Work-in-Progress: “Stranded in the Desert at Night (Twice)”

I recently found a tattered little notebook just off the Lost Dog Wash hiking trail in north Scottsdale. The writing was a bit faded, though it was hard to tell how long the notebook had been there; I do frequent this trail about twice a week, and hadn’t seen it before – so it may have been left there recently. But it has been exceptionally windy, lately, so it may have been blown from another part of the series of rolling hills (some call it “the mountain,” but I find that to be quite an exaggeration, as the elevation is barely 3,000 feet, at the peaks). The writing ranged from clumsy to almost indecipherable, with much of the writing in what seemed to be a furiously hurried style; it actually looked similar to the journals I used to keep to record dreams, when I would write frantically by flashlight at 3 and 4 a.m. As such, I think I was able to make out more of the words (though not all) than the average person would have, although this is just a mild conjecture.

Adding to the challenge of deciphering this, several pages on the journal I found seemed to have streaks of blood – although it could have been red paint, or even beet juice.

I’m sharing this in the hope that some light might be shed upon the rather abrupt ending. Perhaps if a family member or friend recognizes the unnamed author by style and circumstance, and if that person has been missing for some time, would it warrant the authorities searching the area thoroughly?

Better yet, my hope is that the actual author will come forth and say, “Yes, that’s mine. I must have dropped the notebook, I’m fine.”

 In any case, here is the best I could set down:

This has been the most amazing, horrible, beautiful, sensationally ridiculous night of my life. Yesterday was pretty stupid, too, beginning with a trip to the drycleaners – not, that was this morning, it was yesterday morning that my boss told me “you’re looking a little wrinkly.” This was on a Friday, end of my second week at the Salvation Army; though I was so embarrassed I wanted to dig a hole in the desert and shove my head in it, and actually spent much of my work day surreptitiously making a little sketch of how hard and deep I would have to dig, what kind of shovel to use, in which direction to face, etc. . . . my feelings of deep humiliation and extreme shame were counter-balanced with an urge every ten minutes or so to start giggling wildly. To be fired from the Salvation Army for being “wrinkly” – oh, God, you are good! You are very, very good!

They sure knew what they were doing when they made you God, ha-ha!!!!

Times like these, I can hardly wait to die, so God and I could sit around and yuck it up at all the absurdities He had put me through. “Oh, and remember that time when your ol’ wife picked a fight with you, and then when you wouldn’t rise to the bait, she got so mad that she left you?!” “What – You? That was You?” “Ha-ha, got you again!” “I thought You might have been behind that one! My, God, that was a good one! Much as it stung, at the time.” “Eh, sorry about that.” “Oh, well, all in fun, all in good fun.” “Ay, that’s the spirit! And now you’re in Heaven, so . . .” “So no more of your Practical Jokes?” “Well . . .” “Hey, who pulled out my cloud? Aaaaaaarrrrrrrgh . . .” “Hoo-hoo, hee-hee! Couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist!”

So, as you can see, I perhaps have one of those things, “persecution complex,” I think it’s called. At once a too high notion of myself, thinking that God has nothing better to do than “follow” my life, like those Facebooking idiots . . . and, at the same time, too low a notion of myself – so my boss made a comment on a wrinkled shirt? Big deal – get you to the cleaners! I’m probably not about to be fired over this little episode, again I am just a pawn in the Salvation Army chessboard, who at this place would take enough interest in me to take the trouble of doing all the paperwork required to terminate! (Although I had been let go from my last job, but that’s another story, and not really that interesting so I’m not going to say any more about it. Not right now!)

So the very next morning, today, a Saturday, I woke up and shined my persecution complex until it sparkled. And I did take some shirts to the cleaners, but stinker that I am, couldn’t leave it at that. Oh no, I had to call one of my sisters and complain to her about what my boss had said. The sister is a kindergarten teacher, so she was used to immature nose pickers telling her all sorts of illogical, meandering, self-centered stories; she listened patiently as I repeated the story, inserting what I thought was a key detail (“oh, and I forgot to tell you, the thing is, I’ve been spending an hour every night ironing my clothes! So, really – I’m just now realizing it would be ‘ironic,’ I guess on a couple of levels, if I get fired by the Salvation Army for . . .”), and then she said she was sure it would be all right, it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought, I probably was a very good worker that they valued. Yes, that’s true, I said, although I’m really not a very good worker – and since I didn’t want to think about that too much, I hurriedly got off the phone and called my other sister. But she’s in marketing, and so she didn’t answer the phone. I started to tell my story at the sound of the tone, but then decided it was too important to confide to a machine.

