Where every time you ever went camping, one thing you knew what happened was — it would rain. Rain would fall.

You’d likely see bears or sometimes a cougar like the night around the baiting poll trail. Where we all sat around a campfire, I noticed a cougar sitting in a place in our circle. The thick muscles were right next to me. At that point, you know there’s nothing you can do. There’s no use yelling, running, swatting, trying to fight. It will destroy you quickly and instantly if it wants to.

This is the nature I knew. Where snow is wet and easily melted for water. But somehow, I ended up in Utah — which I spare you the details of, but I found myself after living in a multi cultural Vancouver suburb, heavy metal high filled with rival gangs of seek immigrants and heavy metal Hessians called the “Whalley burnouts.”

I found myself at high school in Orem, Utah. Home of Osmonds Studios — the grinning Mormon variety entertainment act. I found myself lost and confused. The school was lily white but i played well with others’ and quickly found that for emerging young activist, it was a fertile playground.

Older brother Bob and I assembled cohorts to test the limits of free speech. At that time, Utah and Arizona were the only states which didn’t recognize Martin Luther King Day. So, taking the giant roll ends — the ends of the giant rolls of newspaper print paper taking the roll ends of newspaper print stock with painted slogans to celebrate Martin Luther King and his contributions including “Martin Luther King, Died for Your Sins.”

We came earlier and went down the lockers with tape. So, the students and faculty are like ‑ were greeted with our protest messages upon coming to school — did not sit well. But, we also sat in the vice principal’s office while he reminds us and say many of us confused by we thought that America had free speech. It made them more angry. Then, we lowered the US flag out-front and raised a giant condom saying, “Prevent A.I.D.S.” Also, not well received.

We ran another buddy for school election — Paul Moody. In the candidates’ assembly, he stripped off his overcoat revealing a Nazi uniform saying that, “he wants to become our dictator.” I stand up in the audience saying, “Hey, stop him he’s insane.” Another buddy comes out as a henchman, tackles me down. The thing degrenerates into complete chaos as we incite high jinx and confusion. But, this wasn’t interesting enough.

School was like living in an Archie comic book or living in a John Hughes’ movie. I was confused by invitations to dances spelled with alphabet cereal. Throngs of students going out together for various contrive dances ‑ with a pre-event meal at Sizzler. I have no interest in any of these.

So, I found my way with the other misfits at Utah Technical College which was trying to evolve in ‑ well was evolving into Utah Valley Community College. And, various permeations as the life of the college goes on. For me, I didn’t care if it was a refuge away from the nonsense of high school and meeting new folks for new adventures.

I quickly met some friends when signing up for mountain bike trip to Moab, Utah. Mostly everyone was — I was the youngest on the trip but quickly made friends have lasted. I quickly made friends with some older folks. To me, older folks, who are ten years older than me — who were always out on adventures throughout the far-flung corners of Utah.

Usually seeking hot springs, mountain bike rides, camp-outs, I spent the next couple of years exploring all the corners of the state and the states around — building hot springs, building pools to capture hot springs. Going on endless mountain bike journeys and learning about that the easiest place to get a beer in Utah on a Sunday is a Mexican restaurant. I had a fake ID. I was learning about Frank Zappa, the early Pink Floyd albums, John Prine, smoking weed and hot wiring pick-up trucks.

Somehow, in this case, brother Bob was back from Japan. Brother Bob is 18 months older than me. He’s a handsome lad but he is square. Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke dope, doesn’t know what to do with the girls but he sure likes to hike and easy going guy — but couldn’t quite figure out what he is doing with his life. We decided we’re all going our little camping trip and a little road trip to figure it out.

I remember his crazy little Japanese dog came along with us and, we camped at Kodachrome, Basin. His dog took off. We tried to call it back and decided it was best just out there lost ‑ devoured by a coyote. Unfortunately, he was not and it came yapping his way back to us.

So, the three of us and the tiny yapping dog were cooped up in Bob’s tiny little car; as we toured around seeing snows in the area around Cedar City.

Somehow, Marty and I decided on the fly that we’re going to head on this adventure. We saw a dial line on the map. Weren’t quite sure where it went, but we saw a way that we could get back hitchhiking. Bob was shocked to confused we would hitchhike back. We are ready for anything!

We come around jostling and swirling in the water around another bend. We see our escape route. We’re on the right side of the river and the middle is where the trees and the torrents are the strongest. But up to the left, we saw a slope that steeped at first but after the first six feet, started to flatten out a little bit and, ended up in a little island — that would give us enough room to assess the damage and, get out of the water and figure out our next move.

We have to get dry as the rain was coming down hard now. Whereas, the waterfall was just starting to catch up with us. We’ve seen the black clouds chasing us all throughout the day. But there’s nothing we could do except move forward. There’s no use trying to turn back when you’re halfway deep already. All you’re doing is going against the current. We’ve chosen to try to outrun it, or out walk it, or out stroll it but we were caught. We needed to get out of the water or someone will break a leg and twisting a knee — make it a lot much harder to get out of there alright.

There’s even a tree up on this little platform which was 12 feet above the river — 12 to 18 feet above the river. So, even with a lot more rain we should be alright. We hope so, anyway. We scrambled to get across the river and climbed up on the rocks. Holding on to the rock, one of us climbed up. While I held both backpacks, Marty climbed up leaned back over the rocks, pulled the backpacks up which were now soaking wet, like pulling up a soaking wet sheet — heavy and thick but we needed that gear in there. Then, I drag myself up the rock and we stumbled, shaking and shivering.

Up the rock to the flat part where we flop down, pulled out the tent fly from Marty’s backpack and hung it up while rain pelted down. We shook shook and shivered from the river. We watched the river rise — it gets deeper, it gets deeper, and the trees were bigger. But we can’t go anywhere. There’s no jumping back in now.

The rain lets up. We scrambled to try to figure out some warmth. We ran a string — we ran a thin rope from the tree and prop up the other end on a piece of cast-off drift wood — anchor down with some rocks. We start to spread out, pull over our soaking wet clothes and hang them over. Start to pull the gear out of the backpack to see what was salvageable. Sleeping bags packed in stuffed bags that survived relatively all right and synthetic bags will dry out and still keep you warm (ish).

