PART THREE – E. J.
When Clark started talking about E. J., Liz flung her arms above her head in mock horror and shouted, “Help! Help! Buffington Journeycake, save me! I’m sick of hearing about E. J.”
“But E. J.’s a big part of the story,” Clark said.
“Just listen to me!” Liz said, pointing across the tipi fire pit at Clark. “I dealt with E. J. by staying away from him,” she went on. “I don’t think I ever exchanged ten words with him – except that one time he called me every dirty name in the book,” and she turned her face to me and sighed.
“Let’s just say I tried to avoid E. J.,” Liz said, “but nobody would let me. Everybody kept coming to me and saying, ‘What are we gonna do about E. J?’ every five minutes. I just told them, ‘Go see Louie, E. J.’s his baby.’ But they never stopped bothering me about E. J.”
“OK, y’all, just be calm a minute,” I said, turning off my tape recorder. “On the way here from Santa Fe, I’ve been copying down some of the stuff from the tapes the other people made into my notebook. Here’s what they said about E. J.”
I had seen E. J. a couple of times, but I remember well the first time I ever talked with him. It was in Santa Fe at the mission several months after we had gotten back from Sequoyah and now it was getting on towards winter.
I heard a banging in my office, like desk drawers opening and slamming shot. At first I thought it was Rivka – but she handles things more gently than that. Then I realized Rivka was downtown shopping. No one was supposed to be in my office unless Rivka or I was there. I flung the door open and ran into my office. There was E. J. in his soiled old Army fatigues sitting at my desk in my chair. One of the bottom drawers was wide open and E. J. was bent down fiddling with the papers in the drawers. When he saw me, he sat up, leaned back in my chair and grinned at me.
‘Hello, Taze,” he said. “How ya doin’?”
“Who are you?” I said.
“The name’s E. J. Caldwell,” he said. “I‘ve seen you before. Like up at that old buzzard McElroy’s mansion in Denver.”
“What do you want?” I asked?”
“I think I can help you,” he said. “If you want more money from the Pristine Foundation I can put in a good word for you, with them.”
“Are you from the foundation?” I said.
“Naw,” E. J. replied. “Let’s just say I have friends there. But you gotta do more for Pristine if you want them to send you more money. You’re gonna have to make more of an effort to get back in good with Bishop Louie again. After all, I just bet he wants money from you to put on his Circle next summer in Wyoming.”
“Well-uh,” I started stammering. “Uh, tell them I’ll do the best I can about Louie.”
“Good!” E. J. said, standing up and holding out his hand for me to shake. I took his hand, but I didn’t’ clasp it firmly because it was dirty.
“I can do you some good, Taze,” E. J. said. “Just remember you could have a lot worse visitors than me.” He let go of my hand and hurried out my office door.
I had heard that one of the forces behind the Pristine Foundation was a very secret private big business spy operation called the Corporate Security Agency. Did E. J. work for them? I never knew for sure.
For the first time I realized how taking so much money from Pristine had destroyed my independence in a large area of my life.
I first remember E. J. in Sante Fe after the Circle in Sequoyah. I had been having coffee with Waldemat, the German who was my lover of that winter, at a restaurant on the Plaza. I was going back into the Mission when this greasy-looking character in fatigues came from the direction of Taze’s office and passed me on his way out without saying a word. I vaguely remembered seeing him in Sequoyah, but I had never noticed before what fierce, hard eyes he had until he walked past me in the mission. I walked to the office and found Taze standing behind his desk, bent over and slamming one of his bottom desk drawers shut.
“Who the hell was that guy who was just leaving?” I asked.
Taze stood up. His glasses had slid down on his nose and he looked nervous.
“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that,” he said. “It’s not like you at all to talk that way, and after all, this is a mission.”
“Well,” I said, “who is he?”
“His name is E. J. Caldwell,” Taze answered, “and he was here on business.”
“For the Pristine Foundation?” I asked.
“I suppose you could say that,” Taze replied.
That night I wrote Manny a letter about this strange new guy named E. J. Caldwell who I guessed was some sort of courier for the Pristine Foundation. This was back in my big spy queen days, when I thought I could change the course of history if I sent the right information to the right person.
As clumsy and boring as the People’s Party seems to me so often, I think they are right about people like E. J. They say you cannot defeat the E. J.’s of this world by backstairs intrigue. It take the action of the masses of people to deal with an E. J.
E. J.? Yeah, I got a letter from Rivka when he first showed up on the scene in Santa Fe, but he didn’t mean as much to me as the news I got from Turco, the Jewish Chicano kid.
Turco hadn’t gone to the Circle in Sequoyah. He would never believe that those people who had been storing weapons and dynamite in the mountains had simply quit. He stayed in Zarahemla while the Circle was going on. He would sneak through the brush and watch what Louie’s old enemies at the Mormon church in the upper end of the valley were doing. And he kept his eyes on the road looking for suspicious–seeming trucks. But all that summer Turco saw no action.
Late that fall Turco came down to the college at La Plata and told me that the weapons and the explosives were moving again.
“How did you get down here from Zarahemla?” I asked.
“I took Rural Bus services,” Turco said. “I got a season ticket. What’s the matter with that?”
“I think it’s great.” I answered. “It means that whatever they’re doing, they’re not threatening the bus station to keep the buses from running to Zarahemla. Not yet at least.”
Even so, Louie wrote me a week later that someone had shot up his mail box in the middle of the night. I tried to get myself ready for more trouble.
Just then Clark held up his hand.
“OK, OK!” he said. “Turn your tape recorder back on. I got more to say. And I promise,” he continued, turning to face Liz, “It won’t be about E. J., at least not for a while.” Then , turning to he said, “Buff, you got your tape recorder on?”
I said, “Yes.”
“All right, here goes…”
This was in the National Forest in Sequoyah a couple of nights before we made the big Circle. Bishop Louie had asked me to stay up that night to watch that campfires didn’t burn out of control, that the cops or whoever didn’t come make trouble and so I would be there to break up any fights that might start.
It was way after midnight, the moon getting big and low in the west. There was a white mist starting to form. My campfire was a heap of red ashes glowing in the mist. I was sprawled beside the fire – couldn’t get to sleep if I had wanted to, but I couldn’t stay awake either.
And then Mike of the Coyote Family walked up and put his hand on my shoulder. He says, “Hey man, want to come with us on a little expedition?”
“Huh?” I said, sitting up, “What do you mean?”
“Oh, just come along with us!” I heard Ginny’s voice behind Mike. “Your clothes look all worn out,” she went on. “We can get you some new ones.”
I got up and poured what was left of my can full of coffee on the fire and stomped on it till there wasn’t any glow. Then I followed a line of Coyote Family people through the high grass in the mist.
They would stop around camps wherever there might be backpacks or something that wasn’t covered up safe in a tent and start picking stuff up. Sometimes they took the whole pack. At times they would even reach into a big wide-open tent and pull stuff out. They knew how to reach their hands in the depth of a tent and tell by the feel of somebody’s gear if it had anything they wanted. Then they’d pull out the pack, unzip it, get what they wanted and go on.
“Be sure and get yourself something,” Mike whispered to me as we walked from one camp to another.
I’m good at moving real silent because of all the time I spent stalking deer and elk, but all I got was a big paper sack full of dirty clothes. I dumped the dirty clothes out next to the tent where I got the sack. Then any time I was some distance from the Coyote Family, I would pretend to steal stuff and put in the sack. A couple of times I really did steal stuff, just to make it look good.
Then Mike says to me, “Do you know a place where we can stash this stuff?”
“I seen a clearing over there in the woods this morning,” I told him and I led the Coyotes among some tall trees to the clearing. They piled all the stuff they had stole together and put a heap of dead branches over it.
Mike shook my hand and smiled and said, “Thanks.” Then I took my paper sack and went by myself to the camps where I actually had stole stuff. I took the things I stole out of the sack and placed them next to the tents they come from.
Next morning I went around to a lot of camps as people was getting up to make coffee. I stood at their fires and said, “If anybody here is missing stuff, they should check in a clearing in the woods over there,” and I pointed to the place. “Go to the clearing and there will be a big heap of dead branches. Just pull them branches off and I bet you’ll find your stuff.”
I made it to most of the camps where the Coyote Family had stole stuff the night before, and the ones I didn’t get to, I sent runners to make the announcement. Then I went and told Bishop Louie, “Some folks was stealing stuff last night, but I made sure people could get everything back.”
He said, “It was the Coyote Family, wasn’t it?”
I says, “Yeah, but…”
Bishop Louie says, “Get them all together. I want to talk to them.”
For once I doubted Bishop Louie. I didn’t know if he would handle it in the right way. If he just preached at the Coyote Family and pissed them off, then I would lose a bunch of good friends. Still, I says to myself, “I think I’ll trust Bishop Louie to do best.”
I went to the Coyote Family camp. Mike come up to me with a big smile on his face and said, “Say man, we’re gonna have something for breakfast that you’ll really like – this fancy spiced coffee that we got last night.”
Just then this big, husky blond Coyote guy they called Farm Boy come walking out of the woods into the camp. “Shit!” he hollered. “We been ripped off! The coffee ain’t there – everything’s gone from the clearing.”
All the Coyotes said “Huh?”
I held my hand up for attention and says, “That’s what I come here to talk about. Bishop Louie wants to see you all right now.”
Mike snarled at me, “Man, did you snitch on us?”
I says, “I swear, I didn’t mention the Coyote Family name. But Louie knows. You better get it through your heads, he can tell what’s going on. Trust me, I promise, any trouble you all are in I’ll take on myself. If Louie sends they Coyote Family away from the Circle, I’ll leave too.”
“What about if he turns us over to the cops?” Ginny asked.
“You can believe me on this,” I says, “Bishop Louie don’t want to bring the cops in on this thing. He wants us to keep order at the Circle among ourselves.”
When we got to Louie’s camp, he was sitting by the fire with Aries John and Manny and Brother Maceo and Maceo’s wife Brenda.
Bishop Louie stood up and says, “Everybody sit down and we’ll pass around some cups of coffee.”
So we all sat next to the fire. The Coyote Family started to relax as they passed around the coffee and drank it, but every now and then they’d glance up kind of anxious at Bishop Louie.
At last Louie spoke up. “I need a camp to help us keep security at the Circle from now on,” he says, “To help find lost children and return them to their parents, to break up fights in a peaceful way, to make sure fires are out when there’s nobody around and especially,” he cleared his throat, “to help find stuff that got stolen and return it to the owners. I want you guys to work with Clark on that and also with these people,” and he stretched his hand out towards Aries John and the others.
Ad each of them others from Aries John to Brenda stood up and talked about how we all had to have trust in one another and be like a family at the Circle. Finally Bishop Louie come over and hugged Mike and Ginny and all the other Coyotes.
Then the Coyote Family stood up and walked back to their camp. Bishop leaned over and whispered to me, “Be sure and keep a good watch on them.”
The Coyote Family done a good job as security camp. Then they stayed after the Circle and worked hard with us in the clean-up crew.
During clean-up Mike come up to me and said, “I’m friends now with Brother Maceo and he’s a nig – a colored person and I’m friends with Rivka and Manny and they’re Jews. Last night I tried looking in Hitler’s picture again, and I don’t see nothing no more.”
And the Coyote Family worked at security and clean-up at every Circle after that, year after year.
Chapter Thirty One
Now let me talk for a while. I didn’t come back from Sequoyah with Louie. I came back with Ivy and Brother Maceo and Brenda. All that fall me and Ivy would take loads of corn and beans and vegetables that we harvested here in Zarahemla down to La Plata in Ivy’s pickup. We sold our loads in the farmer’s market. The Zarahemla Community let us use some of the money to buy lumber to build a new community center in the place where Louie’s church had been burned down.
We sure needed that community center, because after the Circle in Sequoyah, people were pouring into Zarahemla once more. They had to have a place where major decisions could be made democratically, not just Louie going into the tipi and talking things over with Aries John.
Once me and Ivy showed up with the lumber, Brother Maceo came over to help us. After all, he’s a skilled carpenter. He loves wood and his other materials and he would hate the thought of inexperienced people like me and Ivy ruining the lumber and wasting it. Then Aries John and Emma and the rest of that family showed up to help, and then others. At last everybody was out there working on the community center except Louie. I think he wanted to leave that project for me to co-ordinate. Also, he still wanted to avoid Teresa, who had been with him and was now Aries John’s wife. But when it was getting close to winter, Louie gave us some money to buy material to finish the Community Center before the bad weather came. I think he got the money from Taze.
I know he got the money from Taze. Later in the fall, Taze wrote Louie and asked him to come up for Thanksgiving weekend at the new mission he was opening in Albuquerque.
Louie says, “Negotiations are in the air!” and smacked his hands together.
“Clark, you don’t you go up there for me this time?” he says to me. “If there are any problems, tell Taze I’ll meet with him later.”
But in the Circle, we don’t want to have any big secret deals, so I could take who I wanted with me. I took Nephi and his wife Twyla who was getting upset about him going off and leaving her alone. Ivy let us take her pickup.
When we got to the mission building that Taze had just bought in Albuquerque, he wasn’t there. His elders loaded us in a brand-new bus and took us out to his ranch near Santa Fe. It was a big adobe building over a hundred years old. They had just whitewashed it and they had some beautiful horses out in the corral. Inside they had Navajo rugs and Pueblo pottery and old Spanish wood carvings – all this stuff was the best quality, just beautiful. Somehow or other it looked like new antiques, shiny and fresh from the store.
The elders brought us the biggest, juiciest turkey I ever seen. It was a good New Mexico turkey with green chili in the stuffing. Taze was late and the turkey was gonna get cold, so they let us chow down. We was just getting to the pumpkin pie, which had whipped cream six inches thick, when Taze and Rivka showed up.
When Taze seen Nephi, he stiffened up and got a frown. He didn’t say a word to Nephi all the time we was there. Hell, he wouldn’t even look in Nephi’s direction. But Rivka sat down by Nephi’s wife Twyla and had a real friendly talk with her when we wasn’t talking business.
Taze started pacing back and forth in front of us, stabbing the air with his forefinger as he talked. “First!” he says, “We need to have a new name for what we’re gonna do next year. The Circle is too much connected with the conflict we had in Sequoyah. Let’s call it the Great Assembly. I’ve been thinking of that name for years.
“Next!” he says, whirling around and pacing in the other direction, “we ought to set up a sponsorship committee for next year’s Great Assembly. I’m suggesting that I should be on the committee and Bishop Louie should be on it and I have a list of people and organizations who should be considered for sponsors,” and he pulled a folded-up piece of paper out of his hip pocket and waved it at me.
“Finally!” he says, “I would rather we have our Great Assembly next year in New Mexico – not Wyoming. My elders still need to work on putting this ranch together and I’ll need them down here next summer.”
I lifted my hand and says, “Excuse me, but I think we ought to keep on calling it the Circle because…”
“Oh, be quiet for a while and let me explain in detail!” Taze interrupted.
I stood up and said, “I’d like for you to treat me with some respect!”
Taze pointed at me and hollered “Respect! You’ll get respect when I think you deserve it!”
Just then Rivka stood up and said, “Taze, relax! Say, everybody, who don’t we drink a cup of coffee and start all over again?”
The elders passed around cups of coffee and Rivka went out to her and Taze’s car and brought back the pyramid Taze used to wear on his head. “Taze,” Rivka says, “I used to think you looked silly with this on your head. Now I think you’re acting a lot sillier without it. Maybe if you wear it, you’ll calm down.”
She handed the pyramid to Taze and he put it on his head. Some of Taze’s elders was giving me looks like they was trying to stare holes in me. But after a while they stopped that.
We finally come down to this: we would keep calling it the Circle and have it in Wyoming Taze wouldn’t sponsor the Circle and he would only send one elder to Wyoming with a little bit of food for us. Right there at the ranch, he wrote out a check for $500 for me to take to Louie. He told me he would call some people to send more money to Louie for the Circle in Wyoming.
So that’s how we got the money to finish the Community Center. For opening night, the People’s Party Youth Cultural Team came up from La Plata and put on a play with lots of song and dance numbers. Manny didn’t come with the team, but Rose, the other cultural team leader was there. Me and Rose sang a number together and kicked up our toes at the moon.
A lot of young people came to the performance from the small farms and ranches in the area and – get this – even a couple of teenage boys from the rival Mormon community up the valley. They snuck away from home and came to our show. The two boys told me that their fathers were in the group that burned down Louie’s church. Now they were laughing their heads off at the play in the community center on the site of the church.
The word got all over the hills around there that we were spreading Communist propaganda. A few nights later someone drove by and shot a hole through our mailbox. Louie stayed awake for a couple of nights trying to figure out which ones among his enemies in the upper valley might be in on that.
I could have been scared pretty bad. But what gave me hope was a grimy postcard we got in early January from Naples, Florida, sighed by 20 people. They crammed the information on the top of the back of the card:
“We held a Circle on a spot of drained land in the Everglades. We camped together from solstice Dec. 20 until the day after New Year’s. See you in Wyoming!”
That was just the first message like that. Letters and cards started coming in from all over the country. By the equinox on March 21, they were a flood. People had been to our Circles in Colorado and Sequoyah – or heard about them – and now they were camping in the woods and holding silent circles on their own. Sure, we had given our address to people we had met at the two Circles we had been to. But they must have given our address to others and we were hearing from people who knew of us at second and third and twentieth hand. Here we were, still a handful of people in the back country of New Mexico and we were also part of this huge movement that was sprouting up everywhere.
You want to know why I never got worried about E. J.? It was all these other circles forming. Some of them as early as that spring had two or three thousand people. It was something way too big for all the E. J.’s on earth to destroy.
Now I’ll tell you about why I had to worry about E. J. Me and Bishop Louie and Aries John went to Wyoming around the end of May. Some people up there had already found a place in the mountains that they thought was a pretty good site and held a regional Circle in April. We wanted to check out the place, see if there was enough spring water for a lot of people and talk things over with the Forest Service and the Highway Patrol and the sheriffs in the counties around there.
So many people travel the roads hungry and out of work. A lot of them had heard of the Circle or at least that there was a kitchen with free food somewhere in the mountains of Wyoming. People who had been driving around looking for work drove their old cars and pickups up the dirt trails till they got to the Circle’s camp and they didn’t have no more money for gas and they just let their vehicles die there. People went to the end of their Rural Bus service tickets and didn’t have a nickel to go further on. People hitch hiked and walked the roads with their backpacks for miles. When they got to the Circle’s camp, they dropped to the ground and rested their sore feet and said, “No more! This is it!”
When me and Bishop Louie got there, I guess there was about 350 people. There was already a camp of some of the Coyote Family there to do security and more of them arriving every day. It had snowed several times in May and people was camping in cold mud.
Only one car in the whole camp worked – that was E. J.’s car. He had been there for two weeks and he was the only one with money to buy food and gas. Some mothers come up to his van to ask for food for their kids. The mothers begged pretty hard and finally E. J. pulled out a pistol and pointed it at them.
When the other women heard about that, most of them went and camped about half a mile from the men. A lot of them men was pretty hot at E. J. too. But E. J. had the food. He was there with a guy named Angelo. Angelo had a long, curly black beard and a big scowl on his face. He had once tried to be one of Taze’s elders, but Taze kicked him out. Now Angelo wanted to start his own religion. Where Taze wore a pyramid on his head, Angelo wore a tall, dark purple cone.
Angelo was about 40, but he was the leader of a bunch of teenage kids called the Young Warriors. I asked Mike of the Coyote Family camp about the Young Warriors. He said, “They tried to hang around with us, but we had to chase them away. They was just too young and immature and crazy.”
The Young Warriors tied hubcaps on their heads for helmets. E. J. and Angelo was trying to use them for security instead of the Coyote Family. The Warriors took food from E. J.’s van to all the campfires. Even though some of the Young Warriors was girls, the women who had their own camp didn’t like them. Still, the Young Warriors was the only ones who had the food, so what could the women do? They got their food from the Young Warriors – what there was of it.
Aries John’s pickup was fixed up pretty good now and we had all this money from Taze for food and gas – Bishop Louie found a place about a mile from where everybody was camped. They all moved there and the men and women was together again. We brought in enough food to keep everybody happy for a while.
About a week later, Brother Seraph, the elder from Taze showed up with some food from the Maria Russell Mission – more than we expected Taze to send.
Here’s the funny thing – Brother Seraph turned the food over to E. J. and Angelo for the Young Warriors to give out. Them three guys and the Young Warriors set up a big camp in the middle of everything – all the trails passed through their territory. Everybody that passed through, the Young Warriors would say, “We’re security. We gotta check you out.” If they didn’t like someone’s looks, that person couldn’t go through.
The Highway Patrol talked to Brother Seraph and E. J. and Angelo as much as they did to you. I heard the cops talking about the Young Warriors as “Circle Security.” One of the cops told the other, “The man with the purple cone on his head and the two guys with him are their leaders.”
“Dammit,” I says to Bishop Louie, “I’d like to cram Angelo’s cone down his throat. Then I’d kick Brother Seraph and E. J. to the top of a tree and I’d paddle the Young Warriors with all them hubcaps they wear on their heads.”
