Gone West

Every Morning A Wonder

Every morning a wonder.

How many are we allowed to carry?

How far from Edison’s light must we travel?

I see rags of quick moving clouds pushed by the sun through a blue sky.

I hear a tennis ball pocking on the clay court east.

I hear the sea from Africa breathing without pause.

I see black Bella the cat grooming in her sun.

I see infested Spanish moss draped in the arms of two big oaks.

I see a pale yellow building with curtained windows

hiding grandmothers and aunts abandoned.

I see empty white patio chairs.

I see a small pyramid of coquina shards.

I see a loud orange highway pylon.

I see small new birds scooping through the branches of a suspect tree.

I see a white door closed on my paper history.

I see Bill Vollman studying me from the jacket of his Atlas.

I see in the glass the dentures made and fitted in Tamaulipas

where my dentist’s neighbor’s head was delivered to the federal police

in a suitcase.

How many are we allowed to carry?

How far from Edison’s light must we travel?

Every morning a wonder.



“Diggin’ Up Bones”–Resurrecting Lee

Reynolds_DeadEnds[1]I’m diggin’ up bones, I’m diggin’ up bones
Exhuming things that’s better left alone
I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone
Yeah tonight I’m sittin’ alone, diggin’ up bones

(1986, Paul Overstreet/Al Gore/Nat Stuckey)

                       Marion County Courthouse, March 31, 1992.  
                              Photograph: James Quine                     


(from Dead Ends)

Lee was wide awake just before dawn on Wednesday, October 9, 2002, when the death row officers came to call. She was in a “good mood,” they said.  She was “ready to go,” they said. The night before she’d chatted it up  until midnight with her childhood friend, Dawn Botkin.  Four hours now remained in her life.

A week earlier Florida Governor Jeb Bush lifted a stay of execution after a panel of psychiatrists ruled that Lee was mentally competent.  Wuornos had been fighting for date with the executioner for ten years.  In her last petition to Florida’s Supreme Court, Lee wrote: “I’m one who seriously hates human life and would kill again.”

Wuornos refused the barbecue  chicken dinner along with any religious counsel.  No chaplain, no preacher. Certainly not the born-again huskter Arlene Pralle who made her screen debut by taking $10,000 in cash from British filmmakers Nick Broomfield for an interview with Wuornos for his 1993 documentary, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer.  Wuornos later complained that she had received little money from Pralle.

Pralle didn’t show up to see Lee off. Neither did Steven Glazer, the pot-smoking attorney from Gainesville Pralle roped in to facilitate Lee’s race to the death chamber and to arrange pay-to-play interviews with Lee.  When contacted by reporters Glazer said he had to be in court that day.  “Ob-la-di, Ob-la da, life goes on,” said the bearded Glazer. “You can quote me.”

As for Broomfield, the in-your-face filmmaker met Lee for her last interview on Tuesday afternoon but after thirty-five minutes it all went sideways when Wuornos unleashed a string of invectives and stormed out of the room.

Broomfield told waiting reporters outside the prison that “we are executing someone who is mad.  Here is someone who has totally lost her mind.  My overall impression doing the interview with her is that she was completely insane.” He said Lee told him that she was a victim of sonic mind control perpetrated by Florida correction officers whenever she complained.  She also bitched about the police investigators who deliberately ignored her killings so that they could make big money off her story.

Her attorney in her first trial– the Richard Mallory murder–Billy Nolas agreed with this assessment, naming Lee as “the most disturbed individual I have represented.”

One of the Volusia County prosecutors in that case, David Damore, told the Orlando Sentinel that “she’s really a much more shallow character than she’s ben portrayed as.  She has been made into something she’s not. She truly hated men. I think it’s a tragedy to make her into some type of heroine figure.”

But some did.

Carla Lucero, composer/librettist of the opera Wuornos, said: “On a karmic level, it’s almost like–and many women would agree with me–Wow! I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner.  I don’t really condone killing, but you do have to wonder, why did this take so long? I’ve always likened it to a boiling pot, and she’s the steam that escaped the pot.”

Steve Binegar  (the Marion County Sheriff’s detective who first linked Wuornos to the murders) didn’t have any metaphors in his view the day before Lee’s execution. “She’s not a robber who kills, she’s a killer who robs. She’s a pathetic creature.”  As for the motivations in the killings, Binegar said, “I don’t think anybody but the victims know.”

Volusia County Sheriff’s detective Larry Horzepa who investigated Lee’s first killing didn’t have any comments for the press on Wuornos’ execution date.  He was busy building a case on another murder suspect, the alleged killer of 2 year old boy who had been beaten to death in 2001.

When it came time to climb aboard the execution gurney, Lee offered no resistance. She was strapped down and rolled into an anteroom to the death chamber where IV shunts were placed into her arms that would carry the lethal chemicals into her system.Then she was wheeled into the death chamber where the assembled witnesses waited to watch her die.  “Other than her final statement, she made no sounds,” said Florida Department of Corrections spokesman Sterling Ivey who witnessed the execution. “She just closed her eyes  and her heart stopped beating.”

Her last words from the T-shaped gurney inside the death chamber were an off-kilter fusion of Hollywood celebrity, pop Christianity and murderous revenge.  The subject of three films, two plays and an opera, Lee referenced two apocalyptic action movies in her final statement: Independence Day and The Terminator, both filled with massive destruction by alien forces. An oddly articulated summation of the final twelve years of her desperate and damaged life, it was marked by egregious error and capped by a final empty threat.

“I’d just like to say I’m sailing with The Rock and I’ll be back like Independence Day with Jesus, June 6, like the movie. Big mothership and all. I’ll be back.”

The lethal drugs began to flow and she said nothing more. At 9:47 A.M. Aileen Carole Wuornos, aged 46, was pronounced dead.

On instruction from Lee, Dawn Botkin claimed the body and had it cremated.  She carried Lee’s ashes aboard a flight back to Michigan where they were scattered at a location known only to the two women.  The body of Lee’s seventh victim, Peter Siems, remains somewhere in the marshes near the Florida-Georgia state line.

I wrote that about six months after Lee was executed. It was for an updated edition of my 1992 book, Dead Ends that Charles Spicer reissued under his newly launched imprint, St. Martin’s True Crime Library. Spicer’s timing couldn’t have been better. About the time I was writing  the Postmortem, a very young director–Patty Jenkins–was in Casselberry, Florida  shooting her low-budget independent first effort, Monster with Charlize Theron playing Lee Wuornos.  Jenkins’ film opened the same month my book dropped, January 2004.

Shortly after Charlize Theron won the Academy Award for Best Actress, Patty Jenkins was interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead of The Guardian .

In preparation for writing her screenplay, Jenkins corresponded with Wuornos before her execution and was later given more letters exchanged between Lee and her childhood friend, Dawn Botkin.

“During those 12 years in prison, she would go wildly back and forth, and there were always a few crimes she never got over, which she felt incredibly guilty about. There were two – even though in the film I showed only one – which to the day she died, in her intimate letters, she was very clear that they were in self-defence. There was this sliding scale: in the beginning, it was self-defence. As it progressed, she thought she could tell the difference between good and bad people, and by the end she was projecting on to innocent people.”

                     Marion County Courthouse. March 31, 1992.
Photograph: James Quine

I noticed yesterday that today marked the tenth anniversary of Lee’s execution. And twenty-two years since I first wrote about her and her lover and her murders and her victims and the cops who finally chased her down.

I never intended to write Dead Ends as psychological study of Aileen Wuornos. There were already at least two or three people hoeing that fraught terrain. I broke the story for Reuters as a manhunt for two female suspects in a string of similar murders that occurred in central Florida. That was in November 1990 and I stayed with it for the next two years. My intent was to write a police procedural of a successful serial murder investigation–not a serial killer portrait. There’s a difference. That the killer in this case was a woman only made the story far more than routine–especially for my Reuters editors in the UK and Australia where the tabloids went absolutely apeshit.Their readers could not get enough of it.

