Josh Farris




The Raccoon Wars

By Josh Farris


I was used to folks doing a double-take when they heard my name, Dag Johanssen, for the first time.  I was proud of my Scandinavian roots, hence I rarely took offense—until I met April Livingston.

I was not paying attention to what was physically in front of me when I rear-ended April Livingston’s 66’ VW bug with my truck. 

I tried to charm April: “I’m sure other men have used more traditional ways to capture your attention.”  She was curvy and athletic.  She had long-flowing, waist-length, strawberry blonde hair.  For her, on the outskirts of an unforgiving desert, her beauty was more of a hindrance than an attribute.

She was confident that the accident was my fault.  Her adrenaline was not soaring, but her battle-ready spirit was; as it always was.  She held her hands on her hips and squinted at me as the desert sun beat down on her tan, smooth, beautiful, makeup-less face. 

“I know, I know.  I apologize.  It was an accident,” I quickly explained.  I was trying to remember what I was thinking about when the accident happen; what mental distraction had robbed me of my vision. We exchanged the necessary info.  We both agreed the accident was my fault.

“OK, well, once again, I am sorry.”  Looking at her address I asked, “Do you live in Victorville?”

“No, that’s just where I keep my post office box,” she replied.

“Oh good, I was about ready to offer my condolences.”  Ostensibly, I made my third mistake of the day: Mistake #1) Bending April’s fender.  Mistake #2) The indirect swipe at the city of Victorville.  Mistake #3) The fact that after I made a rude comment, I laughed at my own joke.  I knew right away that I had angered her.

April’s 5’2” frame lunged towards me with forefinger in full point.  She heatedly exclaimed, “I was raised here!  This is a fine city!  These people have an understanding of what hard work is; an under-standing of the concept of the word ‘neighbor;’ an understanding of how not to be smarmy and how to exhibit a modicum of decency.”  Her hands were back on her hips.  She stared at me briefly and then got back in her bug.

“See ya later, Dogwood,” she said as she flashed a pearly white, sassy grin, and sped off. 

“Dogwood?  Dogwood?!!” I hollered as she roared off.  “That’s Dag!  The name’s Dag, lady!!” It had not been since grade school since someone had ignited my ire by making fun of my name.  I pointlessly yelled at April, amidst the dust and gravel that her bug had kicked up, “You’re very rude!!”  I was not sensitive about my name, but she had pushed my buttons en masse.  The sexual tension left me with butterflies in my stomach.  I was wondering if I would ever see her again.

The wind was increasing as the afternoon sky turned a shade darker under cloud cover.  In several minutes, the sky had gone from calm, to that of a sky threatening the Mojave with a storm.  The wind blew my hat off.  I bent over to pick it up.  At the exact moment that I grasped my hat, I caught an eye level view of my dangling bumper being removed from my vehicle by a strong gust of wind.

The mechanic at the gas station told me that he could have the bumper reattached in about an hour.  I considered just throwing it into the back of the truck and taking care of it at a later date, but I was hungry and would have needed to stop to eat anyway.  The mechanic suggested a diner within walking distance.  He said he would call the diner once the repairs to my truck were complete.

I took a seat at the counter.  I did not open the menu.  I wanted a BLT.  Unexpectedly, there was a tap on my right shoulder.  I looked to my right.  I looked to my left and was surprised to see a man sharply dressed in a dark green suit sitting on the stool next to me.  I had not seen him walk up.  I was startled, but I did not show it.

“Did you tap my shoulder?” I asked politely.

“If I said ‘yes’ would you hit me?” said the impeccably groomed, elderly stranger.

I was calm, but the day seemed to be moving away from calmness.  I decided to ignore him.  I opened my menu and buried my stare in a catalog of grease and carbohydrates.

“I thought you decided on a bacon, lettuce and, oh, what’s the third item?” asked the stranger.

I had not ordered yet.  I had not said a word to anyone in the diner about my sandwich selection.  I had only thought about the BLT.  I closed my menu and looked at him.  “Tomato,” I replied.

“You didn’t answer my question,” said the stranger.

“I told you the third item: tomato.  You asked what the third item was.”

“You don’t seem to answer questions in their proper order.  You could use a lesson in juxtaposition.  I asked you if you would hit me if I confirmed that I tapped your shoulder.”

I could not help but smile.  However, I was not going to allow myself to be harassed.  “All I wanted was a Pepsi and a sandwich,” I whispered to myself.  Politely, I asked, “Are we going to argue over inane semantics?”

“Some items are meant to conjoin: the sand and the sieve, the drawn and the quartered, the edge and the knife, the television and the madness, awareness and the revolt of Prometheus.  Prometheus revolted against the gods as a proclamation of human self-consciousness.  He considered self-conciousness to be the highest divinity.  What do you think of self-conciousness?” 

“I think it is important.”

“Damn right it’s important! 

“I see,” I said, with calm sarcasm.

