I wish there was more to say about Windemere on Walloon Lake, but there really isn’t much to say. As for the cabin itself, it was just a private residence—no tourists allowed! Maybe there were Hemingway’s inside of it. I don’t know. They weren’t advertising and nobody was lining up at the door either. Sure there were some placards here and there around Petoskey denoting the historical significance of a place. There was a general store and a hotel, but the town certainly wasn’t built around Hemingway, nor was it retrofitted to honor him in any meaningful way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Allow me explain where my lofty expectation came from.
In fourth grade, Ms. Collins had everyone in class pick a pen pal from a list she had of other students who were seeking a pen pal from all across the United Sates. There were Alaskans, Hawaiians, Floridians, and Californians. Ms. Collins decided to leave it up to us—first come, first serve. She put the transparency on an overhead projector and beamed it up onto the white screen. I scanned the list like everyone else. I noticed there was a girl from Hannibal, Missouri. Hannibal, Missouri! She was nine years old and in fourth grade just like me. Her name was Sara Larson. I had to have her! I just had to!
Ms. Collins said, “Okay…do I have any volunteers?”
My hand shot up immediately! I was by far the quickest draw! Not far behind were the hands of five other girls. My heart was racing. I was expected to sit calmly in my seat, but I was actually freaking out! I don’t mean to use a curse word, but those girls really pissed me off! Cause you know why? They didn’t actually care. Well, I mean they cared…about their grade. These were the same girls that I had been dealing with for four years now. They were always at the top of the class. Always getting high marks. To put it most simply—they were the teacher’s pets. All of them.
Ms. Collins said, “Okay, we’ll do ladies before gentlemen. So I’ll just start on this side and move across, so we’ve got Heidi, Pam, Jill, Angela, Shannon, and then I’ll get to you, Piper.”
Suddenly, I was crestfallen and I don’t know where it came from, but I just blurted out in a subdued tone, “That’s sexist.”
The room got really quiet. I mean really quiet. Suddenly my face felt warm. I was burning up! Everyone in class turned to look at me. What made it worse was my assigned seat happened to be in the last row, so it required that almost everyone had to turn around if they truly wanted to gawk. And you know they wanted to gawk! They would look at me and then they would look back to Ms. Collins, but then they inevitably looked back to me. Ms. Collins stared at me for a long time. She didn’t seem upset though. Not in the least. She was actually one of the nicest teachers I had had up to that point. I think she was just dumbfounded. Lost for words. That actually makes two of us because like I said, I don’t know where it came from either. I just wanted to vanish. I was so humiliated.
Ms. Collins said, “Did…did you say something, Piper?” Her look was an inquisitive one.
“No, I didn’t say anything. Sorry, Ms. Collins.”
“Do you even know what that word means, Piper?”
I nodded and said, “Not really.”
“You’ve heard it used on television then, or the adults around you say it. Is this what happened?”
I shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess. I’m really sorry, Ms. Collins. I really am. I didn’t mean to say it. There is just something on the list that I really want.”
“Well…typically that word is used to describe how boys treat girls and not the other way around. Okay?”
I shook my head to indicate that I understood and said I was sorry again.
Ms. Collins turned to the far right side of the room and said, “Okay, you’re up, Heidi?”
Heidi stalled. Then she said, “I think you should let Piper pick. He never says anything. He doesn’t even talk to the other boys. At recess he goes into the trees and reads.”
Ms. Collins wasn’t pleased. She pursed her lips and let out a sigh, “Pam?”, Jill, Angela, Shannon—how do you all feel about it?”
Pam simply said, “Let Piper pick“
With raised brow, Ms. Collins said, “Jill?”
Jill shrugged, “It is fine by me.”
Ms. Collins then merely glanced with one seat over to where Angela sat. Angela shook her head and said, “I don’t care.”
Finally she looked to Shannon who then turned around and looking at me she said, “It is not Florida or California is it?”
I shook my head to indicate ‘no’.
Ms. Collins then said, “Well, who is it then, Piper? And perhaps just as important—why?”
“Sara Larson, Hannibal, Missouri because that is where Samuel Clemens was born.”
Shannon abruptly turned around, “You thought someone was going to take Missouri from you? Who is Samuel Clemens?”
I said, “Mark Twain!” But it didn’t appear to be ringing any bells. Then I said, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? The Prince and the Pauper?”
She just shook her head, turned back toward the front, crossed her arms in disgust, and said, “Such. A. Nerd.”
The rest of the class laughed, well most of them. Heidi looked back at me and smiled. Jill and Angela inquired with one another but ultimately just shrugged and laughed. All I could see of Pam and was the back of her head and her shoulders, but they were laughing. I didn’t care. I got what I wanted. Shannon was right. I probably didn’t have to embarrass myself to get it. Those five girls picked most of the Californians, Floridians, and the Hawaiians.
I got Sara Larson of Hannibal, Missouri! She confirmed for me what I had hoped. The town is a living, breathing homage to the life and legacy of Samuel Clemens. She said everywhere you turn there is something different. As I recall her putting it, “It is Huckleberry this, Huckleberry that, Tom Sawyer this, Tom Sawyer that, Becky Thatcher this, Becky Thatcher that.” I guess it got to the point with this girl that she was actually sick of it. She said she hated Mark Twain. Hated him. She wasn’t kidding. She said she would never read a Mark Twain book if her life depended on it. Needless to say things between Sara Larson and I didn’t work out.
