The death of Junkie John . . .

Sunday 2/16

I found out today that Junkie John is dead.

I guess that really shouldn’t be a surprise. But I still find it disturbing. John and Steve were our next door neighbors in Albuquerque. Each roamed the city with a conure on his shoulder. Steve’s was a Jenday/Sun cross that he called, appropriately enough, Sunday. John’s conure was a greencheek. The shrill screams of those birds announced John and Steve everywhere they went.

During the First Gulf War (I’m assuming the second is slouching toward reality),


Sunday 2/16

The desert still amazes me. After I arrived in Albuquerque, I was breathless with the dry brown vastness of the land all around me. The sky and sand met in a dusty blue haze on the horizon as I drove down to Belen to hook up with my old buddy Jose. He

homeland insecurity …

I’m packing up to head out to New Mexico for a few days before going to California on business. As I was getting ready, I pulled out the ashes of my dog, PigPen, which I intend to scatter in the Jemez Mountains. Pigger was a New Mexican, born in Algondones, and the Jemez were one of his favorite puppy places to frolick.

Then it dawned on me. Those ashes look … well … suspicious. Could they be anthrax? Some other nefarious powder? What would someone searching my luggage think?

So I wrote on the plastic baggie: “Ashes of dog. Pigpen. Just ashes.”

And I thought, maybe that’s not enough.

So I put a note in the bag with the ashes:

“These are the ashes of my dog, Pigpen. He was from N.M. & I’m going to scatter them there. Bob Benz.” I also included my cell phone number, and the two Delta flights I would be on en route to Albuquerque.

So sad, that it’s come to this. The talk of duct tape and plastic sheets. Fear that a dog’s ashes could prompt panic. And I started wondering if the terrorists have already won. They’ve rocked us to our core. We’re drifting from some of our dearest democratic principles in the name of stopping terrorism. And despite the lesson we should have learned in the ’70s, we continue to suck fossil fuels faster than a wino empties a bottle of Wild Irish Rose.

A boy and his fish …

In creative writing class, you’ll go over the classic sources of conflict in literature. Man against man. Man against himself. And man against nature.

This is a tale of Man against Nature. Man won. Big time.

I managed to slip away from reality long enough last week to get out on the Gulf of Mexico with my good old buddy Wes to pursue the mighty grouper. Nothing like a 70 degree January day to put things in perspective. The waters were Prozac calm, rocking me into a trance as I watched the flash of sinker and bait spinning down through the blue depths, easing into blackness, plunking off the bottom. Each fish strike would jar me back, dragging my mind up out of the depths as I’d start reeling like a madman. We caught a lot of fish, but the catch of the day came when Wes hooked up with a 20 pounder that he managed to drag up out of 40 feet of water.

This wasn’t the grouper’s first encounter with man. We found at least two other hooks in him, and a 6-inch Rappalla lure was lodged in his gut. Each a tale of the one that got away.

After cleaning him, we took him to a restaurant near the marina, where they cooked him up for us. He was good blackened. He was good fried. That big old fishy did not die in vain.

So Wes left Clearwater with a full belly, a fish tale and bragging rights till the next time we get out on the Gulf. It can’t happen soon enough to suit me …

Population: 485

Just finished Michael Perry’s Population: 485. Perry is firefighter/EMT in a small town in Wisconsin (population 485 …). Definitely worth reading. For a work framed by death and filled with vomit, blood and firefighting, it’s an incredible affirmation of life. Perry’s a good writer who can turn a phrase, and he doesn’t drift into the syrupy “firefighter hero” thing that seems so prevalent post-9/11. There’s a Garrison Kiellor quality to his storytelling and the people who populate these ruminations on small-town life. It’s worth checking out.

“This is how it goes when you die in this way, people stand around your body, poke it, turn it over to look at your wounds, conjecture about how it might have gone. One minute you’re alive and flying, the next you’re cooling in the leaves. You drop to the temperature of the dirt, and it’s all over.”

If nothing else, check out his website:

Thanks to Anita for sending me this book, a verbal bolt from the blue. Never heard of it and was a bit dubious at first, but it pulled me in.

transcendental moments in an F-150

Streaming toward 10 degree Knoxville Tennessee this morning with a rollicking China Cat Sunflower percolating around in the cab of my truck, I had one of those moments. Big grin shoots across my face. Chills ripple through me, playing my spine like vibes. A strange, happy tear wells up in my eye. Bruised purple clouds cling to the sunrise, casting that “scruffy little city” in a frigid halo, pillars of steam rising up from several buildings like hotsprings in Yellowstone. The traffic on I-40 hits a sudden synchronicity, flowing and pulsing toward downtown. It all melts into one …

“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

BTW: I’ve been loving Keith Godchaux’s keyboards on Europe ’72. His work is just incredible, and the band seems so young, so not-addled by life and addiction and all the other bunk that dragged them down by the ’90s. If you haven’t listened to that CD for a while, get it out. Put it on. Smile smile smile.