I pulled out my emergency fire starter made from a paper egg cup. After pouring saw dust into the full dozen and covering up with wax, you break off one of these and whatever you can pack around it you’ve got a good start on a fire. We gather up some twigs and some bits of dried out drift wood and cobble together a quick little fire.

As we pull off the stuff in the pack — stripped down, hovering around like cave men, trying to dry off and find something to get us warm. Fire at the camp stove and some hot water. Finally start putting our clothes on unto the rope and settling in knowing that we’re going to be all right for the night.

We got this small tent put up and the air will start to dry it out. Fortunately, we had foam mats which were the only thing that kept the backpacks afloat — spread those out right on top of the rock surface. Finding some dry clothes, run around and find a little more wood — got a little bit of the fire going and start to see what there was to eat.

We packed these packets of noodles and sauce that you’d thrown in from a packet into some boiling water and stirred up and, it will give you a quick meal. But the water, waterlogged all these into some sorts of glump. We tried to bring it back to life with some hot water but it was turn in into just a sort of a pasta, powdered cheese glump which wasn’t appetizing. We found some nuts and sat it on the campfire ‑ think of how we’re going to get out tomorrow.

As we sat around the campfire, Marty rolled up his hand rolled tobacco ‑ which had survived the water ‑ thanks to his freezer strength ziplock. I found a little nugget of hashlit in my top back at my back pack and warmed that up and sprinkled that on top of tobacco. Finally, getting comfortable ‑ chilled out, sat around the fire.

I looked at my legs, I realized that it was covered with bruises, twisted ankles, and the shins were black and blue. My knees were really starting to swell up and sore. They’re not the best at any of that times.

Marty is built like a man-sized hobbit. Years of telemark skiing and skateboarding, he was taut and solid. Looked like he’s gonna be alright. Me, on the other hand, with delicate long distance runner legs was in bad shape.

So as Marty’s rolling, he find inside of his medicine kit some muscle relaxers. “Great idea! This is really gonna help”, I tell Marty. As my knees swell up, I realized that it’s going to be a hard night getting any kind of sleep with all these aches and pains. I pubbed a couple of muscle relaxers, pain pills.

Everyone in Utah seems to know all about prescription pills. We’re always pilfering from medicine cabinets when they visit their grandparents or even go to their relative’s house. They may not love some drug in Utah but they sure love the prescription drugs.

Settling in, all I could think is, it’s going to be all right.

When I come to — everything sounds like an echo chamber. Everything hurts.

“Dave, you’re on fire man! You’re on fire!”

“What?” It takes me a moment to register that.

Yes, indeed I am on fire — crawled up near the fire. The sparks had come over and my shirt had somehow caught fire. Not only my shirt but the clothes that we’ve hanged from the rope, we’re too close to the fire and, the fire had gone out of control. As we zoned off in the comfortable bliss — of the prescription medication.

“Dave, roll around.”


“Roll over.”

I rolled around on the rock. I get the fire out. I’m not too badly burnt, just around my ribs and a few spots on my legs where embers jumped over.

“Dude, why didn’t you tell me?”

“What?” “Tell you what?”

“That I was going to…”

“I just told you, you were on fire!”

“Oh… where… how come… what… uuuh!” “Oh!”

I pull off my wet shirt — had somehow not only dried but caught fire hanging from the line. As have a pair of socks both roasting as though they’re little marshmallows. I quickly knocked them into the fire. The acrylic blend had made them melty and dangerous to touch. So, they were sacrificed. But the smell was horrible — of the melting. Also, that was one pair of socks.

Counting our losses, we put the fire back under control and climbed into the tent and slept through the night on the rocky terrain.

In the morning, we assessed the damage. Burnt clothing, battered legs, but over all it could have been worst. We decide we’re going to go fast and try to get out as quickly as possible — to get regroup. We’re low on food and don’t want to get stuck out if this swelling and injuries continue.

We’ve packed up and go to put on our boots. Marty have just bought a new pair of Italian lightweight hiking boots but their size too small for him, as it turns out. So, I agreed to buy them off from him for 50 bucks. He used Bob shoes — borrowed from before Bob went home. We go to put on our shoes and realized that the toes in the toe caps have melted out. It melted and reform into a mushy mess that you couldn’t really quite get your foot into. Resulting, me having to cut out the front toe part on my boot and have this thing like ridiculous flip-flops — reversed flip-flops or some sort of handicapped ankle brace to trod out that day.

We packed up our gear and realized that it’s going to have to go back into the water before we could go anywhere. So taking our hard fought dried out gear, we flung them down the river and both banzai jumped into the river to catch up with the bags and flipped down, until the river was wide enough to give us a bank — the canyon was wide enough to give us a bank.

Finally, back on our legs trying to wring out the backpacks and get it down to a weight where we could carry, going to send in more gear if we could but, were down to bear loads. Packs on back, we’re hiking through Aspen forest as we get into the muddy river bank stomping out.

Now, toeless boots are full of mud — we’d flumped along on some kind of drudgery march. We find the stretch of river, where it opens back up with a little bit of a peaceful view with look back where we’ve camp a couple of nights before — just a nice campsite on the side of the river. Just like what you’d want.

We sat down and Marty pulls out a can of beans and a can of Vienna sausages.

“Marty, you got food in there?” “Why didn’t we have this last night?”

“Because, I thought I’d be better today.”

It’s hard to argue with him. He’s sometimes has those moments of zen.

“You’ve been carrying this can of beans and this can of Vienna sausages the whole time?”

“Yes, emergency beans! Does anyone carry emergency beans? You never know if you’re going to get caught out no matter what the situation, if you get a can of beans you’re going to be all right. Really, even with the can itself, after you eat the beans you can use that as a pot or you can even use the lid as some kind of snare or a knife.”

“Well, if you’ve already got the can opened, you’ve already got a knife!”

“Hey, I’m Just telling you there’s a backup plan and there’s a lot you can do with the can. Aren’t you glad we have them right now? Fuck you, I say!”

We opened it up with a pocket knife, folding aside the jagged lid. Take turns scarping spoonfuls of cold beans out of the can — picking Vienna sausages out of the tiny tin. My stomach is a bit of a sensitive one. This wasn’t going to be the best but it felt good going down. I just hope it stayed there.

