A Builder's Tale
“ It all starts somewhere.”
Wilson Abernathy was on his back and settled into a pile of snow. He might have been making snow angels but he was not. Instead, he was simply staring skyward. It was one of those Colorado mountain spring days when you can see and sense the glitter in the air, flashes from the corner of the eye and gone, as if tiny particles of the oxygen itself were expanding into thousands of small explosions. He sensed these but it was the clouds which had his eye, drifting slow above him...the puffed white shapes transformed into rolling hils and houses. He could have easily imagined these structures anywhere and without the need of clouds, but his mind and eye patterned them to that purpose.
His cross-country skis splayed from his feet and long stretched legs making angles of hickory, legs and snow. Wilson Abernathy was a builder, and an architect; this was the reason for this cloud shaping. At various times in his life he had worked most every construction trade from the filthy to the clean. This day he employed himself in none of these. Instead he was a backcountry skier, by himself, alone in the mountains near Aspen Colorado. He lay where he fell not because he was tired or hurt but because of the clouds above him, and these were his musings excuse for tracing houses in the sky.
He had needed the winter off. He had thought he needed years, and perhaps he would have taken them if he could. Left Michigan forever, never to return, if his sculptured flowing residence of glass and stone and massive beams and high soaring space had sold. It and his boat, the mooring, and the water...Sell it all. That had been the plan. Sell out... quit...escape for a time...reexamine...live modestly. But he wondered staring at these clouds that even if it all went tomorrow, and he secure with dollars for a time, was that what he wanted?
It had already been five months and he was again thinking of unique houses. Waking up in the middle of the night from dreams of spaces he had never seen or walked or lived in. Dreams of stairs just so and beams just right, windows the proper height, and ridge beams not too high or low but perfect in proportion. Dreaming of houses where the spaces soared enough to be grand but not so much to diminish. That fine balance which was almost never right for others, but was easy for him. Easy, if he had the dreams. And he was dreaming again those dreams of houses.
Departing Michigan to Aspen he had planned to slowly start over. He had formed a Colorado company, bought insurance taken tests and paid for licenses. There was now a project waiting if he wanted; a remodel he had designed for a musician friend. He had thought this would be enough. It would give him time to ride his bike again and hike and think of other things, but lying here in the snow he was not so sure. The recent dreams and these houses in the sky made him wonder.
Was it enough and would it provide enough money if the summer passed and he was left living in Colorado while still paying a whopping mortgage on a piece of empty ‘architectural brilliance’, in Michigan? You might ask; doesn’t brilliance sell The answer is not always, and not this bit of Wilson’s “brilliance”... not when you have built unique beauty and space while the market has switched to old and moldy. That was the problem; he was trapped by the past, his recent and the more distant of a hundred years before.
It seemed that every Nouveau Riche who wanted a second home in Northern Michigan wished to pretend that grandpa had been a Rockefeller or a Carnegie and not a tradesman, small-time salesman, or a factory man. They could not of course dust the common from their clothes. They should not have wished too. They should have listened to more Aaron Copeland. But they did wish this imagined social cleansing and thus did not want what he was selling. He was not selling old and moldy and English prints, he had not been so callous, or unprincipled to himself to embrace this fraud as Ralph Lauren had done with clothes (and perhaps Ralph did like old, but he doubted it). Anyway, he did not know Ralph Lauren, but he knew that Ralph Lauren was rich and he knew he was not.
Wilson had not imagined. His first project had sold. It was different, unique. But as the saying goes, “the masses are asses” and these new wealthy masses were no different in his mind. But to their lack of discredit they were no different from new money at any time or anywhere, no different from the Dickens dustman who became the “Golden Dustman” and now was the richest man in town...feeling outside and looking in, and wanting old to be accepted, or the Veneers from the same Novel. No different from the horribly rich Robber Barons of the past who had thieved and stolen and then attacked old money with their New Port Rhode Island. He had built for people with the confidence of old money and the only ones buying were those with new, and these folks wanted old.
Oh, there had been a few with interest, more than enough to keep him busy, but they had wanted his designs, new ones, unique ones for themselves and not his house. Other wise he was discovering that people confident in their own taste are rare in the world and he had not realized this until recently.
It was this same day, later, in the evening after he had returned to his small apartment when the phone rang. It was almost serendipity, because when he reluctantly rose and answered it was a call from Michigan. A call from a man he did not know or had not heard of, knew nothing about at all. But the man knew of him.
“Wilson Abernathy”, the phone cracked and snapped with a poor connection, “Wilson Abernathy, I’m looking for Wilson Abernathy.”
“You have him”, he said.
“Where are you”, said the phone. “Is this Colorado?”
“Right again”, said Wilson, “Who is it?”
“Is this the builder?” said the phone.
“Architect Builder”, he said.
“Well, sure, I knew that, this is Tim Stevens. I’ve heard of you...seen that house you did on Lake Arnaud. I may be interested in you”.
“O...K”, said Wilson. “Tell me. I don’t think I know you, have we met?”
“No”, said the phone, “no we haven’t, but I’ve seen the house you built.”
“I’ve done a few”, said Wilson grabbing a beer from the refrigerator and sitting down. “Which one was it?”
“Charlie Larsen’s”, said the phone, “Charlie’s a friend of a friend of mine and we were over there last Christmas. I liked the house. Are you interested in building a house for me?”
“Perhaps”, said Wilson.
Could this be the answer was this the reason for his recent dreams, the day, the houses in the sky of the afternoon, he wondered?
“Tell me what you are looking for”, said Wilson, half listening as this unknown Tim rattled on about the location, his lot, how beautiful, “the view”, and that he wanted a builder to start building soon.
“How soon?” said Wilson?
“Well we’d like to start next month, I need a builder. I’ve talked to a few already, but I liked that house of Charlie’s, looks like you know what you’re doing”.
Typical, he thought, typical. They looked at the house in December, figures, could have called months ago, but now it’s spring so now it’s go, go, go. These guys are all the same. They are the center of the world. Tim continued to ramble on. Wilson was half paying attention; he had experienced the same conversation, just the same, so many times before. Finally, he interrupted.
“You know I designed it too. I only do them if I do the designs, and build, and supervise the whole project”.
“Sure, sure”, said this unknown Tim, “Sure, I understand, so how much do you charge? These other guys said they could build for 175 a foot.”
“Well, It depends on what you build”, said Wilson, thinking why do they always ask that stupid question, as if houses were cans of soup or a pair of pants...all the same.
“I may be interested, he replied, “but I don’t bid, I’ll give you an estimate once we have the plans. Usually I am with in ten percent or so if nothing changes."
“Well, that fellow McCray said 175 do you know him?”
“No” said Wilson ignoring the 175. “It would mean switching gears; I had planned to stay here, in Colorado. There’s a project I was about to start, I suppose I could set it up and keep track of it from there. I’ve a friend...” No need to tell the guy he thought that it was a remodel and that he was not that excited about it. Houses in the sky?
“Look I need more information, but I am only interested if I can design your project if it is something special, something I can be proud of. Then yeah, I think I could come back for a special project. Can you fax and E-mail me anything you can and mail me a survey? Do you have a survey?"
“The one that came with the lot.”
“That’s probably not good enough; send me the information, as soon as I get it I’ll get back to you. Look, send me everything you have. Is it a subdivision?”
“I think so”, said this Tim of the phone. "Yeah, it must be, there are flags all over the place.”
“Well send me the rules the envelopes, everything you’ve got. I’ll look at and we can talk. Send it Fed-Ex, and we can talk in a couple days”.
“Ok”, said the phone, looking forward to it”.
Wilson was about to say more, about to say that he would send him one of his questionnaires, but the phone went dead. The fellow had hung up.
