Chapter 25

“Love and luck are
where you find them. So take
it all as it comes…and goes.”

          “Chicago?”

          “No, not Chicago…”

          “Minnie, Flack?”

          “No, and can’t take any more Flack!”

          “How about Fogie, or a little Rory Stoneman…”

          “We have any Joan Armatradding?”

          “Who?”

          Chicago Transit was too horny, Roberta and Ripperton too heavy-hearted, and I backed off on Joan of Arms.  So Rory, it was, side two of his breakout album, ‘On The Cusp’: Time for a few moments safely downshifting, a little whiff of the wide-open spaces, with some music to fine tone the mood. My apologies were tendered, warily accepted by Melissa under the archway threshold into our cabin’s front room, where she had withdrawn to stroke her snoozing tabby, stoke the fireplace and load up my record changer component for a mid-range stereo system that dated back to USAEUR’s PX days.

          I charily stayed put at the kitchen table, spooning mouthfuls of vegetable and crouton thickening soup, washing it all down with marshmallow hot chocolate. Perfect—fresh carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower moistly softened by the salty consommé stock, poured through me like overheated barium, loosening the grip of besieged thought.

          That was the Moon effect, radiant warmth outwards of a thirty-foot radius around her toasty kitchen—glowing hearths, warm, disarming smiles—an overall comfort level that never failed to get me humming, as if I carried the lab-isolated DNA of a cat’s purr, with the simple flick of a range-top burner. Who wouldn’t feel positively fat, cushy and settled with gourmeta cooking like this? Licking Swiss-blend cocoa from my mustache, I pushed aside the resumes and incoming rounds of official brown envelopes, yet finding my fingers wandering over to the fragrant baby blue piece that Moon had left half-folded on the table in her disconcerted haste.

          I opened the letter as if disarming an explosive device, scanning down quickly should Moon have her fill of spray watering our jungle of window plants. Sydney did indeed open by setting the scene of a drizzly night in her studio, expressions of gratitude for miles traveled and time spent in companionship and good cheer in the new year. She then rambled on with see-saw emotion, about glorious weather before the meager rains came, touching upon recent return trips to Hippo’s and Sausalito, particularly to the Halyard for scallops bouillabaisse and Manila clams by sunset, then painting a lonely picture of the Academy Institute after dark.

          I read and misread what I could into her tracing paper scribbling, but there was no mistaking her post script: a remittance reminder wrapped in red Valentine hearts. While the body of her letter had triggered my imaginations, her PS rather gave me the chills, not least because of a mention that she could not find that small box from Josh Gravanek, and could it still be somewhere in my car?  God forbid, check it later—I refolded the note neatly as Moon had left it, then spooned the final croutons out of my cooling, congealing consommé.

          “I also put on Seals & Crofts and Fogie’s first,” she said through the wall, “but I don’t think they’re going to drop right on this player…”

          “Hang tight, I’ll take a look.” I was reminded that she always had trouble with my balky Dual turntable—maybe it was a German thing—thinking her choices could have been worse, like Joni Blue or Carpenters’ Gold.

          “Tsk, it’s the spindle or something,” said Moon, shuffling back into the kitchen on rabbit furry slipper feet with the steeping whistle of her teapot, pouring herself a cup of Mellow Mint. She noted the movement of Syd’s letter, saying little, as if wondering whether the horse she had wagered on was coming up lame. In short order, she headed for the bedroom. “I’m needing a little nap…”

          I slid back from the table and turned belching into the front room, shooing Pags off my stereo receiver. Avoiding the squareback driveway mess altogether, I instead jiggled with the turntable’s control levers, then re-stoked the embering fire. The sun was breaking through a winter sky, hovering over Front Range peaks like a Coleman lantern on a campsite limb, keying through upright window casings on the hearth mantel, unavoidably on the painting above.

          But better knowing the artist, her visions and process, the creative chaos of her studio, I felt more familiar, more simpatico with ‘Waif and Grain’—somewhat separating the subject from the work itself, appreciating both, on distinctly different levels.