“Easy, easy,” Bishop Louie says to me. “Brother Seraph is from Taze. I don’t know who E. J. is from, but they’re both watching us and they want to see if we lose it.”
The Highway Patrol was with them folks because the governor of the state was a Republican and they had to answer to him. But the Forest Service was Federal Government which was controlled by the People’s Party so they was on the side of Louie and Aries John and me. They was even more on our side after Manny Zamora got up there because he’s People’s Party all the way and can give a good People’s Party rap.
The sheriffs I talked to – one of them was a Republican and one was a Nationalist. But they had to answer to the people of their counties – to do what was best for their own folks. And they liked me and trusted me a lot more than they trusted E. J. and Angelo and Brother Seraph. Pretty soon I was riding around with the sheriffs and the deputies – talking over everything in the world with them, out there helping them direct traffic from the main road to the camp.
I was with the Nationalist sheriff the day the shit come down.
Chapter Thirty Two
The sheriff’s name was Johnson, but everybody called him Pap. The word come over his car radio, “Collision, automobile and pickup…automobile driver intoxicated, several injuries, people riding in the rear…driver and passenger in front, both probably fatalities.”
We hurried over to the accident at 90 miles an hour – old, beat-up car smashed into old, beat-up pickup. The deputies was dragging a big fat drunk man out of the car, bleeding like a hog with his throat cut, blubbering, “I didn’t mean it, I didn’t mean it.”
There was two young men and two young women knocked out of the back of the pickup. The deputies had stretched them out on the grass by the side of the road. Three of them was out cold. One of them, a woman about 20, still had her eyes open and was trying to talk. I went over to her. She stared up at me and said, “Oh wow, are you from the Circle? Can you make sure we get there?” Then she passed out.
Pap, the sheriff asked me to come over and help him. He was too fat to get in the pickup cab, so he couldn’t even try to get the bodies out. I had to push up some glass and steel mess that was smashed in. Then I had to be real gentle getting the bodies out. One of them was dead all right. His intestines fell out and slapped against me and got me all bloody. The other guy was still alive, but if I hadn’t of been careful, he wouldn’t have been.
We laid him out by the roadside. Then the Highway Patrol showed up and after that a couple of ambulances. When all these people, alive and dead was gone, old Pap, the sheriff, drove me back to the camp and let me off at Louie’s tent.
One of the biggest men I ever seen was there. I’m six-two but his guy must have been six-eight, in a gray suit like a tent. Besides that he had on high-heeled cowboy boots and a tall Stetson hat and a super pissed-off expression.
“Was you out butcherin’ a cow?” this guy bellowed at me, staring at my bloody pants.
“No sir,” I says. “Been helping get some bodies out of a wreck.”
“Well, I’m the president of the local Cattlemen’s Association,” he says, “and one of our members’ stock is missing and we heard it might be up here.”
Pap walked up to this cattleman guy and said, “Don’t blame this young man for nothing! He’s as good a sheriff as I am.”
The man calmed down but he still don’t look very happy. “The rancher who owned that cow,” he says, “it was one of his favorites. He was very fond of her.”
“How fond?” bishop Louie says, “Three hundred dollars?”
“Four hundred,” the guy from the Cattlemen’s Association says.
Bishop Louie turned to me and says, “We’re running out on the money Taze sent us and we got 5,000 people now to feed.” Then he turned to the Cattlemen fellow and says, “I’ll give you $200 now and the rest tomorrow. Clark, go around to all the campfires and see how much money you can raise.”
The first place I went was the Coyote Family camp. They had big hunks of raw beef laid out on a piece of canvas with pools of blood all over it. Ginny was cutting off pieces of raw beef and cooking them on a grill over the campfire. Everybody had their mouth full of the grilled beef with grease running down their chins. There was two little Coyote Family kids, hardly old enough to walk, running around naked, sucking on strips of grilled beef, with grease and blood specks all over their faces.
I went up to Mike and says, “Dammit, what are you guys doing? I thought you guys promised not to steal.”
Mike just looked straight at me. “We didn’t steal nothing,” he says. “If you’re talking about this beef, the Young Warriors gave it to us. They been handing beef out to a lot of camps.”
Ginny stood up and faced me. “it’s a better deal than most of what the Young Warriors been doing,” she says. “Like if some young new comer gets supplies from Aries John to take to a camp they usually have to cross Young Warrior territory. And the Young Warriors come up and say, ‘Man, we’re Young Warriors and we’re the official security for the Circle. We’re supposed to give out some of that food, so give us some.’ And if someone tells them no, the Young Warriors threaten to beat them up. But I just tell them, “I may be a girl, but if you mess with me, I’ll whip your ass!”
“They do give out some of that food they take,” Mike says. “They hand it out and say it’s from E. J. and Brother Seraph and old pointy-purple head Angelo and them three guys are supposed to be the real leaders of the Circle.”
I walked on to another camp. It was a bunch of college kids. They all pointed at me and gasped and shrieked because I still had blood all over my pants from the car wreck.
“I didn’t hurt nobody and I didn’t get hurt,” I says. “Can somebody give me a wet rag?”
They gave me a rag and I wiped the blood off.
I went around to all the camps asking for money to pay for the cow. When I got to E. J.’s camp, the Young Warriors was burying the cow bones in a hole by his van. One of the Young Warriors was holding the cow’s tail, popping it like a whip. E. J. was sitting there laughing, drinking beer. He looked a little drunk.
“Hey, E. J.,” I says. “Can you help us with a little money to pay the rancher for the cow?”
“Go away!” E. J. hollered. “That cow was a favor for the hungry people in all the camps.”
“But E. J.,” I started, “Bishop Louie says…”
E. J. stood up with one hand on his hip and the other holding his beer can. “Go tell Louie that if he don’t stop fucking with me, I’ll kill him!” he says.
When I got back to Bishop Louie I only had $60 to help pay for the cow. I told him that E. J. threatened to kill him. Louie and me squatted together by his campfire and I asked, “Can’t we tell E. J. and Angelo and the Young Warriors to leave?”
“Not as long as Brother Seraph is Taze’s elder. This cow is gonna wipe us out financially and we’re gonna have to call Taze and ask him for more money to feed all this crowd that’s coming. So we can’t send his man home. It looks like our friend Taze has more cards up his sleeve than I thought.” And he chuckled a little.
I went to my blankets and laid down, dead tired. All of a sudden I remembered that dead man I pulled out of the wreck. He wasn’t a man. He was younger than me, not more than a boy. I put my hands over my face and started crying till I went to sleep.
Taze wouldn’t go to the Circle in Wyoming. He said he needed to direct the elders in fixing up the ranch. Then he said he had such a bad headache he couldn’t even go to the ranch. I believed him. His face was gray and there were big bags under his eyes. I walked into his office and found him slumped over his desk with his head propped up by one hand.
"Taze,” I started off, “I just came to tell you that I’m getting ready to go to Wyoming for…”
“No, you can’t Rivka!” Taze groaned. “I need you to stay here to tell the elders what to do.”
“Taze,” I said in as quiet and humble a voice as I could, “I want to do the elders a favor. I want to go away for a while so that for once they’ll have a chance to think for themselves.”
“Oh, go ahead,” Taze said, and his head sank down on his desk.
I started off in late June and took the bus as far as the lines ran. In Wyoming I seemed to be going forever through flat, brown country covered with sage brush, no trees, houses or people, just now and then a small heard of pronghorn antelopes. At the end of the line, a two-lane blacktop road turned off from the main highway toward the place where the Circle would be. I hitched a ride with a van full of friendly, cheerful young people, all of them left-wing and anxious to do missionary work for the revolution. I bowed out of that as nicely as I could. I’d had enough left-wing preaching when I was at home in New York with my parents.
So they were singing and clapping rhythm while I stared out the back windows of the van as the blacktop turned to dirt road and the country became more mountainous. Tall pine trees started appearing more and more. As the van climbed higher, the air got cooler and I pulled my sarape closer around me. Then there was the big sign hanging from a pine tree – CIRCLE – WELCOME CENTER.
I was ready to weep with joy.
Under the sign was a canvas awning where some young people were giving out cups of hot tea. I had never seen any of them before in my life, but I flung my arms around each one of them before I took the cup of tea they offered. When I drank it, I was trembling, and not because the air was chilly. Then I ran down the path with my gear on my back for about a mile to the area where everybody was camped. At least when I remember, it seems like running, like it took me only a few minutes.
So on I was walking among tents and shelters with my heart skipping. Then all of a sudden the path went through a thicket of bushes and small trees that shaped my way. “I’m in magic land again,” I whispered to myself.
But just as the path led out of the thicket, two skinny teenage boys with hubcaps on their heads sprang in front of me and blocked my way.
“We’re from security,” one of them squeaked. “We want to check your pack to make sure you’re not carrying weapons or narcotics.”
I didn’t put up with commands from Louie or Taze, I wasn’t going to start with these kids. I just flounced my skirts at them, stepped off the path and started to go around them. Then one of them yelled, “Hold it!” and grabbed my arm. For such a scrawny kid, he had a strong grip.
Up ahead of me I could see a large meadow surrounded by trees. Other teenage boys and girls with hubcaps on their heads were running around barking orders at each other. In the middle of this nightmare, looking very out of place, was Brother Seraph from the Maria Russell Mission.
Brother Seraph had on jeans and a checked shirt, but with the bald spot on his golden hair and the long golden-orange goatee on his chin, he always looked to me like he should be in a monk’s robe. What was he doing here?
“Brother Seraph, help me, please!” I called out as loud as I could.
He hurried over and told the boy, “You can let go of her. She works at the Maria Russell Mission with me.”
“OK, OK,” the boy said and let go of me grudgingly.
Brother Seraph and I walked on into the meadow.
“You’re a newcomer here,” he said. “Everyone who’s been camped for a while has worn a new path that skirts a mile around this place to avoid the Young Warriors. It’s the newcomers who get trapped.”
“Well, why are you here?” I asked. “You don’t look trapped to me.”
“I have to be here,” Brother Seraph said, nodding his head solemnly to emphasize his words. “And it’s not just for Taze. It’s because of them.”
He jerked his chin quickly in the direction of two men sprawled in the grass with empty beer cans all around them. I recognized Angelo with the long, curly black beard. He had been a disciple at the Maria Russell Mission, just about to become an elder when I saw him kick a young disciple and flatten him on the floor. I told Taze, who ordered Angelo to leave the Mission that day. Now Angelo had a tall purple cone on his head. “Well hello, Rivka,” he giggled. “I’m pleased to see you here.” Then he took a swig from a can of beer and turned to the other man, who I recognized as E. J. Caldwell.
“She got Taze to kick me out of the Mission,” Angelo said to E. J.
“Bitch!” E. J. muttered in a low voice, but with such intensity that the word pierced me although I was still some distance away.
“Come on,” Brother Seraph said into my ear. “Let’s get out of here for a while.”
We followed the path out of the meadow into a grove of pine trees. Sure enough, the path we were on joined another path crowded with people, a path which made a long detour around the meadow. I was so mentally exhausted, I sat down abruptly on the big roots of a tree and took off my pack.
“What’s going on?” I asked Brother Seraph. “Does this have anything to do with the Pristine Foundation?”
‘It’s much more than that,” Brother Seraph said, looking at the ground and shifting his weight from one foot to another as he spoke. “E. J. is a very low-level operator. But he’s being paid a little money for being here this summer by the Corporate Security Agency – they do security for most of the major corporations in the country and they supply a lot of the funding for the Pristine Foundation.”
“What on earth are they paying E. J. for? I asked.
“Basically to do surveillance on Taze and Bishop Louie,” Brother Seraph said. “You see, the Corporate Security Agency doesn’t like how Taze wasted all that Pristine money in Sequoyah and then didn’t accomplish anything with the Circle. Oh, they gave us a bunch more money all right. That’s how we bought the new mission building in Albuquerque and fixed up our ranch so nice. But they expect something in return.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Here’s an example,” Brother Seraph answered. “A week ago E. J. and Angelo and the Young Warriors stole a cow. Louie had to pay for it, which really hurt him financially when he had to be ready to feed 10,000 people – there must be that many folks here this week. Louie called Taze for more money. Taze said he couldn’t have the money unless the Young Warriors were able to distribute a certain amount of the food. Taze told me over the phone that I was to supervise the agreement.”
“But surely,” I said, “you don’t want to work with people like Angelo and E. J.”
“No I don’t!” Brother Seraph said, frowning and sticking out his chin with a quivering goatee. “Taze doesn’t want to work with Angelo and E.J. either. Why do you think he’s been having all those headaches this spring? But we have to.” His chin sagged and his beard drooped. He shook his head.
I realized that after all my playing spy, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. By now the cool ground around the roots where I was sitting had given me back enough strength so that I put on my pack and stood up again. We walked into another group of campers. Brother Seraph pointed ahead.
“Those may be the people you want to see,” he said.
“Oh God, are they!” I yelled. Zephyr and Ivy and Nephi and Twyla – and Manny! All standing around a campfire. I ran forward shouting half-formed words of greeting at the top of my voice and collapsed into their arms.
I was home.
Chapter Thirty Three
Louie wrote us a note from Wyoming – “When you get here, stay away from the Young Warriors!” Right after that, we had our vehicles repaired well enough to caravan from Zarahemla to Wyoming. By the time we got there, someone had put up a sign by the path saying YOUNG WARRIOR TERRITORY AHEAD!
So we knew enough to take the side trail around the meadow where the Young Warriors were camped. Later, the Young Warriors took down that sign and more poor souls fell into their clutches. Then some other people put up another warning sign, the Young Warriors took it down again and so on, back and forth.
I just wasn’t concerned with the Young Warriors or E. J. or any of that shit. My biggest interest was to put together the best medical tent I could. Louie helped me with that to the max – went out of his way to get me all the medicine and bandages he could send my way. Of course he couldn’t get me everything, but it was in Wyoming that I learned some things I could never have learned in nursing school. A half-Indian woman named Pansy from those Wyoming mountains taught me to identify and collect medicinal herbs.
“You don’t just step up to the plant and yank if out of the ground,” she said. “You sit down next to it and look it over, get to know it and find out what it has to tell you about what it’s for. Talk to it in a soothing voice, explain that you need it – once if finishes talking to you.
“Carry a handkerchief with you at all times,’ Pansy said, and she pulled her own handkerchief, which was black, out of her pocket. “Keep your handkerchief with you so it’ll have your own energy in it. Lay it on the ground and when you take a plant, put it on the handkerchief so the plant won’t lose some of its power into the ground.”
I only began to know herbs there in Wyoming. But the knowledge of herbs has slowed me down and made me into a gentler person. A woman had a baby in Wyoming. I went to her tent to help her and found out how much I didn’t know. Lucky for us, word got around the camp and a regular woman MD showed up. I had some pretty scary lumps in the throat before she showed up. The cries of the woman in labor cut through me. For a second I wanted to run. Then the MD came and showed me what to do. I became determined to back to nursing school and get my degree.
I loved the place where we made the Circle that year – a huge meadow with lots of bluebells on a slope high above where everybody was camped. It must have been over 8,000 feet above sea level and there was a cool breeze in our faces.
The day after the prayer circle, most of the people still hadn’t gone. Louie called a big council circle in that same high meadow. He stood in the middle of that council and held his hand high. “I have asked people to come here,” he said, “to decide what state we will make the Circle in next year.”
Everybody started shouting at once – “Maine!” – “Idaho!” – “California!” Then a slender young woman with long, wavy, golden-brown hair walked into the middle of the council circle. She started speaking in an accent that sounded like it came from some long-ago pioneer time:
“Come to West Virginia! We need y’all so bad back in the East! There’s a group of us who made a regional circle this spring in the Allegheny National Forest in one of the greenest valleys on earth, big streams of fresh water to drink and swim in. We made our circle at a place where there’s a little village that’s been deserted for over a hundred years, with groves of apple trees all around it. We will help prepare the way. Come home back East!”
Everybody started cheering and shouting, “West Virginia! West Virginia!”
Just then a rather handsome man – blond-haired and beard, bald spot shining on his head – stepped out into the council circle. He raised both hands over his head and called out, “Louie! Louie!”
Louie nodded and said “Yes,” in a low voice.
“You have been with the Circle from the beginning,” the man said. “So has the Maria Russell Mission. You are part of those of us who really know what’s going on. You understand that we can’t leave our work undone to travel so far to the East. Yet you will need all our supplies to feed all the thousands of people who come. We urgently request that next year’s Circle be held in New Mexico or Arizona and we will block consensus on any attempt to hold it so far away.”
“I will not take either side in this debate,” Louie said, “I will facilitate the council and leave it up to this democratic assembly. Either they will convince you or you will convince them.”
A forest of hands went up. Louie started pointing at hands, getting them in some kind of order to make their speeches. A lot of people had spent a long, weary journey from the East to make the Circle in Wyoming. Now they wanted it closer to them. At first people were smiling at the balding man with the yellow beard and talking to him eagerly about the beauties of West Virginia. But the man wouldn’t even look at them. He just stood there silently and kept his eyes on Louie. And Louie wouldn’t say anything. He just kept pointing out who would speak next.
Finally as the afternoon got warmer, people were shouting in anger and shaking their fists at the man who was staring at Louie. People kept saying, “I’m from the West, but I’d be glad to go East! Why are you holding us up?”
I heard people around me muttering, “I thought we already decided it was West Virginia.”
Another person would say, “And I thought Bishop Louie was the leader. Why does he let this thing drag on like this?”
People started leaving the council, but we went on till sundown.
Next day fewer people came to the meadow for the council circle. And it went on the same way all day, Louie and the man not saying anything, people getting mad and leaving. On the third day there were still fewer people and the same thing going on. It was obvious, the man was trying to wear everybody down to make the Circle happen where the Maria Russell Mission wanted.
I dared to stand in council not far from Louie. All day for two days I watched Brother Seraph staring Louie in the eye, blocking consensus on making the Circle in West Virginia.
Finally, the second night, we went back to Manny’s camp. I wasn’t about to go over where Brother Seraph was camped with E. J. and Angelo. Manny was telling a long, humorous story and all the people at his campfire were looking to him. Brother Seraph came over to Manny’s campfire to listen. I squeezed Brother Seraph on the shoulder. He looked up and I said, “Come with me.”
We walked into the dark pine woods and I said, “Brother Seraph, I know you’re a good person. Why on earth are you doing this?”
Brother Seraph looked at me steadily for a couple of seconds. His face was pink and innocent and simple – I mean uncomplicated, not stupid. His eyes were large and gray with bright sparks of intelligence.
“You know why I’m doing this,” he said. “I have to. Taze and I both have to. There are other people in this besides us. The money – and a great deal else – depends on this. Louie knows it too.”
“But,” I said, “If Taze and the others have to stay in New Mexico and take care of the ranch, couldn’t one of the Maria Russell Missions back East supply the Circle in West Virginia with food? Taze could do it with a phone call.”
“The issue isn’t food supplies,” Brother Seraph said, “The issue is control.”
He spread his hands and looked up at the starry sky wide-eyed. “I trust in God, the Father and Mother and Christ – and the spirit of Maria Russell.” Then he lowered his eyes to me and they turned sad.
“But as far as things on this earth go,” he went on, “Taze is sincere, but he was always hungry for power. And as I followed after him, I started wanting a little taste of that power. So now we’re getting our punishment. We’re having to help someone else get power – somebody who’s a lot bigger and hungrier than we ever were.”
By now I was clenching my fists so that my nails were digging into my palms. “Maybe the Pristine Foundation or the Corporate Security Agency or whoever it is can hurt you,” I said, but if you really have faith in God and all that, can’t you stand up to them? When I first looked for a spiritual life, I thought I’d find people who were interested in something besides money and power!”
I started to cry. Brother Seraph walked off into the dark.
Next day the same silent stare routine went on between Brother Seraph and Louie in the council circle. Finally at noon Brother Seraph flung his hands up in the air briefly. Then he walked out of the council circle and sat down by me. Everybody cheered except Louie, who maintained a solid, diplomatic poker face.
“What a relief!” Brother Seraph gasped in my ear. Then he started taking in big gulps of the fresh mountain air. It was to be West Virginia next year.
About that car accident – The people who survived got released from the hospital when they still couldn’t walk – at least just to come to our camp. The ambulance let them out and people carried them in on stretchers. The big circle was over and it was the start of cleanup, but they was grinning from ear to ear.
When cleanup started, Brother Seraph drove back to Santa Fe with E. J. Angelo stayed behind in Wyoming with his Young Warriors – after all, he was supposed to be their chief.
The Young Warriors did help us out a lot with the clean up. Then one day Bishop Louie sent Angelo and some of the other Young Warriors over to one of the camping areas to ask people to take down their tents and move some place else so we could clean up there.
I was standing with Bishop Louie in his camp on the edge of a big meadow, when I seen one guy chasing another across the meadow towards us, both of them running like the wind.
The one in front was Angelo. Somehow he could run so fast and that purple cone never fell off his head. A couple of times he put his hand up to steady the cone, but he never stopped for a second till he got up to me. Then he grabbed my shoulder, like I’m his big strong refuge.
“What’s that guy after you for?” I says.