Well, there you go, he thought. Here’s the opportunity. Do you want it, oh but you don’t know do you, and no, now he was again not so sure. There had been a reason for his exit to Colorado. Remember how you felt when you left. A reason for it, you were sick of it. As if a few hours thinking of designs are enough to switch again, God, are you indecisive. He was not sure. He always became so involved. If he went back, if he started again, he knew the project would consume him, probably for at least two years. True fulfillment was selfish with time. Do you want this, again? He would be left with only a few weeks skiing and a little summer sailing for the next two years or three.
Is this what you want, it’s decision time baby?
And after a while his demon shouting- advising, his searching for a decision, he decided that if he could have it as he wished he would remain in Colorado. There had been a reason for retreating here, he thought, he had been sick of it, and he was tired of that gossipy little town too. This little, smaller, project would be ‘Just alright’. He could look for more. But there was the matter of his empty house. He looked about the little apartment thinking that living in that Beauville home was like living in light and sculpture, his sculpture, and Michigan would be warm in summer, not cold for a while.
He could go sailing again...couldn’t do that in the mountains, and his boat was just sitting there in dry dock, waiting. He imagined his little sloops surging rise and fall. Its movement up and down the waves, wings of sail full, mass and momentum, and he smelled the water, that morning crisp Lake Michigan water, and a North wind sending the haze from the sky...the wind on his face as he reached North, and then this circle of thought would hit him again. Rotating around his questions, fueled by four beers, two whiskeys, and the three cd’s of Gounod’s Faust. He could not make up his mind. Aware that it was a decision for tomorrow, or when he learned more, and as Margareta rose up to heaven and Gounod’s Faust went down to hell, he fell asleep where the houses came again, and then dreams of sailing, and music he had never heard.
Events moved rapidly over the next week. Tim’s material arrived. He spoke with the surveyor, and arranged for a more detailed survey and its transmission by E-mail to his computer. His realtor called saying “Your house is not selling”, wishing to lower the price, and Wilson had fired him for this. Summer was the selling season he would market it himself. Tim examined Wilson’s portfolio and agreed to Wilson’s terms.
Not sure yet, in his decision to leave Colorado, Wilson spoke with his former client Charlie Larson who asked his friend, who asked his friend, about the nature and the character of Tim. Tim Stevens was rich from restaurant franchises, and of solid reputation. He was an honest man, they said.
He inquired into Wet lands on the property, bogs and tiny rivulets which neighbors could maneuver with wet land law to keep new neighbors out. These were absent, or approved by the Department of Natural Resources of Michigan, and the Army Corp of Engineers. He read the subdivision covenants, the height limits, the parameters of design, the stone, the wood, the required appearance, which seemed be anything one wanted as long as there were no asphalt shingles, fake stone, or “bad” colors to the house. A contract was signed.
So, it was early April when you might have seen if you were traveling too, somewhere out along the Interstate, Wilson Abernathy, a man of almost middle age who had pulled up his real and metaphorical stakes yet once again, rolling, trailer in tow, across the Great Plains of America...Listening to talk radio and imagining the prairie grasses gone, the Buffalo extinct except as designer beef, and Indians departed, leaving only their names.
He sensed the possibility that he had made a Faustian bargain at this beginning, a bargain with himself. His life--the devil; his compromise--his soul; his Margarita--his achievement and gain. But there was nothing he could do about it now. He could only hope that he made it past part one, the Faust of Gounod, and into part two, where Faust and the Devil built magnificent worlds.
If everything remained the same
There would be nothing new
He remembered the island from long ago when his family had vacationed here. This Island between the lakes -- Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and farther north, Superior. It was fitting, he thought, that so much history came together at this freshwater junction which defined Michigan, just as Michigan defined his own small history.
The past was heavy and full at this intersection of lake and land where Indian canoes had traversed, where French, English, and Americans had all spent lives, or portions of lives... For adventure, for beauty, for profit, for trade, for control of a waterway that might lead to or be the Northwest
Passage. That mythic watery path to the Pacific, which calls throughout our nations early history, a ‘manifest destiny’, years before Mr. Greeley…it and the beaver trade were the reasons for the island fort, which rising from the bluffs above him sat like Gibraltar in command of the surrounding freshwater sea.
He remembered -- adrift in his mind.
He heard the horses' hoofs from a four-year-olds summer past, percussive sound, muted rubber shoes on asphalt, and he remembered an avenue that was large and long and grayish black. Tall trees lined its edges, defining wide veranda walkways, meandering down the hill. He heard the horses from the carriage its wheels red and seats black leather, the driver’s whip before him lightly snapping at the horses hindquarters.
It was one of his earliest vacation memories, the horse’s rump swaying as it climbed the hill, he and his parents in the fancy coach, slowly moving upwards… steep loamed island granite and a white Shangri-la of an estate above them, approaching with their carriage’s progress, their driver wearing red and a top hat. 1954 and Mackinac Island, men with sticks hitting the ground to his right-deep meadows to his left
“Look!”, he had said, “look!”, pointing at the men with sticks, seeing a white ball.
“It’s a game, Wilson, golf”.
The game, silly game, another man hit the ground, and then threw his stick. It held no great wonder for him, on this morning when everything he saw was bright, new, and exciting…Men, woman, strolling, riding, speeding down the hill.
Every so often the horse would stop unbidden and drop road apples, farm smells, oats, runny and round, then move on up the hillside. Black men sweated upwards and sped down on rickshaw bicycle contraptions, ferrying, carting, skinny and fat, tan and pasty, white folks to and from the hotel. Mackinac Island.
“You’re going to love it Willy. There are no cars here only horses and bicycles, and carriages.”
A rickshaw with a dark frame and yellow wicker bench sped by, the bench-black leather clad, beneath the fat buttocks of an old lady, her head covered with a floppy thing of a hat -white with a wilted flower at its side.
It was summer and he was four.
“You will have your own bike. You can pick it”, his father had said.
He could not yet ride a bike but what his father meant was a tricycle. He had seen them near the ferry, another little boy with one, green, with wooden blocks attached so he could reach the pedals. The horse stopped and oozed again, “giddup” said the driver, flicking the whip-“giddup”.
The Hotel was huge before them, full of gardens and flowers, red carpet steps and dark smiling men in uniforms.
“Welcome sir, young master, Mrs. Welcome to the Grand Hotel”.
And up the wide steps they had followed, as their ferried baggage. Up the wide steps to a veranda, a deck, a porch, column after column and flag after flag, east and west, high ceilinged…forever. Then through great doors.
“The Grand” had said his father. “See the pool”, had said his mother, pointing down, and out, and away towards more gardens, and a light blue Paul Bunyan foot shaped hole of water, and beyond that deep blue waters-the Straits of Mackinac…Water, and ferries, and boats everywhere.
“Hurry up Wilson, we are going to the room”, his father had said, “Hurry up now, you may look later”.
He followed looking at everything, all new and glowing- wonderfully full of life. All new.
Towering above him was the check in with rows and rows of keys. He could barely see them and another uniformed man.
“Your name sir”… “Applegate, Applegate-two rooms”.
Bang, clang, an old brass elevator open to the lobby, he looked down before the floor was lost. Two floors and then a wide hallway with lights on blue papered walls, and carpet-tan beige and dappled green with bordered dark wood, shiny door after shiny door; the brass number said 207. They walked inside behind the man, who set their bags on the table, beds, and opened a door to another room.
“This ones yours Willy”, his mother said. While his father fished in his pockets and handed something to the man.
“Thank you sir”, “thank you, if you need anything”.