The bottom line—Petoskey wasn’t to Hemingway what Hannibal was to Mark Twain. Perhaps Oak Park, Illinois would be different. I don’t know. Likewise, there isn’t much to be said about our shuttle ride over the Mackinac Bridge. We paid the fourteen dollars to get the seven of us over. We arrived in St. Ignace early in the morning on September 7th. We were on one of the first shuttle buses to cross. It was a relief for everyone once we stepped off that bus and were actually standing in the Upper Peninsula. We had made our way through the eye of the needle. We laid the map down in the grass beside a gas station there in St. Ignace.
Prof said, “Right here just jumps out at me—Hiawatha National Forest. We could look for something not too far from the Whitefish River. We’ll go in there somewhere twenty five miles off the beaten path. It is a lot of walking for us to get our supplies, but it is a lot of walking for them to come in and get us too.”
Caring Sue nodded, “It jumps out at me as well. It isn’t very far from here at all. What would you guess that to be? Hundred miles?”
Prof said, “Probably.”
Caring Sue said, “We’re in really good shape time wise. We’ll be in the vicinity of where we want to be in three or four days. I’m excited! We can really set ourselves up for comfort this winter.”
While they were talking, Bear became distracted by a vehicle that had pulled into the gas station. No one else even thought to turn and look. It was just another car. A dozen of them had already pulled in and out of the parking lot in the small amount of time that we had been there. This one though for some reason roused Bear’s interest. He said, “I’ll be right back.”
He then walked over and began talking to a man that had just gotten out of this car and was moving toward the pump. After a few moments, the man bent down and began talking to a woman who was seated in the passenger’s seat. She then got out of her vehicle and with her arms folded across her tummy approached Bear and the man who had resumed conversation. Bear was pointing to the car and making gestures with his hands. The man and the woman were nodding. They seemed really concerned and were taking whatever Bear was saying very seriously. Then Bear commenced to look about the parking lot and after a quick examination he pointed to place clear across the parking lot on the other side of the gas station. The man and woman didn’t even buy any gas, they just got back in their car and drove to the place Bear had pointed to and Bear followed them to that place on foot.
Prof looked over and saw the couple’s car being raised up with a jack by Bear. He said, “Do we have time for this Caring Sue?”
After the car was up, Bear put the wheel underneath the vehicle and took a landscaping brick and placed it on top of that. He lowered the vehicle slightly and then gave it a push while it was up in the air. Then Bear and the man both crawled under the vehicle.
Prof then said, “Piper! Why don’t you go find out what is going on?”
“Because you’re a kid and you get a free pass.”
“I’m not a kid. I just ate a bad hot dog. I didn’t even do anything stupid.”
Prof said, “I know. I don’t mean it like that. Just go over and find out what is going on?”
I took in a deep breathe and let it out in an exasperated way. Then I turned and headed across the parking lot. I heard Prof thank me as I was walking away, but I didn’t acknowledge it in any way. The woman was standing beside the car with her arms still across her tummy. I said hello to her as I walked by and she said hello back. Then I got down and slid under the car.
Bear said, “Hi, Piper.”
I said, “Hi, Bear.”
“What is going on, Piper?”
“That is what everyone is wondering about you.”
“Tell them that I might have some work and that I need a couple hours.”
Then Bear turned to the man and said, “Do you have any tools at all beside a jack and a tire iron?”
The man pursed his lips and shook his head and said, “No. I’m afraid not.”
Bear said, “Well, there is a Napa Auto Parts store just down the way, maybe half a mile. I notice things like that because in a former life I was a gear head. I could tell you what wrenches I need and you could just buy those. Still be cheaper than paying a mechanic and I’ll fix it just the same.”
The man nodded and just looked about at the undercarriage of the vehicle. He seemed to be calculating. Then Bear said, “You know, here is another way to look at it—you might be able to make it all the way to Montana on this drive axle. You just might. Hell, you might even be able to make it back to upstate New York. Who knows? A drive axle can click like that for ten thousand miles before it finally breaks.”
The man shook his head, “My wife has been worried sick about it. We took this route through Michigan because neither one of us had ever been to Michigan. We agreed that we’ve driven by it a million times, but Michigan is not on the way to anywhere, you know? Well maybe Canada, but aside from that, it is not the sort of place you go through to get to somewhere else. So we were taking this pleasure cruise through Michigan, but it has been anything but pleasurable. I’m not particularly worried about it, but if it makes her happy, then…”
Bear interjected, “Buy the drive-axle, buy the tools, and give me fifty bucks and I will make it all go away.”
Suddenly the woman said, “Sold! Go get the tools and give him the money, honey!”
The man and Bear began to laugh. The man said, “Alright.”
Bear turned to me and said, “Piper, why are you still here? Never mind that now, write this down.”
I said, “I don’t have pen and paper on me. My pack is back with the others.”
The man said, “Will a business card do?”
Bear said, “Sure! Give him a business card.”