          I then glanced about my framed Euro photographs, noting perspective and technique, wall by wall, as though I had never viewed them before. Not bad, not for nothing, but no Cartier-Bresson, and plenty of rawbility to build on—did Syd really think so? Between and among them thrived shelves of Moon’s pottery, ceramics and macraméd planters, the hand-woven celestial wall hangings, prompting the nitpicker notion that she could craft, but she could not art.                                    Out cabin window

          Out the front windows, I could see shadows beginning to set in over the foothills and Flatiron slabs—Boulder’s Mt. Rushmore au naturel, that majestic matching set of pitched granite anvils, there to shield the Rockies from eastern advances, yet ineluctably losing that enviro-battle. Following tire tracks up Cliff Street, I could see little snowmelt as of yet, renovated cottages and other cabins still blanketed all the way to the greenline and range wall, scattered deer hoof marks dappling the drifts, coyote paws hot on their trails.

          Above them, palatial, futuristic aeries stacked up Flagstaff Mountain like frosted Christmas presents in a winter wonderland, looking out over Boulder Valley and as far east as Nebraska on clearer days. They made me think of Marin County spreads—stature, views, bragging rights, everything but the Pacific Ocean, that magnificent deep blue sea.

          In all, the scene outside our cabin was Rocky Mountain storybook, with Rory Stoneman’s backing cut making it melodically so. His ‘Homeland’ album jacket bore a dedication to Josh Gravanek Management, liner notes stating that it was recorded at Das Kapital Studios. Side two, cut four was ‘Hard Road Home’, his biggest hit to date, lamenting the loss of the head of a emotionally fatherless household, with layered, moaning guitar licks. How did they put all that together? How did a wise-ass Chicago bunch get that damn far? How in the world did they get there from here? And what did Syd actually know about it?

          Before I could even begin to fathom that, Seamus seized my attention with a full-stand barking jag against the backyard fence gate. Message sent, the Setter flopped down once again on the rug mat of his shed-matched barnwood doghouse. As I returned to the bakery sweet kitchen to fill his bowls with Science Diet, Pags resumed curling up on the warmth of my stereo amp, Rory bridging into his plaintive refrain.

          “I’m heating up some strudel,” Moon said from the bedroom as I slipped Seamus’ food and water bowls out onto the cabin’s small kitchen porch, slamming the door shut behind me as the Setter hit them hard and fast. “Grab it out of the toaster oven, okay?”

          “Got it…damn.” I pulled her stoneware plate from the toaster oven, singeing my fingers, shaking it off in the process of delivering two steaming slices of apricot-apple strudel to our bedroom quicker than room service at the Hotel Boulderado on homecoming weekend. “Coming…hot off the presses…”

          “Yum—had a hankering…couldn’t help myself,” Moon smacked her lips and reached for a slice and napkin as I trayed up bedside. “Sooo, what were those little blow-ups of yours about, Kenny, what on earth were you thinking?”

          “Aww, I don’t know, it’s just this pressure all of a sudden,” I said softly, sitting on the edge of our garage sale four-poster, barely over the squeaking of bedsprings, crooning of Rory Stoneman into the groove out as the turntable changed to ‘Summer Breeze’. “Got stuff coming at me from so many different directions…”

          “Tell me about it,” she scooted over beneath three blankets and two comforters in a back bedroom that never warmed up to a weak central furnace, leaky windows or that faraway fireplace. “What do you mean different directions?”

          “Move over,” I chattered, sliding in and under covers beside her, setting the replica Coca-Cola tray between us, picking at strudel crust in synch with Moon. “I’m kinda wondering about prospects here in Boulder, more grad school or…whatever…”

          “Take a breath, Kenny, we’ll work it all out in short order,” she soothed, munching an apple chunk. “I mean really, where could we have it better than we have it right here.”                 Boulder foothills

          The nap after snack break was invariably Melissa’s idea, product of her inexorable linking of food and love, her weekly instance of carnal assertion after a job well done. Our cabin bedroom, western sunlit with a side window take on the Front Range and foothills, was the picture of cheeriness, softly muted by kitty cat curtains that oozed cuteness and feline fetished overkill. She maintained that slightly subdued light helped the ivy insinuating itself around the room like Italian Christmas lights.

