Saturday, December 31, 2016

Excerpt from Chapter 40: Chaos Leads to Order

Chapter 40 excerpt: Chaos Leads to Order
'Restless and bored, Jan and I watched brightly coloured sailboats chase one another out on the water. Deciding to head back by bus, it would be nearly five when I reached the hostel – the appropriate time to return to the bubble.
   Jan would catch up later.

Without vocalizing it, almost telepathically, an underlying need for space had been established. To allow one another room to breathe, Jan and I recognized the time had come to slacken things. Perceptibly and emotionally, my friend wanted to stay at arm’s length, at least until I made my decision. In my gut, I felt a shift was imminent. I simply could not go on much longer agonizing about what to do about my immediate future.

   Something hit me that morning during services at Cole Street. Apart from a measure of familiarity with the Brothers, Sisters, and few of the novices at HOOM, I knew very little about the Holy Order of Mans organization. Though I’d leafed through a copy of The Golden Force, the group’s practices, procedures and faith origins eluded me. Designed to enlighten, I knew that certain segments of the book were crafted to flatter supporters and impress colleagues while goading outsiders into believing that HOOM members were part of a private and elite supernatural society. Knowledge of the Order was shaped from what had been told to me by partisan members.
   This wasn’t acceptable.
   Even Brother John reminded me not to get sucked in by other people’s opinions.
   Mystifying me, I hadn’t given The Golden Force a fair trial and intended to read it whole.

   My pragmatic self-resonating, since all of this wavering began,, I might be contemplating enlisting for some freakazoid show after all, just like the Moonies – a group capable and culpable of harvesting brains on loan. In all fairness, the possibility couldn’t be disregarded.

   Riding the trolley up hill, I hopped the bus for the final stretch of the ride to Steiner Street. Playing it safe, I dawdled in Duboce Park where Jan, Beth and I’d held our private party two nights previous.

   A couple of HOOM kids I hadn’t met before crouched on their hands and knees, worked the soil garden next to the hostel. Spotting me, they meandered over. The female, Rebecca, made a formal introduction. Timidly, Thomas held out a violet flower picked from a sweet pea plant.
   Would I like to have it?
   Thanking him, I accepted and waited to see if something would transpire.

   In recent days, veterans and new members of the Holy Order seemed to scope the hostel and its hinges like ants. In case there might be reason for it, I kept my ear to the ground. As I’d discovered with Joanne earlier, in all probability, Rebecca and Thomas were merely being friendly.
   HOOM folks might be the appendages of a cult, but so far, instincts told me they were trustworthy.

   A slight, cherub-faced girl with blue-grey eyes, Rebecca’s demeanor was gentle, kind. Early into her career as a novice, the 18-year-old worked part time on Clement Street at a fruit shake bar called Haven. I couldn’t resist asking Rebecca why she’d decided to join the Order.

   Having come from a troubled background, Rebecca admitted she was seeking love and stability in her life. An instinctually spiritual person, the novice had a close friend that recently became a Sister of the San Francisco chapter. In turn, the friend invited Rebecca to attend some of HOOM’s meetings. Upon completing reading The Golden Force, Rebecca asserted its message and accounts spoke to her in a way that she had never before known. Believing HOOM to be her calling, Rebecca was convicted, yet conceded the choice she made wouldn’t necessarily be what others might choose.

   Thomas and Rebecca left the garden to head over to Safeway, leaving me alone with my thoughts. Did a definitive answer really did exist in the galaxies somewhere? I felt asinine believing there might be a remote possibility.

   “So… are you going before the council?”

   I swerved my head around. There stood the Good Samaritan, proudly, as if he knew something I didn’t. For a smartass second, I thought about sniping, who wants to know? And decided against it.

   “I don’t think so. No. Why do you ask?”

   “I’m psychic.”

   “Oh… Is that it?” Obviously, my fence sitting was a topic of conversation in a certain neck of the woods. Inspecting my chest, Teddy grinned. “I’m glad to see the jacket is keeping you warm.” Casting my eyes down the front of the green kangaroo, I felt the wind kick up as it often did late in the afternoon, and was happy to be zipped inside of the coat.

