WORK IN PROGRESS ON MAURICE


Looking west to a smear of dusty crimson sunlight, a young man of twenty stood on the shoulder of Highway 66 waiting to hitch a ride. A powder blue Cadillac pulled up and the lad was caught in a puff of loose gravel. When the dust settled, a woman dressed in a two piece matching suit leaned over from the driver’s seat.
“Say fella, can you drive one of my cars to California? I’ll pay the expenses.” She yelled out the window. Two cars pulled in behind her, and came to a jerk stop.
The lad stared into the shine of the car. It looked like wet paint and he was tempted to touch it.
“Sure will, yep I’ll do that. Should I get in now?” The young man answered.
“I need to see your driver’s license.” She added.
The man hastily drew out his license from a dusty plastic cover inside his billfold. She looked it over, and smiled. “All right Maurice, keep in close to us on the road, don’t get lost. We’re going far as Needles.”
Maurice held tight to the steering wheel, ‘Geez, ain’t this great, what a car. I’m going all the way from Nebraska to California in a Cadillac.’ He’d forgotten about the sharp pains of hunger, and bloody sores on his feet. Now he was sitting on warm leather seats, with the cold night air off his back, and ten dollars in his pocket.

Sixty five years later, I’m walking down the street where Maurice lives. We haven’t met yet. I don’t meet my neighbors. I move before I have a chance to care about them. It comes easy to me, being a loner.

THE SURFER AND BILL


Soaring Crow and Gavin

Smiley’s Dice
DEL MAR TIMES
The Surfer and Bill.

It begins in San Francisco, in the late fifties, in the section of San Francisco known as outer mission. A pencil thin surfer wandered the streets visiting surfer pals; like Tambi, Minor Lo, and Da Fly.
One day his friend George suggested they go to Hawaii, and being of surfer consciousness, they left that afternoon. During this trip, the surfer went out seeking work, and discovered he didn’t have much to offer. The epiphany broadened into an apprenticeship as a carpenter on the mainland. After a few months of instruction, he was ready for the Contractors State Board exam. He passed the test, and returned to San Francisco to pick up the license.
About this time, he met Bill, a man who owned a home in Sea Cliff. Bill was often seen puttering about his house, attempting to fix things that he didn’t know how to fix. Bill and the surfer became friends. Bill was happy to hear that the young man was carving another wave in his life. Bill was a sort of western style renaissance man, who chose people because of character, leaving behind details like, age, occupation, and all the other things that divide us.
He invited the surfer into his home and asked him if he could make some alterations to the fireplace. The surfer complied and began his first job in the trade of carpentry. Bill and his family liked the surfer, and it was a mutual friendship. After the fireplace was finished, the surfer began another job and another and soon, if you wanted to find the surfer, you had to ask Bill.
The surfer lingered around San Francisco, and the years ripened the friendship between the surfer and Bill, his wife Martha, his three sons, Carl, Gavin, and Walter, and his daughter Wendy. Now the surfer was of the age that falls between peer and pupil, and all of his friends belonged to the surfing colony. Bill once told me that the surfer told the most astonishing stories, and that he was loved like a part of the family.
One day, the surfer decided to leave San Francisco, and follow his girlfriend to Santa Barbara, where she was studying at the University. This didn’t work out the way the surfer thought it would, and so he returned to San Francisco. He went back to the old neighborhood where Bill lived. It happened that Bill decided to move to San Diego, and so the surfer was waving goodbye. A few more years pass while the surfer hung around his surfer friends down at Kelly’s Cove, and watched the city of San Francisco from the lap of the pacific. When he needed money, he worked for Tambi, carrying his ladder, or stirring cement, and then returned to the stillness of floating with the ocean.
One day the surfer received a phone call from Bill, asking for the surfers help. Bill bought a home and business in La Jolla and both needed renovating. The surfer knew the area as he had surfed the Pacific from San Francisco to Ensenada. Bill asked the surfer if he would move down to La Jolla for a while. Naturally, the surfer accepted this offer, and so Bill flew the surfer down to La Jolla. He paid his expenses and gave him a key to an ocean front hotel room at Capri By the Sea. The surfer hung over the terrace of his new post, watching the Board Walk and thought he was the luckiest man in the world. Bill introduced the surfer around La Jolla, and he began working and meeting Bill’s friends. The time fell into one long sunrise to sunset, of work, companionship, and surfing.
Now, we take a giant leap forward to the summer of 2007 and to Colorado Springs. It would be the first time that I would meet Gavin, one of Bill’s sons. It had been many years since the surfer, whom you may have guessed by now, is my best friend, who goes by the name of Soaring Crow, had seen Gavin. I had heard about him for so many years, from Bill and Martha, and from Soaring Crow. Gavin was the travel writer; he covered ski resorts, ranches and rodeos.
We drove up a tree-lined street and parked in front of an unpretentious Victorian house. A man galloped down the walkway, he was tall and broad, with an easy grin, and mercurial eyes. Gavin brought us into his home and placed our luggage in his bedroom.
“You guys sleep here, the sheets are clean.”
“Where will you sleep?” I asked.
“I’ll sleep outside, I do all the time.”
The welcome was expansive, as if I was about to go on a Ferris wheel, or ski lift. SC and Gavin had seen one another at a family wedding years ago, but this was the first get together. I adore these inevitable reunions tied to our past, and so I sat on the edge and mused their fellowship. We filed into the den, where Gavin picked up a pair of electric guitars and the two strummed away the years inside surf tunes. I poured wine, and took photographs. After dinner, the room was familiar and quiet. Gavin showed us a picture of Bill dressed in western gear next to a horse.”
“I never knew he was a cowboy?” I said.
“Well, he was. He grew up around horses.”
“And you’re a cowboy too?”
“Used to be a cowboy, not anymore. Once a cowboy stops riding, he stops being a cowboy.”
“You sound just like Bill.” I said.
“Everyone says that.”
We lingered around the table until late in the night, and stories rolled out from the heart. Gavin’s rooms had exploded with his story telling tools, piles of black and white photography were stacked on the ground, books, and records and sporting equipment. He raked through a stack and handed me a photograph of a rodeo rider.
“ I love that photograph, it’s wonderful.” I said.
“ Take it, take any of them you want.”
The next morning, we had breakfast at the Broadmore Hotel, surrounded by gardens and river walks. I exuded small bites of Gavin’s adventures, as a freelance journalist, columnist for the Rocky Mountain News, and traveling with the Rodeo. He was the sparkling image of Bill, authentic and understated.
After breakfast, we drove to the Valley of the Gods.
Gavin jumped out of the car and trotted ( he does not ever walk) to a spot overlooking the rugged insubordinate Valley.
“ This is where part of Bill rests, the other part is in the ocean, isn’t that neat.”
“ You can visit him all the time.”
“ Yep, I do.”