The man leaving- and out the window he had seen again the blue water with the dotting white boats, confettied white-capped foam, a horn sounding and then another…red, right, returning.
He was jumping from his clothes, almost -- in excitement, his father sitting down, his mother placing clothes in drawers.
“Just a minute Wilson, we’ll explore”.
Horse sounds below, and flower smells, people back and forth, then another carriage. This one with a surrey and fringe, open, with many people ridding, gawking, pointing at the hotel- up at the wide windows, at him.
He heard a ferry and a foghorns sound. The blasts from the ferry and the lower louder harbor light were sounds shaking him from the past. Yes that had been how it was that first time. That first visit to the Island. Sweat dripped on his nose, fell to his chin, and rolled down the shallow slope of his belly, burned ripe red and itching above blue nylon. All of him lounging in the stern of his current client's yacht, a bloody Mary in his hand. Well, what used to be a bloody Mary… some of it consumed and some seeping into the cushions beneath him- the glass tipped over by the past.
Jesus, it was noisy. His head throbbed from the bar, and the night before, Horses' hoofs clattered with snare drum rhythms, pulling a carriage going by. Well, some things had not changed. There were still no cars on the Island. And the servants were poor white men now, the society having dumped at least some of its prejudice. There were few blacks working as they had before, possibly because it would be just too
ridiculous and unjust, to costume up some black man as if it were still the days of liveried slavery. This had changed and for the better he thought. But the statues in the park had remained the same.
The marina, Mackinac Island Marina, was before the street, before the park, before the old Victorians-The Park, shores where French trappers had first landed. Was it a park then, or mosquito swamp, or just a bunch of wickyups with Indians? God his mind was full. Too full he thought, staring into the water. Too many years, too full. The water was slick with green, and filth, and oil…mung. Had it been mungy in 1954? He had not noticed.
He looked to shore again, a white pushcart, a scrawny man with a shovel, unshaven and smoking. Every so often the man bent, shovel down, and scooped up some horse dung. He was no longer black either. Wilson wondered if the blacks would even want the job. If you listened to the news in Detroit, the answer would have been no. They were all supposedly doing crack and killing. But he did not believe this. It was just another one of those twisted thoughts that arrived with those from the south, on their frantic weekend journeys north...Prejudice the result of too hectic lives. Jazz, to crack, to killing- all from carriages, no- he didn’t buy it. Too much, his head was too full, too much.
And how had he become talked into this anyway. Sitting on this elaborate plastic barge, which might have been a living room with engines... A bar inside and bar out. The temptation on yachts like this always to overindulge. He got up to pour a little more, gin and tonic now, sun over the yardarm, then decided against it. Where were his clients who had dragged him here? Where were Tim and Daphne. He felt like he was on stage or waiting in the wings and god he hated it, this part of it. Hated performing, hated selling, and he was becoming worse at it. You would think he would be becoming better, old hat, falling of a log better. But no he was just thinking of drinking too early. Better not... might need to sound wise and witty...smart with houses. Jesus, he had begun to hate it. Begun? Or had it been a while now? Quite a while, like a toothache growing.
He had sensed this inconsistency in himself before he had departed Aspen, in fact it was in larger measure why he had left Michigan and retreated there in the first place. Knowing that at times he hated the whole process of it, the politics of work and life - the meetings, the bullshit, the money. Always the money! But it was this need of money which had sucked him back. That need and his desire to once again build another special sculpted home, to seek self worth through concrete, wood and stone. But the business of it all. This bill, that bill, this car, that car, this boat. Too much stuff. That is what had captured him. How had he let it happen, thinking of the days when everything he owned fit in his little Austin Healy? He had started out so pure. He farted long like the ferry, then off the stern behind him he heard a cry.
A man was approaching, potbellied and brown, astride a black plastic, low, sleek thing that was mainly engine. There was a bikinied woman on the bow and the man was shouting at him. Well, not at me, thought Wilson, but at this boat, this massive self indulgence that I'm aboard.
“Master Mind Two, Master Mind Two”.
Master Mind two—where did they get these names? The boat looked more like an Ethel to him. Wilson rose.
“Can you give us a hand?” said the fellow. “Alicia’s not much good at docking. She makes a better port.”
Amazing, he thought, You fool you’ve gone and trapped yourself again, trapped in the land of clods. The woman on the bow smiled and jiggled--shaking her hair.
“Sure”, he said gesturing. “Have you talked to the Harbormaster”?
“Kenney”, said the man, “Kenny, I’m a friend of Tim and Daphne”.
Tim and Daphne were his clients. Wilson left and grabbed the line wrapping it back and forth.
“Better check with the Harbormaster”.
“Hi”, said Alicia, giving him one of those you want me stares, traveling downward and lingering at his sunburned baggage of a gut. He sucked it in, then let it back out. What the hell, he had been down that route before, he was on no stage for that.. There lay terror and horrible expense.
“Well, see you latter, Holler”. He climbed back aboard the yacht, he had not noticed, The Master Mind Two or Too was it? Anyway, yacht, boat, plastic floating monstrosity, whatever- wishing gin he grabbed a Coke instead. Then looking back at Alicia who was smiling at him; he remembered past despair.
Actually, the Island had been his idea.
“We want a Victorian” they had said at the third meeting in May after all his work on the first plan. “Something that looks substantial”…and the wife, Daphne, had brought pictures of houses she liked.
“Margie gave me these when she saw your plan, all my friends like this look better.”
He had looked then, hideous houses, too much, to full of porches and turrets, gee gaws and junk. “I haven’t done a Victorian in years” he had replied. “It’s too bad you did not like my first design”… at the same time wondering why had they come to him? Why had they bothered him in Aspen, they had seen his past projects. His houses were special, sculpted, contemporary with perfect open spaces, yet none were the same accept for the white and oak and light. Why him? And it was too bad. That first plan had been almost perfect. Two, no three weeks on it, proud of its space and the use of the property, the days tromping in the spring siteing it; all now for naught, too bad!
“I liked it”, said Tim.
“Me too”, Daphne now, “ I liked it but it’s not what I wanted. I want this”, she said again thrusting the pictures at him. “This”.
“We aim to please”, he replied, “A Victorian could be interesting, might be fun to do something like I did in the Seventies again, something totally different from my last two”.
But the pictures were terrible. Tiny rooms in a mansion full of too much altogether. Why him?
“I love this one” Daphne had said. “I just love it”...shoving the picture in front of him.
The photo was of room, a space, so full of doilies, tables, vases and knickknacks, that one could barely see the floor-hardly his style. And a room with windows divided into little panes, divided to look old, like when they could only make them small. The result a lack of light. And the outside had stone. He liked that; and some roundy doos, well, they were ok. However the building, the building, was just all too much. Still, he needed work, he had agreed to design and build them a house. One of his Aspen friends bits of joking verse came to mind.
“Every Rich man today, it seems wants a camp. Something musty and old but no home for a tramp”.....Fuck!
But they had paid him for the first plan- maybe he could design a minimalist Victorian, one with open spaces and not so many things-sell them on that idea. At least it would be money, he made a lot on the plans, the drawing. It would be at least another 7,000 before they ever got to working drawings.
However; this building, this picture, was Mr. Potato head, in contrast to anything he had ever done-horrible. Potato head architecture--here a turret, there a turret, here a dormer, there a dormer, jammed willy-nilly into the side of a building with way too many gables. No sense of design at all just stuff on top of stuff, gingerbread do-das onward, misplaced, heading toward some house graveyard of poor design. “Ugh”
How I can I do this? Then it dawned on him Mackinac Island- there were fine 1880’s houses there, large and impressive but not too much, the accents- well done but limited, a special round porch, one onion turret, a few dormers, and wisely placed. They could steal design from them. Who cares, Victorians, there were thousands of them, nothing unique or special about them unless it was just that one had more crap and fizz than the next one. But the ones on Mackinac- not too bad. Still....thousands of times before. That is when he had suggested.