“Significant change may occur when you do not care about anything because you do not think that caring does any good.  And then there’s action.  I like the word ‘action.’  Although, as just a word it accomplishes very little.  Action is just a thought unless you have the guts to put your plans in motion.  Counter your fears and dive into the unyielding ocean.”

I was intrigued, yet still guarded.  “I feel I’m about forty-five minutes away from being asked to join a cult.”

“I could introduce you to my daughter.  Her last boyfriend said being with her was tantamount to brainwashing.  Awareness of thyself is key,” said the stranger.  “Grasping the magnitude and importance of the unconscious is important.  Remember, democracy is the greatest threat to wealth.  When you hear the phrase ‘the economy,’ you may simply replace it with the phrase ‘the corporations.’  Men never relinquish what they have won—or stolen.” 

“Do you think corporations wield all the power?”

“Congress is an employee of the corporations.  The corporations, now international in scale, control the economy and much of your social life.  The corporations set the conditions within which the government operates, and control it to a large extent.  Corporate America has ridiculously intense representation in congress and at the executive level.  You do not.  Corporate America pays for an arrangement where no one is entirely accountable because those same jackals who have bought the government also own the media.  They feed you rabbits a lot of lies.”

“At some point, the burden of unkindness that people perpetrate on others catches up with them.  At the risk of sounding like a monitor at recess, the old saying is true: What goes around comes around.”  I was not going to teach Karma 101 to this stranger.  I got the feeling he already knew. 

“Regarding their comeuppance, America is going to need a Jedi Knight.  A ground swell starts with a disturbance in the sea, far away from where the pulse is felt.” 

“Don’t you think insecurity and lack of awareness play heavily into these problems?”

“Of course.  Oh, I concur.  What is it you think Jesus did?  The man was in touch with his insecurity.  Jesus said not to judge, but that is exactly what all of these folks do on TV, in the churches, lobbying in Washington—all of them always asking for cash.  How ugly is that?  They judge more than anyone does.”

There was a pause in the conversation.  When I walked in the diner all of the patrons had been engaged in conversation.  Now, no one said a word.  The waitresses and a few of the patrons were staring at me.  It made me uncomfortable.  I did not know why.  The stranger and I were not speaking loudly.

“There is a top-down control in your society,” said the stranger.

“My society?  It’s not your society?” 

“Not anymore.”

“What do you mean by top-down?”

“Those at the top, the ones with the power, the ones who make the laws, they are going to continue to make laws that benefit their wallets and their friends’ wallets.  The benefits roll from the top-down.  They are quite directional.  You’ll need to be directional, too. Remember the top-down explanation.  It’s a great way to assess whether a household will be successful or not.  If the parents put their children first, you do not have the cruelty of the top-down problem.  The parent sacrifices for the child even though the level of power is unequal.  The parent does this because they care for the child.  If they take advantage of their position and strength, the child is neglected and dehumanized.  The same applies to a society.  Understand?”

I patted the stranger’s arm to ask him more about the top-down theory, but there was not a regular arm under his clothing, or so it felt.  My hand sunk into the stranger’s clothes.  It was as if his sleeve was filled with oatmeal.

Suddenly, the diner’s phone rang like a gunshot in the night.  Time seemed to slow down.

“He can’t do that bumper today,” said the stranger.

I continued to stare at him with a befuddled look.  “Who are you, Obi Wan?” I asked rhetorically.

The waitress who answered the phone hollered to me that the mechanic wanted me to go back to the garage so he could speak with me.  “That’s never a good sign,” I said.  I turned back to the stranger to ask about his arm.  As quickly and mysteriously as he appeared, he was gone

I made my way for the gas station to speak with the mechanic.  Distant thunderclap was unnerving.  I thought about desert flash floods and how the rare survivor would invariably speak about how it came from nowhere, mercilessly and with great power.

“Hey man, I just don’t have the tools to get this attached today!!” yelled the mechanic, as I approached in a dazed state of mind. 

“Christ, it’s just a bumper.”

“I’m sorry.  You’ll have to take it down to Henry’s Automotive.  Just take it down to Henry’s.  I called over there and he’s gonna put you in front of some other customers so you can be on your way.  OK?”

“Yeah, OK.”

“That April is one hot number, eh?”

“I suppose,” I mumbled.

“Try not to get in a wreck on the way out.”  The mechanic laughed at his own joke. 

Pensive and almost trance-like, I got in my truck and drove down to Henry’s.  The wait would be about 45 minutes, according to Henry.

“Anyplace walking distance where I could get a drink?” I asked.

“The Staunch Turtle.  It’s right behind the Safeway over there,” said Henry as he pointed at the supermarket, caddy corner from the garage.

I ordered a scotch from the mixologist at The Staunch Turtle.  “What was with that guy’s arm?” I thought.  A rational explanation was not to be found.