I made a sudden decision: I have been savagely wronged, and I’m going to treat myself to a football game.

Let’s skip over the bus ride from north Scottsdale down to Tempe, how I arrived hours early due to misunderstanding the start time, working myself into a sweat wandering around in the 105 degree heat gawking at all the tailgaters from both the home team’s supporters and the visiting team’s fan having fun, and my negotiation with a “scalper” to buy a ticket. Let’s just put me in the stands.

But first, let me perhaps shock you a little, by telling you I consider the game of football to be something of a family member. It’s something that’s dear to me, something I’ve known just about my entire life, something that – no matter what else happens in my absurd and really not very fair (though I’m not one to complain!) life – is always there for me, offering consistent and very likely unconditional love. Yes, I truly believe that football loves me. Though we don’t go around saying to each other, “Love you!” or “I love you, man!” I hate that. If you really love someone, he or she should just know it. Saying it actually debases the emotion, I strongly believe. (My belief led to multiple, increasingly heated – on her side – arguments with my wife. But this isn’t about her, even parenthetically!)

So when I see the game of football – my game of football – being mistreated, it puts me in a murderous state of mind; that being said, I am, by nature, a pacifist; others have even used the word “wimp” to describe me, hardly realizing that, to a non-violent person, that is a great compliment. And it’s a good thing I’m a pacifist, I might add, or I might have shoved one of those stupid college kids right out of the cheap seats in the corner of the end zone, or better yet punted one of them so that he or she landed headfirst a couple hundred feet down, right on the 3 yard line just inside fair territory, with just enough spin so his or her body would fall forward, feet landing inside the 1. “And that,” I would howl, to the ridiculous “fans” whose attention I had pulled away from their beloved phones, and who now would sit, jaws agape, staring at me for some kind of explanation, “that is what you call a ‘coffin-corner kick.’ Ha-ha-ha!”

Seriously, these kids were absolutely infuriating. My scalped ticket was right on the edge between the visitors’ fans and the student section of the home team. The Arizona college kids spent all their time chittering away like digital monkeys, taking “selfies” of themselves and their pals with the game in the background (just to show they were there), doing all sorts of Facebook postings, singing along to Youtube hits in the middle of plays and making a muck of it when they did half-heartedly follow the game. “That’s the way to run, nice one!” one of them cried out, after one of the home team running backs, with nowhere to run on a dive play and beastly hands grasping at him, bounced outside and made a dash to try to turn the corner – but he didn’t have the speed, will or knowledge to make it work, and a bullet of a safety easily caught him, straightened him up neatly with a shoulder to the chest before hurling him violently into his own bench.

Nice one, indeed!

Though I hold little loyalty to the home team, and if I can watch an artfully-planned, wittily-executed game that is close, I really don’t care who loses; even so, I was downright ashamed by the horrible verbal abuse being heaped on the locals by a fan of the visitors. “That’s the way!” she hollered, with a passion that terrified me. “That’s the way to kick that pussy’s fuckin’ ass!” What made her ranting all the more disturbing is that she was a real cutie, fair with rosy cheeks (maybe from the screaming, or beers she was guzzling), a charming little upturned nose and big blue eyes. She was wearing tight khaki shorts and a replica jersey that hardly hid well-developed breasts that looked like she caught two footballs, without using her hands.

As much as I admired her sleek thighs and strong, jutting buttocks that looked like could defend any space she called her own . . . still, I couldn’t love her. She was too mean and one-sided. What she said after the home team’s little punt returner was lifted and slammed to the turf – I simply won’t repeat it.

The worst thing is that it went unchallenged. Where I come from, hot little number or not, you don’t raise your voice above a whisper to cheer the visitors (let alone disrespect the home team!) without a Budweiser shower and some nacho cheese conditioner. By way of warning. Here, the only thing close to a challenge she got was from a professor-looking chap who rather good-naturedly said “Shussssh” to her, finger on smiling lips. She gave him the finger and told him to go shush himself.