We continue tramping out and rather than delight — have adventure and mystery. We drudged out but knowing we’re going closer to somewhere but realizing that the end of the trail, it wasn’t a warm van or any kind of waiting vehicle, or any kind of welcome reception — still were off of far-flung state by way. Close to really nowhere, with a long journey before any of us was somewhere we could call home. We also realized between us we have about seven bucks which didn’t really help things.

So, as the canyon widens and closes and, widens and closes we have no idea what point will pop out. The map is long damaged by now and it was hardly useful in the first place. It was barely a dotted line connecting — right along the side of the river connecting to two names spots. It’s hard to keep them all straight with all the dead horse this and, this to that. It doesn’t really matter. At some point, we’d popped out somewhere else. We did! Pop out to a small parking lot with a few cars in it. A dust covered super wagon with all kinds of gear stickers and gear bags in the back for someone who’d probably headed out deep into the Escalante for a week or more.

A couple of other vehicles are piled up from day hikers but no one was around. It was getting dark. The sun was starting to set. We were tired, cold and look like demolished vagrants. A smothering of colorful camping gear — busted out, cut out and scratched and clod up — but not bad enough to need an ambulance by anyone’s means. So, we stepped out onto the highway — realizes nothing more we could do and stuck out our thumbs.

At least, we were out of the canyon.

The hitchhike home was fairly efficient. But like all hitchhikes, you meet some interesting characters. Within half an hour or so, after coming out of the canyon and the small parking lot — standing up on the side of the road — we saw maybe three cars go by before one picked us up.

It was an old dude. Apparently, a photographer, driving an early 80’s Sedan filled with junk and cigarette butts in the back. But, we didn’t care. He’s going somewhere. But like what always happens or like seems to happen, he started to get a little bit weird — a little bit creepy.

He kept on pulling over on vistas talking about the color he was going to get from the pictures but, he didn’t really seem to be a photographer. I don’t know what his game was but he got us in one of these towns that scattered around Southern Utah — a small main street, a gas station off the side of the highway, a few homes and a couple little shops and a Mexican restaurant. A Mexican restaurant and a post office is sometimes all they got. I don’t know if this one was Green River or Vernal or Fruita or which one it was, I don’t really care.

We got dropped off — want to spend the money we had on beer. By then, it was really dark and pitched the tent behind the closed down Tasty Freeze on the little bit of grass and zonked out

The next day, we hoofed it through town down to a freeway on ramp and a highway. A couple of crazy young fellows and a soup-up Toyota pick-up truck offers a ride.

We hopped in the back of the truck and it’s cold. We pull out our sleeping bags and huddle in. We realized real quick man, this can be real dangerous. These guys were drinking beers and throwing the cans in the back — boomed it heavy duty and fast. As we get up to twisty mountain roads over the passes, they’re passing on the wrong side of the highway — going around the corners. But we huddled in and just held on until Provo.

I Remember Florida

Note: This story uses several lines from the fine Canadian band, Blue Rodeo’s album “Diamond Mine” which served as a departure point so to speak. Cheers to them ‘eh.


Mostly now, I just masturbate. I’m not particularly attracted to my own sexuality or body, but a questionnaire I filled out in Cosmopolitan magazine said it would be both beneficial, and enjoyable. In this day and age, it’s not unclean or unruly, they said. There were also suggestion tips.

This fondling is mostly on account of my man being back in Florida. I do keep it under control however, I certainly don’t want to prefer it. I haven’t ever used foreign objects in my arousals, I’ve heard too many stories about women having problems. I would prefer to keep my private parts clean and in fine working order. Barry would agree, him being my man and all, and an arousing one at that.


He first attracted my attention by dropping a quarter near my feet at a pizza restaurant in Tallahassee. He bent over to pick it up and bumped his head on the edge of the table. The pitcher of root-beer spilled all over his shiny shirt and I said, “Nice try.”

“Darlin’, you got the wrong guy,” he said back, he looked right into my eyes, sort of squinting.

“Nice try,” I said again.

He put the quarter in a juke-box with big, silver stars and played a Nat King Cole song about the rain and clouds. He asked me to dance. “There is no one else dancing because you aren’t supposed to in a restaurant of this kind,” I said. My cousin nodded and rolled her eyes.

Then he whispered in my ear, “My senses have been shocked and I’m alive to every pain, your quiet laughter comes to me , it echoes in the rain.”

“Holy smokes, that was lovely,” I said. We left my cousin at the restaurant with Nat King Cole and the silver stars and wandered off into the stale air with the neon lights.


Florida looks like old Elvis movies with convertibles and blondes and people smiling and giving high-fives. We bought ice cream cones and went to his home. He called me his Mona Lisa and I blushed. My head bumped on the edge of the vinyl siding when he carried me through the door, “You make me so clumsy darlin’,” he smoothed my hair and kissed the bruise.

While we were kissing, he stopped, looked me in the eyes, paused and whispered, “Make love with me,” like they say in movies. The shadows were right and his voice was soft and husky. The blue freeway lights came through the window and the trucks downshifted loudly. His skin smelled peppery and clean.

I fell back on the couch and he covered me warmly.
After it was done, he held me and whispered in my ear. He

told me not to go back to Gary, Indiana, not to cheat destiny and to stay with him. He said he’d build me a white picket fence or something. I told him it was very important that he come visit me but I have my life back home to think about, I have my job and all.

“Sometimes you get what you want so be careful what you ask for,” he said sighing.

“I’ll be tossing my pennies in the wishing well everyday Barry baby.” I slept soundly and smiling.

We went to a diner in the morning for a late breakfast. Everyone knew him and the waitress knew right what he wanted. She winked and nudged me when we sat down. He rubbed my feet under the table and fed me homefries off his fork.

I left and thought about his promise on the busride home.

My cousin had said he was a dime a dozen and I told her if that was the case, here’s my dime and she could have the other eleven. She laughed and said I’d never learn. “You can’t hurry love, you just have to wait,” I said back.


Barry was there waiting for me when I got home, “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by,” he smiled like Clint Eastwood and looked at the ground like a little boy.

“You crazy you!” I said and hugged and kissed and hugged him. “You must of drove like a bandit, you fool.”

“Just a fool in love, a bandit out to steal your heart,” he said as he carried me through my front door.

