Budget cuts were announced in the spring. Some positions would be eliminated, and a flurry of anxiety swept through the work place. Since my status was temporary, and was well overextended, I presumed that I was on the “hit list.” Brother James’ job was of nominal interest to him. Our lease was up, and the landlord was raising the rent. Boulder was becoming more and more trendy and expensive.
It was time for a change. We talked about going to Alaska. We discussed going to the West Coast and I could search for Pappy. We talked about going to the Himalayas and searching for the Yeti. We could have conferred about a trip to the moon, for all it mattered. We had no funds. I choose to reach for the succor of my Mother, and return to Texas. It is rare that mothers do not love their babies, no matter how old or bewildered they are. Mum Mum had welcomed Pappy home to her Florida residence just several years earlier. Brother James came home with me.
James and I had been adrift in Boulder, and we were still without bearings. Neither he nor I had a “strong, fault loving father figure to identify to…” or from which to seek fatherly advice. My family was as much his by now. We were welcomed home graciously. Mother was always happy to see me, and Brother James. Emmett was affable as always. We got haircuts and shaved, discontinued experimenting with substances, and shared the back room until James secured a job and found an apartment. With the help of a friend, I was offered a position as a library clerk in a medical library, and went to work as well. I enrolled in a school for art and design, and renewed my visions of finding some creative means of making a living.
Creativity came naturally to me. Not only was Pappy endowed with the soul of an artist, but Mother was equally as gifted. And, Emmett was a splendid painter also. My desire to perform music had long ago been tainted, and as time went on I became less interested in the roadhouse existence that a picker and grinner had to endure in order to find some recognition. Frankly, I did not have the stamina to “pay my dues.” I have always had a couple of guitars and have played them for personal gratification, but realistically I am a quiet man. The thought of painting or illustrating grew to be more appealing. It was certainly more appealing to Mother.
So, I started school again. I had drawing classes, sculpture classes, painting classes, design classes, and my least favorite was pottery class. I am not a fan of mud. “…many years ago on the Allen farm in Mt. Vernon…” Pappy would take us to a large, natural pond that we used as a swimming hole. The mud was thick and warm, and oozed through my toes, and I hated it. Trevor loved it, and endlessly ridiculed me for being such a wimp. I would require an inner tube to bypass the muck and get to the center of the pond. The thought of fondling mud into some three dimensional outcome – be it art or not art – was in no way appealing to me. I did, however, do well in the other classes. I was invited to exhibit in several showings, was receiving some minor accolades, and was feeling as if it was possible to find my way through the myriads of struggling artists throughout history while retaining both ears with which to enjoy my music from time to time.
Work was enjoyable also. My workday consisted of manning the circulation desk from eleven in the morning until about three, then until seven thirty I would shelve books, or man the audiovisual room. This was clean, appealing work that bordered on creativity. The people were students, faculty, and Doctors. They were interesting, energetic and intelligent, and I found the environment invigorating. I moved within a mile or two from the medical school, into a duplex that had a nice studio room wherein I could draw, and paint, and design. I was reasonably prolific during this time. Things were looking up.
As I lived close to work, I often chose to walk. Walking can be meditative. I could pace my footsteps so that the rhythm became somewhat of a mantra. Or, walking can be free form. I could amble along whistling a tune and zigzag throughout neighborhood streets at random, enjoying the diversity in home decor and gardening. These walks were pleasant experiences. Our aimless, rapid paced, ungrateful society today could do well to slow it all down, leave the smart phone at home, and take a stroll.
There was one house two blocks from home that I would have to pass by every day. Across from the residence was a draining ditch, and so I would have to walk on the sidewalk close to this house whenever passing. Behind a chain link fence, there lived a large, white spitz dog. There are primitive people who believe in a bush soul, or that each human has the soul of an animal, and it is integral in shaping one’s personality. My bush soul is most likely that of a cat. I get along famously with cats, and have been told that I have many cat-like motions. I have no difficulty grabbing a cat nap at any given time, and have been accused of being as lazy as a cat. This is to say nothing about my days of tomcat prowling, and singing to the ladies from the alley fence. This spitz dog must have had a vendetta against cats, and I was surely the largest he had seen.
