Walkabout. Mountain View Park Edition.

 

My home park. When I want a more social/meditative walk I do three laps around the perimeter of the park. Takes about an hour. This morning, the usual cast of characters were there. Jorge, the Nicaraguan ex pat, living in the wash, sits on the same park table every day. And every day, all day long, he’s sipping on a cold Mickey’s. Sippin’ and greetin’. Sippin’ and greetin’. Crazy Mary was there, too. Crazy Mary lives on the hill south of the park in a house made out of wooden pallets. Every morning she rebuilds her house. She was chatting on a cell phone today. Chattin’ and sippin’. A barrel chested man, Minnesota Mike, was walking his old dachshund. And this morning, as he does every morning, Minnesota Mike yells continually at the old pup, “Keep up!” and “Quit dragging your ass!”

If I time it right, as I did this morning, I get to hear a voice over the loudspeaker at Mountain View School booming the Anti-Bullying Pledge over the northern end of the park. San Diego, an old white whiskered Mexican man so named because he always wears clothes that depict a San Diego sport team, got a new bike from Walmart which he was pedaling in super high gear, legs spinning frantically, as he rode loop after loop on the sidewalk around the park, greeting me with a “Buenos Dias!” every single time he passed me.

An Asian man, who sleeps in the desert nearby and has no possessions, took up his normal spot on a bench where he sits all day. As I was finishing my walk, I caught a rare glimpse of Walking Man, a bearded and army fatigued guy who wears a big hat and carries a back pack. He was such a common sight walking Sunnyslope that we started called him Walking Man. He is a self-proclaimed Jeffersonian Patriot and now rides or walks his bike throughout the neighborhood. Hadn’t seen him for a few months. As always, he didn’t return my greeting.

Walkabout. Morning in the Park Edition.

Walkabout. Morning in the Park Edition.

The sky is cloudy dark. A nip is in the air. The park is quiet. A heavyset Hispanic man on his daily jog lumbers passed me, the sound of his music barely audible above the rustle of his windbreaker. Buenos dias. A homeless woman sorts clothes beneath a ramada mumbling to herself. A couple of old codgers chat as the engines of their model airplanes drone overhead. Across the park, a homeless man does Tai Chi next to a man playing catch with his young daughter. The smack of the ball into his glove is faint, yet achingly familiar. Psy, a Laotian veteran, pushes a noisy cart down the sidewalk. At one time I had tried, unsuccessfully, to help him find shelter. He lived for a while in an old red car that he parked next to the playground. Today he shuffles by with his noisy cart. Crazy Beverly thrashes around her shelter on the side of the mountain, screaming at the demons only she sees. A young man peddles through the park on a huge unicycle. He moves quickly and confidently. For a moment we all stop and watch this ballet as he navigates grass, asphalt, side walk and disappears onto the trail into the preserve. Silent for a moment.

Walkabout. Morning in Sunnyslope Edition.

Walkabout. Morning in Sunnyslope Edition.

Ah. Morning in Sunnyslope. Home. Hawk poop on my windshield. A feral cat. Four feral kittens. A red racer in the front yard. A dead roof rat in the back yard. Three adult quail and a baby running across the top of my back wall. A dead roof rat! I had gotten one in the spring and the way Tulip was acting the last few days, I figured another was back. I set the last of my rat traps last night, and bam, a wooden and copper wire necklace for rat boy to show off as he struts down the alley. Actually, he’s just lying there now, motionless. I guess his pimp walkin’ days are over. To get more traps, in case there are more rats, I have to go to the hardware store which is in the same direction I go when I walk the canal.

I head off into West Sunnyslope and as soon as I cross 7th Ave, I encounter an old homeless guy I know from the park, crawling out from under a creosote bush. He mumbles good morning. A block later, a small black Chihuahua attacks me, I swat him away with my pack. I’m going low profile, so as not to invite any trouble. I don’t make eye contact.

I walk by two women sitting on broken lounge chairs in front of an abandoned house. Ah, the perfume of body odor. The ambiance of crack. Got a smoke, she asks, as I skitter by. I look away. I’ll blow you for a cigarette, the other, scruffier one, offers. I’m trying to quit, I yell. And I’m not a smoker. I don’t look back. 
A block later, another Chihuahua, a brown one this time. I hear my water bottle crack as my pack hits him upside his head, and he disappears under an abandoned truck. Always stay hydrated in this heat, I tell myself as I walk on. Alley pickers with overloaded shopping carts start to emerge from the side streets. Men and women on bikes with trailers and wagons loaded with old tires and beer cans clang by me.

As I approach the infamous Country Market, a female tweeker, hair flying in all directions, wearing a dirty Stones t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants, with one leg cut off to the top of her thigh, runs out of the trailer park, straight at me, just as I’m crossing the street. Oh, shit. She darts by me, into oncoming traffic, almost gets hit by a black Corolla, picks up what looks like a blue ball point pen from the asphalt, holds it up to me, laughs insanely, and then runs back into her trailer.

Shaken, I finally make it to Six Points Hardware, buy my traps and head home. I decide to drop down to the canal for a less scenic excursion. As I turn off 19th and move along the bank of the canal, I see a fully clothed man, in the canal up to his upper chest. Arms outstretched, facing the sun, screaming that the canal is government property and he has a right to this water just as much as anyone else. As I pass him, I ask him how the water is in there. Refreshing, he counters. Perchance you would like to join me, he offers.

Perchance, I wouldn’t, and continue my walk home. Sunnyslope, where the mountains meet the city and everyone is friendly as fuck

Walkabout. Montana Peach Pie Edition.

Walkabout. Montana Peach Pie Edition.

