Enjoy this piece, and grab my book for stories you won’t find online.
They make it look easy as a dream.
Riding green, foamy curling waves on a surfboard.
I rented one while I was back in Florida for a wedding.
Now, in the water off of Cocoa Beach, I’m getting chafed red by a giant, oblong, wobbling blue surfboard that wants to tilt, dip, and pitch me under the water at every second.
I can see other beginners not having much luck on their own tropical colored boards (yellow, pink, key lime green).
The board is twice my size.
Squeaks and slips right out from under me.
The water is cold, but it’s clean.
No seaweed. Cocoa Beach both sounds nice and is nice.
After getting swamped by a few more waves, I swim the board into knee-deep water. The new plan is to catch a little wave and just stand on this thing for once.
It works. I ride the board standing up for maybe ten or fifteen feet.
Feels like being a billionaire.
As I’m sinking down into the now ankle-deep water, I see my small success has not gone unnoticed.
“Can I try that?” a young voice screams.
It’s a bunch of kids. Maybe five of them. Three girls, two boys, and a mom.
One of the girls is asking.
“What’s your name?”
“Gemini,” she says.
“Ask your mom.”
“She says it’s OK!”
I need a rest anyway.
“Sure, give it a try.” I un-velcro the strap from around my ankle.
Gemini, her brothers and sisters swarm the board in a flash. They’re screaming and fighting over it like a game of King of the Hill. I have thrown an entire family into chaos.
Gemini secures the strap around her ankle.
While this may sound like snatching the crown, it’s a serious tactical error. The weight of her three siblings carries the board into shin-deep water. She’s being pulled along as it surges up and down in the water.
I have thrown an entire family into chaos. The blue board seems as alive as a giant eel, bucking and chucking brothers and sisters into the water.
They’re trying to stand on the sinking board. Look-amme-momma-look-amme. This doesn’t last long.
In under a full minute, they figure they’ve got my money’s worth.
They shove the board back to me. It floats towards me in the water.
Their mom calls, “Thank you.”
I return to trying to do short standing rides on the board in shallow water.
I can pop into a standing position and ride the board ten or fifteen feet at a stretch. Tomorrow I should do even better.
The sun is setting. The water is lighting up warm orange. It makes a shimmering, blurry reflection of the sky.
Cold water wipes me out.
After one more standing ride, I figure I can’t top that this evening.
Tuck the board under my arm and return to the shop as the sun goes down.
From a day in the seventies to a night at twenty-nine.
I must find my unmarked piece of land and pitch camp there.
I’m parked outside a now-closed auto shop after getting a tire replaced.
The sooner I start the better at this point.
No, I don’t have satellite coordinates.
I saw the route to the parcel once about four months ago.
Flew into the state, saw the land once in the daytime, flew out, called friend, & we bought the land. A lot has changed in between now and then.
Point being, I’m not completely sure how to get there. That’s just how it is.
Back four months ago, we drove alongside cliffs and past farms that all looked the same.
Red desert, junipers, and distant mountains. Chunky red rocks.
Beep, beep, beep, goes my truck with its one new tire a little bigger than the other three.
I’ve got one map with a disclaimer about its own inaccuracy.
The map shows an entrance one exit back down the highway. I turn on the audio book about the moon landings I’ve been listening to and start driving.
Weighing options as I drive.
The astronauts are on the launchpad in my audiobook.
Should I sleep in the truck and try to find my land by sunrise?
Around here, that’s how you wake up with a shotgun in your face.
They’re nice people, the locals. They just don’t like trespassers.
Drive 45 minutes back to a motel?
I’m already over budget. And I’m this close to my land.
With rising hills of smooth desert and the thistly shadows of juniper trees under the moonlight on either side of me, I truck farther.
In the darkness ahead of me, a white ranch sign looms.
Through that gate, somewhere on 40 thousand acres, is my 40-acre piece.
It is even darker on the other side of the gate.
Far past the reach of any streetlight or porch light’s glow.
The paved road has ended. I grab the lever to engage the four wheel drive.
Truck through the gate.
