The Red Road

Bowling Green, KY

To set the stage, picture the arbor behind the Warren County Public Library. The brown plastic benches stand underneath the popping greenery of a rising spring. It’s early on Sunday and wretched college kids are still sleeping off their parties that left a few blue cans littering the parking lot. But nothing can temper the beauty of the fresh day’s cool air. Breathe in a deep lungful.

Center stage stands the Storyteller. He’s not a tall man but his presence looms large. Thick working fingers and a jutting jaw that jabs at you during his stories like punctuation. He wears a tan Carhartt jacket and worn but serviceable blue jeans. The Storyteller has a scuffed road bag slung over one shoulder and his camouflage hat sports a neon green deer head. With robin egg eyes, he’s taking a cell phone photo of a cherry tree in a magnificent burst of pink blossoms.

The Storyteller is born to his role. He holds his audience – as evocative as anyone performing storytelling at the Moth or on the remnants of vaudeville glimpsed on the silver screen remnants. A notch above the hundreds of road stories I’ve enjoyed and endured. With delivery honed over the many miles, he shuffles his feet for comedic timing, emphasizes a climax by lowering his head to look out from under a hat brim and rubs his hands together in infectious delight.

I reckon he hails from down there southern Missouah way and his words slip together into a fine cadence. It’s almost criminal the way I butcher his accent but you must imagine him for yourself.

“That’s a fine eye sir. That’s about as pretty a tree as I ever did see,” I say in way of greeting.
He puts on a bear eating grin, “Well there son, I been all over this here country. Crossed it from sea to shinin sea. Twice,” holding up two fingers and looking me in the eye, “and this tree is fine as a California beauty queen.”
“So what kept you moving around the country?”

“I reckon I just like to amble about and see things. I met some real fruity-loops on the road but I met some excellent gentlemen as well. Like this corporate raider tycoon fella. He picked me up in his new Mercedes and drove me across Seven Hundred Miles of Desert. When he turned off up towards Vegas, he asked me how many cigarettes I got left.” The Storyteller pulls out a phantom packet and slowly counts through them. “Looks like I got about five smokes heah. They sure do help the time pass sir, waiting on those old exits. That’s just what I told him. And you know what I seen him do as I stood outside that convenience store? He bought me a whole carton of Marlboros and I seen him stuff some bills down in it. I thanked him kindly and thought he mighta slipped in 20 or 40 bucks. When I emptied out my carton into a Ziploc bag (you see that’s my trick to keep ‘em from gettin wet), why, you could’a knocked me over with a puff.” In slow amazement,  “Five crisp brand spankin’ new beautiful as butter Benjahmin Franklin bills.” He fixes me with a look of incredulity that shifts to a dawning joy. “Well, I called that Greyhound bus station and bought me a ticket. Then I ordered a taxi cab to come pick me up and I rode out to California in style. Yes sir. I met some good folks on the road.”

“That’s the way to do it,” I reply with enthusiasm, falling into the slower southern cadence. “Hitchin’ always restores my faith in humanity. Why, we had some real good luck on our last leg up from Texas.”

The Storyteller smoothly ignores the interruption. “Yes sir but there’s some queer birds out there on that road too. I been waiting about seven hours on that route 40 going through Fort Worth when this old boy pulls over. Now if he wasn’t 85 years old, he wasn’t one day old.” The blue eyes bulge in amazement. “I looked in there and I’ll be damned if he didn’ have a neck brace, both arms in short casts and a brace on his left leg. Then a daggum cane by the stick shifter. He asked me where I was headed and I said, ‘Santa Monica sir.’
Well he chuckled and said, ‘I ain’t going that far but I’ll take you 20 miles up the road.’
‘That’s fine sir. Every little bit helps.’ Now I was just about to get in his car when he asked me kinda sly if I liked to fool around.” The Storyteller jumps back in alarm, eyes wide and rolling. He addresses the invisible infirm old man, “Now just what do you mean by fool around?”
‘You know son – just a little friendly bit of play. I’m willing to pay some money for that kind of fun.’”

The Storyteller’s voice drops to a righteous hiss. “Well, I tell you what you old faggot. I was raised to believe in Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. So you better just get on down that road there because it looks like some God fearing man already tried once to show you the error of your ways and I’m fixin to teach you that lesson again.”

“That’s just what I told him and he cursed me out and drove off. It worked out for the best though. I got a ride from an Australian trucker and his Sheila all the way out to the Santa Monica docks.”
“I bet that Aussie had you laughing the whole time.”