The next morning, he got up early to make coffee and scramble up eggs and bacon-bits. I told him to stay and not to go back to Tallahassee. He liked his coffee the same as he liked his women, blond and sweet. He did the dishes and stacked them to dry.

“But Gary is so ugly and wet,” he said.

“They say its on the upswing with the economy,” I said.

“One day I will baby, one day I will. In the meantime, can’t let the world pass me by.”

After breakfast the next day, he threw his duffel bag in the bench seat of his El Camino and headed south.


I told my best girlfriend, Cherice about Barry, she said he sounded wonderful. I think it might have been just because there wasn’t much else to say. I told my co-workers at the catalog order center that one day I will be set free, one day I will. They were mostly indifferent but I worked harder to make some extra money.

I got blue and warm at the same time thinking about drinking in those air-conditioned bars and putting the quarters in the juke-box and what Barry looked like naked, all strong and sinewy and with those coarse black hairs making a line down his chest. I hadn’t even realized that it had been forever ago. I wrote him a postcard with a spray of perfume on it and teased him about all the suntanned, college girls he was probably hitting on.

The next day, he arrived into town like a cowboy, “Barry, baby, you’re the magic man.” We were passionate and both laid in bed for two days telling stories about childhoods and relatives.

“Come meet my girlfriends,” I said to Barry.

“Darlin’, I’ve met all the girls I need to meet,” he said twirling my hair between his fingers.

“Oh, don’t be selfish with your time,” I slapped his hand. I’ve told them all about you at work, you’re half-way a legend.”

“Don’t you be selfish by depriving me of a single moment of being alone with you.” He said with his steady eyes looking into mine.

“You’re always so poetic.” He certainly was.


“Baby, this town is full of losers and its dragging me down.” I didn’t bother to argue, I figured he was a lonesome wanderer just like he had told me. I told him he wasn’t lonesome or didn’t need to be anyhow.

It was then that we ended up in a trailer park outside of Reno. We drove out in a rented truck with a picture of the beach on the side. He drove the whole way and I tuned the radio.

We arrived at night when the lights were bright, the machines were noisy, and people were having fun.

“Darlin’, this is a town that knows how to swing. This is our town and our oyster!” Barry knew his way around and we went right to gambling.

“Barry baby, this is the biggest little city in America if not the whole world!” It reminded me of Pleasure Island from the Pinocchio movie I had seen two years before.

“Darlin’,” he said as we walked to our room at the motel, “I don’t want you working any of those two-bit, floozie jobs like those cocktail girls.”

“And I don’t want you packing a side-arm,” I said.
“I love you baby, don’t ever die.”
“Damn, Barry, you could make any girl blush with a line like that.”


Barry said if I earn the potatoes, he’ll earn the gravy. He spent the day being a gambling advisor to tourists looking to be high-rollers. He told them how to play five-card stud, set them up with sports bookies, and how to beat the odds at this and that. He mostly just spent their money for them. I worked selling time-shares to it was the only job in cleavage. “How do you more often after that.

I teased him that didn’t exist. “I’m a redneck stockbroker,” he said. (He eventually put that on his business card.)

“And life is grand.” I smiled and helped him count his pile of change, crumpled bills and I.O.U.’s on cocktail napkins. I gave away three car rentals as incentives to view the properties pre-fabricated condominiums. Barry said the town that doesn’t require showing know I don’t, baby?” He came to visit me his was the only job in the town that and made a note of it on my graph chart Barry made for me.

He made salisbury steak and peas with butter for dinner. I looked at the lights through the window of the mobile home. You could see the waving cowboy and the giant clown a ways off.

“Take me dancing, swing me like a cowgirl, get me drunk on those blue drinks with umbrellas and cherries,” I said, I was tired of lounge acts.

“Darlin’, you ain’t no cowgirl and I’m trying far too hard to be a cowboy and those drinks taste like antifreeze.”

“If there was such thing as a cowgirl, I’d be one. There aren’t even real cowboys anymore.”

“Are you disappointed darlin’? I could go find you some cattle rustlers with dusty hats and leather chaps, guys named Lefty and Slim. Maybe I’ll invite them over for pork and beans.”

“You’re right, there’s only rednecks and old men in Winnebagos or those shiny pick-ups with four wheels on the back. No real cowboy would eat at Howard Johnson’s or have embroidery on their pockets.”

“There might not be surfer boys in California either.” “Barry baby,” I said with my head in his lap, “you know my favorite part in old cowboy movies? It’s when the boys would ride into town and go right to the bath house and pay good money for a warm bath. They’d pour in those sweet smelling powders from the glass jars and just as they were getting clean, someone would come in to shoot them. They’d leap into action, pull a gun from nowhere, shoot the bad guy and say something clever. But they would always get out and pull on their dirty, dusty clothes and just be all wet and muddy. I guess they’d go over to the bar or ride out of town or something. It happened everytime. It was so sad.”

“Goddamn, ain’t it the truth.”

“You’re so poetic Barry.”

We had sex again, it being more interesting than shooting pool or playing bridge with the neighbors, and then Barry fell asleep with his hand cupped between my legs humming a Blue Rodeo tune.


“This towns full of deviants, cheats and fools,” he said frying eggs and potato pancakes. It had been raining for three days which was probably to blame.

“That’s why we fit in so well baby.”

“It’s dragging me down. You see darlin’, my uncle owns a trailer park off the freeway right near Sacramento, California’s capital city! It’s a real town, no phoney’s. Not too far from the coast either, we could go to the beach sometime. I think they have a big mall and maybe a zoo or something.”

“Baby, the mountains are so pretty here, besides, we’ve barely been here long enough to meet our neighbors,” I didn’t particularly care either way.

“All the more reason.” He flicked the frying pan up and flipped the pancakes over. He knew I was watching.

I knew what was next. He looked out the window and said, “Darlin’, maybe what I need is a temporary diversion, I think I need a stiff drink and a drive down to Florida to visit the alligators and the silver stars.”

Perhaps it would be healthy and beneficial for him. “What do you want to go for, baby. It’s a bog down there.”

“It’s a swamp darlin’, the water comes in and goes out, in a bog it just sits there until it smells.” He was probably right.

