Communion Of Dreams

Jim Downey and the Federation of Silver.
October 30, 2008, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Health, Humor, N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia, Travel

Part One: We many, we noisy many, we band of travelers.

In spite of the fact that all the prep went well, I should have known what was in store for me on the trip.  Sorry – getting ahead of myself.  So to speak.

The trip to Patagonia – my first real vacation in almost three years – was going to be something of a challenge.  I knew this from the time I decided that I would go along with my wife on the tour.  See, it was put together because of the choir she belongs to – it wasn’t something I particularly had ever wanted to do.  But I decided to go.  As I put it back in January:

You probably already know about the North American Welsh Choir tour to Patagonia next October. And you may know that in return for my wife coordinating all the reservations and money and whatnot on the Choir’s end, she is getting her cost of the trip offset (in full, it looks like). Just in the last few days I’ve decided that I am going to go along.

Yeah, surprises me a bit, as well. I have no desire to go to South America. I have never had any desire to go to South America.

But my MIL is going to die soon. And late this year I should have decompressed from that, and been working hard for months being a good little book conservator, maybe an author. It will be a good time to challenge myself in a new way, get out of my comfort zone. This tour will be a good opportunity to do that. Plus my wife and I haven’t had anything approaching a real vacation in a couple of years, and we didn’t do anything to celebrate our 20th anniversary last October. So, this will serve that purpose as well.

Boy, did it.  You’ll see.

Anyway, as I said, our prep for the trip went well.  By the time Tuesday, Oct. 14 rolled around, we were ready to go.  We’d scaled back our packing for the trip considerably from previous trips overseas, and each of us had managed to get everything we wanted to take into one suitcase per person, under 13 kilograms (call it 29 pounds).  This was necessary because during the tour we’d be flying on an internal Argentine airlines which had a strict weight limit of 15 kilos.  We’d gathered together all the necessary documentation, stuff to read on long flights, et cetera, et cetera.  Made arrangements to have the pets cared for in our absence, mail and newspapers brought in.  Cleaned out the fridge, even washed the dishes so we weren’t faced with a mess when returning home.

So when the shuttle to take us to the airport arrived ten minutes early, it only caused a mild panic.  We grabbed our bags, our coats, said goodbye to the dog, and left.

We got to the Kansas City airport, and went to the check-in counter.  We had burned a bunch of frequent-flyer miles for an upgrade to business class for our flights, but wanted to see if we could take an earlier flight than originally scheduled from KC to Dallas.  The check-in person was very helpful, and we managed it with no problems.  Better to waste time in the Admiral’s Club in Dallas than worry about making our flight.  This worked as planned.

When it came time for our flight to Buenos Aires that evening, we happily got on board and settled ourselves in the spacious seats in business class (which is effectively First Class on that flight – there’s only the one premium class).  Flying in business class makes everything more pleasant, in terms of the space, the food, the entertainment.  Too bad I spent a large chunk of the 11 hours in the head.

Yeah, some intestinal grunge.  Traveler’s Disease, before I even got out of the country.  In one of those itty-bitty aircraft toilets.  Actually, in three of those itty-bitty aircraft toilets, depending on which one was available at the time.  Almost as much fun as having that kind of problem when confined to a porta-potty.

And that’s what I meant when I said I should have known what was in store for me on this trip.  No, I didn’t get another round of TD – I was fortunate in that regard.  Rather, that nothing would work out as I had hoped, and too much time would be spent crowded, uncomfortable, in a noisy small space.

So, we got to Buenos Aires.  Thanks to my Lonely Planet guide, I had a good idea about the layout of the airport, and where to find an ATM and a taxi to get us to our hotel.  Alix (my nickname for my wife – most people know her as Martha) and I retrieved our bags, made the pro-forma pass through customs (it’s easy to get INTO Argentina), and met up with another member of the tour who had come in on the same flight.  The three of us shared a taxi.  Or, rather, I should say that we shared getting sheared by a couple of the local touts who arranged for a taxi for us.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad.  I knew what the official rate was supposed to be (foreigners pay a significantly higher amount for taxis than do locals – they’re wonderfully upfront about how they are screwing you over in this way).  The two kids who latched onto us and then “negotiated” with the taxi driver wound up getting about the same rate, with a surcharge for the extra person going to a slightly different location (her hotel was about a dozen blocks from ours).  They got a kick-back from the driver, he got the fare in front of some other taxis, and we got to our hotel feeling only slightly fleeced.  Everybody was happy.

The hotel is right downtown, in Buenos Aires’ business district.  Actually, quite nice.  A bit on the swank side.  Since it was mid-morning, our rooms wouldn’t be ready for a while, but they were happy to stow our luggage for us until we could check in.  Alix and I went for a bit of an exploratory walk around downtown.

OK, we’d been traveling for about 24 hours at that point, having lost a couple of hours due to time-change in going east.  And I’d spent way too much time miserable, sitting in an airplane toilet.  But still, Buenos Aires struck me as . . . well, alien.  Not just “foreign”, as I might describe a large unknown city in Europe.  More different than that.  Even though porteños consider themselves to be essentially European, this was different than any city I’ve been in.  Grungier.  Horrid, horrid sidewalks (seriously – you could easily break an ankle if you didn’t pay close attention where you put your feet).  A crush of humanity.  Touts for every single business out in the streets and pedestrian walkways pushing flyers and business cards on you, trying to grab your attention (and sometimes you, physically) for the business they represented.  Loud speakers blaring advertisiments and music.  Lots and lots of glitzy, flashing, obnoxious signs.  Honestly, it felt like Blade Runner, without the perpetual gritty rain.

I was happy to get back to the hotel after a couple of hours of that.

We sat in the lobby as others arrived.  Alix, having helped arrange the trip on the choir side, knew a lot of the people by name at least – many were pleased to meet her in person.  There was much chattering and going on back and forth.  I mostly smiled and sat off to the side, out of the way.

Finally, we went on a tour of the city, previously arranged.  Frankly, most of the people on our bus (myself included) were almost comatose at that point, and could really care less about the various important city monuments we passed – everyone was tired from travel, wanting to get into our rooms and get cleaned up before getting dinner.  But we dutifully nodded at each landmark’s history, got off the bus to admire the pink government house and stare at the riot police lining up to stop one of the daily demonstrations in B.A.  Best of all, when the bus returned to the hotel, our rooms were ready.

Nice room for us, generous by European standards, moderate by American.  A change, a bit of a shower, rest a while.  Several stations on cable in English, with Spanish subtitles.  Met back downstairs early evening for the big opening night feast.

