They were birds of passage of no fixed abode, who have grown a lifelong experience from travel to have it down to a science, knowing how to visit the most unlikely spots on Earth with minimum cost and risk, and maximum adventure. More than mere nature hippies, they celebrated and advocated a mobile, minimalist lifestyle. They scented danger and warned others whenever a politician tried selling a suspicious urban plan or passing a law harming environment and average citizens. No one could throw them off the scent as they were guided by the scent of Mother Nature herself, taking them through meandering mystery-scented routes, surreally scenic lands and a perpetual change of scenery that city slickers and many modern yuppies fail to see or value.
Still, they didn't follow their "itchy-feet" blindly, applying reason first and refusing bondage to any place, human or object. They traveled for months discovering the world, or stayed still, even longer, analyzing what they discovered. They helped inhabitants in different environments, then left to help others elsewhere, considering even their own friendship transient. At present they were "five," with newcomers occasionally joining and old-timers departing.
Anna from Oxford, England, who's been in the US for 10 years, is a "granola" vegan and scholar of anthropology who likes mixing study with real-life experiment. She hates study or work for itself, like an eternal student, desk jockey or workaholic (taking a busman's holiday). She could be seen reading a book on recondite subjects, leaving her friends to attend an abstruse lecture, or even sharing a cabalistic ritual with indigenous people. She once met a sibyl in Africa who confided to her grave sibylline prophesies, none of which came true, yet. Anna wrote a book called Mysticanna.
Katie from Boston is an art graduate, with a baby face and dulcet tones. Refusing to be the hypersensitive esthete obsessed with the surface, she sold most of her art collections, taking art "out" of walls, corners and galleries, to the larger realm of life. She irregularly teaches applied arts, horticulture, and urban planning. Her goal is to make an art of life and the whole Earth a beautiful place, that, she knows, means a peaceful place first. Katie is grateful for her friend Anna she had deputed several times to confront those misjudging or harassing her.
Dave is a power engineer who set up his own lab, now left to his brother's care while away. Despite his acerbic wit and erratic mischievous behavior, he has three patents. As in his "optimal-energy" inventions, he seeks to speed up life, break society's barriers and unleash its potential. He reads horror and science fiction, and conducts experiments on everything and everyone, friends or strangers. Dave had a short affection for Katie that eventually turned into friendship.
John is an English teacher spending most time on research. He is fortunate to have grandparents from four different countries, which, along with his travels and eclectic catholic tastes, makes him the ultimate cosmopolitan, acculturating into any environment with ease and celerity. He found in English a great medium to connect world peoples. An independent well-rounded scholar, John is more of a strategist and goal-setter for others.
Finally, Dan is a middle-aged widower who had started his mechanic's career helping his father, before joining a technical high school whose courses he couldn't finish. His "skills" far exceed most formal students', by which he made nationwide friends he had occasionally helped. Dan lived before in a cottage, tent, trailer, and boat, in the forest, mountains, desert, and sea. Should he be sent alone to Mars, he might survive there too. He is a Renaissance man with diverse gifts and accretions of experience he likes to share with others.
* * *
Once, they decided to explore the remote, virgin, less inhabited regions of the Wild West, eager to see how reality matches fantasy, grown by the many books they read and childhood dreams they had.
It was a regular autumn day. After long deliberation, they departed without Dave, whom they had been awaiting for hours in vain. To escape the rut they were stuck in, they had a short "powwow" at a pothouse to discuss their itinerary. It was near the billets where World War II soldiers used to stay. It looked like a big wigwam with a welcome sign in Navajo, and the owner himself was wearing a traditional stroud. Above him was a framed old picture of top generals and officials posing at the entrance. He told Anna later how one of the generals was thanking his father for "having them on his land," a pun that brought tears to his eyes, for he loved and defended "all" Americans, settlers or natives.
They were relaxing on the deck by sunset, when Dan suggested, "Let's eat something." Finding the menu diverse but normal, they "noshed" on a regular burger, potatoes and salad, followed by red wine. Dan ordered a Scotch on the rocks he quaffed to the lees, without getting besotted or maudlin as the company and occasion wouldn't allow it. None of them was really bibulous, rather preferring safe conscious pleasures, while only occasionally imbibing some "firewater" for a spark, actuating their engine before long tedious work. They scarfed the meal in a few minutes, when improvident happy-go-lucky Dave arrived.