The man handed me a few business cards and a pen. It was an expensive pen Bear then went through the motions mentally of what he would do to dismantle the vehicle and every time he needed a new tool he told me what it was. In the end, he needed six wrenches, a screw driver, a pair of needle-nose pliers, one hex-wrench, a quart of eighty weight gear oil, a few shop towels, and the largest pry bar that one could buy. Bear took a lot of time to make sure that I understood what he meant by the largest pry bar. He said if it wasn’t the size of a carpenter’s crowbar, don’t buy it. He wasn’t kidding. He said we would have to go to a hardware store and buy a crowbar, if they didn’t have something similar. It was decided that I would go down to the auto parts with this guys wife. He would stay back at the car with Bear. Actually at this point, Caring Sue, Prof, and the rest of the boys had made it over and were introduced.
So I had a list. Bear gave me clear instructions about where the store was and the woman was going to buy the necessary supplies after I had gathered them together. Her name was Kate. She wasn’t very bright, but she was very pretty. I wasn’t sure I could trust her. She was on a cross-country adventure with her husband, but she wasn’t at all eager to talk about it. Instead, all she wanted to talk about was me and I could read her like a book. Another adult who thinks they know what is best for me.
“Your family seems nice.”
“You don’t have school tomorrow? First day, right?”
“Where is home?”
She thought that was funny but then said, “No, seriously, where is home?”
“I’m totally being serious with you when I tell you that Earth is my home.” Using my thumb I pointed back and said, “They’re from Earth too. Ask ’em.”
“How old are you?”
“What year were you born?”
Without hesitation, “Nineteen seventy four.”
She began to compute the numbers and I wasn’t sure if they added up or not so I decided I needed to rattle her mind a little, so I said, “Are you from the Census Bureau or something?”
It worked because I could see she was taken aback. Suddenly she was on the defense. She had to drop the arithmetic and defend her position or more aptly put, her nosiness. She said, “Well I just want to make sure everything is okay with your mom and dad?”
“I’m not in any danger, ma’am. Why would you think that? My parents are good people. They’ve educated me well. I might even be more learned than somebody else who comes out of the school factory. What would you like to talk about? Biology? Chemistry? Physics? Literature? Algebra? Calculus? I don’t know everything, but I know a lot of things.”
She eyed me suspiciously but it was evident she was teasing. She said, “Okay…who wrote The Wasteland and in what year?”
I said, “That is hardly a test of my level of education. Someone can be highly educated and not know that T.S. Eliot published that poem in 1922. Beside, that is just trivia. Ask me to explain something about The Wasteland.”
She pursed her lips. She seemed distracted. She said, “No. I don’t wanna. That is all I’ve got. I wasn’t much of a student. I remember that poem though. I remember being confused and just bewildered. And I was expected to make sense of it?”
She turned to me with furled brow and said, “What?”
“You see, that poem was written as World War I was coming to a close. It was the most horrible war anyone had ever witnessed in human history up until that point and T.S. Eliot was saying exactly what you were saying—am I supposed to do something with this? Look at the title! It’s a wreckage. It’s a mess. It is disjointed. You actually got it and didn’t even know it. He passed on his own bewilderment and confusion to you.Your teacher should have explained that to you.”
She smiled slightly and said, “Hmm.”
I was glad she asked about literature. I was bluffing on just about everything else. I would have been starting tenth grade the following day. If it even counted for anything anymore. I did know a little about each of those things. That is what middle school gives you. We walked on for awhile without saying anything, then out of nowhere she asks, “Are you happy?”
I looked to her. It wasn’t about me anymore. She was asking me because she was not. I could see it. I did not answer her immediately. After awhile I said, “Well I know I’m not unhappy because it is a lot easier to tell if you are unhappy than if you are happy. A happy person doesn’t necessarily reflect on how happy they are, they just be it, you know? It is only when you are unhappy that you think about it. I would be lying to you if I told that I had everything that I wanted. The thing is though—I don’t even really know what it is. The missing piece. And maybe I don’t want to know. Maybe if I found it and had it, I might actually be disappointed. Like not having that missing piece was the thing that kept me going, kept me feeling alive.”
Kate said, “We’re on this stupid cross-country road trip. My husband is basically having a midlife crisis. He read some stupid book and now here we are.”
“I can’t remember. When he talks about it, I just stop listening. Whatever it is, it turned him back into a teenager. He started smoking pot out of nowhere. He didn’t even smoke it in college. That is where we met. I wasn’t in college, but he was. I was just there visiting with my friend from high school who was enrolled there.”
“Columbia University. We’re actually both from upstate New York.”
We went into the auto parts store and we found everything on the list—even the correct pry bar. It was actually cheaper to just buy a whole set of wrenches. Bear suspected that this would be the case. He told us to be mindful of that. We checked with the parts counter and they had the drive-axle in stock. The man asked us if we wanted it, but I told him we were going to take the old one off and bring it in when we came to buy it. He said, “Good man.”
We stepped out of the store and Kate said, “You know what our problem was, Piper?”
“You and your husband?”