Our buses – gods, did I spend so much time on buses – were ready, and took the lot of us over to a nice fancy restaurant for dinner.  A note on this – the restaurants in Buenos Aires, in all of Argentina in fact, don’t even *think* about opening for dinner until 8:30 or 9:00.  No, I am not kidding – it is one of the most significant cultural differences between here and there.  Dinner is eaten late, often as late as 11:00 or midnight.  And they *always* take a couple of hours for a meal.  Seriously.  I grew to like the longer, relaxed pace for eating.  I never did get used to the idea of eating a heavy meal so late.

Anyway, the restaurant was designed as their version of an “all you can eat” place.  But with the twist that everything is made to order.  Well, the entrees, anyway.  The way it was done was that all around the perimeter were different “stations” – one was a custom pasta station, one a custom pizza station, one an Argentine barbeque/grill, one doing sushi, one doing custom crepes (with a double metric buttload of other desserts already waiting).  There was also an established elaborate and extensive salad/antipasto bar.  Everything was included in the meal, except for the drinks and tips for the chefs at the individual stations.  (Prices are very cheap in Argentina at present – a quart bottle of decent domestic beer is about US $4 in a nice restaurant, and an acceptible tip is AR $2 (two pesos – about US 60 cents.)  The domestic wines are quite good, though they tend toward a preponderence of red wines (Merlots in particular – what they call ‘Marbec’ in Argentina).  But do not try the local distilled spirits.  Really – just don’t.

We ate and drank ourselves stupid over the next couple of hours, and towards the end there were introductions of the various tour leaders, guides, and whatnot.  Alix got a very nice round of applause from everyone for her work coordinating things.  This made it easy for me to get along with everyone on the tour – all I had to do was explain that I was her husband, and I instantly had a niche.  It was towards the end of the evening that two themes emerged in my awareness which were to dominate the entire tour: one, that I was with a large group (about 60) of extrovert musicians – and the other 60 or so people on the tour were likewise gregarious Welsh who love the sound of their own voice; and two, that in addition to the non-stop, high speed conversations taking place around me, these people know and love music.  During the course of dinner the din of talking got to the point of almost being painful, making it impossible to hear what people across the table were trying to say to me.  Then, at the end after all the introductions were over, they broke into song.  Not just a half-hearted verse of “Happy Birthday”, either – this was a full-throated, trained choir which loves to sing, along with a large number of similarly inclined Welsh (who are happy to break into song at just about any excuse).  Everyone stood, and they gave their first performance in Argentina to the other patrons and staff at the restaurant – who loved it!

We finally left the restaurant about 11:00 – just when the bulk of other patrons were starting to arrive.  Back to the hotel and crash, hard.  It’d been a long and eventful day.

Jim Downey

In front of the hurdle.
October 30, 2008, 10:54 am
Filed under: N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia, Politics, Travel, Writing stuff

OK, I lied – I didn’t get back soon.  Getting settled and caught up with the world is only part of the issue – another major component is that I am obsessed with politics at this point, waiting for the election to finally come to fruition.  Well, that, and the fact that I am still struggling with exactly how I want to approach the travelogues from this recent trip.

See, the problem is that there were parts of it that I really didn’t enjoy.  Not just this or that isolated incident that might add a bit of spark or humor to the stories – whole aspects of the trip were just unpleasant.  But I don’t just want to whine or bitch through those sections of the travelogues.  Nor do I want to skim over them – these are things which need to be addressed, for my own understanding and perspective if nothing else.

So, apologies.  I’ve been putting off writing about anything else until I came to terms with this, and it has led me to something of a small case of writer’s block.  But I’ll get over this hurdle soon – there is just too much else I want to write about.

Jim Downey

So, didja miss me?
October 27, 2008, 6:12 pm
Filed under: Humor, Music, N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia

Got back from Patagonia this afternoon, after more than a day’s worth of steady travel.  Lots to tell – good and bad, richer and poorer.  Though overall very educational.  I’ll be doing that over the coming weeks with a series of travelogues.

But for tonight, I need to work some to correct an imbalance in my scotch level – it had dropped to a dangerously low percentage of overall blood content.  Scary stuff.

In the meantime, you can get some taste of the trip here.

Back soon.

Jim Downey

The Hunger Artist
October 26, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Art, Promotion, Society, Survival, Travel

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey


Published in “Legacy Online” October, 2003

The Hunger Artist

the man in the box There was a man hanging in a plexiglass box over the Thames in London when I was there last month. A man who was starving himself.

David Blaine‘s recent spectacle didn’t get a lot of attention here in the States, so you may not have heard about it, though the completion of his 44 day fast was covered by NPR yesterday morning. But it captured the imagination of just about everyone in the UK, and was one of the most common topics of conversation I had with people during our two week vacation. The fact that Blaine is an American probably had something to do with this, but even so, the progress of his fast was covered regularly and extensively by all the news outlets. Reports of the analysis of his urine (done by independent labs, with the strictest security), and what it meant about his medical condition was standard fare in the papers, discussion with leading doctors about the dangers he faced the longer he fasted was a the subject of morning programs on the television. Everyone speculated about whether he was somehow cheating, how long he could last, what it meant.

I don’t know where Blaine got the idea for his fast. But Franz Kafka wrote a short-story titled “A Hunger Artist” which seems to be a template for what Blaine did. In it, the Hunger Artist would perform for 40 days to the increasing interest and agitation of the crowds, his manager selling tickets to those who wished to view the performance. If Blaine didn’t know about this story, he should have.

So, the question is, is it art? It was a performance, certainly, and I suppose that in one sense this means it was art. It was an interesting conceptual piece, a mechanism for grabbing the attention and imagination of an entire nation, so that is a kind of art. (Remember, I considered my “Paint the Moon” project of two years ago to be a piece of conceptual/performance art with the same critieria.) But in one way I don’t want it to be art. Blaine lost almost one-third of his body mass during his fast, and may well have caused permanent damage to his heart and kidneys. Would that then mean that any kind of public mutilation could be considered art? Certainly some people would pay to come and see it. People already have, actually, since this sort of ‘performance’ has already been done in some venues. So, how far do we take this? Blaine (intentionally or not) staged a real version of a Kafka short story. Could someone else stage a real version of that scene in a recent Hannibal Lecter movie where one character dines on the brain of another, while that other person is still alive? How about staging a real version of Salvador Dali’s 1936 painting “Autumnal Cannibalism” in which two figures are eating one another? Would that be art?