“Barry baby, don’t leave me being so poetic, you’ll drive me loopy crazy.” I touched his sinewy forearm, the dark hair was still there but the tan had faded some.

He put steak sauce on his eggs and touched my nose and smiled. After that, he drove off like a cowboy again except with the sunset on his back.

written in 1990 in Salt Lake City, Utah

What I Thought in Sweetgrass

“Where you going?” His first question. A little vague.

Well I’ll tell you. That’s a toughie. I wish I knew. Finish school, get a job, wife, kids, that sort of thing. Or maybe not. You know how it goes. It was just a thought. A logical answer to his question.

“Utah.” The reply.

“Where you been?” Another question. A thinking man’s question at that.

A whole load of places, Disneyland even. Remind me to tell you about this great little diner in Nebraska sometime. How about you? Religiously speaking, however, I couldn’t tell exactly. Too deep for me. Just another thought.

“Just up skiing in Banff.”

“How long were you out of the country?”

Long enough to spend every bit of our money, see the sights, take advantage of the 18 year old drinking age, lock the keys in the car, get three flat tires, get ripped off, be savagely humiliated, not to mention the headaches and general frustration.

Kind of a hellish trip all in all.

“Oh, about four or five days.”

“Four or five?”

Well, sorry, Mr. Picky. You writing a book? “Since Wednesday night.”

“What’s your purpose?”

Ah! There we go, the eternal question. Why the heck are we on this sphere anyhow? Tell you one thing though, I’m pretty damn sure my purpose isn’t the same as yours.

“Just four college boys taking off for Thanksgiving to go dig some scenery.”

“What’s your status?”

Basic flesh and bones, mostly H2O, carbon, et cetera. These questions are getting boring. How about a game of Trivial Pursuit? He really ought to be more specific.

“American and one resident alien.”

“Alien, huh? You boys park over there and go inside. I’m going to need some identification from each of you.”

Grrrrr. The bastard.

Sweetgrass, Montana. Functional, run of the mill, one story prairie town with an uncommonly cool name. The home of the valiant border station that would herald our return to the land of the free and the brave. Functional, run of the mill, one story, cinder brick, sterile, plain, not real big but not too small. Basic government issue building.

We traded slices of I.D. for small, white, typewritten pieces of interrogation. They came with quarter-inch thick instruction manuals. Basic government issue forms. Believing for a moment that we would be treated fairly in this bastion of justice, we collectively scribbled nothings on the form and slid them across the warped counter top. We stood and looked at them until some dude in tight, polyester, basic government issue border guard garb came over to perform his part of the slow mental torture. He stared over at us. His beady pig eyes staring. This could really suck rocks.

“You through filling out these forms?”

“Guess so, found them a bit confusing though, on this part here it said …”

“Anything you would like to correct?”

“Uh, no.” He checked a box saying that he asked the required questions and left to talk to another border dude, a guy wearing piss-yellow shooting glasses, just in case he had to cut down some illegal at 100 yards or maybe just to look cool. They whispered, pointed at us, then laughed.

Not a good sign.

He came back fully armed and barraged us with a salvo of questions. “Do you have on your person or in your vehicle any firearms? Controlled drugs? Alcohol? Products of endangered species? Stolen goods? Mexicans in the trunk, slave chicks…” A red flush began to boil, filling his slab of stinking, leathery flesh.

Checking boxes like a mad man, he continued, “Do you understand that any mistruths, intentional or not, will be held against you as evidence and be cause for you to forfeit all of your belongings to the government of the United States?” His pulse was going through the stratosphere. What the hell was he so excited about? I was nervous. Pretty damn nervous. “Fresh fruit? Wild animal products? Food? Minerals?”

We started to categorize, justify, qualify and beg for every meager possession we had in our car. Sweaters from thrift stores, maps, free pamphlets, food in our bellies, rocksalt from the road.

“So now the truth comes out. Why didn’t you put that on the form? What were you thinking?!” His ears, his baldhead, his hands, his sideburns reddened, or maybe even purpled. The veins in his neck were throbbing, pumping. Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. Hey careful Mr. Borderman, don’t let your neck explode. “You didn’t claim anything on Form # d-2 62USDA X-1 w3456!!! Are you kids dumb?!”

“Well, gee. What do you know? Guess we forgot a few things.”

“Forgot!” Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. “Do you realize the potential consequences?”

We listened to one of those speeches you hear a lot in third grade. Something about how the world of customs duty would collapse causing the world to crumble if he forgot to brush his teeth, filled out his forms wrong, picked his nose or something. “We have no choice but to search your car.”

So began the bargaining process.

“Well, come to think of it, we do have a loaf of bread and a few cheese slices to get us home, and a friend donated a big chunk of deer sausage and….”

But he didn’t care. His veins were really thumping now. I hated him. I wanted to grab his goddamn jugular vein between my canine teeth and pull until the stinking bastard lay withering on the floor. Then I would laugh with my faced smeared with his blood, arteries hanging from my teeth. Maybe not that, but I hoped with everything I had that his children would know what a ass their father was. Bastard.

Half an hour later, ten minutes had past. We slouched in four chairs, our backs towards the windows for all to see. Give us your hungry, your tired, your forlorn, your stupid; it says something like that on the Statue of Liberty, I think. But as forlorn as we were, we waited. And waited.

Waited as our emotions twisted and contorted through the hours, zooming between realms of depression, frustration, rebellion, hostility, and helplessness. Across in another room was a portrait of President Ronald Wilson Reagan. Something to stare at as the noonday sun heated backs of necks and fueled fires of nasty thoughts.

“Ron, stop laughing at us, give us a break, I didn’t mean any of those things I said about you. You’re the President, it’s up to you to help us out. You appointed someone, who appointed someone, who appointed someone, to okay the hiring of these meatheads. We’ve been through a lot. Forgive us, we know not what we do. Hey, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or any of those other constitutional dudes wouldn’t approve of this garbage, really.”

That’s it! I’ve figured this whole mess out. It has something to do with the Constitution. The guy just doesn’t understand. But it’s too late. We told the guy everything, and he didn’t care and now he was out tearing apart the car just sure a kilo of cocaine somewhere.

The guy with the piss-yellow glasses walked by, I asked if the oil pan had been taken off yet. He said maybe. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. I had been.