I looked with disgust at the college kids for the home team, with their non-stop hugging and face-cracking smiles . . . And I realized that night games were not a good idea, here in Arizona, these kids had been washing down Ecstasy with Corona for God knows how many hours. Now, I have nothing against beer or drugs, and indeed find much good to be said with the concept of re-arranging one’s brain cells. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Ecstasy and football do not mix! It’s like going to war with cute pink rifles and fuzzy grenades that feel so good, you don’t want to

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Section here missing, as several pages torn off – with what appear to be teeth marks at the bottom of what is left of the pages.)

So I said to the cops, “Thank you for your service!” – thinking to myself, “Well, why would you go out of your way to learn where the bus detoured to, you two are so busy here on the corner having yourselves a nice chat and raking in the OT!” And I was so furious I half-stomped, half-ran further north on Scottsdale Road . . . And the next bus stop a good mile up the road from the last one had the same sign!

“Detour start time: 22:30 p.m.

“Alternate bus stop: ILLEGIBLE Road.”

If I would come across the fool who wrote that sign, surely I could set aside my pacifism for 15 minutes and throttle him! (If the author is a woman, of course I wouldn’t raise a hand to her – but would I ever give her an earful!) I’m not sure, really, what made me more furious: the illegibility of the road’s name, the single most important piece of information on the sign; or the butchered attempt at “military time.” Seriously, if this lunkhead was in the Army, I feel sorry for the rest of his platoon – if he didn’t get them all killed!

I was so mad, I ignored the blisters fast forming from my stomp-run in hiking boots. Why in the world did I leave my apartment in hiking boots, rather than sneakers? Well . . . that’s of no concern to the bus company. They are still liable for the blisters, any structural damage to my feet, the emotional/psychological scarring that was clearly taking place – and in the event that I was to be mugged, well . . .  As soon as I thought the word “mugged,” I wished I hadn’t. I was clearly now in a “no-man’s land” – or, better put, “no-pacifist’s land” – having left the safety of the bright stadium/campus area with its chain restaurants and over-staffed public safety, and yet who-knows-how-far from “safe zone” of good ol’ Old Town Scottsdale, with its charmed European tourists tossing under-valued dollars at over-priced galleries and restaurants. Just to underscore the seediness of the area, I came across a “Gentleman’s Club” in what looked to be a converted grease monkey shop; as I passed, I gulped and looked away from the one-legged stripper sitting on a stool by the door, giving me the eye. Well, I did look away quickly from her fierce gaze, so I suppose it’s possible she had just crossed her legs and had two of them, but still there was a distinct note of danger in her gaze . . .

By the way, I was again drenched in sweat, for the third time in my meanderings of the day. As I stompingly jogged along, I noted a big digital sign in front of a check-cashing joint – the peanut butter to the jelly of strip clubs – that flashed  “11:59 p.m. . . . . 102 . . . 11:58 p.m. . . . 103.” I was so mad, over-heated and confused that I didn’t even consider the possibility that the sign was malfunctioning, for a moment I was terrified that we were going back in time and pretty soon it would be 110 again! But I came to my senses and

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Several pages not missing, but meticulously crossed out, making it thoroughly illegible.)

Now, it would be a lie to state that I just wanted to quench my deep thirst with a cold beer, and that being bothered by a beautiful woman was the last thing I wanted. I always want – and even, believe it or not, expect to be bothered by a beautiful woman! So I did my best to “feign surprise” (so as not to give away my expectations) when she started talking to me. First, allow me to attempt to describe her: Imagine a ballerina who has viciously slashed her elegantly pony-tailed hair into a little boy’s bowl cut, who has traded in speed for Quaaludes, who quits the celery diet and grows a cheeseburger pot belly (cute, on her), who dumps all her herbal tea down the toilet and doses her coffee with Jack Daniels,  who stands on her toes, who delights in sinking deep into a grand plie – and farting!