Jim Downey and the Haunted House
October 24, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Humor

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey

Jim Downey and the Haunted House

We stood there on the corner, looking up at The House. Max, Marty, and me. It sat back from the street on a high corner lot, a classic Midwestern Victorian two-story, with a large porch that ran along two sides. The lot itself was landscaped in such a way that there was a steep hill of perhaps six feet, rising up from where we stood on the sidewalk on the downhill side. A set of concrete stairs cut up through the grass, a sidewalk leading from there to the front door.

“So, um, it’s haunted, right?” asked Max. He was tall and thin, as I was, but he had an athlete’s natural grace. I hated him for that since, at the same age of 14, I was nothing but clumsy. Max played basketball and ran cross-country. I think he still holds some of the school records to this day.

“Yeah, that’s what they say.”

“Someone got murdered in there a couple years ago,” said Marty. Marty, shorter and stockier than Max, had a stoner’s long hair in contrast to the latter’s crew cut. Marty was a little older than we were, and would be one of the first of my gang of friends to get his license. But he didn’t have it yet. He had played football in Junior High, didn’t think it was cool anymore and so wasn’t on the HS team.

It was a few days before Hallowe’en, a crisp Friday night perfect for going out and causing trouble. Which is what we had been up to. After a brief escorted visit to the police station (got picked up, cop thought he’d bring us in on suspicion of setting off fireworks but seeing where we didn’t have any . . .), we made our way to this supposedly haunted house near the old downtown area of our suburb, not too far from the defunct train station. The House had been vacant some years, and though someone kept the grass cut, the rest of the property had been neglected, most of the windows boarded up, the doors half off their hinges.

“Hey kid, c’mere,” I said, gesturing to a kid on a bike on the other side of the street, watching us.


“Nah, it’s OK, c’mere.”

The blonde-headed kid, about 10 years old, came across the street, but stopped a few yards from us. “Whatcha want?”

“This that house that guy got killed in?”

He nodded. “Yeah. It’s haunted.”

“What happened?” asked Max.

“They say some bikers cut this guy’s heart out.”

“Bullshit,” said Marty.

“No really. There’s a cold spot right where it happened. It’s back by the kitchen. You can feel it.”

“You been in there?”


“Yeah, right,” said Marty. “Bet you’re just tellin’ us what others say.”

“Uh-uh. I been in there,” he said defiantly.

“What, you ain’t scared to go in there?” said Max, looking at The House with some apprehension. “Ain’t scared of ghosts?”

“I ain’t scared of no ghosts! Me and Billy went in there after school one day last week.”

“After school? Ghosts ain’t out durin’ the day. You gotta go at night to see ’em.” Marty laughed. “You are scared of goin’ in there when they ghosts are around.”

“I bet you’re scared t’ go in there right now,” said the kid.

“That’s what we’re here for, kid.” I looked to Max and Marty. “Right?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Max, still looking up at The House.

“Sure,” said Marty, looking at the kid.

I nodded, looked at the kid. “So, what’s it like inside, if you’ve been in there?”

“What’ll you give me?”

“I’ll give you a quarter.” I held up a quarter in the streetlight so he could see it.

He nodded. “It’s all tore up. Them bikers been livin’ in there again. They got mattresses on the floor, there ain’t no other furniture.”

“They in there now?” asked Max.

“I dunno. Ain’ seen no one in there lately.” He glanced up at the house. “But they might be.”

“Nah, there’s no lights on,” I said.

“There ain’ no ‘lectricity,” said the kid.

“Oh,” said Max.

“But they’d have candles or somethin’,” said Marty.

“Yeah, prob’ly,” I said. I turned to the kid. “Thanks, kid. Go on home.”

“Uh-uh. I’m gonna stay and see if you really go in.”

“Get outta here kid, it’s late. Your momma be lookin’ for you.

The kid was slowly backing away on his bike. “Nope. She’s at Bingo. My dad’s s’posed to be watchin’ me, but he’s playing poker with his friends.”

“Well, we don’ want no kid watchin’ us, so get outta here b’fore I give you a fat lip,” said Marty.

The kid kicked the bike into motion, started peddling, hollered “screw you!” over his shoulder as he rode away down the block, then stopped to watch us.

Marty looked up at the house again. “Uh, how’re we gonna look around if there’s no lights?”

I smiled, dug into a pocket, and pulled out a small plastic flashlight. “All set.”

“So, uh, you guys think this is smart?” asked Max. “What if there are still some . . . uh . . . bikers in there now?”

“Kid said there weren’t,” replied Marty. “Not that I believe the little prick.”

“I ain’t worried about bikers,” I said. I reached down and took the small spray can of Mace that I had clipped to the inside of my jeans cuff, held it up. “This’ll fix ’em.”

“Damn, where’d you get that?” asked Marty.

“My uncle. He’s got a bunch of ’em from when he did cable repair outside, for dogs ‘n stuff.”

“Wow,” said Max. “How come the cops didn’t find it?”

“All they asked was for us to turn out our pockets, lookin’ for firecrackers, right?”

“Oh yeah.”

I started up the stairs. When I got to the top I turned to look at the two of them. “You guys comin’, or are ya scared?”

“I ain’t scared,” said Marty, trying to look fierce. He started up the stairs.

Max just nodded & followed, face pale.

We went up the sidewalk slowly, looking around to see if anyone was watching us. Just the kid, from across the street, standing up on his bike to get a better look. As we got to the porch, I turned on the flashlight, shined it at the door. My friends were both just right behind me as I stepped up the couple of steps and crossed the porch to the door. For a moment we just stood there, looking at the old wooden door (the screen door was hanging off to the side, half crumpled and out of the way). I could feel my heart race.

“Um . . . maybe we should knock or something,” whispered Max.

Marty looked at Max like he’d lost his mind. “Knock? You kiddin’? That’ll just give the ghosts more time to get ready for us.”

I took a deep breath and grasped the doorknob, turning it and pushing the door open with a raspy squeal. Sticking my head in first, I shined the flashlight around, then turned to Max and Marty. “C’mon.”

I stepped into the room, flashlight shining dully. First thing I noticed was a strong smell of mustiness, of decay. The room looked the part, too, with pieces of broken furniture scattered about, carpet pulled up here and there, wallpaper sagging off the walls. I heard the sound of my two friends coming in the door behind me, the floor creaking under them. I turned to the left, to where a wide archway lead to another room. “This way.”

Max half-whispered, “Wait for us.”