By the way, I never called Lee “the Damsel of Death”, though the Miami Herald and my publisher did. I also never claimed she was “the first female serial killer”. I knew better. Yet I notice she’s still being referred to as such at various bus stations on the Internet.

Some said I didn’t have enough sympathy for her in my book. I think that’s bullshit. I tried always to be egalitarian with Lee as regards any gender bias or otherwise,  showing her respect as far as it was possible, depending on given situations. Like Patty Jenkins told the The Guardian reporter: “Any sympathy won for Aileen Wuornos based on a lie is not sympathy at all.”  I like to think I adhered to that in Dead Ends.

In that interview Jenkins also said she was not opposed to Wuornos’ execution. “It was a ruined life, it was not salvageable”

That particular argument for state executions had not occurred to me. Basically saying:  “Its’ broke, can’t be fixed. So just shitcan it.” I think that Lee would probably have agreed. Or then, maybe not.

Lee’s legacy will likely endure thanks to  Charlize Theron’s amazing portrayal of her in Monster, a film I have several problems with–but Theron wasn’t one of them. Her capture of Lee was uncanny, thoroughly accurate, a physical devouring  of character. If Lee were still alive, though, she would likely be bitching about that fact she didn’t get her own Oscar.

Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in The Last Resort Bar. 2003.

One of the problems I had with Jenkins’ film was the soundtrack–in particular the featuring of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” as accompaniment to Lee and Shelby/Ty’s romantic rollerskating interlude. I later noticed that Steve Perry was credited as “musical consultant” for the film, which may explain everything. However,  Lee’s taste was much more shitkicker country/ biker rock as evidenced in her  jukebox selections the night she was arrested in Daytona Beach at The Last Resort which had been surrounded by a phalanx of cops from three counties. Inside the bar two undercover cops wearing wires that transmitted to the surveillance van and into the headset of Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Terry Brevard…

THUB-thump THUB-thump THUB-thump THUB-thump THUB-thump….

The bass and rums laying down a hard flat country two-beat beneath Randy Travis’ taut leather twang..

“Last night I dug your picture from out our dresser drawer…”

Lee Wuornos started rocking her broad shoulders and stared wearily into the glow from the jukebox. When Randy sang the chorus, so did she, whapping her thick denim-clad thing to the beat.

“I’m diggin’ up BONES..diggin’ up BONES..ex-HUMin’ things better left A-lone…”

With her thin blonde ponytail wagging, she splayed out her elbows in her jacket and sashayed across The Last Resort like a drunken blackwinged hen.

“I’m RES-urrectin’ mem-o-ries of a love that’s DEAD and GONE…tonight I’m sittin’…diggin up bones.”

She lurched against the bar.

“Pitiful.” The three-hundred pound bartender set down two beers and glanced at her without a smile.

“Fuck you, Cannonball,” she said flatly. “I put my quarters in there just like anybody else. What the fuck you care? I lost my best friend.”

Her voice rose. “I don’t need this shit! I work my ass off up and down the fuckin’ state. What do I get?…What the fuck you know about pitiful?”

(Joseph Michael Reynolds, 1992, 2004, 2016)

Out of The Past: Me and Charlize Theron’s “Monsters”

Charlize Theron as Ravenna in ‘Snow White and The Huntsman’ last night… she’s got bad-ass obsessive homicidal down cold..add this glammed-up version to her portrayal of Lee Wuornos ..later learned Theron kept a copy of my book on her bedside table while filming ‘Monster’. Click image for sample chapter.

Between Borders (1984)

Dunn was waiting, stretched out naked on a chenille covered motel bed too short for his length, gazing at a television. Between his dangling feet Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane were blasting away with pistols, shooting for the hearts of love, betrayal and each other in Orson Welles’ black&white funhouse mirror maze.

Finally The End glowed on the screen in slanted script across Welles’ back as he walked from the dead, toward the Pacific, past Play Land. Dunn looked away from the television and up to the ceiling–a freshly painted pale blue that deftly bore November morning light from twin windows open to the Atlantic. It was an old fashion room, probably built the year he was born, 1945. A high ceiling supported by thickly plastered masonry walls, now also newly blue.With its bulky blonde oak furniture and weary barkcloth drapes fading with anemic tropical foliage, the room was anomalous relief from the American motel mantra, a monotonous rosary of air-conditioning and air traffic along which Dunn traveled, formica cell to waiting formica cell, a numbing chain that feigned mobility, linked by airport bars and rental cars from empty morning parking lots to Interstates in heat and rain, with coffee shops and truck stops and filling stations and rest stops to some terminus of sodium vapor and neon where the deal was done and then it was back along the beads, the motels and the motels and the motels….

Dunn rolled off the bedspread he hadn’t bothered stripping down and crossed to the windows. He rested his thin hands on his knees and leaned forward until his nose pressed the corroded window screen. He smelled the rust and the sea and remembered his first sight of the ocean as a child of the landlocked plains brought down to the Gulf by a his parents and two other tipsy adults.  It was then, on that day, he felt The Outsider for the first time, thinking himself more a clever foundling curiosity than child or son.

–Just wanted to get away from Them. And flee. Down the beach, forever gone. Running alongside all that big water breaking and beating. Forever gone. And moving.–

A little thrill shivered through Dunn with the recollection as he peered through the salt-encrusted screen and aw the slate weight rising above a pale shore.  The slat blood odor cut through the oily stink of paint and the smell pulled down thirty years: Dunn stands in front of his Mom on that strand.  She’s deliriously perfumed in a blue dress of dotted yellow Swiss and it blows around her hips like a Disney summer night.

The vividness of this memory startled Dunn and he turned away from the window to stare at the imprint his body had left in the chenille.

“Where’s Mom this morning?”, he thought aloud.

Dunn glanced at the Casio on his wrist and adjusted for the one-hour time difference.  She was back in Arlington, Texas sipping her second–no, third beer and V-8, waiting for the phone to ring. Just as her little boy was now doing.

–There’s no summertime breezing dotted Swiss today, Mom–

Dunn rubbed his face with his fingers, pinched his nose and crossed to the television where Phil Donahue looked very, very concerned about something. He pushed a button and snapped Phil off to oblivion. He looked again at his watch. He had been awake since this time yesterday. In another state, in another time zone, in another room. But still, waiting.  Time zones and room weren’t reality any longer. Waiting was reality.  All the rest was just backdrop, sets, like television, like Playland.


Dunn picked up a set of keys from the top of the television and brought them to a black rubberized briefcase resting in brutal contrast against the  livid green and yellow cushions of a wornout rattan chair where he had dropped it on arrival. Taking up a key, Dunn unlocked the satchel and took from it a minicassette recorder and a small pigskin case.. He placed the case on the dresser next to the television and sat on the foot of the bed.  Behind the cigarette-scarred  blonde dresser was a mirror that was filled with the blue of the walls.  In was the bamboo-framed print of palm trees, hysteric in a storm. In it were the lampshades on either side of the bed, each covered in plastic like specimens of rare skin. In it was Dunn, the recorder clasped in his hands, his forearms resting on bare pale thighs.  A child’s cry carried from the beach on a nor’easterly gust that billowed the thin drapery at the window, rippling its fabric leaves. Dunn switched on the recorder and held it up before his face that reflected back from the mirror.

“Mirrors,” he began. “Are deceptive surfaces. Contrivances. Of fire and water and sand.  They’re where we attempt the reality we choose. No. We desire.”

The child’s cry was answered by another’s and then  gulls joined in.  Dunn turned to the windows and listened. Then returned to the mirror.

“They’re essential when we wish to hide something. Where. We make certain the reflection. Reveals no more than we wish the world. To perceive. Mirrors. Are where we perfect our. Guile.”

Dunn focused on the eyes in the mirror. Motes of light, tiny balls of fire swam in the blue background.

“But. Alice’s Looking Glass. Gazing through the surface. Seek through the scars and moles. Chipped teeth.”