There you have, more or less, my girl. Try as she might to wreck her former self (and, admittedly, this idea that she is a “fallen ballerina” could be purely fantasy, on my part), she couldn’t mask the deep, almost erotic artistic vision in her blazing pupils. No, “erotic” isn’t the right word – I allowed myself to be biased by her satirical strip tease, which wasn’t really a dance at all, and which I’ll get to, shortly. But first I must press on you that I saw something in her eyes, she wasn’t fooling me! Others might fall for her sloshed princess act, but not I! I know a Flagstaff, when I see one! Not only do I hold that Flagstaff is the most interesting character your man Shakespeare ever created, I insist that he was a genius who for some reason (I haven’t quite cracked it) felt the need to mask his great talent in buffoonery. Or was he merely living a commentary that drinking and clowning are the only appropriate approach to a clownish world? I also believe Harpo Marx was a musical genius, and similarly acted like his heart-breaking harp playing was merely filler for his slapstick comedy.

She took one look at me, asked me if I had a surfboard on top of my car (a brilliant opening line), then slid up against me, took a long drink from my beer bottle, slammed it down, burped in my face, sniffed me over and told me I stunk like beer and garlic. I cursed myself for those four or five beers I drank all day at that stupid sports bar across from the stadium, and the even more over-priced beers I drank at the stadium. And the garlic fries. Two orders, what a pig! Even if I didn’t finish the second order, the whole day had cost me a good fifty bucks, all because I was feeling sorry for myself over the wrinkly shirt thing! Plus, now I stank of beer and garlic. I started to apologize to her, and without looking up from her book she slid a cup of mints that had been on the bar God-knows-how-long over to me. I took a couple and smashed them in my mouth and asked her what she was reading. She yawned and showed me the cover. I forget the name of the author, some famous French woman writer from back in the 1920s. “Erotic Writings By Whatever-her-name-is.” I begged her to read out loud to me, “as an early Christmas present.” She smiled, a rather evil grin, and then the fallen ballerina rose up out of the barstool she had captured next to me, leafed through the pages, tossed back her head and howled “this is perfect.” She got right up next to me and started reading aloud, whispering in my ear and even nibbling on it as she read some graphic description of oral sex. But she never made it to the climax, she suddenly started laughing so hard she doubled over, and then fell to the ground. Before I could make a move to help her up, two of her friends raced over, one a short, thin, clean-shaven boy of about 24, the other a short, squat girls of about the same age, but with huge bosoms and rather a lot of flesh, all over. They got the fallen ballerina who really had fallen up and on a barstool, and then the bosomy girl came over and started talking to me about how amazingly beautiful her friend (the fallen ballerina) is, how they drove all the way up from Tempe to do a show earlier tonight, how she and the scrawny, clean-shaven boy are in a band together and had had sex but that wasn’t going to change anything, how she was sure their band was going to be great even though they only had two-and-a-half songs so far . . .

The curious thing about this is that she kept bouncing off me, quite literally. She would start a sentence and get closer and closer until her breasts smashed into my arm and my own chest, then she would bounce away slightly before pressing in closer and chest-bumping me again. She wasn’t terribly attractive, so it was more comic than erotic; eventually, I began to think I was in a Terry Gilliam cartoon. I expected that any moment, a piano would fall on my head.

Instead

(NOTE: SEVERAL PAGES MISSING, HERE)

So I decided if I was going to be an outcast, I would go into the desert – like Jesus! But not for forty days and forty nights, maybe like half a night. And here I am at good old Lost Dog Wash, sitting on a big rock and scribbling away in my notebook by the light of a full moon so big and bright, it’s actually hurting my eyes. I think I have some sunglasses in my backpack, maybe I’ll put them on. Or maybe not, what difference does it make?

Who cares? I’m tired. It must be 3 a.m.

I just woke up with a start – a coyote was pawing at my face! It scared hell out of me – and him, too! When I woke to the sound of scratching, saw him inches from my face and screamed and started – he also let out a yelp and jumped back.  He started to run away, then circled back. My heart was pumping like crazy but I started to settle it down, telling it that coyotes won’t bother you, and indeed it’s rare that this one hasn’t run off. Strange, that!