“You better believe it boy. Made it real easy to get with those California girls. I’d put on that Aussie talk and they thought I was Paul Hogan’s son.” His Australian accent was passable although muddled with some cockney. “I went fishing with one girl I met out there and she woulda made Dolly Parton look like Tiny Tim. I hooked a big one and the pier is so high off the water, you gotta lean over to pull up the line.” He bends down to demonstrate pulling up the fish but jumps suddenly like he got bit.

“When I felt that pinch on my rear, I smiled to myself. I figured she mustah liked what she seen. But before I turned round all the way, I’d seen that simpering faggot wink at me and I grabbed him and I wenta fairy tossin. I threw him right over into that ocean and looked at his friend and told him ‘You better clear out too you little cocksucker unless you wanna go swimming with your girlfriend.’”

I said nothing. I did not laugh to encourage him. But I also did not reveal my visceral hatred of this closeminded goatfucker who spent his life making it hellish for the queers that fill my Tribe. You, dear reader, may call me a coward but I am a writer on the road and this is part of my research. I have spent these years nodding, allowing the dark souls to play out enough rope to hang themselves. I don’t believe that I’m going to change their minds with my highfalutin’ liberal Yankee talk – though maybe I don’t give myself enough credit.  Perhaps it’s really a cowardly aversion to conflict springing from deep in my Mennonite roots that makes me shut my trap.

But I want to hear what the racists and the bigots and the assholes really think. I want to see the interior of their awful minds – the ones who enabled the Holocaust and the lynchings and the queer beatings. It’s easy to forget that they exist but the Monsters are out there and they will rise again as they always do in human history. I want to know my enemy. I must never forget that he exists and that his infectious hatred will never be smitten from the earth.

The Storyteller continues in befuddled horror, “Do you know what it’s like out there in California with those liberals and faggots? If you’re out there beating the piss out of your old lady, the cops just give you a tap on the shoulder and tell you to take it back to your house. But if you just do this,” he taps my arm as I repress a shudder, “to one of those cocksuckers, they’ll throw you in the slammer.” He leans forward and puts his hands behind his back, mimicking the shackling sound of handcuffs slipping into place. “But sure as shit is shinola, with my rotten luck, I must’ve gotten the sugar daddy of that faggot. He gave me Thirty days in the jailhouse for fucking with a fairy. Crazy isn’t it?”

We wander up to the library’s entrance and as I leave the Storyteller, he’s telling jokes to the old boys waiting for the doors are open. His delivery is slow and sure. I hear a chorus of loud guffaws as I turn the corner.

As I return to the house, my friend’s are leaving for a gathering at a Radical Faery commune hidden in the mountains. The Fairies are a group of queers, predominantly gay men, a secretive lot who coalesced in the 60’s to provide safe havens for the runaways cast out by the groups at home that would support them in any other crisis besides coming out of the closet. Rejected by their family, their church and their school, suicide is the leading cause of death in gay teenagers. The Faery dens spread across the country revolve around their inner sanctums of safety where inclusion and acceptance provide a space free of the baleful bigotry of Mrs. Grundy in all of her pernicious guises.

I spent my days in Bowling Green talking to a Fellow Traveler who found his home and happiness while wandering between Faery enclaves. The like-minded souls who became his Tribe enabled him to craft his alternative persona: the Fool clad in black and white stripes whose “prerogative is to utter the truths that no one else will speak” as it says in Sandman and Shakespeare. Now he’s an outstanding muralist and the pages of his novel cover the walls, telling of his transformation inside the Radical Faery chrysalis that allowed him to grow his radiant black and white wings.

He begs off from bringing Aly and I along but I already understood his reluctance. I share the feeling when it comes to my Open Love tribe in NYC that has become my second family. It’s worrisome to introduce even a close friend into your inner sanctum where you become responsible for their behavior. Worrying about them diminishes the recharging blast from sinking into the comfort of your understanding souls. I feel compelled to watch them from afar, to babysit, to use some of this precious time and rejuvenating energy to help smooth over the bumps of introduction.

So instead, I stay in their house to write these words, powered by the reams of typewritten pages written and books of poetry left open and the Fool’s paintings bursting with bright colors of adventures on the road and into the psychic depths. It turns my thoughts towards home, towards Brooklyn and diving into the Work, the stories I have to tell. I look forward to nights of bandying around ideas for projects with the Rockets of Humanity and Fellow Travelers whose creativity is bursting and bubbling towards the surface. All of us hoping to tell one tale that might inspire a few likeminded souls to consider a new way to get happy, to find a world or a work that brings them joy and purpose.

So it begins.

To any who read this and like my angle, I’m always looking for collaborators and creatives to try out new projects or sit around and toss ideas against the wall like spaghetti to see what sticks. Once I’m settled, I’ll be restarting my Writing Nights for just this purpose.

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Lex Pelger

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