“Failure to communicate!” Angelo says. He caught his breath and laughed a little.
The guy chasing him was a tall skinny Indian about 20 years old. He was one of the Young Warriors, with long, black hair streaming out behind the hubcap he wore on his head. He was waving a great big bowie knife and he had the craziest smile, with his tongue coming out of the corner of his mouth.
“Hold it, brother!” Bishop Louie hollered and stepped right into the Indian’s path. “Now just slow down and tell me what’s the matter.”
The young Indian panted for a minute. Then he says, “I’m gonna take this knife and I’m gonna scalp that ass hole! Then I’m gonna make him sit on that purple cone till the point comes out his mouth!”
“What did he do?” Louie asked.
“That son of a bitch there!” the young Indian screamed, pointing his finger at Angelo. The finger was trembling with rage. “We went to ask people to take their tents down and this lady told us real nice, she would take her tent down in a few hours, but right now she had to keep it up. Then Angelo pushed her down on the ground – hard!”
“Now look,” bishop Louie says, calm and serious. “I been hearing all kinds of reports about the Young Warriors. It seems you guys have pulled a bunch of shit like that.”
“But we’re all sick and tired of it,” the young Indian says. “We seen at this place how nice everybody treats each other. A lot of us never seen nothing like that before. Angelo ain’t our leader no more.”
“All right,” Louie says and gripped the young Indian’s shoulders and stared straight into his eyes. “If you want to give up doing like you been doing, one of the things you gotta give up is getting even.”
He stared into the young fellow’s eyes for about three minutes.
“OK!” the young Indian huffed. He turned around so fast his long black hair whirled in the air behind him. Then he walked back across the meadow away from us.
After cleanup I left Wyoming and traveled two nights by bus. I was in Santa Fe in the middle of the morning, unwilling to go back at once to the mission. I walked around enjoying the familiarity of the little city. Then early in the afternoon one of those quick New Mexico downpours happened. First there was a clear blue sky, no trace of cloud, very warm. Then a black shawl of cloud with long black fringes flung itself across the sky from west to east. I ducked under the arcade of a row of stores and had fun watching the wind blowing the slanting lines of rain. I knew it was a lot better than anything else I would have to face that day.
Finally when the rain quit and the clouds had paled to gray and started drifting off, I walked to the Maria Russell Mission. Taze was sitting in his office looking as gloomy as I had left him. “Hi,” I said, shy in the face of all that sadness. “What’s going on?”
“Two days ago,” Taze said, “Brother Seraph brought E. J. here. Then Brother Seraph told all the elders about what had happened in Wyoming. That day Brother Francis, Brother Wisdom and Brother Counsel packed their stuff and walked off with Brother Seraph to the bus station. Brother Seraph’s last words as they walked out the door were, “I have to go commune with Mara Russell elsewhere.”
“So our best elders left, “ I said, and all because of what E. J. did in Wyoming?”
“That’s not all,” Taze said, “E. J. sat around all the rest of the day on the sofa in the front room and smirked. Two more elders walked out yesterday. I called the Pristine foundation and asked them what I could do. They told me to ask E. J. to come to the phone and they talked to him a while and he left. Now in some ways we have to start all over. Do you have any ideas for which disciples we should make into elders?”
“As an ex-Bishopess,” I said, “I think we should have an Eldress. How about Sister Hannah? Here we are supposed to be communing with the spirit of a female prophet and emphasizing the female side of God – and we haven’t had a woman elder yet.”
“Sister Hannah it is,” Taze said. “And we won’t do anything next year about the Circle in West Virginia but send some food. I regret what we had to do this year in Wyoming, trying to get Louie to pay attention. But I think he’ll have a lot harder time in West Virginia – and not from us. It’s all because he won’t listen.”
Chapter Thirty Four
When you become part of a place like Zarahemla, as you get older you enjoy watching it grow and change right in front of your eyes.
We all went to the Circle in Wyoming and ate stolen beef. It made me burp up a smell like rotten eggs.
When we got back, Joseph, the son of Aries John and his oldest wife Emma had his first birthday the second week of August. Then Aries John’s second wife Cassie was pregnant. All of Ivy’s kids was going to school. Funny thing – when the Rural Bus services stopped coming to our valley for a while because they was afraid of people shooting at them, Norma, the little Chicana lady that drove the school bus never stopped. Norma picked up the kids from our end of the valley and from our enemies at the Mormon church in the north end of the valley. She took them all to school in Highlander, the county seat. Of course a lot of times the kids went off in the woods and didn’t go to school, but that’s just natural in any farm community. Norma was there anyway.
I would go out with Clark and Turco and whoever else wanted to show up to patrol our boundaries between us and the folks at the upper end of the valley. We would watch for trucks taking weapons and explosives. Sometimes Twyla would come too, but I think she was watching for what I was doing as much as for weapons.
We still had lots of people coming to Zarahemla. They seen us at the Circle and they wanted to find out more about us. I know the People’s Party government provides free medical care and low rent public housing and six month jobs for young people in the National Forest and repairing highways but it just don’t get to all of them. A lot of people feel left out and restless. We want them on our side and not on the side of whoever was stashing all them rifles and dynamite sticks in the mountains.
People started showing up and camping along the Pobre Clara River in time to help us harvest the crops. We had to explain to them, “Get water from the river and boil it for you bath, but once you have soap in your boiling hot water, pour it out on the ground a good ways from the river. Keep the river clean, folks.”
The leaves on the cottonwood trees started turning gold and floating down to the ground. Little whirlwinds would cross the valley and carry the leaves round and round, way up in the air, maybe 20 feet. The whirlwinds would pick up long plumes of white dust and fling it in your face if you wasn’t looking. Then before we knew it, it was winter. Our valley was so deep that it didn’t snow, except maybe a little frost right before daybreak. I would get up about that time and go out in my shirtsleeves to pee. I wasn’t too cold at all, even though I could look all around me and see the snow reaching way down low on the mountain sides.
Every so often there would be a sudden warm wind from the south. Then the snows on the mountain would melt and water would just pour down the slopes and loosen the rocks. Sometimes the rocks would slide onto the roads. It might be a couple of days before a crew would come from La Plata or Highlander to remove the rocks – which means we might be stuck and unable to travel all that time.
So if there wasn’t too many rocks, a bunch of us would go out and pick them out of the road. One time after dark, me and Twyla and Brother Maceo and about ten more was out there clearing a rock slide like that. We would take turns holding a flashlight so people coming would know what is going on.
Then eight young people from that church in the upper end of the valley come in a pickup to help clear rocks. About the main difference I could see between them and us was that our group had Twyla and a couple of other women and their bunch was all guys.
Plus we had Brother Maceo. Most of them stared wide-eyed. I bet they hadn’t never seen a black man before – just heard there was one at our end of the valley. Then Brother Maceo’s wife Brenda, who’s white, drove up with hot coffee for all of us. She hugged Brother Maceo and them guys from the upper valley really did stare.
All except for two teenage boys, Hiram and Alma. They come up and shook my hand and Brother Maceo’s hand. “We remember you,” Hiram says. “We come down to your community center when the folks come up from La Plata to put on a show.”
“Yeah,” I says, “That was right before Bishop Louie’s mail box got shot up.”
“Me and Hiram didn’t have nothing to do with that,” Alma says. “It was just that some people up in our part of the valley thought your play was all communism. I don’t know what communism is. I just thought the play was funny.”
“I don’t know what communism is either,” I says. “All I know is that them people have come up from La Plata and put on their shows other times and it never did me no harm.”
Brother Maceo’s wife Brenda went back home in her car. Then all of us from both ends of the valley started carrying the rocks off the road with each other, all talking and laughing together. Just then a man drove up in a car and stopped. He stuck his head out the window and I could see he had sharp lines around his face like he was mad all the time.
“You boys!” he called out. “Stop fooling with these folks and get on home. Right now!”
“OK, Brother McClintock,” Hiram says. Then he whispered to me, “Elder McClintock’s in the Danites. He was with the bunch that burned down your church.”
“Hurry up!” Brother McClintock snapped.
Some of them got in his car so they wouldn’t have a cold ride home in the rear of their pickup. But Hiram and Alma reached out and touched me on the shoulder and ran to get in the pickup so they wouldn’t have to go back with old McClintock.
I don’t feel so scared of the guns and the dynamite after that. I figured we could win them over. What I forgot was, we couldn’t win all of them over – not in New Mexico or no place else. And just some of them kind of people can be an awful lot.
It’s strange how my whole relationship with Louie followed the same pattern as Rivka’s. The spring semester of 1975, I did just what she had done – I went back to nursing school. I went up to Albuquerque and started back to my courses at TVI. Just like Rivka, I found that I could avoid a lot of quarreling with Louie by staying away from him at school.
I still had my own mean streak. I loved to invite these sweet wimpy-looking college girls to play pool with me. I’d take them to these bars where all these drunk Chicanos and Indians were hanging out. The college girls would be so nervous it was easy to beat them at pool.
I think when Louie came up to visit me, we got along a little too well, because by May, there I was in the middle of final exams, sick and pregnant. In June Louie hitched up to visit me where I was staying at the People’s Party Youth shelter. He met this 15 year old boy at the shelter who got real interested in the circle. So this boy decided he’d hop a freight with Louie to West Virginia, where that year’s Circle was to be. I saw them off in Albuquerque railroad yards. I was all nauseous from pregnancy, sad to see Louie go and sad that I couldn’t go to West Virginia because I felt so bad.
Aries John kept working on his pickup later and later into June and we didn’t know if any of the other vehicles in Zarahemla could make it. So first Louie took off hitching to West Virginia and then I did. When I got to West Virginia, the first thing I found was that all the local newspapers had interviews with what they called, “Circle leader E. J. Caldwell.”
I got to the site in the National Forest. It was as beautiful as they had told us the year before – hills all soft and round and green instead of sharp bare rocks like New Mexico.
A bunch of local young people from West Virginia was camped there and they
was all pissed off at E. J., because he had gone around to all the papers and told them he was our leader. He had never come to the National Forest to see these local people even once.
Right after I got there, Bishop Louie showed up with this 15 year old kid named Rick. We went around to the local newspapers and told them, “We’re from the Circle and E. J. don’t represent us.”
And they’d say, “We’re glad to hear that because E. J. had a way of acting nasty. Not polite at all.”
The papers printed our side of the story – also that a young farmer named Hank Coombs who had worked on the local Circles would let us use his pasture for parking. Right after that, Hank started getting phone calls from all kinds of Klan and Nationalist people threatening his life.
Then Bishop Louie called up Taze and said, “Can you send us food or money?”
Taze says, “If you and E. J. have agreed on a spot.”
Bishop Louie says, “I found a spot, so I’m sure E. J. will show up and say it’s all right with him.”
“OK,” Taze says. “We have a Maria Russell Mission in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’ll call and have them take you a small truckload of food.”
And sure enough, E. J. did show up. Hank, the farmer who let us park on his land had a big white frame house over a hundred years old. E. J. come up on the porch and hugged Bishop Louie and blubbered, “I’m sorry I ever caused you guys all that trouble.”
Hank took me out in the back of his house and pointed to E. J. on his side porch. Hand said, “As far as that guy is concerned, I don’t trust him yet. It’s like my mama used to say – handsome is as handsome does.”
Hank lived with a woman named Lorene. They had a beautiful little blonde four-year-old girl named Lucindy. When Hank started getting phone calls from people who threatened to shoot him or blow up his house with his little girl in it, all these coal miners showed up with rifles to protect him. These guys was strong in their union and in their People’s Party organization. Some of them come by the National Forest where we was camped for the Circle and offered to stand guard for us there, too.
“No,” Bishop Louie says. “This place is like church. We can’t have guns here.”
Then they offered us a couple of jugs of corn liquor, but Bishop Louie says, “We can’t have that stuff here either. It’s just too dangerous. All the people around the Circle have to keep their minds straight.”
However, to be polite to the coal miners, I did go out with them in the woods several miles away and drink some of their corn liquor. They laughed when I’d drink down a big swallow and then nearly fall over backwards. But they cheered when I managed to stand back up straight every time. That shine is great stuff. Made me see sparks in front of my eyes.
The local miners brought their families and some guys with fiddles and banjos and had a small dance in the meadow near where the Circle would be. Some of the people in our camp had made pies from the green apples that was growing in the groves around in that valley near this old deserted mining village and we passed the pies around to the miners and their families. A bunch of the people that showed up for the Circle was out there – square dancing naked. One old lady who come with her son, who was a miner said, “I been married 50 year and had ten children and that’s the first time I ever seen a man buck naked in my life.”
That night after the square dance, I was standing guard at the entrance to the camping area with some Coyote Family people and some local teenagers, Hank, the young farmer, drove up in his pickup. He stuck his head out the cab window and says, “I just heard from the Highway Patrol. They found the bodies of two young women who was hitching to the Circle – face down in a meadow, shot in the back.”
I run as fast I as I could and got Bishop Louie. Just after we got back to Hank’s pickup, a car drove by and somebody fired a rifle – “crack!” Me and Bishop Louie both flattened ourselves down on the ground. The car did a U-turn in the middle of the road and drove the other way real fast, with someone in the car screaming, “We’ll get you Louie!”
Next day the Highway Patrol drove out to our camp with photos of our two sisters who got killed. We called everybody together and passed around the photos, but nobody knew who they was. We had more coal miners than ever driving by, offering us rifles, but Bishop Louie kept saying, “NO, we’ll keep trusting the Spirit to help us.”
“These people said, “You all must not be human!”
I will tell you the truth. I had a pistol packed up in my stuff. I would carry it around under my coat at night. I had been carrying that pistol at every Circle. I still had a lot of the Klansman in me. But I was beginning to ask myself, “If a bunch of people did attack us, what good would my own pistol do? I guess the Spirit really does have charge of this movie.”
Chapter Thirty Five
As Clark was telling this, Chad, Louie’s two year old son, came back into the tipi, Clark said, “I gotta quit for now. This is too hard to tell with a little kid around.”
Chad jumped into Clark’s lap and threw his arms around Clark’s neck. The two of them played together for about half an hour before Chad left the tipi again with Aries John and his wife Cassie. It wasn’t the first time we had to stop recording the interview because Chad came in the tipi – or the most serious, either.
When Chad was gone, Clark gripped his big hands together and started popping his knuckles.
“It hurts to talk about that whole business in West Virginia,” he said. “Not because I got shot at and not even because of them two sisters that got killed. It’s because I was in the Klan once, same as them guys that done the killing. I was proud to get my Klan membership card when I was 15. My father and mother are in the Klan. I know lots of good people in the Klan. In West Virginia, I felt like it was me killing them sisters and me shooting at Bishop Louie – and me shooting at myself!”
He winced and kept his head down staring between his knees. He grabbed his knees and his knuckles kept cracking - loud.
“Buff,” he said, “I’d rather not talk no more about what happened.”
“OK,” I said. “You don’t have to say anything for a while. I’ll read you some notes I took from Manny while I was down in La Plata.”
I got together a caravan of vehicles to West Virginia from La Plata. We went to Zarahemla first and a couple of their cars joined us and we gave rides to a lot of the others – most of the vehicles in Zarahemla were in no condition for a long trip.
As we drove into the eastern country I saw how I had forgotten what a difference a rainy climate makes. The same species of weeds that come up to your knees in New Mexico spring up almost to your head in West Virginia with broad leaves and lots of flowers. There is a fragrance in the air of thick clumps of rain-soaked grasses and weeds. The deer peek out at you from the woods near the roadside.
When we got to the encampment for the Circle in West Virginia, I met up with Ron Drexel, who I had known – sort of – in New York. Ron was the leader of Advance Revolutionary Independent Movement – Advance for short. You see, first there was the Revolutionary Independent Movement which said that capitalists would never allow the People’s Party government to remain in power, much less set up a full socialist society. They said we should be ready to mobilize the labor unions to block a military coup or a Nationalist uprising, which they said might come any day now.
The Revolutionary Independent Movement disagreed with the People’s Party, but they were friendly with us. Sometimes they would even help campaigns for People’s Party candidates. But then Ron Drexel led a big split by Advance from the Revolutionary Independents. Ron and his Advance group were always yammering, “Let’s store up as many guns as the Nationalists!”
Right before I went off to college, my parents and I were doing a show in Central Park. Ron led a demonstration of Advance kids against us. They were carrying signs like SMASH THE COWARDLY PEOPLE’S PARTY! Ron shook his fist at us and shouted, “When the time comes for the shooting, we’re gonna get you mother fuckers!”
That’s how Advance was. They treated the People’s Party as a worse enemy than the capitalists or the Klan or the Nationalists. The only people Advance seemed to regard as worse enemy than the People’s Party were the Revolutionary Independents, the original group they had split from.
I was just walking down the trail in West Virginia when I heard a high sharp voice say, “Hey, Manny! Come up here and see me!”
I turned around and saw Ron Drexel sitting up in a hammock which he had strung up in a grove of trees next to some large, expensive-looking tents. A bunch of Advance people were standing around the hammock, including a couple of good-looking female followers. Ron always attracted young women for what I thought was a rather passive role for a revolutionary organization.
I walked up a gentle slope slowly and reluctantly toward the grove of trees. “Oh, hurry up!” Ron called again, making a sharp, jerky motion with his hand. “I won’t bite you!”
I trotted the rest of the way up to Ron’s hammock. He stuck his hand out eagerly. I extended mine more slowly and shook his hand, still a little reluctant.
“Say, Manny,” Ron said. “I want you to look at our latest Takeover!” He snapped his fingers and one of his followers went over to a big stack of newspapers and got a copy and brought it over to me and stuck it in my hand.
Before I looked down at my copy of Takeover, I looked straight at Ron to see what he was like now. He hadn’t changed a bit – still the small, thin, wiry body like a greyhound about to charge into a race. He was smiling at me instead of shouting insults, but in his eyes there was still that, “I’m gonna get what’s mine,” look. I had been away from New York so long I had almost forgotten that eager, hungry look and even in New York, it’s not so much the native New Yorkers who look that way. It’s the people like Ron Drexel who came to the big city from elsewhere to seek their fortunes.
I looked down at Takeover. As usual they wasted about 20 pages in crazy, irresponsible rumors, but they always did it with class. The rumors were told in a prose quivering with excitement, attractive to young people who weren’t well informed and even to those like myself who were. There were lots of very good photos and wild, multi-colored artwork, including some of the funniest cartoons I have ever seen. A real expensive job.
“Look at the centerfold!” Ron boomed out, reaching into the newspaper and starting to turn the pages for me. When Ron’s fingers reached the centerfold, I saw a huge banner headline across two pages:
“ADVANCE IS MY KIND OF REVOLUTIONARY ORGANIZATION – ALOYSIUS O’CONNOR, PH.D.”
Underneath the headline was a photo of Dr. Al O’Connor and Ron standing together with their arms around each other’s shoulders, grinning from ear to ear. Al O’Connor was famous for his experiments with LSD, but I had always heard of him hanging around with yogis and swamis and cult leaders like Taze, not self-proclaimed revolutionaries like Ron.
“I took LSD with that guy,” Ron said, sticking his finger down onto Al O’Connor’s photo. “So did a bunch of other Advance people. Al taught us about revolutionary love. So we’re gonna stop giving shit to you People’s Party guys.”
“What about your old comrades, the Revolutionary Independents?” I asked. “Gonna get back together with them?”
“Nah,” Ron said with a scornful flick of his hand. “We’re gonna smash those bastards. They’re way off course. But forget them! What’s really important is the Circle. The People’s Party Youth Alliance has most of the young working class people with steady jobs. But the Circle reaches the masses of unemployed youth with that revolutionary love I was talking about. And say – I want you to meet the guy who really told me about the significance of the Circle. Hey, come on out!”
And E. J. Caldwell came walking out of one of the tents with the same big nonchalant grin he must have had when he was hanging around with the Pristine Foundation and the Young Warriors. Ron reached out of his hammock and patted E. J. on the back. “Me and this fucker E. J.,” Ron said, “we took LSD together. Go ahead, shake hands with him!”
“Oh, we’ve met before,” I stammered. But E. J. had his hand stuck out. I shook it as well as I could manage. I hurried away from that grove and I didn’t hear any more about Ron and Advance until the day of the big Circle – which gets into another, somewhat related subject.
In the East we have just a big youth unemployment problem as out here in New Mexico. However as a native New Yorker, I’m kind of proud of our unemployed Northeastern kids. Back there you see them on every street corner selling handcrafts while out west they all seem to just panhandle or scrounge in dumpsters. I’m proud of the kids back home, but they caused us a problem.
They showed up at our encampment in West Virginia with their boxes full of beautifully tie-dyed T-shirts, necklaces of seashells and quartz crystals, multicolored whatnots of macramé and carved wood and pottery. Great! But we wanted them to barter and they were selling their stuff for money.
Around the Circle, we want to keep everything for free. It stuff gets sold for money, that will make us into a commercial trade fair. We’ll have to pay taxes, we’ll have all kinds of complications in dealing with the Forest Service, the whole thing is just nuts! So everything has to change hands without money to protect the sacredness of the occasion.
