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Road Trips in Halcyon Days
Zillah, Washington. A parched little town in the middle of wine country; it was named to appease Miss Zillah Oakes, the spoiled daughter of the town's mayor. Blink as you pass by, and you will miss it. It is also the home of the Teapot Dome Service Station.
Built in 1922, the little red and white building shaped like a teapot was meant to be a reminder of the Teapot Dome Scandal that rocked the Warren G. Harding presidency. It has been designated a national historic sight because of its unique architecture and historic significance. All my friend Kari and I knew was that we wanted to see it, to stop and have our pictures taken, and maybe buy an ice cold soda before resuming the long, hot trip through eastern Washington to our final destination Fruitland Idaho.
I don’t recall how many years we made the trip, driving the dusty, wind-whipped Interstate 84. I’m not even sure how Fruitland ended up as our summer destination, but we had fun.
We were two couples in our twenties when it all started: the Hyppas, Kevin and Kari; and the Townsends, Greg and Kari. The guys would ride in the front seat, girls in the back, packed like sardines into the mini van nicknamed the purple pill because of its deep eggplant color. Kevin's orange hair was a familiar sight in the driver’s seat, and Greg rode shotgun. Kari and I enjoyed cocktails in the backseat, and would laugh contentedly about silly things. “Hey look, it's Pigpenʼs head,” Kari once said referring to the character from the Charlie Brown cartoon. We laughed as she pointed to the stray hairs she missed on her kneecap while shaving her legs for the summer shorts wearing season. “Kevin, don’t forget, we want to stop at the Teapot to take pictures. Don’t forget.” “Sure thing,” Kevin would say; but every year, as we drove nearer and nearer to the roadside attraction, Greg and Kevin would engage us in conversation. “Where do you want to golf first”? Greg would ask us; and we would ponder, wondering if it would be more fun to play the pretty, flat Purple Sage or test our skills at the familiar Scotch Pines. Before we knew it we had gone several miles past the teapot, Greg and Kevin laughing, proud that they had diverted our attention, and managed to distract us, and avoid stopping for yet another year. We always vowed that next year we would stay focused, and pay attention to where we were on our journey so that we would not miss the historic attraction.
The drive from Seattle to Fruitland takes about eight hours, nine if you stop to eat and rest. It carries you on Interstate 82 through the windy cowboy town of Ellensburg, the apple-growing city of Yakima, and across the majestic Columbia river. Oregon lay on the other side of the Columbia. There we would catch I- 84. We travelled through Pendleton, home of the famous Pendleton Round Up and the Pendleton Woolen Mills. Beyond Pendleton lay LaGrande with its sugar beet factory and Baker City, where you can still see the ruts of the wagon wheels left by the pioneers during their journey west. We would know we were close to Fruitland when we crested the final hill and saw, on the horizon, the twinkling lights of the town of Ontario, Oregon.
Nestled in the middle of Treasure Valley, Fruitland Idaho is a small town. It’s made up mostly of farmland, and in the summertime you can smell the pungent odor of mint and onions grown by many of the farmers. Late in the summer harvested bales of hay dot the skyline, awaiting the strong backs of the high school football players who will load them on trucks to be sold to farmers as cattle feed.
Greg grew up in a farm house nicknamed “the poor farm,” situated on 20 acres a mile from I-84. At the end of the driveway stands a large metal building that his dad, Pat, uses to store apple packing trays that he sells to the local farmers. Inside the temperature soars in the summertime. Alongside the metal building stands the old barn, weather beaten and worn, its glory days behind it. Inside farming equipment, and tools of the trade from years gone by beckon one to investigate. Flanking the grand old barn stands the horse stalls, and an old chicken coup now used to store bee boards and other supplies.
Arriving at the Poor Farm is always a comfort, a welcome haven after our long journey on the road. “Make yourselves at home” Greg's stepmom Kristi says as she gives each weary traveller a warm hug. “We are so happy to see you.”
Our days in Idaho are filled with family and big barbecues at the farm where old friends stop by to say hi. Some summers we are honored by a visit from Dwaine and Carolyn Tesnohlidek. Mr. Tesnohlidek, or “Tess” as everyone calls him, is a throwback to another time, an authentic cowboy with a twinkle in his eye and a quick smile. Reminiscent of Roy Rogers, he is a hard working teacher who also runs his own farm.