Not a good sign.

Cars kept passing through. We were the only ones they had called in. Little old ladies who probably had a dozen illegals in their trunks, cowboys with a ton of pot mixed in with the horse poop in their trucks, Indians, Rednecks, tough guys, bikers and Hutterites with funny looking beards. They all went through with no hassle, except for us.

I watched them and thought of how to gently tell the guy that he didn’t have to go through the trouble of searching us. The Constitution had been written to make everyone free, to do away with dumb rules. He would probably thank me. His job would be so much easier. I’d figured the whole thing out after all. I was now a political science wizard. Either that that or just a bored person who was trying to be smart.

I would tell him that it was all right to ask a few questions–necessary precautions and all–and look up your license plate number maybe, but remember friend: Government that governs least, governs best. I’d allow him the opportunity to apologize and let him keep his job if he had cute pictures of his kids (sympathy factor) after all, government by the people, for the people and all that. He would breathe a sigh of relief and send us on our way.

He came in for a moment. He was carrying our box of treasure, our lifeblood, provisions to feed four hungry souls for the long journey home; a nine-pound box of mandarin oranges. Japanese Mandarins! Panic. Things had gone a little bit too far. I went up to have a little talk.

Marching boldly up, I swallowed hard and looked him in the eye, “Umm, where’s the bathroom?”

“Can’t allow you to use it in the event that a more thorough search becomes needed.” Yikes!

I returned to my seat to contemplate the now huge and still growing list of bad signs. It was bad enough that he was reaching into our packs to find brown-streaked underwear; but now he was going to probe us. The border bastards stood around, talking and laughing. “So who gets this box? No thanks, I already have plenty. The back room empty? Is it gonna get used? Ha, ha, ha.”

They aren’t border guards; they’re a bunch of food pirates and amateur proctologists.

My accomplices in innocence and I sat locked to our chairs with verbal chains, left alone to dwell on the horrible things we couldn’t see. All our tough guy aggressions that we had managed to muster up again crashed to the floor as the sight of his pulsing veins reminded us that we were prisoners, not of any country but of a room full of government issue border guards. Horny, cavity-searching, rednecked border guards with flashlights and piss-yellow sunglasses.

He had managed to think up a new load of redundant, meaningless questions which partially rekindled the thirst for direct and forceful contact. Almost. But not that much.

He explained how we almost single-handedly destroyed the agricultural machine of the U. S. of A. Quite a serious guilt trip, I’m sure. We thanked him for saving our intestines from the delightful chunks of fruit that apparently overflowed with miscellaneous larvae. Then with a bit of fanfare he proclaimed our humble bundle of oranges seized. We asked if we could each have one to eat. His veins almost blew up. Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. So much for the philosophy.

We zoomed off after urinating on the bathroom floor (we couldn’t kill him, so our adolescent prank had to suffice for revenge). Miles away, while reassembling our car, four oranges appeared from under a seat. Laughing, we enshrined the peels in a field. I reckon Thomas Jefferson would’ve let us keep our oranges.

Written in 1988 in Orem, UT based on events in past Whitefish, Montana.

Eight o’clock A.M. In Some Tacky, Classy Hotel Discovering Mental Health Hazards

I see the sun. For some reason I didn’t think they had the sun here in the daytime. Just at night. Neon night. I stumble towards doors but stop in the lobby. “How’s the luck treating ya?” An old man with a cigarette and a green suit slumped on a stool praying to a box. The lights, whistles, levers and chrome looked washed out and bland in the light. Not designed for daytime.

“On and off. Long night.” He swallowed a large amount of drink. “Me and the wife just came up from Kansas City, Missouri.” Winnebago Warriors, true yankee pioneers. He satisfied the machine, shoving silver biscuits down it’s starving mouth. “Can’t beat it, coming here,” thousands of bad cliches, “Viva Las Vega$. Ha, ha, ha.” Cough, cough, hack, cough. On the back of a poster board, I made a sign.


Eight o’clock A.M. I wander through the aftermath of last night, or a thousand-million last nights. Halls of slot machines topped with pyramids of martini glasses, roulette tables, overflowing ash trays and skanky chicks in mini-skirts vacuuming away the revelry, frustration, depression, elation and popcorn and pretzels. It depressed me. Shouldn’t have though. Everyone loved it. Better than life itself. Maybe that explained things. But I felt wrong. I could leave the glamour sluts alone to their city of tastelessness, none of my affair to decide how THEY would live. To them, the long haired, granola head was the freak. But I wasn’t dammit. I would blow the whole fucking place to hell (no big change) but no one understood my logic, my philosophy, the way it SHOULD be. I made a list, kind of. “Things I hate about Las Vega$”

A list of tasteless things. Gold chains, polyester clothes, 69 cent shrimp cocktail (almost a plus if somewhere far away) lounge singers, sequins, Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, smoke, neon lights, wedding chapels, the word “classy”, heart shaped beds, limousines and people who dig them, sexy senior citizens, bumper stickers, hair grease and people who have fun in this den of squalor and filth. An extremely long list. What kind of justification was that? They could all write lists about me. So what! I tried a new list, “Good things to do instead of Las Vega$.” A good list, I figured. With less clout, however, than the previous one. A new viewpoint was needed. Socio-political maybe? No good. Gamblers generate tax dollars and all that. Environmental. Waste of power, cause for building damn dams, etc. A personal sore spot. I liked it. Sort of, almost, maybe effective. A good start but not enough.

What do I care about anyway? Let all the fools dwindle in the abyss. I don’t like it just because I don’t like it, goddamitalltohell. In fact, I’m in favor of making it better for them. They need a huge opaque dome placed over the whole city. Paint it black inside, with neon stars, spaceships and with a few more of those huge cowboys with waving arms. Hey, what a sexy place that would be. Distribute free “I ♥ Las Vega$” or “Gamblers Do It By Chance!” bumper stickers and multi-colored condoms with sequins and glitter glued on. Change the name to VEGA$, not las vegas. No one classy calls it that. The inhabitants of this new garden of eden could create a race of perfect humans. Humans born with hairy chests, gold chains, pencil mustaches, bloodshot eyes, bad singing voices, facelifts that put their eyebrows up by the hairline, silicon tits, leopard spotted bikini briefs, tubes tied and the vital lucky touch and the never-fail system. The dome would provide perpetual nighttime. No one would have to sleep, just “go to bed” (hint, hint, wink, wink). Everything looks too washed out and bland in the daytime anyhow, too damn natural, no one much sees it though.

