Free the Puddles


HINDSIGHT CAN BE A BITCH. Seldom is she a friendly reminder. We’re always moving from the known into the unknown, each moment defining a future moment down our highway. I wish I could’ve remembered that bit of wisdom on this trip. That might have made it easier, but I reckon every path has a few puddles in it.

Sometimes I suffer brain farts where everything goes into slow motion, as with me studying the texture of the porous yellow peel before biting it, the stinging acid biting back, making my nostrils flare. See how I digress? I blame the dyslexia.

“Hey, Daro, knock off with the facial,” George squinted from the misty spray.

“Sorry,” I chuckled.

He looked at me in silence, scrunching his face slightly at my habit of eating lemon wedges peel and all. Only Bette has come to accept it but heck, you get all the vitamins that way.

I braced my drink and reopened my journal, hoping for ideas to use in Arizona Highways or True West. Ironic, looking back now, what I wrote as I rode from the known into the unknown. Hindsight. What a bitch. I began to scrawl with my pen.

I wonder if I’ll suspect or sense the day I’m going to die?

Do we receive a clue, knowledge prior to beginning that last day?

Do we hear a slight alarm before we turn that street corner and have a fatal accident?

When the universe wants to get my attention, I seem to get my messages in groups of three, like the way I met George and we ended up hanging out together.

George Valmore Mazen was older than me but in darn good shape. We met on a fire in New Mexico where he’d been a smoke jumper and I was working helitack. He broke his ass but I swear he never broke a sweat.

A few years later, I saw him at the Barrett-Jackson Car Auction in Scottsdale. Between Clive Cussler and Craig Jackson, I get all-access passes. George was eyeing a late model 1965 Mustang and gave me the rundown as I tried not to drool on it. Cars like women, I can appreciate, enjoy their beauty…even though I don’t understand either.

Dynasty Green with a 289-V8. Back then, Ford had also offered other greens, such as Cascade, Pagoda, and Ivy. George was animated pointing out changes Ford had made in late 1965, such as the way the generator was replaced by an alternator, which was like telling me the difference between Iran and Iraq. The horns and the oil filter were relocated, and the chrome gas cap was placed on the tail panel, center above the bumper. A wire ring was added so it was harder to swipe or lose.

Other changes in 1965 included the AM radio, interior completely carpeted up the rocker panels, full headliner, and floor-mounted shifter which were considered features. Front seats were buckets and the rear a bench. Rather than metal like most cars of the era, the dash was vinyl-covered. And this baby was pristine.

Clive, quite the car connoisseur, explained this later model had the décor group called the Pony Interior, exemplified by the running horses embossed across the back of the seat covers. This also included a wood-grain steering wheel commanding a five-gauge instrument panel with wood-grain trim. Door panels were special, too. Arm rests and door handles with pistol grips.

Once James Bond drove a Mustang in Goldfinger, Ford needed three plants to keep up with the demand. And while Sean Connery will always be the only Bond to me, 1965 will be the only Mustang.

Third time the tapestry of life brought George into my life was the summer after the car auction when I received an email from him regarding one of my newspaper columns.

A teacher shared a parable creating both conflict and awareness for me. A wise man and student were walking. They saw a man in the water. “Master, that man is drowning. Aren’t we going to help?” The master softly replied, “He has not asked for our help.”

I have trouble asking for help, and a tendency to help before invited. I admit, too, my nose has been bent and broken. I have difficulty correlating ‘Destiny’ and our ‘Freedom of Choice’ such as this incident at the McDonald’s near the Sedona turn-off.

Three young guys and two gals had a mini-tailgate party going in the rear parking lot. A macho white Jeep towed a majestic jet boat; invasive speakers blared out music. Among Big Mac cartons were alcohol bottles, obvious that the three gents had consumed far more than burgers. I verbalized my hope one was the designated driver, subtle as painting a target on my nose. After less than complimentary remarks about my age and drinking abilities, I went inside where I noticed one of the young ladies. At my smile, she nervously approached.

“They’ve been drinking the whole way. I can’t get them to quit.”

“Take the keys. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” It sounded good on commercials.

“Right! I don’t even have a license. I just turned sixteen.”

I looked at her short blond hair with spikes, blue eyes about level with my chin.