Tess met Carolyn while riding the school bus together in the second grade. They married, became teachers, and had six children, all graduates of the University of Idaho. Tess is a tough but loving man who, along with demonstrating to his Future Farmers of America students the grizzly acts of dehorning a cow or performing a castration, makes it a point to teach them proper manners so they will be prepared should they find themselves sitting down to a formal dinner with the President. “Remember, ships go out to sea,” he would say when teaching them how to eat soup; or “don’t stab the lettuce, it is already dead,” referring to the proper way to eat a salad.
For many years we enjoyed the freedom of having dual income and no kids. We were “DINKs,” as society likes to refer to working couples without children. We had the luxury of golfing on courses all over western Idaho: Scotch Pines, where Greg had played while on the golf team in high school, Purple Sage, Centennial, and Quail Hollow, where Kevin tried to be chivalrous by going after a stray golf ball in the bushes only to run back out, high stepping with clubs flying out of his bag, yelling “I’m not going in there; there’s a snake!”
After a long day of golfing we enjoyed cold beer on tap at the Brunswick Tavern in Fruitland. Very different from the night spots we frequented in Seattle, it was a sleepy establishment where you would often see a farmer or two at the bar enjoying a cold one after a long day's work. Sharing the block with the Brunswick was Club 7. On Friday and Saturday it was home to live music. A good place to “cut a rug,” if you were in the mood to dance.
Our years as DINKs ended in the summer of 1995 when we were blessed by the birth of our son Danny. Jenna was born the following spring to the Hyppa family. Our trips took on a different focus. The already crowded Purple Pill now had to sport car seats, and juice boxes replaced cocktails. The stops were more frequent on the long trip to accommodate the needs of children who were being potty trained. A favorite summer was when Danny and Jenna repeatedly announced that they loved us “all the way up to God” their little hands stretched up to the sky. Lazy afternoons took the place of trips to the Brunswick, as we watched kids playing in wading pools in the hot summer sun, and walked with them to the farm across the road to see the baby piglets.
Danny and Jenna are in high school now. Our summer trips to Idaho have been put on hold for other things: baseball tournaments for Danny, track and soccer tournaments for Jenna. Danny just earned his own license, and has announced his plans to drive to Idaho for the summer.
So things change, so they remain the same.
And just for the record, Kari and I finally remembered to pay attention so we didn’t miss the teapot.
so long awaited,
stung with bittersweet
did you mean the
you brought upon my
Did you see
the scars of
But ceased to care?
the most dreadful;
you wanted to see
Yet those thoughts
still find their way
through my mind:
could you taste
on my lips?
having even looked
Would you have
if I simply asked?
Was it worth
Did you count
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Magic Carpet Ride
Anne watched the city, the hustle and bustle of people carting things here and there, yelling, hugging, running, jostling each other; exchanging things for money. Then she heard something, not the barking down the street nor the birds chirping on the rooftops, not something new.
It was a low whooshing sounds and a quiet ting-a-ling like bells; she went to see what it was. Down the street past the shop that smelled so nice like warmth, comfort and sweet fruit; down an alley, leaving behind the people, she saw a carpet spinning in mid air. It was chasing itself round and round singing a soft melodic song.
She stopped and watched, listening to its beautiful song. The sound of wind in the morning blowing through the grass, of birds singing and quiet places speaking. The song of wonder, of mystery, the promise of adventure and an endless horizon. The carpet stopped and looked at her (she thought it must have smiled), and then it stooped down in front of her and did a little spin with excitement.
She hopped on, and they took off over the city. She had never seen it from this height. Over the houses and right through the market; they gave the people a fright. Then out of the city along the road. She saw people on their way to and from the city, walking and riding talking and laughing. Then they were off; over the river faster and faster the carpet spun, and they laughed together. He showed her the desert huge and endless, flat but yet alive with motion.
Then she saw the mountains. Over more trees than she had ever seen, and up past huge rocks. Then off into the snow she jumped; rolling, digging in the cold white foam. The carpet made swirls; she made castles and patterns in the show. Running and jumping in and out was the most fun she had ever had. Then back on the carpet, up and round the peaks spinning round and round laughing. Then they were out above the clouds.