No more “morning afters,” just the perennial last night. Infinite nights to use your best pick up lines on the nasty cocktail girls. Baby, baby, ain’t it the life. Even if you ran out of speed you wouldn’t have to sleep a minute of the day. Too much to do. Viva Vega$. They could clone Wayne Newton, twice, three times, make a million. Of Barry Manilow too. Resurrect Elvis. Breed little Elvis’ and bronze Telly Savalas’ testicles. I’d support the idea if they all promised never to leave. To remain, not prisoners, but special V.I.P. guests in this hell for life. Do it all. I don’t hate it here, I love it.

But I’m going to nuke this fucking pit sky high anyway. Either that or just take a long nap after my three dollar buffet.


Written in 1987, Orem, UT

Destined Like A Great Idea

I knew I was completely in love with her the night she made the bean soup. Fourteen kinds of beans in a crock-pot like a suburban housewife would have done. She blushed like she meant it and I told her I loved her, and it still sounded inadequate, as sincere as a postcard. I felt stupid afterwards like she always made me feel, not stupid like regrettable but more adolescent like I should be awkward and nervous and gangly.

But I’m not sure I was because she seemed to think was witty and occasionally brilliant and she kissed me. She kissed me often and she was gentle and fluid and involved and right. Not like she had had a lot of practice (nor did I ask, undignified I thought) but she kissed with the reckless precision that would humble you if you let it. Like someone carefully destroying you in a friendly game of pool without you noticing, like it would be a waste of their time if they weren’t fully involved.

This is good, I said and sometimes I thought she thought at least the same about me, she was more vocal and always aroused.

I liked this, all of it. Especially when we were in the desert in the spring or when she would tell me stories about Spain or when she would see me on the street and follow me for blocks before she would yell to me or when she told me about her sister and herself and how would gently touch the brashest of my artifacts or when she would eat with her fingers out of the jar and how she would lie on the bed and watch everything I did. Watch me fold my socks and brush my teeth and when I twirled a pencil like a drumstick when I would write a letter. She looked and watched and stared with the eyes of a statue or a madman staring at the sun knowing that he couldn’t really go blind. Unnerving at first then only lovely and the thing that has made me cry the most in my life. Cry big, sloppy silver tears.

I would have watched her too but my clumsiness and uneasy eye could never have done the same for her. I could never do anything that flowing and pure. Instead I wrote her poems, poems borrowed for here and there at first and later more self-conscious and bewildered and I would present them to her like a genius waiting for a world in return. She never said a thing, just one pressing, random kiss. I think she put them carefully in a box, probably with a ribbon on it, but I never did see one and I never did ask. I stopped looking the day she told me she thought I was destined for greatness. An astrologer told me the same thing since my birthday fell on the day four planets lined up and the end of the world was supposed to come or at least Niagara Falls was going to start going backwards or upside-down. I took this and used it for an alibi and told anyone who’d believe it.

I was a great hockey player until I was fourteen and gave up trying to skate backwards and I was a great liar and storyteller and kids loved me sometimes and I read a Kafka book and James Joyce’s Ulysses to the end which is almost a great thing to do. I had been to some great places and met some people who were pretty and great and now I’m only great at cooking Ukrainian food, filling out forms, juggling any three objects and changing the oil on my car. I remain a good liar when necessity dictates and I do eat healthy and I do plan on being a great uncle if any of my brothers could convince a woman to conceive.

Aside from the justifications, I waited for the destined part she meant and watched the seconds and weeks tick by in the corner of her patient eye. I would touch her eyelid; she would close her eyes, smile and blow the bangs from her face — it was then that I would remember to thank all the prophets and gods I could think of.

She listened to me carefully when I was spoke on the phone with someone, and always knew where I was. The canvasses, she painted me on were always five foot, always body length portraits and hazy backgrounds. I was usually dark purples, gray or brown and always in broad, abrupt brushstrokes. Sometimes with a beard and my hair down and tangled. The eyes were always looking straight on. They almost followed me around the room. She was deliberate and calculating in her work. I wasn’t that thin in real life either. My skin wasn’t stretched over high cheekbones and I wasn’t pasty and gaunt and emaciated like that. She smiled when I sat still so she could set the lights right.

Sometimes on the nights when we sat on her brass bed and listened to scratchy Patsy Cline or Robert Johnson records, she would tell her dreams and nightmares about me finally finding peace of mind or something as blissfully confusing and intangible and she meant it. I said sometimes I felt that I would find all the comforts and joys if things were more predictable and I knew one morning I would wake up and my hair would be silvery white or that I would be getting something great in the mail every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the rest of my life or that she would have the same glorious, vivid expression on her face every morning or that I knew the sun wouldn’t go down some days and I could go mow the lawn at three in the morning like they do in Alaska.

Only then could I worry contently about important things. About walking around like a chosen one, being as brilliant as a great idea or as enlightening as a car burning on the side of the road. I would go kissing all the babies and telling jokes and stories before I had to shatter and fall and get around to dying.

And my love would be there, sitting in the other corner of the room on the footstool, hands between her knees, looking. Looking and watching. Deliberate and aware, looking exactly like she was exactly now, her eyes filled with metaphors, something about infatuation and control, the spirit glinting and winking in the corner.

And me, sitting across from her, not being able to talk or say anything, and I couldn’t even look back at her, because I just couldn’t, or shouldn’t, or I didn’t know how to look at her when she was right in front of me, waiting.


Written 1990 in SLC, UT

Satan Lives in Moab

Devil Lives in Moab
Devil Lives in Moab

Note: Thanks to the long defunct Provo band, “Trees” for the title and the also defunct newspaper “the Stinking Desert Gazette” for inspiration for this tale.

The Devil lives in Moab
He owns a small convenience store
From which he peddles hotdogs
The Trees, Provo Zion


Satan lives in Moab, he owns and operates a small convenience store. That is where I first met him. He was selling hot dogs and six-packs to lycra-dipped, granola-yuppie types. I asked him for a job to support my sorry, misguided ass in the stinking desert.