Every day among our camps in West Virginia there were more and more vendors selling their stuff in louder and louder voices. They were so desperate and poor that the account of the two sisters being killed didn’t scare them away. Finally on the morning of July Fourth as people were walking in silence to make the Circle in the big meadow near the apple grove, a lot of the vendors were still going strong, right on the edge of the circle. Finally Ginny of the Coyote Family broke her silence and screamed, “I’m sick of having this money-changing in my temple!”
She ran out of the Circle up to a sheet a vendor had on the ground and she scooped up a big handful of his shell necklaces and ran off. He yelled, “Help me, everybody! Stop thief! Stop thief!”
A bunch of other vendors took off after Ginny. They were a lot bigger than she was and they were gaining on her. So I left the Circle and made my best high school track team sprint to protect her if anything happened.
We were camped in this lush green valley, everything perfectly beautiful except for this one small spot we called Yecch-ville. At that place, water seeped into the ground from the limestone strata and made a small bog which smelled so bad that no one would camp near it. Ginny ran up to the edge of the bog and tossed the necklaces into the blackish greenness of Yecch-ville. At once Ginny was surrounded by vendors shouting in her face.
I ran up and gasped, “All right, what’s the matter?”
“She threw away my best necklaces!” a vendor cried out. Now I won’t have money to get back home! I’ll have to go hungry!”
“OK, Brother,” I said. “Come back to the Circle with me. We’ll take care of it.”
He walked to the Circle on one side of me with Ginny on the other and the other vendors, following. I walked in the middle of the Circle and raised my hand.
“I hate to disturb the silence!” I called out, “But there is a brother who has lost many valuable things. He has no money for anything. Could people please come over and help him so that his spirit will be at peace enough to take part in the Circle?”
Many people kept their silence, but there was an under current of whispers of discontent. Finally a lot of people came over silently and turned their pockets inside out and got out a lot of change and some bills and put the money in the vendor’s hands.
Just then I saw Ron and E. J. selling copies of Takeover to the little crowd of vendors on the edge of the Circle. I ran over to Ron and whispered, “What do you mean, doing this? You know we’re not supposed to sell stuff?”
“But I saw other people selling to people on the way to the Circle,” Ron whined. “So I decided it must be OK and I…”
“You call yourself a revolutionary!” I whispered loud and angry. “A revolutionary is not someone who does something because they see everybody else doing it!”
Ron gave out a few more copies of his newspaper without asking for money. Then Ron and E. J. walked away from the Circle and headed back to their camp. I went back into the Circle. Ginny and I held the hands of the brother who had lost his necklaces in Yecch-ville. When the sun reached high noon, I saw tears go down his face.
Two days after the big Circle, we started a council to decide where we would make the Circle next year, 1976. There were fifty-dozen suggestions – all loud – a lot of feuding between the East and the West. Unlike Wyoming, the West Virginia nights were so mild that people stayed late in council to argue for their favorite state. I had no special wishes of m own. I was just pointing to people to take turns speaking, when Louie came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.
“We just got word on who killed the two sister,” he whispered in my ear. “Somebody just showed up with some information. I want you to be there with me to hear it.”
I went over to Ginny and whispered, “I’ll be gone for a while. Why don’t you point out which person is to talk?”
Then I went off with Louie in the dark to find out more about the murders.
Chapter Thirty Six
OK, I think I can start talking again about the killings. Mike and some of the other Coyote Family people were out doing security at the turnoff into the encampment area that night. Mike come running up to me and says, “There’s somebody at the turnoff who wants to talk to you real bad.”
When I got there, I seen this skinny blond boy, about 17, who looked all pale and scared. The blond kid wouldn’t say nothing for a while.
“Well, what is it?” I says.
Then he come up practically in my face and says in a low voice, “I was with these guys in the car when they killed them girls.”
I turned to Mike and says, “Go find Louie. Tell him I’ll be at this tent.”
I walked with this young fellow to Louie’s little pup tent. We sad down in front of it till Louie showed up. Then the boy says the same thing – “I seen them girls get killed.”
Louie says, “Just wait a second till I get back. I want to hear the whole thing.”
Then he went off and come back with Manny – also Ivy and Brenda from Zarahemla and Hank, the farmer who was letting us park on his land.
“OK,” Louie says to the kid, “Now start.”
“They come up from North Carolina and found me,” the boy says. “They said ‘You wanta come with us?’ I says ‘Sure!’ But they didn’t tell me what they was gonna do, I swear!” And he started to cry and put his face in his hands.
“All right, all right!” Bishop Louie says, putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder, “Who come up from North Carolina?”
“Klan, Nationalists, folks like that!” the boy snuffled with his face in his hands.
“Why did they come to you?” Bishop Louie says.
“Because they know my family!” the boy says, pulling his face out of his hands. He let his hands drop to his sides and he had kind of an angry flash in his eyes.
“My family was always big in politics and the Baptist church in this county,” the boy says. “Then that Communist People’s Party and the coal miners’ union took the county over. We’ve been fighting them for a hundred years. They killed some of my family back then. We hate the bastards!”
“So what did the people from North Carolina tell you?” Bishop Louie asked.
“Oh, they said they come up just to give the Circle thing a good scare,” the boy says. “They said it wasn’t nothing but a big front for the People’s Party to win over the young people. They said if we could scare the Circle away, we could win the young people back for the Nationalists.”
By this time, listening to this boy talk, I had a bad headache. Half of me still felt the same way about the People’s Party that he did. Half of me was still for the Nationalists and the Klan.
“What’s your name?” Bishop Louie says, “And what are the names of the men from North Carolina?”
“My name’s Billy Yandro,” the boy says and he started to wheeze and gasp. “You won’t tell nobody I been here, will you?”
“No, I won’t,” Bishop Louie says. “Just tell me what the men’s names are.”
“You won’t tell nobody I told, will you?” the boy says.
“You mean you can’t be a witness?” Manny asked.
“No! No!” The boy hollered. “I may as well go now.”
“Just calm down,” I says. “You don’t have to be a witness. Just let us know the names.”
“I don’t know if I can,” the boy says, and tears started streaming down his face.
Ivy reached her hand out and put it on the boy’s shoulder. “You don’t have to be a witness if you tell us,” she says, “I promise.”
Then she looked at Bishop Louie and says, “this may not be something we can bring to court, at least not for a while.. We just need to know – who are we up against?”
Then she turned back to Billy and stroked his shoulders and says, “Go, it’s just for us here to know.”
“Charlie Donaldson,” the boy said, starting to cry again, “Mack Jones and Tommie Ray Wilkes.”
The boy was crying hard and I was trembling too. I had met that Tommie Ray Wilkes back when I was working for Jim Einkorn in the Nationalist Youth Corps. These had been Jim’s kind of people – and the kind of people I was gonna grow up to be.
“We seen these two girls hitching along the highway with their bed rolls,” the boy went on. “One of them was wearing a jeans jacket with the word CIRCLE embroidered on the back. They asked us to take them here. On the way there was this big meadow full of flowers. Tommie Ray asked the girls, ‘Y’all want to go out there and look at them pretty flowers?’ and the girls said yes. Charlie stayed at the wheel of the car. Mac and Tommie Ray followed the girls out into the meadow. The girls was down on their knees smelling the flowers. Mack and Tommie Ray pulled their pistols out and shot them in the back. I couldn’t believe it!” And there he was crying again.
“They took me home and they went over to the next county,” the boy started up again. This time his voice was calm and dull, kind of tired, “They drove over to the next county. They ain’t got the union or the People’s Party in that county. The sheriff in that county is a friend of my family’s. These three guys had talked with the sheriff before they come over here. He knowed they had come here from North Carolina to raise hell. I don’t know whether he knowed everything they was gonna do. I just wanta go now.”
We walked up to the turnoff with this boy, to his old pickup that he had parked by the side of the road and drove all off. All that night the crickets kept up steady - rick! -rick! - rick!
This young guy named Yandro – I’ll never forget that name –told us the details about the murders and how the sheriff in a nearby county was covering up for the killers. The state government of West Virginia is controlled by the People’s Party and so are most of the county governments. But the counties where the People’s Party doesn’t control – Fascist is the only work I can use to describe them. The murders were hiding out in one of those counties. And these murderers had the gall to call the Highway Patrol and tell them where the bodies were.
I noted down the names of the three people in the murder squad. Then I went to bed, feeling really sick. Next morning I was sitting at our campfire drinking my coffee when Ginny of the Coyote Family came dragging along half dead.
“Did the council ever decide where to make the Circle next year?” I asked.
“Finally!” she gasped and dropped to the ground across the campfire from me. “I got so tired of pointing to hands!” she said. “I have this little carved stick with a turquoise hanging from it. I gave the stick to one of the people and told them to pass it around the council circle and let each person hold it and take turns speaking and then pass the stick on. They kept passing the stick arguing about what state to make the Circle in – kept on and on and on till three o’clock in the morning.”
“What did they finally decide?” I asked.
“Well,” Ginny said, “by that time the only people left awake was E. J. and Ron Drexel and his Advance Organization. They had been arguing for hours, trying to get people to make the Circle in Texas.”
“Texas?” I piped up. “What on earth do they want the Circle there for?”
“Because the Republicans are having their national convention in Dallas next year,” Ginny answered. “Ron wants to take the Advance kids to Dallas next summer and picket the Republicans for being a bunch of capitalist pigs.”
“But will there be water in Texas? Will there be…” I was starting an oration.
“Who gives a shit?” Ginny said scornfully. “They wore everybody else out. All the other people went to sleep and let them do it. I just wanted you to know. I’m going back to the Coyote Family camp and sleep.” And she staggered off.
I remember so much of nature at the Circle in West Virginia – like how when we dug pits to bury compost near sassafras trees, the earth smelled like sweet sassafras. Or the golden and greenish glow from the fireflies and other luminous insects drifting by me in big flights at night. But over it all is the shadow of the murder of our two sisters – and the way Ron and E. J. manipulated us into having our next Circle in Texas.
On a bright sunny day in late July, I was sitting in the recreation room of the People’s Party Youth shelter in Albuquerque, feeling hot and miserable and pregnant when Louie stumbled in. I have to say stumbled – which is unusual. Louie’s movements are usually well coordinated. His whole body seemed slanted to one side as he limped along. He had a purplish bruise on his cheekbone and his shirt and pants had big rips in them. What was most surprising – he wasn’t wearing his leather loincloth with the Mormon symbols in beads over his trousers.
All I could say was, “My God, Louie, what happened?”
“I was hitching from the Circle in West Virginia to Pittsburgh to catch a freight there,” he said, sitting down in a chair facing me. He took a couple of deep breaths and continued. “A car drove onto the shoulder and screeched to a halt right beside me. A guy stuck his head out the window and said, ‘Hop in!’ All I could think was ‘Fantastic! I’m in luck!’ I got in the car.
“There was three guys in the car, all grinning at me. They drove a few miles up the road, then, all of a sudden they swerved onto a dirt road in the forest. I hollered, “Hey, wait a minute!” But they kept on going for about ten miles. They stopped at a place where trees made a deep shadow over the road. Then one of them grabbed me and drug me out of the car. The other two got out. The three of them started shoving me back and forth. Then one of them bobbed me so hard he knocked a tooth out.
“I hollered, ‘Please! I’ve got a wife and a kid about to be born!’ But another one of them kicked me to the ground. Every time I tried to get up, they kicked me. In my ribs, in my balls, in my head. Finally I went unconscious. When I woke up, they was all gone. I think I had a cracked rib. I hurt so, I just laid there beside the dirt road all night and tried to sleep. Next morning I walked the ten miles back to the highway. I waited and waited for a ride, but I was so dirty and raggedy I didn’t get a ride till past noon.
“Finally I got to Pittsburgh and washed off in a filling station bathroom. I rode the freights here. Then guys stole my sleeping bag, everything I had. The cushions in this chair are the first soft thing I’ve felt in three days.”
“Come on to my room,” I said. We went there and Louie fell across my mattress. He didn’t wake up till the next morning. One of the first things he said after he woke up was, “I bet the same fuckers who worked me over are the ones who killed them two sisters.”
I said, “What?”
Then he told me about the murders. It made me sick that we would have a child born into this kind of danger. As we ate breakfast, Louie still had his head hanging down, kind of dazed. “They might have left me for dead,” he said, stabbing his scrambled eggs with a fork. “But then they could have shot me like they shot the sister. No – they left me alive because they thought I would be scared enough to do what they want – or do whatever whoever got them to whomp on me wants. I just don’t know.”
And he grumbled something and put a big forkful of scrambled eggs in his mouth. I could see there were tears in his eyes. I felt so sorry for him, I decided to pay the bus tickets for us both to Zarahemla. Because I had dropped out of nursing school one semester to be with Louie in the first place, I still had work to make up. But hell, I could always do it some other time. And I was feeling so awful, being pregnant.
So I went back to Zarahemla with Louie and a lot of the time I felt awful there. Louie was in a sad, subdued mood all that fall. He didn’t blow up often, but when he did, it was pretty bad. Still, I had the beauty and power of nature to walk around in and get away from him when I couldn’t stand it.
In January 1976, I was ready to have my baby in the bed in the adobe house. Three of Aries John’s wives – Emma, Cassie and Zerena – would be there. Not Teresa. She was still to edgy from when she broke up with Louie and I moved in with him. Also Ivy and Brother Maceo’s wife Brenda were there. And I had all but a semester of nursing school finished, so I told myself, “I’m all set.”
But I kept going in and out of labor for hours and the baby still didn’t come. I kept pushing against the walls, which were soon covered with my greasy hand prints. Ivy brought a bunch of paper towels to clean up where I broke water and soon I was writhing over that heap of blood-stained papers.
Then there was a knock. Louie answered the door and ushered a stern-looking gray-haired woman into the bedroom. “I’m Opal Kimball,” she said. “I live up at the other end of the valley. I’ve delivered some babies in my time and I thought I might possibly help.”
Then she looked at the mess and said, “OH, no!” She had an upset, almost angry look on her face. But she took a deep breath and said, “Honey, has anybody taken you out to pee yet?”
“No, no,” I said, “Oh god, I want to!”
Opal helped me lift myself out of the bed and led me to the bathroom. She called back over her shoulder, “Get all that dirty paper off the bed and take some clean pieces of cloth and boil them.”
When I peed, what a relief! Opal led me back to the bed and stripped the sweaty, bloody sheets off of it. Then she said, “Lay down now.”
I relaxed on the bed, feeling at ease because at last I was in the hands of someone who knew what she was doing. Everybody else had been arguing among themselves about what to do. Her hands on my body were very strong and gentle. The other women brought in the clean, boiled cloths and Opal wiped me off with a couple of them. It seemed like no time at all before she delivered my son Chad. I gasped and said, “Thank God!”
Later I said to Opal, “Your people up there burned the church down here. Why did you help me?”
“Oh, I heard ‘em up there talk bad plenty about this place,” she said. “But my grandsons went to a show down here. They said there wasn’t no harm in you folks. So I’m here because it’s the only Christian thing to do.”
Since then I have more faith than ever in the ability of people to come together.
Chapter Thirty Seven
After the Circle in West Virginia, a whole lot of people come to Zarahemla to see what our thing was about. I would spend the night, sometimes a couple of nights with several of the young ladies who showed up. I always tried to be nice to them so they would remember me as friends. Finally by the end of August, I ended up really in love with a beautiful young blonde woman named Loretta Sanders – I called her Retta. We moved into a tent together.
But then Retta said, “I don’t want to stay here. I love the Circle, but Bishop Louie is too depressed all the time and when he’s not depressed he gets too loud and angry.”
So we hitched to Albuquerque. At first we stayed in the People’s Party Youth Shelter and I got jobs at hiring halls unloading trucks and Retta worked as a waitress. I’ve always said I was waiting for a good job, steady construction work, not those little bitty temporary government construction jobs for the unemployed.
Then zap! Retta was pregnant. I had to get a job that paid more than unloading trucks. I might not like working for the government, but they control most of the construction jobs. I ended up on one of these public works jobs, building the freeway across the north side of Albuquerque. As far as hard work was concerned, it wasn’t no little bitty job, especially after the weather got cold. But it was temporary.
Just after New Years, 1976, the job had only two weeks to run. Me and Retta was renting half of a little house for $120 a month. One thing I will say in favor of the favor of the People’s Party, all the public housing they build keeps the rent down in the other places.
But I was walking around one Saturday, wondering where next month’s rent was gonna come from after the job was over, when I heard a voice, “Hey Clark!”
I turned around and seen Brother Power, one of Taze’s elders, standing in the door of the Albuquerque branch of the Maria Russell Mission.
I walked up to him and he says, “I been seeing you around for quite a while and I told Taze about you. Then a few days ago, he told me if I seen you again I should get you to call him collect right away.”
So I says, “OK,” and walked in the mission to use the phone. It was great, just getting into a warm place, out of the cold street. I rung up Taze and he says, “Say, Clark, I hear you’re working on building the freeway.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“oh, I try to keep tabs on things,” he says. “Hey, why don’t you come up to Santa Fe when your job’s over?” I know of a house where you and Retta can stay for free out on some land near Taos – and a job, too.”
Dang, he even knew Retta’s name! Well, I couldn’t risk Retta and my future child being out in the cold while I’m looking for a job that may not even be there. So two weeks later me and Retta was at the Maria Russell Mission in Santa Fe. Taze introduced me to a man with a head of white hair and a smile full of bright teeth – his hair and teeth looked like they must glow in the dark.
“Clark,” Taze says, “this is Dr. Al O’Connor,”.
All of a sudden I’m staring and pointing at this guy. “Hey,” I says. “I teen you with Taze at the Circle in Sequoyah.”
“Yes indeed,” the fellow says. “Those were the days.” He even talked with a smile.
“By the way, what’s the job?” I says.
“Oh, I bought some land near Taos,” he says. “There’s an old adobe house where you can live and a lot of forest. I need someone to take care of the place for the rest of the winter while I’m in Tahiti, and you can cut firewood in the forest. I have several art-type friends who have moved to Taos and I can line you up selling firewood to them.”
I didn’t have no place for me and Retta to go, so I says, “Yes.” An hour later me and Retta was in this big, black car and Dr. Al O’Connor was driving – nice warm heater, real expensive car. He drove us up among steep snowy hills covered with piñon and juniper and cedar trees. On a snow-white hillside was a big, long pinkish-brown adobe house.
Dr. al led us up to the door and there was E. J. grinning from ear to ear in his dirty old army clothes. And next to him was this guy Ron Drexel who I kind of remembered from the Circle in West Virginia.
“These people will work with you,” Dr. Al says. “There’s plenty of space. They’ve got their rooms, you and Retta will have yours.”
I thought about leaving because of E. J., but I could smell food. “Are you hungry?” E. J. asked.
“Oh, wow, am I!” Retta shouted.
We went in to a table with plates full of lots of hamburger steak and beans. Coming in from the cold it was great, and I know Retta needed it. She had that fork out just raking the food in. I was getting after mine pretty good too. I stuffed myself full before all the snow had melted off my work boots.
As soon as I looked up from my empty plate, Dr. Al says, “Now, Clark, you guys can split the money from the firewood however you see fit. I don’t want a penny of it – except for a little bit that I want you to spend on a favor for me – and Ron here,” he says pointing to the scrawny guy sitting next to E. J.
“Ok, what’s the favor?” I says.
“Ron has an organization called Advance,” Dr. Al says. “He has some money from his group to offer Louie for the Circle. I want you to take the truck that you’ll use to haul firewood, gas it up and carry Ron and E. J. down to Zarahemla to talk to Bishop Louie about working with Advance.”
“Uh-do you want to sponsor the Circle and be God like Taze did in Sequoyah?” I asked, poking my fork in Ron’s direction.
“No, I don’t,” Ron says. “We know that Advance would be too political to sponsor a spiritual event like the Circle. But we would like to work with Bishop Louie on some projects. We can supply food for the Circle – and we want our name kept out of it!”
“And E. J.,” I says, pointing my fork towards him. “There won’t be no more Young Warriors and stuff, will there?”
“I promise,” E. J. says. “Absolutely no more Young Warriors. Look, we’re gonna talk to Louie face to face. And you know he’s a hard man to fool.”
Dr Al left us there the next day and went off to Tahiti. He gave us a bright, shiny new chain saw – a real expensive piece of business, when you consider what gasoline costs. But Ron already had the money from Advance to buy our gasoline for the truck and the saw both. He even had money for most of the groceries. The main thing we used the money from the firewood for was beer 0 especially E. J.
We had a list of people from Dr. Al to sell firewood to. All of them had adobe mansions just stuffed with Indian and old Spanish craft stuff. They all had great big baked clay fireplaces and they loved the smell of piñon wood burning. It’s hard work walking out in the snow and suing the chain saw and then loading the wood onto the truck, but I still think them people paid us more than it was worth.
Maybe Dr. Al told them to pay us so much. And me and E. J. and Ron drunk more beet than I knew existed, which got Retta kind of pissed off at me. When it was time to go to Zarahemla, the truck cab was big enough where us guys could take turns squeezing behind the seat and Retta could have rode, but she said, “I want to be by myself for a while.”