Tami and I were headed to a ranch in southern Montana for a week vacation with an old high school buddy, his girl, and a couple of my buddy’s friends. We rented a car in Coeur d’Alene and halfway through our drive we pulled into Ruby’s Café in Missoula for lunch. It looked like a typical western diner. There were a number of cars and trucks in the lot. Once inside, we were greeted with a restaurant filled with families and ranchers. Everyone seemed to know each other.

“Welcome, friends!” said our waitress and sat us at a table. Tami ordered a salad and I ordered a late breakfast. The food was great, the service perfect. As we ate we talked about our upcoming visit to the ranch. I noticed a handwritten sign offering fresh, homemade pies. I asked our waitress if they sold whole pies. I thought it would be a nice gesture to show up in Emigrant, our destination, with a fresh, tasty dessert. She told me they did, and that whole pies were $9 each. I can do that, I thought, and walked up to the cashier and asked her if she had a whole apple pie for sale. “Our apple pie has a slice out of it, but I have a whole peach pie,” she offered. 
“Is it good?” I asked.
“The best,” she said. “And my personal favorite!”
“Ok, I would like a peach pie!” My mom had made peach pies for us when I was little, which was always one of my favorites. 
“That will be $12,” she said.
I told her that our waitress said the pies were $9. The cashier countered that she had to charge me $12 because I hadn’t pre-ordered the pie and this was the last peach pie they had and it was the one they sold by the slice. I was committed to the pie, so I told her okay…I can do $12. I paid her and she said she would wrap it up for me and disappeared into the kitchen.
She returned several minutes later with a huge peach pie in a metal tin. “Looks great! I said. 
“The pie is so fresh, I couldn’t get it out of the pie tin and put it in a box,” she explained. “It is our best plate, so I have to charge you a $6.50 deposit for the pie plate!”
Wow, I thought. I’m going to be invested $18.50 for this pie…but it’s going to be great, I thought. “Ok,” I agreed, reluctantly. I gathered up the pie and carried it like a newborn baby to the car.

On the road south, I told Tami how my transaction with the cashier went. “$18.50 for a peach pie?” she smirked. 
“It will be worth every bite,” I promised her.

The ranch was great. Horses. Cows. Great vistas. Two streams running by the house. We unloaded our car and got situated in our room. I unloaded the peach pie last and placed it on the dining room table.

We were busy for the next day or so and I decided to taste the pie myself after dinner one night. I cut a small slice and bit into the white pastry and bright orange fruit. To say it was disgusting would be an understatement. The crust was as if someone smashed white bread and ladled in the fruit filling. And oh, the fruit. The peaches were crunchy with a sickly sweet aftertaste. They had the consistency of canned fruit that wasn’t ripe when it was canned and sort of mealy. The real prize, however, was the thick gelatinous syrup that covered the fruit. It looked like a light-colored version of mucilage, that childhood glue that came in bottles with the red rubber spout. I took another taste and I said to myself that it wasn’t all that bad. In this case, denial was most definitely a river in Egypt.

What happened next was such a blur of disappointment and humiliation that I’ve blocked most of it from my consciousness. Suffice it to say, the pie was not a big hit. Forks were dipped into the seething orange confection. Bites tasted. And spit out. 
“This is terrible!”
“This is the worst pie I’ve ever tasted.”
“This is disgusting.” 
Somewhere in the cacophony of comments from those negative Nancies, someone offered up “Mr. Peaches” as a nickname for me. I had failed. Miserably.

It was still light outside and Tami noticed that the seven horses that we had seen in the fields earlier had wandered up to our back door. We all went outside to greet them. We offered up carrots and pieces of apple to the horses and they chomped them down in flash. Someone mentioned the peach pie. “Maybe the horses would like some of that delicious pie!”

Jacob grabbed a handful and held it out to one of the horses. The horse gulped it down. And then he whinnied, shook his head furiously back and forth several times, and spit out my $18.50 peach pie. Everyone is a fucking critic.

Back in the house, a while later, I dumped the pie in the trash. The pie tin was a solid piece of metal. I looked at Tami. ”Just leave the pie plate here,” she said. “You have no use for that thing.” 
I ignored the pie tin until just before we left on our last day at the ranch. I couldn’t leave it behind. I slipped it into the open pouch of my carry-on satchel. And forgot about it.

At the airport in Spokane, my pie tin caught the attention of the person running the x-ray machine. A TSA soldier had to check my bag and smirked as I pulled out my pie tin.
“Peach,” I offered.
“Next!” he yelled.

We caught a cab home from the airport in Phoenix. Our cabbie was a huge guy whose claim to fame was that, much earlier, and much thinner, as a child of a radical in Berkeley in the ‘60s, his job was to shinny up a telephone pole and act as a spotter. He’d call out, “The Pigs are coming!” when he caught a glimpse of the police. When he pulled up to our house, I helped him unload our bags. I lifted my satchel awkwardly and the pie tin flew out, landed on its edge, and rolled in an arch halfway down the hot street. I chased after it.
“Is that a pie tin?” the cabbie asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “Peach.”
“Was it delicious?” he asked.
“You have no idea,” I answered.

Walkabout. Mom Edition.

Walkabout. Mom Edition.

I got released from the doctor yesterday to hike, something that has eluded me for the last two months as my foot healed after my mid-October surgery. I’m supposed to start out with a half hour and build up every other day, but we’ll see how that plays out. It felt good to be out in the park and the preserve again. Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 102! I thought about her a lot when I walked. She was really an amazing woman. She was born and grew up in Pittsburgh in a large, wealthy family. She dated fellows with names like Carnegie, Mellon, and Heinz. She went to Miss Simon’s Finishing School and married my father later than most girls of her generation. She was an accomplished portrait artist and I have some great drawings that she did in graphite of celebrities of the time. 
When my father was diagnosed with emphysema when I was 12, we moved from New York to Tucson because it had a dry climate which was the cure in those days. She left her world behind her, and when my father could no longer work, she built a business as a silk screen and ceramic artist. She was an early member of DeGrazia’s guild and did both his work and her own work. She sold her silk screens at Tom Bahti’s in Tucson and would drive the back road through Florence to Phoenix and sell her work at the Biltmore. She loved the desert. She thought sahuaros held the souls of ancient people. In the desert, she found a collapsed sahuaro, cut off the end, pulled out the thorns, made a mold of it, and cast ceramic wind chimes from it. She even used a cast of the dried flower to hang with it.