Spitz knew my schedule. I would pass by the house at approximately the same time every morning and evening. He would hide in some location in his yard, and at his most opportune moment he would come running, barking, snarling, jumping, snapping and hit the fence with full force. He would follow me along the sidewalk to the other end of the yard, trying to get at my throat and claim his trophy. I will tell you that he never ceased to catch me unaware. Spitz could spook me even when I was expecting him. He knew it, and thrilled in his ability to shock me.
The fall leaves are always lovely, even in Texas. They had been falling and changing colors for a while, and the days were getting dark early. Halloween was only a few days away, and everyone at the medical school was chatting about costumes and parties. I had decided to show up as Wolf man, and had allowed my beard to grow for several weeks. It was dark and thick, and from a med student I purchased a set of fangs that fit snugly over my teeth. When I growled and snapped the effect was dramatic, and could well have startled Lon Chaney Jr. himself. As I stood in front of the mirror in the men’s room at work, practicing, nearly frightening myself, I concocted a mischievous plan.
I worked later than usual, and it was dark when I left the library. A light drizzle had commenced. I pulled the collar of my coat up around my neck and started walking home. A Dracula haze loomed over the streetlights with a bleeding precipitation that lingered in the air as thick humidity rather than rain. It seemed darker than usual and I walked on, and whistled a little tune. As I rounded the corner about a block from Spitz’s house I messed up my hair and inserted the fangs, then walked quietly on. I knew that Spitz had heard me whistling. He always knew in advance when I was approaching. He chose a suitable hiding place from which to launch his ravenous attack. I walked along the other side of the street beside the drainage ditch until I was across from the streetlamp that hung over the yard, which was quite unusual for me as I’m sure he realized from somewhere in his strategic location. Then, I turned and walked directly under the light, and Spitz hurdled into full attack. Just as he hit the fence ready to rip open my throat I suddenly lurched downward, raised both hands above my head, bared my fangs, and roared like a huge feline monster. There was immediate silence as I observed the blood rush from Spitz’s face turning the white dog white with fright. He yelped and in a flash he disappeared into the back recesses of the yard.
“Trick or treat, Spitz.” I laughed ghoulishly.
From that day on I had no problems with Spitz. When I approached he would back a respectful distance away from the fence and quietly watch me as I cautiously passed by. It was a peculiar and ironic relationship that we had established, as Spitz and I became both unspoken friends and silent enemies.
And so I enjoyed my library job for two years, and my walks to and from work were peaceful and pleasant. Without a degree in library science, however, I was never going to progress from my present position, and although my cost of living increases were periodic, they were also periodically insufficient. Then, I wanted to do more with my life. I wanted to define existence. I wanted to paint a masterpiece. I wanted to carve my fragile ego into a great, granite monolith and achieve immortality. Then, I did not comprehend the value of home ownership. I viewed a coherent life as a boring life. Then, perhaps “…Self contempt was a substitute for self worth’. Every organism had one, and only one central need in life – to fulfill its own potentialities…” Then, I was young and foolish, and full of dreams and fantasy. Now, I am just an old fool, sitting on a hill and watching the sunset; and imagining the pleasant consistency of a nice little library job somewhere, and an agreeable little house in which to relax.
I resigned my position with the medical library, did not continue art school, and prepared for a journey across Canada by train.
My itinerary was free form. I would ride the bus to Ohio and visit Grandma first. While there I would snoop around for any information about Pappy. Then, if my expedition were not altered by having found something specific, and I was not optimistic about that, I would continue on the bus through New York, Boston, and into Maine. From there I would go into the Maritimes of Canada, where I would catch a train and eventually wind up in Vancouver. I would then go south to Seattle and visit Trevor, and eventually down into L.A. where I would investigate the possibility that Pappy was yet living there. Eventually back to Texas. All subject to change at the turn of any corner.
Many people require a specific program when they travel. Travel is, after all, a journey away from the comfort of home into dissimilar, and often foreign, unknown territories and customs. To be at random in an unfamiliar location is to invite the hands of fate to juggle one’s sensibilities at will, and is not for those who cannot separate themselves from habitual routines of televisions, telephones, toilets, and transportation.