"Finally you graced us with your presence!", Katie sighed, "We thought you 'finked out'." To his delight, he found seafood on the menu served by the restaurant's seafood section. He began eating, while sitting next to "veggie" Anna, who was none too pleased by the sight. The sound of smashed carapace of the (hopefully) dead crustacean filled her with repugnance. "What a scary dining experience," she said. "And a costly 'boondoggle' too!", Katie added. Dave demolished a plateful of oysters he deftly shucked and slurped, then finished up with a sweet syllabub. For hours afterwards, the esurient mouth and hands were still redolent of guilt, and to Anna, smacking of speciesism.
The clerk checked his ledger then gave them a receipt. Dave searched his billfold for some change; finding none, he asked John to tip the waiter for him, which he did with a forced smile. As it was dark and cold, with no place to spend the night, they decided to camp in the open, which they were already prepared for with all the appurtenances of camping.
The next morning, Dave was driving his friends in his heavy-duty invincible-chassis van. It wasn't as good as Dan's trailer they had had great times in, that was in for repair at present, going through a transformation to suit longer harder trips and more passengers.
When they reached a dense forest, they stopped the car to discover the place on foot. After a half-hour arduous walk through thick brackens, they rested at a serene glade, enjoying the sylvan delights. In a shady nook with the dappled sunlight falling across their faces, they were both reminiscing and confiding their future ambitions. They recalled their graduation year, their annus mirabilis, that soon after the bubble burst and real test of life began. Oh, how they missed the frivolities they indulged in, even at school nights before exams!
In the afternoon, Dave was driving them fast and deep into a road with no sign. It eventually bifurcated into two more, of which Dave chose the one alongside the river. They were enjoying the sight of sun reflection on the river and cranes preening their feathers, when the road was suddenly interrupted, by a fallen tree over a decomposed deer's body. It was a barren deserted section of the road, except for a decrepit old house abutting a large sycamore tree.
While they were removing the malodorous corpse, Katie's artistic interest in the house' design drove her closer for further inspection. She gathered it was no less than 150 years old, obviously deserted, as she told Anna. "It's still in good condition though; I would rent it for a week if possible." Anna didn't like such idea, especially repulsed by the house' eccentric structure. Somehow she viscerally believed a jinx was on the place, for there was no strong wind in the first place to pull down such a big tree and kill the deer.
"You want to live here? Is this a death wish? It must have been for decades gnawed away at by insidious humidity. This dilapidated house is a death trap for passersby, let alone occupants. You sign the lease and sign your own death warrant too. Look, it's almost wobbling in place! A powerful wind blows, then you hear its walls cracking like the death rattle of a dying man."
Katie yet made a final desperate attempt to check if there were inhabitants, by knocking on the huge rusty door. It sent a ripple through the whole house, causing raids of dust and cacophonous cracking, and disturbing a couple of bats that nervously flew away with a strident squeak. Anna dragged Katie by the hand, out of her artistic trance, to rejoin the others.
It took them 30 minutes and brute force to lift the obstacle, not without casualties. John had to staunch the blood gushing from his index, by perfuming then putting a pack on it; whereas Katie used her nail clippers to remove some nettlesome hangnails. That was milder than the thorn in Anna's palm, that grew purulent and suppurated for hours. "You did us a great disservice, Dave," she harrumphed.
Dan kindly suggested to cauterize the wound with a heated knife or caustic soda—a procedure others found unnecessary. "Thanks Dan, you're a brick. Keep those nuggets of wisdom in mothballs for now until we need them," Dave said wryly.
Anna was so upset, that she asked for a temporary reprieve from this perilous journey. John said, "Now Dave the onus is on you to disentangle us from this imbroglio. It's your bounden duty for we don't deserve so cruel a nemesis." Unless he acts fast, Dave will be deposed, divested of the leader scepter and all the privileges appertaining to. "If you abrogate our agreement, you must abdicate, and Dan will succeed you." John ceremonially stated.
After several abortive attempts to ascertain an exit, Dave found a causeway between the swamps to drive on. When he reached a safer terra firma, he still had to slow down as the road was bumpy and full of chuckholes caused by the falling stones from the mountain on its side. "This reminds me of my old boneshaker," Dan nostalgically confided to Katie, who was apprehensively holding a litterbag. Dave advised her to calm down. "Don't be a marshmallow. In all modesty, I can drive you 'blindfold.'" She nodded nervously in agreement.