   “Thanks again for letting me use your jacket. It’s real cozy. I don’t feel right keeping it though. Are you sure I couldn’t buy it from you?”

   “It’s yours.”

   When I started to gripe, Teddy mimicked my complaint. Then, as if remembering something, without saying a word, he got up, darted across the street and ran toward the manse.

   I watched the Good Samaritan pose precariously on one foot on the front porch, the house where he now resided full time. Apparent that something was on his mind, in less than thirty seconds, Teddy turned on his heel and zoomed back. Straightforward, he pressed again, “So you’re not going before the council?”

   “The council? Um…No, not yet. Actually… I didn’t realize there was a council.” Unsure about sharing the extent of my indecisiveness, and wishing that Teddy would say something to convince me to stay, I stated flatly. “Jan and I hope to leave the city in a couple of days.” As if studying the outcome of a science experiment, The Good Samaritan narrowed his eyes. “Have you got a pack and everything?”
   I sure did. The thing was starting to weigh like a 100 pound anvil. Uncertain where this conversation was going, I nodded. “Yeah.”

   “So are you going north?”

   “Eventually, yeah. Back to Canada… But not home right away. Why?”

   Firing skinny arms and spider-like hands into the air like a rocket, Teddy replied. “The reason I ask is because I’ve got a really good pack and I’ll give it to you. I know you don’t have much in the way of travel necessities.”

   Slack-mouthed, I stared back at him. “Give? As in for free?” I blinked hard. “I couldn’t accept your backpack…. unless you’d consider selling it. I don’t have much money, but I could write you an ‘I owe you…’”

   “Forget it then," he snapped. "I wouldn’t sell it to you. You can have it.”
There was positively no way in hell I was going to sponge Teddy’s pack, even if the prospect of having the Good Samaritan’s backpack for keeps was unfathomable. I had seen it once, weeks before. Black and grey, the oval shaped nylon sack had a couple of literary quotes written across it in dark marker. White gardenias were fastened to the zipper by a bungee cord.
   Teddy’s bag was amazing. Jan and I were both wholly impressed.

   “Well, thanks.” I felt my face glow beat red. “I’ll think about it.” Faking that I’d never seen the pack, apparently up for grabs, I continued to play dumb, “What’s it like, anyway?”

   Expecting to be regaled with an incredible story attached to the origins of the knapsack, I sat back and waited for Teddy to elucidate about his pack’s history. What he divulged wasn’t an elaborate tale at all. Quite the opposite. In taciturn voice, he contended, “Oh, it’s been very good, very loyal.”

   As if I needed convincing, the Good Samaritan was quick to reassure. “It’s a beautiful pack. There’s not another one like it.” Like dew coating a meadow at dawn, past years and memories flashed briefly across his wistful blue eyes. “It took ten years for me to build it up to what it is today, you know," he said. "I don’t take giving it away lightly.”

   Teddy’s emotional attachment to his beloved backpack suggested a parent crowing over a growing child, reticent to let him loose to the world, yet believing it a necessary measure for personal growth.
When we’d first met him, Teddy talked of living out of his backpack for four years after leaving Vietnam and his ex-wife behind, spending weeks surviving in the desert before coming to San Francisco. His knapsack represented friendship, faithfulness, devotion. It was his second skin. What Teddy had withheld about the pack was the beef of the story.
   I’d have to imagine the rest.

   We broke into a little comedy skit: The Good Samaritan offering me his pack – my refusal unless I could pay. Struck by the absurdity of going around in circles, like an Abbott and Costello routine, we both started to laugh. Before I knew it, it was time to break up the party. Starting toward the manse, the Good Samaritan halted. Then he turned and looked me up and down. “So, you’ll be here for another day or so?”

   Reaching both hands upward, I pulled my long, thick hair to the back of my head, formed it in to a ponytail and smiled flirtatious. “I think so, yeah.” Dipping his head in courteous fashion, Teddy broke away and ran across the street. Reaching the lower steps of the manse porch, he performed a tap dance on each cement block until finally touching down softly on the verandah. I
   f I hadn’t been awestruck before, now I was money in the bank.'