I had purchased a backpack with a lightweight aluminum frame, and a heavy duty down sleeping bag compacted into a stuff sack that fit snugly at the base of the pack. I was not sure what to take. Toiletries, of course: toothpaste, soap, towel, washcloth, and my trusty hair dryer. Three changes of clothing, trousers, shirts, socks. A warm jacket, and a sweater. A good pair of boots in the pack, and cowboy boots on my feet. A warm blanket. Writing material, ledger, pens and pencils. It did not take long to fill that pack, and it became more cumbersome than I had anticipated. But, I was strong, packed, had $1500 in traveler’s checks and cash in my pockets, and was ready for adventure!
The early July morning was warm as Mother drove me to the bus station. We had only a moment before departure. I could see the motherly concern in her eyes, but I could also see a tinge of envy. She would worry about my safety, and vicariously, through expected post cards and letters from every stop along the way, experience the exhilaration. After a confident assurance that all would be okay, I boarded the almost empty bus, situated myself just above the sleek hound running along the side, and waved a short see-ya-later as the driver noisily released the brakes and we moved out.
I am absolutely captivated by train travel. A long distance bus ride is another story. It moves through the countryside, stopping in every imaginable – and quite unimaginable – village along the way. The bus repetitively fills to capacity, and empties to minimums, and allows a collection of the most diverse passengers aboard. Some are charming, or interesting, or just quiet, while others are grotesque, creepy, and downright rude – each the captive audience of the others. I was fortunate that Sandi sat next to me from Dallas to a small town somewhere beyond St. Louis. She was soft spoken, compelling, and aromatically pleasant, and the bus had filled with an unequal number of vulgar ogres. We created a small bubble of conversation, silence, and of sleeping on each other’s shoulder, which shielded us as long as we maintained eye contact only with each other. When we eventually arrived at her stop I told her that the next time we should meet on the train, to which she enthusiastically agreed, then after a brush of her dry lips across my cheek, she departed into the dusk of Brigadoon.
The remainder of the ride to Ohio was unpleasant, as insect like passengers slithered and squirmed uncomfortably in their seats or up and down the isle. It was very early in the morning when we arrived in Columbus, and I was exhausted from having slept with one eye open. The fresh carbon monoxide fumes from within the bus station were invigorating after the stale, anxious perspiration that had filled the pod. A cup of Joe and some eggs from the greasy spoon could only be an improvement, and I indulged hungrily.
Grandma was looking older. There are archetypical images of grandmothers entrenched into our memories as babies, that when viewed as an adult translate into confounding revelations of mortality. Her home was as neat and orderly as I had always remembered it, but there was dust in locations that would never had been tolerated at an earlier time. Grandma had at one time grown an Eden in her yard. There were several cherry trees, an apple tree, black walnut tree, pear tree, peach tree, and a lovely dogwood tree. Furthermore, she had a grapevine, strawberry patch, vegetable patch, tomato vines, and a flower garden that was an envy of all the neighbors. This magnificent garden had always been devotedly cultivated to produce spectacular fruits and vegetables for canning, and flowers for arrangements. Now, it had all been neglected by grandma’s arthritic hands and knees, and was withering old along with her. From her isolated social existence, she was elated to see me. It was good to see her.
I stayed in the same room that was once shared by the Ringo Kid and Luke Plummer. It was the same as it ever was. The same two single beds, pictures on the walls, toys from Trevor and my childhood, books that were dear to us as little boys, drawings from my brief college days tacked to a cork bulletin board, and even the same revealing magazine glossies of partially nude women stashed under the mattress. It was an odd sensation, as if I had entered the jurisdiction of Dorian Gray, and was welcomed only by yesterday’s recognition of my face. But, Grandma catered to me. She shared and absorbed as much love as possible during my brief stay.