Then I realized why: He hadn’t been scratching my face, but trying to open the backpack that I was using as a pillow. As soon as I started opening it, I almost slapped my forehead at the realization – I had a half packet of garlic fries in there, and he was trying to get at them! It was a fortuitous find, as I suddenly felt ravenous, and stuffed a few of the greasy, garlicy treats (still warm, owing to the intense heat) in my mouth. Seeing the coyote circling around me in a skipping, beggarly fashion, I laughed and tossed one toward him. He reacted by dashing off, as if I was throwing something dangerous at him. I howled with laughter, then apologized and entreated him to come back. By the moonlight I could see he hadn’t gone far, and indeed started creeping back. I gingerly tossed another fry, making sure to angle it away from him and also get it farther away from me. This time he pranced back but only a few steps, then approached the fry, keeping a wary eye on me. With an athletic movement, the ‘yote suddenly grabbed the fry in his mouth while jumping back in a defensive stance; then, with another graceful, fast movement, he lunged forward and grabbed the original fry I tossed. He was hooked.

We spent a good half hour like this. I would tell him a little bit about my day, and my life in general, take a bite of a fry and toss one toward him. He seemed to be a very patient listener, even if he was panting slightly, maybe out of fear from the proximity to a human, or more likely he was used to mooching off human food from the neighborhoods bounding Lost Dog Wash, and he was simply panting in anticipation at the next bite.

Normally, I’m a good, strong listener, but here of course I had to carry the ball, and was quite enjoying sharing some of my insights, dreams, heart breaks and even some general philosophies on life, not fully formed but in decent shape as rough drafts. Would he have stopped to listen, if I wasn’t feeding him the garlic fries? Probably not, but no real way of knowing. And many, I imagine, are the friendships that began one-sidedly. And, whether it was from anticipation or a growing warmth and trust, he gradually crept closer until he was only about 6 feet away, though granted in a ready-to-dash-away crouch.

He was so close, I could smell the garlic on his breath! I laughed, thinking of that bar. Then I remembered I had put a couple of those bar mints in my pocket, and fished out one for myself, one for my guest. “This is what we call an ‘after-dinner mint,’” I explained, showing him what they were, popping one of the little white circles in my mouth, then tossing one lightly toward him – he caught it in the air! I burst out laughing in appreciation, but then he turned and started prowling away; well, so it was like that: no more food, no more company.

But then I felt a terrible pang shoot through me, as he turned his head toward me and let out what sounded like a cough. I thought maybe it was just my imagination, but as he got further away I heard him cough again. “Wait!” I called, jumping up and grabbing my backpack to go after him. With my motion, he began to trot, letting out a few more coughs. I picked up my speed, hoping to catch up to him and maybe give him a light pat or two on the back to dislodge the mint. But I couldn’t catch him, if I sped up he did, and I risked losing him so I slowed down and tried to follow with my ears as well as my eyes, needing my eyes to watch out for the cactus and other prickly plants and sharp rocks as we got deeper and deeper off the path.

I wasn’t worried about deviating from the path, as I had been to Lost Dog Wash plenty of times, felt I had a pretty good sense of direction and the full moon was still beaming bright.

(ED. NOTE: SEVERAL PAGES INTACT BUT UN-READABLE, COVERED WITH EITHER MUD OR BLACKENED BLOOD; LIKELY THE LATTER, BASED ON THE FOLLOWING NARRATIVE.)

Good God, will this night ever end!

And what a fool I am, to “get a breath of fresh air.” Granted, it is slightly cooler up here, due to the elevation, but otherwise this has been an unmitigated personal catastrophe. At least the javelinas, those pigs from Hades, didn’t get me. I am now thoroughly exhausted, thigh and calf muscles aching and cramping from the long, lung-bursting sprint – the first time I’ve run at all-out speed in who knows how long. And, despite the fear that was driving it, I must admit there was a certain exhilaration in the reckless, full-speed dash. And, thanks to some rather crafty dodging and sharp changes of direction, I was putting some distance between myself and those devil hogs – until I slammed into one cactus and, howling in pain, fell into another. I lay curled in a ball, biting my lip to keep from screaming out in pain, as motionless as possible though I suddenly had an urge to shiver, trying to ignore the urge to explore the areas I felt blood flowing.