The whole truck vibrates, shakes, and rattles like a machine gun. Everything jumps off the seats. Slides off the dash. The mirrors shake.
Is the four wheel drive failing?
I open the door to look at the truck. The shaking is not mechanical. The dirt road itself has washboard paving.
Rock-hard ribs that seem like they could rattle the truck to pieces.
No way out but through.
Rattling & rumbling down the road. Let all my supplies tumble to the floor. I’ll get them later.
Headlights from another vehicle. It’s cruising at about 40.
White Toyota truck. I flash him down.
Ask him to confirm my location on the map.
He says the exit entrance I just found isn’t the one marked on the map.
He shows me our location, miles upon miles away from where I had guessed.
At the pace the roads allow, it should take over an hour.
I follow the other trucker for a few minutes.
My windshield is completely blocked by clouds of dust filled with yellow headlight glow. Blackness beyond that.
We come to a fork in the road.
Guide must go left while I go right.
We honk goodbyes and set off our separate ways.
My fork in the road dives downhill into a narrow, single-vehicle-sized path. Thickets and weeds crowd the edges of the path.
Chunky red rocks under the tire. Red rocks shaped like gigantic molars and eyeteeth – possibly ready to chew my tires to pieces and leave me here somewhere in the middle of 40,000 acres of nothing.
There’s a sign on a ranch fence, that’s good.
TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT. SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.
Nevermind, it’s not a good sign.
The moon landing audiobook talks about an incident in which, mid-flight, the Apollo vessel started firing its Abort Mission beeper alarm. A solder ball floating in zero G completed the abort mission circuit.
And my own truck, not long after that paragraph in the book, starts beeping again.
Nothing I can do about that. Working my way over piles of red rock. Rock-rocking and bump-bumping along in the cab. High beams shine on dust and darkness. Vast, blackness in the desert night.
There are mountain cats out there. Coyotes.
Beep beep beep.
Houston, disregard that abort mission signal. We’re landing tonight.
Beep beep beep.
Shut up you stupid truck! Just get me there.
Just kidding, Rhodie. Love you. You know I’ll get you anything you need.
Beep beep beep.
Rocking and rolling over chunks of boulders. Big empty, darkness out of all windows.
Am I still on the right track? I must be.
But look – there are no signposts marking anybody’s land out of the windows, and the acres I’m driving past must have been divided and sold.
I mean, they weren’t even going to stick a SOLD sign on my spot? No satellite coordinates, no sign, and of course, no address?
Which scrap of this desert is mine?
Beep beep beep.
Be quiet, you’re fine.
Just sign the title deed, and then cool, you’re on your own?
Over more chunks of boulder. The road turns back into washboard ribs.
I truck onward, weighing options. Rattle & rumble.
Beep beep. Maybe I could camp anywhere and search by daylight.
Beep beep. Maybe I should turn back. No, come too far.
Beep beep. SHUT UP, TRUCK! LET ME THINK!
Off in the distance, two green signs. Like street signs.
Wait a minute.
If that’s an intersection, it will tell me exactly where I am on the map.
Please be what I need you to be.
I get closer to the two reflective green rectangles visible through the cloud of red desert dust.
Yes, here in the dirt roads, desert, and mountains, one intersection is marked.
I find the intersection on the laminated paper map. The map shows eight quarter-mile by quarter-mile squares lying next to the road in between my current location and my parcel.
I could backtrack. Spitball two miles of distance without markers. Get close enough for a camping spot.
I turn the truck around.
Rumble nice and slow, trying to do distance arithmetic in my head.
To cover two miles at fifteen miles an hour, I’d need to drive how many minutes – ?
Wait. A second sign. It’s black characters written on a triangular chunk of red rock.
But it’s got a number on it. The number of the parcel next to mine.
A quarter mile farther. There’s a little branch on the ground. Invisible when driving from the opposite direction. But there’s a wooden board with the numbers of my parcel burnt into it.
I leap out of the truck. It’s still running. I kiss the wooden sign. Dust on my lips. Arms up to the clean, clear night sky.
“Rhodie, we’re home!”
Beep, beep, beep.
Pull onto the parcel.
Kill the engine.