She shook her head in the and then said, “We lived too fast. We fell in love fast. We got married fast. Mike went through college fast and then got a solid career fast. We bought a really big house really fast. We had a couple kids fast, then decided to hurry up and have a couple of more really fast. Mike was never really the one to let loose and have fun in college. I was the party animal. Not really, but more than him. I was always trying to get him to loosen up a bit, let go, have some fun, but it was all to no avail. He has always been so serious. Now we’re on some cross-country trip because he woke up one morning last week and realized he has never lived a day in his life. It’s crazy. It is almost like he is running from something.”
When we got back to their car, everyone was seated on a small hill adjacent to the parking lot. Everyone was seated except for Mike who was standing at the base of the hill. He had a book in his hand and was holding it up over his head. He was pacing back and forth at the base of the hill. Sometimes he would bring the book back low and beat on it with the back of his hand while he made his point. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was the Holy Bible and that good ole Mike was preaching the Gospel of the Lord. This is what I saw from a distance. When we arrived, Bear immediately jumped to his feet and greeted us. I never seen him so happy to see me.
Bear said, “How did you do, Slim? I can see the pry bar! That is what I am talking about!”
I said, “Oh good! I was worried.”
Bear said, “No you did good.”
I said, “You were right about the set of wrenches, so she bought the set. They have the drive-axle in stock. It is thirty nine ninety nine plus core.”
“Excellent! Want to hand me wrenches and tools as I ask for them?”
Bear made his way toward the car with the newly acquired tools and supplies. I was about to make my way over there myself when Mike walks up to me and hands me a book and asks, “Have you ever read this one, sport?”
Maybe it was the way he called me “sport” or maybe it was what I had already learned about him from his wife or maybe it really was that what he was handing me was just not that impressive. I said, “Yeah, I’ve read it. Let me ask you this though—have you ever read anything else by this guy aside from this book?”
He shook his head to indicate that he hadn’t, but then said, “But I plan on it! I plan on reading everything!”
I shook my head and said, “Don’t bother, man. Jack Kerouac’s writing is a waste of time. The truth is, his writing is of little interest to most people. This is true of even of his die hard fans in some instances. You should just go get yourself a nice biography because that is all you care about—his life and his travels. It is all anybody cares about. There is this peculiar cult that has sprouted up around his name. They have chapters in every city in America. And in the grand scheme of things, he really didn’t do much to further American writing. His writing never evolved. It couldn’t. He didn’t believe in editing. How many times can any artist in any craft nail it the very first time? I would say the answer is next to never, but you can’t tell good ole Jack that. He thinks he did it every time. He thinks what he did was sacred. You can’t touch it, he says. No editing. Kerouac goes back and looks at his prior work only so he can gaze upon it with pride like a Narcissus. A real writer would be disgusted by it. They would go back and work it and re-work until it was actually perfect. They would tear it apart and then rebuild it a number of times. How ever many times it took. A real writer would work on their characters. Imagine what Jack Kerouac’s life would have been like if he hadn’t met Cassady, Ginsberg, and Burroughs? He would have had to go through the painstaking process of creating characters from nothing just like every other writer of fiction has had to do. Imagine that! Sorry man, I’m just not part of the Cult of Kerouac and I never will be.”
He looked at me for a few moments and then said, “What are you, fourteen?”
I smiled and said, “Yeah, what of it?”
“Well, what could you possibly know at your age, sport? I’ve got underwear older than you.”
“That is disgusting. Well, you put that book in my face and asked me what I thought, so I told you. I don’t care what you read.”
“Let’s keep it that way.” Mike then walked over to his car and threw the book on the backseat. He grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the front seat and pulled one out and began smoking. It became evident very quickly that it wasn’t a traditional cigarette.
Caring Sue immediately turned around, looked at Mike, and said, “If someone gets a whiff of that and calls the police, we’re all going down. You need to take a walk with that thing right now!”
Mike blew out a cloud of smoke and tried to pass it to her. He said, “Chill out., lady. Take a hit.”
Caring Sue said, “There is a time and a place for that and this isn’t the place, now take a walk!”
Mike put up his hands and said, “Alright…relax….I’m walking…anybody joining me?”
He walked and Caring Sue, Kate and myself were left at the vehicle. Bear hadn’t even got the old part off, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a walk. When they were gone, Kate turned to us and said, “I’m so embarrassed and I’m so sorry, especially to you Piper. I like what you said to him. Did you do that for me because what we were talking about on the way to the store? Is the book really stupid?”
‘No, it is actually a pretty good book, but the buck stops there. He was a one hit wonder. I said what I said because I don’t respect him. I’m glad it worked in your favor though.”
She smiled and said, “You lied to me.” Still smiling, she turned to Caring Sue and said, “Caring Sue, your son told me he was seventeen. He even went to great lengths to prove his case and I eventually believed him!”
“Yes, he sure does like to tell stories, but I can’t imagine why my son would lie to you. Tell me, son, why did you lie to this lady?” The emphasis is her’s not mine. She was looking at me the whole time she was addressing her. I just shrugged. The only thing I had to offer was a grimace.
Kate intervened saying, “Oh no, Carin’ Sue, I don’t mean to get him trouble! He’s a very nice young man! He is very bright and mature for his age! He has a sweet innocence about him! Please don’t be angry with him!” She was genuinely concerned.