I felt someone staring at me.  I looked to the corner of the bar and much to my surprise, there was the stranger.  I chugged my scotch and ordered two beers and two of the bartender’s finest Tequila.  With his expression blank and his stare penetrating, the stranger never took his eye off of me.  I returned his stare with a stare of my own.  The drinks were fetched.  The bartender set the drinks on a tray.  I walked them over to the stranger’s table and sat down. 

“Old man, who are you?” I asked.

“Old?  Old man?  You wouldn’t hit an old man would you?!” the stranger bellowed and then let out a hearty laugh.

“Why did you leave the diner so abruptly?”

“What diner?”

That did it.  “That does it.  OK, this is some major head-trip where you bumpkins want to get even with city folk, right?  Some kind of mess with the guy from L.A. game?”

“There’s no game here.”

“So, you do admit we spoke before?!”

“Sure, at the grease pit.”

“But you just said—”

“That’s no diner.  That’s a grease pit.  You’re lucky they threw your ass out of there before you got your bacon, lettuce and tomato.”

“What’s the story with your arm?” I inquired.

“The normalcy in man is his inability to figure out what the hell is going on in his own mind.”

“Uh oh,” I said in hushed tone.  I listened intently, preparing for who knows what. 

“To an extent, that’s everybody.  Consider the perils of malignant narcissism, my friend.  Dive into that in your spare time.  Do not do it while you’re alone.  It’s very frightening.” 

“What’s wrong with your arm?  What do you have there?  Is it a prosthesis or what?  Why was it so mushy?”

“You’re whole life you’ve been focusing on the wrong items.  Obviously, now is no different.  Drink with me.  You bought good Tequila.”  We chased the shots with a swig of beer.  “Where there is life, there is potential.  If there is not a purpose to the Everything, accept that and do the right thing just for the sake of doing the right thing.  Do not do the right thing because it will get you into heaven or keep you out of hell.  That is an insane concept built on the weaknesses, insecurities and fears of men that lived a long time ago.”

“That is a lot to digest.  Are you trying to spur me into some kind of action; join you in some crusade?”

“Most people find themselves at point in their life, at least once, where their confidence pounds in their chest and demands thrust.  The thrust demands that you take your moxie out for a test drive.  Most give it a whirl, then decide on something with a little less horsepower.” 

I thought maybe there was a Faustian nightmare in the works.  For the moment, I had an uncanny feeling I was destined to die in the desert—tonight.

I got to thinking about my girlfriend, Millicent.  Sometimes I wondered if Millicent was everyone’s girlfriend the way she shamelessly flirted with men in my presence.  Millicent’s friends assured me that she never flirted with guys when I was not around.  I believed her friends.  It made sense.  She wanted to make me jealous.  I had become more aware and weary of her feeble attempts to get what she wanted: a marriage proposal. 

“It is a rare individual who is free to choose their own productive forces.  This goes back to determinism.  The social history of men is never anything but the history of their individual development, whether they are conscious of it or not.”

I gazed out the window as the tiny bubbles in my head made me feel fine.  “I’ll get us a couple more drinks,” I said.

I strolled up to the bar.  “Another shot?” the bartender asked.  I turned to yell at the stranger and ask him if he was up for another round of the good stuff.  Once again, the stranger was gone.  In mere seconds he had disappeared into thin air. I asked the bartender if he saw the man in the dark green suit walk out.  “I didn’t see him leave,” said the bartender.  I should have expected it.  I walked back to Henry’s Automotive.

I listlessly paid Henry.  I found a two-lane highway and drove.  Lack of providence could no longer be an excuse as I propelled my vehicle into the desert night.

An hour passed.  The truck started to bog down.  I was running out of gas.  Obviously too late, it occurred to me that I never did get gas.  I could not see any lights in front of me.  I pulled my truck to the shoulder.  I peered down the way whence I had come.  I saw a host of flickering lights.  It meant a long walk, but at least there was light.

It was just after dusk.  The now less clouded sky granted the occasional glimpse of a crescent moon.  When the greedy clouds stole the guiding moonlight, I was forced to stare at the ground in front of me.  I thought of owls and their keen night vision. “Wouldn’t it be nice to fly, see clearly in the night and simply hunt your life away?” I thought.

I walked on.  The set of lights was a small desert community made of a dozen sprawling homes.  In this neighborhood, your backyard was the Mojave Desert.

“Who is it?” asked a woman after I knocked on the first door that I came to.

To a closed door, I yelled: “I ran out of gas up the road!  I don’t expect you to open the door, but could you call a tow service and ask them to bring out a gallon of gas?!  I’m about two miles northeast on this road!  Would you do that?!” There was a long pause.  Silence.  “Hello!” I yelled.  “Did you hear me?!”

The door slowly opened.  It was April Livingston.  She had her hands on her hips.  It was a familiar view.  She had the look of woman who had had her fill with a man, or just men period; or, maybe I had done it.  I did not know what to think.  “No way,” I whispered.  “This is purely coincidence,” I loudly assured her as I shook my head in disbelief.

“Right,” said April.  “What are you doing out here?”