She daily cooked hamburger meat for birds and a roadrunner who would peck on her arcadia door and visit her. She loved quail, an image she often used artistically—a small bevy of which ran alongside me this morning, chirping and cackling and raising a ruckus as they scampered through the low brush, as if they wanted my mother to know it was time to be fed.

Walkabout Learning to Sing with Miss Quinn Edition.

Walkabout. Learning to Sing with Miss Quinn Edition.

Often when I walk along the canal, I listen to music on my headphones. Sometimes I sing along, which doesn’t seem to bother the fish but backyard dogs don’t particularly appreciate it. They remind me of Miss Quinn.

Miss Quinn, the music teacher, was not to be trifled with. Not on a good day, not on a bad day, and most certainly, not on music day, especially when music day was the day before the school-wide music show. Miss Quinn: Think of a rotund dervish of brightly colored flowing dresses, silk scarves, and gold lamé shoes with an unkempt shock of fire engine red hair preceded by a deadly, cloying musk of roses and meat loaf, whirling into my sixth grade class to practice one more time, our song, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. We were terrified.

Her piano had not arrived yet. When it finally did arrive, pushed through the door by my best friend Zookie, it sailed into the classroom unfettered, nearly knocked down Miss Quinn, careened into several desks in the front row, sending Bernadette, Olive, and Robert scurrying for their lives. Pandemonium. Zookie disappeared down the hallway. Miss Quinn was furious. She flailed her arms and screamed orders to several boys in the front of the class until the piano chair was retrieved from the second row of desks and reunited with the piano in the front of the room. Silence. No one uttered a sound or looked anywhere but at our desks.

And we practiced. And practiced. “Raindrops on roses.” “Whiskers on kittens.” We sang our hearts out until Miss Quinn beat down hard on the piano keys twice, slammed down the cover, stood up in a furious huff so violently that the chair flew over behind her. She stared at us. Each of us individually, and all of us at once. There was nowhere to hide.

One of you, she finally cursed. One of you is singing off key. One of you is ruining this performance for the class. For the concert. For the whole school! I will find out who the culprit is who hates music so much that they can’t even sing in tune.

And so the inquisition began. One by one, we had to stand and sing by ourselves for Miss Quinn. It was embarrassing and painful and as she worked her way to the back of the class, I was worried. Jean Newbower sat next to me in the last row. Jean Newbower may have been the tallest girl in sixth grade, but she had the smallest, squeakiest voice in our class. When Jean stood to sing, I cringed. But to my amazement, she bellowed out her lines like an opera singer. Next! boomed Miss Quinn.
I stood, confident. I had to sing the lines, “When the dog bites, when the bee stings.” My friend David, in the third row, still in the world of the living, was bold enough to shoot me a quick glance, followed by pantomiming with his mouth full of braces, a snapping dog. I almost lost it, caught myself, but a brief smile escaped across my face. 
So this is funny, Arthur; is it? You think this song from the greatest musical of all time is humorous?

I snapped to attention. I assured her I was serious and when she commanded me to sing, I took a deep breath and thought that, to make up for my lapse in focus, I would add a hand move I had seen Vic Damone use on The Ed Sullivan Show the previous Sunday.
One, two, three, I counted out. And then my right hand gyrated up and down to the beat of my snapping fingers, and I crooned, “When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling bluuuuuuuue…”
Stop! Stop! Miss Quinn yelled. You are the one! She pointed at me. You are the culprit! You cannot sing in tune. From now on, she bellowed, through practice and through the concert on stage tomorrow night, I want you to mouth the words to this song! I don’t want to hear a sound out of you. Not a sound! Do you understand? 
I nodded and sat down. David shot me a look of pure terror. I closed my eyes. I went silent.

I did not sing.

Walkabout. Honey Edition.

Walkabout. Honey Edition.

I had my annual eye doctor appointment this morning and since it was close by and I hate driving after the doctor puts drops in my eyes, I decided to get in an hour canal walk before the blurriness began. Sunnyslope never ceases to amaze me with its variety of local, colorful inhabitants. Today, I visited with the Boatman, an old guy who builds wooden boats, ties a string to them, and floats them in the canal. The Fisherman, a bedraggled young man with two fishing poles, was in his usual spot on the bridge. Fish weren’t biting today. Some sad hound dog was baying his head off on the north side from a kennel at the Humane Society.

On the way over to the doctor’s office, a young man pushing a cart that looked like a chariot approached. He stopped to tell me that he was doing okay, living on the street, after his father had kicked him out of the house for the last time. His chariot was loaded with scraps of metal, an old bike frame, and the iron springs from a mattress. He was on his way to the salvage yard to sell his stuff, which didn’t fully explain the pile of random shoes he was hauling around.

I saw the doctor. Eyes are good for another year. I hate getting my eyes dilated. For several long hours afterwards, everything I look at is blurry and out of focus. My eyes get really light sensitive, so today I wore a hat and my dark sunglasses to the office. The nurse gave me a super dark sheet of eyeglass-shaped plastic to wear between my eyes and my glasses. Keeps the light out, but I felt like Ray Charles wearing a scratched fish bowl on my head. I pressed homeward. I was almost there when I stopped to tie my shoelace.
“Ya got a nice ass on you, darlin’,” came a voice from beneath a nearby palo verde tree. I was so focused on not falling down that I had not seen the woman sitting on a backpack, smoking a cigarette, beneath the tree. “Fine ass, darlin’,” she said again. “Wanna get a bottle and have some fun?”

