3 Days (random scribblings)

Wrote this after a day of listening to the blues; a hearty mix of Son House, Robert Johnson and others from that era. Don’t know exactly what to call this but thinking maybe it’s a song, sort of.

 

 

3 days down in my home,

You know that ramblin’ bone makin’ me want to roam.

3 days back in the city,

You know people here, they don’t have much pity.

 

 

Passing suits down in the street,

A good-hearted soul they want to beat.

Beat you down into the ground,

Take your money and head uptown.

 

 

Found me a good woman, she don’t mess around,

She won’t come to the city so I’m country bound.

If you’re headed my way flag me down,

And we’ll ride a forgotten highway straight into the sun.

Two Doors

Close eyes, inhale,

Sink into the recesses of the mind.

Pause, wait, stand firm

Let  the voices pass over you.

They are not real,

Sounds of others telling you what to feel.

 

 

Memories fly, in the face

Life’s debris, carried on the wind.

Pause, wait, not for grace,

But for storm to dissipate.

Absorb all that remains,

A house, two entrances, a set of windows on each side.

 

 

One door is open, lights burning bright;

Other door sealed shut,

Windows void of any light.

A lone voice speaks, calm and wise;

Listen closely,

It’s the voice of your soul, trapped inside.

39. Conversations with Clyde (Novel Excerpt)

39.
Canton. May, 2005.

The art of conversation has become a casualty of the road. Mary and I are running out of things to say to one another. Conversations with customers seldom last longer than thirty seconds. Most nights we’re too exhausted to hang out with other vendors. Ninety percent of my spoken words can be narrowed down to a friendly hello and a kindly thank you. After a while those words begin to ring hollow in the ears. They are not words but automatic responses. Somewhere down the road I have morphed into a machine.

Only in Canton and Warrenton does true conversation exist. In these places we live inside the show, as do many vendors. It’s a reunion of sorts, since we’ve taken a different path than our friends who still prefer the flea market circuit. There’s time to get to know people all over again, time to indulge in conversation once more. None of our friends enjoy making conversation more than Clyde.

On a stormy night we gather around a dining table constructed of old fence planks from a farm in northeastern Nebraska. Overhead lights are turned off. A bank of softly lit lamps rises up from a display behind us. Art deco globes and antique chandeliers dangle from the rafters, providing more illumination. Mass produced home décor and furniture blends easily with interesting artifacts left over from antiquity. A mix of Son House, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters whispers in the background. The Ambiance is intoxicating. This is Rachelle and Mary’s building. They are the architects. Rachelle sleeps on an inflatable mattress in the far corner. Mary slumbers on the top floor. This beautiful image will be etched into my mind forever. So will Clyde’s words.

“Democracy is pure,” he says. “It’s capitalism that’s the problem.”

I can’t remember how we came to this topic of conversation. How we got here isn’t important. Sooner or later, with Clyde, the conversation always turns into a political or philosophical rant. The man has a lot of opinions, opinions that require a lot of expressing.

“Capitalism is an impure additive, like mixing water with gasoline. Water corrupts the mix.”

The technical side of my persona rises to the surface. “That’s not a good analogy. Water and gasoline are not pure substances. Both are derived from something else. Try using hydrogen and oxygen. If you mix hydrogen with oxygen you will get a highly volatile mixture.”

“What?”

“But you have to throw in a match to get a reaction. Remember the Hindenburg?

“Who, besides you, gets that?” Clyde growls. “Point is, capitalism has ruined democracy. If you believe in a heaven and a hell, in gods and devils, then democracy is a godly invention and capitalism is a convention of war used by the other side to destroy the works of God. That’s all I’m trying to say. Capitalism divides the masses and strips us of our freedoms.”

“Wow, Clyde. That’s pretty heavy, even for you.”

“It’s been on my mind a lot lately.”

“Why?”

From a half empty bottle of bourbon he fills a shot glass. “Been thinking about you,” he says, and downs the shot.

“Why me?”

Clyde starts to pour another drink, points the bottle in my direction instead. “’Cause you’re lost, man. I’ve been watching you. I’ve been watching you work, watching you chase the almighty dollar all across America and back. You and Mary are out of control.”