“To be honest, I really do not know.  As I waited for my bumper to be repaired—you may remember why I needed that—I had this strange encounter with this guy and it just got me thinking about…I just felt like driving without any real destination.  I did not want to go home.”

“An encounter?” April asked as she eyed me suspiciously.

“No, no.  We just talked.”

“Uh huh.  The phone is in the kitchen.  The number for Henry’s Towing Service is on the fridge.  Make it snappy, Dag.  If you’re stalking me, you are in for a boring ride because I spend a lot of time out here in the middle of nowhere doing a whole lot of nothing.”

“Truly, just coincidence.  Is that the same Henry from Henry’s Automotive?”

“But of course.  Hey, you know, I might have some gas that I use for my lawn mower.  Will you promise to bring back my container?  Well, actually, I guess I could just give you a ride.”

 “No, that’s OK.  I’ll walk.  Yes, of course I’ll bring the container back.  I should be back in about an hour.  I’ll pay you.”  I did not want to go back and have to face Henry, Jr. or Henry, Sr., since I had been so cruel to the poor kid.

“You’ll pay me?” April asked.

“Yes.  For the gas.”

“Oh, please.  Just make sure your insurance company pays me.  I’m going to get an estimate tomorrow.  Where are you on your way back from?  Vegas, Salt Lake or did you drive out here from Manhattan Beach to see the exquisite far-reaching outskirts of Victorville?”

“Vegas.  Wedding.”

“Ooh, which usually is accompanied by a bachelor party, eh?  Did you get lucky, Sport?” she asked as she eyed me with a touch of mischief.  There was a coquettish twinkle in her eye.  It was the first sign I got from her.  “Was there a sexual and kind being inside that perfect exterior?” I asked myself. 

“You look like the type that lives at the beach, has a lot of hard-working professional friends who take trips to Vegas, bungee jump, mountain bike, do sushi twice a week—treat women nice when you are with them, but talk just terrible about them when you are not.”

 “All that from how I look?”

“Pretty much,” she said as she smiled, slowly walking past me.  She walked out the backdoor.  The engine of a loud vehicle suddenly roared from the backyard.  This was not a 66’ bug.  I went to the backdoor and found April—petite, confident, and in command of her destiny—sitting behind a very large, dark green, old and dirty International.  April yelled out the window, “Get in!”  I got in.

“This afternoon was a strange ride.  Let’s see where the evening goes,” I thought.

April gunned the old traveler as gravel shot up in the driveway.  We arrived at my truck in no time.  April had a five-gallon can of gas.  She handed me the container and I poured about half of the can into the gas tank.

“Well, there we go.  That should get me to the gas station,” I said.

“Yes.  That’s enough.  It’s about 20 minutes back the way you came.”

“OK.  Well, thanks much.”

“No problem.”

“I’ll get with my insurance company first thing in the morning.”

“You should wait for me to get you the estimate.”

“Good call.  I’ll wait for you on that.”

“OK.  You got all my info, right?”

I nodded.  “And, um, you have mine.  So, I guess that’s it.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as we stared at each other.  I wanted to find out more about this woman.  I wanted to spend the rest of the evening with her.  At the time, my opinion of her was cursory and clouded with lust.  She was confident and that was sexy.  She was beautiful and that was arousing.

“Goodbye,” she said in a voice that hinted at disappointment that I was leaving.  I wanted to seize the moment, but I sheepishly turned towards my truck as if I were at a junior high dance heading for the boys side of the gym. 

April got back into her vehicle.  She looked at me and said, “C’mon back over for a beer.”  And then, for the second time that day, she sped off and kicked dust up in my face.  The large wheels of the International shot a myriad of pebbles at me like a feisty grenade that stung with the unknown potential of an exciting and passionate battle.

“Let the games begin,” I said to myself, as I jumped into my truck and sped after her.  The chase was on!

We walked through April’s unlocked door.  She tossed me a beer and opened one for herself.  She walked out to the backyard, assuming I would follow.  “You’re not a serial rapist are you?” she asked, feigning seriousness.

Mildly offended at the question, I replied with ribald wit, “No, just a rapist.”  She laughed.  I had a feeling things would go well  We sat down in lounge chairs and stared out through a chain-linked fence into the cold desert night.  The conversation had to start somewhere and I was still reeling from the odd encounter with the stranger.  I found him confusing, interesting, intellectual and bombastic; all in one elongated verbal filament.  I actually absorbed the majority of the content in which the old man spewed, but the meeting as a whole was very mysterious.  The oatmeal arm and the invisible diner scene seemed like items that would puzzle me evermore.  I likened the meeting to watching a philosophical butterfly flutter directly in front of my face.  If I caught the butterfly, clarity in life would sit sensuously in my lap.

“Have you ever tried staring at one star for a long time?” April asked.

“No,” I replied. 

“The others around it will disappear if you focus on just the one star that you’ve chosen.  I’m not being metaphorical.  It’s an optical illusion.  The longer you stare, the more the others will disappear from your peripheral vision.  Actually, maybe there is something metaphorical in that.”