I looked through the telephone directory for the Foughts, found only three, and telephoned them. From one response I was told that he knew nothing of a Donn Fought, and that he had no information that would be of value to me. I wondered if I had perhaps contacted Pappy and that he was refusing to acknowledge my existence as his son – intuitively I knew better. From another I received a deep accent abounding with unrecognizable words spoken from a woman’s aged and cracking voice. I tried to communicate for at least an address to which I could retort, but to no avail. The other Fought was a disconnected number. I wasn’t having much luck. I visited Ted in the display warehouse, but he had not kept in touch with the anonymous man that once worked for him, and that had mentioned knowing Pappy. I went to the old house on Woodland Avenue to locate Emerson Burkhart, only to discover that he had passed away several years earlier. I found myself wandering up and down blind alleys in Columbus.
After nearly two weeks of searching, and visiting old haunts, I concluded that it was time for me to continue my journey. To Grandma’s dismay, I told her that I was leaving. She was worried for my safety, and gave me $500 to help me along. I spent a couple of days helping with some chores that she was no longer able to complete, then after a hearty breakfast that she had prepared for me, I kissed her, hugged her, assured her of my well being, donned my pack, and left for the bus station. I cannot say for sure, but I think that I was perhaps more worried about her well being than she was for mine. I determined that I would send her many post cards from along my way.
The bus station in New York City was a huge hive of activity, with bus pods lined side by side, or moving about making grunting and hissing noises. And, multitudes of creepy, odd, human creatures were juxtaposed along the walls, sleeping in chairs or on benches, drinking booze in the bathrooms, smoking cigarettes, scratching themselves, and eyeballing each other. The sanitary passengers would mingle about, seeking safety in numbers by association with other hygienic individuals with which to ally each other in a conversation about why they ever chose to ride the bus in the first place. The neighborhood outside was sooty, littered, and grotesque with graffiti from hoodlum artists seeking self-expression through narcissistic vandalism of property. Even if their technique shows talent, they are not artists. They are cheap, disrespectful delinquents. I missed Sandi, and was relieved that I had less than an hour layover until the departure of my bus to Boston and beyond. I had decided to stop in Bangor, Maine for the night, a shower, and perhaps a friendly tavern.
Bangor is a charming, small town of about thirty five thousand residents, located between the rugged Maine coastline and the remote North Woods. As the story is told, Bangor was named after the Welsh hymn Bangor, which translates to “high choir.” While petitioning the general court for incorporation into a township, Reverend Seth Noble was whistling the hymn. When asked what the township was to be called, the reverend misunderstood the question, and thinking that he had been asked what song he was whistling said Bangor. It stuck, and in 1791 was incorporated, not as Sunbury as was intended, but as Bangor.
I took a small room in the Bangor House, a splendid old, brick hotel in the tradition of the palace hotels that were once prevalent in this country. I was in good company, with names like Daniel Webster, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Stephen A. Douglas, Oscar Wilde, and John L. Sullivan all having stayed there, and now Luke Plummer. I took a brief nap, bathed, and went out for the evening.
I cannot remember the name, but I wandered into a delightful little public house where the people were friendly, the food was tasty, and the singer guitar player was especially engaging. I proceeded to pamper myself with food, wine, and song, complete with a personal performance of several tunes. My dinner was gratis, complements of the management. For a moment I had apparently been entertaining, and relatively employed. I meandered, somewhat intoxicated, back to my comfortable little room feeling somewhat imperative, and supplemented the list of greats with my humble attendance – son of Pappy slept here.
The morning was crisp and clean, and I was lucid and eager to move on. I hitched a ride to Bar Harbor, where I caught the Bluenose Ferry to Nova Scotia. The Bluenose is a large passenger vessel that takes about two hours to cross from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth, at the southern end of Nova Scotia. For the brief time across I was at sea again, and I could feel the saline breath of our great Mother Earth permeate and fulfill me. Although I have a tremendous reverence for the mountains, it is the sea that unremittingly waves my return to innocence. It was late afternoon and Yarmouth seemed a good place to spend the night.