“We’re not out of control. We’re doing what it takes to build a business. You can’t fault us for that. You can’t fault us for busting our asses everyday trying to build something on our own. We’re free, liberated human beings just like you said we should be.”

“You’re full of shit,” he says, pointing the bottle at me again. “You’ve lost sight of everything that’s important in life, lost sight of what matters just so you can put another dollar in your bank account. You’re a slave to the machine, just like you’ve always been.”

“I don’t have a choice,” I counter, voice rising. “We owe a lot of people a lot of money. Mary and I have to work this hard so everyone else gets paid. What would you have us do? Walk away from it all?”

“Have you tried that?”

“Tried what? Tried walking away from our debt, from our responsibilities?You’re out of your mind.”

“Am I? How do you know if you don’t try?” He slams down another shot of whiskey, chases it with beer, then says, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought . . .”

Clyde’s quoting someone but I can’t figure it out. Can’t figure out what the words mean. A gypsy’s eyes twinkle because he knows he’s confounded me.

“Buddha, Jason. I’m quoting Buddha.”

“Oh.”

“He’s saying we are unhappy because we think we are unhappy. We suffer because we think we suffer. When we’re happy it’s because we think we are happy. In your case it means that you work hard because you think you have to work hard. You chase the dollar because you think you have to chase the dollar. You’re thoughts have trapped you inside your own little hell, brother. You think you’re building a business. I’m telling you that you’re digging your own grave.”

Frowning, I can only admit the truth, to myself. I don’t admit anything to Clyde, can’t allow him the satisfaction of knowing he’s baffled my mind. Truth is, this concept is way over my head. I don’t get it. “That’s deep, Clyde,” is all I say.

Clyde shrugs. “It’s not that deep. It’s right there on the surface for everyone to see. The problem is that you haven’t opened your eyes to see. Your attention has been diverted—diverted by your worship of capitalistic ideas.”

“I don’t worship Capitalism, I just play the game by the rules that someone else contrived long before I came along.”

“You perpetuate the madness,” he grunts harshly. Then he quotes Blake. “I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s system.”

“What are you, Clyde—some sort of gypsy missionary bent on converting me to the other side?”

Calmly, he smiles. “I’m only trying to help. I sense that you want to be helped.”

I’m feeling very defensive. “Who are you to preach to me?”

“I’m just a friend who cares. And I’m not preaching. I’m telling you how it is.”

There is little denying that a certain degree of social anarchism runs through the ranks of the flea market circuit. Some of those out here, living out of cars and trailers full time, moving from show to show every week with no place to call home, have become far more disconnected from mainstream society than I. They see society as a powerful storm that they would prefer to avoid. Clyde is one of those people.

Disconnected, standing on the outside looking in, he has dissected the world around him using the tools crafted from the perception of his own belief system. He sees the inner mechanisms differently than most others. Clyde has created his own system and is not a slave to any other human being’s belief system. Ignorant of such things, I can’t say if Clyde is right or wrong. I don’t know. All I know with any certainty is that I don’t like it when he focuses his attention on me.

“We are all just fish in one big pond,” he says, continuing with the sermon. “99% of us live in the pond. The other one percent sit on the banks with their fishing poles trolling for suckers like you. They know how to bait you and they know what lures you can’t resist. You will bite and you will be hooked because you are blind to their methods. They will reel you in, carve you up, fry you on the grill, and serve your carcass for dinner. Then they’ll cast your remains back into the pond where you came from. That’s what happened to you at Intercon, Jason. Don’t let it happen again.”

“Listen, Clyde,” I begin slowly, after much deliberation. “We can’t all be freedom loving gypsies like your self. If we were all gypsies then the world would never progress. I don’t doubt that the things you say are true, that some people manipulate the world for their own personal gain, but dropping out of society and running away isn’t the answer.”

“I haven’t run away.” Clyde leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. Now he’s on the defensive. “And why do we need progress? Wouldn’t it be better if we all just learned how to get along?”