“Sixteen,” I repeated, “awfully young to die.”

“Maybe you can talk to them. Even my girlfriend won’t and she’s sober. Can’t you help?”

“Find a phone, don’t get in, stand up for your rights.” All my suggestions sounded even colder as I left. Then I realized how she reminded me of another sixteen-year-old I knew.

Headed back to my car, I rounded their group and commented on the boat. “Mind if I sneak a peek?”

“Just stay out of our ice chest,” laughed the barrel-chested kid, bigger than in my school days.

Stepping up on the trailer, I leaned over the right side. The key with a red float was inserted below the curved mirror on the dash. I saw the young girl in the reflection — before I palmed the key.

On the other side, I pulled the float loose and dropped it in the boat, figuring it might keep them off the lake. While pondering what to do with the key, one guy stepped over the trailer tongue. His faded purple tank top hung loose, revealing big arms that flexed with the mere gesture to his comrade. “Hey, help me toss these empties. Don’t want to make it too easy for the cops!”

He threw a wad of keys upon the open driver’s seat and began scooping up bottles from the floorboard, which took a few minutes. Looking past the roll bar to the guys at the trash bin, I stared only a moment at the unattended keys.

We can have 2,000 thoughts for every 2 seconds of time. Mine included wondering if the expensive Jeep was Daddy’s, if the ladies told their folks they were going, if any of the five were legal age, and how the heck to get the little knob off the end of the key ring.

I pulled what resembled car keys, three in all. On the visor was a clear plastic holder with registration and business cards, typical realtor cards, not the kid’s face. I shoved it in with my new key collection. Then I tossed the remaining keys back upon the blue bucket seat watching them bounce once before I slipped into my car.

The next day I used an envelope to copy the name and Scottsdale address, taped the keys on the realtor’s business card, folded it in the registration, and placed all in the mailbox with the little red flag up.

A red flag, I questioned if I intruded on ‘Destiny’ or her ‘Freedom of Choice.’ I knew folks on the roads and lake. I wouldn’t want someone letting me drive in that condition. Maybe I should have just hoped the kid got pulled over. And then, I remembered the young lady.

I wondered how the disappearance of the keys and registration would be explained. I’ve had strange things happen with no explanation. I decided if I were the father or employer, I’d want to know how my keys magically came back to me.

And I wanted that young lady to know that sometimes you only get help by asking for it.

But most of all — I wanted you to know that someone was listening to your plea — so I wrote this column to let you know that I hope your life is a spectacular one.

In George’s email he cited specific things he liked in my column and we met for lunch at Pischke’s Paradise on First Street. Over a crunchy Drinkwater Burger and Green Chile Pork Stew while sitting beneath Lakota, a serigraph of seven warriors by Rob Stern that my buddy Lloyd threatened to swipe, George was about to make an offer I couldn’t refuse. He’d closed a deal with Craig Jackson on the Mustang, and had just picked it up.

We’d entered summer in the Valley of the Sun. It may be a dry heat but the hinges of hell still get hot, so I took him up on the chance to cruise from Scottsdale to a cooler climate. I can write my columns anywhere but my other work entails assisting authors when they’re in Arizona. I knew my assistant, Emily, could handle it if any publishers called with an author on a book tour. And as aunty to Nubble, she’d spoil him with dog treats.

George had to deliver the Mustang to Illinois and wanted me to be his co-pilot over the 1,750 miles. Said if I were game, he’d cover food and lodging, and then fly me back. We’d take Route 66 whenever possible. My dyslexia was not a big asset in reading maps but we were enjoying a good time and I’d gained some material for a few columns.

After the dry heat of Arizona, I appreciated the cool breezes of Flagstaff and Winslow, passing truck stops in Albuquerque and Gallup, through Oklahoma City, and across to St. Louis, as we headed east across the central flatlands of America in that sweet Dynasty Green 1965 Mustang hardtop.

Gravel thrown by a truck’s knobby tires had sounded a distinct snap in the windshield, at eye level, of course. Figured we’d fix it once delivered. The rest of the trip, we peered around the blasted crescent chip in pursuit of the shields tipped in red denoting INTERSTATE 55.