Even with my limited vision I could tell the voice belonged to a woman with long, dark hair. She was wearing a stained t-shirt that said I Love New York on it, cut-off sweat pants, and no shoes. I couldn’t make out her face very well, but from what I could see of her skin, she appeared to have been at one time a calendar model for the Tandy Leather Co. when she was younger. I couldn’t tell how old she was, but her perfume told me that she had been on the street for a while.

“Ya wanna party, Sugar?” she offered. I weighed 28 years of sobriety against partying down with my new best friend. Hoping she was a Republican, I told her I was married, thinking her respect for the sanctity of my marriage vows would put an end to our discussion. I was mistaken. “Married, huh? Variety is the spice of life! Darlin,” she said, “your wife will never know and you will never forget!” she taunted. “I know some tricks!” She emphasized that last point by sticking her tongue out and wiggling it at me. Her tongue was huge, thick and fat. She just didn’t stick it out at me, but rolled it around, her head lolling from one side to the other. I had seen enough. More than enough. Even though I was partially blind.

“I gotta go,” I begged off. I stumbled on down the road, distraught. She called out to me one last time, “Ya don’t know what you’re missing, Honey!”

She had me on that one, though I could only imagine, which I tried to avoid doing. Some things one sees can’t be unseen, however. 
A few minutes later when I walked up the driveway, Tulip stuck her head out of the fence, all yips and barks. She was happy to see me and wanted me to come play with her.

“Just a minute,” I told her. “I need a shower first.”

Walkabout. Flat Tire Edition.

Walkabout. Flat Tire Edition.

I drove down to Tucson to visit Hess and watch the Wildcats play USC and once I got there I realized one of my tires had a tumor bulging out of its sidewall. I had to pony up for two tires but Manny, Moe and Jack got me in and out in 20 minutes, so my day was rolling along pretty well until we got to the game.

I received a text right before kickoff from Tami that I shouldn’t be alarmed when I got home if I noticed that both of the passenger side tires on her car were flat and that her car was listing extremely to the right. No big deal, I thought as I watched the U of A get pummeled by the Trojans. The USC fans next to us screamed their heads off and the U of A fans taunted them with chants of Reggie Bush, Reggie Bush.

I flashbacked to a day 30 years ago when I had just started teaching and when a teacher could actually take a day off and get a substitute without the whole educational system flipping out and collapsing onto itself. I had driven my old Chevy up past Bumblebee, out on an old dirt road with my dog Stella, who was named that just so I could scream ala Stanley Kowalski, Stellaaaaa!, Stellaaaa! whenever I wanted her to come. When we got back after our hike I realized the price for being poor and buying used tires from the old black guy who had more tires than God was that if I paid $5 for a tire I probably was getting what I paid for and that price was that I had two flats and one spare, which was also flat and a heck of a walk back to the highway. As it was winter, I set Stella up in the car and rolled the two flats along the dirt road. Since one side was bottomed out on each tire, they wouldn’t roll very well and kept knocking over or rolling into the brush so I mostly carried them to the road, hitched a ride into Black Canyon City with a rancher, and found a gas station and got them patched up. The problem there was that I didn’t have enough cash to pay for the repairs but I did have an old check in my wallet on a bank account that had been closed for years, but I figured I had no choice, so I wrote him a bad check and caught a ride back to Bumblebee. The problem with that was that I got picked up by some old hippie out of his mind smoking dope. It was getting dark and I was worried about not getting a ride at all as I had been standing on the highway with two tires and nobody stopped so I threw the tires in the back of his truck and jumped in and in a minute the driver was handing me a joint in a hook like contraption he had on his right hand. Call me Fingers, he said, which seemed odd because he didn’t have any on his right hand or any on his left hand, only these two weird hook-like contraptions, one of which was holding a joint in my face. Lost them in an industrial accident, Fingers laughed. Took ‘em right off! At that point I just started praying that Fingers wouldn’t careen off the highway and kill us, especially since he was steering the truck with his hooks, especially since visibility inside the car was at a premium due to the amount of dope he was smoking, especially since he had no concept of what a speed limit happened to be.

Fortunately he got me and the two tires there safely. He drove off, my dog was happy to see me, and I put the tires on and headed back to Phoenix. As soon as I got home I called the gas station and told him I had made a mistake with my check and would have a money order out to him the next morning, which I hoped would keep me out of jail on a check kiting charge…which it did. 
The Wildcats lost and I drove home safely on two new tires. I looked at the two flat tires on Tami’s car when I got in last night. Today I poured slime into them and they seemed to be holding up so Tami can get to work. I’m thankful for so many things today…seeing my son doing so well in school and having a ball with him at dinner and the game (even though we lost), having a pretty wife to come home to, and not having to hitchhike with two flat tires under my arm and wonder if a guy with no fingers is going to stop and give me a ride.

Walkabout. Curb Edition.

 

In my neighborhood, in between bulk trash pickups and the usual dumpster diving, the walking dead have to come up with new ways to get money. One sure gambit is to repaint the white curb signs that feature black house numbers in front of our houses. Often they will ask permission first for either a set fee or a donation. Other times they just paint it and ask for a donation. Tulip hates these zombies as much as she hates the guys that crawl into the trash bins in my alley at 4 in the morning in search of an aluminum Diet Pepsi can. Her hackles were up this morning, actually her hackles are always up because she has a lot of ridgeback in her, but she was growling and barking so I knew something was going on in the front.