Clearly defenseless, I expected to be mauled at any moment by the snorting charging beasts and whispered a quick prayer, “God forgive my sins and take me to heaven but really! Is this really the way I have to go, stomped and gored to death by these stinking wild pigs and then what’s left snacked on by the cruel coyotes? Is that fair?” But the pack of javelinas merely raced by me, one of them even stepping on my ribs and stumbling slightly; I first heard the “crack” and then felt the shooting agony, biting my fist to keep from crying out. Though I tried not to, I counted fifteen of them, and then . . .  a moment of beatific silence, save for their hooves quickly growing more distant. And then I heard another crack – which I instantly recognized as a rifle, just as I heard the whistle of a bullet that appeared to pass directly over my head. “Did you get one?” I heard a human voice – cracking in adolescent giddiness — call out. “Yuh, think so  . . . fuck I don’t know! Where’d they go?” answered a gruffer but still distinctly teen-aged male voice.

I almost called out for help, then felt a wave of doom: If I made a sound or moved a muscle, the trigger-happy teens would blast me! Without daring to raise my head to look, I heard their clumsy footsteps heading off in a bad approximation of the direction the javelinas had run.

So they weren’t chasing me! The mad pigs were running from the even more disgraceful humans, and just by chance to head in my direction! I started to let out a huge laugh – and then almost threw up, from the pain of my cracked rib. Eventually, I was able to uncoil slightly and start picking the agonizing needles out of my ankles, shins, back, chest etc. I comforted myself in the feeling that my rib wasn’t broken, probably just a slight crack; after a long series of shallow breaths, I experimented and found I could breathe a little more deeply.

Just now, as I was starting to feel — believe it or not – not only fortunate to be alive but even “blessed,” and mustered up the strength and energy to continue my notebooking about this horrid night (for if I die — and it seems about 50-50, at this point –, I want someone to know what I went through!) . . . Just then I heard those dreadfully rude coyotes howling at me again. Yes, at me. My dinner guest I again distinctly made out, from the slight cough that now seemed more like a mocking laugh; I had already figured out he wasn’t choking on that mint, he was only faking it to lure me deep into the desert where I would die. Coyotes, of course, don’t have the courage to attack and kill a human, no matter how much they have him – me – out-numbered. No, the cowardly fiends are trying to trick me into a solitary death, then to rip off my clothes and consume my still-warm flesh and blood! And at this point it seems increasingly likely they’ll succeed, though the javelinas and hunters didn’t do me in, I feel the life-strength leaving me. Or maybe it’s just dehydration that’s making my head spin; I just sucked from blood trickling down my forearm, but any temporary relief (more mental than physical) was more than counter-balanced by the dry dirt I inadvertently licked off my arm, and now I find myself spitting – just about the worst thing one can do in a dehydrated state!

My head is spinning, oh God why did I drink all that beer today and tonight? Absolutely the worst thing one can do, if one is planning to romp around all night in the desert! But wait! I recall that survivalists will drink their own urine to survive, here goes . . .

No luck, the tank is empty. I curse myself for all the unthinking pissing I did all night here, laughing to myself about “watering the cacti.”

Oh, it’s all no good, that javelina run pulled what little water I had left in me out of my system, my head is spinning.

Here goes, take my body and blood, coyotes! I am the Christ of Lost Dog Wash, feed of me!

(ED. NOTE: SEVERAL PAGES ILLEGIBLE AND/OR STUCK TOGETHER, COVERED WITH GREASE AND EGG YOLK)

My faith in humanity is resurrected!

I passed out from the pain, dehydration and (sadly) drunkenness for who-knows-how-long, but at least several hours. I awoke not dead, but squinting in the light of the morning – mid-morning, indeed. And next to me, as if manna from heaven, were two Styrofoam/takeout containers of food, a gallon of water, a screw-top bottle of wine and a note saying something like “We were going to have a picnic but obviously you’re homeless and more in need of this than us, so please God consider this our Sunday sacrifice! We love you!”

Not as much as I love you, whoever you are, I thought as I opened one container and then the next, finding it crammed with fried eggs, hashed browns, toast . . . and sausage. Feeling more ravenous than I could ever recall, I scarfed down all of it – save the sausage; though I’m a vegetarian, I had to fight the urge to throw the sausage links in my mouth, whether because they looked and smelled so juicy and greasy, or as some sort of revenge against the javelinas. But I fought it off – I might not have been able to resist the temptation, had I not an evil plan in mind: I needed the sausage to try to lure that blasted coyote out of hiding!