          I often needled her on bright afternoons that she shouldn’t be so shyly prudish about her body. By now she was dead bed center, pillow propped up by a calico throw cover she had crocheted two winters before. The unvarnished replica bed strained as I piled further in, not that she actually carried the weight of what she ate, like everybody else—not an ounce of truth in that.

          “I dunno,” I shivered on, the patch quilt blankets and warm pastry slowly taking effect. “Maybe that where we should be aiming for is California. I mean, like, San Francisco is this incredible center of energy…”

          “Energy? I thought you said it was whacko city. I remember you telling me you’d heard the place drives everybody crazy.”

          “When did I say that?”

          “Tsk, I don’t know…in the car,” she finished off her strudel, balling up the paper napkin, setting it on the tray. “Maybe your friend Paul mentioned it…”

          “Verniere?! When the hell…” S&C’s ‘Summer Breeze’ not exactly taking the chill off things.

          “When he called, I guess…what’s the difference?”

          “Nothing, not one bit,” I huffed, reaching over to drop the tray to a thick oval rug buffering the cabin’s wavy, knotty wooden floor, dropping that angle for the moment, as well. “Anyway, even if it is, maybe that’s what makes The City so alive with diverse possibilities for somebody in my field. And they’ve got restaurants up the yin-yang.”

          “Oh, wonderful,” she snapped, pulling the comforters up over her head. “Thanks for thinking of me…”

          “What? You’ve told me to broaden my horizons, haven’t you?”

          “Oh, I see, so you’ve found me work in some chop suey parlor, huh? And me, with my bachelor’s degree.”

          “Naw, c’mon…you’re missing the big picture here, Moon.”

          “Big picture, where’s that coming from,” she poked her head up from under the covers. “Wait, don’t tell me, I can hear Sydney Mendel talking a thousand miles away…”

          “Yeah, we explored it some, she mentioned some things,” I dismissed, glancing away from her glare, out the rear window view of a snowy Front Range tapering northward. Seamus had chowed down and returned to a little doghouse nap of his own. Beyond him, larger hoof tracks looked to be from a neighborly full-rack bull elk known to charge down from the foothills for scraps and varmint prey. “But the point is, what would we have to lose by checking it out?”

          “I don’t know, you tell me,” she plained, looking about the room and cabin at large, not exactly encouraging any more of this. “Only leave me out of any search party phase. I would just as soon stay put here and keep some money coming in…sooo, what else did dear Sydney say?”

          “Um, nothing much, just that the sky’s the limit out there, not merely getting by.”

          “Getting by? What did she mean by that? What else did she say…”

          Seals and Crofts, side one, played through without much notice, the turntable dropping Fogie’s ‘Flatlands’, a debut album that always had extra sensory resonance with us, beginning with one MDA-enhanced New Year’s Eve. I rolled out of bed, stepping over her tunic and coveralls, shedding my own jeans and gray wool pullover, to tumble back under the blankets and comforters beside her. When the Dan Man sang of god-blessed cornfields, of vast, fertile golden prairies left behind, I wrapped Moon’s soft, rounded shoulder and pulled her close.

         A long orchestral cut rhapsodizing the crooner’s Rocky Mountain epiphany inspired me to peel pack the covers just far enough to reach over and cup her splayed left breast ever so softly, dwelling even in this light upon the pale, near translucence of her skin. During an acoustic interlude, I kneaded her nipple between thumb and forefinger, like a stray dab of pottery clay.

          She rolled away, then back into me, giggling like a candy-striper, that writhing, girly mischievous little gyration of hers that to this day set me asweat in dissonance before sweeping back into the fold of her good graces, causing me to release, clench my fingers and grope anxiously as a foster child once again.

          “Opportunities-wise, friendly small talk, that’s all. You know I would never even think about…” I dodged, then parried, Josh’s box, or Syd’s concern over its absence, rattling away in my mind. “Just like you must have had with Paul Verniere…”

          “It was a neighborly phone call, to coord…” She stopped herself, eyes momentarily to the plaster-cracked ceiling. “I mean, he was concerned about how you were handling your doctoral status situation. Then he stopped by once to help with a little shoveling.”