“That’s not the world that we were given. Life is like a game—a game filled with challenges—and the only way we can win the game is if we defeat those challenges. Like you said before, this is how a soul is created.”

A puzzled expression creeps across Clyde’s hardened face. I’ve thrown his own logic back at him and he’s not quite certain what he should do with it. For a long, awkward moment he just sits there, silently contemplating my words. Suddenly a smile creaks across his face.

“You have learned well, brother. But you provide no answers.” His body language softens as he reverts back to the teacher mind set. “Are you going to allow the one per centers to reign over you? They make decisions that affect your everyday life, adversely affect your life I might add. Are you willing to sit idly by and allow that to happen?”

“I fight the battles that I can win . . .”

“And surrender to the ones that you think you can’t win?”

“I do all that I can do . . .”

“That’s not enough.”

This is annoying. “What should I do, Clyde? How would you have me live my life? Tell me what to do.”

“Spread the awareness,” is his only solution. “And never allow yourself to become a slave to another man’s system.”

Those words weigh heavy on the mind. In a day the show in Canton will be over and we will be back on the road, off to some place new, turning over and over again inside my head the conversations with Clyde, attempting to make some sense of it all.

Clyde gives me a lot to think about while we are on the road. There are a lot of miles, time, and wide open spaces between Atlanta and Phoenix, Kansas City and San Antonio. That leaves a lot of empty time for thinking. Clyde is responsible for many of the abstract thoughts floating around inside my brain. From Clyde’s words abstract thoughts form, interacting with abstract thoughts that already exist, creating an abstract belief system that may or may not apply to the world around me. I don’t know.

Mentally, it’s all a crapshoot.

Fortunately I always have Mary by my side to keep my mind focused on the business. Unlike abstract thoughts, the business is very real and concrete and requires a lot of attention to detail. The business is all consuming. It’s only when we are out on the road, hundreds of miles between one show and the next, when we have run out of things to say, that abstract thoughts bubble to the surface of the conscious mind.

Like seeds, they try to take root.

Please visit my Amazon author’s page for more info on Broken Highways at: http://amazon.com/author/waynehowell
 Paperback & ebook now available for purchase–thanks for stopping by!

Broken Highways (Poem)

500,000 miles I have roamed,

Trekking across this land I call home;

Haggard, dirty, beaten, and wind blown,

Just another restless spirit searching the unknown.

I’ve seen and heard it all,

Silent screams answering Freedom’s call;

Gambling on a path the world denies,

Absorbing sunsets, storms, and clear blue skies.

A forgotten life left behind,

Headed for a place where no one knows my kind;

A stranger in a strange new town,

No one knows you when you’re down.

Soon storms clouds form, threatening rain,

And a two lane blacktop cuts a grassy plain;

Rolling wheels beneath the feet,

Complications I try to beat.

Thinking to myself, thinking all the time,

Running from ghosts isn’t a crime;

Asphalt crumbles and falls away,

Road I’m on is just another broken highway.

Tapping Into the (Writing) Stream

Tapping Into the (Writing) Stream

 

Call it meditation, lost in a deep thought, or just call me weird but when I’m writing I often slip into a state of consciousness where words flow through the mind faster than I can type. When this event occurs the world slips away, disappearing into a grayish mist of objects without definition. Weightlessness sets in as the mind eases into a creative zone. This sensation is a rush, a non chemically induced high (although, caffeine is usually involved), and an event bordering on the spiritual. The brain fails to mark the passage of time and hours pass in a blink of an eye. Thoughts, ideas, dialogue, and plot twists yet to be conceived ride the stream into awareness as if I’ve tapped into an alternate stream of consciousness. Writing becomes seamless as the words flow effortlessly through the fingertips onto the keyboard. I am in a zone.

 

I’m not saying that the thoughts and words that flow along this stream are always good and ready for print. Actually, the opposite can happen. This event is similar to a flood, to rampaging waters flowing through the mind and picking up everything in its path. There’s always a considerable amount of editing to do afterwards, of sorting through the debris left behind. Good thoughts must be salvaged from the trash.