The flashlight wasn’t very powerful, but as I walked into the second room I pointed it up at the ceiling, and a general illumination almost cut the gloom. This room was about as bad as the first room, with water stains visible on the walls, one window covered from outside with boards, the other obscured by heavy, rotting drapes which hung askew. “I guess who ever’s in here don’t want their lights to shine out.”

“Or they’re afraid of daylight,” said Marty.

“You mean, like vampires?” asked Max glancing into the dark areas nervously.

“No, dipshit, like junkies. Junkies can’t take bright light. Makes their eyes bleed or somethin’. Ever’body knows that,” answered Marty.

“Oh, right.”

“This place is pretty messed up,” I said, pushing a battered old chair out of the way, kicking a bag of trash and scattering its contents. There were several other half broken and abused chairs in the room, presenting an obstacle course we had to wind through.

“Let’s get outta here,” said Max, voice quaking.

“Gettin’ scared?” I turned, my flashlight hitting him and Marty right in the face.

Blinking and shielding his eyes, Marty growled. “Hey idiot, careful with the light.”

“Oh, sorry.” I headed across the room and towards another doorway. “C’mon, looks like the kitchen’s back this way.”

Marty and Max weren’t too far behind me, only a couple of paces, stumbling a bit over the busted chairs and trash as their eyes recovered. As I reached the doorway, a figure suddenly stepped from behind the wall. For a moment my flashlight slid across his chest, revealing wild eyes and long white hair on the hideous, twisted face of an old man. Then I screamed, dropping the flashlight as arms reached from the other side of the doorway grabbing me, pulling me through.

“RUN!” I hollered, as I flipped the cap on the can of Mace and found the spray button. Pointing it at the floor, I cut loose a blast as I saw Max and Marty turning and fleeing. Max, disoriented, the acrid smell of Mace in the air, the flashlight shining weirdly across the floor, only turned halfway and ran straight into the wall between the two windows, hitting it so solidly that the whole room shook. Marty, the former football player, was clearing a path through the chairs and junk, kicking stuff out of the way, body slamming the bigger pieces as though he was charging the line of an opposing team. He was making remarkable time, but even so Max, after having bounced off the wall, caught up with him and passed him before they reached the front door.

I screamed again, this time nothing more than an incoherent yell of fright and pain, and watched as my friends disappeared out the door.

“Man, that was great!” I said, my heart pounding, as I turned to look at my Uncle Don, who was peeling off the latex old-man mask. My Uncle Rich, who had been the one to snatch me into the other room, was leaning against the wall, laughing so hard he could barely stand.

Yeah, it was a scam. I’d set the whole thing up with my two uncles the night before. The kid on the bike was my cousin. Don had this scary mask, and I knew exactly where he and Rich would be stationed. Even being picked up by the cops earlier in the night had been arranged with a buddy who was on the force, in order to keep my two friends off balance and on edge.

I ran to the door, intent on calling Max and Marty back, letting them in on the joke. As I got to the door I saw Max, runner that he was, well in front of Marty, bookin’ for home with such speed that he cleared the limit of the front lawn where it dropped 6′ down to the street level, and didn’t just go down the hill but ran out into empty space like some cartoon character, legs pumping and arms flailing . . .

– 30 –

The Mayor of Main Street
October 23, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Society

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey


circa 1993

The Mayor of Main Street

One afternoon The Mayor of Main Street stood outside one of his favorite bars and handed out $1 bills to anyone who would take them. He had a big roll of bills, and he would peel one off with a snap, holding it out, offering it like some religious tract or advertisement to the flow of people walking by.

He looks homeless, with his dishevelled clothes, long beard, and gap-toothed grin. Which is why many people probably thought that there was some angle, some sort of scam to his generosity. He had his funny striped knit hat pulled down far over his high forehead, and his big eyes, bright blue with neither anger nor pleading, are a little unearthly, a little frightening in their intensity to people who aren’t used to seeing the eyes of the ragged men who live in the margins of College Town. But he’s not homeless, though he spends a lot of time with the street people. He has a family he seems to get along with, people who care for him. He’s just a little confused, turned inward by one too many explosions in the war, too fond of drink in all of its forms.

On this day he was just in a good mood, having had an early start, celebrating the fine weather and the company of a drinking buddy who had since staggered off. He had evidently decided to share his good mood with others by passing out dollar bills.

Usually he doesn’t talk much, just mumbles to himself, his long fingers working at some unseen puzzle, or running along the hem of his t-shirt where it hangs out of his jeans. Sometimes he’ll stop and tear a poster off one of the kiosks, because something on it appeals to him, and he’ll fold it carefully, putting it into an overstuffed pocket, taking it out every few paces to unfold and enjoy anew. Other times he’ll play for hours with a feather or fetish he has found on Main Street, conducting symphonies only he can hear, painting the sky and the sides of building with pigments only he can see. But on this fine day he stood there, back against the brick wall, inviting people to step up and have a dollar, just ’cause.

Some of the students, usually hulking suburban lads, stopped by and accepted the offer, figuring a buck is a buck. Others, more street-savvy or just timid, ignored him, eyes cast down, the same way they usually walk by the rattled cups of desperation. A group of Asian students formed on the sidewalk across the street, looking at him, trying to make sense of the scene and his rambling dialog. They stood there, arms folded, puffing madly on cigarettes, comparing notes on this little bit of theatre, completely baffled by the lanky American.

Eventually, the manager of the bar came out and tried to persuade him to put his money away, to save it for food and drink with friends later. The Mayor considered the wisdom of this, but his belly was full, his thirst satiated. The Mayor gave him a dollar, and told him that he didn’t know about later, but right now he needed to give away these crisp green bills, since that was the job he had to do. The manager didn’t push the issue. The Mayor is a regular there, usually behaves himself well, and even helps to ride herd on some of the street people that he hangs around with. That’s why he’s called The Mayor.

Someone else called the police, who stopped by and chatted with The Mayor. They all know him, from countless discussions over College Town’s open container ordinance. But there is no law against giving away money, and even though they couldn’t accept his generosity there was no real reason to stop him from being generous to others. Before they left, they warned him to be careful of the roll of bills, because not all his friends were really his friends. He told them that was why he was giving the money away, so that everybody could be his friend, and then he wouldn’t have to worry about it.

Eventually he finished the job to his satisfaction, and wandered down the street to check on his constituents, a warm autumn breeze playing with his beard.

A Taxing Question
October 21, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Government, Politics, Society

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey


23 February 2005

A Taxing Question

“Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

My buddy, Steve, who won $100k on Who Wants to be a Millionaire (see my piece on the show here), got into a discussion about the show and the fact that he’d have to pay a purported 43% of his winnings to the IRS. Someone asked him what questions the government answered for their 43%. I thought his response was perfect, and with his permission post it here:

What questions did the government answer for their 43%? Directly, obviously, none, but . . .