We left her with a lot of groceries and headed off.
In the fall of 1975, Dr. Al O’Connor bought a piece of land near Taos. He wanted to be near a group of rich art buyers there who were also doing LSD sessions with him. Some of them were Pristine Foundation people – the Foundation has a lot of interest in art, especially of a spiritual nature.
Then Al brought Ron Drexler out to my horse ranch near Santa Fe. “I want you to meet my favorite revolutionary,” Al said, and Ron extended his hand. I shook it gingerly. I wasn’t very impressed with him. I was less impressed after I heard his conversation – endless gossip about the New York left-wing bohemian scene.
When I was alone with Al, I said, “I thought you told me you weren’t interested in left-wing stuff.”
“Don’t you see?” Al said with that everlasting grin, “Ron has taken revolution out of the dreary world of fact and made it into an art – a new spiritual high. He can thrill rich people talking about violent revolution. It’s like going to a horror movie. When it’s over, they’re just as rich as ever. And they love it. He’s been to bed with the daughters of half the big wheels in Pristine Foundation – and a number of their wives.
“Besides that,” Al went on, “it’s great when I’m snowed in at night near Taos having all Ron’s sharp wit around. And guess what? He brought E. J. Caldwell with him. Do you know E. J.?”
“I’m afraid I don’t, I said.
“I tell you,” Al said and started chuckling. “E. J.’s so much fun to have around. That guy is a million laughs – especially when were taking LSD.”
Thank you for not bringing him here,” I murmured under my breath.
“One thing more,” Al said. “Can you arrange for Ron to meet Bishop Louie? It would probably be worth some extra money from the Pristine Foundation for your projects.”
I was sure it would be worth some money to me. And I knew that with E. J. around, if I didn’t cooperate, I would have some trouble.
“Let’s wait till the best opportunity to see Louie,” I told Al. “I promise you it’ll be soon.”
A few days later Brother Power told me, “I’ve seen Clark around Albuquerque a couple of weeks in a row. He must be living there.”
I told him, “Have somebody from the mission there follow Clark and check on what he’s doing. Then get in touch with him and have him contact me – collect.”
I knew Louie trusted Clark more than almost anyone else in the world. If anyone could help Ron make a remotely good impression on Louie, it would be Clark. But I was amazed to find out who really made a good impression on Louie.
When we got to Bishop Louie’s house, we found him in the living room with the baby in his arms. He was spooning glop out of a can into the baby’s mouth.
“Where’s Liz at?” I asked.
“Oh, she gets the baby half the time and I get the baby the other half,” Louie says.
Just then the baby spewed some of the vegetable gunk on Louie’s jean jacket. Bishop Louie tried wiping it off, but he just got his hands and the jacket both messy and the baby started crying and kicking.
“Dammit!” Louie snapped. “I thought the baby would bring us more together. But if I have the baby, Liz is at the community center or Aries John’s tipi or who knows where? We never tend the baby together! We never do nothing together except in bed. She says I chew her out too much but – shit! I thought a couple was supposed to talk things over and she never wants to. And say, what are these guys doing here?”
He looked up at Ron and E. J. and he didn’t look happy. “All right,” he says at last, “what do you guys want out of me?”
Chapter Thirty Eight
All that fall and winter I would take the bus from La Plata to Zarahemla to discuss with Louie about how we would handle this impossible business of making the Circle in Texas. There was no way to get out of it. Ron’s Advance organization had put the word out about Texas all over the East Coast.
Half the time Louie was his old self with me – a lively intellect, full of plans and suggestions. The rest of the time he was depressed like I’d never seen him. There seemed to be shadows in the lines of his face. I thought that having a beautiful healthy child like Chad would get him out of it, but it didn’t. The only reason for his depression that I can think of is that his relationship with Liz had broken down – “except in bed,” Louie always added. Louie did try to work it out in his way. Very serupulously Louie did his share of the housework down to cleaning the last dish. Louie cooked meals and even made coffee, which he wouldn’t drink from his Mormon training, and brought it to Liz. But something was missing between them.
Late that winter, our People’s Party Youth Alliance in La Plata got a bundle of leaflets from Ron’s Advance group. ‘UNITED FRONT AGAINST TERRORISM!” the leaflets screamed. ‘CONFRONT THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION IN DALLAS!” The leaflets were accompanied by a few copies of Takeover, the Advance publication, which had a front-page story linking the Republican Party in an elaborate conspiracy with the various Nationalist groups who were stashing weapons and explosives in the Rocky Mountain states.
Advance had always treated us People’s Party members as worse enemies than the capitalists. Now they were asking the People’s Party Youth Alliance to join them in their demonstrations at the Republican Convention in Dallas. I wondered if this new passion for unity came from the “revolutionary love” Ron told he had learned from taking LSD with Dr. Al O’Connor.
I just didn’t see any reality to the Advance propaganda campaign. It’s true the Nationalist groups in the Rocky Mountains were storing weapons and explosives. But the Republicans weren’t getting along with them. In fact, the Republicans were getting scared, because they were losing a lot of local elections to the Nationalists – especially in the sheriff’s departments, a key power position in those rural countries.
As a People’s Party member, I opposed the Republicans as a capitalist party, but I didn’t see any reason for Ron and his Advance organization to make false accusations against them. Then I took the bus up to Zarahemla again. To my amazement, there were Ron and E. J. camped out in a tent near Louie’s house. Louie was hanging out with them with a big grin on his face, moving around livelier than I had seen him in months.
Clark was there too, but he was sitting off away from the others with a gloomy expression on his face.
“Hey, Comrade!” Ron called out to me.
“Yeah, Comrade Manny, come join us!” Louie shouted. I blinked – the word comrade was so unlike him. Louie had always been one of the less politically conscious people I knew – at least as far as identifying with the left wing was concerned.
I walked over to the campfire. E. J. had a little package of marijuana and he had rolled a cigarette package of marijuana and he had rolled a cigarette from it and passed it around. That wasn’t what had Louie so cheerful. He was so unused to smoking anything, he barely touch the join to his lips. Then he leaned back and held it out to Clark and said, “Come on, Clark, have a little!”
Clark said “Naw!” a couple of times around, but the third time he took it and inhaled a lot. The marijuana didn’t get him out of his gloomy mood. I was sure marijuana wasn’t what was cheering up Louie.
“Uh-how long have you been here?” I asked, sitting down next to Clark.
“We’ve been here a week,” Clark said, “and I’m worried. I’ve left Retta alone and pregnant back up there in the mountains near Taos and…”
“Oh, don’t worry!” Ron said, inhaling deeply on the joint. “She’s got a big comfortable house up there and we left her a lot of food.”
“Yeah, man,” E. J. said. “You ought to just smoke more of this weed and quit moping!”
Clark tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “I’d like to talk with you.” We walked away from the others on a carpet of golden leaves under the bare branches of the cottonwood trees.
“I don’t understand it,” Clark said when we were some distance from Ron, E. J. and Louie. “I seen E. J. myself with the Danites at the upper end of the valley the night they burned Bishop Louie’s church down. But Louie’s been partying with Ron and E. J. like nothing ever happened.”
“There’s only one answer to that,” I said. “Ron and E. J. offered Louie a lot of money to help put on the Circle in Texas.”
“Oh yeah, they did,” Clark said. “They also gave several boxes of groceries for him and Liz. But that’s not it. Bishop Louie used to get money from Taze all the time, but he kept his eye on Taze – he knew Taze might pull a fast one. Now Ron and E. J. have showed up and Louie likes to sit around with them for hours and listen to them explain how the Republicans have this big plot with the Nationalists. Man, I know that’s bullshit!”
Clark banged the knuckles of one large fist against the other.
“I used to be with the Nationalists,” Clark went on, “and we used to have a few sympathizers in the Republican Party – but not like what they’re talking about. And Bishop Louie just laps this stuff up. I though he had better judgment, but…”
Abruptly Clark sat down on a pile of dead cottonwood leaves. “Man, I can’t go on,” he said. “I got a headache so bad. I love Bishop Louie. He got me out of something that was bad and ugly and he showed me the light. I don’t want to work with him on their Republican convention thing, but he’s put his trust in me, and if he says to do it, I think I got to.”
I sat down by Clark and he put his head in his hand and groaned.
All that week when Ron and E. J. first came to Zarahemla I was around Louie even less than usual. I would just pick up our son Chad from Louie when it was my turn to take care of him – and leave.
I appreciated all the food Ron and E. J. brought us. And after they left they sent us some money to install a telephone. Louie hadn’t had a phone since before I got together with him. With our new phone we could have contact with Ron and E. J. and with the Circle in Texas as it was being set up. I understood that Ron and E. J. were trying to buy themselves some influence and I didn’t mind that – most people won’t give you something for nothing.
But what I really felt was jealous, particularly of E. J. It was a jealousy deeper than sexual jealousy. I knew that Louie sometimes fooled around with other women when he went down to La Plata to get supplies. But what I couldn’t take was the sparkle I could see at a distance in Louie’s face when he was talking with E. J. Here I had gone through the pain of having Louie’s child and I couldn’t give him the kind of joy that just talking with E. J. did.
We stayed down at Zarahemla for a week and then me and Ron and E. J. drove back up to Doctor Al’s place near Taos. Retta wasn’t having an easy time being pregnant, so she didn’t seem very glad to see me.
Me and Ron and E. J. started drinking more and more beer and driving into town to buy it all the time. Ron had enough money from Dr. Al, like I said, to buy our basic food and we used the firewood we cut mostly for our beer money. Pretty soon we had cut down most of the dead trees near Dr. Al’s house. One day I seen E. J. with the chain saw fixing to cut down a green juniper tree.
“Hey, don’t do that!” I yelled. “That tree’s alive!”
He turned around and looked at me with a snarl on his face. “Oh, we can cut down a bunch of these green fuckers and dry them out and sell them,” he says.
“But we can just walk a mile or two over the ridge and get some more dead trees,” I says.
“The trouble with you,” E. J. says, “is that you’re too full of that Circle shit. Why should I waste my time tramping across this damn fucking wilderness when there are plenty of trees right here?” And he cut into the green tree with the chain saw.
I didn’t try to stop him no more. I just walked away from there kind of sad at hearing him talk about the wilderness that way. I had always thought of the wilderness as kind of sacred. But by now, I was just too used to boozing with Ron and E. J. to say very much.
And that’s how we went on into the early spring, just night after night of beer until one day Retta told me, “I can’t take this any more. Just drive me to the bus station in Taos and I’ll go from there.”
“What do you plan to do Retta?” I asked. “You can’t go like this, your pregnant.”
“Oh, I can go to the People’s Party Youth shelter in Albuquerque,” she says, “and they can help me get along from there. Anyway, having the baby at the hospital is free, so I don’t have too much to worry about.”
I drove Retta to the bus station in Taos. I bought her a ticket and gave her a hundred dollars – most of the cash I had on hand. That night I was starting another round of beer drinking with Ron and E. J. When I said, “I’ve had it. I can’t do this no more,” and I went to bed. Next morning there was a little touch of winter again, so cold it burned my ears but I started hitching to Zarahemla.
When the first daffodils popped up in La Plata, I got my first phone call from Texas about E. J. The call was from Stan Dorren, a man in his fifties who had been a cowboy in his youth, but was now a photographer with some of his work appearing in national magazines. He had done some very beautiful and powerful photos of people at the various Circles – we were using these pictures on leaflets to show people what we were about.
“What the hell’s going on?” Stan yelled into the phone before I had a chance to say anything. “We started to have a council in the National Forest to plan the Circle for this summer when E. J. shows up…”
“Why don’t you call Louie?” I interrupted. “He’s got a phone now.”
“Dang, I already called Louie!” Stan shouted back. “That’s the weirdest thing of all, how he reacted.”
“OK,” I said, taking a deep breath and holding the phone a little further from my ear, “What did you tell Louie and how did he react?”
“You mean you don’t know what’s going on?” Stan blurted at pretty near the same volume. “Well, Ron and E. J. came from New Mexico to our council here in Texas. Ron didn’t say very much, but E. J. – shit! He said that him and Ron had come to Texas to set up the Circle Communications Co-op, which was supposed to handle all our relations with the newspapers and the radio and TV stations – and all the legal business.”
“What legal business?” I asked.
“You don’t know that either, huh?” Stan went on. “The Circle now is all mixed up in the demonstration that Ron and his Advance group are fixing to put on at the Republican Convention in Dallas. The Republicans got a court order to keep the Circle or Advance from getting a permit to camp in the city parks near the convention and we’re gonna have to take it to court.”
“Why should we be the ones to do it?” I asked.
“Oh, don’t ask me!” Stan roared. “Here’s the worst part. E. J. said that the only thing our council could decide was strictly camp issues, like where the kitchens would go. All the other stuff would be decided by the Circle Communications C0-op, which is Ron and E. J. I stood up and said, “Hold it! Where did you get the right to do that? Then E. J. said, ‘Shut the fuck up, you old fart!’ I can’t take that, man, I got a heart condition.”
I could tell from Stan’s voice that he was crying. “So what happened when you called Louie?” I asked.
“Oh, Louie sounded very friendly – said ‘Great to hear from you,’ and all that. Said, ‘I’ll talk it over with you when I get to Texas – just try to get along with E. J. for now.’ Louie wouldn’t listen to a word I said. He just talked around it, asked me how my wife was and all that. I ask you – what’s the matter with Louie?”
“I’ll try to find out and call you back,” I said. Stan hung up and I called Louie’s number. After about eight rings, Liz answered.
“Where’s Louie?” I said. “Stan Dorren just called me from Texas about E. J. and…”
“You’ve been getting those phone calls too?” Liz said. “Everybody’s been calling about E. J. At first I just told them to talk to Louie. He’s the one to deal with E. J. Now I don’t bother to answer the phone usually. I’m too busy taking care of the baby. I hate to say it, but if the baby hadn’t been asleep, I wouldn’t have so much as picked up the phone. All I can say is stay mellow and call back when Louie’s here. That ought to be in a couple of hours.”
I hung up the phone and slumped back limp in my chair. I asked myself – what’s this attraction that Louie feels for E. J.? Why does Louie let the man who helped burn down his church and threatened to kill him get away with all this stuff? And the only answer I could come up with was the answer Rivka gave me about why Louie kept up his dealings with Taze after all Taze had done to him. Louie is a power person and he enjoys being with other power people. E. J. is even more of a power person than Taze – I could feel that animal energy radiate from E. J. every time I saw him. Louie could relate to that – he didn’t care about the Republican convention. He wanted a companion full of lightening, like himself.
Chapter Thirty Nine
One night when there was a late spring snow storm in Santa Fe, I got an idea for a present to Louie’s son Chad. Next morning, I phoned Louie and talked to him for the first time in years. Then I walked through the slush to a lawyer’s office and started procedures for divorcing Louie so he could marry Liz legally.
As it turned out, the divorce was just as much a present for Louie and Liz as for Chad. Liz wrote me, “What a feast we had at our wedding! Chicken, elk sausage, two kinds of bread with home-made cactus fruit jelly to spread on it and three kinds of pie – and a pie-eating contest! Louie and I were happy together for the first time in many months.”
I hadn’t gone to the Circle in West Virginia. I knew about the two young sisters getting killed there, so I knew something terrible might happen at the Circle in Texas – but I was determined to go.
Taze didn’t want me to go. Dr. Al O’Connor had come by the mission when he got back from Tahiti and he brought Ron and E. J. with him – which made Taze a little ill, though he tried to smile. They had all been down fro a quick visit to Louie and now Ron and E. J. were on their way to Texas to prepare the Circle there.
“It’s great getting to know Louie,” Al said. “He’s a true spiritual leader. And what’s most amazing is how well he gets along with our friend E. J. here – a real feast of kindred souls,” and he patted E. J. on the shoulder and E. J. smirked.
After the three of them had gone, Taze paced back and forth in his office. “I’ll say it’s amazing!” he shouted. “Louie getting along with E. J.! I would have thought that Louie would grab E. J. by the collar as soon as he saw him and fling him out of that valley.”
“It’s not amazing to me, Taze,” I said.
“At least,” Taze went on, “I thought Louie had better sense than to stay behind in New Mexico and let E. J. set up the Circle in Texas.” Taze whirled around and stared at me sharply. “You can stop talking about going to the Circle this year!” Taze said, pointing t me. “With E. J. running the show, no telling what will happen. I want you to be safe, Rivka.”
“I’m going, Taze,” was all I said.
I took the bus in early June. As the bus got closer to the forest of East Texas, at each stop where I got off to walk around and stretch my legs, the air felt hotter and heavier.
I knew I wasn’t going to take my child to Texas in all that heat. I was staying home in New Mexico to raise a garden. At first I was really grateful to E. J. – believe it or not – for going to Texas to set things up, because it meant that Louie could stay home with me until late June and we could try to build some kind of relationship. But it didn’t happen that way. Louie always had some excuse to go up to Highlander, the county seat, or down to La Plata and leave me alone.
And there were the phone calls complaining about E. J. – all the time! I wouldn’t answer the phone calls most of the time, but finally I started answering the calls just so I wouldn’t have the ringing in my ears. And when it wasn’t somebody calling to complain about E. J., it was E. J. calling to justify himself.
One day Louie took off to La Plata at the crack of dawn. He just said, “I’ll be back by noon,” as he walked out, and he was gone. All that afternoon he wasn’t back and E. J. was calling again and again hollering, “Where’s Louie?”
Finally I said, “How the hell should I know? Let me have a little rest!”
Then E. J. said, “You bitch, you’re keeping him from me!” Plus a number of other names like that. I was crying when Louie got back. I told him what happened. He didn’t react. That was the scariest thing about all Louie’s dealings with E. J. – he just didn’t react at all.
There was a Circle in Canada at the same time we was going to have our Circle in Texas. Manny Zamora went up to Canada for that, but the students at the college where he taught had a caravan to Texas for the Circle there. Me and Twyla went along with that caravan.
We drove to the spot where we was supposed to camp in the east part of Texas – a big clearing among tall pine trees with the sun just bearing down on us. We drug a lot of dead pine logs together to start making a kitchen for all the people who would camp there.
Just when we got all these pine poles lashed together with twine, and sweat was streaming down our backs, this little guy named Lanny with a pot belly drove out from the motel where E. J. was staying in town. He strode up to us and started talking like a straw boss to his construction crew.
“Hey, you guys!” he kind of sneered. “You gotta take this shit down and drive over to another spot about five miles from here to set up the kitchen.”
“Why?” I asked.
”Cause that’s what E. J. just arranged with the Forest Service,” Lanny says.
“Well, E. J. and the Forest Service ain’t never been out here to talk to us,” I said back.
“E. J. says do it,” Lanny says.
“We ought to have a council out here,” I says. “And the Forest Service should come out here to talk to us.”
Lanny help up his hand like-Halt! “It’s not councils this year,” he says. “The Circle Communications Co-op does it all.”
Lanny gave us a map of where we was to go and he drove back into town. We took down our kitchen and filled in the trenches we had dug to shit in and we drove to the place and started putting up a kitchen and digging trenches all over again.
We had been there just a couple of days when Lanny drove out from town again. He stood there with his hands on his hips in the middle of our camp and said, “Hey, sorry, but we gotta move you again!”
He didn’t have to do nothing to us! We was the ones that done all the work moving! I will give E. J. some credit though. The next spot was better. It was by a big artificial lake with a cool breeze blowing from it. All along the shore long-legged birds called ibises was running, a little taller than my knee and they had long necks and thin curved beaks bout ten inches long. After we done all the hard work building a kitchen and digging trenches to shit in, we pulled off our clothes and took a swim.
When Lanny drove out from town, he left Ginny from the Coyote Family with us. She had a real worried look, crinkling her lips, like she was biting her tongue. After we got out from our swim and I pulled my pants back on, I started to walk over and ask her what was wrong. Then Twyla says, “Wasn’t she the one you got the crabs from and give them to me?”
“No,” I says. “That was a couple of other Coyote Family girls. Ginny’s with Mike and she don’t mess around with no other boys. If you’re so worried, Twyla, come along with me and we’ll both talk to her.”
So me and Twyla walked over to Ginny. “Hi, Ginny, what’s going on?” I started off.
“I was working as a secretary in the Circle Communications Co-op office in town,” she says. “I didn’t know you was a secretary,” Twyla butted in.
“Oh, hell,” Ginny says. “I had two years of typing before I dropped out of school! But I had to get away from the Co-op office. It was just too dirty.”
“What do you mean?” I says.
“Man, we got people sending money into our office from all over the country to help make the Circle,” Ginny says, “and E. J. just pockets every bit of the money – buys hisself big dinners and cases of beer. I called Bishop Louie and told him about it. Then when E. J. was talking to Louie on the phone, Louie says, ‘Hey, what’s this about the money?’ And E. J. says, ‘Oh, Ginny just said that because she asked me to go to bed with her and I wouldn’t.’ And now E. J. has told the whole office that lie.”
And Ginny started crying.
“Mike’s off with a bunch of other Coyote folks in fucking California!” she said, sobbing and rubbing her eyes. “I don’t want Mike to hear J. J.’s bullshit and believe it when he gets here!”