I was comfortable.  I was trying to hide my attraction to her.  She wore a loose-fitting blue skirt that draped down to about mid-thigh.  I tried to catch glances of her perfect body without being noticed.

“This is my garden,” she said as she waved her hand at it.  It’s very average.  There are folks around here who go all out.”

“It’s nice.  Granted, I can barely see it.  Still, it’s nice,” I said.  “The crescent moon was poking in and out amidst the these fast-moving clouds when I was walking in here.  It made vision a challenge.”

“You sound like a pseudo-poetic meteorologist.”

“I once dated a pseudo didactic cardiologist.”


“No, I’m kidding.”

“It sounded good.”

“A lot of things can sound good if you do not know if they are legitimate.”

“I’ll agree with that.  Living where you live must do a number on your psyche.  You are like a caged rat in that place!” April exclaimed.

“I think I know what you mean.  I know that getting away from all of those trite robots in the bustling city can induce some clarity.” 

“The clouds almost always move fast in the desert.  Dad had a garden where mine now grows, but the raccoons tore it up.  When he died I planted a garden and they have never bothered it.  I think if you ask the raccoons they will tell you that Dad drew first blood.  Dad would say they did.  Typical of a war.”

“A war?” I inquired.

“When I was a little girl, I would romp around in his garden.  Unwarranted rebellion, I suppose.  Dad thought it was the raccoons that tore up the garden.  I never admitted to him that it was me.  He used to chase them off when they’d slink along the top of the fence in the middle of the night.”  Pointing to the east, she said, “They live over there, somewhere.  Probably in the Maple’s junkyard.”  Pointing to the west, “They go along the fence every night around 1am or 2am to eat from the Pickett’s orchard.  After all this started, when we’d leave town, they’d go after the garden.  The poor garden.”

Out of the night, a playful German Shepherd came bounding our way.  I suppose he had been in a doghouse.  “What’s his name?” I asked, as he ran up to me and licked the top of my hand.

“Stewball,” replied April.

“Stewball?  Hi, Stewball.  Is he named after the horse from that song?”

“Oh, yes,” said April.  “Stewball would get so excited when Jacob Livingston, my quirky father, would throw items from his study at the raccoons.  Stewball would viciously bark at the family of raccoons.  Stewball was indifferent to the raccoon crossing if Dad was asleep or unaware of the crossing.  Stewball could be lying right next to the fence, fully aware that the raccoons were six feet above him, and he would not even bother to look up at them if his master was not in the mix.  He’d stare at Dad’s study with devotional visual focus, especially if the light was on.  Where there was light, there was hope for action.  If an item came flying or Dad so much as showed his face, the hunt was on—and, at that point, there was beloved action in an otherwise solemn dog’s life. You’d hear a loud cheer, and even louder barking, when Dad’s aim was good and he knocked one off the fence.  My Dad wrote a syndicated political column, so he was heavily into politics—very opinionated when it came to ideology and the sort.  He named the raccoons after politicians, even though I doubt he could distinguish one from another.  Well, I mean, he knew which ones were the adults and which ones were the kids, but…let’s see, there was LBJ, Lady Bird, JFK, Truman.  He’d call the little ones Bobby, Teddy or John John.  On these nights when Dad caught them crossing, for about three minutes, there would be this little mini-war that went on out here.  Sometimes it would wake my sister and I.  Sometimes not.  You’d hear Dad swearing.  The raccoons would hiss and scratch the fence.  There’d be a lot of noise caused by them scurrying and him hurling objects and…and, just lots of noise.  The neighbors never said a word, though.”

“Where’s your sister now?”

“She moved to New York.  She married a botanist.”

“A New York botanist?  He probably yells at plants,” I mused.

“He’s a good egg.  She’s a really nice person.  She’s much different than me,” she said with a smirk and a glance my way.

April paused to collect her thoughts.  “However noble Dad’s ideology was, he got to a point where he was too consumed by his views.  They became him and he changed.  People who disagreed him became ‘evil.’  To some extent, he lost his objectivity.  Yes, that’s it.  He really did lose his objectivity.  Where, when he was younger, he would say you have to accept people for the way they are, he ended up stereotyping.  He lost his objectivity.”

There was spiritual warmth emanating from April on that night.  There are some people that exude love naturally.  I do not know if I would classify April in that group, but there was something extra about her.  And clearly, something was going on with me.  I felt my potential swelling.  There was always that touch of self-doubt when I spoke about philosophy and politics, but I usually knew that what I was getting at had merit.  I felt April was with me in that sense. 