Caring Sue looked to Kate. She smiled, crumpled her nose slightly, and shook her head to indicate to her that her fears were unfounded. Then she just changed the subject. She turned away from Kate and I and looked toward their car and said, “I’m sorry your car is not up and running already.”
Kate said, “Well, I suppose that is my husband’s fault more than anything else.”
Caring Sue nodded in agreement and said, “Well, I can assure you that Bear is an excellent mechanic—stoned or not. When he gets back here, he will have you guys back up and running in no time.”
It was at just that moment that Bear came around the back corner of the gas station. He said, “Ma’am, I’m going to get back at it right now and you ought to be back on the road within an hour.” Then he turned to me and said, “Piper, I need a container. Maybe a milk jug or something like that. If you can’t rustle something up, then we’ll just have to use one of our bigger deposit bottles, so see what you can do, so we don’t have to do that.”
It took me less than a minute to find an empty gallon-size windshield washer bottle in a can next to the pumps. I brought it back and Bear said, “Perfect!Okay…so…when I pop the drive-axle out of the transmission, some fluid is going to just pour out. Not a lot, but we do need something to catch it.” He took it from me, pulled his knife off his belt, cut off the top, and handing it back to me said, “Hold this.” Then he picked up the pry bar and said, “I need this.” Looking to me, he said, “Follow me.” We went under the vehicle. He was laying on his side on the right side of the drive-axle and I was laying my side on the left. Bear was a lefty, so he needed that side. He showed me what he was going to do. He explained to me what was going to happen after he did it and then he explained to me what my responsibilities were in the procedure.
The final step in a drive-axle extraction is a doozy. In fact, I would have never thought to do what I witnessed Bear do. I would have gone through all the steps of bolt and nut removal. In the final place, where I had freed the drive-axle from everything except the transmission, I would have simply gotten stuck. I never would have thought that what was required is a rather brute and violent movement that looks as if you are going to do more harm than good. Yet, I watched Bear do it and despite its violence, he performed the action with grace. Just one violent tug sent the drive-axle out. It was all I could do to catch it, but I did. Gear oil poured from the transmission. After most of the oil that was going to drip had dripped, I rubbed the side of the transmission around the spot where Bear pried from. I suppose it would be called the fulcrum. I asked, “Bear, you weren’t worried about breaking something?”
Bear said, “Of course not. That was standard operating procedure. What else could I have done?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I probably would have gone at it with a smaller pry bar and I would have gone around the circumference and gingerly taken it out a little at a time.”
Bear said, “Let me show you why that would have never worked.” He grabbed one of the new shop towels and cleaned the splines of the axle’s end. He said, “Do you see this snap-ring here?” I shook my head. He was taking his thumb and index finger and compressing the ring. “You see how easy that is? If it were only that easy. If you could magically get your thumb and finger into the tranny, then you could squeeze here and the axle would simply slide out with minimal effort. Obviously you can’t. So you have to send a lot of indirect kinetic energy through the tranny and axle to force the snap-ring to collapse. I’ll have you know that I actually did everything right by the book. Even if this car were up on a hoist with tens of thousands of dollars of fancy tools around, there isn’t one that will do this any better. Even with a master mechanic or two at the helm, they would have done the exact same thing you just saw me do.”
We got out from beneath the car. Bear placed the axle on a piece of corrugated cardboard. Taking each of his index fingers, he stuck them inside the tear in the boot and pulled it open to expose the bearings and such. He said, “It is pretty dry in there. Centrifugal force eventually spits out all of the grease. Then dirt gets in. Who knows how it got ripped? It isn’t from dry rot. I can tell you that much. The axle is under there exposed to high speed and things zooming by like rocks and branches. I guess it really is just a game of chance. But what happens is that those bearings get gouged and scratched. The gouges and grooves on the bearing start getting hung up on the bearing races and that is the clicking sound you hear. It is basically just hiccups that your are hearing.”
I was absolutely fascinated. It was like I was with a grown-up version of Boy Wonder. Incidentally, he too was a lefty. We were just a few feet into the Upper Peninsula. Bear hears a sound coming from a vehicle and he just inherently knows what is wrong with it—from a few seconds of a simple noise! The same sort of sound anyone else would have just dismissed, if they even noticed at all. Bear not only knew what was wrong, but he also knew how to fix it. And he was fearless about it. We live in a world that is so obsessed with celebrity, either in the form of art or athleticism. Meanwhile the Bear Bacchus’s and Boy Wonder’s of the world go almost completely unsung. Their gift of mechanical insight and inventiveness is just as dazzling. Yet it is the artist strutting around on stage with a guitar that gets all the glory.
There is a sort of pretension that comes along with the artist. It is one of their more unbecoming traits. I’ve seen it in person of Outlaw Oklahoma Bill. Sometimes Bill would just find himself in the right place at the right time and of course his guitar was always handy. He’d play an impromptu gig and end up with a large crowd and he was able to whip that crowd into a tizzy. They would be awestruck and dumbfounded. After the show, they would adorn him with food, drink, drugs, and other gifts. People would come up and tell Bill how great he was. He could barely stand up or keep his eyes open, but he sure is great! Women would just throw themselves at him. Nobody could deny that Bill was a good musician. Likewise, nobody could deny that Bill was a terrible friend. No one was terribly fond of Bill as a person as it was, but when you factor him having a gig like the aforementioned variety, then you are talking about somebody who is completely intolerable. He gets to where he thinks he is larger than life and we’re just the little people who are lucky to know him.