Hostels are a distinctive means of accommodation for travelers. Facilities are common as bathrooms, kitchens, lounge areas, and sleeping quarters are shared by all. Rooms are generally dormitory style, often with bunk beds. The congenial atmosphere commands a feeling of camaraderie that cannot be disregarded. A hostel is not so much a place as an event. People from around the world gather in these locations as an inexpensive and inspiring alternative to strictly defined methods of travel. They have some regulations, many have curfews for lights out, and one must be inside or be locked out. They cost a fragment of what hotels or motels charge, and often include a modest breakfast of a bowl of granola, or fruit. I found the concept fascinating, and thrifty, and choose to use these mutual amenities as often as possible during my journey. I located the hostel in Yarmouth and checked in. It was in a local gymnasium and we slept on mats laid out on the floor. I was able to do some laundry, shower, and get a good night’s sleep.
After a bowl of granola in the morning, I lightened my load by donating my heavy wool blanket to the hostel, and arranged for a bus ride north. I can’t say why, but the Canooks seemed much less unsettling during the long, crowded bus ride. We calmly passed along the eastern seaboard to Halifax, where I spent a couple of days seeing the sights. Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, is an appealing, hilly, seaport municipality with splendid views and wonderful shops and restaurants. It has a very British feel about it, and I did not hesitate to embarrass the U.S. in several dart tournaments while I was there. I would venture to say that if the Colonies had waged war against the British with darts, that we would be loyal subjects of the Crown to this day. I quite enjoyed Halifax, but it was time to begin my great coast-to-coast journey by rail. I purchased a ticket to Quebec City.
I was looking forward to the French influence, and the thrill of being in a foreign land. I was unaware just how foreign it was to be. I met a young fellow in the dining car who lived in Quebec City, and he initiated a narration that continued throughout the ride about how beautiful and alluring it was, and that I was going to fall in love with his special place. He spoke in very good English, with only a slight French accent. His parents would be meeting him upon our arrival, and he graciously invited me to stay at his home for a few days while I allowed Quebec City to work its magic on me. I declined, telling him that I had prearranged my stay at a hostel, although I hadn’t, and did he know how I could find it. No, no, I would be much more comfortable in their large home he insisted.
The mid-morning sun was bright and warm as I departed the train in this magnificently picturesque town. My new acquaintance scurried to his parents and said something to them in French as he motioned in my direction. I saw a scowl come across their faces as they hastily rejected his suggestion, glared crossly at me, and then turned abruptly in the direction of their large home. I did not understand the visual skirmish, and brushed it off as road dust. Bienvenue á La ville de Québec.
Fortunately, I had a map to the hostel, and was able to point to the location to a taxi driver, who took me there without speaking. The young lady who checked me in must have been a diluted French Canadian, as she cordially welcomed me in English and made the necessary arrangements. I cleaned up and went into town, where I walked several miles throughout the city enjoying the quaint streets and shops. I tried to say hello, ask questions, get directions, order a drink, or humorously excuse myself for flatulence, but was arrogantly ignored. At a sidewalk art exhibit I was approached by a stunning woman with beautiful hands. She smiled seductively then spoke to me in French. I tried to reply in my very best Texan, but was met with a flip of her head and a curt circumvention. I returned to the hostel early on, hoping to get some sleep, but the place was active and noisy. There were young people from several countries staying there. I befriended a chap from London who was strumming a guitar and singing songs in English. We traded songs for several hours, eventually exhausting the others, and by ten o clock the lights were out and I was sawing logs.
Very early the next morning I showered, started up my hair dryer, and noticed that everyone in the place was staring at me as if I were batty. I decided at that moment to lighten my load and donate the cockamamie contraption for communal application. I traded it to the hostel for an apple – I have not used a hair dryer since – and hurried off to the train station. Adios, Ciao, Sayonara, Auf Wiedersehen, So long La ville de Québec.
Montreal was much the same in regard to their glacial response to the English language, and an affectionate smile, my very best Texan, or un poquito Español was not warm enough to defrost their frigid fanaticism. Montreal is a beautiful, cosmopolitan metropolis, and although the people were not rude, as they were inclined to be in Quebec City, they were just as remote. I spent a lonely day wandering aimlessly. Au revoir beau Québec. I doubt that I will return anytime soon, and I am quite certain that they don’t really give a damn. It is not their attempt at being French, rather the attitude toward those who do not. Ah, there is a rub, Oh Canada.
I breathed a distinctively Anglo-American sigh of relief as the train entered Ontario, in route to Toronto.