“Bob,” said Satan, “Bob, Bob, Bob….”


I first came to Moab, Utah to re-align my cosmic psyche by way of crystals, incense, Taoism, Buddhism, mysticism, jism, potions and lotions, and a bundle of printed matter all smelling of patchouli oil. Really an amazingly curious, new-agey thing that ran its course like a cold-sore. That ambition gracefully lost itself in time, my senses returned with the assistance of longtime residents, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Now it was mostly Buckhorn beer and the noble, greasy camaraderie of the local poets, prophets, polygamists, tour guides, lynchers, rednecks, miscellaneous madmen and uranium miners. Several of them were acquainted with Satan; I was introduced the night the Poplar Place burned down. Things burn in Moab a lot. Things burn and grocery stores close down.


First off, Satan is not red, fuming, flaming or have goat horns. Still, he is not a particularly attractive man; balding, pasty skinned, overweight and what appeared to be an acute case of lip cancer or maybe just a horrible cold sore. Most days he wore a blue velour sweat suit and expensive, high performance running shoes, “I have bad arches,” he justified. He took the time to mention the hi-tech specifications and features three times daily. I told him they made him look younger the day I asked him for a job. His shoes were usually blue to match the suit, the coloured highlights varied with the pair.


“Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob,” he mumbled, “a job, a job, a job.”

We were sitting in the back of his store. I was perched between large crates of waxy drink cups with catchy, trademarked names distinguishing them from other drink cups. The air conditioner crooned and rattled, Satan went from his particleboard desk to turn on the sink. He placed his veiny scalp under the running water for several minutes while we talked. He patted it dry with a stiff paper towel.

I felt uncomfortable and out of my element, as I often do, and thought of trying to make intelligent conversation but stopped on account of it being impossible. Instead, I listened to the running water splash and bang on the bottom of the deep stainless sink. He held another paper towel under the stiff stream of water then tucked it under his armpits, dragging the sweat out. Undignified, but useful I figured. He stuck his thighs back on his Naugahyde and duct-tape chair and spun it around on the rollers.

“I can’t pay you a lot of cash, but . . ., but there are perks.”


Today, like yesterday, it was hot out. I sat in front of the store sipping sticky, orange soda from my coffee mug. Being summer, I took off my shirt to work on my burn. Like always, between 11 and 3 o’clock, there wasn’t a customer to save my life. I read a wrestling magazine that became a mess from sweat and soda-pop.

Satan rode up on his bicycle — huffing, seething and smelling of freshly killed meat. There was a large circle of perspiration sticking his shirt to his flaccid chest. He dumped his bike and walked directly into his store, the little bells tinkled and the door wheezed shut on its compression device.

Satan used to drive his 1963 Buick hardtop everyday, now he usually rode a bicycle the three blocks to work. A lot of bicycles in town these days. “I think the ladies will notice me more,” Satan said a while back.

“Sure, that should gain favour with the women,” I said. That’s what started that.

He reappeared shortly, scalp gleaming and holding a hot dog and a quart of milk. “Cow juice and cow guts,” he told me, holding them up for display. He did this most days. There was a thick line of mayonnaise sliding towards his elastic waistband.

His breath was gaseous from eating pickled hard-boiled eggs from a large glass jar by the cash register. He also ate goldfish — he won one hundred of them at the ring toss at the Grand County fair. They came in plastic bowls filled with colored water. He ate them on crackers.

“Bob,” he said munching, “what’s your bit.”

“What?” I said.

Eventually, we had an animated conversation about hopes, dreams, ambitions, plans, etc. His were mostly very different from mine. Then we reorganized the Twinkies, Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs.


By October, the air usually cools off some. This year, however, things kept burning. It was mostly cars overheating on the road and the occasional flaming house in Castle Valley.

The big mountain biker Halloween party in the old City Market building was the last time I saw him. It was actually on the 30th. I dressed as Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and he went as a construction worker. The band was good and I won a pair of boots for a door prize. He won ski racks.

After he was gone, I found the manila envelope he left amongst the burnt rubble of the store. The fire hadn’t been terrible, although he was uninsured.

He said in the letter, that I was right about employment losing its novelty quickly when it wasn’t essential, as was his situation. Included were several riddles, clipped comic strips and three moist goldfish although no sign of his whereabouts. He did say how much he enjoyed Moab, it being the center of the universe and all. Landscape Arch was his favourite, until the three-ton chunk of rock fell from the center; oddly he stopped going after that.

He went on to say he had left a gift for me in a town called Fruita; it was just across the Colorado border. I had just enough money for my gas and oil, so I drove out in my pick-up truck to investigate.

A large real estate sign with “SOLD” scrawled across in bright red paint in front of fifteen acres of sagebrush. Certainly not prime real estate, but adequate. There were fourteen, healthy black and white Holsteins, a well-charred fire pit, and a mailbox with my name on it. I grinned, and went to meet the neighbours and get cable T.V. hooked up.


Months later, after I had skipped bail, I received a letter in Whitefish, Montana. Satan said how surprised he was when he heard about what I did with my ranch. He said he had pictured me living comfortably, raising my herd of cows, driving to the Spic n’ Span Cafe and pinching the polyester bums of the waitresses. Maybe even selling pumpkins on the side of the road come next Halloween.

With the benefit of hindsight, it probably had been extreme, though naturalistic. I had left after torching my aluminum tool shed and stampeding my brand-covered cows (eight sunshines apiece, no mistaking) throughout the county with a very large shotgun. It was my first real weapon, a mighty beast I bought at a pawnshop in Grand Junction. I sawed the bitch off like the Road Warrior and drank more so I’d more bottles to shoot at. Feeling so primal and hedonistic was new, interesting and somewhat unexplainable at times. I handcuffed the sheep to the dog kennel and drove off, lobbing homemade Molotovs at the billboards. It had made for an interesting sight.

Satan wrote that he certainly understood the potentials of innate human responses, which often produce extreme behaviour. He had dealt with this on several occasions so he wasn’t particularly surprised.

“Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob,” he wrote, “that was, however, very poignant of you.”

I’m quite sure he didn’t know what that meant either.

© 1990, written in SLC, UT — Modified in 2014 to reflect Canadian spellings.