“Let’s go to Mackinac Island”.
He had been there so many times with his family, and on sailboat races. Or alone and private dropping in for one night, for supplies, and a sail around the Island on his own boat before moving on- farther North.
“Let’s go to Mackinac Island, check out those houses”.
But he meant for a day, and then departure, and then privacy away from this Daphne and Tim.
It was best to take a while to know ones clients. To let them fill out the questionnaire; how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, did they read, what did they want in a home? Then he required time alone, to think. He had done this all once. Well, he better do it again. Just to check, in case this Margie, Daphne’s friend, had opinions concerning baths and beds and bookshelves too.
And they had suggested the boat trip… what could he say, he was a sucker for the water? So here he was, trapped, on their Clorox bottle of a boat- on Mackinac Island, they absent, and he mentally telling himself to watch the booze. Don’t lose it. He would have to eat dinner with them, chat with them, sleep near them. Oh well, maybe it would not be so bad, tomorrow they would tour the Island and look at the houses above the Grand. The ones facing the Straits like old dowagers weathered by time, commanding a vista which today includes the Mackinac Bridge, more magnificent then the golden gate. And a high bluff view that had seen sailing merchant ships, and before their time, trappers, frigates, Indian canoes, and bold clear fresh blue water… east and west since the last ice age.
“Wilson”, a shrill syrupy voice spoke his name.
“Hey buddy”, deeper now a man’s.
They were returning. His clients. Tim and Daphne of Grand Rapids Michigan, home of furniture, home of Amway, home of Gerald Ford, and one of Michigan’s enclaves of conservatism. Wilson did not know them well enough to know their politics, but he was beginning to suspect that they probably fit the place. What had the Detroit Free Press said of their city's greatest son when he stumbled into the presidency, “A simple local yokel whose ass has been struck by lightening”, well something like that. Grand Rapids!
He rose as she stepped aboard. Daphne was tan and red and in the process of becoming round, with a perk, pixied, cheerleader face starting to sag above tight pink bodice held mammaries. White shorts sheltered Cellulite, and her blond hair rolled out beneath a white baseball cap. Its logo, Mighty Burger, a ketchup oozing burger on spindling legs in the middle of her head. Tim followed his bubbling Daphne, wearing some sort of skipper costume, white hat, black brim-gold anchor ridden, shorts too white, and knee socks above Pat Boone shoes. How old were they? He guessed early fifties.
“Fudge”, she said dumping four white and blue boxes on the cockpit table.
“Howdy”, he said, “See anything?”
“Horses and shit”, Tim replied. “What a toilet”.
Well, perhaps thought Wilson, but no, the idea fought too powerfully with his memories and imagination. Sure there were many tourists and traps, fudge stores, bars, rubber tomahawk shops…and they’re all made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same- Pete Seggar, but that was houses.
“I like it”, said Daphne.
“You would”, replied her husband, now scratching at his legs and adjusting his socks perfection. “You would”.
“Did you look at any houses”, said Wilson?
“Know, we didn’t get that far. Daphne did not want to climb the hill.”
“My knees hurt”, she said.
“Drink?” , said Tim.
Tim moved to the bar, the outside bar. He poured some whiskey; lots of it, with ice, in a styrofoam container stamped Big Mighty, and gestured with the bottle.
“Coke”, said Wilson.
“Gin dear, large, dry”.
They sipped in the cockpit.
“Your friends arrived”.
He pointed to the Kenny yacht a few slips away, sleek, fast looking, black with gold letters. Midnight Vixen scripted on the side.
“That’s a fast boat”, said Tim, looking in envy and then back at the comfort of his barge. “All the paint that GM consumes. It comes from Kenny. It buys the toys”.
Who were these people--this Tim, this Daphne, he wondered, now on their second cocktail, while he still tried to avoid the booze. “You have always been weak”, said the demon,“weak with expectation, weak because there was a future. No leaping into life’s pool and swimming, but instead, waiting, waiting for everything to become perfect”.
Tim and Daphne staring at him, she chattering something to him through a fog. Tim speaking too, something about even if it was a toilet it might be a good place for a ‘Mighty Burger’. He nodded and they both turned away to Kenny who had just arrived. The Baron of paint, stained dark as his heaviest brown
Was it possible that they and he were of the same species? White skinned, blond to brown haired, eyes blue, blue green and hazel. They looked the same, he and they, but they were not, he knew or thought. With too much false and misplaced pride? Did they think or were they simply in the process of consuming? Economic engines of flesh, of blood, making, spending, producing, buying. Engines of Mercantilism. Could they be real? He could touch them. He could hear them. He could smell them, and he knew he needed them, and they thought the same of he. But did any of them need one another at all?
The joy of building, the joy of designing, the smell of the wood, the fabrication, the filthy madding chaotic mess of it, of construction…land, to design, to muddy hole in the ground- he needed them. To concrete pouring, wood framed, shingled, high windowed, and fabricated sculptures- he needed them. Interiors wonderful with light, and marble… oak epoxied stairs- he needed them.
Too bad he was not the driver. The real driver of the bus being specie, currency, coin or paper, unknown, numbered, never seen, except in statements, bank statements, stock statements, money, bills and invoices. It made one boring but without it one might be a dullard. It should have opened passions doors; instead it so often slammed them shut. He knew it. Did they, this Tim, this Daphne? “You think too much”. The demon said. And he knew he did…and so often to no purpose, to no productivity. “Why are you thinking…Work, produce, grovel, you idiot-grovel. Listen to Marx, listen to his re-reasoned surplus value”, but Marx was wrong--too generous of opinion, you sell your life not your labor… and that was even fouler, especially if it was sold to people like these-who looked the same.
He slammed the demons door. Tim was speaking to him, at the same time nodding and gesturing to Kenny who now also held a drink in his hand. Tim of the ‘Pat Boone’ shoes and perfect socks. His nose straight and aquiline with a face too soft, too lightly sculpted for a man. Thin and graceful, almost androgynous, Nureyev without the satyr, next to the smaller, rounder, balder, tanner, Kenny-Baron of paint, whose head resembled one of those healthy brown eggs.
Survival of the fittest? Perhaps for Tim, sure did not look like it for Kenny. Well, shit, not either one of them. What an odd bit of history, someday…The Age of Rejects… a return to the tyranny of the Bourgeoisie ... Stop it, Stop it… he should have locked the door…Well, never would, never could. Never the less he tried again. Super glue?
“What’s up with ‘Mighty’ these days?” Said Kenny.
“Not good”, replied Tim.
“I’ve got twenty five of those things now and everyone is losing equity, everyone is down- if I tried to sell. They keep cutting prices to compete with the big burgers, and my labor costs are up. That fucking Clinton! These kids, they want more than the minimum wage. I’m squeezed.”
Wilson looked, first left then right, about the Master Mind Two—the opulence, the white, the teak all new and shinning... Stroking the faux white leather beneath him. “Clods”, said the Demon, “Do you really want to get involved with these people, oh but you need to don’t you, idiot, those payments, you’re trapped and you’ve committed. The demon laughed. And he had, the contract was signed. They were talking to him. He saw their mouths moving, and he tugged himself back again to be polite.
“A Victorian is it?” Came from Kenny. “I hear you’re good”. “And Daphne”, he looked towards her smiling down, “She likes her Victorians”.
“Get out now, before it’s too late, get out now, walk away, idiot, idiot-demon laughter again.