Tapes from California: Teenage Road Tripping, 1976 © 2016 Jill C. Nelson

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Excerpt from Chapter 50: Loopy in Kamloops

Excerpt from Chapter 50: Loopy in Kamloops

'Lying flat on my back on my sleeping bag, staring upward at the V-shaped peak where tent sides meet, I watched mosquitoes congregate to conspire the long night ahead. Directly out the west window, indiscreet, the sun folded into candyfloss pigments of orange and pink. Allowing ideas from the passage to percolate, something hit a nerve. More than anything in the world, I wanted to be happy. Not for passing bursts, but for long, undulated periods, where emotion could be amassed and the afterglow of happiness preserved.
   Maybe there was a way to channel bliss somehow.

   There is a beautiful narrative in J.D. Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, in which Seymour Glass describes a perceived, permanent yellow stain on his right hand, a leftover from brushing against a playmate’s buttery dress during his childhood. Through recollections and emotions, perhaps symbolically, we have the ability to engender the same durable effect. Fishing in a pond of happy memories, possibly there is a means to train ourselves to summon joy at will, and provide nourishment during dry spells. If the law of vibration detailed in the Holy Order of Man’s digest really works, and there was evidence of it through our basic requests, maybe then, all one needs to do is believe in happiness.
   The rest will take care of itself.
On Friday, a few days beyond June 21, morning is grey, chillier than the day before. Not a drop of precipitation in sight. Thanking Paul for our stay, at half past seven, Jan and I made our way from the Kamloops hostel out to the highway. Stale sesame seed bagels tucked deep in our packs, we hoped to get a head start. Other travellers, also moving east, had already packed their gear.
   Watching a torrent of cars and transport trucks blow by in haste, loitering on the shoulder of the TransCanada, we contemplated the trip ahead. Habitually, Jan and I willed a harm free journey. Counting our flight to Vancouver,  in four months, we'd logged close to 6000 miles. Having been in near constant motion since leaving our jobs at the hotel in March, it hadn’t felt like a stretch. The unknown quotient of the remaining weeks of our trip was a thrill. Along with the rush of day-to-day adventure, came the proverbial ache of anxiety.
   The yin and yang of confronting a faceless future.'
1976: Tapes from California © 2016 Jill C. Nelson

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chapter 9 Excerpt: "Luke"