“Don’t worry,” I says. “Mike ain’t gonna believe nothing E. J. says,” and even Twyla felt sorry enough for Ginny that she put her arm around Ginny’s shoulders.
A few days later – the day after Rivka got to our camp – Lanny drove out again and told us, “We got a caravan of five cars here and we can take the first 20 of y’all that wants to go into town to Federal Court to see the case we’re making so the Circle and the others can set up camp at the Republican convention in Dallas.”
I decided to go and so did Rivka, but Twyla and Ginny stayed back at camp. Lanny and his buddies took us to the courtroom in town and we listened to a lot of talking. After it was all over, Fred, the lawyer, walked over to us. He was a half-bald fellow with red hair and mustache and a friendly smile.
Fred was going to drive a guy named Ron, who had something to do with E. J., to the airport in Dallas to catch a plane to New York. I figured this Ron fellow must have a lot of money. Mostly it’s rich people who take the plane. Ordinary folks go by train or bus.
“While I’m in Dallas,” Fred said, “you all can come to my office with E. J. and talk over your Circle business and I’ve left a refrigerator full of sandwiches for you all to have lunch.” Then Fred, the lawyer shook hands with all of us and left for Dallas with Ron.
So we drove over to this lawyer’s office. There was a bunch of folding chairs in the front room of the office and E. J. said, “Everybody sit down!” and we all did.
Then E. J. started pacing up and down in front of us with his hands clasped behind his back and his head hanging down, giving us this big rap about how important it was for us to go to Dallas after the Circle and stand up to the Circle. There was a woman reporter fro a newspaper sitting in a corner taking notes.
As E. J. walked back and forth looking at the floor, his voice got louder and louder. Finally this guy with big glasses stood up and said. “I’d like to say something.”
Ed wheeled around and stared at him and shouted, “I didn’t say you could!”
“I will anyway,” the man answered. “My name is Earl Davis. I’m from the Revolutionary Independent Movement. That guy Ron who just left for the Dallas airport, his Advance Organization split off from our group. Now, I’m no friend of the Republican Party. But I’ve been coming to the regional circles here in Texas for three years to get to know my brothers and sisters of all different political and religious beliefs. I resent the Circle being used for the purposes of any special group – like the Advance. They have not presented one scrap of proof that the Republican Party as a whole is connected with the Nationalist groups storing weapons in the Rocky Mountains. Not one scrap of real proof! So I don’t want our Circle to be used as a tool to prepare for Advance’s demonstration.”
E. J. pointed at Earl Davis and screamed, “You shut up! Right now!”
Just then the woman reporter stood up, all pale and weak-looking. “I’ve got to go out to my car.” And she run out the door.
“Now see what you done!” E. J. screamed even louder, clenching his fists. “You made our reporter go away! You’re some kind of under cover cop!”
“Oh, bullshit!” Earl says. “Let’s go in the back room and get our sandwiches. And a bunch of people followed him through the door into the back room.
“Oh, no you don’t” E. J. yelled. “I’m in charge of the refrigerator!” And he run after the. I stayed in the front room.
Right then things started happening. First the reporter woman come back in off the street. Rivka was with her. Rivka must have going outside without me noticing. Another woman, who was crying, had her arm around Rivka’s neck kind of hanging from her.
Just then Earl Davis come out of the back room without his glasses. His eyes was shut and he had his hands out in front of him like he was trying to feel his way.
“E. J. grabbed me by the collar and hit me in the face! Earl hollered.
I had been sitting in the office listening to E. J.’s endless monologue about the demonstration at the Republican convention. Then a man named Earl Davis stood up and objected and E. J. shouted him down. At that moment I felt fingers grip my right wrist. I looked in that direction. A short blonde woman had grasped me. “Excuse me,” she said, “Could you come outside with me for a minute?”
I got up and went with her out the front door. When we got out on the sidewalk, she looked intently at me with her gray-green eyes and said, “My name’s Cornelia Davis. That’s my husband who is being talked to like he was a dog. Do we have to have leaders as full of hate as E. J. is?”
“I’ve been away from the Circle for a while,” I said. “I don’t know what is going on.” Then I heard a voice inside me say, “Rivka, you know that’s nonsense! Stop trying to cover up to this woman.”
I turned to Cornelia and said, “We don’t have to put up with stuff like this. After all, this is the Circle.”
Cornelia cried and hugged me and I said, “Let’s go back in there and do something about it.” A woman reported from a Houston newspaper joined us and the three of us started back into the lawyer’s office when Earl Cornelia’s husband came running out of the back room, hands outstretched shouting that E. J. had hit him in the face.
At this point I had been reading from the accounts that had been given to me about what happened in the lawyer’s office when Clark interrupted.
“Buff, don’t go trying to say that E. J. punched out that sorry wimp Earl Davis!” Clark bellowed. “E. J. only grabbed Earl by the collar and shook him a little.
“How do you know that?” I asked. “Were you there?”
“No I wasn’t,” Clark said, “But I stood right along side of bishop Louie about that whole E. J. and Earl business. I always tried to go along with everything Bishop Louie said, no matter…”
“Until finally Louie dumped on you like he did on everyone else!” Liz put in.
“All right Clark,” I said, leafing through my motes, “Just let me read a little more of what people said happened up to where you and Louie arrived in Texas.
Right after Earl. come running out of the back room, here come E. J. all red-faced. “Everybody get in the cars and get out of here!” he yelled. “Before I call the cops and have you arrested for trespassing.”
We got in the cars and Lanny and his friend drove us back to our camp. I was feeling sick at my stomach with a headache and hot like a fever. I spent a lot of time swimming in the lake that day to cool off.
A couple days later I was helping build a new kitchen for all the new people showing up for the Circle. It was about half a mile from the first kitchen. All of a sudden I seen Mike and Farm Boy from the Coyote Family walking up to me with big grins. “Look at this!: Mike hollered and held up a key.
“What’s it for?” I asked.
“It’s the key to the post office box for the Circle,” Mike said. “Ginny hitched into town a few days ago and phoned a buddy of mine to tell me all the shit E. J. was pulling, so all us Coyotes got here last night.”
“Yeah,” Farm Boy said. “When we go to Texas we went by E. J.’s motel room. I pulled his arms behind his back before he could go get his pistol out of his jacket. I made him give us the key and we’re gonna give it to the council out here in the woods so E. J. won’t be stealing Circle money no more.”
“What council?” I says.
“The one we’re having this afternoon,” Mike says. “It’s real important. You ought to be there.”
“I gotta finish working on this kitchen first,” I says.
We all hugged and they walked back over to the other kitchen. About two hours later I was drinking a cup of coffee when Mike come back and said, “We need you over at the council, man.”
I went over to the other kitchen and there was a big council of our folks and in front of them was a TV news crew with a camera. Rivka was all lit up with a big smile. She handed me a piece of paper and said, “Look this over and see if you agree with it, and if you do, we want you to stand in front of that TV camera and read it out loud.”
I looked down at the paper and mumbled it over to myself. Then I says, “I agree!” and I looked into the TV camera and spoke the words out straight and clear:
“It is the unanimous decision of this council of the camp for the Texas Circle of 1976 that E. J. Caldwell speaks for us only in the legal case in court involving freedom of assembly. E. J. Caldwell is not the leader of the Circle and he does not represent the Circle to the press in any way.”
The whole council applauded. Then Rivka stepped up beside me. The TV people said, “But we thought E. J. was the leader and the one who was supposed to speak to the press.”
I whispered to Rivka, “OK, you handle it,” and I stepped out of range of the camera – and she did handle it real good.
Comment by Rivka
When we had the council, I was the one who wrote up the statement, which everyone else approved. Then we gave it to Nephi to read. After that, the news people asked me a lot of questions. I don’t remember exactly what I said and I don’t think they used as much as a minute of it on TV. I just remember that it was one of the most high-flying, joyful days of my life – standing up for the Circle against oppression.
A couple of days before me and Twyla got up, I felt someone grabbing my shoulder and shaking me awake. I heard Twyla’s voice all thin and high, “What is it, anyway?”
I sat up and looked into the face of Ivy from Zarahemla. “That guy Lanny from E. J.’s office in town is here,” Ivy says. “He told me he wants to talk to you right away.”
I stepped out of my shelter. “Where is he?” I asked.
“Oh,” she says, “he’s back over at the old kitchen a half mile away where his car is parked.”
“Well, why didn’t he come for me?” I says.
“Do you think I like this any more than you do?” Ivy says. “I had to wake up my oldest kid and tell her to watch the others. Let’s hurry.” And we walked fast through the gray daybreak in the shadow of the pine trees.
When we got to where Lanny was standing by his car, he says to Ivy, “You can go away now,” – which she did. Then he says to me, “We heard at the office last night that you might have been the one who wrote a letter to the newspaper in Dallas that if the Republicans tried to keep us from camping there for the convention, there would be bloodshed.”
“Wrote a letter about it?” I hollered. “I don’t even care about it! I don’t even know the name of the newspaper in Dallas. I never heard of this till you just told me.”
“Hush! Don’t talk so loud,” Lanny says. “Someone was saying you had spells of mental illness. You could do things at a time like that and forget them.”
“Whaa?” I just had my mouth hanging open.
“Here’s some tranquilizer pills that they sent to keep you calm,” he says, and he held out a bottle of pills. He was just holding it in the air for a minute before I reached out and took it. Then he got in his car and drove off.
There was pale orange light in the east as I walked back to our shelter. I told Twyla, “I can’t wait for Bishop Louie to get here and find out all this stuff that’s going on.”
I had told Lanny that the story about me writing the letter wasn’t true, but lots of people that come to our camp from town told me that Lanny and E. J. was still telling that lie. Every minute I was more and more anxious for Bishop Louie to show up and set things right.
OK, now can I tell my side of it, huh? I had just hitched back from Taos to Zarahemla. All I had on my mind was that Retta had left me and she had our future child inside her, which I might not never get to see. Then here’s Bishop Louie going on at me about all this stuff E. J. was telling him on the phone.
I didn’t want to hear about it. All I remember is Bishop Louie said, “This guy Earl Davis, who claims E. J. slugged him, who knows? He might be some kind of undercover agent for the Republican Party trying to get an excuse to sue the Circle for damages for what he says E. J. did. Plus it would give the whole demonstration in Dallas some real bad publicity. We can’t let that happen.”
I just nodded my head and said, “Sure, sure.” Of course I was ready to do what Bishop Louie wanted, but I didn’t want to think about it at the moment.
Aries John worked forever oh his old pickup, but finally he had it ready and we left with a couple of other carloads from Zarahemla. When we got to this town in East Texas, we picked up E. J. and a guy named Lanny and also Ron Drexel of the Advance organization. Ron had just come back to Texas by plane from New York.
It was awful hot when we got to the site in the forest. I was tired and the last thing I wanted was when Nephi come up hassling me, like “Say, Clark, did you hear what E. J. done. Blah, blah, blah…”
I just told him, “Shut up, I can’t take it right now!”
Stan Dorren, who did a lot of work with the Circle in Texas, came and camped with us. He was a short, bow-legged man with a gray beard who talked and acted like he had just come from herding cattle on a ranch, even though he was now a famous photographer. Stan and his wife Patricia brought Earl Davis, the guy E. J. hit in the face, with them – also Earl’s wife Cornelia. These two couples Stan and Earl and their wives had been friends for years.
They worked a lot together putting on the regional circles in Texas We all went swimming together in the warm, muddy waters of the lake. We drove several times in Stan’s station wagon to the spring ten miles away to get water for the camps.
Then Louie showed up with Clark and Aries John and some others from Zarahemla. They had picked up more cars – Ron and E. J. and that whole Communications Co-op crew who were in town as our great leaders. There was a little knoll near our camp – the only thing that looked like a hill for miles – and they parked their vehicle around the top of the hill, like they were circling the wagons against the wild Indians.
I walked up the hill to their camp. The first person I found to talk to was Brenda, the white wife of Brother Maceo, the black carpenter at Zarahemla. She hugged me just as warmly as ever.
“Say, where is Maceo?” I asked her.
“Oh, he said he wasn’t feeling well,” Brenda said, “so he stayed back in Zarahemla.”
Then I tried to explain about E. J. and Earl Davis and all the rest of the things that had happened. Before I had gotten very far, she said, “Look, I don’t want to hear about any of that stuff. I’ve got to get along with everybody up here, don’t you understand?”
I nodded and said, “Yes, I understood.” We hugged and I left her. I understood all right. There was only one person on that hill who everybody hat to get along with and that person had decided in favor of E. J.
Everybody else camped among the vehicles on the hill answered the same way – Aries John, Clark, the whole bunch. They all said they didn’t want to talk about it, but they went along with Louie in favor of E. J. It was like they were hypnotized.
I run up to Bishop Louie as fast as I could and flung my arms around him. It was so good to see him I was crying. “What’s been going on?” he asks me.
“I been waiting for you so long, Bishop Louie,” I says. “I been hoping you’d do something about the way E. J. thumped on that guy.”
Right then, Bishop Louie screwed up his face kind of funny and says, “Did you see E. J. hit that fellow?”
“Naw, Bishop Louie,” I says, “but…”
“Well, if you didn’t see E. J. hit him, then it didn’t happen,” Louie says. “You better not spread rumors like that. You might cause bad publicity that would hurt the Circle and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
I was just stunned. I stood there with my mouth open. E. J. could do anything he wanted and Louie wouldn’t give a shit. Then Ron and E. J. called Louie over to talk with them and I just floated away, feeling kind of empty inside.
Two nights before the Circle, a carload of drunks rode into our camp and ran over Ivy. She was in the hospital on July Fourth. There weren’t nearly as many people as usual making the Circle on that day. I will always remember that one of those making the Circle was Louie with his arms tenderly around Ivy’s three children. In spite of all the mess that happened when times were hard, Louie was deeply loyal to those who were close to him, same as always. If only Louie could have showed some of that loyalty to all the new people who were coming into the Circle.
I went to the circle in the Canadian woods. Since it was Canada, not the USA, we had the Circle there on the summer solstice June 21 – not July 4.
We were camped among several small lakes. There was a steady breeze from the south, so we didn’t have the mosquitoes that can be such a problem in Canada. The sun didn’t go down until after ten o’clock when the loons started crying out over the lakes.
I stayed a few days longer after the Canadian solstice circle, then spent my last money on a plane down to Texas to be there in time for the fourth of July Circle.
After the Circle, Rivka told me she could introduce me to the man E. J. was supposed to have hit.
I told her, “Rivka, I’m staying out of this. I can’t waste my valuable time on E. J.”
She turned her face from me. I knew I had hurt her – but E. J. was one of Louie’s special things and there was no way I could argue with him over E. J. and have any results.
Rivka walked away from me. It took me a while to rebuild my friendship with here. I couldn’t even look at her at our council meeting which decided the next circle would be in Idaho.
Rivka and I weren’t close again until after the things that went down when we camped at the Republican Convention in Dallas.
Chapter Forty One
In Dallas we were allowed to camp in a long, narrow park area with feathery green elm trees and bicycle trails stretching along the Trinity River. A lot of people from Ron Drexel’s Advance organization had come down from the big cities in the northeast to demonstrate at the Republican convention.
Many of the Advance kids, male and female alike, had hair dyed green or purple or up in spikes or shaved into checkerboards. The young people from rural places like Zarahemla stared. They were used to seeing long, shaggy hair, but nothing like this.
I looked around for any trace of the People’s Party Youth Alliance. At last I found a young woman sitting at a table with stacks of People’s Party literature for sale. I walked up and said, “Hi! I’m from the Youth Alliance in New Mexico. Are any more of your chapter here?”
“Our Alliance chapter voted not to take part in the demonstration,” she said. “But we figured we might as well make a little money selling literature to the folks that do.” She laughed and stuck out her hand. “My name’s Darla Wilkins,” she said.
I shook her hand and said, “I’m Manny Zamora from New Mexico. Say, I wonder if you have any idea – why are the Pristine Foundation and the Corporate Security Agency and that whole gang backing this demonstration? I’d think they’d want to put all their resources into the Republicans.”
“I think they just want to take over what they can of our folks,” Darla said, “split us and confuse us. They just figure the Republicans can’t win this time anyway. People are gonna vote People’s Party for a chance at public works jobs and a little food on the table. The capitalists are using this demonstration to fool as many of us as possible to use us later on. Well, that’s Wall Street for you.” And she laughed again.
I found myself walking with Darla after she closed up her literature stand. She had curly light-brown hair. There were freckles on the tip of her nose from the constant Texas sunshine. Every time I looked in her eyes, I couldn’t be sure. They were brown, all right, but they must have had some green.
We were able to while away an hour in conversation – if you’re left wing, there’s always something to talk about. And by nightfall we were holding hands. Then some other People’s Party folks drove by to pick up Darla and her literature table and we were calling to each other, “See you tomorrow!”
The night after we camped in the park in Dallas, I woke up to the noise of shrieks and shouts. I ran out of my tent. People were running back and forth in the shadows of the elm trees. I met up with Ginny from the Coyote Family. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“There was this local chick,” Ginny said. “Her name was Mary Lou, I think. She decided she wanted to run around with those kids who are down here from back east for the demonstration. She told me she thought they looked cool with their hair done so weird. Then E. J. showed up and offered to split a bottle of wine with her if she’d come to his tent. I warned her but, you know. She came running out of his tent screaming that she didn’t want to have sex with him. I seen her run by here.”
No! No! N! E. J. didn’t do nothing to that girl! He didn’t have time to. I was awake that night, walking around doing security. She went with him to his tent, but she was only there a minute. He didn’t have time to do nothing!
The next day, the girl’s parents come by the camp. They said, “We’re gonna file charges against E. J. because our daughter is just 15 years old.” Me and Bishop Louie looked around for E. J., but we couldn’t find him. He had packed up his tent and gone. I was pissed off at E. J. If he had been willing to go to court, I’m pretty sure he could have won his case. But he just went off and left us looking bad.
Bishop Louie called a quick council because a couple of reporters was already around. He help up a staff with feathers hanging from it and said, “I request this council to declare that E. J. Caldwell is no longer the legal representative for the Circle Communications Co-op!”
And everybody hollered “Yes!” like they really enjoyed saying it.
Late one night in the middle of July, I was asleep in the mission in Sante Fe. A hammering on the door woke me up. I sent an elder to tell whoever it was to go away, but the person just let out a harsh string of obscenities at the elder. I recognized the voice and hurried to the door. “E. J., what are you doing here?” I shouted.
“Taze, I need a place to stay for tonight,” E. J. said. “I’ll call the Pristine foundation about making other arrangements tomorrow, but I’m out of money for a hotel or gas for my car. Don’t worry – Pristine will telegraph me some money tomorrow.
“But the Republicans haven’t had their convention yet?” I babbled. “Why did you leave Dallas?”
“Just shut up and get me some bedding!” E. J. said.
I told the elder, “Go get him a sleeping bag and a blanket and a pillow.” \
The next day E. J. told me to stay out of my own office while he phoned the Pristine Foundation. Then he charged out the door and was gone, at least for a while. I can’t say I missed him.
After E. J. was gone, some kind of light came back in Louie’s eyes that I hadn’t seen there for a long time. We went to Ron of the Advance group the night before the demonstration was to begin. There was a shrewd grin on Louie’s face.
Louie stuck his thumbs in the belt loops of his jeans and made the following little speech:
“Now listen, Ron, I’m gonna lay it on the line to you just the way you and Taze and E. J. have stuck it to me before. It’s true that you bought food for us – with money from the Pristine Foundation and the other smart operators who hustle you while you think you’re hustling them.
“but we’re the Circle,” and Louie poked his thumb at his own chest. “We’re your labor force. Our kitchen cooks that food for you. I don’t think your Advance Organization kids with the funny hair know how to cook their own food. Get this straight0 our kitchen will go on strike if you and your crowd don’t do this demonstration right.”
“What does that mean?” Ron gulped.
“That means you don’t try to charge the police lines,” Louie said. “That means you don’t throw stuff at the cops. That means you don’t holler a bunch of trash and make us look bad in front of the newspapers and the TV. I’ve had a lot of your food to eat, so I owe you something. I’ll help you put on this demonstration and so will the Circle. But I realize – I frankly don’t give a shit what you think the Republicans are doing.”
And Louie turned around and left Ron staring with his lip flapping.
Ron and Louie appointed security people to stand at 20-foot intervals along the picket line and make sure that nobody acted up. One of the security people was Mike from the Coyote Family. He grinned and shook his fist at Ron as he passed Ron on his way to take his place beside the picket line.
For me the week of the convention was long and boring except for the time I spent with Darla, who kept her literature table going until the sun got low in the west. Then we would go walking and talking under the elms along the almost dried-up Trinity River.
After it was all over, Darla and I went with one of the cars of people going back to La Plata. She had worked as a staff office person for the People’s Party Youth Alliance for $80 a week in Dallas and some other cities. She started doing the same kind of work for free with the Youth Alliance chapter in La Plata – for the five months we stayed together.
When I got back to Zarahemla, I found something that was wonderful, but it was bitter. It was a letter to me from Retta up in Albuquerque that said:
“Come and see your son, but I don’t want to get back together with you.”