I, too, really hate these guys because one year, without asking, they painted over our curb sign that Hess had decorated when he was little with some of my acrylic paint. So they don’t ask me anymore, but Tulip and I were ready should they try. Watching today’s tag team of Bonnie and Clyde do their magic was a rare treat into the artistic process of house number curb painting. Clyde, using a big brush would slap down a square of white acrylic paint. Paint was flying everywhere. Then, without waiting for the paint to dry, Bonnie would lay down the numbered stencils and hit it with black spray paint. Sort of. Lot of overspray and drips and runs. The abstract painting event was overshadowed by the full blown argument erupting between Bonnie and Clyde. Clyde was a bitch, a little bitch. Bonnie was a whore. With some slight variations that was the gist of the screamfest that broke this morning’s peaceful Sunnyslope calm. They never made it to my house, but when they turned and headed over to the next street, I could hear them yelling at each other long after I had lost sight of them.

Walkabout. Coitus Interruptus Edition.

 

11:30. Sunday night. Tami and the cat sound asleep in bed. I had gotten distracted ordering picture framing materials online. I began to secure the house. As I closed the back door, I heard Tulip whining and yipping and running along our wall. This is usually an indication that there is a picker going through the large dumpster in the alley on the other side of the wall, or there is a stray dog or coyote out there, or a homeless person is bedding down next to the dumpster. I also heard loud music wafting over the neighborhood. It is not unusual on a weekend to hear heavy metal guitar riffs, loud party laughter, or Mexican bands horning it up. Sound travels in odd ways in my neighborhood and I can’t always tell where it’s coming from. But late night Sunday Mexican music is out of the ordinary. Most of my neighbors are hard working families and like Tami, they have to get up early Monday morning for work. Something was amiss.
Tulip kept coming over to me. I tried to determine the source of the music. Because Tulip was so insistent, I went to my wall, stepped up on a stool, and surveyed the alley.

It was dark but I quickly realized that I had discovered the source of the music—an old dark-painted Toyota pickup truck. I first heard laughing from the bed of the truck and then, in the darkness, realized that there was a man, silhouetted, crouching down in the bed of the truck and, judging by the extra pair of legs sticking up in the air from beneath him, that he wasn’t alone. There are a lot of descriptors for the activity I was witnessing. As a complement to the music blaring from the truck radio, horizontal tango came quickly to mind.

I didn’t really have enough of a view to enjoy being a voyeur and I wanted the music to stop so Tami wouldn’t wake up. The couple, so intent now on their dancing, as it were, had no idea anyone was around until I yelled. “I DON’T CARE IF YOU GUYS ARE GETTING IT ON, BUT COULD YOU PLEASE TURN THE MUSIC DOWN. I’M TRYING TO SLEEP!”

In a flash, literally, a heavyset man and a heavier set woman jumped out of the truck. Laughing. Shouting. Rustling of clothes. Truck doors opening and slamming shut as the two hopped into the truck and fired up the engine. Stuff thrown out of the windows as they spun out in the loose dirt and gravel and, hitting the pavement a stretch down the alley, fishtailed around the corner and into the night. Tulip started barking like crazy, but I calmed her down. Tami undisturbed. The rest of the night, uneventful.

The next morning on my walk with Tulip, I noticed several piles of trash in my normally clean alley. Upon closer inspection, the full extent of last night’s activity became clearer. A couple of pizzas from Little Caesar’s. Napkins and soft drink cups. Gum wrappers. I imagined a young man taking his girl out to dinner. Parking in my alley to eat. Then not having to say: “Do you want to go back to my place?” since they already were. Then I came along to ruin everything. A black bra. A condom wrapper and further down by the road, where the young man apparently removed it before fishtailing into darkness, a condom. Tulip looked perplexed as I hung the bra on an overhanging tree branch. It was gone by the time I got back from my walk.

Walkabout. Cafeteria Edition.

 

From my first day of high school, I never knew if the next moment would be an opportunity to experience the pinnacle of exhilaration or complete and utter humiliation. The cafeteria. A note passed could change my world for a week. Or the guy next to me could, without warning, vomit his Salisbury steak onto the floor.

In my memory, the first day of school rocked. Literally. In the middle of lunch, the crowded room grew completely silent. Someone turned on a transistor radio. Full blast. All of a sudden, everyone at that table grabbed their trays and pushed back their chairs and two people, a skinny senior boy, who I would later learn was Sonny, and a big, dark haired senior girl, named Mouse, jumped up on the table and started dancing. American Bandstand dancing. Crazy good dancing. The table shuddered and bowed beneath their movements. The place went crazy. My freshman brain reeled. So this is high school, I thought, until two teachers shut down the dancefest, confiscated the radio, and marched the two dancers up to the office.

Still buzzing, I had Art class with Miss Hipple after lunch. I was seated by myself at an empty table. Halfway through class who should enter the room and dramatically take seats next to me, but Sonny and Mouse. Art became my favorite class! Until I broke my arm in PE. My doctor, who must have been a creative sort, not only used green (Go Panthers!) casting tape, but he fashioned a big loop on my cast to facilitate my sling. I was so embarrassed. Who had a green cast with a big loop on it? Only me. At home, after a couple days of broken arm teasing, I cut off the loop and painted the cast white. Who now had a cast with a big knob on it and one that flaked off white shoe polish all day long? Me.

Miss Hipple booted me from art and I was placed in a typing class. I couldn’t figure out that if I couldn’t draw, how could I type, but humiliation ensued. I was the only boy in the class. I tried to peck away at the typewriter with my cast and stay under the radar, until one day during lunch, some joker threw an old funky jock strap through the open door. I was given a ruler by the teacher and told to pick up the athletic supporter and throw it in an outside garbage can. Who was the guy with the white, flaking cast with the stub on it carrying a jock strap on the end of a ruler in his good hand looking for a trash can? That would have been me.

