“Crossing a higher rubicon
may bring saints in
“Listen, guys do things with guys. Women do things with women…know what I’m sayin’?”
“S-sure, I think so…but what’s your point?”
“That women might do things with the guys sometimes. But I’m telling you, guys just don’t do things with women. And what about Moon, how is she…”
“I’m doing this for Moon. A direct personal favor. She owes me big-time this time, Lawson, I’ll tell you that.”
Back then, Boulder’s bank thermometers had dropped steadily, a three-point barometric swing greasing the atmospheric slide. The midnight blizzard eventually muscled its way over the Front Range like a high hurdler chasing endorsements—erasing roads, cramming down fissures and canyons, drubbing solar collectors, ripping entire rooftops off houses far into the valley before delivering the vast unspent bulk of its arctic throw weight upon the Kansas and Nebraska plains. Boulder calcified in the space of a 3 a.m. toss and turn. Stapleton Airport closed quicker yet, prompting Sydney to phone coldly from Lorraine’s: ‘’Morning, shmorning…what are we going to do about this?!’’, as if my groggy cognitive powers extended any farther than the cabin’s snow-caulked window panes.
Wouldn’t fly in such weather if Her Life depended on it, she concluded. But apparently it did—and she had to get back—simple as that. We haggled knee-deep over the details, from Chautauqua Park to the priceless split-level aeries she kept appraising upon climbing Flagstaff hill. Melissa finally had to break the deadlock via patched together conference call, marooned as she was at the Coach Light Inn, out there on the Longmont Diagonal, with mountain skies brooding anew.
‘’Greyhound?! It’s Sydney,’’ Moon insisted, as if sipping cocoa, shmearing bagels at The Sink, or munching carrot sticks in the Cabin there with us. ‘’She’s family, remember? So pack up her stuff in your car—and leave poor Seamus be in his doghouse. You’ve got nothing better to do around here right now, anyway. Make nice and behave yourself, Kenny—maybe some more road time will do you some good. And call me the minute you get to San Francisco.’’ Therein she left things flowing, but not before godspeeding Sydney with a qualified verbal wink and nod.
“Awww, why didn’t you stay put and get to real work, for shitsake—scrape something together around here like everybody else. Think about it, Herbert. A guy has to build his nest first, and then the birds’ll always come flocking. I know. I’ve been out there.
“What, birds? I’m giving her a lift…just a few days, max,” I said. “Fact is, I don’t want to be doing this at all, Lawson. But it’s way beyond that, believe me.” The hour-plus it took me to load Sydney’s cargo had paid off in greatly enhanced traction down the road: none too insignificant a factor, given the refreezing turnpike plow path into Denver. She yawned near Larimer Square that she had pulled a telephonic all-nighter with Faith across the time zones—and that if any city could put her to sleep, this be it. She then wrapped herself in my downfill sleeping bag, leaving a wake-up call for anywhere west of the Bay Bridge toll plaza.
At first I was beside myself—humming, revving, prodding her with AM oldies, honking fraternally to the snow-laden big rigs hauling slabbed beef to Denver packing houses. Still, Sydney’s deep sleep had proved more remedial by the mile, snuffing any static when Interstate 70 headwinds blew us all but back to Rocky Flats, or when my slushy misread of the Route 40 turn-off led to the Stanley Slide Path at 11,000 feet and gusty avalanche whiteout of Berthoud Pass.
She snored brazenly away as I pressed into blinding storm columns stacked up along the Continental Divide, then broadslid around a backcountry switchback between Tabernash and Steamboat Springs. Long ultradian down rhythms even laid her out through my free skid in Wasatch side winds below Parley’s Summit, rear view mirrors filled with the airhorn glare of a gaining Freightliner. If only her REM waves could have carried us beyond the Wally Basom Memorial Rest Area.
“I dunno, Herbert…don’t hear from your for aeons. Then you call me collect like this, from Plygville, yet.”
“Uh, sorry about the damn Tabernacle music…really, Lawson, been meaning to touch base. Anyway, we’re not talking major bankroll, just a little friendly back up. See, I blew this pressure sensor coming through Emigration Gap. Now I’m down to basic gas money, and Moon’s tapped out ‘til mid-month. Something else goes, I’ll be planting a mailbox in front of the thing.
The rest area had claimed to overlook Salt Lake basin. But with the zero pre-dawn cloud ceiling, I could scarcely tell. I’d sputtered into Basom Memorial heavy of lids—eyes swelling, ears popping, feet freezing as I parked and collapsed over the steering wheel. Just then, Sydney unzipped the sleeping bag to periscope steaming cars, fuming semi’s, the icy ten-foot stalactites dripping from visitor center rooflines, no suspension bridge in sight. With that, she laid claim to the driver’s seat, but the choking Volks wouldn’t restart for anything, not even Her.
Kicking free of the patched green sleeping bag, she had lit out for aid, first pounding on the van next door. A bearish HVAC contractor in an Oakland Raiders cap and jacket offered to push start the wagon, if only I’d come to. Sydney saw to that with a vengeance, then vamped her way into the escort van—jouncing, clapping to stereo country all warm and cushy as the truck passed my lurching squareback down a steep, winding grade to Salt Lake City. She was clearly pleased with her little hustle, until the Raider fanatic motioned me with linebacker eyes to follow his snowy wake spray toward a downtown repair garage, then looked to prove handier than she had bargained for by possibly running a clammy end-around into her leotards.
“So what about that artist you’re carting around?”