The face in the mirror grimaced.

“The deepening lines. Lines. Make memory of smooth skin. And conscience. Vivid. Clear. Vivid.”

On the glass before Dunn, ingenuous features struggled to cohere like weak microwave signals from some distant satellite, and then–a young man’s face giving beads of sweat to a hot blue sky in a border town spring morning, 1964.

“There was this kid…”

The Kid leans against a black 1957 Ford Fairlane outside a cementblock farmacia on the outskirts of Ciudad Acuna across the river from Del Rio waiting for his partner to come out of the shop with the stuff. The Kid’s sweating through a blue chambray shirt with its tail hanging out over his Levis, smelling the poverty of Mexico, chewing Wrigley’s Doublemint, kicking rocks with his roughout Noconas and grinning at this hazardous world before him with all the self-absorption of New Frontier American youth and 600 milligrams of dextroamphetamine. The Kid’s rush is further propelled by his flash on the situation: like, actual felonies are taking place here!  His drug-fueled Jesuit-trained brain quickly flips this reality into service of the business at hand: like, this is not real crime like murder or robbery or rape but the acceptable kind like his friends and parents and everybody else got along with, as..well, against the law but only “bad law”like bootlegging or gambling. Little sins of mischief. Venial trespasses everyone fell to every once in a while, but shit–not really wrong.

Even as The Kid nimbly unravels the ethical knots involved on this Mexican trip, he knows full well the world of shit ready to fall upon him and his partner should they somehow get nailed on this caper. This sudden contour of calamity, along with the speed hammering through his system, gives the The Kid such a charge that  he fears his brain will skid should he think of the consequences on second more. He spits out the pellet of gum and watches it ricochet off a dead tire on a crumbling GMC pickup sinking into the pale caliche street. A scrawny white and liver pie-bald animal crawls on its belly from the shadows behind truck’s wheel. Part dog, part rodent the pathetic creature scuttles to the wad of Wrigley’s, snatches it up with narrow jaws and turns a triumphant rheumy eye up to The Kid before it quickly retreats to its rusty haven beneath the truck. The Kid feels the clammy hand of fear at his neck and is relieved to see his partner emerge from the farmacia carrying a much-abused paper sack. They get into the Ford and drive further into the country to a truck stop beneath a green Pemex sign. Having spread out their buys among  three different farmacias, the four bottles of dexedrine in the bag has brought their day’s total to twelve. Splitting the bottles between them, The Kid and his partner begin the tedious work of securing them with black electrical tape beneath the dashboard. They disconnect and reconnect the wires to the radio twice before the pills are all firmly stashed deep against the firewall. They go to this trouble because the thought of driving all night through Texas to Oklahoma without Wolfman Jack blasting out of XERF in Ciudad Acuna was simply beyond question.

Twenty minutes after crossing  into Del Rio, The Kid is doing seventy miles per hours on Highway 90, closing in on San Antonio. it is long after dark and north of Austin when The Kid and his partner take off their Ray-Bans.  Riding on a high-octane amphetamine vector with the cool wind blowing up through the Fairlane’s open windows and the even cooler sounds of The Wolfman chasing them from Del Rio, The Kid feels completely in control.  Regardless that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life or where he’s going after Norman, Oklahoma. Things are breaking very fast and the speed rushing through The Kid’s veins increases his sense that other possibilities, other realities are cresting on a wave that will sweep all the old fart politicians, peckerwood racist sheriffs, warmongering generals and the great gray masses off the face of the New Frontier and into the footnotes of bad history. The Kid is holding forth on this inevitability and the best of all possibles coming as his partner puts on his dark glasses and thrusts his face through the open passenger’s window and into the onrushing wind when the lights of Dallas sputter to life on the horizon dead ahead as The Wolfman brays.

“AAAAAAAaaaaaaawwwright bay-bies! Here’s sump’n you ain’t gonna bee-LIEVE! IT’S DA ROLLIN’ STO-OOOOHHHHNES-UH! An dey got TIME! ON THEY side! What’s happenin’! baby!”

A high-pitched sing string blues guitar picks its way out of the dashboard followed by a sneering pissed-off snarl:

“Ti-i-iyime is on mah side…Yesitis!”

The band is impossibly Black for a bunch of white Brits. Not a bit like those Beatles. Angry defiant troublemakers throwing down a tough fuck-you challenge that perfectly echoes The Kid’s rant as he cruises the black Fairlane toward the night lights of Big D.


When The Kid sees Dallas, he thinks of death. Seven months ago he was sitting at the runway bar of Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club, up the steep stairs from Commerce Street. Ruby had a round of drinks sent over to The Kid and his other underage pals as they watched a mean-eyed stripper grind her ass through another long late night. The Kid still had the woman’s eyes in his head when he was at his grandmother’s wake two weeks later while playing Pitch with his father and uncles at grandma’s in Shawnee when Aunt Marge came out of the kitchen with stunned eyes  saying the President had been shot in Dallas.And when he made the drive back to Norman that evening there were two pairs of eyes in The Kid’s head and they kept getting mixed up as he cried the final fifteen miles into town.  The Kid cried until his cheeks ran wet and his nose filled with tears.  He had not tears at the funeral but he wept those miles later, sobbing down that asphalt backroad while the radio repeated the same terminal phrases like a malevolently trained parrot.  Pictures of Dallas flickered in his mind.  Dealey Plaza and the ramp onto Interstate 35 from Commerce.  The stairs to the Carousel. The red and blue showlights. The hatred in the mascara-framed eyes of the stripper as she shook her spangle-tipped tits in his drunken face. The strange little fat guy in the shiny suit. A cartoon mafioso shaking his hand with soft damp fingers.

A few days after this terrible drive, The Kid would watch the funny little man pop out of a crowd on television and pull a trigger with that same hand.  And  The Kid could feel the connection in his palm every time they replayed the film on television. His hand held the hand that pulled the trigger on the gun that killed the man whose hand held the rifle that fired the bullet….”That Jack built!, says The Kid..

He looks into the rearview mirror where a widening breach of night is spreading between the Fairlane and Dallas.  The giant ruby neon Pegasus that rode the Magnolia Hotel above the lights of the city is now shrinking in the mirror and soon, there is only the night and not long after, the Red River, across which The Kid pushes the smuggling Ford to something almost like home. In the mirror The Kid’s face can be seen fading in the dashboard light, fueled only by native conviction and speed, tooling the ’57 into another, darker, night.

Dunn turned from the mirror and spoke to the blank television screen. “Boys grow old.” A distorted Dunn swam on its surface, an aqueous fun house impersonation. “And boys get tired.”

Dunn switched off the recorder and returned the device to the rubber-clad briefcase, placing it between a Browning .45 pistol and a copy of Everything That Rises Must Converge. The title startled him and he nearly laughed.  From the dresser he took the pigskin case and touched the tiny gold button on its edge. It opened like a book and inside its cover was fitted a mirror on which rested a small plastic zip-loc bag. From the bag, Dunn onto the mirror a tiny fist of shining lamina.  The cocaine glistened slightly pink in the filmy light from the windows. He took a single-edged razor blade from the case and cut into the white lump which gave up myriad flakes, covering the glass.  Dunn saw his face through the powder as he watched the blade tap tap tap tap the mirror to a finer and still finder dust until his face disappeared.  The razor swiped the cocaine into long thin lines, crystal ques that positively sang with velocity and desire, finally revealing a face that could have once been the face of that kid back in Ciudad Acuna, 1964.

Dunn hovered over the mirror, a silver tube now between his fingers and thumb.  Everything–his face, fingernails, the blue pastry ceiling, the twenty year old memory and its cafard of emotions were now wrapped tightly in a focus compassed on this glass. Beyond its edges, nothing. All the world fell away from this mirror. Beyond its border, not even dreams. He swiftly whiffed four lines. As the cocaine tipped his brain into paroxysms of neural ecstasy, Dunn looked back to the mirror and in its milky wash saw America, the insidiously perfect commodity only the Devil or a laissez-faire chemist could have conjured.  And it was consuming itself. It was the stuff that actually goes looking for itself, endlessly. Dunn laughed.