“We’ll I’ve tended to the contemporary more the last ten years. But we can do it, we can do it”. “Ha, ha, ha”.
“I’m not sure if we can”, said Tim.
Daphne quickly turned towards her husband, “What?” As if she had never heard it before. Wilson wondered, great, what am I in for. Ha, ha, ha, ha-ha-ha.
“What?” She said again.
“Now, we have talked about this, Daphne.”
He thought. What am I? They’re oblivious to me. I am just here, another thing. Ha, ha, ha… Fuck! Daphne’s face was growing redder, her checks puffing out, her little nose retreating in her face.
“Fuck you Tim, It’s my dream.”
Wilson raised his eyes toward Kenny who shrugged as if to say, oh well, ‘shit happens’.
“Tim, you’re having a midlife crisis”, bellowed Daphne.
Tim sloshed his drink around its ice and took a long, slow, sip while frowning at his wife.
“Wilson have you had yours?”… “Well”?
“I’m not sure I haven’t always had one, always been in the midst of one”.
Tim’s affect was strange, body slouched yet Prussian rigid- eyes pooled blue, but like a Malamute’s, somehow more hollow than they might be. Dogs’ eyes, confused? His face smiling.
“Huh, what do you mean by that”?
If you need to describe it? It was like explaining physics to a fish, perhaps, but different, because Tim’s eyebrow was raised in curious skepticism, perhaps more in a lack of understanding of Wilson, than the idea.
“I wasn’t talking about Wilson”, said Daphne, “I was talking about you. You always try to change the subject.” A scowl in her larynx.
Tim frowned with amusement towards his wife, as one might look to a toy or a pet that one loved and sometimes tolerated.
“ Occasionally, Daphne, you’re a really dim bulb. Sometimes I wonder how you even find the switch”.
Daphne now pouted—insulted. She moved to the edge of the Master Mind’s gunneled rail, then quickly turned and hurled her drink towards her husband- but it missed and gin, ice, showered down on Wilson, a squeezed used up lime landing on his foot.
“Oh no, I’m sorry”.
She sped to towel him off, touching too long, pulling on his sleeves, wiping too close to his groin…Smirking at her husband.
“Stop it Daphne, Wilson will dry on his own, just fine”.
"Watch out”, said the demon, an angel now.
“I’m going for a stroll, said Wilson, grabbing his top-seders and pulling them on, one foot then another, as he walked and hopped away and down the dock.
Alicia was lounging on the Midnight Vixen, spilling from a suit that could have been a Kleenex. She waved, and slouched then gestured with a drink. The Vixen was only a few slips away from the Master Mind II- no more than seventy, eighty feet. He turned towards her “Sure”.
It seemed that it might become another night of booze. On the boat with them, he glanced back, why not they wouldn’t notice if they kept drinking, and it seemed in their cards, why not his? He didn’t need to be whipped in that direction. Hell, maybe, he would need it just to sleep…Imagining crashed glasses, and cushions stained, then looking again at Alicia, he wandered out the slips walkway. “Watch Out”.
“Not so happy in burger land?”
“Doesn’t seem to be”
“Well, it won’t be the last time.”
“Watch out”, again said the demon but for different reasons.
Wilson climbed slightly and boarded. Alicia, her pupils at the top of her eyes, gazed at him, a (Je ne sais crois) there that did not match the Kleenex. Did he see it? Really? A knowledge of too much life already, acceptance, smiling cynicism, sure didn’t belong with the physical package, that deep tan, flat stomach, legs long stretched, breasts, used but attractive. He could not help noticing; the fabric daub of her suit too small a turquoise band-aid on a too pretty wound.
“Why? That happens a lot?
“Enough”, she said. “Enough, it’s just part of their routine-they’ll be fine in a while”.
Just then there was Kenny, looking down, brown pot belly, large but firm like an over inflated football, thing looks like it needs a signature, powerful legs, gray fringe around his head, some Roman accolade wreath.
“Thought I’d get out of there too. They’ll be at it for a while now. Don’t worry, Wilson, you seem OK, it’s not their best side”.
He faced Alicia,
“Hey babe- I’ve got to talk to Roger”... He pointed to another large powerboat, a Viking, which was just pulling in, belching its horn to no purpose but noise.
“I’ll pass,” she said.
Wilson, looking watching, the comedy-the play, movie, sitcom?
“You know I can’t stand him, always leers at me, ugly little man”.
“Knows paint though”, said Kenny, “buys it, I sell it in case you’ve forgotten”.
“He’s just another car guy”, she said.
“Well, stay here and entertain Wilson”. Turning to Wilson. “Make yourself comfortable I’d stay away for awhile”.
Kenny twisting, nodding back over his shoulder towards more shouting
“I was thinking of going up to the fort, she replied. “Wilson, want to come?”
“Never been up there”, said Kenny, facing the stern now and turning his head upward. On the bluff above were white walls, serpentine stairs, flags, guard turrets...Some clown dressed up as a soldier, boy scouts. Wilson gazed too, would the British have liked all this? Their fort turned into Disney land?
Kenny headed off, Alicia went below, he smelled the water--slightly putrid and faint of oil, and the fudge--the overwhelming sweetness of it, sugared nutty and buttery in the air, the horseshit—barnyard rich. An odd combination of smells to mingle as one... Eau de Mackinac. Bicycles raced by along the shore, bells ringing, some built for two.
“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do”, he and his parents had sung that, “I’m half crazy over the love of you…It won’t be a stylish marriage…I can’t afford a carriage…But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two”.
Alicia re-emerged with a long sleeved, oversized translucent white shirt, boat feet, and a straw hat with a turquoise band, which matched the Kleenex turquoise subtly penetrating the white.
“Come on”, she said.
They meandered down the long main dock until it teed inward towards the shore and the Victorians, the Yacht club to their right, Michigan flag, US flag, Yacht Club Burgee, barely signaling a breeze. Then the park with its bronze Father Marquette... Speckled white with seagull filth, left then right, by the wickyup rebuilt Indian something, and up steep stairs walked on by Indians, British, French, Americans, Trappers, Hustlers?, Frauds?…Centuries before.
She walked before him. He could get in trouble here, buttocks moving beneath the white as she climbed the stairs, narrow waist, and long blond hair. No, not a chance, look higher now, look upward, look at the sky. Trumpets sounded, a cannon boomed, the pretend guard was changing.
From the fort they could see it all, a beauty overwhelming, this confluence of waters, the green and cream bridge, five miles long, Upper Peninsula to lower, then westward and barely north, then east dipping south to Canada, the route through lake Huron to the farther North of Georgian Bay. Superior was out there too somewhere; you just could not see her. And from there departed a water path to the whole world. The Saint Lawrence Seaway.
More immediate below them was the street bordering the park and marina, tiny bikes, tiny carriages, tiny people, tiny yachts, and one in particular to the east end of the main wide T. It was the Master Mind II. They could just make out the figures in the stern one looking west and one east. There was no blood on the decks he could almost feel the anger...way up here.
He and Alicia spent a sun shaded few hours at the fort and along the hills, which lead to the further bluff and the Grand Hotel...Inland and hilly until that view was clear too, but more west and less commanding. Alicia chattered with wit and smiles, and over this period he gathered that her association with Kenny had been ten years--She probably thirty-five and twenty years or more his junior. He acquired the awareness that Kenny was growing old in more ways than one, for her. That she was becoming weary of being a trinket on someone else’s bracelet, perhaps ready to detach herself.
Had he pursued it something sexual might have come of their afternoon, right there and then, on a towel, in the shrubbery, behind the trees. It was possible. But neither of them were that foolish to confuse an already strange scene with an additional layer of chaos.
