ON HE RODE — Chapter Thirteen

Ghosts. I absolutely believe in the One interconnected and

intraconnected Spirit animating the Universe, and I do call that

Spirit God and believe It to be sexually ambiguous and autonomous and

all-knowing and self-abnegating: humble yet proud; meek yet

all-powerful. Nothing to anybody. Something to everybody. Everything

to us all. Who wouldn’t believe in ghosts?

There are answers to all questions, of course, and questions to all

answers. Is King my ally, or my enemy? Don’t mistake his feigned

disinterest for neutrality. He’s either fur or agin. But which? Can we

be a cozy threesome, or will he rip my throat clean away when I make

my move? If I do? When I do?

It seems to me expedient that we take King out of the picture. Lock

him up either inside or outside the car. But how? And under what


Probably easiest to lock him in — lure him with food. But what if he

goes crazy and rips shit out of my car? And what would be my premise .

. . my reason? In case Sigrid wants to know? “Er, why I thought we

might, you know, go out here under the trees and take our clothes off.

You know, without the dog getting in the way?”

Not good enough? Then what if we build a campsite, drink some beer,

roast hot dogs?

“Was that a guitar I saw on your bed?” she asks.

“A guitar case.”

“Inside the guitar case?”

“A very cheap Stella guitar.”

“Didn’t Leadbelly play a Stella?”

“A 12-string, nothing like mine. Certainly not cheap. And I’m

definitely not Leadbelly.”

“But you’re a start.”

“We’ll see.”

Will King follow me to my trunk, curious to explore this new vehicular

orifice? And will he climb inside and become my prisoner, willing or

not? Neither, of course. The closest he comes is a kind of wink,

half-grin, and a “can you believe this guy?” tongue loll as I reach

for Stella then slam the trunk lid down behind me. “Has Les Paul come

to entertain us?” Sigrid asks.

“Hope so. Hope he brought Mary.”

“Will I do?”

“Know any words?”

“Hold that tiger?”

“You’ll do. Play guitar?”

“Only zither, I’m afraid. Do you believe in ghosts.”


“Do you now?”

“Right now? Why not? Are you a ghost??”

“Of course. So are you.”

“No I’m not. I’m the toughest hombre west of the Alamo.”


“Yippee-yi-yay, really. East as well, likely.”

“Your axe be in tune when we get back?”

“Count on it. Where you headin’?”

“Down the beach.” She wrestles King for a stick, lobs it underhand in

the general direction of Mexico, and strides toward a hard-barking

King. “Oughtta be a market for dog spit,” she says, wiping her hand on

her pant leg. “I’d be a millionaire.”

I watch their zig-zag cavortings for a while then decide to prepare

for the evening. Fire pit, firewood, green alder roasting sticks, cold

beer, tuned Stella, mellow weed. Dang! Where’s weed when you need it?

Maybe she’s got some special bud tucked away for later — Tijuana Gold,

perhaps? Or Panama Red? And you gotta wonder if she’s wondering what

I’m packing — Maui Wowee? Kauai Electric? Puna Buds? Guess again. But

maybe between us, in some overlooked nook or cranny? Some pocket or


Like ghosts, I can believe in miracles. If there’s a word for it, why

couldn’t “it” exist? Ghosts. Miracles. Whatever. I’m open.

If things go well around the campfire, what do we do about King? Or is

King a big boy, trained to stand down under circumstances enforced by

the only law he knows besides the call of the wild — the beck of

Sigrid: “Sit King. Stay!” It’s easy enough to imagine on behalf of the

social fortunes of one smooth-pated eccentric questioner of

normality, whether charismatic leader or pathetic misfit yet to be

determined — perhaps by this evening’s outcome?

My Stella six-string is the cheapest student model ever made. I’d

begged, pleaded, and bargained with Whitey for this prophetic emblem

of my future as soulful singer, gunslinger, and protector of the poor

and downtrodden. I’d also cajoled my way into a pair of ACME riding

boots, a facsimile Stetson hat, and a pair of holstered cap guns with

revolving barrels. All of which I insisted on wearing to such formal

occasions as grandparents’ visits and first-day-at-a-new-school.

The Stella was the last survivor of what I guess were my halcyon days.

Even geniuses like Woody, Seeger, and Dylan would have a hard time

coaxing music from so ruefully pathetic an assembly-line travesty.

Leadbelly’s 12-string had to be not only good but extraordinary. But

how many Leadbellies are there in the world — how many talents huge

enough to support the expensive manufacture of elegant instruments,

works of art themselves?

And how many klutzes are there like me, somehow able to cadge $25 for

an instrument of aural torture, plus $1.25 per weekly lesson to

nurture a talent one might charitably label fugitive? And, er, uh,

just where does Stella make its guitars these days? Stella who?

Anyway, I tune the Stella as well as I can, play a few chords of

“Rising Sun”. Music might not be the evening’s main entertainment.

Just what the evening’s main entertainment might turn out to be seems

not to be revealing itself in a very forthcoming fashion. Time to

check out the beach in the general direction of Mexico. Oh-oh. Nobody

in either direction, Mexico or Canada. No dogs. No people. Not good.

The sun slides deeply red and ominous over dark horizons; look on my

lethal splendor and despair.

Sigrid? King? Where are you?

Easy enough to stare a bed of dying coals into sad reverie, but this

is tidal water, and by the time I get my stuff picked up, I do not

feel totally unimperilled. If you know what I mean. Like, what if my

car won’t start?

Talk story

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