In my head I am still twenty but after a day of playing troglodyte in ma’s basement that illusion crashes head on into reality. It would seem the mileage accumulated on the road of life is beginning to show. The first time I walked head on into a funny thing called age was a few years ago on a trip to Supai, one of the most amazing places on earth. It was business that necessitated the trip to that little touch of paradise but with time to kill it was a desire to again see the falls that led me to honestly think I could walk another three miles, each way. The illusion of youth is the only thing in the world that could have led me to believe I could drive 120 miles, walk 24 miles, and take care of issues in court all in one day. There was a time when that was not only a possibility but I would have had enough time left in the day, and enough energy to spare, for a game or two of pool and a couple of beers. On this trip the reality that shattered the illusion arrived in the form of a wrenched knee on the way up from Havasu Falls. There I was, more than a mile from the village, which is about eight miles from the parking lot under a blazing summer sun with a knee that was rapidly swelling to the size of a small melon. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, that fellow with the wings of grey and the wrinkles around the eyes that I saw in the mirror that morning was me. The second thought was that if I didn’t suck it up, get to town, find Byran, a friend, and borrow a horse for the trip out of the canyon, there was a very good chance that I wouldn’t be getting any older. So, with tears streaming down my face, and a flimsy stick for support, I began hobbling toward the village of Supai. Humility can be a virtue. Humiliation can be a blessing in the form of a motivational tool. On this particular venture it was a little old lady that appeared to be somewhere between 65 and 200 years of age that provided the motivational humiliation. She had on a plain t-shirt over a bathing suit and thongs, seemed immune to the heat, and had a shuffling pace that was slow but methodical. I would hobble to a rock, sit for a minute to let the throbbing subside, and then pass her as I continued on my painful journey. Then I would again sit down and she would pass me. As we neared the village I realized there were but two choices, find the strength to beat her into town or find a bigger stick and take her out. Humility is one thing. Absolute humiliation is another. Shortly after my return from Supai the illusion of youth slowly began to reemerge but, increasingly, reality intruded keeping it bay. It would seem that meme has been picking up speed as of late. Perhaps that sense is merely resultant of the blurring of mileposts on the road of life this past few weeks; skin cancer, broken tooth, and the death of my little sister to name but a few. Still, I do derive a bit of pleasure in having lived long enough to be one of the old farts that works circle around youngsters while telling tales that begin with, “When I was your age…” But the greatest reward in aging is Sunday’s with the grandkids, the realization of just how blessed I am to have a dear friend to share the adventure of life with, and the eager expectation that comes from knowing new adventures areon the horizon.
My well planned schedule for the Route 66 encyclopedia went out the window sometime around early December. After the writing of six books and countless feature articles I fully understand that a rigid schedule is a lot like the land of Oz or organization, they look pretty but everyone knows they are fictional.
Still, out of habit, with each project a time table is created that would be worthy of the Allied military planners in the weeks before D-Day. I know that if I take on enough projects, and compose enough schedules, the odds are in my favor that just one will go according to plan.
Meanwhile I keep the frustrations to a minimum by writing 3,000 to 5,000 words per week. With ten months to go the rough draft stands at 63,000 words with the publisher expecting 120,000 to 150,000. So, no problem.
I have yet to miss a deadline and do not plan on starting a new trend. After twenty years of trading words for money I now understand this is all merely situation normal and won’t begin burning the midnight oil until at least one month before deadline and panic shouldn’t set in until the week before. That should be about the time I begin trying to sort out a couple thousand illustrations, praising the assistance received in this department, (thank you Joe Sonderman and Mark Ward) and write captions.
I suppose the writing process could be compared to an obstacle course with the deadline being the finish line. In between the starting gun, the date of contract, and the deadline are little things like the job that supports the writing habit and the unexpected, such as sorting through Mom’s basement to get the house ready for sale.
That is where I spent Saturday afternoon, after getting off from work. It wasn’t exactly King Tut’s tomb but it was an adventure.
Ma’s house was, according to story, the post office in the mining town of Chloride before being moved to its current location in Kingman at some point around 1950. It was set on a hill and as a result the basement, actually a glorified crawl space, has a taper starting at around five feet in the rear and ending at around three feet in the back.
Ma never threw anything away. Ma never used anything she saved. Ma lived in her house for more than thirty years.
My step father had Alzheimer’s before anybody realized it and as I learned Saturday, this meant he carefully packed boxes of foam rubber scraps as though they were fragile items being shipped to Turkey. He also buried tools in the sandy floor along with carefully crushed stew cans.
It wasn’t pretty. About two hours into the project, and some twenty feet from the entrance with thick, choking clouds of dust swirling around me, I flashed back to the old days working as a jack leg operator in a silver mine up in the Cerbat Mountains. The biggest difference was I knew that the satisfaction of sticking dynamite in the holes and making a big boom wasn’t going to be the reward for this hard work. Scattered here and there were just enough tantalizing gems to keep me from going mad and taking up smoking while sitting on gas cans perched on kegs of black powder. A 1940s Spartan radio tops the list but scattered amongst the empty mayonnaise and pickle jars I have found a turn of the century apothecary jar and a forbidding brown glass, triangular bottle with the word poison embossed on the side. That bottle, the sandy floor, and the discovery of this secret side of Ma had me thinking about that classic film Arsenic and Old Lace. What else was under the floor? Without exaggeration, I moved an entire truck load of empty plastic containers, rats nest camping mattresses, suitcases filled with cancelled checks from the 1970s, home made signs from Ma’s little gift shop that closed in the 1980s, bent motorcycle exhaust systems, several boxes of empty glass jars, and what seemed like two hundred boxes of paper back books that the dry air has turned into confetti. Here is the really neat part. This was day two of operation clean up and there is at least one more day to go – before starting on the shed! All of this has convinced me that ma was a closet hoarder, something long suspected. Her little house was always neat and orderly but underneath, literally, she was able to indulge her hoarding away from prying eyes. If I sound a bit titched in the head please consider I spent the weekend eating at least 75 pounds of dirt while spider webs and their occupants danced around the rim of my hat as I worked on imitating a hunchback in the sewers of Paris just to move a box of phone books, some thirty years old, a small trunk filled with Christmas wrapping paper, and another filled with assorted flashlights. Isn’t America grand! If we have a garage it is filled with the items we will most likely sell at a garage sale, or leave as some insidious means of revenge on our children for a particularly harsh and lengthy labor at birth, after paying full retail but never using while the $50,000 car sits outside. So, with at least the next few weekends preplanned, I will be working on the encyclopedia at night, and dreaming of Amarillo this June by day. And in my troubled sleep, I will dream of scaling mountains of old phone books as swirling reams of old paper blind me to the fact that spiders are encircling me with their webs.