And for Wilson this was just as well, because relationships frightened him. So by early evening they were walking back down the steep stairs, white painted bouldered walls… Tired-descending... And the others…Kenny talked paint…Tim snored …Daphne pouted… all against a backdrop of cloud wisped purples and pinks, high orange and a setting sun, three quartered above darkening blue waters.
Hours before he and Alicia had seen a sloop arriving and as he had thought then, it was familiar. It was the Persephone with his old friends Steve and Kathy Robbins aboard.
“Alicia, can you tell them, I’m with friends over here”.
He pointed towards the Robbins’s yacht- ‘Persephone’.
“Sure, ok, tomorrow maybe”, she had replied, then given him a head dipping,
“Say thanks to Kenny” he added.
There seemed certain a sadness in their parting, the threatening, non-threatening afternoon of her company. We’ll see, no, never happen, ten years…And Kenny seemed descent enough, successful, a boob perhaps, but pleasant and apparently, extremely rich-- never happen.
The Robbins welcomed him and he sat in the sunsets second quarter with these friends of years—understanding even more so with their company how much the charade of his builder designer life was wearing thin and why he had fled to Aspen in the first place. Damn, this is better, he thought, and no games… Why he could just sit with Steve and Kathy…They could just sit and stare at one another, saying nothing, and none of them would even think about it… impressions-anything. Or they could do as they set about doing, which was catching up. How had it been in Aspen? Why was he returned when he had said he might never come back? The who, the where, the how-- old projects and thoughts… new ones… sipping more cocktails, past agendas, new agendas, old friends and where they were. Telling stories…fitting on him like his oldest softest most repeatedly laundered shirt. The invite for the night, no one said anything about it, the invitation was just there, hanging, should he choose to grab it. He had every intention. Yes this was a lot better.
So sunset built and finished, the boat rocked, the ferried horns went silent, and with the departing daily visitors- he, they, the Marina, went into repose, a quiet evening of the occasional horse and carriage going by, footsteps on the docks, lilting laughter, the drifting combination cacophony of different tunes, the meandering inebriated around midnight and then sleep, secure, yet trepidations of tomorrow…a gently rocking windless night...no sounds of screaming outrage from the Master Mind Two.
Oh To Be An Indian- chap 32 first draft
Oh to be an Indian
Indian Dick has watched these events from above as he and Randy installed the fascia at the entry arch. Normally Wilson would have taken notice said something, made a reference or gestured upward. “My two Gargoyles” something like that. But Wilson has been busy, occupied. Too bad it is always about the money. It is one reason Dick often thinks his patch of land his aging trailer is alright. It’s good to be an Indian. No expectations. At home he is content (except for woman) with wild about him. Poor Wilson always manages to find the Tims, the Daphnes of the world. People as far from his great-grandfather’s ‘great spirit’ as Dick can imagine.
Dick takes the long view. His whole life has been an observation of such people: his connection to them, different, more distant than Wilson's. In school, at work, in stores, when fishing, he has always been the Indian, a heathen to their brand of Christianity an odd and perhaps wild man to their form of organization...An unlicensed fisherman and hunter...A despoiler of their righteous take on nature.
Experience has made him accepting. Clearly Indian, he has always been different, ignored, pitied, resented, at the bottom, outside but observant. So it does not shock Dick when he looks up to see the white man’s dirty underwear. He knows. His mother knew, his father knew, his grandfather told him stories. Still, viewing this latest meeting and the encounter with Potts has been fulfilling. Mr. Big—Potts, who also disdains the Indians, thinking he sits higher on the totem pole...beneath the Tims and Daphnes, beneath the Wilsons, but above the lowly Dick. Potts who Indian Dick cannot stand.
Dick has enjoyed the incident with the deer head. Of course to Indian Dick it was just another old dead head. He has a couple of flea-bitten wrecks with larger racks lying in the snow behind the second shed... left over from his grandfather’s day as a guide ... Probably some rich fellow rushing off to Cincinnati on the train and forgetting his head. Dick kills the deer, he eats them, washes them down with Dicks beer, but he does not mount them. They are food not trophy.
He puts the tools away and closes up. He is the last one on-site and for entertainment he decides to reeve up his new siren, and turn on his knew light. He pauses at the stop then floors the cruiser, racing down Boyne City road past MacGuilties. An Indian free and almost spinning out as he makes the turn. Randy and Wilson hear the noise and see the flash from the bar, Randy commenting “Dick sure likes his new job”. A couple of others asking Wilson. “Is that...that Indian who works for you?”
“Officer Dick”, says Wilson. “He’s multitasking”
“Did you see that”, says another patron? “That crazy Indian threw out a bottle, right in the road... Out front.”
“He makes it”, says Randy. “Dick’s beer. Joanie you should carry it. Wilson, we could start a brewery. Dick could be like colonel Sanders”
Wilson begins to laugh. The image before him a beaming Dick complete with a headdress and below that in bright red... Indian Dick...Genuine Firewater Flavor. “You never know, that might sell”, he says to Randy.
“Right”, says Randy. “We could have him do appearances. Dick would like that.”
“Sure, he would,” says Wilson.
And without question Dick is celebrating, not sure exactly what, but celebrating, just feeling good as he uncaps another Dicks Beer and makes the turn onto Johnson Ridge road. He takes the back way home, the engine of his Detroit motor throbbing...Siren screaming, the small creatures who live at the edge of the road, a rabbit, skunk, and winter white weasel dashing for cover at the onslaught of this crazy Indian. Not bad he thinks as he stomps the accelerator farther to the floor, watching the speedometer climb to sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety; seeing if he can get some air with this thing, just like the crackers in the movies. And for a moment Dick and cruiser release their bonds, tires spinning at air alone, to sail just six inches above the payment over the hills steep summit... and then an abrupt inglorious bounce or two as he reaches the other side. Then...Speeding faster, faster, across the ridge until he senses company, an atonal crash of sound, dissonance, another siren, another flashing light in pursuit, but far behind him.
Dick takes note of the distant siren. It is not a state cop, nor an officer from Beauville. This leaves only three possibilities. The screeching vehicle behind him is either another Indian or the Sheriff or his deputy. He floors the cruiser flying across the farmland ridge. One more turn and he will be out of sight, able to take the dirt path higher still, eventually entering his acreage from the backside. Good thing he has kept the road open. But wait who gives a shit; he is forgetting his new role. He is as much an officer, as much a legal scalawag as the car pursuing. So instead he slows to seventy, only twenty-five over the limit. The mortal’s limit, but he no longer must obey. Dick lets the cruiser close until he sees that it is a deputy. He slows more until he can make out the man. Rufus, of course, Rufus Smathers, Dick has known him through his childhood... fought with him on many playgrounds
Smathers has had it out for Dick since Dick pinned him, causing Rufus’s demotion to second position as Dick took on the label best one hundred forty-five pounder in Beauville High...Rufus the goat, Rufus who had lost out to an Indian. And ever after, Rufus, when he gets the chance, has been fucking with him. At parties, at the beach, over woman, hassled him for fishing, hassled him for hunting, smirked at him when he would see him lonely at the market. Rufus Smathers who use to try to annoy him by thrusting his nose in Dick’s face while singing that stupid Dylan song, Drunken Ira Hayes. Smathers, who Dick had thought he was rid of years ago. Smathers, who had gone off to college downstate, flunked out, and then returned to attend the Average Institute and get a two-year degree in sheriffing.... This official position resulting in a stack of questionable tickets, four speeding, two driving without a license (Dick had left it home) and one driving while impaired. Indian Dick has no love for Rufus, and Rufus would be surprised to know that Dick perceives, not an officer, but a buffoon behind him.