The white fluffy sheet seemed to go on forever, and she began to grow tired. As the sun went down below the clouds. The carpet rose and fell shortly, rhythmically, and she fell asleep up in the clouds with her new friend.
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Yellow Eyed Terror
I was sitting at the bar drinking a beer and listening to the music coming from the piano in the corner before I turned in for the night when the girl walked in. She was young too young for this place as the only other girl I had seen here tonight in this tavern filled with men was the prostitute who had just finished enticing a pair of drunks to partake of her services. The girl was pretty and drew a lot of eyes as she walked in. She looked at me her eyes were yellowed like paper left in the sun for too long. She smiled and i saw that her mouth was filled with too many sharp teeth, a look that chilled me to the bone. Then, as she was walking toward the bar a man reached out and grabbed her arm, her head turned and she hissed, the man froze, a look of terror in his eyes. She flung her arms out, away from her body, ripping off her cloak to reveal her gruesome body. Her height doubled as she stretched out her long clawed arms and legs she, lifted him up over her head and her ribcage opened as she ripped him in half. I jumped over the bar and pulled the bartender, frozen in terror, to the floor. Looking up I saw a shotgun hidden under the bar grabbing it, I stood up to find a massacre men torn limb from limb, their insides strewn across the room, the railing ripped off the stairs, the piano destroyed, the girl nowhere to be seen. Out of thirty seven men, me and the bartender were the only ones to survive that horrible night.
Into the Ocean
It was just after midnight on July 30, 1945 when the attack began – and it was over just as quickly. I was thrown from the top bunk, my neck and shoulder colliding with the steel frame of the adjacent bunks. The room flashed completely white; blinking hard, I forced my vision to clear.
“Holy shit,” Raulph exclaimed, pushing off of the ground and pulling me up. We donned our brown kapok life jackets and emerged into the hall beyond our quarters in time for the second hit to bring us back to our knees.
“Get up, Donny” Raulph commanded, wrenching Paul and me to our feet. Blood throbbed at my temples, but I shoved the pain aside as we forced our way through the confusion. Our fourth bunk mate, a guy whose name I had never caught, tripped and was sucked into the mass of frightened faces. There was no time to go back for him.
Oh God, please forgive me.
“We’re going down,” Paul shouted from behind us. Then, as if on cue, the keel exploded and our bow began to plummet. Several men toppled, littering the floor with their crumpled figures.
“We need to get into the water,” I yelled back.
Raulph nodded, taking my hand and leading me through the sea of bodies which strangled the cramped hallway. The starboard side began rapidly moving into the water, causing us to be thrown off balance. The door had already been thrown open. Without hesitating, we dove into the freezing cold water and began making distance between us and the sinking ship.
“She’s gone,” I said as we finally began to slow.
The USS Indianapolis was already partially lost to the depths. Sporadic patches of moonlight reflecting off portions of her port which had not yet been submerged were the only indication that she had ever been. We had been a crew of almost 1,500, but those who had made it into the ocean only added to a little over half. With so many crew members already lost, the nightmare which had yet to begin was inconceivable.
After the initial shock began to wear off, our training kicked in and we began to work towards survival. Several groups began forming, each man linking arms with another to remain together. The end result was circles of a hundred or so men; the weakest or injured on the inside, and the strongest on the outside.
Raulph took his place by my right side, our arms linked. We spent all night in this position; some men spoke of who might have done this (the general consensus in our circle was the Japanese because of what we carried). Others remained quiet, saving their energy.
As yellow and orange from the rising sun pierced my tired eyes, the screams began. At first I thought we were under attack again, but then I saw them circling: Tiger sharks had come to feed. Men were being plucked from the outer rings like feathers from a turkey breast. Their sudden shrieks were almost immediately cut off as they were pulled under water.
A medium-sized tiger shark darted past me, its tail fin hitting our legs like a rope. The razor-like skin caught Raulph just right and blood began to pool around him. He looked at me, his eyes wide with knowing. There were so many things I yearned to say to him, but it was only seconds before he was taken from me.
That night, under darkness of a starless sky, I wept. My dehydrated body ached with each tearless sob. Paul said nothing as his grip on my arm tightened. Eventually, my sobs turned to shivers as my eyes finally forced themselves closed.