Three years later, I was a senior. The cafeteria was still the cafeteria. Tacos. Fishsticks on Friday. Green Jell-O. Salisbury steak, which I avoided at all costs. The senior boys sat on one set of tables. The senior girls across the way. Much to my chagrin, I was neither experienced nor knowledgeable in the art of dating. I had managed, to my amazement, to take an attractive senior girl on a date to see The Sand Pebbles at the Catalina Theatre. We even kissed! At lunch, my date shared with the other senior girls that I kissed like Jell-O! In front of everyone, the girls bent their heads down to their lunch trays and repeatedly kissed those jiggly green squares. Hysterical. An action that was not missed by me and every other senior boy at the table. Humiliation ensued.

While there might always be room for Jell-O, at some point down the road, there wasn’t much room in my brain for further agonizing over it. I moved on to other, easy to prepare snack foods. 40 years passed. Low and behold, who should I see at our 40th reunion but my Sand Pebbles date. She looked fantastic and her life was great. But later in the evening, she had something pressing to tell me. She pulled me aside to speak privately. She just wanted to apologize for the cafeteria kissing incident. Oh, that incident! I listened in
amazement. She explained that the fellow she had dated previously had been an aggressive kisser. I was just a softer kisser, she said. Jell-O had been a poor descriptor. I felt liberated. I was now free to love and kiss again! I considered kissing her on the cheek, but I didn’t want to push my luck. Who was that senior boy who kissed like a dessert and whose green lips jiggled like you know what when he talked? That would have been me.

Walkabout. Burro Edition.

 

I hiked up the backside of Shaw Butte this morning. The trail had really deteriorated in recent years from weather and use, but it was in good shape this morning and I only saw one other person, a young guy that would run several yards, check his phone. Run several yards, check his phone. I passed him on the way up and he was about half up when I passed him on the way down. He was still checking his phone.

Things were quiet and serene and my mind wandered as I moved along. As I was coming down the hill I remembered a story I had heard from an old timer about a burro, named Jimmy. Now, Jimmy was an old tired, flea-bitten burro that lived at Abel’s gas station and grocery store which was located on Cave Creek Road north of Peoria. In the forties motorists would make the drive up and out of the city, through Sunnyslope, to the cooler, northern village of Cave Creek. They would stop at Abel’s for gas and for drinks. And to see Jimmy. At random times during the day, but usually when there was a group of people around, Abel would gather everyone outside and introduce the star attraction of the service station. Abel would offer Jimmy a full bottle of cold beer. Jimmy would get it in his mouth, between his teeth, and toss his head up and down until he emptied the bottle. He would drop the bottle on the ground and bray for more. Jimmy eventually died, hopefully not from cirrhosis of the liver. Abel passed away, and the store closed, though I believe the original building, a small grey structure still stands on the west side of Cave Creek Road at the base of the climb up to Cactus.

As I worked my way down the mountain I remembered another story about another burro, one that was closer to home, one that I had actually seen, and one that some called Jenny. Years ago there was a wild burro that lived on the south side of Shaw Butte. I was hiking the trail a lot then and I would often see her, standing on the side of the mountain, in rocky terrain, watching me. Sometimes in the early evening I would see her down by the trailhead at the end of Peoria. On occasion someone who leave a bale of hay for her. On several occasions park rangers would try to get her, but she was too fast, and too proficient at climbing the rocky areas. The rangers would always give up, exhausted. Once I was out at dusk, coming back down along the main arroyo that runs between Shaw Butte and North Mountain. I came out of high brush into a clearing and I almost ran into her. Scared the heck out of me! She just stood very still. She was bigger in person than I had thought, having only seen her from a good distance. I just stared back. She gave me a snort and turned and ambled up the rocky slope. That was the last time I saw her. There were rumors that she had been finally caught and relocated. Others that hikers had found her carcass on the side of the mountain. Others believe her ghost still lives up on the mountain and that at night, during the summer, one can hear her and Jimmy laughing as they toss back a couple cold ones.

Walkabout. Bridle Path Edition.

 

When Tami left for Idaho, she sat me down and got all serious face with me. “Now, no parties when I’m gone,” and then, “Be careful when you’re working in the yard. I don’t want you getting hurt when I’m not here.” You see what she did there? She doesn’t think for a moment that I’m planning a 6 day house party. The dog whistle was--keep your wits about you old man. You are not always as young as you think you are! Shoot. There went my plans to free climb the Chase Tower downtown and wingsuit myself back to Sunnyslope.

I settled, instead, for a leisurely Sunday walk. Usually, I traverse the canal on Sundays since it is easier to cross big streets and I don’t get hung up on traffic. Although there are pedestrian underpasses, they aren’t always the safest routes when you mix homeless guys sleeping in the path with out of control weekend speed cyclists. I like to stay on the surface and keep moving.

I have just made my summer transition, due to the excessive morning heat, to use the gym for walking. Not a lot of Walkabouts waiting for me there. I can only write so much about roid monkeys getting their nut on the free weights and then slamming their iron onto the floor and grunting like they just passed a kidney stone the size of a tennis ball. But I was up early this morning thanks to Kitty Baby’s new meth laced diet and I decided since it was cool early, to walk the shaded and much cooler Bridle Path that runs down Central Ave. from the canal to Bethany Home.

As I passed the parking lot at The Spoke and Wheel, I saw an older couple that I have befriended who show up every Sunday in an old beat up Chevy station wagon. I don’t know their names, but he is The Loper, because when he runs he sort of leaps into the air. In super slow motion. I call his partner, The Dancer. She’s really trim and has what I interpret as the older body of a dancer. She runs. He lopes. They waved and asked me where I was going. I pointed south.

I have driven Central Avenue for over forty years, but each time I walk it I see beautifully landscaped, huge old houses that I’ve never seen before. The whole vibe on the bridle path is different than the canal. Open. Fast moving water. Fishermen. Homeless guys in their skivvies bathing in the shallows by a ramp. The possibility of encountering a pack of feral dogs. The possibility of encountering a pack of feral humans. Very little eye contact or passing salutations. 
The Bridle Path is a different story. A lot of brightly colored Lululemon. Gucci running shoes. Well-heeled soccer moms in flashy outfits coordinated by personal assistants with master degrees in color theory. And everyone is so friendly! By the time I got to Glendale Ave. I was hoarse from responding to Good Morning! Every ten feet. Young, old, men, women, solo or in packs, it was a total greet fest this morning. Even the dogs do it! Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I think older women with cute little dogs purposefully let their dogs get in my way in hope that I will stop, pat their dog, strike up a conversation, and before I know it, I’m husband number seven. I just keep moving.