He waits till Smathers is almost on his bumper, and swerving from side to side, a fist in the rear window. Then Dick slows and stops to watch Rufus get out of the car and swagger forward, hitching up his policeman’s heavy pants, straightening his belt and gun, cocking his cap and fiddling with his radio. Dick waits until he is staring out the window direct into Rufus’s watery eyes, his hollow pocked cheeks, gaped teeth and bobbing Adams apple.
“Oh, I thought so...Dick!....Indian Dick!.... What are you doing? Borrow this thing? Your speeding.” Rufus spits on the door’s tribal logo a drool of freezing spittle travels downward. “License and registration.”
Dick looks down at the wheel scratches his temple then returns Smather’s smirk with a glare. He almost starts to shoot the shit, a try at conversation. But then, for reasons that must be the same as those that caused him to pin the asshole years ago, Dick floors the cruiser, breaking loose the rear tires and spraying Rufus with a coating of gravel, snow, and muck. A mile later he turns right and takes the back way through his property until he reaches the last field where he parks the cruiser and starts his snowmobile, riding it the rest of the way in. He hears Smather’s siren, distant, circling from the other direction. Before going inside he grabs the chain he has to keep out the anthropologists from the camp, stretching it from a post on his left to a steel drum with a welded hook on his right. Twenty feet from this sits an old backhoe adjacent to a pit where Dick has been burying his garbage. Leaving Rufus twenty feet to park by the road he tromps inside the trailer, throws down his jacket and opens another beer, extends his limbs, and sits at the table to wait.
The view from his table is dark and bleak except for the Christmas lights he has installed on the juniper hedge and entry conifers. The land is snow covered, windswept drifted fields and distant barren maple, oak, and ash forest. His neighbor’s lights sparkle, red and yellow...blue, across the road a few hundred yards to the East, only marginally brighter than the few stars beginning to show at the edge of the horizon. Otherwise, clouds obscure the early evening sky.
It is not long before Smather's siren rises in intensity, and his lights invade this rural mid December scene. Rufus Smathers, the spoiler, thinks Dick. What a jerk. And sure enough being Rufus, Smathers disdains to park at the road. And, annoyed by the chain and sign, he aims for the gap between the backhoe and the barrel, skidding to a stop as he dumps the front end of his patrol car into Indian Dick’s small snow filled garbage pit.
Dick, smiles. The white man is so predictable. From his table, out its window he sees the light still flashing, every half second casting a red shadow across the trailer’s wall. The siren continues to howl, even as Rufus Smathers tries to open the cruiser’s door...A door that is blocked at the hinges by the nested angle of vehicle and snow. It is as if the land has come up to grab the patrol car, opened up in front of it to leave the headlights half buried in the snow, the vehicle sufficiently inclined that the rear wheels spin free and useless as Rufus tries reverse.
Dick watches for a few minutes, Rufus trying to force the door, Rufus revving, Rufus rolling down the window and climbing out. Then he turns on the outside light and grabs his snow shovel walking towards the cruiser. Forgetting something he goes back inside as Rufus begins to shout. Moments later Dick heads back towards Rufus and hands him one of his gift bottles of beer, the one with the smiling Indian. “Turn off the siren. Turn off the lights. Here.” He shoves the beer towards him. “Quit it with that flasher. Drink this.”
At first Dick is tempted not to help but then, wisdom or the season or maybe in an attempt to see if Rufus will get it, he changes his mind. Might Rufus feel the greater fool? In a similar situation he knows Rufus would have told Dick to call a tow-truck. Can Dick shame him with help? Unlikely, but it is Christmas.
He hands Rufus the shovel. “Here lean on this, use it if you want. I’ll pull you out”. Dick steps to the backhoe and hits the glow plug, letting the diesel warm. He has the heater plugged in; otherwise in the cold it might not start. Within minutes the engine clanks and belches, compressing and exploding the diesel fuel. He checks the gauge. There is enough to let her run for hours. Then he shouts to Rufus, “might as well get back in your vehicle. Drink the beer. I’m gona let her warm up.”
Twenty minutes later Rufus sits free from the ditch watching Dick return the backhoe to its parking place and then come back to the window.
“Happy trails, Rufus”
“Just because you’ve got that car, Dick. Don’t mean you can drive like that. You better watch it. Thanks for pulling me out, but I’m going to need to give you a citation.”
“Sure you are”, says Dick turning his back on Rufus and walking back towards the trailer’s deck and steps. Turning once again, “Merry Christmas, Rufus.”
Dick heads inside to watch Rufus fume, skid a bit, then swerve as his tires catch sending Rufus back down the road. “Amazing”, he mumbles to himself, then he uncorks another Dicks Beer and clicks on the television. A Wounderful life is playing. He always wants to toss that banister ball too. He wonders if Rufus will ever find his Clarence.
Saturday, and Indian Dick has risen late. It is almost noon before he completes filling in the garbage pit, the Rufus hole, dusting it off with snow, nice and even for the next idiot who wants to invade his privacy. He thinks he will change its name, insert it in his vocabulary, a Rufus Trap. What you need boys is a Rufus Trap, just dig a hole and fill it up with a little garbage and four feet of snow then wait, like his ancestors trapped game. Maybe he should dig a hole in the road and charge admission, build some bleachers, get all the Indians drinking his beer and waiting for the next Rufus. He could send out scouts, crazed Indians driving like lunatics, right past the Anthropologist camp, past the Sheriffs department. Tribal officers unite. Let’s build a Rufus trap. Maybe in February or during Brown’s first annual Camp Hope Ice Fishing Tournament. Crackers in a barrel. Idle thoughts as he descends from the backhoe.
He needs to check with Wilson. He will get a kick out of the story...Probably caution him not to do it again. Dick wants advise, he has decided that in the spring he will build his new house, and Wilson has always promised that plan. The checks from the tribe, the Indian Casino’s, keep getting bigger, and he owns the land outright. As Wilson has pointed out often over the years. “Don’t worry what they think of you Dick, of all these guys who work for me. You own the most, with your junk cars and your frugal ways, your homemade beer and wine.”
This was true before, and over the last few years the Indian dollars have continued to arrive first in small amounts and lately much larger... check after check, four times a year in a steady rising arithmetic progression. Not exactly Indian dollars, but social security from the old white pasty losers, the trashier whites who have moved up north to fish and hunt, and eat and gamble. A beautiful blue day and even in the summer there they are in the dark and dismal... gambling, drinking. Dick wouldn’t spend an hour in those places. Their flat roofed big box factory architecture full of smoke and lacking windows...No natural light so the rows of flashing slots stand out against the dark...no light so one cannot see the burns, the stains, the slobber on the carpet. Rumpled fat gray-white women with their equally fat or sometimes scrawny cadaverous husbands, their coughs one step away from cancer, with cups of silver dollars, cups of quarters, pulling tugging on the levers, waiting for that sound, three of something and the fulfillment of a jackpot winner. Sad, but justice too, and all it takes is white man’s greed, white man’s hope and diminished expectations. And given the countries current predicament, Michigan’s fleeing jobs, the failing pensions he hears of on the nightly news. No doubt the checks will keep on coming.
Dick would not phrase it so, but he senses that hope can be malevolent, that dreams of riches in the white man’s case will continue to be both a cause for and a barricade to despair. Gambling will remain the recreation and soporific it has always been. So, he will build his new home as the money flows in. And for this he again needs Wilson’s advice for his new house, a Wilson house, with Rufus traps as landscaping.