I really dug George. His ice-blue eyes were unmistakably his most notable feature. I can say that as a guy with no homophobic fears. Eyes accented with ample crows’ feet, half equated to laugh lines while the others were earned from years of squinting through clouds of smoke. His pepper-colored hair with a mind of its own fanned out as he drove.

My arm hung out the window, occasionally grasping at the gentle raindrops, wetness exploding in my hand, accenting the grain of my fingerprints. I pulled down the sun visor, enjoying our ride into the unknown. Of course, if I’d had a clue, guess it wouldn’t be the unknown. I journaled when I wasn’t serving as his hapless navigator.

The cross-country road trip was a great place to let my thoughts take an unbridled journey. With a trusted buddy at the wheel, no kids aboard, and abiding an occasional pothole, it provided a favorable atmosphere to record my thoughts. Plus, the silence of writing creates a safe arena for me to be verbose. It also helped me practice reticence which George had explained as selective speaking, having no need just to be heard. Not one of my strong points.

We rode on in stillness. I was staring in my notebook at the blank sheet staring back. Pesky page. Teasing tablet. Journaling and keeping quiet aren’t characteristics that come easy for me. Luckily, George broke the silence when he noticed I was fidgeting.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is. Henry Ford said that’s the probable reason so few engaged in it. Did you ever think of all the thoughts in you just waiting to be thought?” He paused to let it sink in, something he did a lot.

The wind tickled the pages of my journal as if seeking attention, waiting for my pen to answer the call, teasing me until I began to set my thoughts down in ink.

I used to wonder if God was a guy or a gal.

Wondered what I’d do if I came face-to-face with God.

I wondered if I’d even recognize Him or Her.

I paused and reread my scribbles, tapping my pen between my teeth. I shifted in my seat, toying with the chrome latch on the wing vent until the glass wedge forced the air into my face to clear my thoughts. I released a sigh.

Then George asked, “Have you ever thought of how much you actually know? Maybe attempt to inventory what you really know versus what you think you know?”

The pen made a hollow sound bouncing off my cheek while he continued casting.

“I find it interesting, all that exists which can’t be touched physically, such as feelings, beliefs, and emotions, like love,” he suggested.

I swiped at the air as if to catch the elusive idea. “You can’t touch a thought, can’t put a feeling in a briefcase.” Felt as if I were onto something. “We can stick a brain in a jar, but we can’t do that with a mind.”

“What’s in our minds is untouchable. ‘Mind’ is an activity. ‘Brain’ is a thing.”

I turned toward him having already learned a great deal from this sage. “Is that due to that right-brain, left-brain stuff? Such as, where it loses something in the translation to take it from right-brain to left-brain? The right side is the place where music comes from, right?”

“The right side is our creative side. It’s also the place where some say God speaks to us. That’s seeing God as in us rather than separate from us. We create in our right-brain, the home of our being, our essence.”

My guesstimate was on track, so I resumed. “And our left-brain deals with memorization and ciphering, important but boring stuff.”

“Stuff, as you so eloquently put it, like our five senses plus memory, habit, and reflexes. Pretty important stuff I’d say, but from the left-brain. The right-brain side creates our pictures, imagination, songs, inventions, and also true prayer as opposed to memorized jargon. And you’re correct. It’s difficult for the images born in our right-brain to make it successfully to the left-brain and vice versa.”

“Is that the reason a dream that lasted a few minutes takes me forever to explain?”

“That, and the fact you like to talk,” he grinned. “We can have 2,000 thoughts and images for every two seconds of what we call time.”

That made sense because I knew that Handel had said he’d come up with all the music for The Messiah in moments, but it had taken him almost a year to have it transcribed into a musical score.

I chewed at my cheek. “So, what am I using when I journal?”

“I’d say your writing is left-brain when you rehash ideas, but right-brain when you actually have a thought as opposed to just repeating or thinking about something you already learned. Knowing how to write, to spell, that’s memorization, that’s left-brain. And there’s no limit to which a person will go to avoid the labor of thinking. Thinking is left brain, having an actual thought is right brain.”

“Thinking versus thought. Is that what you meant about a memorized prayer rather than a genuine prayer from the heart?”

“What’s your thought on that question?” He grinned before nodding. “Wonder how we’d prove feelings actually exist to someone from another planet?”

Read Chapter 1 of Free the Puddles

Read Chapter 3 of Free the Puddles