I hitched up to the address Retta sent me – an old adobe house divided into rooms for rent. I knocked on her door and she said, “Come in.” I went in and she held out the most beautiful blond baby I ever seen.
“His name’s Samuel,” she told me and I picked him up.
“Do you need some help?” I says while I rocked Samuel around in my arms.
“My parents help, but I can always use some money,” she says. “I’m not asking you for some certain amount.”
Just then Samuel started crying real loud and I says, “Here, Retta, take him. He knows you better than he does me,” and I handed him back.
I kissed Samuel on the blond fuzz on top of his head when I left, but I didn’t kiss Retta. Still, I knew now I had some purpose in life, something I would always keep coming back for.
Darla and I sat up all election night at the TV in Zephyr’s rooming house in La Plata with a bunch of people from the People’s Party Youth Alliance. After midnight we whooped. Some big firsts – the new president was a woman and black – Ella Little of the People’s Party. And the vice president was a woman, Peggy Terry. They won by a little over 40 per cent of the vote. The Republicans couldn’t win. A lot of their people voted for right-wing nationalists. Plus there were two other third party fragments left over from the collapse of the Democratic Party in the Sixties.
We celebrated with a cake Zephyr made. I was on top of the world for the next few days. Then Darla told me, “I’ve got to leave you.”
My mouth dropped open and I let out, “Why?”
“You’re wonderful when we can communicate,” Darla said, “but then you’re busy with so much stuff that you don’t say a word to me for days at a time. You walk past me like you don’t even see me.”
“I’ll try to change that,” I said hurriedly.
“If you tried, you wouldn’t be you,” Darla answered. “You’d be doing what you think I might be interested in. No, Manny, I think I’ve figured you out. You love me a whole lot, but usually you just don’t have time for me.” And the next day she went back to Texas on the bus.
I had been back in Santa Fe for about two weeks when Dr. Al O’Connor showed up at the Maria Russell Mission. I was in the office going over accounts when I heard this banging on the office door. I called out, “Come in,” and Dr. Al came rushing in. For the first time since I had met him, that indelible grin was gone from his face. He had a frown and lines that made him look almost as old as he really was.
“Where’s Taze?” he barked in a voice that was glum and upset both.
“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head. “He had to go make a tour of our missions in the northeast to check on how they’re doing. I should get a phone call from him any…”
“Today?” Al cut in.
“I don’t know,” I answered. I flung my hand in the direction of a chair in the corner. “Can’t you just sit down, please,” I asked “and tell me what’s the matter.”
Al went over and picked up the chair and set it in the middle of the room with the back toward me. Ten he sat down facing the chair back with his legs straddling the chair. He folded his arms on the chair back and stuck his chin on top of them. His frown got deeper and deeper.
After frowning at me for a couple of minutes he started abruptly, “I’ve gotta have Taze’s help! I’m suffering a real hardship! I’ve lost control of one of my houses and I want Taze to go with me to the Pristine Foundation about it.”
“Al, don’t you know?” I said as quietly as I could. “There are people staying in this mission who don’t have even one house, much less several houses to lose like you do. A lot of them have been sleeping in ditches by the side of the rod. What’s your problem?”
“E. J.!” Al shouted. “He came to my place near Taos, said he needed somewhere to hide until some kind of legal trouble is over. He started getting sloppy drunk all the time. When I offered him LSD, he wouldn’t’ take it – just said ‘I don’t want that stupid shit!’ He started taking money out of my desk without asking and he ordered me around. I don’t know why,” he said, more sad than angry, “E. J.’s just not fun any more.”
“Why don’t you tell him to leave?” I asked.
“I started to,” Al replied, “but then he called the Pristine Foundation office in New York and held the phone out to me. One of their more important voices said, ‘Let him stay.’ And E. J. said, “See? All the folks who are big in the Pristine Foundation are on my side, so why should you bitch?”
“Are you going to stay around so you can talk to Taze when he calls here?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’m just too jumpy. I’m leaving E. J. in control of my house and I’m going to Florida. I can’t afford to go to Tahiti right now. Some things are just too hard.”
He stood up and strode out of the office door and out of the mission. I started to giggle.
That night, Taze called. I told him about E. J. taking over Al’s house near Taos and how the Pristine Foundation told Al he had to put up with it. I could hear Taze chuckle on the other end of the line.
“I’m feeling what the Germans call schadenfreud,” he said. “That means I’m enjoying Al’s misery. If the Pristine Foundation has taken away my freedom, I’m glad they took away Al’s.”
When the conversation was over and we hung up, I went for a walk under the stars, wondering about my own freedom. I have always felt I could leave the Maria Russell Mission any time I pleased. But I keep staying. I know I’m no longer doing espionage work for the Circle, like I used to think I was. The main reason I think I’m staying here is that I love Taze. As tricky and double-dealing as he is, I really see something good in him. – and I believe that by keeping up this mission, he is enabling me to do something good. I get tired of it, but I would come back to it of my own free will.
Chapter Forty Two
Once again, as winter came near, I knew the Pristine Foundation would approach me about doing something at the next year’s circle in Idaho. I was getting weary of the whole thing, and I dreaded that they might send E. J. back to work with me. Then Pristine’s new intermediary showed up in Santa Fe. This time for once, they sent me someone I really liked, a real kindred spirit to me.
His name was Raphael Jones and he had been putting on regional circles in Idaho and other parts of the Pacific Northwest at the spring and fall equinoxes. He was so thin, he looked taller than he really was.
Raphael had a long, triangular face with a sharp little black beard at the point of his chin. He had large blue eyes that were underlined with deep, dark circles, which gave him the look of staring intently into space. Over his clothes he wore a red and blue plaid poncho with long white fringes and he moved quickly, like a spirit driven by the wind. I felt close to him at once. We went out to my horse ranch and drank pure fig juice from specially bred figs.
“Just how did you get involved with Pristine?” I asked.
“My mom died when I was little,” Raphael began. “My dad was an army sergeant for 20 years. When he got out, he wasn’t good for anything else. From when I was a kid, I had to pull him out of fights in bars and drag him home and put him to bed to sleep it off. Sometimes the whores he picked up would help me. I wanted anything in the world besides what I had. I wanted something more refined.”
I made the gesture of toasting Raphael with my glass of fig juice. Then I drank down a swallow and said, “Go on.”
“So I got away from home by going to lectures,” Raphael continued. “You know the sort of lectures – all about reincarnation and Atlantis and traveling in the astral body and the healing powers of crystals. Sure enough, I met people from the Pristine Foundation at those lectures. They gave me books to read and invited me to their homes. For the first time in my life I felt that people appreciated me as an intelligent person. After my dad died, one of the people in Pristine told me, ‘The Rocky Mountains will be the spiritual center of the future. Why don’t you go to the Circle they’re having in Colorado?’ So I went and I saw Bishop Louie. I was amazed at the sight of him – this uneducated cowboy Louie just radiated spiritual power.”
Raphael’s eyes closed, their long lashes fluttered and he had a faint smile on his lips.
“I wanted to be like Bishop Louie more than anything in the world,” Raphael went on. “When people all over the country started putting on regional circles, I was one of the first. I made a pilgrimage to Zarahemla one spring to tell Louie about how many thousands were coming to our particular regional circle.”
“And what happened?” I asked.
“People sent me to see Louie in this big tipi,” Raphael said. “He was in there with Aries John, talking about planting beans and herding cattle for hour after hour. I finally got tired of it and decided I’d get Louie’s attention with a display of spiritual energy. There was a big fire pit lined with stones in the middle of the tipi. As it was late spring, there wasn’t any fire burning. I got down into the middle of the fire pit and squatted, staring at Louie for about 15 minutes till he finally stopped talking to Aries John. He looked at me and said, “Do you know what the Indians call someone who sits in the middle of a tipi?”
“No, what?” I asked.
“They call him a jerk,” Louie said’.”
When Raphael reached that point in his story, I started laughing.
“Don’t laugh!” he said sternly. “I never have gotten over that!”
“Excuse me!” I said, still laughing a little. “I’m just glad to have you here. I know I can work with you.”
Raphael and I spent a couple of days at the ranch discussing our plans for the Circle in Idaho and also about ancient spiritual mysteries. When he left, I raised my hands to God in Heaven and thanked Him – or Her – that I was working with Raphael instead of E. J.
Bishop Louie didn’t want to go early to Idaho. He wanted to spend some time with his wife and his kid.
Then this guy named Raphael up in Idaho wrote us that he would help get everything started.
Bishop Louie says, “Great!!” That’ll give me more time to stay here in New Mexico with my family.”
So it was just me and Twyla who went to Idaho with Aries John in his pickup. We started preparing for the Circle in a valley that was like a big dent in a mountain top. When we got up there in April, there was still snow on the ground. We could look out from our valley down into the plains country stretching for miles, all blue and dim.
Aries John’s pickup was all wore out. He had to spend all his time under it with his tools. Some other people showed up, but their cars was even worser. Raphael come out a few times with boxes of food, but mostly we didn’t see him.
More and more people showed up and pretty soon everyone was complaining about being hungry – except for me. You see, my mind was always on Bishop Louie. He had been like a father to me. And then, since I had said on TV that E. J. didn’t represent us, Louie wouldn’t look at me or say more than a few words to me. Even now that E. J. was gone, he was still like a shadow over us. I could tell that Bishop Louie blamed me and Rivka for going against E. J. in public. I was glad to get away from Zarahemla and from always seeing Bishop Louie frown. Even up in Idaho I still wasn’t hungry – except when I had been digging a trench for us to shit in and I’d get pretty weak.
But I had to think of the others. Me and Twyla would walk three miles down the trail to the highway and hitch into town with our backpacks and load them up with the food the grocery stores dumped out. Twyla got real good at taking just a little bit of stuff and cooking it up into a meal for a lot of people. Pretty soon other people was going into town and bring back food for the camp.
The storekeepers would leave day-old food out especially for us. Even then we still had some hungry days and there was more and more little kids to feed.
Then in early June Raphael made a big announcement in the newspapers and on the radio station. He said our camp wasn’t the real camp for the Circle. He told everybody that the Circle was really gonna happen where he was camped, about 60 miles from us. He called us a bunch of trouble-makers that had just decided to camp any old place.
I says, “What the hell?” and I hitched to the place where Raphael had his camp just to see what was going on. There was all these people walking around in what looked like bathrobes of different colors. Taze was there with his pyramid on his head. And man, they had boxes of food stacked up almost as high as the sky.
I have nothing but praise for all that Louie tried to do for me that winter and spring before the Circle in Idaho. He stayed at home and took care of our son Chad while I spent five days a week at the college in La Plata and finished my degree in nursing. I have certificates fro nursing and midwifing now. And as bad as things are between me and Louie at present I know Chad’s heart will always be with Louie as much as with me. Louie took a lot more time with that small child than most fathers.
Louie helped me build my life. And I think he really tried on our relationship – but that part didn’t work out so good. There were still a lot of blank glances between us. Angry words got said, good things were left unsaid.
When I was home during holidays from school, Louie would be gone sometimes for two or three days. I knew he was seeing other women – but a couple of times he went all the way to Taos to visit E.J. He would come back with a strange look in his eyes. Just talking with E. J. fulfilled some sort of need in Louie, much bigger than sexual, something I couldn’t reach at all. Most of the men who were close to Louie at Zarahemla – like Clark – would try to make some kind of positive comments about E. J. They knew that pleased Louie. And if anyone brought up the negative stuff about E. J. they’d say “Shh! It’s not responsible to talk like that! It’s only a rumor.”
Here I am, talking about E. J. again. I should bite my tongue off! But E. J. is like a taste you can’t get out of your mouth.
To get back to my story – one day in early June, we got a letter from Aries John. It read something like this:
“Dear Louie and Liz,
You all better get up here in Idaho right away. That guy Raphael that you left in charge of getting things ready has set up a camp 60 miles from us. He says his camp is the real site for the Circle and he has told the newspapers that our camp is no good. Taze and some Hindus and I don’t know who all else are with him.”
When Louie read that, he slapped himself on the forehead and said, “Oh, shit! Do we have to go through this again?”
We took the train up to Idaho and Aries John met us in town and drove us as far as we could go on the trail to the camp. We walked the rest of the way. It was very steep and muddy. I had to go slow, because I had a year and a half old child in my arms. When we set up our tent in the dark, it was drizzling and I was dead on my feet.
I was asleep until almost noon on the next day except for the times at half past ungodly that Chad woke me up and hollered “Tittie!” I’d nurse him and pass out again until he woke me up with “Tittie!” again.
Finally I was awake enough on a gray, misty day with the sun just a light patch high in the clouds.
I staggered with Chad wrapped up in a blanket in my arms to the nearest campfire where the people fixed me some coffee. I had a note Louie left me all crumpled in one hand. I read the note between sips of coffee after I sat down on a log and shifted Chad so that I had more space.
Louie wrote: “Have gone with Aries John to see what Raphael is doing.”
All day was gray and wet. I was dozing in the tent again with Chad beside me when I heard Louie’s voice saying, “I refuse to do it.”
“Who? Huh! Hee?” I mumbled, thrashing around in my blankets and tried to sit up.
“I went over to Raphael’s camp,” Louie said. “They have yogis and swamis and psychics all over the place – people wearing more crystals than I ever believed existed. Raphael wanted to have a Circle Reunification Council, where we could decide on a whole new structure for the Circle. He said as soon as I agree to that, he’d send over a truck to our camp with a bunch of their food. I told him in front of everybody, “Nothin’ doin’! You’re full of shit. I been through this movie before!”
by now I was wide awake. “What about Taze?” I asked. “He was there, wasn’t he?”
“Oh, he just ducked into his tent as soon as he seen me,” Louie said. “He wouldn’t talk to me at all.”
At that point Chad started yelling for tittie, which ended the conversation.
Two days later Raphael and Taze and their friends came over and joined our camp. The sheriff on the county we were in said he wasn’t gonna post deputies to watch out for two Circles when it would save his department a lot of work just watching out for one.
Raphael sent a blonde woman named Shannon to us. She told Louie, “We really would like to meet with you about the food. Raphael has ideas how to restructure the Circle. If you don’t meet with him, some of the people who donated the food may just haul if off in trucks.”
“Sister,” Louie growled, “I hope you don’t take it personal, but you go tell Raphael he’s an ass hole!”
After she left, I said, “Why didn’t you call Taze a bad name too? He’s the one who supplied the food and planned the whole power play.”
“That’s just it,” Louie answered. “Taze is the one who really has access to the food. There’s always a chance we’ll have to work with him some day. Raphael’s just a flunky. We can forget about him.”
Then I forgot the whole Raphael and Taze business and got into something more important to me. Three women in the camp were ready to give birth any day. I got their husbands to move their tents close together and gave them instructions on how to take care of themselves. Then one night when I was waiting for one of the women to go into labor, the woman who I had calculated wouldn’t start for a couple of days collapsed in her tent groaning.
“This is not supposed to happen!” I hollered.
I had to be up all night delivering two babies. Then I had to stay up into the next day because the third woman went into labor. The score was two girls and a boy. What happened next is the part I don’t want my son Chad to hear.
Chapter Forty Three
I hitched from Zarahemla to Albuquerque and I seen Retta and my son Samuel there. Then I hitched to Idaho. I was out at night doing security in Idaho. That means I was out in the rain helping people who had come late find places to park their vehicles without bogging down in the mud. Then one night it had stopped raining. There was big clouds of mist brushing along against the ground. Every so often they’d part and you could see the moon and the stars.
I was walking up the trail from the parking area when I met up with this young woman with long blonde hair wearing a long pale violet gown with wide sleeves. Every part of her face fit together with every other part so perfect – it was like a spirit, like a dream.
“Uh-hello, my name’s Clark,” I started off.
“My name’s Shannon,” she answered back.
“Well-uh, I haven’t seen you here before,” I went on.
“I was over in the other camp that Raphael set up,” she says. “I just got here.” And we kept on talking as we walked along until all of a sudden Bishop Louie stepped out on the path in front of us.
“Clark!” Louie says, “Come over here with me a second. I want to talk to you.” And he pointed to his left. I walked away from Shannon with him till we was standing in mist where we could just barely see her on the trail.
“I don’t want you trying to put the make on that girl,” Bishop Louie says. “Shannon has a severe mental illness. She thinks she’s a psychic. She’s not ready for sex yet. It would just mess her up even worse.”
“OK, Bishop Louie,” I says.
I walked back over to Shannon and we kept on walking up the trail towards the camp. But I had my head hanging down and I wasn’t talking while she was still chattering away. Every so often she gave me a look like, “Hey, what’s the matter with you?”
But I just left Shannon when we got to where everybody else was camped.
Later on that night I was patrolling around to make sure nobody was stealing nothing and off in the distance I seen Bishop Louie with a big grin on his face leading Shannon into a tent and zipping it up after they got in. Later on around day break I seen Bishop Louie walking out of that tent. I didn’t go over to talk to him. I went back to my tent and went to sleep.
I was patrolling again the night Liz delivered the three babies. I was over near where she was. A friend of mine from Albuquerque had a tent near there. He had it open and told me I could use it to rest in any time. I was awful tired and it was a long way to my tent, so I took him up on the offer. He wasn’t around. I crawled in and wrapped myself up in one of his blankets.
I was waking up and dozing off all day with my feet sticking out of the tent, and the blanket around my shoulders. Then I heard Liz’s voice, “Clark? That’s your boots sticking out of the tent, ain’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s me,” I says, half asleep.
“I just delivered three babies,” Liz says. “And I’m so tired I’m about to faint. Could I get in there beside you?”
“Sure,” I says. She got in beside me and wrapped one of my friend’s quilts around herself. So we was just laying there side by side, with all our clothes on when I heard Bishop Louie’s voice saying, “What the hell are you doing?”
I just went “Huh?” and sat up.
“They told me Liz was here,” Louie went on. “But I didn’t think my friend-my brother – would do this to me – especially when I’m working so hard on trying to keep my relationship with my wife together.”
Then Liz called out, “Oh, Louie, just lighten up and let me go back to sleep!”
I got up and walked away and left Louie hollering at Liz. I turned around and watched for a while to make sure he wouldn’t do nothing to hurt Liz in the physical. She was hollering back some and Louie wasn’t touching her, so after about half an hour I decided she was safe if I left her alone. It was a clear day for once – didn’t look like it was going to rain, so I found a big pine tree not far away and curled up to sleep at the roots.
For the rest of the time we was in Idaho, Louie was like a dog peeing on tree trunks to mark out his territory and make sure the other dogs didn’t come near Liz. Every time I had to discuss security with Bishop Louie, he would make a crack about how I made it with his wife. When we stood in the Circle that year, he was gripping her hand tight. I was standing not to far off and I was feeling pretty uneasy.
I left the Circle early and started hitching around the west looking for any kind of job I could find. I didn’t go back to Zarahemla for almost a year, even when I went to New Mexico to visit Retta and my son Samuel.
In Idaho, there was a steep slope of tan-colored granite down to the stream where we got out water. It wasn’t quite a cliff, but it was sharp, slick rock. There was a narrow path that zigzagged down the slope with enough sand on it so your feet could get some traction. The stream was real deep and cold and running fast because of all that rain. Some guys would go down there and pull off their pants and stand in the stream and holler “Whoo! That sure puts a frost on your crotch!”
Not me. I just stuck my bucket in the stream and tried to keep from getting wet.
One day I was down there getting water when I heard a woman’s voice behind me. “Excuse me! Can you help me get some water?”
I looked up. She was standing on the path about ten feet above me – huge dark eyes, long curly hair – beautiful, even if her jeans and her shirt was all muddy from being in as much rain as we had.
“Let’s do it this way,” I called to her. “I’ll hand you my bucket when I get if full and I’ll fill yours and we can both take them to the top.”
So we did that. And we was walking along, both swinging buckets and getting to know each other. Her name was Nora Hirsch. She was from some place back east and had started going to the regional circles there. Now she wanted to see what the west was like. Nora had a year of college. I didn’t want her to know how little education I had so I said, “Oh sure, I been to college a little myself.”
We went to her kitchen and handed her bucket to the people there. They poured it into a kettle that was already over half full. Then they started chopping up tomatoes and green bell peppers and onions into the kettle for that night’s stew. Me and Nora helped out chopping the vegetables for a while. Then I picked up my bucket and we walked over to her tent.
By now I wasn’t no little kid no more. I was 20 years old and I had finally gotten taller than my wife Twyla. She had always acted sort of like my mother and now I was like a boy that has just about grown up to be a man and I was running away from home. So that’s how it was that I just let my bucket of water set there by Nora’s tent and me and her spent the night making it in her tent. But the next morning, Nora slept late and I looked out of the tent door and seen my bucket and thought about Twyla.
Well, it wasn’t exactly my bucket, it was my camp’s bucket and I had to get back with it sooner or later. I picked up the bucket and carried it back to my camp. Twyla was in the kitchen there, dishing out chopped-up apples and raisins to some little kids. She looked up when se seen me and says, “Well, where have you been?”
“Oh, I had to go out walking security last night,” I says. ”Somebody told me there wasn’t nobody else to do it.”