Tax money taught me how to read. Tax money bought the book Tom Edison, Young Inventor in the Hitchcock Elementary School Library in Galesburg, Illinois.

Tax money paid the salary of my eighth grade music teacher (whose name I have forgotten), who introduced me to opera, specifically Aida, and mentioned that it was written to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal.

Tax money funded Michigan State University, where my father pursued his graduate education in physics and astronomy, which allowed him to answer the question about aphelion.

Tax money paid the salary of Hal Devore, my eleventh grade history teacher, who taught me about the Depression, FDR, and the Bank Holiday.

I am far better off than I was on November 4 (the day before taping). But it is only because of the money that society has invested in me.

And if you think that this former teacher is too focused on education, I would mention that I enjoyed driving to New York on the Interstate Highway system.

The call.
October 20, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Humor, Society

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey


November 2004

The Call

So, I’m waiting for a phone call.

It’s a different kind of anticipation. Not the mild angst of waiting for the publisher to call about my book, which they have been considering for 10 weeks now. Not the cold-sweat anxiety of waiting to hear how a loved one fared in the surgical unit. Nor even the slight annoyance of waiting for someone who I was talking to, but got another call “they had to answer,” to call me back.

I’m waiting to help a friend win a lot of money. Well, maybe.

A week ago I got an email from an old college buddy. We’ve kept in pretty close touch, but don’t chat all that often. He was writing to ask me for a favor: to be his “life-line”. See, my buddy managed to get himself on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. And he wanted to see whether I would be available to help him (if he needed it) on the day he was taping the show. Asked me to outline my areas of expertise for him.

That’s a reality check, let me tell you. I mean, I’m a pretty smart guy. I’ve got an IQ that makes me wonder about the validity of the tests, if you know what I mean. And I’ve got a good education. But how smart am I, really? Smart enough for my friend to depend upon me to maybe win a buttload of money?

He thinks so. I have my doubts.

I told him that while I’m smart, it’s in a “figuring things out” kind of way, not in a “Trivial Pursuit” kind of way. Names are slippery things for me. Pop culture for the last 20 years completely passed me by. I vaguely know that there are such things as Football and Baseball, but couldn’t tell you who played in the Superbowl last year if my life depended upon it. Yeah, I know the Red Sox just beat the Cardinals for the World Series, but doubt if I could name even a single player on either team. I told him this. I even told him that I’ve never seen the show in its entirety, only bits and pieces in passing, but I’d try and remember to look it up this week and check it out. (Of course, I forgot.)

He still wanted me on the list. Oh, he’s got a couple of other people he can tap, too, so the entire burden isn’t on my shoulders. So this morning the nice production assistant called me and went over the routine, explained everything, made sure I’d be available during the taping. And just a moment ago they called to say my buddy made it through the preliminary rounds of the show, and was next in “the hot seat”. So the anticipation builds. If the phone rings again, I’m supposed to let it go for three rings, then answer “Hello” and the show host will come on. Then we’ll have 30 seconds for my buddy to tell me the question and the possible answers, and for me to tell him which one I think is right.

No pressure.

Well, OK, a little pressure. Yeah, got a little flop-sweat going. Why did I do this? I mean, helping a buddy out is one thing, but was I out of my frelling mind??? I don’t know the kind of stuff they ask about on game shows. There won’t even be time to put a thousand Googling monkeys to work to help me fake it. I’ll just lose my buddy a lot of money and make a fool of myself on national TV.

All right, calm down.

Maybe he won’t call. Maybe he’ll just breeze right through the questions on his own, earning his cool million, without any help. Or maybe if he gets stuck on a question, it’ll be one suitable to one of the other people on his life-line list. People who have a mastery of minutia, a memory for obscure facts and figures, who know the difference between an RBI and Fourth-and-Ten. Or maybe he’ll just screw up on of the early questions and get eliminated. Yeah, that’s a possibility. That’s my salvation!

Oops, wait a moment. I don’t want him to lose. No, really, I’m willing to live with the pressure for a few minutes more, take my chance. With luck, I’ll just dodge this bullet, but still have the braggin’ rights to say that I was someone’s life-line on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. Yeah, that’s it. Think of the glory!

Damn, the phone just rang.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Set your VCR . . . 10 February 2005

My buddy who was taped for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and asked me to be one of his life lines let me know that the show is scheduled to be on next Thursday, Feb. 17. In Columbia it’s on KMIZ at 3:30 . . . check your local listings for times in your area.

Because Enquiring Minds Want to Know . . . 18 February 2005

In case you didn’t see it, my buddy Steve won $100k on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The show was broadcast on 2/17.

The Car
October 18, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Humor, Society

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey


circa 1994

The Car

She was late to class, and new in town. I recognized the symptoms when she pulled up, parked the car, got out, locked it, and strode into the flow of students with narry a glance back. A single-minded set to her eyes. The new backpack. The glance at her watch as she blended into the crowd.

The sociology professor came out of his building, got into his car, and went to the entrance of his lot, only to find her car there across the driveway. He honked his horn. He got out, and walked around her car. He came across the street to the espresso shop next door, figuring that maybe it was just a customer who stopped in for quick cup to go. He came out of the espresso shop, walked back across the street, walked around The Car again, scratching his head. The crowd of students had now melted away, class having begun, and there was virtually no one in sight. He stood there for a minute or two, then went back into his building.

When he came out, there was one of the secretaries who worked in the building with him. She figured that this was a great time to get a smoke, enjoy the sunshine, look at The Car blocking the driveway. The two of them stood there, looking at The Car. The Car did not move. The owner of The Car did not come back to it. Another car came up to the entrance to the lot from the street side, wanting to turn in. This car honked. The professor went over to the driver and explained about The Car blocking the driveway. The driver of the second car got out, looked at The Car. She went over to the door of The Car, tried to open it. The driver’s door was locked.

A passing student saw this, tried to open the other doors, which were all locked. Another secretary came out, got a light and the outline of the story from the first secretary. The professor went back inside the building. He came out with another professor. They stood chatting with the secretaries, all looking at The Car. The passing student picked up his books and wandered away. Traffic was starting to back up.