* * *
They stopped by a dreary little village, welcoming visitors with a biblical verse. Despite its seeming insipidity, they set out to discover it: architecture, flora and fauna, center and out in "the boondocks." It was Sunday and many worshippers were heading to a local chapel, the only one there. Dave and his friends joined the congregation.
The stentorian lector was reading from a large hagiography book in the lectern, about a medieval saint people flocked around like children gamboled about Jesus. The language was excessively mawkish, suiting a billet-doux not a liturgy. Even the statues and icons looked pretentious: there were macho saints on caparisoned horses, sylph-like nuns, plump-cheeked angels, and old beetle-browed clerics. They were funded by visiting members of the gilded aristocracy and some anonymous benefactors, as was engraved on the marble tablet telling the church history.
"Sure Anna, you miss your 'happy-clappy' worshipers back in England," John said. She answered, "Those grey floating wraiths in the icons are quite amusing. I feel like holding a séance, not a mass."
After the mass, they found a nearby cheap guesthouse, where they dined in an open-air restaurant, while listening to a mediocre Beatles tribute band, and a consort playing native American music on old instruments, which they liked most.
Then they visited a weekend makeshift market near the borders. It sold foodstuffs, secondhand goods, as well as bootleg wine and contraband cigarettes. Dan and Katie bought some cheap "schlock," while Dave, John and Anna were schlepping around, occasionally talking to the vendors. Around midday, they returned to the guesthouse to rest one last time before resuming their journey.
* * *
After three hours driving, they arrived in a city wherein Dave has a "young" friend. Josh has only recently graduated from high school. He was a fraternity member and a passionate goth player, enjoying holding private parties, dancing at mosh pits, and occasional, mischievous high jinks. He invited them to an "informal" party he and his colleagues were having. The tattoos on his arms and face, along with the strange clothes, made Dan and Anna grow suspicious, but Dave assured them Josh was safe, and they could simply sit and watch if not participate in the party. Having nothing to lose, they accepted, being already familiar with Dave's other eccentricities, that Josh was only an addition to.
When they arrived at "the party," they first saw babies and toddlers in bloomers and rompers, romping around their parents. Dan wondered why would a parent bring their little "brood" to such a place, unless "non compos mentis"? Their older teenage sisters wore similar toddlers' clothes but more feminine, along with "hot" jump-suits over smooth shiny limbs, natural or with a depilatory help. Some were dressed in hippie lacerated pants, and some in medieval skirts. They occasionally had their own "romp" too, heedless of the lecherous eyes "leching after" a prospective prey.
They were at the threshold of womanhood, that, to gain access to, they only had outer characters to show. There were all kinds of hairstyles and tonsorial diversity, old and modern, long and short, greased or immaculately coiffed, with colorful bobby-pins, hairbands, hairnets, and other outlandish headgear. Wherever you moved your eyes, there was an excess of kohl-thickened eyebrows, rouged-cheeks, lip-glossed sanguine lips, etc. like greasepaint on professional actors, but at times as scary as war paint.
It only took a strapping lad to successfully romp through all those booby-traps. Like a sci-fi hero, he was dressed in see-through plastic clothes only showing skivvies, and walking by a nymphet in a slip-like gown, with a face much like his. The little temptress and her guardian symbiotically needed each other. Wherever they went, they were holding court with admirers clustering around them.
In such dishabille, Dave asked Katie to show her hidden tattoo. "She has a beautifully-colored Japanese tattoo," he said. "Oh really, on which part of her anatomy?" Josh wondered. She was only listening to the music, and wanted to dance but feared those city "burghers." So she asked Big Dan to chaperone her.
Most other guests were mere wallflowers sitting pretty, and "sad sacks" who can't even make an introduction. The place had colorful decorations, helium-filled balloons, falling confetti, etc. Thankfully, Dave's friends liked the food most, if not only. They thanked Josh and asked to leave because they were exhausted, but promised to meet the next day.
* * *
The place Josh took them to the next day was a downtown club, more shocking than the last night party, simply because it has strange people from "all ages" and walks of life. Josh told them that Dr. Pinsky—the reformer, and Josh's role model—would give a speech tonight. Josh also added to beware of the audience, calling them the lunatic fringe!