She gave me a kind of suspicious look and went back to serving the kids there apple and raisin breakfast. I didn’t think no more of it until a couple of hours later when this guy come over from the kitchen where I had been cutting up vegetable the day before. Right in front of Twyla he handed me my pocket knife and says, “You left this in Nora’s tent when you stayed with us last night.”
I whispered, “Oh, shit!”
Twyla says, “Come off in the woods with me. I want to talk with you a minute.”
I followed her into the woods. She sat down under a tree and I stood in front of her with my head hanging down.
“I don’t mind that you been with another woman again,” she says. “Not that much! What I mind is that you lied to me for the first time,” and she started to cry. “When we first started traveling together I told you I was bigger than you. Well I ain’t no more! You’re like a boy that’s growing up and ready to leave his mama. I’m not gonna try to stop you. If I did, you would just lie to me some more. I’d better let you go rather than have you lie. Get your stuff out of the tent.”
She put her face in her hands. I went, “Aw, Twyla,” and put my hand on her shoulder. She cried out to me from behind her hands, “Go! Go!”
I walked away from her, looking over my shoulder at her. I went to my tent and loaded my stuff in my backpack and headed over to Nora’s camp.
When I was almost there, I could see Nora sitting with a bunch of people around the campfire – and this real handsome guy was sitting with her with his arm around her shoulders.
I walked off among the trees. The sun was going down and it was getting real shadowy. I kept walking to get as far away from everybody as I could. Then I heard a vice, “Nephi! Nephi!” I whirled around and seen this path leading through the woods to a great big campfire. Around the fire about 30 guys was sitting and maybe five women. They all wore long white robes and had their hair covered with some kind of white cloths. One of them was standing up calling to me. He was a big, strong-built fellow. Right then I recognized him – Farm Boy of the Coyote Family.
I started running down the path towards him hollering, “Hey, Farm Boy!”
And he says in a loud, clear voice, but kind of still and solemn, “My name’s not Farm Boy no more. I’m Hezekiah.”
I ran up to him and started to hug him, but he jerked back and said, “Don’t touch me, brother, the body is sinful.”
“And he ain’t a brother yet!” a pale, scrawny sharp-nosed guy in a robe says pointing at me.
I just looked around in every direction and says, “I don’t know much about you guys. I just seen you before at the Circle. They call you the A and O.”
“It stands for the Alpha and Omega Family,” the sharp-nosed guy says in a whiny voice. “And my name is Saint Matthew.”
“Go ahead and sit down, Nephi,” Farm Boy, who was now Hezekiah says, a little bit kinder. By now I was just so dizzy and shook up from all that had happened that day, I just dropped myself down on a log where some of the people in the robes had scooted over and made some room for me. I took a couple of deep breaths and then I was listening to about two hours of solid Alpha and Omega rap, mostly from Saint Matthew, but some from Hezekiah, with a few words now and then from the others.
They told me that A and O was started by a guy called Armpits who used to run around with the Coyote Family back when it was first starting in 1969 – I was still a kid in Los Angeles then. Armpits rode off on his motorcycle into the Mojave Desert and fasted for 40 days until he collapsed in a flash of bright light. When he come to, he was in this man and woman’s house and they was giving him some water.
At that moment Armpits knew that he was Lord and Savior Alpha and Omega. He gave the couple his motorcycle and all his clothes. All he asked from them was a bed sheet and a T-shirt. He made the bed sheet into a robe and he twisted the T-shirt around on top of his head into what he called the helmet of salvation.
“Same as we’re wearing now,” Saint Matthew says, pointing to the T-shirt wrapped around his head. I looked around and they was all wearing these T-shirt helmets on their head, twisted in a special way.
“I was one of the first people that L and S met after he come out of the desert,” Saint Mathew says. “L and S stand for Lord and Savior. He gave me the three links to heaven – No Meat, No Sex, No Property, just like I’m giving them to you if you’ll take them.”
At that point I was so burnt out by what I had just done to myself about sex with Nora and Twyla that I says, “Yes! I’ll take them!” and everybody shouted, “Hurray!”
Next day I tossed all my clothes into a big cardboard box.
Everybody who come to the Circle threw their old clothes that they didn’t want there so people even poorer than they was could have them. I was in the robe now, a long white bed sheet with a hole for my neck. The A and O brothers handed me a T-shirt and showed me how to twist it into a helmet of salvation on my head. Some A and O sisters helped me to sew together a shoulder bag out of old pieces of cloth to carry any food we would beg along the way. I flung a blanket over my shoulder and we all left the Circle camp barefoot walking along the road on our way to see Lord and Savior Alpha and Omega.
Chapter Forty Four
The A and O people wanted to give me another name but I says, “No, I’ll keep Nephi cause it’s the name of a holy man in the book of Mormon.”
I would sit sometimes when we was camped by the road and think about Twyla. I would be so sad and when one of the A and O’s would ask, “Why don’t you join us?” I’d say, “I’m thinking about my wife.” And they would say, “That’s no good, brother. Sex ain’t of God.”
Saint Matthew told us, “Lord and Savior teaches us that Adam corrupted all of creation by having sex with Eve. All the animals seen him doing it with her, so they got the idea from him and started having sex with each other. You see, man has been bringing all of nature down and we got to bring it up again. If we could clean the world from meat eating and sex and owning property, we could do away with death.”
Sometimes we would meet with other bands of A and o people walking along the highway. I knew a lot of these people from the days I had traveled with them in the Coyote Family drinking cheap wine back when I left Twyla the first time. One of them who I had known as Ass Hole Jake was now Zephaniah. He told me, “I had to get out of the Coyote Family, brother. I was killing myself with booze while I was there. A and O is the only place I could find life.” A lot of the others said the same thing.
We would gather around campfires and we wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol, but we had a can of tobacco and some rolling papers that we got with money we panhandled. We would pass the tobacco around and smoke a lot of cigarettes. We would sing our sacred songs around the campfire like:
“My Lord and Savior I greet you with a holy kiss.
In all our parting there’s no departing.
I go within to the Savior without form.”
And Saint Matthew would wag his forefinger and say, “Remember – the holy kiss is just the presence of the beloved person. It’s not the touch of the dirty old body.”
But we never did meet Lord and Savior. He spent a lot of his time at a place in Southern California called the De Venter Ranch. That’s what Saint Matthew called it. A lot of the new A and O Family called it the Winter Ranch, cause that’s where the whole A and O Family would go in the winter. As long as it was summer, it was too hot for us to go to the Ranch, but as it got later and later in the fall, Saint Matthew would panhandle some coins and call the ranch. He’d put the pay phone to his ear, then he’d look around and tell us, “We got to travel some more. The ranch says it ain’t time for us to come home yet.”
So we walked thousands of miles as the weather was getting colder and colder, barefoot, a lot of times in the rain and mud. The soles of my feet got as tough as boot leather.
A lot of places we would meet another young person drifting along the road. We would feed him or her the vegetables we found behind grocery stores and restaurants or bought with money we begged. And the young person would say, “I’m sick of traveling the road trying to grab stuff from other people that’s trying to grab from me.”
And they would put on the robe and join us. This happened again and again and again.
Once we went to a mission and all they had to give us was bowls of beef stew. We all stoop up and shook our fists and hollered, “Sin! Sin! Sin!”
Saint Matthew yelled, “This is a place of hypocrites! They preach God and they allow Meat, Sex and Property.”
The mission told us all we had to leave. I was kind of sad because the beef stew looked pretty good after walking all day in the cold rain, but I wanted to cling to my faith.
Sometimes we’d think about going down to Florida where it was warm but Saint Matthew heard form the ranch that the Republicans controlled the state government in Florida, so the cops was being hard on all the people like us that was traveling the road down there. The ranch said it was better to stay where the People’s Party controlled the state.
But one day we was walking by a People’s Party youth shelter and the weather was real cold. I says to Saint Matthew, “Why don’t we go in there? They’d let us come in.”
Saint Matthew frowned and said, “No! The People’s Party teaches Communism and some of our new people might listen to them. Then if they believe Communism is right, it might make them like sex.”
It was already into winter when Saint Matthew phoned the De Venter Ranch and they told us it was OK to come on in.
We walked part of the way and hitched part of the way in groups of two or three. I was with Farm Boy – Hezekiah, I mean.
The De Venter Ranch was in the middle of the southern California desert – high, purple hills all around a deep pale-brown valley, deeper than sea level. The highway curved down into the valley and at the very bottom our ride let us off next to a sign saying DE VENTER PRODUCTS.
The sign was over a big gate in a fence and beyond the fence a road led between groves of date palms. Saint Matthew had told us the ranch used to belong to a rich old lady named De Venter who used to sell the dates from the palm trees. When she died, she left her ranch to the A and O Family. Now we could knock the dates down from the trees with long sticks and eat all we wanted.
When me and Hezekiah walked through the gate and seen all the people in white robes walking among the palm trees, it was like coming into Heaven. More A and O people kept coming all the time, like white birds flocking home. Every place you could hear people singing the holy songs. I was wondering when we was gonna get to see Lord and Savior Alpha and Omega.
Me and Hezekiah camped with the other A and O folks for a couple of days, singing around the fire and eating a lot of dates. When we asked, “Where’s Lord and Savior at?” they said, “that place over there where the ranch manager used to live.” Someone pointed to a red brick house with a Spanish orange tile roof. We walked over there. A big husky-looking dude in a white robe was standing at the door with his arms folded. He looked like Brother Power who used to be sort of the bouncer for Taze.
I says, “Excuse me, can we come in?”
He says, “No! Beat it!”
Me and Hezekiah waited until the sun was low and this big guy was sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette, not paying much attention to nothing. Then the two of us snuck around to the side of the house and crouched down low and peeked through the dining room window.
There was this blond-headed fellow in there in a white robe smoking a cigarette. You could see he was blond-headed because he didn’t have the T-shirt helmet of Salvation on his head. And he was sitting at a table with Taze and E. J. When me and Farm Boy seen that, we both stood up and hollered, “E. J., you fucker!” and we gave him our middle fingers.
Lord and Savior (who was the dude without his helmet on) and Taze and E. J. all come running out of the house with the big thug in a white robe. When they got up to us, Lord and Savior stuck out his arm to hold his bouncer back from beating the shit out of us.
E. J. just sneered at us and said, “Hello Nephi and Farm Boy – the TV news men. Say, did you fellows catch any bad guys lately?”
“You’re right E. J., I ain’t Hezekiah no more,” Farm Boy says. “Don’t worry about us, Armpits!” he went on, calling Lord and Savior by his Coyote Family name, “Me and Nephi are gone!”
The two of us pulled our helmets off and flung them on the ground and walked away from there.
There was some discussion by the Pristine Foundation on how to handle the People’s Party Youth Alliance now that the People’s Party seemed to have a lock on the presidency. Should Pristine work with the Youth Alliance and try to five it direction? That’s what they tried to do with Ron Drexel and his Advance Organization at the Republican Convention.
Or should the Pristine try to encourage young people to avoid the People’s Party Youth Alliance altogether? That was what the Alpha and Omega family did. They were doing a great job of stopping the bands of unemployed youth from getting drunk and fighting and stealing.
The pristine Foundation put money into both Advance and A and O as an experiment – to see which one worked out the best. Old Mrs. De Venter, who had first put me in contact with the Pristine Foundation passed away in 1975. She left one of her numerous properties, a date palm ranch in southern California to A and O. All kinds of Pristine Foundation anthropologists and sociologists were going down to the ranch to observe the white-robed A and O kids.
One day in early 1978, to my extreme distaste, E. J. Caldwell showed up at my doorstep in Santa Fe and told me Pristine wanted me to drive him down to the De Venter Ranch to meet with Lord and Savior, the A and O leader. E. J. had known Lord and Savior back when they were both motorcycle-riding hell-raisers. They used to get drunk together. I had to endure many hours of E. J., but I did have one brief funny meeting with Nephi, who I had known when he was a kid around Bishop Louie. Nephi didn’t stay around to talk with me.
I have learned that when you have an organization, you always have to watch and make sure that your leaders don’t make deals with people like E. J. But I would rather worry about watching somebody like Bishop Louie who I know and love than to watch out for somebody like Lord and Savior who I never met before. Louie is always Bishop Louie to me. Lord and Savior is just Armpits. He ain’t Jesus.
Me and Farm Boy got a ride to Albuquerque. Farm Boy told me he wanted to stop there at the People’s Party Youth shelter and get some warm clothes to replace his robe. But about a hundred miles before Albuquerque, I seen the turn-off to Santo Toribio Pueblo. I wanted to stop there to see Uncle Denny. So I asked the guy driving to let me off. I hugged Farm Boy goodbye and then I got out and walked a few miles down the side road to Santo Toribio.
I knocked at the door of Uncle Denny’s house. His little old wife opened it and recognized me. She looked up at me with a grin all over her false teeth and says, “Hey, you getting’ big, boy!”
I says, “Is Uncle Denny here?”
She hung her head and says, “No, he died two months ago.”
I says, “Please, can I come in? I know your village don’t like outsiders, but it’s cold and this sheet is all I got to wear!”
“Come in!” she says real quick. She hurried over to her wood stove and threw in some pieces of the piñon wood with the sweet, sharp smell. Then she heated up some beans and tortillas for me. The beans had bacon in them. I was never so glad to see meat in my life.
Then she spread quilts and blankets on the floor and told me, “Lay there!” and walked out the door and slammed it behind her. I curled up under the blankets and cried like a baby for Uncle Denny until I went into a real deep sleep. When I got up in the morning, there was some jeans and a shirt and a coat and tennis shoes and socks on the floor beside me.
“I got them clothes from my grandson,” Uncle Denny’s widow said. “I hope they fit you. And come outside and look!”
I walked outside with her. She pointed to the bare branches on the peach orchards at the bottom of the hill Santo Toribio was on. It was winter and there was a rainbow smiling in the peach orchard! Like Uncle Denny’s spirit was there.
“I can’t believe it,” she says. “A warm wind come in last night and we had a rain like springtime. And then that rainbow over yonder!”
“I wish I could talk to Uncle Denny,” I says and I started to cry. “I hate to think of all the wrong stuff I done.”
“Oh, you young folks!” she answered back. “Denny always said, ‘No mistake, no learn.’”
I put on the clothes and hugged her and left. I must have hitched a million miles – got drunk a bunch of times, spent the night with some strange women. I got more and more homesick for Zarahemla. Finally three weeks ago I was staying in a People’s Party youth shelter in Denver and I got up the courage to write Twyla:
“Is it OK if I come back just to visit you? If you are with somebody else, I won’t bother you.”
Twyla wrote me:
“I’m not with anybody else except our baby girl Drocas. I stopped taking the pill a year ago. I found out I was pregnant after you left me at the Circle. Now I want you to come back and see Drocas. I don’t know if you and me can get back together, but we’ll see when you get here.”
And so, Buff, when I seen you on the Plaza in Santa Fe, I was stopping to panhandle money for some coffee and than I was on my way back to see Twyla and Drocas. I think God the Father and Mother.
After we made the Circle in Idaho, we decided this year’s Circle would be in New Mexico. I have spent all the last winter and spring excited about that – when I wasn’t fighting with Louie.
Buff, the day before you got here, Louie had been off in Highlander, the county seat. Then Clark staggered up to my door, obviously exhausted from a long hitch hike. I let Clark in and fixed him some coffee. We were just sitting there in the living room drinking coffee and talking when Louie walked in and started ranting, “Are you gonna have an affair again?”
He got a couple more sentences of that sort out before I stood up and said, “Louie, either you’re gonna get out of here or I am!”
At that moment he stomped into the bedroom, packed his stuff and walked to the door. He looked over his shoulder at me and said, “I’ve got a friend I’m gonna see in La Plata for a few days. That’ll give you a chance to finish whatever you’re doing and make your plans.”
And he slammed the door so hard when he walked out that my son Chad woke up and cried.
“I’m not gonna do a think with Clark but sit here and nag at him like I am now! I’m not like Louie! I don’t have sex at the flip of a coin!
Still, you see I’m crying for right now. I miss him, but it’s over.
Chapter Forty Five
When I finished taping Liz and Clark, I heard a voice at the tipi door. “Hey, Buff! Why didn’t you wait for me to hitch with you in Santa Fe?”
Nephi walked into the tipi carrying a tiny pink baby girl. Twyla followed him looking a little nervous. Nephi held the baby out to me and I stroked her forehead with my fingertips.
“I was so anxious to get down here and see what Louie has to say,” I said. “I couldn’t wait.”
Right then Aries John walked in with his four wives, two children and Louie’s son Chad. “Hey, Buff, good to see you!” he laughed and shouted as he clapped me on the shoulders.
Aries John pulled some potatoes out of a sack he was carrying and roasted them in the fire pit. Then he handed them around to all of us, with the butter spread thick on them.
At last he went back to his pup tent with his wife Cassie. The rest of us stayed in the tipi to sleep except for Liz, who went back with her son Chad to her adobe house.
Next day everybody was back in the tipi again. Aries John fixed us a late breakfast – eggs scrambled with red chile pepper. We were just about finished when we heard a vice outside the tipi – “Can we come in?”
Aries John called back, “Sure!” and Manny Zamora and Rivka walked in.
“I think we have a little bit left in the skillet for you guys,” Aries John said, “Now, what’s going on?”
Manny squatted down by the skillet and filled two plates with scrambled eggs and chile pepper. He handed a plate to Rivka and picked up his own plate.
“It’s about Louie,” he said, putting an upside down forkful of eggs in his mouth, chewing it up and swallowing it rapidly. “Early yesterday morning after Buff left La Plata, Louie came by to see me from wherever he was staying.”
“I bet I know the woman’s name!” Liz called out from the other side of the fire pit.
“Anyway,” Manny said, swallowing another upside down forkful of eggs, “Louie told me that he broke up with Liz. He said he was hitching to Taos. He said, ‘I just gotta see E. J. again up there. He’s the only one I can talk to.’ So I thought – Oh, no! Do we gotta go through all this shit about E. J. again? Now that this year’s Circle will be here at home in New Mexico.”
“So then Manny phoned me up,” Rivka said. “He just wanted to talk things over, but I decided that if Louie wasn’t gonna be in Zarahemla, I might as well come down here and work on the Circle again. It’ll be just like old times. All the Maria Russell Mission business is caught up and I don’t have any lovers now – so here I am.”
She spread out her hands and her smile lit up the tipi. Then she went to work vigorously on her plate of scrambled eggs and chile pepper.
Later I was walking with Rivka out by the cottonwood trees along where the Pobre Clara River was rushing over its rocky bed.
“Do you think you’ll get together with Manny now?” I asked.
“Goodness, no!” Rivka answered. “He’s much too busy with Manny Zamora business to have time for any one person. Manny and I love each other so much the way things are now, but if we tried to live together a week, we’d hate each other, because he always has some new interest of the moment that would keep us apart. When this year’s Circle is over I’m going back to Taze and the Maria Russell Mission.”
She looked up at a hawk swooping up and down in the sky. Then she looked at me with a sad expression.
“Louie is a proud hawk-spirit like that,” she said, brushing a tear away from the corner of her eye with her fingertip. “he gave us the Circle – so much more than I could have imagined. Sometimes I think it’s too bad we have to protect what he gave us from him.”
Aries John and his wives had found the place for us to make the circle for 1978 – a deep canyon on the headwaters of the Pobre Clara River. Within a few days we were all camped there, helping get the kitchens and the latrine trenches ready. Thousands of people had already arrive, but there was no sign of Bishop Louie – or E. J.
Then one day, runners came through our camps announcing that Bishop Louie had arrived and wanted us to come to a big special council at the lower end of the canyon. We walked all in single file around the big meadow so we wouldn’t trample the thick grass and then we came into this wide, flat, sandy area where Louie was standing and made a circle around him.
I asked myself – how is it that this little scrawny fellow can look so magnificent, more obviously the leader than ever? He had on his old cowboy hat, but no shirt, just a vest over his bare, bony chest. His legs were bare and he was wearing a leather loincloth again – but without the Mormon symbols embroidered on it. He raised his arms and began speaking in a voice that echoed off the canyon walls.
“From now on,” he called out, “I will no longer go into Federal court for the Circle! I will not go into any kind of court for the Circle! I will do no more negotiating with the Forest Service or the sheriff’s departments! You have to do these things for yourselves!”
There was a faint murmuring around the council circle.
“I have given every nickel I have for the Circle!” Louie went on. “I have been beaten nearly to death by Klansmen who wanted to stop the Circle! I could say that I think that people don’t appreciate those things, but I think I’ve said enough on that point already. I have been Bishop, Prophet, Chief and Medicine Man! My buddy E. J. has told me that I ought to stay on and continue to be all those things, but I told him, ‘No, E. J. I think it’s time now that I was just a human being for a change!’ I have to deal with my needs and my problems as a human being. I’ll be with you here in the crowd, doing my share of the work, but the most important question is – have you learned how to work together as a team yet without somebody telling you what to do?”
There was complete silence in the council circle. I knew Louie had given us his most important gift of all.
“The sower has sown his seed!” he shouted and he lowered his arms and was silent.
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