I remember there was this one time where he had by all accounts an absolute rockin’ show. They all enjoyed it. I was there. I saw it. We also knew what was going to come off stage after a gig like that. Outlaw Oklahoma Bill didn’t let anyone’s expectations down that night. Fortunately, he had a roster of women to tend to. In fact, he told us he would be gone a couple of days, but he would double down and catch back up by hook or crook. While he was out tom-catting there was a serious conversation about changing course and just loosing Bill altogether. The conversation was started by none other than Machine who was Bill’s closest thing to a friend. Of course, there were other things going on with Bill that were becoming a rub to each individual in the group, but that will all be gotten to in due course.
Bear Bacchus though never made any claim to be anything more than the salt of the earth. When he saw that I was interested in what he was doing, he took me under his wing, then he took me under the car. He treated me like I was his little brother, but not in a patronizing sort of way. He never got impatient with me or annoyed by my presence. In fact, he seemed happy to have an assistant. He helped out a couple of people, one of whom was down on her luck, as you shall see.
Caring Sue decided that she would accompany me and Kate up to the auto parts store to swap the axle while the rest of them took another walk. I guess while Bear and I were under the car, unbeknownst to us there was drama unfolding up above. It was one that involved Caring Sue and Mike becoming terribly at odds with one another. I didn’t hear any commotion, but there certainly was a chill in the air when we got back up. Apparently it had became very heated with each of them giving a piece of their mind.
So the Caring Sue and Kate walked side by side while I followed closely behind. I carried the defective drive-axle. I don’t think that they cared if I heard the conversation or not, but I wasn’t a part of it. And it actually involved the unraveling of all the lies that I had previously told Kate. The lies were moot points anyway. I think I have a tendency to compulsively lie to adults because I just inherently don’t trust them.
While they walked together, Kate asked, “You don’t like my husband do you Carin’ Sue?”
Caring Sue said, “Of course, I don’t like your husband! I can’t understand why you like your husband! And it isn’t just because I am a lesbian, but it has everything to do with me being a feminist! When a man thinks they can push you around, you get up and you start pushing back! I don’t necessarily mean physically, though that is a viable option if necessary.”
Kate said, “You mean Prof isn’t your husband?”
Caring Sue said, “No! And Piper isn’t my son. Nor are any of the boys back there. I don’t know why he does that. Piper did the same thing to us when we first met him.”
Kate turned around to look at me. I just shrugged. She didn’t express anything. She just turned back to Caring Sue.
Caring Sue said, “Alright, out with it girl! Who is this guy? Where did you meet him? How long has this nightmare been going on? We got time! He isn’t going anywhere without his drive-axle and I’m not bringing it back to him until you tell me what the hell is going on!”
Kate began to fill Caring Sue in on the details. She told her all the stuff she told me, but much, much more. We went to the parts store and bought the new axle and then Caring Sue declared that we were going to stop in at a diner that we had passed on the way to have some pie and coffee. She said it was her treat. We went inside and Kate asked if we could have the smoking section. Then Caring Sue told me to just go ahead and throw the drive-axle up on the table—parallel, right down the center. I did as I was told, but I ended up getting a frown from the waitress. Caring Sue spoke up immediately, “It’s brand new. It isn’t dirty.”
The waitress said, “It is not that hon, I just don’t know where to put your food when it comes.”
Caring Sue said, “Oh well, we’re each just having a slice of pie and a cup of coffee if that helps.”
They actually had three different kinds—lemon meringue, apple, and pecan. It was Kate who suggested that we get a version of each and share. Caring Sue thought that was a wonderful idea and so that is what we did. While we waited for pie, Kate pulled out a cigarette and then offered the opened pack to Caring Sue.
Caring Sue looked at it for a few moments and then said, “It has been years!”
Kate then snapped the pack shut and said, “I’m sorry! I didn’t know! Trust me, I know how hard it is.”
“No, no, no! I’ve been tempted everyday since I quit. All the boys smoke. Well, Stephan doesn’t.”
Kate said, “Piper?”
Caring Sue said, “No, not Piper either.” Turning to me, she said, “You don’t smoke do you? I’ve never noticed anyway.”
I shook my head to indicate that I didn’t.
“Does it interest you? Are you curious?”
I shook my head to indicate that I wasn’t.
The Caring Sue said, “Piper, you said something back at the car that really struck me. You’re only fourteen?”
I shook my head to indicate that I was.
“You may have eventually came clean at some point and told us that, but I don’t remember it. I think we think you are sixteen or seventeen. Fourteen is awful young, Piper.” Suddenly, my heart started racing. I had been walking with them for almost three months and now she was going to start getting wise ideas about my age? But then she went the other way with it and said, “Well, you’ve been with us for so long now, I can’t imagine that you belong anywhere else.” I was relieved. Then she pointed to me, “You better not ever go and tell some stranger one of your stories which pegs us as your kidnappers.”