It was nights like this when the placement of objects in the universe made sense and a young man’s pensiveness could lead him to change in his life.  Just a semblance of comfort from another human might be the impetus to believe in something—anything.  One can fade into the night.  The difference between burning out and fading away is confusing.  One can strike fancy with the darkness of the night and blend into desert and accept a quiet death.  I leaned back on a lounge chair and listened to a woman who could cross the great divide of personal torture with grace and style.  With her inhibitions mitigated, April’s fire was temporarily extinguished as she let a hummingbird named Intimacy into her heart to flutter about a bit.  I thought there was a good chance we would end up kissing before the night was over.  In our future, there was trouble and the potential for: love, change, kindness, awareness, revolt and absurdity.  Tonight, in this corner of the Mojave Desert there was lucidity under the stars.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked.

“I’ve sold some paintings, but the majority of my earthly wage stems from illustrations for children’s books.  There are several successful authors that use me for most of their illustrations.  Each one of them is a prick who has tried to get in my pants.”  She glanced over at me to assess my reaction.

“Amazing how someone can tap into what is meaningful and entertaining to a child—and these authors do that—yet glaringly and obnoxiously possess the inability to extend common courtesy to another adult.  Amazing how someone who could be so sweet and creative on paper could be so woefully incorrigible in person.  The great peril of success is the inflation of the ego.  The poor bastards, or at least these fellows, have become slaves to themselves.  They are a microcosm of a twisted amalgam of occupational success and social ineptitude.  They are the anti-heroes of insecure male artists everywhere.  At least they’re not in a band, then they wouldn’t have to work at getting laid.  They deserve nothing,” said April with as much venom as an aged rattlesnake.

“Wow!” I exclaimed as I took a hearty swig of my beer and yelled, possibly a little too loudly, “You go girl!!”  April was on fire and it looked and sounded good.  “I think becoming a slave to your self seems quite common in a pluralistic society.” 

The night wore on.  I couldn’t have felt any better.  The conversation was lighter and there was laughter.

“Hey, shhh.  I hear something.  This is around the time that the raccoons come,” said April.  “If that bush in the corner starts to rustle it means they are getting ready to make their run across the fence.  Daddy’s been dead for a year—exactly—but they still race across here with heightened awareness for fear of having a boot or a hardback version of Tom Sawyer hurled at them.”

“I think I see one,” I said.  I looked closer.  It was nothing.  I was getting caught up in the raccoon wars.

“Dad really used to cuss at them.  I wonder if he secretly liked them.  Sometimes the people that treat you the worst are the ones you like the most.”

Leaning forward, truly intrigued by that comment, I said, “I think that is quite profound.  I think that people sometimes only feel guilt for hurting those who hurt them the most.  That’s actually something quite complicated and paradoxical that you really need to think about to grasp.  So many paradoxes in this world of ours.  One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small.”

“Besides being cocky and confused about where the hell to drive your car, you seem like you got it together.  Do you like living at the beach?”

“I like my friends, but they do not provide much in the way of intellectual stimulation.  Everything is money, women, sports and drinking.  If I speak of making change in my life, or the world for that matter, I’m left with hollow or tacit reactions.”  

“What about the women.  You have a girlfriend, right?  A good-looking guy like you must feel fairly fortunate, eh?”

“My girlfriend is soon to not be my girlfriend, as harsh as that may sound.  Put an ex in her title, she’s done.  She’s annoying.  She lives off of Ibuprofen and fear of being alone.  I’m tired of clinging to her positive qualities and ignoring all the negatives that make simply hanging out with her a challenge.  So many people stay with someone because the alternative—being alone—is utterly terrifying.”

“You sound bitter.”

“Bitter, honest or inhaling shrewdness?”

Revolutions start somewhere.  What better place than here, in the spiritual embrace of the desert?  What better place than now?  I felt like I was on the front steps of a journey into a house of knowledge.

This day was lending itself to an insightful internal audit.  Trimming the fat on the desperate aspect of one’s existence is glaringly necessary and hauntingly difficult.  The same is true of a society. 

The desert was never completely still and quiet.  Like a rambunctious child, many desert inhabitants were only docile when they slept.  However, many were worn out retirees dozing off gently to wind chimes as they rested perfectly in the physical warmth of a soul mate.  There was safety in the desert, appropriately lacking the climbing madness of overpopulation.  Tonight, April and I had synergy.  The cool desert wind soothed our faces.  The numbing effects of our collective lives made the current tranquility a welcome gift.

“Do you feel pressure to be happy?” I asked of her.

“I suppose,” replied April.

“I mean, well, sometimes I feel like my desire to be happy has little do with me actually enjoying myself, but more avoiding the embarrassment of others viewing me as being unhappy.  It’s almost as if in my social circle there is a lifestyle, an agenda of accepted events that are the determining factors of contentment.  How sick is that?”

“I’m guessing you’re more introspective than the majority of your friends.”

“I suppose,” I replied.  “At the bachelor party I looked around at my friends and I saw an arrogant lot.  They are all of this same mold that has very little to offer society.  Maybe they are all the same person and it’s done with holograms.  Someone’s pulling the puppet strings and this is all egg in my face.  They’re nice fellows and we have fun.  They are big contributors to the money machine.  What does that get you at the end of the day?  At this upper class wedding, I saw very little humility and humbleness.  They hide that crap because insecurity is not sheik.”