View of Mt. Baker, Washington, from Aldegrove, B.C.
Chapter 9: Luke

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – Saint Francis de Sales

Awakening Easter morning, I peered through the bedroom blinds. The sky was a dull grey, no sunshine in the forecast. Despite the dismal weather, claiming her mm had a surprise, Yvette had gotten up, dressed, and encouraged us to do the same. Hidden inside of cupboards, next to books and between boxes of Crispy Crunch cereal were dozens of chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in coloured foil; a caring touch by Jean who rightly assumed we might be feeling homesick. After we finished gathering up the eggs, Yvette’s mom cooked us a hearty blueberry pancake breakfast. Around four, sisters, Louise and Linda accompanied by Linda’s husband and their three children, congregated around the living room in anticipation of a traditional Easter dinner. Somewhere within the commotion, Yvette’s much-lauded older brother called to apologize.
   Luke would be arriving late.
   The past several weeks, Jan and I’d heard many stories about Luke – all of them good. Whenever that happens, you wonder if a person can actually fulfill expectations. In my mind, I’d manufactured some Adonis-like human being with a six foot wing span. In this scenario, big brother did not disappoint. Arriving minutes before dinner, standing at a little over six feet tall, peering down from a pair of heart-stopping baby blues and wavy, chestnut brown hair floating past his shoulders, Yvette’s sexy, older brother easily lived up to the hype. One momentary look, and it was easy to understand why Luke drew people to him like shit sticks to a blanket – particularly women.
   Once introductions were over, we took our seats at the table set for twelve. Supplemented by the appropriate trimmings, Jean had prepared a spectacular turkey feast .
   In the midst of serving trays and casseroles dishes containing turkey, almond stuffing, scalloped potatoes, broccoli, squash, cranberries and rolls passed in conveyor belt-like fashion down the table, Luke absorbed some well-intentioned flak from his parents for his unconventional lifestyle. Currently staying  with friends nearby, a Jack-of-all-tradesman, Luke took on whatever work he could, dividing his time between Victoria, Saskatoon, and Mexico. For a fraction of what it would cost to settle in a major city, Luke’s dream was to live in the country permanently. The way he explained it, seemed natural.
   Despite fine-looking features, soulful blue eyes and liberal philosophies, what struck me most about Yvette’s older brother was his gentle deportment.
   At times, exchanges between parents and son were prickly. Staring down my plate, I listened alert as Luke softly deferred to Jan and me as unsuspecting allies, suggesting that our presence at the family table might help improve what he’d perceived his parents’ questionable opinion of their only son.
   The back and forth had reminded me of squabbles between Chris and my parents around the Sunday evening dinner table not many years before. Heated arguments about my brother’s hair length, his unsuitable clothing, and what they saw as a rebellious nature in general. According to Luke, Jan and I were doing the same thing he was, bucking conformity, trying to find a sustainable way to keep our heads afloat. Refraining from caving to societal traditions and parental expectations.
   I hadn’t thought of it that way before, yet when Luke had said it, it sounded sensible. Sane. Then again, every utterance from Yvette’s big brother’s princely mouth seemed reasonable. Much to their mom and dad’s dread, Luke pointed out, even his kid sister was an example of non-compliance. After all, Yvette had both feet planted firmly in her big brother’s shadow.
   After a time, somebody cracked a joke and people moved on to lighter dialogue. You got the impression this was the family norm. Relieved the conversation hadn’t spiraled into obtuse remarks or hostility – I’d noted that although members of Yvette’s family did not unanimously agree, they were civil and respectful of one another.
   Levity deflected beautifully. The absence of alcohol might have had something to do with it.
   Dishes magically cleared away. While Jean served homemade coconut cream pie and Nanaimo bars everybody milled about. Announcing he’d be returning shortly to his friend Mandy’s place in Langley, Luke asked Louise if she’d give him a lift. Prior to our trip to Aldergrove, it had been decided that Louise, who lived with her husband in Vancouver, would drop Jan and me off at the Y on her way home. From there, we’d take the bus back out to Betsy’s for one last night before departing with Walter and company next morning.
   When the time came, it was tough bidding Yvette yet another goodbye. Tears welling, the three of us made a firm promise to meet up in Banff that summer. Thoughtfully, Yvette wrapped up the remaining Nanaimo bars for us to take on the road.
   Mandy’s country home was a small, yet pretty, older house. Outmoded fixtures and a wood burning stove absorbed much of the main living area. Joined by her husband and young son, Mandy was moving to Hawaii and selling off several pieces of furniture. Looking over some of Mandy’s tables, Louise purchased two items for her apartment. When we about ready to leave, off the cuff, Luke made a proposal. Though careful not to commit, after our return from California in a few months, he might consider driving Jan and me to Alberta.
   I didn’t care if Luke’s offer was in vain and would never materialize.  
   Gesturing affirmatively, I concurred. “That could definitely work.”

1976: Tapes from California © 2016 Jill C. Nelson

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Chapter 44 Excerpt: Mirror, Mirror

Chapter 54: Mirror Mirror
Greater Vancouver

“If you are lacking certain things in your life scheme then you have not made the pattern for them, or you blocked it with another, or you did not think that you would have them anyway. So, did you get what you expected – Did you? Yes, I think you did. We have news for you – you do not face the world at any time; the only world you face is the world of your own being – body/soul/mind, and your atmosphere – which is your responsibility. You should prepare then. This is your world and your responsibility.” – The Golden Force, Chapter 3: Growth (pages 27 & 28). 