“Gold-plated pain in the ass. Still, I can’t ask her to pay. Guy can’t do a thing like that, right?”
“Yeah, you’re regular aces, Herbert. But Utah, the San Francisco Gay Area with some feminist fatale—damn, where’s it all headed?”
“C’mon, can I count on you? A little friendly backup, just in case. I mean, don’t leave me beholden to this one…”
Sydney had bolted from the dented, duct-taped van as soon as we reached a foreign repair shop off State Street, screaming something awful about karmic kickbacks and paybacks. I offered the Oakland-bound contractor an obligatory fiver, but she wouldn’t hear of it, refusing to discuss the matter until after a decent breakfast, if at all. Before she could rescue her new custom Vuarnet sunglasses, the Raider faithful had fishtailed away, snow splattering us several short blocks from Temple Square.
“Backup, Herbert…deep backup…”
“Positively last gasp, Lawson.” This ensuing phone call was pure spur-of-the-moment, a little personal AAA, long-distance reassurance that my disoriented flyer westward was cleared by ground control. Lawson Bennaker had been that since the early days in immigrant landing, orienting Moon and me to Boulder even as he himself grappled with moving away—specifically to an up-country deputy sheriff’s badge after four times failing the Colorado bar exam. “I swear, I’ll even send you a postcard.”
“Save us the quarter.” CLICK.
“Morning, sir, may we help you find your way,” smiled a matched set of peach fuzzy young Mormon cadets in shiny black suits, as I folded open the glass and aluminum door. Steadfastly beaming, the baggy duo pinned me half in, half out of the phone booth. They were but two of myriad walkie-talkie cadre patrolling the walled-in compound, skulking about sacred gardens, behind larger-than-life statues of founder Joseph Smith and the Latter-Day Saint who performed the real miracles: Brigham Young. “Did you know Lord Jesus is thy savior?”
The booth stood alone between a visitor center and the six-spired Temple itself. It was plainly targeted for ongoing surveillance by the post-missionary god squad as they assembled tour groups near Eagle Gate, or whisked naysayers and spiritual infidels off the South Temple grounds. I averted the cadets’s probing stares by tracing this incessant choir music to the Tabernacle’s 11,000-pipe organ and sanctified silver dome. “Please, sir, will you be joining our tour?”
“So, what’s this about,” Sydney sprang from the nearby visitor center, almost as quickly as from that van, her critical fascination with its aggrandizing Christian murals and dioramas having apparently crumbled under the cumulative weight of their biblical theme.
“Was, uh, calling a friend of mine,” I muttered, just bleary and unshaven enough to fear banishment out of hand. “Then these two…”
“What…friend,” she parted the cadets with a wave of some color brochures and reprints from ‘The Book’ and ‘Doctrine and Covenants’. “Honestly, only in a place like Utah. I’ve seen all I want to see. Now I know why I never stopped in before. Can’t even get a decent soda around here without getting a local sponsor and signing your life away. ”
“Ah, excuse us,” I said, with audible relief, following Syd along scrubbed, snow-cleared walkways out the medieval Eagle Gate, the cadets devoutly sniffing our trail. “Anyhow, Lord Jesus didn’t much save Gary Gillmore from a Utah firing squad last year, now did he?”
“I’m so used to being where people look so young,” she said over her shoulder, morning fresh from ablutions in the center’s convenience, fully reassembled and realigned. “Here, even the teenyboppers look like cretins. Must be the sacred underwear, and those loopy drop-rim eyeglasses that they wear.”
“Awww, they’re all just a bunch of sour Scots,” I said, as we left Temple Square altogether, not least its pious, gray-blazered Orrins buzzing around, hatching their persecuted little plots. Two elder guides delivered us over toward the Church’s soaring steel-and-concrete monuments to Mormon abstinence and enterprise. Deacons and disciples alike had been passing the golden plates ever since Brigham Young’s tormented converts first lugged their handcarts over the mountains, to where most of downtown was now under title, with plenty more highrises and shopping malls in the divining stage. The guides eagerly ushered us out of Mormon Central—grinning, blessing, still hauling the hod—the more weary among them cursing under already liquored breath. “And I know all about sour Scots…the single malt, gaudy tartans and sour, lumpy haggis.”
“This whole scene is so pretentious, and with the proselytizing—not even the true biblical faith, don’t you think?”
“Me? I couldn’t (even) say. Religion doesn’t do much for me nowadays,” I dodged.
“You mean you’re a faith heel agnostic, or what…”
“No, just a little suspension of misbelief,” I said, peering over to massive library-like building across Temple Square from the cathedrals. “Though I hear they’re finally admitting blacks this year. And they’re supposed to be good with the whole genealogy thing.”
“Hmph can’t see the forest for the family trees, plus they have this nasty habit of proxy baptizing Holocaust victims. But catch this…” Sydney began reading from a reprint as we headed for the Church-owned State Street Garage. “’Men are that they might have joy.’ You know what that means: women, plenty of them. This Smith guy said God himself told him to do harems…and it still goes on around here and Colorado City to this day with all these plain ugly jack Mormons. No wonder they call themselves, ‘More, man’. The whole Utah scene’s so incredibly racist and sexist.”
“Damn, my car better be ready…”
“Intriguing concept, though,” She tossed the handouts into a Tabernacle Choir-sponsored trash can. “People over a hundred years ago building this whole religion thing around that.”
“Plural spiritual marriage, sister wives—you know, polygamy…”
Care for more?
Chapter 8. Navigating saline Utah
in nothing flat, lives are plumbed
more deeply, relationships reviewed…