 “You’re alright,” said April.  “You need to spend more time away from the masses.  They devour your soul.  That’s why my Dad built his study.  Would you like to see it?” asked April.  “He accumulated a lifetime of work containing unpublished volumes of political theory, ideology, philosophy, sociology and historical commentary.  He wrote and collected short stories, chapbooks, paintings and prose.”

April walked into the study and I followed.  The room had a distinguished feel and rustic air to it.  It smelled of old leather.  I pictured Jacob Livingston sitting at his desk under a 19th century oil lamp, writing away with passion and vigor.  I envisaged an elderly man straying from his writing and wandering over to the open patio door to feast on the soothing desert breeze.  I envisioned the aged writer lighting a pipe that had sweet flavored tobacco tightly packed.  And then, his calmness would disappear completely and he’d hurl objects at a family of raccoons. 

The décor was enchanting, yet masculine.  There were statues of Celtic warriors, a medieval chess set, a hundred year old oak desk, an aged poster of a pin-up girl drinking a can of Pepsi, a Degas print, an old potato sack with a tobacco emblem on it.  There was a large assortment of books.  I perused the titles attempting to gauge Jacob’s interests, politics, philosophy and spirit.  “What type of man produces such a feisty, intelligent, spirited, thoughtful and attractive woman like April Livingston?” I thought.  The eclectic book collection fascinated me.  There was a plethora of literary classics featuring famous authors from the 19th and 20th centuries: Joyce, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus, Kafka, Vonnegut, and Tolkien, to name a few.  In another section there was philosophy: Plato, Kierkegaard, Nietszche, Sartre, Alan Watts, Ram Dass, etc.  At eye level there was a row of political books (all first editions): Che Guevera, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, Gore Vidal, John Kenneth Galbreath, JFK, RFK, Richard Nixon, Rush Limbaugh, George Herbert Bush, Caspar Weinberger, Hitler, Churchill, Machiavelli and others.

I respected this man’s ostensible capacity and taste.  I knew, and it seemed that Jacob Livingston knew, what every formidable military mind embraced as a tacit creed: you must understand the way the enemy thinks in order to overcome their aggression and/or penetrate their defense.

“Where is the stuff your Dad wrote?” I asked enthusiastically.

“It’s all in on those shelves,” pointing to a bookcase filled with leather-bound books, “and the less organized stuff is in these two chests.  That is where most of his political theory rests.  That’s the good stuff,” pointing to the chests.  “That’s what I read when I dive into the whole Dad thing.  It’s like reading Solzhenitsyn in the sense that you would think it would be boring because it is cumbersome, ponderous and all about a seemingly singular and boring topic.  Just like Alexander, it isn’t!  Politics, the struggle of the poor, the rebels such as Che and Chomsky, views on economics, opinions on the sociopolitical climate during and after different times of strife—these are the topics that my father was passionate about.  That passion oozes out of the pages in those treasure chests.” April was silent for a moment.  “They are absolute treasures.  Of course, I am biased because that’s my Daddy.”

I felt odd.  The odd feeling was borderline annoying in its inopportune arrivals throughout the afternoon and evening.  I started to feel dizzy.  I figured the alcohol and the vicissitude of the day was catching up with me.  I tried to cast this latest peculiarity away because I was so intrigued with the study.  There was so much life in the books, décor, trinkets and furniture.  There were pencils everywhere.  Obviously, the man never threw away a pencil.  I decided it would be cool, and necessary, to kick back in what was obviously the old man’s kick-back chair.  I sat down.

“This is a comfortable chair,” I said sincerely.

“You’re a comfortable guy.  I mean that I, or maybe you…that came out wrong.  You’re…do you know what I mean by that?”

I laughed.  Things were looking up.

Smiling, April said, “No, you know what I mean!  Or, maybe you don’t.  Christ, maybe I don’t.” April paused and then took an uncharacteristic leap into flirtation. “Do you know what raw attraction means?” she asked as she lowered her head and looked up at me with the world’s sexiest gaze.  She masked her embarrassment with confidence.  She had a reservoir of sex that could convey intention in any look she chose.  April’s libido romped with cautious attack.  Her desire had been building and it was the immediate story.  Assertiveness came naturally and often for her, but this type of attempt was foreign.  The desert neighborhood was accustomed to April’s intellect and aggression.  These people would be the first to tell you that it rarely had anything to do with intimacy.

I leapt back to the times in the past where failure had gotten the best of me and I had succumbed to fantasy.  I would spin the regretful of the past/planning for the future game into ridiculous oblivion.  The fact that I had not made a move on April seemed appropriate: it signified patience, maturity and respect for April. 