I dreamt of Raulph. The way a crooked smile played across his lips every time he knew I was bluffing; his contagious laughter which kept us afloat during tough times. But he’s gone now, ripped from my life as suddenly as we were forced into the cold, unforgiving waters between Guam and Leyte Gulf for five days.
The Return of Morning Star
“I know, Mary, it’s despicable. They are just the worst kind of people,” René said into the receiver, glancing out the kitchen window.
Lucy ran from the sandbox to the slide, giggling and wildly waving her stuffed bear as she flew down into the pit. Turning, the toddler’s eyes caught the sunlight, light blue flashing almost white. A dark, thick cloud passed over the sun, throwing the child into shadow. René bit her lip and turned her attention back to the dishes.
“She’s better now; the night terrors are almost completely gone.” René propped the phone between her shoulder and ear. Retrieving a stack of plates, she stretched the cord to its limit and wrangled them into the cupboard.
“I will – goodbye,” the phone clicked into its holder.
René paused at the fridge to straighten a magnet. Retrieving a bundle of half a dozen dry knives, she glanced out the window. The utensils slipped through her fingers and crashed to the floor as she flew from the kitchen to the door. Her bare feet reached the front lawn as the camper pulled away from the curb. She launched from the front porch into a run after it.
After a few blocks, her movements slowed, a stitch forming in her side. Dropping to her knees, she reached forward as if the act would halt the camper from fleeing: “Please don’t take my baby.”
Neighbors poured into the street as her sobs turned to wails. The police arrived within fifteen minutes, the youngest ushering the gawking crowd aside so the oldest could help a hysterical René home. It took him twenty minutes to calm her down, coaxing her slowly to sniffles with generic phrases intended to comfort.
Sam arrived home two hours later, the dusty stuffed bear tucked under his arm. Lighting a cigarette, he heavily sat down in his easy chair: “Calm down, René,” he said behind a wall of smoke. He crossed his left leg over his right, dropping further behind the thickening wall.
“The gypsies took our baby, Sam,” her voice rose, “They just drove away with her!”
“I’m aware, but you causing a scene won’t bring her back.” René folded at the waist and placed her head in her hands. Sam lit another cigarette, his dark eyes landing on the two uniformed figures shifting uncomfortably in the doorway. “Gentlemen, I’m sure you have all you need for the evening. Please see yourselves out.”
The two police officers looked at each other; the youngest raised an eyebrow, but the eldest shook his head. Both men left the house quietly, leaving husband and wife alone. Half a dozen minutes ticked by before either of them stirred from the silence. Sam stood and crossed to the front window, peeking through a slit in the curtains.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” he demanded, turning his glare on René. She straightened up and pulled a bottle of rum from her apron. Twisting off the cap and taking a long pull, her shoulders relaxed slightly.
“You said to ‘make it believable.’” She glared at him, taking another pull from the bottle.
“Yes, believable – not absurd.”
“Why does it matter? Now everyone will know, so no one will ask questions.” René glanced at the stuffed bear on the living room table. It sat propped up against a vase, its black, beady eyes watching her. Sitting forward, she plucked the child’s toy from the table and tossed it down the hall.
“It’s gone, Sam,” René whispered, “It’s finally over.”
“You know as well as I do it will never be over,” Sam began to make his way to the bedroom. He slowed, his eyes pausing on a freshly burnt section of carpet outside the child’s room: “Not until it’s dead.”
The bedroom door locked into its frame, leaving René alone. She sat in silence, sipping on the last of the rum, staring at three pink scars on each of her wrists. Leaning into the back of the couch, her eyes shut as she retrieved a small necklace from underneath the folds of her blouse. She began turning the small, gold cross with her index finger and thumb.
Just after midnight, headlights lit up the front lawn, waking René. Her eyes opened to find herself face to face with the stuffed bear. Shoving it away, she pushed herself from the couch.
“Sam,” she called out, eyes half-open. “Sam!”
After several seconds of stumbling, she made it to the door and broke on to the porch just as a young man reached the top of the steps. Perspiration glistened on his furrowed brow; something wrapped in red cloth was shoved into her arms. René looked down, light blue eyes shined up at her.