Other cars came and wanted to pull into the lot. Someone from the small but growing knot watching The Car would go over and explain the situation. Traffic moved by fits and starts, since even those who didn’t want to pull into the lot were curious about what was going on. Customers of the espresso shop started to bring their cups of steaming latte out onto the sidewalk, watching The Car and all that happened around it. The professor went back inside his building a third time. A few minutes after he came out again, a parking-enforcement officer for the University pulled up. The parking-enforcement officer looked at The Car. He talked with the professor, and the other professor, and the one secretary who was still there on a prolonged break. A couple of the bystanders offered opinions and suggestions as well.

The parking-enforcement officer got on his radio, made a call. Then he wrote out a ticket and slipped it under the windshield wiper of The Car. He said something to the crowd, then got in his car and drove away. The professor, and the other professor, came back across the street and got cups of espresso, talked with the people standing on the sidewalk.

After a while a University policeman pulled up. He got out, looked at The Car. He tried opening the doors. He talked with the secretary, then the professor. Some of the people finishing up their lattes wandered over and told him what they had seen. The policeman walked around The Car again. Then he had the professor get back in his car, and guided the professor over the curb, across the grass, and out onto the street. There was a cheer from the crowd.

The policeman got on his radio, and a few minutes later the tow truck showed up. The tow truck operator got out, talked with the policeman. Then he walked around The Car, laughing and shaking his head. He got down under The Car for a good look. Then he got his trollies, and positioned them under the front end, one in front of the wheels, one behind. He strapped them together, and hooked them up to the tow truck. Since class was over, a bunch of students had started to gather around to watch the excitement.

Then she came back. Not as distracted this time, she noticed the big crowd, stopped to see what they were watching. As The Car was lifted up by the tow truck winch, she realized that it was her car, and screamed. The tow truck operator stopped. Everything was silent. The policeman, and most of the crowd, turned to look at her. After a moment, there was applause.

Jim Downey and the Amazing Hoopie – part three.
October 17, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Guns, Humor

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey

Part three: A Very Strange Sunday

I awoke the next morning to a beautiful late-fall day. The sun was out, it was already as warm at 10 o’clock as it had gotten the day before, and I figured that before long we would be heading home. Little did I know.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t the first one up (except for Stalking Charlie – I expected him to be awake already). Uncle Clem was sitting in his chair, coffee cup in hand, staring quietly into the fire. And off up by the side of the bus, near the booze table, were a couple of guys in rickety folding chairs who looked very much like they had been up drinking all night. I stood there for a couple of moments, trying to come up with their names. They were brothers, that much I remembered. Both were married; I had witnessed them rudely greeting their wives the night before. Dan was the one . . . and . . . oh, yeah, Stan was the other. Both had black hair, short, slicked back in a style that had disappeared at least a decade earlier. In their late 20s or early thirties. Both thin, short, but muscular.

They were having some kind of argument, I could tell, though their words weren’t clear enough where I stood to discern exactly what they were saying. But it was animated, in a brotherly sort of way. Well, a drunken, redneck, brotherly sort of way.

I walked up to the fire, Charlie watching me the whole way, Uncle Clem noticing me as I got close. He said, “He’p yerself t’ coffee, boy.”

“Thanks.” I had brought a cup, hoping. I nodded to Charlie, poured coffee, looked up at the brothers.

Clem followed my gaze. “Pay ’em no mind. They’s always that way after huntin’.”

Being a little closer, I could see that the younger of the two brothers, Dan, had half-dried blood all down his shirt. “He OK?”

Clem looked at Dan, squinting, as though he hadn’t noticed the blood previously. “Huh. Yeah, I reckon. Prob’ly jus’ them wrastlin’ some.”

I nodded, sipped my coffee. Hearing movement behind me, I turned to see Rich pull himself out of the tent, stand and blink in the bright sunlight. He disappeared into the woods for a bit, then came back around the tent, reached inside and brought out a cup, headed our way. But he paused to rap hard on the side of Jerry’s pickup, where I could still hear Jerry snoring away. The snoring stopped.

“Yeah. Whaddya want?”

“Jerry, it’s almost ten. Wanna get moving?”

There was a pause. “Oh, yeah. Gimme a minute.”

Rich turned from the truck and resumed his walk up to the fire. Yawning, he nodded to everyone, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down heavily on a log. He looked a little paler than usual. He muttered, “Morning.”

“Sleep OK?” I asked.

Shaking his head, yawning, and trying to nod all at once, he said, “Yeah. Lil’ wonder, since I’d had a couple.”

Laughing, Clem said, “You wer’t t’ only one.”

“No, no, that’s for sure. Some of these boys can really put it away,” agreed Rich, taking another slug of coffee. He looked up at Stan and Dan. “Them, for example.”

I heard the sound of Jerry’s topper creaking open, turned to look. He dragged himself out to the tailgate, sat up unsteadily, looking more than a little green around the gills. I gestured to Rich. “Looks like Jerry didn’t do too bad, himself.”

Rich looked, smiled slightly. “Yup.”

Clem laughed again. “There’ll be worse. Jus’ wait.”

Sure enough, in the next hour most of the rest of the camp staggered out of their various sleeping places and wandered over to the fire in quest of coffee. Charlie kept the pot going, adding water and another handful of grounds whenever it got a little low. Jerry, moving slow and wearing his hat down low over his eyes, was barely in the running for being the worst off. And I got the impression that was only because he was more out of practice than a lot of these guys. Some of ’em only sat and tried to sip at their coffee long enough to fall back asleep, much to the amusement of everyone else. And one fellow got the heaves, losing it in the fire and almost falling in himself before someone grabbed him and dragged him off to the edge of the woods.

“Well, that’s it,” said Clem, getting up out of his chair. “No one wants t’ sit here wit’ th’ stink o’ roastin’ puke. Let’s break camp, boys.”

There was a general muttering of agreement, mixed with moans of pain as some of the boys tried to get moving again. Me and Rich went down and took care of getting our gear together, packing up the little tent, and so forth. Jerry mostly just shoved his stuff into one corner of the pickup, making room for our stuff. As we were finishing Rich looked over the top of the truck up at the bus, said, “What the hell?”

I turned and looked, saw that Stan and Dan had gotten up out of their chairs, and, barely able to stand, were trying to fight. Several of the less hung-over guys were trying to keep them apart. I glanced at Rich. “Let’s go see what happens!”

Rich started to say something, but I was already on my way up to the bus. Others had started to gather around, as well, and the small crowd had begun to move away from the bus. I got there just in time to hear Matt say, “Whadda ya fightin’ ’bout?”

Leaning unsteadily away from the man who held him, Dan looked at Matt a long time, trying to get his eyes to focus. Sloppily, spitting as he spoke, he said “Imma better hunner ‘n ‘e is.”