          “Hah, I’ll bet,” I searched her shifting expression. “Then what about the Lester calls, huh? How did that all go?”

          “Totally out of the blue, going nowhere, I tell you,” she countered, a smite uneasy with the carnal contact. “Sort of like when your ex, Cassie called you, okay? Whatever’s coming of that?”

          “Nada, Moon—Christ, you know full well,” I said, caught off guard. “So then who was it answering the phone when I called last Saturday? With a mouthful of food, yet—who the hell was that?”

          “Oh, must have been a friend looking in on the animules while I was at work,” she blushed. “I do have friends here, you know. Like, at the pottery lab.”

          “Yah, all those wheels turning, all that handiwork…”

          “C’mon, Kenny, you really do have to get over that insane jealous streak of yours.”

          Cabin fever was setting in. I coursed down a blue vein under the covers, down her smooth, soup-swollen belly to a deeply recessed crescent, furry as an Angora feline. A final Fogie trilogy on the cursed lure of more distant gold tracked through my KLH speakers from the front room, an epochal dirge on the fateful chase from Columbus Circle to Lahaina Bay. Somewhere near Fogie’s Kalispell verse, I sheared my open hand under her baby blue lacies, between her legs like an opener slitting a love letter, lightly rimming her labia to warm, welcoming dampness, fully stretching fore digits to delicately tickle her swelling clitoris.

          Fogie’s sorrowful affair in Laguna Beach found Moon in turn finger-stepping down me to cup, then scratch my scrotum—lightly, tenderly stroking for oxytocin effect—no nut-wrenching, greedy Lovelock power grab, always more self-consciously tentative than tenacious, as though feeling her way around the shift knob on someone else’s control console. Nevertheless, I hardened fast, while his closing, mournful ballad, ‘Looking for a Lover’, served to further ease the friction.

          Fogie only knew what we were thinking, but the passion suddenly, rather unexpectedly picked up. With late sun seeping through the curtains’ cat patterns, covers flying and Danny sailing for Maui’s Pioneer Inn, all wariness and reserve were surmounted, embraces tightened, she gently guided me in. Expanding, contracting: I thrust firmly, she moaned, jostled trimly, bed springs creaking like the overhanging branches in a suddenly strengthening Chinook wind. A bit too long, but none too short this time: rounds forcefully fired, though still amid relatively modest skirmishes at best.

          I rolled off her, and she pulled the covers back over us to our chins. Fogie singing safely back to the golden prairies, Seamus barking at the kitchen door, I reached down under the bed for mop up. Therewith, we nodded off, sexually sweaty arm in arm, snuggling for pheromone scents, a stained, crusty Motel 8 towel stuffed between us, dopamine and opioids aflow. Then again, the background tune could have just as easily been ‘Afternoon Delight’, albeit a far, tamer cry from Lovelock or Polk Street, USA.

          “Nicey-spicy, huh?” That was what I always heaved at moments like this.

          “Nicey-twicey,” she sighed, scanning me more than usual for further signs of mutual gratification. “What say you?”

          “Incredible, as always, Moon,” I replied, shifting my gaze toward the former bunkhouse ceiling light.

          “Nicey-sorey…”

          “Okay, now what about, for sake of argument, I send out the mailings, do the interview here,” I sighed, stroking her stomach like fingers skipping over a soft satin throw pillow. “If it pans out, great. If not, I could maybe go out to Frisco, set us up. When things get rolling, I’ll bring you all right on out. I’d be doing the legwork, no risk, no sweat on your part whatsoever. In the meantime, just hold the fort, keep an eagle eye out for any sosh department updates, and send me any good resume responses. See, that way, we’d be working it from both ends.”

          “Hmm, I suppose my pal, Denise could put you up for a little while…seems like half my friends are out there now, anyway,” Moon ventured, rubbing her cheek, glancing at me ambivalently, striking a firmer deal, as if thinking safe house, walling me off as best she might under iffy circumstances such as this. “But first things first, Kenny…the interview I’ve hustled up for you at Faine Clinic. Let’s just take this one step at a time.”