 

(Another characteristic of tapping into the stream is I start typing words backwards. Most words are caught and fixed as I go but some are missed, hopefully to be caught later and translated in a proofread. Weird, huh?)

 

The Crash. Tapping into the stream can be intoxicating and like intoxication wears off eventually. This sensation cannot be maintained. Distractions abound, like the ringing of a phone, children awakening, or a knock on the door. Reality will not be ignored and when reality comes along and rattles the consciousness out of that precious mental state, you will crash and crash hard. Head will pound as nausea sets in. Body will tremble as it lapses into a state of withdrawal, demanding another fix. Or is this just me? Have I said too much, divulged too much information? Okay, so I’m a little weird after all but for me, writing is the vessel that delivers the elixir that induces the high. Or, to put this in other words, enables me to tap into the stream.

 

Is this just me?

Dreaming: If Broken Highways was made into a movie and they let me pick the soundtrack:

This is just me, dreaming. Like buying a lotto ticket and the jackpot is say, $100M, you can’t help but fantasize for a brief moment about all the things you would do with so much cash. A new house, a trek acrossEurope, or go on a spending spree—new cars for everyone! Since I don’t play the lotto this is my equivalent to that fantasy; some bigHollywoodstudio purchasing the rights to Broken Highways AND allowing me to choose the music for the soundtrack. It’s a simple dream, but it’s the dream I dream the most. Below are my personal choices for the soundtrack, in chronological order:

 

1. Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam

2. Walk Believer Walk – Black Crowes

3. Live Free – Son Volt

4. You Don’t Know How It Feels – Tom Petty

5. Prodigal Son – Rolling Stones

6. Tumbling Dice – Johnny Copeland

7.LouisianaBlues – Muddy Waters

8. Free – Train

9. Ancient Highway– Van Morrison

10. Bad – U2

11. Rain King – Counting Crows (acoustic)

12. Free – JJ Grey and Mofro

13. Soul Shine – Allman Brothers

14. Midnight Lightning – Jimi Hendrix

15. Dislocation Blues – Chris Whitley

16. Good Times Gone – Nickelback

17. Hard Time Killing Floor – Buddy Guy

18. 16 Days – Whiskeytown

19. Lonely Road Of Faith – Kid Rock

20. Move On – Jet

21. Ramblin’ On My Mind – Eric Clapton

22. Losering – Whiskeytown

23. Windfall – Son Volt

.

The Judas Cow (novel excerpt)

Something changes on Saturday morning.

It’s one of those heavy, grey mornings where the atmosphere is so saturated with moisture that you can see little droplets of water floating in the air. Everything is wet with dew. Water collects on tents, splashing down on my face as I roll up each flap and secure with a bungee cord. The morning is still. There is no wind. Nothing moves. Fog hangs in the air, blotting out the sun, refusing to leave.

Some guy, I don’t know who, follows me around the tent as I roll up the flaps. Someone, a total stranger, walks up to me at 7:30 in the morning and starts up a conversation. He could be a vendor, a customer, or Jesus Christ himself the way he just appeared out of the fog, I don’t know. My guess is that he’s in his sixties. I think maybe he’s lonely, needs someone to talk to. I’ve never seen him before. All he wants is some company. He wants to talk.

“All war is based on deception,” he says, quoting Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. “So the way I figure it the mass media, the big cable news networks, you know, they’re the Judas Cow leading the masses to slaughter. They’re the deceivers, if you know what I mean. They’re a tool of the oppressors.”

I don’t respond, don’t know how to respond.

“That’s why I stopped watching television years ago,” he continues as I move around the corner of the tent to the next flap. “Just unplugged it from the wall and tossed the damn thing into the trash, that’s what I did.”

It occurs to me that I haven’t watched much television lately. I miss my favorite cable news network, what with it’s around the clock news and three tickers running in opposing directions. I miss the streaming data, the constant barrage of information. Behind us a parade of vehicles head down the dirt road, pulling into the grassy parking lot at the far end of the tent.

“They bend the news, you know? They twist and bend it like clay until molding it into something that suits their needs, that’s what they do. First I thought they were just doing it for the money; sensationalizing events to make people want to watch, that’s what I thought they were up to. Now I don’t know. Now I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something more to their madness, something sinister to their intent, you know? Makes me believe they’re the Judas Cow leading the masses to their demise.”