“I kick yer ass,” said Stan, trying to pull away from Kenny, who held him solidly by the upper arms. “Ev’one knows I’s better. I always get more deer n’ you.”

Dan, shrugging off restraint, stepped forward and pointed shakily at the hat that Stan was wearing. “I kin shoot that deer.”

Stan, blinking uncomprehendingly for moment, pulled off his green John Deere cap. There was a deer on a button on the front, no larger than a typical shirt button. I hadn’t even noticed it.

“Shit, this I gotta see,” said Matt. He turned to someone, “Go get his gun.”

For a moment I thought he was going to let Dan kill Stan. Even the idea of putting a gun in the hands of this slobbering drunk scared the hell out of me. I looked at Rich, who had come up behind me, and who was now completely drained of color. But before I could say anything to him, or him to me, the fellow Matt sent returned with Dan’s rifle.

Matt grabbed the hat from Stan, said, “Follow me.”

We followed, people helping the two drunks, a short distance away from the bus. Matt stopped, looked around. “Stay here.”

Everyone stopped, watched Matt as he calmly walked down the road about 50 yards and set the green cap in the fork of a tree. I could barely make out the hat at that distance, since it was partially hidden in shadow. Matt walked back to the crowd. “Give him the rifle.”

Rich grabbed me and pulled me back as much out of the way as possible. I didn’t need much encouragement, but both of us couldn’t help but stay there and watch what happened. Dan took the 30-30, stumbled over to a fair sized tree, and parked himself against it. He racked a round into the chamber, then raised the gun, the barrel wavering but pointing down the road. He stood there for a second, then brought the gun down, shook his head.

“Tol’ ya. He can’t do it,” said Stan.

“Fuck you,” muttered Dan, pulling his own cap off and throwing it at Stan. Then turning back down the road, he raised the rifle again, and with barely a pause to lean against the tree to steady himself, fired.

I swear to God that the hat lept from the tree, some 50 yards away.

“Son of a bitch,” muttered Rich, beside me.

A whoop went up. As Matt jogged down the road to retrieve the hat, Dan turned to Stan, smiled a drunken smile. “Lemme see you do it.”

Matt just then got back with the hat, and handed it over for others to see and pass around as he shook his head unbelieving. The button was gone from the front of the hat, leaving only a ragged hole where it had been punched through the fabric. There was also an exit hole in the back, just above the adjustable band.

Dan no longer had the rifle. Taking the green hat, he put it on his head, staggered over to his brother. Pointing at his own black hat laying in the road, he repeated, “Lemme see you do it.”

Stan reached down and picked up the hat, almost tumbling over in the process. He looked at it, looked at his own hat now on Dan’s head. He put on the black cap. “I’s still a better hunter ‘n you is.”

But then he smiled, said, “But maybe you’s a better shot.”

Everyone cheered.

A little while later, most of the camp was packed up, which consisted mostly of just shoving things in vehicles, and we were waiting for Jerry to come back to the truck. He came down the hill from the bus, came over to us and said to Rich, “Say, th’ old man wants me to come over to th’ house, visit with th’ women folk a bit. You don’t mind, do ya? They’ll have food and everything for us. We’ll only stay a little while.”

Rich glanced at me. “Um, no, that’s fine. But let’s not stay too long, OK?”

Jerry nodded, and we got in the truck to leave. But before he started the engine, Matt came around to his side of the truck. Jerry got out for a moment, chatted with Matt in low tones. Then he opened his door, and with Matt still standing there, asked Rich, “Say, you wouldn’t mind driving one of the boy’s cars back over to my uncle’s place, would you?”

Matt stuck his head around Jerry. “Some of th’ boys ain’ in no shape t’ drive.”

Rich nodded, said, “Yeah, I can believe that.”

“Hard t’ drive when yer pukin’ or passed out,” said Matt. “We’d ‘preciate it.”

“Yeah,” said Rich, getting out of the truck. He looked at me. “Um, you wanna come with me, James?”

“Oh yeah.”

“This way,” said Matt, when we came around the truck. He led us up the hill and past the bus, to where there were several cars and trucks waiting. Each one looked to be in worse shape than the one next to it.

“Which one?” asked Rich.

Matt pointed to the closest of the lot. It was hard to tell what the car had been originally. A Chevy Impala would’ve been my guess, from the basic body shape. But things had been done to it. Things that oughtn’t be done. Unnatural things. Like trying to make it into a convertible, without the benefit of clergy nor real Chevy parts. What was stuck on the car after the original top had been cut away was the rag roof of some other model or make car. It almost fit. There was no hood. It had probably been removed to allow installation of the huge carb/air-injector thingee that stuck way up out of the engine compartment. The whole car sat maybe a foot higher than it should’ve. And, of course, it looked like it had been painted by a couple of toddlers with spray cans.

Matt said, “This’s Junior’s.”

“Uh, sure,” said Rich.

“Jus’ drive it t’ Charlie’s, OK?

“Uh, sure. Where’s that?”

“Jus’ follow us.”

“Yeah. But . . .”

Matt had already headed towards one of the battered pickups. Before we even got in Junior’s car, the Hoopie roared to life and went rumbling past. The bus followed it. Other cars, jeeps, and trucks started up and were moving as we scrambled to get into Junior’s car.

Inside was even more frightening that outside. The front seats were a couple of bucket seats from a different car, crudely welded into place, with no way to adjust their position. Rich is a big guy, stands about 6’4″, and I bet Junior was a good six inches shorter, given how Rich had to scrunch up in order to sit behind the wheel. There were no seats in back, just a stack of spare tires, most of them bald or even flat. Automatically, I reached for the seat belt. Hah! Rich went to start the car, was confronted with a screwdriver sticking out of the ignition. Shaking his head, he grasped the handle of the screwdriver and gave it a twist. The engine coughed, then caught. Looking at me, Rich just rolled his eyes, then grabbed the stick shift sticking up out of the floor through a ragged hole between our seats, and put the car in gear.

By this time, most of the other vehicles had already left the clearing and had disappeared down the fire road. Rich followed the last car out, trying to navigate the Chevy through the ruts and rough spots best he could, given that it was almost impossible to see past the monstrous carburetor. “Jesus! This is fuckin’ unbelievable.”

We both about bounced out of our seats. I thought my head was going to go through the ragtop. “Um, what is?”

Rich laughed, a nervous yet sarcastic laugh. “Good one, James. I guess this just fits in with the whole fuckin’ unbelievable weekend, doesn’t it?”