At Bethany Home I turn back and head home. I pass the same people, and the same dogs, saying, Good Morning, Again! Repeatedly. I’m Mr. Friendly.

As the mansions and trees begin to drop away as I walk north, I’m back in Sunnyslope. Up ahead, I see an old guy with a long pony tail pushing a bike with a trailer with mismatched wheels, loaded with plastic bags and tarps and all of sorts of items. There are several distinct types of transients that I have encountered in my travels. There is the man or woman who moves around with virtually no possessions. Maybe a pack or a bag that holds their stuff. Then there are the cart people. A person can cram a whole lot into a purloined shopping cart. Interesting, but not as interesting to me as the men and women who live on the street but own bicycles and who carry their possessions on trailers. The trailers can be actual bike trailers, they can be baby carriages, strollers, jogging buggies…if it has wheels it can somehow be fashioned into a cart to be hauled behind a bike.

I find them fascinating, both conceptually and visually. I have wanted to start photographing them but I haven’t found a way to do it that would be respectful to the owner and not get me killed. As I passed the old fellow pushing his bike, I took a chance.

I love engaging strangers in conversation. The challenge for me it to pull it off, be cool, learn something, and know when to back off and move on. The trick is to not encounter someone who is batshit nuts. This fellow looked approachable and I floated an observation. Man, that looks heavy pushing your bike! He responded by saying that riding it was just as hard. An opening. A conversation. He is on the street. His name is Terry. Lost his job. Went to Washington High School (Go, Rams!), and spent four days in the hospital for sepsis from an infection from a thorn from a bougainvillea bush. I shared I almost died from sepsis story. He showed me the raw wound on this finger. I talked to him about how cool I thought the carts were that guys pulled behind their bikes. After a bit I asked him if I could take a photo just of his bike. He said sure. Knock yourself out. I thanked him and took a photo. I made a monetary donation to the cause. I consider it tithing. He said, “God bless, you” and I shook his good hand. Sometimes you go to church. Sometimes church finds you.

Walkabout. Art Smith Mall Walker Edition.

 

I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m good once as I ever was. Age has beaten me up a bit, but I still have my knees and my boyish good looks. The ground is harder and the summer heat, hotter. After hiking the last two mornings, I was feeling the effects of the sun as I headed out to a dentist appointment at 8. The time of the appointment threw off my ability to get out early and hike, and by the time the appointment was over at 9, it was too hot to walk. I drove out to the mall.

I had heard that old timers, as well as other, normal people, walk the interior of air conditioned malls for exercise. I had never participated in such an activity, but the thought of traipsing around a shopping mall with a bunch of antiquarians frankly terrified me. But after an hour long soliloquy by a new hygienist about her life story, replete with photos on the screen on the ceiling, I had no choice but to leave my humility in the backseat as I walked past Chompies into Paradise Valley Mall.

I quickly figured out that the rules were that walkers veered to the right, and I fell in behind an old guy with a bum leg and an old lady wearing head phones and swinging her arms race walk style. There were solitary walkers, walkers in pairs and in groups. There were walkers with canes, and walkers with walkers. There were old guys with their shirts tucked into their high-waisted shorts with knee high white socks and women with matching shoes and outfits. There was a guy decked out in hiking boots, a floppy brimmed hat, a back pack, and a pair of walking sticks. There was an old lady tooling around in a motorized wheel chair. I didn’t ask why. As I got into my rhythm, I easily passed the guy with the bum leg and the race walker.

Actually, I buried them. I was moving out, now, taking the longest, widest route, but moving at a quick pace. Some of the fat guys just sauntered aimlessly down the middle of the mall like gray haired zombies lost in thought. I was really moving now, when all of a sudden, some wrinkled vixen in pink short shorts and cranberry red hair breezed by me. What the? She looked straight ahead as she passed me and cut me off! What? I pocketed my pride and fell in behind her. She was moving really fast, but she wasn’t about to drop me. Did I tell you that my knees are still good? We flew by Macy’s and then Dillards. She was still leading me out, but I was right on her tail and I was starting to figure it out. Besides the walkers with walkers and women with strollers, there were obstacles to negotiate.

Groups of yackers would force walkers to have to swerve around them. Some walkers, individualists no doubt, walked against the flow, like salmon on a spawning mission, creating havoc and roadblocks. Every time I tried to pass cranberry head, she sped up. Seriously. I started to get ticked off. I started watching up ahead, planning my move. We approached two Asian women walking ahead of us. They spoke loudly and their arms gestured wildly. Some old codger in a walker was approaching from the left. Cranberry head must not have seen him because she moved to the left to pass the women and slammed right up on him. She couldn’t move to the right because she was blocked by the Chinese ladies. I spotted an opening to the right of the ladies. A thin slice of space and fresh air. I accelerated and skimmed by them, scraping along the window of Fuzziwiggs on my right and I took a gesticulating hand shot across my forehead. But I slipped through. I looked back and cranberry head had come to a complete stop.

Yes! I now moved with a vengeance. At one point I was so far ahead that, although risky, I helped some old lady with a walker who was having trouble getting in one of the outside doors. I lost a good bit of distance by my act of generosity. But later, when I passed an old man sitting in the photo booth who looked like he was having a heart attack, I kept going. One of the patrolling guards will find him if he lasts that long, I hoped. I became lost in thought. Mall walking. Mall racing. Mall racing as an X game. Distracted, I had another scare.