“It just needs people to carry it around. We’re a service industry.”

Behind the metaphor, Dunn’s eyes gleamed recognition as the drug reflected itself between the glass the corneas. An immaculate decoction of illusions so seductive that it was reality itself. the thing that moved all and everyone it touched.

“You’re more verb than noun,” said the mirror.

As the verb moved Dunn to bend yet again to the mirror where no reflection signified, the telephone rang.

Text copyright, All rights reserved Joseph Michael Reynolds 1984,1989, 2012.

Anamnesis Variations. (from the 2001 Composition Books.)

August 4, 2001.

It’s a life of a kind of a life in the mind. Memory weighs more than its substance. It’s a trick of the mind losing grace. Chastise the beast dumb to language. The little tree spirit’s face in the bark. By the time I get out here, whatever that was that it spoke in my sleep, is gone.

Asked to write 300 words about Austin 1981 without depressing anyone still living there.

I am old. I am ugly. I am tired. I can’t remember all of the names. What was the point?

Stop looking. Listen up. Listen, hear. Worry the goat with an axe and she will lead the way.

All around the water tank waiting for a train with the Kronos Quartet. The lights  of Dallas in the sky, driving out of Oklahoma with a heroin fancier woman by my side who’s not Beatrice, though we both are in hell.

Leaving her behind in a Dallas hotel suite I went on south.

I turned wrong almost every night following my nose and my prick down dead end alleys or out into the hills where stars took over the night. Everything seemed totally possible tragedy and harm hovering over all like big ghosting gods behind the stars and bars. Ever so often you could feel one of them pinch your cheek or trip your feet. They waited around long enough for us to forget they were there then they would reach out one final time to tap one or another of us oblivious sons of bitches just hard enough to kill. It’s what you might call a pernicious blow to the heart or ‘an insult to the brain’ which are the words the medical examiner employed to describe the cause of death of Dylan Thomas. No recalling exactly which glass of whiskey was the culpable ounce.

That’s the truth of such living. Us could get by only so long before some swift hand shook the fear fizzing in our brains. Smart had nothing to do with surviving since no one was thinking straight.

But also even getting straight was no guarantee.

Stevie Ray Vaughn is dead and Hubert Sumlin lives.* Hubert had all the bona fides for the graveyard back in ’81 when Stevie was doing the rocket 88 till dawn-thirty every night. Hubert did not ride helicopters. He took the cabs.  You keep the blues where they belong in this day and age. Mississippi levee camps are unnecessary risks, you know. So’s helicopters. You keep goin’ up off the ground often enough you bound to fall out the sky by and by.

A tumbled attic of lies and facts, documents portending everything and nothing at all. A collection of dubious worth in all that welter. How many tales? Twenty? One hundred? A thousand? More?

* Hubert Sumlin died twenty years years later, December 4, 2011.

“We Don’t Intend To Be Here When This Shithouse Goes Up”

“We Don’t Intend To Be Here When This Shithouse Goes Up.”

(For W.S. Burroughs and L.D. Posey)

Under mottled gray clouds, the wind swings slack telephone wires twanging with each gust. Puffs of dust off the rooftops. A screen door slams on an empty house near the end of the street. A red dog lopes on a diagonal path into the wind, it’s head low. The dog crosses the street and hops to the plankwood sidewalk and sits near the door of Bate’s Merchantile, its eyes blinking.

Twenty minutes past noon Late November 1901 Shawnee, Indian Territory.

“This whole territory’s gonna pull in the marks, Leonard. By the shitload.”

Oeschlager strikes a match, and delivers his observation holding the flame between the two men’s cigars. Leonard looks into the clear neutral eyes of Oeschlager and dips his chin.

“Now your simple-assed businessman doesn’t see what this means beyond a tidy profit pulled in on dry goods or real estate. The possibilities that are coming go way beyond Supply and Demand. People are flushing out with The Hungries. And they can be had for as long as you care to put it to them.”

Cat squalls outside in the alley. Sound of old newspapers tearing beneath ratcheting claws. Dog barks.

Oeschlager gives suck to his cigar. “Wait’ll the machinery hits the street. And the street goes asphalt. They’ll be ours from then on.”

Lights go out in Europe. Dog barks ratcheting claws.

Oeschlager blows gray smoke against greased windowpane.

A Greyhound bus heaves up, its air brakes sigh. Sun fires off rippled steel. Tail lights blink twice: RED  RED

Leonard drops ashes in lap. Jaw drops. He quickly looks to Oeschlager who stretches a baby’s smile.

“Got the material, got the means. No other outlets. The territory’s sewed.”

Dog barks ratcheting claws through greased newspapers. Lights go out in Europe. End of the line.


A mist sweeps low over alfalfa fields gone dry where Black Widow spiders nest. The spiders skitter momentarily as one organism and go dormant. Untrained unthinking packs of boys emanate from old queen’s nightmare, rearing tossing manes matted with semen and blood. Prajnaparmita Sutra chanted in heart of ghetto where plastic shopping bags waft up and are held spectral in the ozone.

Gya te gy te ha ra gya te hara so gya te bo dhi sowa ka

Gone gone gone to the other shore. Landed at the other shore.

Television screens ghost light like moons in darkened living room in Tulsa, Des Moines (St Louis). Dentist’s cold eyes reflect needles rusted in midnight sewage. Newspapers rattle in alleys of memory. Cigarette burns to yellow viscous ash.

Satellite debris falls in Chicago’s Loop at noon. Many shoppers are killed. Sophisticated alloys rip flesh eyeballs bone, splattering Picasso sculpture. Blood drops tap sidewalk. BART train veers off track on Oakland overpass drilling insurance office. Pulverized tongues teeth continue to wail through doubleknit fabric shredded smoking flesh.

Lights go out in Europe.

Oeschlager shrugs. Stubs out Cuban stogie. Pulls crease of pant taut. Rubs fingers together

“This whole territory’s gonna pull in the marks.”

’39 blue Chevy backs out driveway, gravel crunching beneath tires. Smells OLD. Hot steel dashboard to the touch. Alto saxophone riddles the afternoon with squeezed eighth-notes. Traffic punctuates with rubber and steel the remaining spaces.


The means of production means No Good. Feed the fires of Europe. Don’t let the flame go out. (All over Europe: the Lights go Out)

Toss it over.  All over. Pick up your marbles and get Home.

“Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag…” And burn it.

Never will get it all out Here. Fills up as fast as stuffed cistern. It’s seams split.

1901: Yellow dust whuffs up and turns several times low over the road before drifting up into the Red Ochre Blue.

(from Desperate Acts, Michael Reynolds, Full Count Press, 1984.)

“He was a tired and lazy writer that summer of the election year of the president. He was tired of presidents. There had been too many for him, these men of ambition and weakness with powers to kill: one more danger in a life already too dangerous in its quotidian compass.” —Joseph Michael Reynolds, July Dogs


Bringing The Dogs-From DOWN IN TEXAS (1986)

Bringing The Dogs

Cave Drawing outside Austin, Texas

Luther caught the vivid scent on a slight southeasterly gust as beside him his mother still dreamed of rabbits. China’s arthritic legs gamely jerked in her sleeping chase, kicking traces of pursuit from her paws through the dust beneath the cedar deck that extended from the big limestone house. Luther’s broad black head listed on the tantalizing odor on the wind. Deliciously agitated, his wet nose twitched as his simple mind closed over the heady contours of cooking meat. The dog rose on his four feet,wagging is tail with such force that his rump shook and he barked, waking his mother who opened one eye, still dimmed to the world beyond. Luther turned to her and yelped once before running out from the deck’s shadow to the waking morning, firmly fixed on the redolent transit of the burning deer. The dog’s powerful legs took him across the blacktop driveway and over its low bordering wall of piled stone and into a field of grasses–buffalo, bluestem and muhly— where he stopped and wheeled about, calling urgencies to China who was now pushing her reluctant body alongside the house, her step accelerating to the fragrant breeze that had finally come to her senses. By the time she reached the driveway, the dog was huffing. She wisely cleared the wall at a broken juncture and was only some dozen yards behind Luther when he bolted through the dry high stemmed muhly grass toward the wisp of smoke writhing above a distant bristling treeline.