I chugged down most of the water, and then set to examining my injuries and removing the dozens of needles still imbedded in me. Ribs, not too bad . . . but stinging pain, whenever I changed position. Looking around, I bit my fist to prevent a painful laugh – I had passed out not ten feet from the main hiking trail! After all my coyote stalking and javelina-running into what felt like the depths of the desert, here I was, probably less than a mile from where I started my stupid adventure.

The sun is high, it must be approaching noon, and it’s feeling sweltering already. I really should be getting home – “Thanks again for you kindness, but I’m NOT homeless, thanks so much for your condescension!” I wanted to scream out to my guardian angels. Typical of me, unexpected blessings fall upon my sinful head, and I can only find fault. Then some terror was added to the mix: What if they really were some kind of angels, and subtly predicting my downfall?! Indeed, if the wrinkly shirt thing gets me fired from the Salvation Army – then what? I did some quick calculations and realized my bank account was dangerously low, I had gone on a mild spending spree after landing this job, and even if I don’t get canned there will be a lag between when my rent is due and my first paycheck comes in . . . .

Thinking thusly exhausted me, and with my ribs and wounds I really lacked the strength to trek the 3 miles or so to my apartment (“home,” however long it lasted!), so I’m just going to curl up in the comforting shade offered by this gigantic saguaro. Looking at it upside down, with my head spinning from a fitful night’s sleep and overindulging on that greasy breakfast, the cactus looks like a prickly cross . . .

Just woke up from a deep sleep filled with nightmares – daymares? – in which first the coyote was chasing me, later I was trapped inside a circle of javelinas, with the beasts hooting and hissing at me as I was forced to box the biggest (“bull”) of the herd, who stood on his hind legs and swung away wildly at me. I felt I could “take” him, but didn’t want to enrage the others with a quick knockout, and so toyed with him, jabbing and dancing away to the increasing fury of the savage spectators . . . The bull rushed toward me and, cheating bastard that he was, clearly broke the boxing rules by tackling me — as the bloodthirsty crowd roared, he went in for the kill, razor teeth aimed at my neck.

I awoke just before the goring. The sun had shifted and now was pouring down on me; I was drenched in sweat and fiercely thirsty, alas had saved myself only a few sips of water from my “angels.” I looked around and was somewhat disappointed that no one had left me more supplies while I slept – as stupid as that thought was, that’s how easily I get spoiled! Reasoning it was only about 1:30, maybe 2 o’clock, not really have anything to do at my barren apartment, still feeling a bit sore (though my ribs were better) and for some reason dreading the easy walk 3 miles down the hill to my “home,” I made my way to another shady spot and here am laying into the wine. It’s quite good, by the way; don’t listen to those snobs who look down their long bony noses as screw tops! It’s a merlot, and I am rationalizing that, since it’s the color of blood, it will assist in the healing process with regard to my various cuts and scratches.

So here I sit and sip, writing at my leisure, gazing with heavy lids at the nearby trail, where I’ve already seen a half-dozen bikers, joggers and walkers passing by on an afternoon that is warm, but not overly.

I sense my former friend is nearby, though coyotes are notorious for hiding during the day.

(SEVERAL PAGES BLANK)

To anyone still reading this: I’ll go back and fill in the rest later, right now I am experiencing such a mad mixture of joy and rage, crystal clear moments of understanding fogged over by dark clouds of confusion . . . .Meanings seem just beyond my grasp – like that coyote!

It’s now “dark,” though not really, as the massive moon is showering so much brightness on me that writing is again no problem, though indeed at times I find myself shielding my eyes from the lunar light. After stupidly drinking most of the wine, I dozed most of the afternoon, woke up in an agonizing thirst and made my way to the rest station at the trailhead, where drank heavily from the water fountain, drenched my head and filled up the jug of water left me by my guardian angels. The sun had set, pleasantly enough, over the western edge of the mountain ridge; though the temperature had cooled, the darkening hills exceedingly pleasing to the eye and a feeling of peace in the air, I simply couldn’t think of anything else to do with myself, and grudgingly decided it was time to go “home,” to that sad, lonely, almost-empty apartment.