Dr. Pinsky was driving on a rutty road, having to propitiate many flower children and fervent advocates of flower power, alongside spongers, leeches, and other parasites feeding off others. Roaring with anger, the audience barraged him with such vitriol and stream of invective, but he courageously sustained their vitriolic attack, and said:
"You are not allowed to fornicate while in a relationship each time you feel ruttish with someone (animals in rut do it, not you), even if not punished for criminal conversation. We embroiled ourselves in this by following trends and abusing a nascent technology leading to this social imbroglio, wrecking families and displacing children. I won't remonstrate with you about the damage you do to future generations, or against your shameful legacy to them. The zeitgeist of this global era is to adopt diversity, not anarchy."
They unjustly inveighed against "that effete intellectual" pontificating on comporting oneself more modestly—which didn't comport with their nature at all—and inveigling them into some antiquated values. They billed him as the pious beetle although they were themselves the most powerless, pusillanimous, craven hypocrites, who wouldn't scruple to crassly hurt and insult others, and get choleric when insulted themselves. The rich among them were but unscrupulous opportunists cloaked in socialism.
A man with thick glasses said, "Let me expostulate with you sir about the 'trials and tribulations' of marriage you never tried yourself, and propound my alternative love theory." "Wait!" came from the next table, "Look at us," pointing at seven men and women, "We've been partners of two decades now." A wealthy "cradle-rubber" fondling his trophy wife's breast said, "With hard work I get love and whatever else." Even the well-educated among them excessively plied him with double entendres and sexual innuendos. He was helplessly alone.
A facially-tattooed crone in a ratty overcoat, wryly batting her eyelashes at him, said, "Get down my sweet, and keep your sweet nothings to you." Her partner added, "Get on my lap and I'll dandle you right; you'll find it jim-dandy!" A drunk codger having bats in the belfry hollered, "I can love and love; I'm none the worse for wear. Even my wife accepts my 'extracurricular' activities. I won't fink on you if you have some." Another making a ludicrous long face said, "I'm so touched I'm going to turn on the waterworks. I learned more from the school of hard knocks than all your books." His "prodigal son" added, "Only women and drugs matter, even if I die or end up in the hoosegow."
Let's spare ourselves the sordid details about those seedy characters from the seamy side of life in the City. Those weren't mere anomic groups, but a growing culture, not dissimilar to those seeking social reform or other grave causes. Their decadence was leading to the inevitable corollary of a fallen civilization, unless someone intervenes to redress the balance for the once respectable City. He took it upon himself to save them, for he had faced more exigent problems and people before, and is willing to face more.
Dave and his friends sat quiet all the while, apprehensive and confused, about the inexplicable behavior of this motley of individuals they feared to converse with. Other than Josh and two of his friends, they were a minority in a weak position surrounded by danger from all sides. This gave nobody a thrill but Dave, while the others attempted in vain to skedaddle. Poor Katie was interrupted by two hooligans at the corridor while attempting skittering away like a frightened kitten. Josh asked them to stay few more minutes until Pinsky finished his speech.
Despite the bedlam, Dr. Pinsky didn't bat an eyelid and stoically swallowed his pride. Neither the audience's remarks nor his reticent self-effacing comportment scotched him from speaking the truth, dispassionately. Little did their scorn or incredulity to bate his ingenuous desire to transform them. He wanted to sponge down their minds, to see properly what will accrue to them, on their and loved ones' lives.
He produced a pencil from a fanny pack around his waist to underline what he would say. It was a bumbag from his years in London, long surviving normal wear and tear. He was a hippie too, but even hippies need principles. Additionally, he was an ingenious man with works of great ingenuity. His prolific writings and artistic efflorescence were indisputable. Like a coruscating comet in a wintry night, his witty coruscations were grasped by few. Had his detractors allowed him some leeway, he would have transformed them into another species. He went with the flow, sailing downwind to windward islands of brutes and cannibals.
He was yet a determined sedulous worker, not relying on genius sparks or serendipity alone. His long assiduous studies proved it. Any future scenario he prognosticated was scientifically based, where he only sends his mental probes to reconnoiter dangers before they happen. Though having no leadership gravitas, he was a powerful orator. Adept at dealing with their ilk, with the adduced evidence he expounded further on human superiority, not the beasts they would devolve into. Without needles expatiation on the known risks, he focused on the benefits they will get. He offered no anodyne words or dissimulated his disgust with the anomie state they were heading to. He wanted to cure their minds from the barbaric oxymoronic subhuman-transhumanism they adopt. He loved them and wouldn't disown them, especially when former friends of his were among them.