Out of the field, down the rough back of the hill, over limestone and granite outcrops, under twists of scrub oak and thicks of juniper, the Labradors pursued paths familiar to only them, the deer and the two boys who had long since forgotten the way.

The dogs arrived at a dry creek bed where they turned west and kept to its westerly upward slope for some hundred yards until they reached a signpost invisible to the human eye that turned them clambering up another hill and down into a narrow draw choked with hackberry and wild persimmon. The siren’s call to roasty flesh was dimmed in the windless draw bringing the dogs to pause. Luther whined as he reconnoitered the air, his head lifting in measured jerks, rapidly scanning the odorous prolixity cacophony of olfactory messages, designs, deaths and bafflements from which Luther plucked, like an Eureka!-struck scholar who suddenly discovers in the gibberish of some lost language scroll, the words of Abraham: greasy fat-fired hot slaty blood and marrow man-handed meat!

Luther left his mother asthmatically struggling through a devilment of thwarting scrub and hurled himself between two cedars. The great dog ripped his way through an undefiled needling latticework of branches, a vicious tangle of bois d’arc that tore a four-inch strip of skin from his right shoulder. The dog, like the best of his breed, was utterly heedless of obstacles and their possible pain when in pursuit. The purpose of existence was simple: pursuit and retrieval, an economic cycle of perfection where the presence of God was manifested between the two.

Luther was very near the summit of the hill when his way was blocked by an awkward jut of limestone. The dog confronted the massive boulder with a censuring string of barks, growls and whines until he spotted its weakness, a smaller companion stone. Luther leaped to it and scrambled up onto the great stone itself where he sighted the fire and the familiar car. The dog rejoiced in a series of triumphal barks before racing across the flat expanse of high grass and mesquite.

Below, China had stopped to sniff the drops of Luther’s blood and, though confused, she reflexively lapped them up with a dutiful mother’s tongue.

She followed their trail until she reached the big slab of limestone. Seeing no relief from the obstacle, China turned and waddled against the hillside until she came to a dead oak that had toppled over from the hilltop’s edge. She climbed up on the log where she sat her haunches and rested, panting. From here, she saw with her rheumy dark eyes what might be Luther, a black figure darting through the blonde grasses further into the distance toward a fuzzy horizon. She smelled the wood fire, the smoky meat and her Gavin. China stood and, in an alternate amble and trot, made her way across the plateau toward the beckoning billows of smoke.

Luther was delirious with happiness. The dog thumped his tail against Gavin’s leg with the enthusiasm of a drunken football rowdy, raucously jigging away from the man’s late swinging boot to the edge of the fire where he sneezed and sputtered from its smoke before waggling back to his master feet where he gazed up with the grinning stupefaction of the inveterate party-crasher, drooling thanks and greed.

China slowly made her way through the stone circumference and stopped, staring into the wasting flame. Addled from the mile long trial and the hazy confusion now before her, the dog lowered her gray muzzle and waited for clarity to assemble around the baited aroma which had reeled her in like a helpless fish.

Gavin looked down at his pitiful animal and clucked: “Oooh, China girl. What’s a matter darlin’? Look. Look. Your legs are shaking.” The old bitch, sparked to her senses by the man’s crooning, made a halting turn in his direction. Her tail, bleached parchment peeping through thinning black bristles, swayed in weary measure as she finally fixed Gavin in her murky eyes. Insufferably doubtless love swam over their forming cataracts, steely scales of blindness flaking the polished orbs that once shined like licked drops of coffee candy. The pangs of lost time and blinded dogs wrenched Gavin and he fell to the old dog’s side and threw his arms around her thick ruffed neck, the silvertipped fur clotted with burrs and small twigs. The man rubbed tenderness through it with aching fingers and with them, plucked the tormenting debris, murmuring words of a commiserating child.

You’re such a good dog! Yes, yes. You are. Good ol’ dog. Aww. You thought there was barbeque for you. Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Aww. Poor ol’ China dog. Aww.”

Gavin’s show of affection fanned Luther’s dimwitted excitations. An eager beery teenage reveler, he yawped and pranced around Gavin and China until he finally bounced against the man’s leg with such exuberant force Gavin had to thrust out both hands into the dirt to keep from plunging headlong into the fire’s rim.

God-damn it! Shit!”

Gavin got to his feet, towering over Luther who wriggled abjectly, his tail sucked tight to belly between quivering hind legs.

Get down! Jesus christ. I bet you stirred up your mama on this, didn’t you? God-damn. GET DOWN.”

Luther launched into fully orchestrated canine capitulation by flipping onto his back, submissively canting his forelegs, their paws dangling helplessly on his heaving chest, his tongue flapping from its flews like a bright rubber bandana, his wet brown idiot eyes showing maniacal whites as they fearfully darted from side to side—the very embodiment, manifestation of reeking subservience. This display invariably repelled Gavin in its obscenely detailed thoroughness, perfect in preternatural gesture right down to the screaming red revelation of the dog’s unsleeved doghood, an abased punctuation now throbbing on Luther’s black belly.

Get up! Get up, Luther. Stop that shit and SIT!”

With a quick, powerful twist of his body, Luther flipped to his feet and sat, his eyes fidgeting. China took this to be a general command and responded accordingly. She eased her haunches to the ground and turned her eyes up to Gavin.

Now. You two made a long trip for nothing. This ain’t a barbecue, you understand?”

The dogs gazed up at the man from vast reservoirs of incomprehension.

The man met their gaze and moved his further into theirs.

Of course you don’t understand. It must be paradise down in those smooth simple brains of yours. No. No paradise. Sorry. Just surprises from time to time. Right? Some good. Some bad. Well, kids, this is one of the bad surprises. You don’t eat this. Hear that?”

Gavin bent down and caught their muzzles, one in each hand He squatted to meet their eyes at level to gain their full attention.

You hear this?”

He turned their muzzles to face the animal wreckage now burning in patches, a smoldering blackened diorama of some distant past battlefield’s aftermath.

See that? No. You don’t get any. You two ain’t gonna grub around on that deer.”

Gavin jerked their confused eyes back to his.

Hear? No. No. No. No.”

He shook their heads with each negative command.

Gavin released them and went to the rock where the skull perched. The sun was well clear of the green horizon, its onslaught having removed the skull’s ghostly luster. It was now the dulled yellow of weathered piano keys or an ancient billiard ball, gone pocked and chipped useless. No longer playable. The man picked up the skull and turned it to his face as the dogs watched him with curiosity.

Roy, you know I start talking to these dogs like they were cedar choppers. I could just as well speak to them in cadences of Henry James for all it would mean to them.”

Gavin cradled the cool skull in one arm and walked to where they dogs sat, still in his check but now stretching their necks as they sniffed drifts of the deer’s smoke.

Dogs don’t give a shit what you say to them. They know, what? Ten, twelve words? Tops. It’s how you say them. Right, you two? Come on.”

He slapped his thigh with the palm of his empty hand and started toward the Cadillac.

Come on, Luther. China. Come. ‘Come’ they understand.”

China waddled up in step with Gavin with Luther reluctantly following, pausing to whine longingly over his bloody shoulder before reaching Gavin’s side.

Get in the car. Go on.”

Luther lunged past Gavin and his mother, landing in the backseat where he discovered gory reward. With a furious tongue, the dog lapped the still sticky blood from the upholstery. China followed, pulling up her bulk on decrepit legs.

Gavin slid behind the wheel, setting the skull next him and started the car. He set the stick into reverse, backing the Caddy parallel to the dying fire. He turned to the charred spidery ruin where shards of orange fled skyward in worried flurries. A modest scene of carnage.