          “Right, Moon, absolutely. One at a time…”

sr dingbats

          “…Or a basic caseworking position. I just want to get out and distinguish myself.”

          “I understand completely, Mr. Herbert. But what with these darn budget cuts…”

          County snow plows cleared through lanes, and nature had otherwise taken its course by morning next. Melissa negotiated the sand-coated Longmont Diagonal, minus one waiter-designate, well ahead of Coachlight’s luncheon rush. I struck driveway paydirt by mid-day, frenetically shoveling and heaping Seamus-sprayed snow in yellowed piles along a neighboring slat fence—make-work under the winter gun with more Red Zinger steeping in the kitchen at squareback’s end. Some serious rocking and wheel spinning, a steamy sponge bath, and I freely fishtailed out to that appointment, the clock counting down. Then I dialed into a haunting ‘Shame, Shame On You If You Can’t Pass Through’ of all numbers on Denver AM; Syd might as well have been singing backup, Darna Karl on the upright keys.

          Between plow drifts and snowmobiles strangling downtown side streets, blowers digging out around the Mall, I left myself little choice but to slide into a no-win parking situation halfway into Hotel Boulderado’s loading zone. I pulled a two-minute drill past county buildings, briefcase in hand, leaping over some menacing little middle schooler boarders and snow dishes, still coming up several minutes short at the buzzer. Not for that corrugated cardboard company at least, the interview took place in a plain, single-story stone satellite building just off Pearl Street, a social services/mental health clinic, at that.  Good ol’ resourceful Moon, this couldn’t have been a better local prospect.  Pearl Street Mall

          I nervously mopped off forehead sweat and smoothed tie and lapels with newfound verve all the way into the director’s office. Doctor Frederick Hilliard kindly deflected my late spiels, driver’s remorse and other raisons d’ tardiness with an empirical assessment of Melissa’s charms—as in how she smiled so beautifully and seated him unfailingly near the ladies room.

          “I just want more than anything to get out there and actually help people…”

          “Of course you do, Mr. Herbert,” said the director, looking up and down my CV with spyglass attention to detail. “What was that topic you said your master’s thesis addressed?”

          “Uh, ‘Linear Causality in the Effect of Visual Symbology on the Group Dynamic’, sir.” I blew a whisp of hair out of my eyes, focusing on his sheepskins, framed there so haphazardly unaligned on his wall.

          “Grounded in counseling, in FYC and APS, are you?”

          “Basically,” I fudged, searching my curriculum database in random memory, to little avail. “I mean, you know, the fundamentals…”

          “Yes well, Faine Memorial Clinic would be delighted to get you in here, Mr. Herbert, but the funding just isn’t there at present. Plus, fact is, Boulder County has simply worked out many of its problems lately, or weeded them out, so to speak, albeit in true economic Darwinian fashion…”

          “Yeah, attack of the rampant trust funds,” I muttered, fidgeting like a hostile witness on the prosecutorial stand. “Wonder how long that sky-high tranquility trendline will last…”

          “Beg your pardon?” The clinic director looked up at me with upper bifocal acuity.

          “Oh, nothing, I…”

          “Well…Ken, is it,” he asked, setting aside my resume. “You also happen to be in that awkward over-under position, qualifications-wise. You know, in addition to an MS, your really should have your MSW—better yet, a Ph.D.”

          “Don’t I know it, sir, and I’m working on that right now, believe me…”

          “And quite frankly, you don’t strike me as the caseworker type.  Have  you considered Biz Admin for fast-track entry into the HR managerial ranks?”

          “Guess I haven’t quite gotten that far in the thought process…”

          “But of course if you should really wish to clean up around here, you might try your hand at construction. I hear gas fireplaces and skylights are going through the roof…”

          “Got the picture, Dr.  Hilliard, and I’ll certainly take that under advisement…”

Care for more?

Chapter 26. A long-haul return journey 
to the promised land finds welcome
wagons circled and firing back…