I smiled and said, “I won’t. I promise.” She was serious though. It wasn’t a laughing matter. I really had to go to some length promising that I wouldn’t.
Then Kate exclaimed, “Why do you do that?”
I asked, “Do what?”
Kate said, “Tell lies.”
I said, “I don’t tell lies. I tell stories. Sure, I often say things that are not true, but that doesn’t mean I’m lying. Sometimes the essence of a story rings more true than the facts of a matter. The truth is, I tell so many stories I might be the most honest person you know.”
She smiled and said, “You’re cute.”
I said begrudgingly, “You mean for a kid?”
Her smile didn’t fade. She shook her head and said, “No.” Then after awhile she said, “Although you are only a year younger than my youngest.”
The waitress brought our pies. We each cut our portion into thirds and slid a portion off onto each others plate. The third of a slice was a decent slice of pie in and of itself, so none of us were for want of anything—well at least as far as pie was concerned.
Kate then began to tell her story. It was a horrible one. I wished she was lying, but she wasn’t. It was a story of a man who had a wandering eye, even exercising it on his wedding day—feasting his eyes on his bride’s own family. His first affair happened within a week of the nuptials. She would later learn that it was an affair that had simply carried over from when they were still courting. That particular woman would one day call Kate and inform her that they had fornicated the evening prior to her wedding. When Kate asked the woman why she couldn’t refrain for just that one evening, the woman replied, ‘Because I loved him and I thought he loved me’. There were dozens of affairs. Sometimes the mistresses would call Kate. Other times Kate would call them. She would be pleading, begging, threatening, whatever the occasion called for. He had brought sexually transmitted diseases home with him into their bed.
Mike was a man of money and power. He was gainfully employed working as an engineer of some sort. He pulled down a six figure salary in 1992. Kate said it was well over two hundred thousand dollars. She also said that they were on the verge of bankruptcy. Things were getting repossessed off their properties on a daily basis. Foreclosure proceedings had been started on many of their properties including their main home. They had very few lines of credit available to them anymore. In fact, they were living off of cash. I guess Mike had a suitcase full of cash with him in the car.
Then she goes on to start talking about some criminal stuff. Mike got involved in some sort of pyramid scheme back in the mid-80’s. He did real well for himself. Real well. He got out early and provided the good life for him and his family. Then the scheme collapsed and even though he had gotten out years earlier, the Feds still had some questions for him. She said he was cooperating.
Kate got up to use the bathroom. As soon as the door closed behind her, Caring Sue turned to me and said, “The On the Road thing is a rouse. He doesn’t give a shit about that book. He didn’t get made at you for tearing apart one of his heroes. He got mad at you for having the potential to blow his cover. He probably has never even read that damn book. I never read that book either, but I know what it is about.”
I said, “What? Where did you get that?”
Caring Sue said, “We need to get back there asap! I mean quick! I can’t explain it to you now, but we need to get them on the road and away from us!”
I said, “Why?”
She said, “I’ll explain it when I can. Not now. I just hope everything is alright back at the car.”
When Kate returned, Caring Sue said, “Okay Kate, I want you to think real long and hard before you answer me. It is very important. Okay?”
Kate furled her brow and hesitantly said, “Sure.”
“Okay, do you think that Mike knows what he is doing is wrong? Has it ever occurred to you that he might not know what he is doing is wrong?”
“How could he not know what he is doing is wrong?”
Caring Sue said, “ What happens when you catch him with a new woman? What does he say when you confront him?”
She shook her head, “He doesn’t think there is anything wrong with it—at all. He never has. He doesn’t understand why I get so upset. He tells me that he is just an alpha males. That he is therefore special. He tells me that it is actually his responsibility. He tells me I should feel honored to be a part of his circle. Caring Sue, I love him so much! How do I get him to settle down and be faithful?”
Caring Sue put her hand on Kate’s hand and said, “You’re asking the wrong kind of gal for that question, remember?” They both had a chuckle about it. I thought it was funny too, but I wasn’t apart of their conversation, so I didn’t express anything.
Just then, the waitress set down our bill and Caring Sue said, “Well, I think we ought to go back and get this part put in and get you guys back on the road, huh?”
Caring Sue had the money out and on top of this bill. Kate grabbed it and said, “I’ll take this to the cashier.”
When she was gone, Caring Sue said, “We really got to move.”
I said, “You’re kind of freaking me out.”
She said, “Good. You need to be freaked out, but don’t let her know.”
Then in the next moment, Kate was with us. The bill was settled and we were on our way. We walked fast. Kate said something about the new sense of urgency, but Caring Sue was rather dismissive and just said that she felt the others might be worrying about us because we were gone so long. The truth is the only one that was worrying was Mike. He greeted us, or rather Kate, as we arrived at their car. He seemed suspicious and needed assurances from Kate. For what, I have no idea. I handed Bear the drive-axle. He took it from me, thanked me, and then disappeared under the car. I decided not to follow him down this time. It seemed like he had the thing back together in about five minutes anyway.
Strangely, Caring Sue and Mike seemed to be getting along now. I guess it was the end of their saga anyway. She probably figured—why hold hostility against someone you are probably never going to see again anyway? With their car back up and running, handshakes and hugs were exchanged. They got into their car and headed west.