* * *
The raucous audience became rowdy and violent. They started attacking him physically, first by food, water and glasses, then mounted the stage and began beating him until he lost consciousness. Josh and Dave were pushing the attackers as far as possible, while Dan and the girls carried Dr. Pinsky away and left from the backdoor. John found by the podium a blood-stained torn-out notebook that Dr. Pinsky had been holding, containing what appeared to be quotes, aide-memoires, or guidelines he had adumbrated to focus on. It read:
* * *
At Josh's house the whole company was gathered around the injured doctor. Anna and Katie were helping Josh's mother minister to him, while all the others were vehemently discussing the incident, whose voices were a vague part of a dream in Ben Pinsky's head.
Josh lived with his mother, two young sisters, and grandfather. Sarah was a strong middle-aged mother, with yet a low self-esteem. Katie asked if she has a job, or husband. "Thereby hangs a tale. As you see, I'm no spring chicken. My father helps me with the children after divorcing my husband, whom I had caught red-handed, in flagrante delicto. Immediately after, he married his mistress, who had been divorced too from her old cuckold, to marry the new one," Sarah recounted.
Josh found in Dr. Pinsky a father figure to love and respect. When asked, however, neither Sarah nor the doctor plans to marry, ever.
"I can't even tone up my wobbly bits, and perhaps soon I'll need my grandfather's crutch he used to support his shaky pins." Sarah was only 40, going on 60. She was comparing herself to her athletic father: "I envy that well-preserved, ageless 'Peter Pan.'"
Hearing one of the girls crying, she said, "Not an hour passes by without familial problems. It's the story of my life. I can't replace them; they are my nearest and dearest." She stood up and headed toward the danger zone. The little urchin had been showing her wobbly tooth to her sister, when the latter slapped her on the face and caused her to bleed. Sarah yelled, "What more can I do? I am at my wits' end." The girl said she only bopped the "naughty" tooth. Her mother rebuked and admonished her not to trot out the same old excuses. "Woe betide you if it happens again," she augured. The child ran with a woebegone expression to her grandfather for refuge. "Off to the family ombudsman again!'
Zach was a wizened, old sea dog with a bald pate and hirsute face, whose acumen has withstood the test of time. The old sage was regaling his guests with stories of his past adventures, as when he saved an entire family from drowning. "I saw the boat capsize, and I had to keep all my wits about me to act fast. I jumped into water with a rope I dragged the whole family with. They thanked me and offered money, but insisted to sue the boat owner. I was subpoenaed both as an eyewitness and expert witness to testify before the judge; I took the witness stand while being cross-examined by the state attorney. I still have the newspaper issue with my sketched picture during the trial."
Sarah prepared some schnitzels for dinner followed by strong schnapps her guests enjoyed much. Dr. Pinsky finally regained his consciousness and vigor and began to talk. It was dusk, when they were all sitting in a semi-circle at the balcony sipping their tea.
* * *
Ben explained: "The assault was engineered by Zigg, many of whose friends you already saw tonight insulting me. He had been Josh's drama teacher until few months ago, when the school board fired him. He was a failed thespian, a mediocre cineaste, and later attempting to be a cult leader. He only dreamed of being accosted by adulatory fans treating him like idol. Despite his good salary from school, he needlessly, crassly asked for emolument. When refused, he absconded with money from the school's safe. When discovered, I intervened with the school board to fire him only, and not report him to the police. Going to jail would break his mother's heart, if not kill her.
"Once he was speaking in the club, with the usual fake abnegation and stories that abound with falsehoods, making the audience interrupt him, "We will brook no liars here. Save your casuistry and chicanery for other imbeciles." They couldn't accord him the same hospitality they showed others, like me. They called me by name to speak in his stead. From that moment on I became his archenemy.
"I was asked to adjudicate on a dispute between contestants at an annual competition, many of whom were former students of mine. I did so with full impartiality; then, while waiting for the judges' decision, I was encouraging them: 'It remains to be seen whether you will succeed and go down in the annals of history like other great men. I'm optimistic seeing that all the questions fall within the ambit of your bailiwick.' I wished them freedom from any stereotypes or ancien regime they had to act under the aegis of. They were anxiously awaiting the denouement of that hour-long protracted drama, when finally they were adjudged 'accepted.' No one can adjure them again to recant their belief in themselves.
"Yet Zigg's 'allies' accused me of bias, and succeeded in turning many of my students against me. Despite last night's events, I had had to go and give my last speech, then leave this City, forever. I may quit teaching too. I may join you."
They Rambled Still ...