You know, Coppola could’ve ave some serious money and grief on Apocalypse Now if he had burned large animals like that and shot them as miniature landscapes instead of half the Philippines. The effect is just as strong as burning trees. Stronger, don’t you think?”

The question evoked a sudden breeze, a guttural whisper.

Like oil drums of burning shit. Jungle garbage. The meaty stink. Words going up in burning acetate. That plastic smell. The Black O in your throat burning blue. And lots more. Burning, I think. Always burning.”

Gavin felt the sun’s scorch on his neck and he felt his sweat breaking beneath the filth on his face, scabby with dried blood and dirt and the stink of smoke and whiskey. He put the car into Drive and hit the gas, scattering limestone and ashes in the Cadillac’s wake. The dazzling coruscation of the eastern sky ricocheted from the hood, multiplied through the windshield, assaulting Gavin’s eye with a volley of long bright needles. Blinded, he braked and fumbled over the dashboard for his Ray-Bans and fixed them to his face. He glanced in the rearview mirror where Luther’s tail flagged merrily as the dog nosed out the last remnant of the deer’s bleeding. Gavin hit the accelerator.

Watch yo’self, boy! Don’t go chewin’ on that fuckin’ seat!”

Gavin squeezed his nostrils between finger and thumb and noisily snuffed, the cocaine dregs leaving a faint numbness at the back of his throat.

You got country dogs, you talk country. You got the leftover brain jar of a ghost you talk…what? Crazy horrors. Bierce, maybe.”

No literature, boy,” came the whisper. “It’s just you and me.”

Gavin felt a weight on his left shoulder where China rested her head, smiling into the onrushing wind with serene lidded eyes—a delighted spinster aunt out for a rare drive in the country who turns and gives an appreciative kiss on her nephew’s ear, tickling him to laughter.

Copyright 1986, 2012 Joseph Michael Reynolds, All Rights Reserved

Bonus Feature

Burning The Deer-From DOWN IN TEXAS (1986)

Commemorating March 2nd: Texas Independence Day, the birthday of Sam Houston,  David Goodis and Lou Reed. 


Photograph: George Shiras III, July 1906.

In the monochrome luminosity anticipating dawn, Gavin Barnes took his Cadillac from the four-lane highway and slipped the silver convertible up the narrow asphalt road to home. The road was pocked and ragged from neglect as it rose between the gateway to the ranch, limestone plinths each mounted by wrought iron double-Bs. The Caddy rattled over the pipes of the cattle guard and began a gradual descent alongside the first hill. Gavin eased up on the accelerator, letting the car coast as it dipped into a black draw, damp and cool with cottonwoods that stood along the creek just below the road. He could smell them, a peculiar animal odor he always associated more with flesh than plant. A mockingbird ran through some lonely changes as Gavin switched off his headlights while the Caddy silently rolled down a gentle curve and across the narrow bridge crossing the creek at the bottom of the draw. When the car had nearly reached inertia, Gavin tapped his foot to the pedal and took off up another curve that cut back against the hill and away from the creek. The road dogged left, then swung to the right, ascending the second hill and, as Gavin pushed the convertible upwards, gazing into an expanse of fading stars, the deer plunged directly from the sky across Gavin’s shoulder and into the backseat. He could smell the animal before he felt its hind legs kick past his ear.

Gavin swerved the big car to the right, chewing up the edge of the asphalt along a drop that would have sent the Cadillac back down on the bridge he had just crossed. He whipped the wheel back left, slamming the Caddy to a stop against an outcrop of limestone.

Gavin could smell the blood, felt liquid running down his neck as he lifted himself to stand in the seat, bracing one hand on the the windshield. He turned and looked back and saw the deer, its head twisted up, neck snapped in a right angle, jammed into the corner between the armrest and seat cushion. Its slight body slumped as if resting, two thin forelegs upright, each protruding broken white bones that framed its narrow head like a splintered crown. The deer’s back legs splayed up behind the driver’s seat, delicate hooves point to the waning night sky. Gavin reached his hand to one of these, ready for the animal to jerk from his touch. It remained still as he held it, warm in his grasp. Gavin bent forward, peering through the night’s whiskey and cocaine into the perfect dark eye of the animal. It glistened with knowing.In it, accusations flooded, tongues curled through voices without language and they spoke in Gavin as the eye grew in is mouth and before it choked him, Gavin threw back his head, squeezing steel in one hand, muscle, fur and bone in the other and howled the terrible message to the fading stars.

There was silence.

Then the mockingbird replied, adding new to that song Gavin heard down by the creek. He let go the deer’s leg and pulled himself up and sat atop the windshield facing the rear seats.

Goddamn it all,” said Gavin.

He could feel the night falling away from the coke and whiskey but the heat of August was such that the hills could not quite cool the night enough to shake the day’s blaze and the temperature would begin climbing with the first hint of light. Gavin got up and turned around, slid down to the seat and put his hands to the wheel.

Gavin turned the ignition and backed the Caddy off the limestone with a screech of tearing steel and a tinkle of broken glass. Gavin braked and dropped his hands to his lap and stared at their shaking. He fanned through a scattering of cassettes on the seat beside him till he found it–Albinoni’s Adagio.

He shoved the cassette into the slot on the dashboard, punched play and turned up the volume. The baroque strings got busy building stately archways above the Cadillac.

With one hand on the wheel, Gavin leaned over and flipped off the top to a styrofoam cooler and pulled out a can of Tecate. He snapped open the tab on the beer while guiding the Caddy with his elbows. Gavin took a deep swig from the and made a sharp right off the road onto a stony track that rose steeply through juniper and knotted oak and long black strikes of buffalo grass, sharply etched in shadow against the moonlight-soaked white caliche road that seemed suspended in the air before his eyes. Gavin could feel the tires arrhythmicaly battering over the ruts, his ass attuned to this broken earth as his head drifted out on the illuminating finger of the remaining headlamp, bobbing on the beat. What alcohol fires the last snort of coke hadn’t dampened were now blown cold by the suicidal assault of the deer, leaving Gavin alone, unadorned, with his own personal crazy .

“We didn’t see all this coming, did we? We. We’re like the Indians were. Now. They never caught onto the time. In time, either. Never were all aware when their changes went. Fucking deer from falling from the sky. Comets, bombs, satellite debris, deer. Who guesses for deer? Death reigns. Death rains down. Voices come from nowhere. Admit nothing. Dumbfuck buck out to commit suicide in a Cadilaac. True-assed Texas deer. Picks a fucking Cadillac. True-assed Texas suicide. No fingers. Couldn’t get a shotgun.? Why not pick me?”

The Cadillac reached the top of the hill as the Adagio scaled ever upwards, in ever mournful layers, where Gavin stopped above a small plateau, a grass-tufted level defined at its center by a rough circle of limestone rocks. Gavin turned off his remaining headlamp. No shadows fell here and his eye could chase the edges of the sky where he saw some dim color scaling low in the east. Gavin got out of the car, leaving the door swung open. He drained the beer, threw the empty can into the Caddy’s floorboards and pushed back the seat. He grabbed the deer’s hind legs and pulled. The carcass stretched but would not budge, its’ antlers snagged between the backseat cushions.

Gavin dropped the legs and felt sweat breaking from his thinning hairline. He crawled into the backseat, one knee down and caught up the deer with one arm and waggled the antlers free with his other hand. The head sprang loose, flopping beneath his hand now covered with blood.

He stepped back from the car, holding his gory hand before him like a mirror and measured the heat and viscosity of the liquid with his thumb. Gavin drew his hand closer to his face, saw the purpled sheen and sniffed its salinity. Pungent springs of memory opened: The hunt. The kick of the 30.30. on a boy’s shoulder, its crack echoing from a distant hollow. Sam Francis by his side. The sweet odor of cowshit and dewy grass from his boots. Bacon frying in the deep night that tasted of first whiskey. Just before dawn. Like, now. There in his hand he saw a clear picture of the gutting knife, blood flowing down from the trussed animal, spattering into a rust-pocked blue enamel bowl. Red pearls leaping to spot the boy’s jeans with soft splats.