Then Caring Sue looked at me and said, “Hey sport, lemme get a look at that business card, eh?”
I pulled it out my pocket. On the back was a list of tools I bought earlier that morning. Also noted on the back of the card was the year make and model of the car they were driving. I needed that information so I could have the parts guy fetch the axle from the back. She then turned and walked over to a payphone where she made a call to the police who I imagine contacted the FBI. She told them what she knew. She managed to get the license plate number as well.
The others were very upset with her for doing that. They liked him. They thought he was cool. He was a bit of a loud mouth and he was kind of shallow, but he had a playful spirit. While we were out getting the part, Bear talked him into paying for the auto repair in weed. Bear said Mike had a whole suitcase of the stuff. He showed Caring Sue the size of the bag and she was taken aback because I guess it was quite hefty. Bear said it was worth a lot more on the street than the fifty dollars he was asking for, but he said he wasn’t going to argue with him.
The bickering about what she did went on for quite some time. Finally, she threw up her hands and said, “He is a wanted fugitive! He embezzled millions of dollars from people! He is not on some cross country road trip of self discovery! He just doesn’t want to go to jail! I’m not talking about it anymore! I did the right thing!”
We still managed to get ten or fifteen miles in that day. Later on that evening, I couldn’t sleep and I noticed that the fire was still going. It appeared as if Caring Sue was its only gazer. I walked up and asked, “Is it okay if I sit down?”
“Of course, Piper, you don’t have to ask. If I want to be alone, I should go to my tent. Can’t sleep?”
I shook my head.
“Want some Valerian tea? I couldn’t sleep either.”
“What is it?”
“It is just a root. It doesn’t put you out like sleeping pills but it does help.”
She put the kettle back on the grate.
“Caring Sue, why did it matter so much if Mike knew what he was doing was wrong? It was like the only thing you wanted to know. “
“The only difference between a sociopath and a narcissus is that a sociopath doesn’t understand their actions to be wrong. A narcissus knows their actions are wrong, they just don’t care. From what I saw and what she described, I knew he was one or the other.”
“Why didn’t you want to help Kate? You let her get back in the car with someone you knew was evil.”
“My first priority is protecting my family, Piper. The moment I realized that I left them in the presence of a sociopath, her concerns and needs became secondary. A sociopath will kill five people on the spot without reason or provocation—just cause they felt like it. They’ll even find the activity to be pleasurable. And the only reason they cover it up is because they don’t want the consequences. They don’t think it is wrong and they don’t think they deserve the consequences. There is no convincing them otherwise.” She took a sip of her tea, then continued, “Secondly, did you hear her, Piper? She is delusional. She is waiting on something that can never happen. She just needs to get away from him, but she thinks she loves him too much for that, so until she gets there, she is beyond help.” She watched the fire for awhile, then said, “And finally. You have to be careful when saving a drowning person, because they will inadvertently pull you down with them. Then you both drown. So I figured the best coarse of action was get back to the car, get it running, make amends with Mike, and then get them on the road and the hell away from us. Besides, I did help her. I called the police and turned him in. That is the absolute best that can be done for her at this time.”
The kettle started to whistle. She pulled it from the grate and poured the water into a cup and handed the cup to me. “The boys are upset with me because they liked Mike. Sociopaths are often charismatic and charming, so I am not surprised they were duped. I am little surprised that Stephan couldn’t see his superficiality though. It is not like him. But you know, they didn’t see what you and I saw. And to be fair, we couldn’t see what they saw, but I am not going to feel bad. I did the right thing. And I know you’re upset with me because you liked Kate.”
I suddenly found myself in an awkward and defensive position. I struggled to get out any words.
Caring Sue began laughing, “Oh, I was just having fun with you, Piper. There is nothing wrong with it. She was stunning! She has been turning heads her whole life. She’ll be turning heads for the rest of it—no matter her age. Of course, she was more than twice your age, so obviously not feasible, but a boy can dream can’t he?” She looked to me with a warm smile.
I didn’t have the heart to tell Caring Sue that I was actually a cocksucker. Her approving glow at my puppy-love crush did make me feel good inside. I was so confused. Just more experience that I didn’t know what to do with. I remember thinking to myself—is this what boys with a mom get to feel all the time? I know Caring Sue wasn’t my mom, but she was old enough to have been. She and the woman who gave birth to me were about the same age. I think they might even have been born in the same year—1948. She gave me a flash of something I had never seen before. At the same time, I started feeling bad. I had no right to let her bestow this love upon her. Now I was telling lies by omission. I should have come out of the closet right then and there and told her I was a cocksucker.
Then Caring Sue said, “Piper, I want to caution you about something.”
I said, “Okay—what’s that?”
She said, “Watch out for the pretty girls. The same rules of foraging apply—often, not always, but often the most colorful and gorgeous specimens in the forest, are also the most dangerous and venomous. The key is always, the heart, okay?”
I said, “Yes, ma’am”
She said, “Why don’t you get some sleep. I am going to be pushing us to get forty miles tomorrow.”
I smiled, “Yes, ma’am. Good night.”
“Good night, Piper.”