Demons and Dramas


Ben Siegel

To a drama-whore like myself, uncertainty is a cocktail. If my life isn’t wrinkled with folds of conflict, I will invent them. These past recollections were the building blocks of my future; I lived on the edge with my father.
Ann, my therapist, asked me about my mother but there was so little to tell. She was restrained to her secrecy, some vow she gave my father, and the personal veil of repression that cloaked all of her past. I told Ann that I was adopted into my friend’s homes by their mother’s, the ones who had met mine.
My best friend Denise lived in Brentwood with her divorced mother and siblings. We hooked in the dark unfamiliar and confusing imbalance of a broken home life.
Her mother was suffering depression after a recent divorce and I was dangling from my father’s fingertips, helplessly.
After my mother died, Denise wouldn’t let a day go by without calling me. “Are you all right,” she’d say. She didn’t like my father, and her reasons were mature beyond her years, “He frightens me.” Denise wouldn’t spend the night at my house, but once, and she said that I could stay at hers anytime I needed to get away.
After school one afternoon we stopped in the Brentwood Pharmacy. Denise was looking at the book rack and I was following along.
“ Luellen, my mother told me your father is in a book, The
Green Felt Jungle. It’s about gangsters. Want’a see if they have it?”
I agreed to look because Denise was interested, but it meant nothing to me.
Denise twirled the book rack around, and I stood behind her watching.
“That’s the book! Let me look first and see what it says,” Denise whispered. She tensed up; I could feel it in her arm, as I grasped her.
“Oh, my God, there he is,” she said, and we hunched together over the book and read the description of my father, “Allen Smiley, one of Ben Siegel’s closest pals in those days, was seated at the other end of the sofa when Siegel was murdered.” Denise covered her mouth with her hand, and kept reading silently.
“What does that mean? Who is Ben Siegel?” I asked.
“Shush, not so loud. I’m afraid to tell you this, Luellen. It’s awful. ”
“What’s awful? Tell me.”
“Bugsy Siegel was a gangster. He was in the Mafia. He killed people. Your father was his associate.”
“I don’t think I should see this,” I said and started to leave the drugstore. Denise followed me out.”
“ Why did Bugsy kill people?” I asked.
“Because that’s what gangsters do. Luellen, you can’t tell your father you saw this book. Please don’t tell him I told you.”
“Why not?”
“My mother told me not to tell you. Swear to me you won’t tell your father!”
“I won’t. Don’t tell anyone else about this Denise, all right?”
“Luellen, have you met any of your father’s friends?”
” Yes, I’ve met them. I love his friends.”
A short time after that I waited until my father left for the evening, and then I opened the door to his bedroom.
I walked around the bed to a get closer look at the photographs on the wall. It was the first time I could read the
inscription: To Al, my dear friend, Your pal, Ben.
I stared at his eyes, droopy heavy-lidded sexy, and a gleaming boyish smile. It was a different photograph, but it was the same man in the “Green Felt Jungle.” The photograph placed next to it, was of Harry Truman, with a similar inscription dated 1963. The disparity of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel alongside Harry Truman wouldn’t mean anything to me for another thirty years. At that moment I was driven with curiosity and anticipation of what Denise had told me.
I opened the top drawer of his dresser. It was fastidiously organized with compartment trays for rolls of coins, a jewelry tray of diamond cufflinks, rings and watches, and another tray of newspaper clippings. The next drawer was stacked with neatly folded shirts in tissue paper. Under that was a drawer with a lock on it.
“What are you doing in my bedroom?” I slammed the drawer, muted by his stern expression. He pulled a key from his pocket, and locked the drawer.
“ HOW DARE YOU GO INTO MY THINGS! His hands shook, the veins in his neck inflamed.
“What is it you’re looking for? Luellen. Tell me, or else you will not step out of this apartment for a month. LUELLEN! Speak up! What are you looking for?”
“ I was looking for pictures?” I stammered.
“ What kind of pictures?”
“ Photographs. Of…Mommy.”
“ You’re lying to me! Don’t think you can fool me, you can’t. You want to see photographs, have a look at this one.” Then he pointed to the picture of Ben Siegel. Every vein of his neck swelled. He reminded me of a snarling wolf about to rip my head off. I looked down at the ground, and held my breath.
“Now you listen to me and don’t forget this for the rest of your life. This is Benjamin Siegel! He was my dearest and closest friend. You’re going to hear a lot of lies and hearsay about him. They call him “Bugsy,” but don’t let me ever catch you using that term. ” I  have not forgotten.