Quiet like they had two hundred years ago. Four hundred years ago. Farther back than that, too.
Alone in the ancient quiet under the Arizona sky.
The temperature dropped like a rock in a pond.
Cold, stiff fingers grab lantern & tent.
Big wash of light on the grey-green thistles and red rocks.
Kicking rocks away for a little soft ground under my tent.
Watching for rattlesnakes & scorpions.
Miles from help alone in the ancient quiet.
Where is the wind? Not even wind is here to make the place feel alive.
Whip around and glance back.
Animal eye glint across the road. Chest height. Something big.
Maglite on. It’s a cow. Just a cow.
Back to the tent. Poking poles into their polyester sleeves and metal rings. Clipping plastic hooks.
Rainfly over. Chuck my sleeping bag & pad into the assembled tent.
Pull on sweats, hoodie, hat, gloves, sleeping bag liner, sleeping bag.
I am now a big nylon caterpillar slip-sliding inside a polyester tent.
The temperature will be below freezing in four hours.
If you got a chuckle out of this story, grab my book for stories you will not find published online.
Many cultures develop their own martial art.
Some are ritualized and traditional, some are field-tested and highly practical.
One collection of non-lethal yet crippling techniques is taught and practiced beginning in middle school in the US.
Its practitioners diminish, but do not disappear through the college years.
In adulthood, the artform is often all but forgotten.
This martial art is yet unnamed, but recognizable by a few consistent techniques replicated in schoolyards and above-ground pools everywhere.
Technique: The assailant opens his hand with five fingers spread (hence the name Five-Star) and delivers a whip-like smack across the back of his target.
Outcome: A bright red five-finger mark and fire-hot pain. This technique takes on a particular brutality in aquatic combat. Expect a pool noodle lashing in retaliation.
Notes: What makes the Five-Star insidious is that if delivered the proper distance from mom, the telltale red mark on the victim’s back will vanish completely before any tattling can be completed. It is a crime that disposes of its own evidence.
The Wet Willie
Technique: In this maneuver, the assailant wets his index finger with saliva and uses it as a poking weapon.
Outcome: Useful as an intimidator, the Wet Willie can clear a room with a single, threatening pointed finger.
Notes: In our pathogen-conscious era, it could work on full grown adults.
If you try this, you might get arrested, or you might feel like you have the Force from Star Wars. This is not legal guidance.
The Purple Nurple
Technique: The assailant grabs and tweaks the nipple of the target.
Outcome: Revulsion and recoil in the victim.
Notes: As with all techniques, this typically a man-to-man maneuver.
Guaranteed to be obnoxious.
Technique: The assailant executes a headlock, then rubs the knuckles of his free hand into the scalp of the victim.
Outcome: Red face, temporary hair loss.
Notes: If the Noogie is happening to you, the raid is over, your cabin is burning, and you are being scalped.
The Sack Tap
Technique: Assailant delivers a quick flick to the crotch of the victim.
Outcome: Victim doubled over.
Notes: A brutal technique, known to end friendships but also entire bloodlines. The Sack Tap is Old Testament warfare. It is against all Geneva Conventions.
Technique: Assailant makes blades of his hands by joining his fingers. He approaches his target from behind. He jabs the target just above the kidneys with his fingertips.
Outcome: When the target turns, the assailant explains the maneuver is supposed to result in the target defecating himself.
Notes: Ineffective by most credible accounts.
The Death Touch
Technique: Not recorded in detail by any credible source. The theory describes a nerve cluster in the foot which, if smashed with the end of a bo staff, will result in the instant death of the victim.
Outcome: Instant death.
Notes: The Death Touch is preached by the one kid with a rattail hairdo.
The one who carries a bo staff whenever he is allowed to do so.
Though mouthy, he will never demonstrate the Death Touch, despite pleas and extended sneakers from brave volunteers.
He will swear up and down he took a life at his last school, yet here he is, walking and breathing freely among you mortals.
Foolish doctors can not identify the Death Touch as the cause of death in autopsies, after all.
Now you are armed and ready for your life’s true calling; to fight with middle schoolers. Go forth; avenge yourself of the old wounds.