Somewhere below, a dog barked. Gavin found himself looking at the carcass. He returned to the backseat and hoisted the deer with both arms, dragging it out of the Cadillac. Staggering back on his boot heels, Gavin stumbled and landed hard on one knee and cursed before scrambling back to his feet. He gripped the deer’s hind legs, one in each hand and pulled the dead animal across the dirt. In the center of this limestone ringed circle lay a grey fire pit, littered with smoke-blackened broken glass and crumpled beer cans, where he dropped the deer and breathing hard through his mouth, walked back to the car. Its engine was still running. The Adagio was taking its final funereal steps into the clouds when Gavin switched off the key, leaving silence. He slid across the front seat and opened the glove box.

A lamp illuminated the contents of its compartment, setting off bright reflections from a chromed Colt .45 with pearly pink grips. Gavin pushed it aside along with a couple of prescription vials, a small leather box and a harmonica and pushed the button unlocking the trunk. He walked around to the rear of the Caddy, lifted the panel and stood, weaving slightly, and peered into the illuminated trunk’s eclectic chaos:

Two cases of Wild Turkey whiskey, one opened. A mold covered water skiing vest. A ruined pair of Charley Dunne boots. A pile of books and a human skull.

Gavin reached down and pulled up two fifths of bourbon from the opened box, jostling the skull which looked up at him with what Gavin had always perceived as the eternal manic grin of a converted fanatic. Gavin scooped up the bottles and skull and carried his load over to the deer. He placed the skull on the carcass and the two bottles on a flat piece of limestone and then went to scare up some firewood.

After five trips through the oak scrub and juniper, Gavin had managed to build a small pyre some five by three feet that stood about three feet at its center. His face and chest running swear, Gavin caught up this deer, surprisingly light in his arms, like a child, and laid it gently atop the wood. He then sat down on a rock with the bottles of whiskey at his knees and thoughtlessly wiped his hands over his face. He picked up a bottle and tried twisting off its top but his strength was gone. His hand shook as he dropped the bottle to his side. Gavin leaned back and reached into his jeans. Retrieved a Barlow knife and snapped it open . He took the blade and cut it across the bottle’s seal, pulled its top and took a long startling swallow. The bourbon leaked from the corners of his mouth, mixing with the blood, dirt and sweat. Gavin closed his eyes, put his his tongue between failing teeth and blew the fire racing up from his belly and through his throat. He sat with this, and stared at his labors and his long Levi legs, the tips of his boots just touching the bier and began, in halting breaths, whistling an old tune from long ago.

The second fifth of bourbon was all for this deer. Gavin opened the bottle and made the ablutions. Starting at the head, Gavin poured the liquor over its eyes and trailed the whiskey down its lithe neck with a deliberation that reminded him of his time as an altar boy. The hands of the priest–Father Carlin—pinching his papery white fingers together. So clean. Worrying their manicured tips each against as that young Gavin tipped the crystal cruet over them, the holy water tippling down.

Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas.

I will wash my hands among the innocents.

Gavin muttered the words, surprising himself, and drew a sign of the cross with the dribbling whiskey over the chest of the animal and continued on with a serpentine flourish, soaking its loins and haunches. He tossed aside the empty bottle and picked up the skull and licked up the whiskey that had had splashed upon its crown and held up the skull upright in his left and like a puppet.

And Gavin spoke to it:

Now, Roy. We’ll make the blessing for the dead, be it all right with you. We’re gathered here to commit the spirit.. Send this soul packing, this noble buck deer who has sacrificed his life on the altar of old Detroit. Whether he was out to kill himself or me…well, Roy, he fucked up. Bad, lord. Maybe just a miscalculation on his part and he only wanted to to get to the other side of the road. Urgent business in the deer world.”

Gavin peered into the eye socket of the skull. He rotated Roy on his fist for a scan of the perimeter…as if the skull were scanning the perimeter with its vacant holes..”think there’s something out there Roy? We got hos-tilesin the brush? Wel they ain’t comin beofre dawn because John ford said so. We got to get this deer sent back to where it came from.”

Gavin faced up to the diminishing night, Roy followed suit

Lord we ask you to take back this broken deer. Catch it in your big mouth and swallow its soul. Keep it from further harm. Wise it up. Make something of it. You wanna make something of it?”

Gavin smiled and turned to Roy grinning back at him from his fist.

OK. Into your hands we commit this spirit. Benedicat vos omnipotens..”

Gavin deepened his voice into his chest

Deus, Pater et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus

He thrust his right hand forward, stiffened as a blade and sliced the air over the deer with two strokes:

Dominus vobiscum.

Gavin nodded the skull on his fist to the reponse:

Et cum Spiritu tuo

The dog barked in the distance.

Gavin rested the skull on the rock next to the bottle of bourbon. He looked up to the sky overhead as he fished in in jean’s pocket for matches. Above the stars still held their places but had vanished in the east where tender pinks and lavenders were emerging beneath great slate clouds sailing in from the Gulf.

Gavin slipped the box of matches from his jeans an turned to the pyre. He went down to one knee, ready to strike a flame when he realized there was no way a fire could catch without some kindling or paper.. he didn’t want the alcohol to burn off from the deer before the caught. Gavin rose and went back to the Caddy’s open trunk and grabbed up a handful of books. Casting an eye to the skull, Gavin drawled: “Well, Roy. Looks like we go from the sacred to the profane. We’re gonna burn us some books.”

Gavin sat down in the caliche , crossed his legs and read the title of the first book in the stack. “In A Narrow Grave. How goddamn appropriate. Portentuous little title here. Sorry, Larry. I ain’t never burned no goddamn books in my life but given these circumstance, this ritual can well use some sacrifice from the Texas muse. Right there, Roy?”

The light was now gaining , seeming to come from every direction, objects giving up their own luminosity. The skull shimmered in Gavin’s eye.

He ripped away the first twenty pages from the book, wadded them into a ball and stuffed them beneath the brushwood. After finishing off the McMurtry, Gavin went on to A Field Guide to the Birds of the Western States, Zen and The Art of Archery and was halfway through The Confidence Man when a squad of quail trooped past to his right. Gavin stood up and the birds exploded from the ground. He could feel the fury of their wings as they shot past. He tossed the remaining denizens of Melville’s riverboat purgatory onto the carcass. “Truly fitting. And so, here we go.”

Gavin struck a match against the box and touched its flame to the literary kindling.

It crackled orange and black in the blued atmosphere of alcohol. Gavin stepped back to the rock where the skull and whiskey waited. He picked up the bottle and took a long pull. The fire reached up through the tangle of wood, first igniting the juicy cedar before finding the alcohol-soaked skin of the deer. The corpus was suddenly enshrouded in veils of sapphire. Gavin saw the hair on its hide evaporate beneath the heat. He saw the remains of The Confidence Man curl up in a singular figure of fire that twisted into a black flower, its charry petals dissolving in scattering ascent from the pyre, now a blaze flowing with smoke redolent of flaming juniper and cooking flesh. Sweet popping fats from the belly, hard gamy underodor from thin burning muscle. Gavin breathed it all in as he moved unsteadily through these primal vapors, the Wild Turkey swinging in his fist at his side, toward the Cadillac.

Gavin laid the bottle on the floorboards and crawled across the front seat of the car to the glove box from which he grabbed the black leather box and a harmonica. Resting on one elbow, Gavin opened the box. Inside were two vials—one empty, the other, half filled with cocaine.–and thin silver penknife from which he brought its blade with a flick of his thumbnail. He twisted the top from the vial and shoveled two hefty bladesful of the powder up his nostrils. The coke chilled the ache in his head, gave it some distraction. Gavin capped the vial, closed the blade, returned them to the box and thrust them back into the glove compartment.