“Take her,” she stepped toward him, holding out the toddler. “You must take my baby.”
He shook his head, backing down the steps slowly. Turning, he began to run back to the camper. Before the door was even shut, the wheels turned wildly, kicking up dry dirt and dead grass. Tires squealed as it disappeared around a street corner.
“No,” Renee whispered, setting Lucy down and backing away. The crunching of dead grass grew louder as all other sounds fell away; even the crickets halted their music.
Sam appeared from the darkness beyond the open door: “René, what the hell—” he stopped, taking notice of the bundle. Leaning down, he pushed back a fold of the red cloth then recoiled, as if his hand had been nipped by fire, and stepped over the toddler to his wife.
“They brought her back,” René said, tears streaming down her face. “They just brought her back.”
Sam took her into his arms and pressed her into his chest. The bundle shifted as a small hand found its way through the red folds, reaching toward the moon in the dark, starless sky.
Rohypnal House... No Means Yes Mansion... Passed Out Pussy Palace...
The vulgar nicknames kept buzzing through her head as she tried to steady herself on the arm of a couch. Nicole’s friends had begged her not to come; they had warned her of the fraternity’s history. But she hadn’t listened to any of them. It was her college experience and the frat parties were all her older brothers could talk about on their breaks back home – why shouldn’t she be able to have a good time, too?
Flyers for the party had been shoved into the greedy hands of nearly every freshman by the end of the first week. Her plan had been to make a quick stop into the party, be seen by a few of the older boys from the house to ensure invitations to future parties, and then make it back to the campus library before any of her friends had even noticed she was absent. It was brilliant really; appease her friends while making a name for herself within the first month – what could go wrong?
Nicole had left the quiet sidewalk under the cloudless night sky and entered into a madhouse. A sea of bodies mashed together as some people danced and others fornicated right then and there. Her gut told her to flee, but she refused to turn back after having come so far. She accepted a drink and then another from one of the older boys as he slowly led her to one of the backrooms so they could talk privately.
“Get to know each other,” he had said. His light grey eyes never left her as they moved from one end of the house to the other, like a predator watching its prey.
Her fingers, slick with beer, stuck to the pleather couch’s arm. Where is the door?
Nicole blinked hard, trying to force her weary eyes to focus. They were no longer alone; several other boys had begun to arrive. The boy with the light grey eyes wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her into him, forcing his mouth hard against hers. A few of the observers cheered him on as their sick game kicked off. He tried to force his tongue past her pursed lips, the thick stench of vodka pouring into her nostrils. She fought the urge to cough and brought her knee to his groin with as much strength as she could muster.
He dropped to the floor. Losing her balance, she stumbled forward and crashed to the ground. A black haired boy reached down and pulled her up by her hair. He pulled her against him and shoved his member into her back.
“Jimmy gets dibs, man.” Someone said as a cold hand shoved its way down her top. “Those are the rules: Whoever nabs ‘em gets first go.” She winced as two fingers twisted her nipple. “Fine,” the black haired boy dutifully replied and dropped Nicole on her back into a heap. Before she could begin to lift herself up, the grey eyed boy was once more upon her. He straddled her at the knees and struck her hard across the face with the back of his hand. Her head lulled back for a moment; the upside down faces of the onlookers came into view. They sneered and laughed and spit.
The room started to spin as the sound of the party became distant, as if it were on the other end of a very long tunnel. The grey eyed boy grabbed her thighs with both hands and pulled her to him. A hand clawed at her skirt, flinging it up to expose her underwear. She tried to push him off but her muscles failed her. Cruel laughter filled the room as hands began to molest her inner thighs.
Now is my chance.
With both of his hands clumsily trying to push aside her underwear, the grey eyed boy was no longer holding her in place. Taking a deep breath, she kicked wildly. Her white sneaker connected with his head. The room went quiet as he fell back. She scrambled to her feet and shoved through the line of boys to the door.
“Oh shit,” she heard a boy say behind her. “That’s a lot of fucking blood, man.”
Without hesitating, Nicole leapt through the double-doors and dove into the crowd, shoving her way to the front door of the house. A few party goers asked if she was alright, but she didn’t stop. Her only goal was to flee.