When Dick reaches Wilson’s he sees no sign of any activity. There are no tracks in the few inches of snow covering the drive, and no footprints in the snow drifted by the door. He descends two steeps and then thirty feet along the staggered walkway, then down two more. Pulled forward by this entry until he peers through the glass-oak door. No Wilson, no anyone, but this is not unusual. Because, except for a view of open oak stairs, glass and windows, the entry gives no insight to the home’s inside. It does provide a view from West to East. Even on the backside of the building Dick can look through the entry and see the white frozen meadow of the bay in the distance. The booming organ chords rattling the door tell him Wilson must be home.
It is possible that this moment Wilson stands just out of view, around the corner, conducting as Dick has seen him do before, waving his arms to the notes and beat, conducting music, lake, and treetops, to notes from the best sound system Dick has ever heard. Judging by the volume he suspects that Wilson may be high...pot, booze, who knows? If it were summer and the windows open, the music would be loud enough to be heard across the small bay. He knows: he has sat on Wilson’s sloop with the volume set so high they could hear it way out there...they and the neighbors too.
But now in mid December the shallow water of the bay has already frozen. There is no one about, and no one to annoy but the deer or fox, a bird or two, a couple of raccoons. Wilson lives in privacy all the seasons, but in the winter he is the only one who regularly travels up and down his road. The four neighboring homes are summer places, and almost never used throughout the winter. A great place to be a hermit thinks Dick, as the organ music switches to soaring trumpets accompanied by the percussion of Indian Dick’s banging on the door.
Eventually he sees first a head and then a nose, an unshaven face, eyes peering over the edge of the floor then emerging coming slowly up the stairs to see whom it may be. Someone else... and Dick imagines, Wilson on a Saturday might just dash back down below again, but seeing Dick he continues up the stair. Still, he looks annoyed, however not too annoyed to open the door.
“Dick, you’re invading, but welcome anyway. Want a whisky? Some pot”
Yep Wilson is high alright, and also generous in sharing as he gestures to a half smoked joint sitting on the counter.
“What can I say, it’s Christmas time, and I’m toasted and listening to music. Trying to wash the stupidity of existence out of my head, grab hold of some of that Christmas joy.”
He frowns. “Here, I’ll turn it down.” He moves to the stereo and turns the knob “What do you need? Help yourself to whatever, I think I even have a couple of Indian Dicks still sitting in the fridge downstairs.”
Wilson is clad in stained pajamas, his hair uncombed, the spots of dinner or breakfast on his shirt.
“Help yourself, eggs, breakfast, a sandwich, lean cuisine. I recommend the whiskey.” He pours some in a glass and drinks it half down. “What’s Up?”
Dick pauses, first saying nothing. “Maybe now is not the time”.
“Sure it is. Your here aren’t you. What”?
“Well you remember how we’ve been talking about a house plan. I think I want to build, this spring. By the way can I count on this job what’s up with that”?
“I think so. I hope so. I’m screwed if you can’t, but if it is money from the house you’re pledging? We can do a plan sure, but I’d hold your horses.”
“It’s not”, says Dick. “Casino’s. The checks just keep getting bigger.”
“I love it”, says Wilson. “Get some of that property... money... back. After all once you were here where I am standing. Your grea-grea- great-great-great, who knows how many greats, grandfather might have owned this land. I was, well I mean my ancestors were...They were in wattled huts with no teeth, somewhere in England, Ireland. Who knows? A plan eh?”
“Indians didn’t own the land”.
“Right, right” says Wilson. “That’s how we got it from you. You didn’t know it was yours to sell.”
“I suppose, says Dick. The way I heard it the white man just took it.”
“That too”, says Wilson, “Well, anyway, I’m glad you’re getting some of it, something back even if you didn’t own it. Do you know what you want, what it should look like. How big, how small, how much do you want to spend?”
“A hundred thousand says Dick, maybe one fifty.”
“Ok. That can work if you’re tight, and if you build it yourself. We can get you some deals on materials, as long as this Stevens thing doesn’t fall apart. Do you want it like the ones we have been building, do you want a Daphne mansion, or something more rustic, Indian, what...a teepee”?
“We didn’t live in Teepees, lodges, we lived in lodges.”
“So you want a bark house, like that thing on Mackinac.”
“No”, says Dick, I don’t want a bark house”
“Not even siding”, says Wilson.
“Stop it”, says Dick... “No wickyups, no teepees... that simpler design you keep talking about, that one and a half story with the long shed dormer, the steep roof, two wings of that and a garage, and lots of glass facing my fields and forest. And airy, light like this.”
Dick points about the room toward the ceiling beams, the white walls, the kitchen and the modern furniture. This look in that simpler building.”
“Listen to that Dick. Lieutenant Kije. You know that movie, Woody Allen, where he’s dancing with death. This is the music. Wilson takes another sip from his glass and starts to spin about, pointing at the ceiling. Ok, Ok, I can do that for you. Now... You should try that pot, Dick. “ Da dedee dedee dee dee da da da. Ok Well common will draw it up. Wilson goes spinning down the stairs with Dick following. “ Bring that pot will you, I have that plan at least the simple rectangular one already on the computer. I’ll print it out then you can think about it.”
With in minutes Wilson has the sample plan on the screen, printed and in Dick’s hand. They have spun the building and looked at it from all the elevations not to mention a perspective from above as God or a seagull might see it. Wilson has suggested where the other wing might go. “Let’s go for an angle Dick, what do you think, only a little more money. Oblique maybe? With an entry... So”
Dick looks at this new representation on the screen. “ Tough to tell without the windows. Can you put some in.”
“In time, in time, says Wilson, why don’t you think about it, we have plenty of days till spring. Make some sketches yourself, and take these magazines.
Wilson loads Dick’s arms with magazines. “Here this one, and this one, take this one”... Dicks arms becoming full as Wilson stacks the magazines first up to his chest and then his chin.
“Look at these, get some more ideas, look at the plan, then we can talk about it. Next week or after the Holidays.”
Dick moves up the stairs with Wilson following. A few magazines fall off the pile and Wilson picks them up. Then Dick pauses, setting the magazines on the kitchen counter, where the slippery things perch for a moment and then half of them tumble to the floor. He begins to pick them up. Wilson selects a couple more from the adjacent table and balances them beneath Dicks chin. “Sure you don’t want a shot, one of your beers”
“No,” says Dick. “I need to go, but thanks.”
“Here let me help you out with those. Wilson takes back half the stack. Then sets them down and puts on his boots. “Here”
Reaching Dick’s truck, today Dick has left the cruiser home, they dump the magazines inside the passenger door.
“Holiday’s”? questions Dick. “You’re not going skiing this year”?
“Don’t think I can.” Says Wilson. “Daphne and that Courtland... they owe me decisions, not to mention some money. I’m staying around to make sure that you, that we, can keep working. I have a ticket, but....”
“Yeah”, says Dick. “Been better if that Steven’s hadn’t died wouldn’t it?”
“Seems that way”, says Wilson. But at least we won’t need to see him in a Santa Suit.
“Right, says Dick, “And he would probably have had one, an elf hat anyway.”
“I’ll see you Monday, says Wilson. “Oh, and on the job, let’s not talk about your house. It will just make the others jealous. Send them off on Indian rants.
“I figured that”, says Dick. “See Ya”
As Dick leaves he glances sideways at the plan. Nice of Wilson, but he has always said he would. Dick is worried though. Wilson was going to be a mess by nightfall...two weeks of Holidays, and no skiing. He almost always goes away for these two weeks. Christmas, and what if the people don’t show up? He remembers last time that happened, ten years ago. When Wilson cancelled his plans and waited and waited... That Kutcher house... Wilson was ready to burn the dam thing down....He wonders if Grace will be around this winter, this Christmas, or will Wilson just be here alone in that big cool house, drinking and conducting trees.
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