I’m watching the crowd as they step out of their cars. There’s a new face to this crowd. In the parking lot beat up old trucks and antiquated station wagons from earlier in the week are replaced by SUV’s of every make and model. Groups of women exit the vehicles, dressed in short pants, spaghetti strap tops, and baseball caps with pony tails protruding out the back. Many have drinks in their hands. They’ve come to shop and have a good time.

“What’s a Judas Cow?” I ask the stranger, rolling up the final flap.

He takes two steps back, surprised. “You don’t know what the Judas Cow is?”

“No. I’m a city boy. I don’t know anything about cows.”

“Everybody knows what a Judas Cow is,” he exclaims. “What kind of person doesn’t know the Judas Cow? You spend your life under a rock, son?”

“Maybe you’re the Judas Cow,” I shoot back and I think he might hit me.

Tent fills with women, fifteen at least, admiring the displays, oohing and aahing over my masterpiece, my first solo effort, my work of art. Love is as thick as the fog. It’s time to go to work. My crowd has arrived.

“The Judas Cow is the cow at the slaughterhouse that leads all the other cows to their death,” he says before I can get away. “He lives there, at the slaughterhouse. The new cows that just arrived, well they’re all scared you know? But the Judas Cow is calm and confident because he’s the only one that knows what’s going on. So the other cows follow him. They trust him. They believe in him. They follow him right up to the slaughterhouse floor. And once the Judas Cow gets all the other cows up to the slaughterhouse floor, well he just turns and walks away. His work is complete. It’s too late for the other cows to stop the inevitable.”

Eyes focus on potential customers filling the tent.  I say to the man without looking at him, “And you think the mass media is the Judas Cow for humans? You think that they’re leading us to our end?”

Silence is the answer.

Turning, the stranger is gone, absorbed by the fog. I never see him again, as if he only existed for a brief moment in time to perplex my mind. Before I can dwell on the matter any further a young woman approaches, wants to make a purchase. She wants a Spanish styled mirror, a large leather ottoman, and two wall sconces to decorate her living room with. I happily oblige, pushing the memory of the stranger and his words out of my head. There’s work to be done. My first feeding frenzy is in the making. I must capitalize.

By the end of the day my displays and tables have been wiped clean of merchandise. Only a few unwanted remnants remain. Into the night I restock until there is nothing left to restock. I haven’t brought enough merchandise, begin to panic. A full week of the show remains and I don’t have anything left to sell.

Out of options, I make an emergency call to Mary.

“I’m wiped out too,” she explains over the phone. “We sold more today than we have ever sold in an entire show. I don’t think I have enough to get through Sunday, much less bring you some afterCantonis over. Even if I did have something left I can’t get it to you.”

“Why not? You’re supposed to be here Monday.”

“Don’t think I can. I’ve got appointments and deliveries scheduled all next week. Sorry, Jason, but I can’t help you. You’re own your own.”

That’s how we leave it, again.

That night I venture into LaGrange to treat myself to some home cooking at a local truck stop dive. As I sit at a table waiting to be served I can’t help but notice two large television monitors mounted in the corners of the restaurant. The monitors are aimed at the customers, aimed at me. A beautiful young woman delivers the day’s tragedies while three tickers run in opposing directions across the bottom of the screen.

27 Israeli pilots sign a letter of protest and refuse to fly missions to bomb leaders of Palestinian terrorists groups after nine children are accidentally killed in a bombing raid. A tearful 9/11 ceremony tugs at the heart. Humans are under attack and people care. Intercon’s stock drops forty five cents, bringing its value down below the value of the day I was laid off. Four hundred people lost their jobs for gains that were quickly lost.

Seeing many things, I see little evidence of a conspiracy. Maybe I’m watching the wrong cable news network. Receiving my dinner, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans, I go on about my business.  This is all that I can do. This, and think of hundreds of examples of the Judas Cow in everyday life.

Novelist, poet, other things . . .