I was nervous.  April had stopped talking.  She sat and stared at me.  The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering about.  She held me paralyzed in a heavy stare.  This was better than watching TV with Millicent, driving down some lonely road or getting primal at a bachelor party.  Still, the heaviness of the moment and the eroticism was unsettling.  I sheepishly looked away.  I spotted a picture in a frame.  It was a peculiar picture.  You could only see the outskirts of a man’s face.  All that was visible was his hair, his neck, his shirt collar and ears.  A large and beautiful butterfly sat with wings half-extended on the man’s nose.  The man clearly had a smile on his face.

“Is that your Dad?” I asked as I pointed at the picture.

“Yes,” replied April.  “We were in San Diego.  It was right after Dad and I had marched in a protest.  We were relaxing in a park.  We needed to relax.  There had been some shoving, a lot of name-calling and some arrests at the protest.  That butterfly was flying around in Dad’s face.  My exhausted father kept taking gentle swipes at it to get it out of his face.  He didn’t want to hurt it, but it was flying several inches from his face for what seemed to be a long time.  The butterfly was clever.  He dodged Dad’s swipes and landed right on his nose.  I told him to hold still as I went to my purse for a camera.  Mom had been dead for several years.  My sister never really interested herself in politics, so she wasn’t there.  He was laughing, telling me to hurry up and take the picture.  He said it tickled.”  Pointing to a corner, “There’s a good picture of him.”

I looked to the corner for the picture April was referring to.  I had not seen this picture in my engaging panoramic swirl several minutes earlier.  It was a picture of a man that looked very familiar to me.  My blood/alcohol level prevented me from immediately placing the face.  The man was wearing a dark green suit.  Like an unexpected win—it was “the stranger,” I whispered. 

He’s her Dad,” I thought.  My mind reeled at the impossibility of it all.

“That’s my Dad,” said April as she strolled over to me and sat on my lap.  She put her arm around me and stretched her legs out high in the air.  We both looked at her legs.  I barely noticed them as I shrewdly tried to grasp the magnitude of the situation.  To suss out the enigma that the encounter with the stranger—seemingly Jacob Livingston—now represented would be difficult; even more difficult with a sensuous woman on my lap.  April wiggled her butt and stretched her legs out even higher in the air as if she was posing for a photographer.  She slowly ran her hand along her calf and knee.  She put my hand on her bare thigh.  “When they passed out legs, you got a good deal,” I said, as my attention shifted.  She was incredible.  At this point, aliens could have landed in the backyard and I would have been solely focused on touching her.  There was something uncommon about her skin: it was soft and perfect.  I rubbed her thigh.  “How could a woman spending all this time in the dry desert heat, with this wind, have such perfectly smooth and tender skin?” I thought. 

I felt like I was being revealed; nonetheless, everything was very nice.  The situation was reminiscent of high school parties I attended where the occasional teenage girl would try to catch my fancy with physical flirtation. 

Our desire for each other was clearly mutual.  We were soon to be lovers and we had a feeling that the future was tailored for both of us.  The union was as raw, adaptable, spirited and intellectual as anything I had ever experienced.

The next day April and I were different people.  I think we had fallen in love.  Both of us knew we should not admit it this quickly; at least not out loud. 

She made me breakfast.  She scraped the scrambled eggs on to my plate.  We were happy.  She said this: “I’m leaving for Tucson tomorrow.  Stay tonight.  We’ll hang out and get along just fine when I come back.  I don’t mean to alarm you or seem overly aggressive, but I just know we will.”

“I know we will, too.”

“Good answer, Dogwood,” she said, beaming with a smile that made me want her evermore. 

“Please housesit for me while I’m gone for these three days.  You could learn a lot in the desert.  You could learn a lot from the contents in that study.  And, most importantly,” April said in a low tone as she strolled over and kissed me softly on the lips, “thank you for last night.  Thank you.”

I nodded and ate my eggs. 

Wisdom is attained by way of capacity, not experience.  Collectively, we had the potential to create a paradigm that could hollow out the sprawling trees of greed in America.  It would take extensive reading, self-discovery and maturation for our two bouncing spirits to lead the masses to change.  In a small desert community the seeds of love were fluttering, swimming and dancing at the chance to grow.  With any labor of love, there is nobility and true happiness within the attempt.  This beginning represented the birth of a political party.  Color that windy desert day as harboring the seeds of a revolution planted on the fortuitous convergence of vehicular bumpers. 

I looked away from April and read the paper.  My breakfast was delicious.  I was deliriously happy, but I wanted to be cool.  I looked at my food, stuck a fork in some hash browns and ate them.  April, in her yellow sundress, stood by the stove in perfect stillness.  I felt like a hero in the making.  She turned to the fence out back and pointed out the tail of a raccoon making its way back across the fence.  “How traditional is this?  Dad would appreciate the irony,” she said with a wide grin on her face. 

Even when he happened to be awake in the early morning, Jacob Livingston never bothered the raccoons on their return trip whence they came.  The raccoons focus was directional.  This seminal and nascent desert morning harbored the spirit of challenge.  On the wings of love—and guidance from a mysterious presence—April and I were preparing for the glorious wars to come.




The End


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