I had taken two, maybe five steps at the most, when I heard it – a rustling just off the trail. At first, I involuntarily sprang away from the noise, letting out a small yelp that instantly embarrassed me, though I appeared to be the only living soul around – except for the maker of that sound. Gathering up my courage, I slowly walked in the direction of that rustling – and heard it again, only slightly more distant. Then again, further off the trail. Then again – and this time, I thought I caught a brief glimpse of a tail. So: it wasn’t a rattlesnake or a javelina, but perhaps my “friend”! The stretch of scraggly bushes and cacti off the trail had a downward slope for about a mile, before leveling off in a rocky wash. Peering deeply in that direction, I caught sight of him. Seeing him walking away at a casual speed, I let out a whistle. And, believe it or not, he turned toward me and lay down, his long chin on his paws. What else could I do? He had accepted my invitation, so I started making my way toward him, picking my way carefully through the thick, prickly mess.

When I came out of it into the wash, I braced myself, expecting him to be right there; but he had moved on, another quarter mile away up the wash. He had again stopped and faced me, but this time was in a seated position.

Was it the same coyote as the night before? Maybe, maybe not. Remember that this was the first time I was seeing him in the light, even if it was dimming quickly. But, no – it had to be. As I walked slowly toward him, he didn’t run off. Wasn’t that proof? A different coyote would have taken me as a threat at first sight and dashed off, right?

“Good doggie-doggie,” I whispered with a sugar coating as I approached, now extending one of the sausage links from the morning out in front of me enticingly. “Here’s a nice treat for the doggie . . .” As I got close enough to just about touch his nose with the link – he jumped up and hopped away, but not too far. I noted he licked his chops; oh yes, he wanted this treat! “No tossing it to you tonight, little fella!” I called, in a gentle tone. “You have to eat it right out of my hand, you little rascal!” We danced around a few times, him darting away at the last second – and then before one of his darts he snatched the sausage, surprising me so much I jumped back myself! Oh, but I still had one link left for my special plan . . . After waiting for him to down that greasy little snack, I pulled out the other sausage link and waved it in the air. This time, I didn’t budge. “You want it, you have to come and get it,” I told the skinny, wild dog. He circled a few times, getting closer . . . I held the sausage out in my left arm, keeping it at a close distance to my crouched body and absolutely refusing to extend it to him.

Finally, he cautiously crept up to me, opened his mouth to take the sausage – and my plan worked, I was able to grab his neck, with my right hand!

My plan was to hold him and give him a little lecture about his rudeness, the night before. I wanted to communicate how deeply he had hurt my feelings. I felt his pulse racing madly through his fur, but held on. “See here, my friend, you need to –”

He spit out the sausage and, in what seemed an impossibly nimble move, turned his head back and locked his jaws on my right wrist. I instantly released my grip on his neck, freezing in terror; the bright moonlight showed he had a direct connection to my main artery. He looked at me sideways, seemed to smile mockingly – and before I realized what was happening released his grip and trotted away.

I fell to my knees and gripped my right wrist tightly with my left hand, trying to stop what I figured would be a gusher of blood. My heart was pounding so hard it hurt my ears, I realized I was on the verge of falling into shock – which, out in the desert off the trail, would be deadly. Finally, feeling nothing too wet with my left hand, I screwed up the courage to examine the wound. Nothing.

Holding my right wrist close to my eyes, I could make out the impression of teeth marks – but no blood, no wound, no breaking of skin. I realized that he had my life in his jaws . . . and had spared me.

Hearing a scruffling, I looked up and saw him just as he disappeared into brush up ahead. I picked up the sausage from the dirt, gathered my few belongings and dashed off after him. I had to explain – I wasn’t trying to hurt him, I just wanted to talk! Oh, how I had screwed things up now! Although, surely, his behavior last night was inexcusable . . . Still, now I needed to talk to him more than ever, to show I understood he could have killed me – and who would have faulted him? After all, hadn’t I grabbed him by the neck?

He was heading farther away from the path, far, far away from the houses – but I went after him, now I really had to

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