'Since leaving San Francisco, I’d started reading portions of The Golden Force, trying to digest the book’s message, and assimilate it with my pre-existing belief system. Deceptively taxing reading, the book required a good deal of thought and analysis. Until that point, I’d mostly read contemporary and classic literature, biographies, and true crime. Specific passages of HOOM’s holy book were not only demanding and tricky to understand, but hard to imagine assuming into my life. By adopting a more studious approach (not my usual forté), eventually, I hoped to grasp initiatives.

   It was too soon to know what I would do with the information.
   As of late, I’d found myself identifying with one of my literary heroes, twenty-year old Franny Glass, the chief character in J.D. Salinger’s immortal novel Franny and Zooey. As the story unfolds in the Glass family’s New York City apartment, having taken a sudden exodus from her studies, as if an appendage, Franny clings frantically to an anonymously written book of Russian origin; The Way of a Pilgrim. Her preoccupation with the book’s divine subject matter has driven Franny into a paradoxical, spiritually charged emotional state, causing her to question everything she had come to take for granted, exasperating her mother Bessie, and particularly, her brother Zooey.
   Given my incongruous state of being, I was beginning to appreciate Franny’s impasse. The fact the book had belonged to her beloved (and deceased) older brother Seymour did not escape me.
   The previous evening after Jan, Fujiko and I finished dinner, now Father’s Day weekend, I walked over to a Safeway to place a rare collect call home. Significant changes had transpired within the last couple of months.
   The conversation with my father went well. Dad and I reminisced about our family trip to Vancouver and San Francisco many years before. Then he passed the receiver to my mother. Filling Mom in about our recent travel adventures, eventually, I broached the subject containing the four-letter-word: H-O-O-M. Explaining there was a possibility I might return to San Francisco in the fall to join the organization as a novice-in-training, I stressed this was only one option of many. By her silence; I knew what my mother was thinking: She’s lost her mind. HOOM is an insidious cult!
   “What about St. Lawrence College?” Mom put forth a concerted effort. “I've sent in the $35 registration fee. I thought you’d at least consider it. All your friends will be going off to school.”
   I hated letting my mom down. “I don’t know.” I said. “I’ll first have to see what happens with HOOM. I’m not ruling anything out.”
   Negative propaganda surrounding counter cultures, communal lifestyles, spiritual cults and worse -- left wing, grass roots guerilla groups employing weaponry to overpower opposition, populated the news in the years leading to our departure. It was a tough sell attempting to mollify parents when stories of diabolical and violent masterminds such as Charles Manson, and more recently, the S.L.A. (Symbionese Liberation Army); a subversive group that headlined media outlets following the 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst, daughter of newspaper mogul Randolph Hearst, were in the forefront. These reprehensible stories left a sour taste in the mouth of parents and establishment – making it veritably hopeless to convince my mother that Holy Order of Mans was different.
   Thankfully, there wasn’t time to debate the issue. Keeping the call short, we segued into a softer, palatable topic. I told my mother how much I looked forward to seeing family again in less than two months. Mom was pleased to hear those words. The best part of returning to Southern Ontario was the prospect of seeing old friends again, though with everybody headed in different directions come September, our bittersweet reunion would be short-lived.
   Hanging up the receiver, something ugly dawned on me. By relating information I knew would upset my mother, unintentionally, maybe subliminally, I'd wanted to hurt her. If so, that made me a callous bitch. It possibly also meant I was hoping to seek revenge for something. In truth, I hadn’t expected my news bulletin to receive a warm reception. However, by stressing words such as if and maybe, I felt my update was delivered in a way that was acceptable. It’s about making a convincing sales pitch. Sometimes the manner in which an idea is presented is easier to digest than what is actually said. In my case, the strategy accomplished the reverse, harsher effect.
   If only I was able to convince myself.
  Returning to Steiner Street would depend upon what emerged in the coming weeks – if any of it still made sense. HOOM didn’t have quite the stranglehold on me it had one week ago.
   Still, it was there, persistent.'
Tapes from California: Teenage Road Tripping, 1976 © 2016 Jill C. Nelson