You understand that as long as I was ahead of her, when I quit, I won. You get that, right? I think we were by Penney’s. We had been slogging out this duel for a while. All of a sudden I started seeing strollers. Little strollers, big strollers, huge strollers. Strollers with little babies and strollers with three kids who looked like they should have been in school. And moms. And nannies. And high end athletic shoes. And brightly colored workout clothing. And pony tails and head bands of all colors. I got distracted. There must have been twenty of them. As we moved around I could see they were lining up the strollers. Was this a race? Some odd convergence of wheeled babies and moms? I had no idea what it was, but I could feel cranberry head breathing down my neck.

On the second time around I saw the moms, frog jumping in unison in the center of the open space that was surrounded by the strollers. I faltered but I didn’t lose my pace. Exercise class, I presumed, but who knew. Maybe it was a performance art piece for the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. I have no idea what it was, but I regained my composure and, once and for all, set out to drop cranberry head for good. Unfortunately, morality and fair play, even with today’s seniors, seem to be a fleeting concept. Last lap. The shops were opening. The aisles were getting crowded with shoppers. Rounding the corner by the playground, my victory was close. I could taste it. Then cranberry head did something that sickened me. SHE CUT THROUGH THE PLAYGROUND! SHE SHORT CUTTED ME! THE BITCH! When she emerged on the other side of the playground, she probably had 25 yards on me. She looked back once and then turned the corner. I sped up. But when I came around the corner she was gone. Vanished. She was nowhere in sight.

Dazed and confused, I stopped and tried to find her. I looked everywhere but she was gone. Shoppers eyed me with suspicion. I gathered my composure. I finished my lap. Spent and somewhat deflated, I exited the way I had come. As I pushed through the door, I followed an old timer in a red shirt with the phrase Old Guys Rule on his back.

Not today, I thought. Not today.

Walkabout. Bad Trip Edition.

 

It was cool and early and I headed out to trail 100 to hike in the mountain preserve. Since the surgery on my foot, I have concentrated on walking flat surfaces—the canal, the perimeter of the park—to build up my endurance, but today I wanted to try the uneven, rocky trails that I have hiked numerous times in the last thirty years. Today, I wasn’t alone. Gene Brousseau is a former student of mine from my early days at Moon Valley. He’s an artist and a teacher and periodically stops by on his way back to Flagstaff after coming down to Phoenix. We met up this morning and decided to go for a walk and talk.

We hiked up the trail that runs between North Mountain and Shaw Butte. Sunday can be busy with cyclists and groups of hikers and dogs. We passed two slow moving grandmas walking little dogs. It was that kind of morning. A couple of miles in, the trail splits. To the left is the visitor station, straight ahead takes one to the road up Shaw Butte. The trail we took, to the left, cuts west to a less travelled trail that parallels the main trail. This is the trail I would take Hess on when he was little, carrying him in a backpack. We passed an area where people in the ’50s gathered for campfires and stories of the Old West. Further west, we passed the flattened ground of an old corral where trail guides would tie up the horses. We looped around and headed back south to trail 100 and home.

We moved at a pretty good clip, talking up art and painting. We threaded our way downhill and I saw the two grandmas waddling back toward us. I had spent the morning carefully watching where I stepped among the loose gravel, the overturned rocks, and uneven surfaces. As we passed the grandmas, I got distracted by one of the dogs. I lost focus. My left foot stepped fine, but my right foot got hung up on a buried rock and when I went to step down my foot wasn’t there and because I was moving quickly, I flew forward down the trail. Head first. Actually, with both of my arms outstretched, I body surfed down the trail. I slid along the gravel, passed the old ladies, and ended in a cloud of dust. Oomph. As I was bouncing past her, Grandma One yelled “Oh, my God!”

Grandma Two shouted, “Oh, dear!”

It is my impression that when we fall, or trip, or stumble when we are little, that time slows down and we can react. To catch ourselves. To soften or cushion our fall. To roll out of it. When we get old, not so much. One second I was talking to Gene and watching out for a little dog; the next second I am surfing Mavericks on my stomach. My cat-like reflexes appear to be sitting in an animal shelter, waiting to be euthanized.

When I realized what had happened, I was flat, face down in the dirt. I tried to take stock of my condition. I felt that I had scraped the heck out of my right knee, but everything else was okay, nothing broken. Gene told me to rest for a second before getting up. I didn’t argue with him. Grandma One starting yelling, “Your wrists! Your wrists!” I told her they were fine. I was embarrassed. But Grandma One wouldn’t let go of it. “Your wrists! You broke your wrists! Don’t move.” I assured her for a second and then a third time, that I was fine, and that indeed my wrists were okay. I tried to get up and I sort crabbed forward on my hands and knees at the same time Grandma One grabbed my pants leg. She was trying to steady me, but in my fall and subsequent slide, my pants and my boxers had begun to slide down my hips. When she grabbed my pants and I struggled forward, she pulled my pants completely off my bare butt. A nice bright white light engulfed us all.

Humiliated, I screamed, “I’m fine!” as loud as I could. 
Upon gazing at my exposed body parts, I thought I heard Grandma Two purr, “Nice!” but that could have been wishful thinking on my part. Needless to say I was really embarrassed and I jumped up, pulled my pants up, and moved quickly down the trail. Grandma One started in again about my wrists, but I yelled back angrily, “My wrists are FINE!”

“You don’t have to get huffy,” she countered, but I was hell bent on getting out of there. Gene ran to catch up.

We continued down the trail without incident. Gene asked if I was going to write a walkabout about what happened. And if I did, he wondered, would he get to be in it? I wanted to answer him, but although my wrists were fine, my knee was bleeding and killing me and all I could think about was making it to the grassy fields up ahead so that in the event I would trip and fall and make a complete old man fool of myself again, at least I would land on something soft.

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