The engine screamed as we hit another rut and the rear end lost traction for a second. Rich was trying to keep the car in front of us in sight. “Man, I’ve known rednecks before. Been huntin’ with a few of ’em. But these guys . . .” He paused, chanced a glance at me. “Hell, James, your dad, what with bein’ a cop and all, knew some real characters. He once described someone to me as a ‘slope-headed Ozark stump-jumper.’ I about spit my beer out when he said that. Well, that’s what these idiots are. Slope-headed Potosi stump-jumpers. Jesus.”

We came up to the blacktop, and saw a couple of cars from our group disappearing to the left. Rich followed, shifting gears and pushing the Chevy. Muttering, he looked at the dashboard. “No surprise, doesn’t look like any of the instruments work. Christ on a stick.”

I just held on. The car seemed to handle the road pretty well, but had a tendency to sway disturbingly on the curves. We came to another blacktop, followed the last car in the line to the right and a short time later went through some nameless small town. Just over the hill past that town I felt the car shimmy and Rich hit the brakes, slowed us down and pulled off to the side. I asked “What’s wrong?”

“Flat. One of the rear tires, I’d bet.” Rich turned red. “Dammit.”

“Well, we’ve got plenty of tires, I said, pointing to the pile behind us.”

Rich looked at me like I was nuts. “Yeah, but did you see a jack?”

“Maybe in the trunk?”

“I don’t have a key to the trunk. All I’ve got is a goddamn screwdriver. And it’s stuck in the goddamn ignition.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

We got out. Rich went around back to see if there was some way to open the trunk. I opened the back door, looked around the tires as much as I could. Slamming his fist on the trunk lid in disgust, Rich came around to my side of the car. “Any luck?”

“Nah. Let me see if I can shift a couple of these, look into the trunk.” I did that, and partly climbed into the back seat to get a better look.


I squinted. “Can’t see much, there isn’t any light. But it looks like all that’s back there is more tires and a bunch of batteries.”

“Batteries?” asked Rich.

“Uh, yeah, car batteries.” I pulled myself back out of the car. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault.” Rich shook his head, sighing. “Un-fucking-believable.”

I looked around. “Hey, isn’t that Matt in that pickup?”

Rich looked, but didn’t have a chance to say anything before the pickup pulled off the road in front of us. Matt got out and started walking towards us. “Wha’ happen’d?”

Rich looked at me, and I could tell he was about ready to strangle Matt. But he just said, “Flat.”

Matt nodded, and turned around, heading for his truck. For a moment I thought he was just going to get in and leave. But he reached into the bed of the truck and came out with a tractor jack and a 4-way tire iron. In short order we had the car jacked up, and found a tire in the back seat that still had air and the right lug pattern to fit on the Chevy. As he let the car back down, Matt said, “Sorry ’bout that. Well, ain’ much further.”

“Hey, uh, how about some directions?” asked Rich.

Matt scratched his head, “Well, take th’ firs’ gravel up here t’ th’ right, then th’ firs’ dirt road. Go over th’ tracks an’ you’re there.”

“Got it.”

“If’n you don’ show up ‘n a bit, I’ll come lookin’.”


Matt got in his truck and took off. We got back in the Chevy, Rich just shaking his head. The first gravel road wasn’t far, and we turned onto it. The dirt road leading off it had a hand painted sign that just said “JUNKYARD.” We went that way, and before long we were driving along a railroad embankment on our left that was a good ten or twelve feet higher than the road, with a runoff ditch between. After a couple hundred yards of this, the road turned sharply left, down the ditch and up the embankment.

Rich paused, put the car in low. We went down, and the higher ground clearance meant that we didn’t get stuck in the ditch. Up the other side, and the car died just as we cleared the top, straddling the railroad tracks. Rich tried to start the engine, but nothing happened when he twisted the handle of the screwdriver. Rich looked at me. I looked at Rich.

We got out of the car. Rich looked the situation over. The road went down the other side of the embankment and into a large junkyard which had heretofore been shielded from us. There, in the center, was a pile of buildings. “Fuck it,” he said. “They want the goddamn car, they can come get it.”

I wondered about the wisdom of leaving a car on the tracks. “Uh, what if a train comes along?”

“Out here? On a Sunday?” Rich shook his head. “Little chance of that, I’d say. But we’ll go tell them, they’ll know how often the train comes through. Not much we can do about it.”

So, we proceeded down to the junkyard and towards the pile of buildings. It was kind of hard to tell where the junk ended and the buildings began, as stuff was leaning against walls, parts of old house trailers were incorporated into the compound, et cetera. A large black dog came bounding up to us, scattering a handful of chickens, who made a racket announcing our arrival. Matt stuck his head out the door, from which poured a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Didn’ hear ya pull up.”

“Car’s up there on the tracks,” said Rich, hiking his thumb back over his shoulder.

Matt leaned out the door, squinted up to the embankment. “Huh.”

“It died,” I said, trying to be helpful.

Matt stuck his head back inside a moment, and barked something. Then turning to us, said, “C’mon ‘n, supper’s on th’ table.”

Rich started towards the door. I told him as he passed me, “I think I’ll just stay out here.”

“Doncha wan’ somethin’ t’ eat?” asked Matt.

“Uh, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Suit yerself,” said Matt, and then disappeared inside.

Pausing before going in, Rich looked at me, nodded. “I’ll see if I can get Jerry so we can get going.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

I poked around the junkyard a while, playing with the dog, throwing things at the chickens (with no real intent to hit them), listening to roars of laughter coming from inside the ‘house.’ I watched a couple of the guys come out, fire up a large tow truck, and go fetch Junior’s car, laughing all the way. I got into the back of Jerry’s pickup, into our cooler and had a soda and a sandwich, sitting there on the tailgate, enjoying a bit of solitude. Finally, after what seemed hours but was probably only thirty or forty minutes, Rich and Jerry came out, each of them carrying a sack. They put the sacks down on the tailgate, and started stuffing the contents into our coolers.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Deersteaks,” said Jerry.

“And sausage,” added Rich.

“But how . . .”

“Frozen,” said Rich.

“From an earlier hunt,” said Jerry, finishing up and going around to the passenger’s side.

“Probably illegal as all hell,” added Rich. “But they insisted, thanking us for helping with the drive yesterday.”


“You shoulda come in, James. Food was real good.”

I shrugged. “Had enough.”

Rich nodded. “Let’s go home. I told Jerry I’d drive, since he’s pretty badly hung over.”

“Sounds good to me.”

– 30 –