With the bottle in one hand and the harmonica in the other, Gavin returned to the pyre. He made several circuits around the now burning deer, alternately sucking from the bottle and blowing through the harmonica before finally coming to rest on a large rock where he sat watching the fire. Through its topping flames, with eyes now dripping numb tears, beyond the hills to the city, Gavin saw the pink cocktip of the sun as it rose on this final Friday in August.

Gavin put the harmonica to his lips and blew gently, wandering out on the shaky plaint of the lonesome cowboy that he had learned as a child, the song of the lost immigrant in The West, strung out in America, hanging his heart on a mournful song.

Gavin broke off the first line in a graveled whisper. “I ride an old paint….”

I lead old Dan…goin’ back to Montana…for to throw the houlihan…Ol’ Bill Jones…had two daughters….one went to Denver…the other went wrong…His wife she died…in a poolroom fight… Now Bill’s still singin’…from mornin’ til night…Ride around little dogies…ride around slow..both my Fiery and my Snuffy…are rarin’ to go…”

Gavin’s voice grew stronger as he sang on, into the flames where the bones of the deer burned yellow in the morning sun.

Ride around little dogies…Ride around slow….Both my Fiery and my Snuffy….are rarin’ to go.”

Copyright 1986, 2012 Joseph Michael Reynolds, All Rights Reserved

Bonus Feature


(“Geek Beat”does not refer to computer or gaming enthusiasts, tech specialists, experts or “nerds”.  The term as used in this context was the creation of the late journalist Bill Cardoso–familiar to many as coiner of the term “Gonzo” as applied to Hunter S. Thompson’s particular brand of journalism. Cardoso came up with “the Geek Beat” after I described the assignment Playboy had thrown me–a decade of California violence–while we were having drinks one long happy afternoon in February 1978 at Sullivan’s in San Francisco . “Ah, well. You’re on the geek beat, Reynolds, “said Bill. “That’s what it is.”  Geek as in “freak”, as in the old carny term and its variants. )


(Headline from Los Angeles newspaper, 1913)

Arthur Tysilio Johnson, an English writer, chicken farmer and gardener living in Wales, landed in California in 1912. After kitting himself out with camping gear, Johnson proceeded to tour the state by buckboard, thrusting north from Los Angeles. He nearly died after being swallowed by quicksand near Gaviota, west of Santa Barbara.

In 1913 Johnson’s An Englishman’s Impressions of the Golden State appeared in print.

Johnson detected something elusively evil, as if freedom, becoming license, were about to writhed back and gorge upon itself. Beneath the sense that all was possible, that anything went lurked a baffled yearning for limits which in its frustration threatened to turn any minute into a repressive counter-force that denied the dream of liberation through which Californians mythically defined themselves…Put into the same context, the unrestraint—the acting out through costume and architecture, the theosophy, the neo-paganism, the free love—the blue laws of towns like Pasadena tended to confer a quality of schizophrenia, indeed, Manicheanism, upon this civilization of the South.” –Kevin Starr, Americans and the California Dream

It’s an experimental state for lots of things….the range of that experimentation goes from authentic nuts to government provocateurs. There are experiments not only for good, but evil.”–Paul Krassner

They say this place is Evil

But that’s not why I stay

I found something that’ll never be nothing

And I found it in L.A.” –Warren Zevon, Meet Me In L.A.

I am remembering this story from a long time away. Ash Wednesday 1978 in LA.

I was in over my head, in so many ways, as would be seen. A brazen fuckwit with some modicum of talent burning down the barn and letting the animals run free. But now, after these decades since: no regrets.

Call it, resolution. Call it, confession. Call your mother. Call a cop. It don’t matter now. Put it in backstory. The way it was then. Crazy was easy. I survived. It’s good enough for now.

I was driving in a night hemorrhaging rain on the San Diego freeway on assignment from the Playboy magazine, capsulated in rubber and steel on that Lenten highway, beginning a search for the beasts of paradise, those leashed and unleashed. Murder had increased nearly 70%. Occurring every 20 minutes. In that day California had killers and rapists of unique renown. Killing and raping in startling numbers, in highly distinctive manners and for equally distinctive motivations. They were particular to the time. Door-to-door maniacs and rabid creatures. Little girls and men with knives. Hungry things. The birds of paradise are sometimes shrikes.

An evil wind was coming through the canyons, a bad sorcery of low clouds and wicked rain conjuring down sides of hills into rheumy sludge. “Swift earth”, they call it, that sliding earth that washes cars and houses, corpses and small animals through the swirling muck toward the sea. Here in the All Golden, a collection of dreams built on misplaced trust and vanity, languidly careening in a manicured pastel simulacrum of grace toward the inevitable sea. But it was not a graceful place and its people were no more graceful than steel balls in a pinball machine—a garish display of clanging bells, buzzers and flashing lights urged on by the simple push of a button and a twist and bump from the pelvis.

With hundreds of red tail lamps retreating before me in this spring night I slid comfortably into the automatic groove onto the Santa Monica freeway. Remembering those lost mescaline nights driving to the Lighthouse for Freddy Hubbard in a 1954 Chrysler with a vomiting cat in the backseat. Almost meditative now, feeling somehow reassured in the pull and flow of steel and concrete. This was no big thing. An old groove coming back like just yesterday and not some two years since away from the LA habit of being. The heavy rain had stilled leaving a sensuous glisten on the hood and chrome of the rental car, all cocaine induced sparkles of promised delights, success. A fulfilling of some bogus dream just on the brink of orgasm dancing off the display from fast-moving husks of steel. I took the long curve up the mile long hill to the east and the Sunset Boulevard exit, feeling a stoned rush coming up on me off the drop, heading to the Beverly Hills Hotel. I was riding into another world. A pilgrimage, I now recall I thought or imagined, somewhere ahead.

At the hotel they gave me a cottage once occupied by Marilyn Monroe, so the clerk asserted—which bothered and excited me considerably. Once delivered into the suite at the hands of a deferential bellman, I was stunned. Everything in period Sixties—low ceiling, stuffed couch and chairs, fresh flowers, a bowl of fruit and a bottle of wine with two glasses on the coffee table—all bathed in buttercream from fat lamps at the end tables.

Why the fuck was I here? In this place?

Who the fuck was I?

I opened the wine and filled a glass and sat on the soft couch and drank, facing the window that gave onto the surrounding gardens, a congestion of low-key lighted bougainevillea, banana plants, hibiscus and low hedges blurred by the undrawn sheer curtains and the rain. I gazed at this strange manicured fairyland and reflected on my preposterous circumstances and drank the wine until the bottle was empty, then sank back on the couch and into a fitful sleep’s dreaming full of veiled threats.

There is a diner. In the desert. In Nevada. On the counter of the diner is his portable tape recorder. He pushes the Play button. “Well, no….I couldn’t forget her…she came in here wearing this long long blue…bright blue coat with the hood pulled up and it just framed her face…and all that blonde hair…why, no….I couldn’t forget her.”

She stands by the open door of the van parked on the shoulder of the state road. It is just before dawn. She is smoking a Kool and shivers from the desert chill. Her hand begins sinuously doodling on the dust laden panel of the van. She pauses to brush her blonde hair from her face and begins to concentrate on her drawing. She renders a flower, a rabbit, a heart, a shard of lightning, a knife. There is gunshot. She stops drawing and faces toward the sound, blinking into a rising eastern wind. In her eye a drop of blood splays and shatters across the yellowing white like a cracked bell jar on a winter mantle.

She turns and speaks: “You ever notice when you’re up in a plane at night and you look down through the window over a city and are high enough just to see the lights? And how they look like sad stars impacted down there? Stuck. Smaller places are worse. Little towns? Captured stars. Got stuck in some flypaper like lightning bugs. I went with a friend of mine once to catch lightning bugs and I had a jar but she had got some flypaper and would run fast at them sticking out this sheet of flypaper and brush them right out of the air and run and get some more and she would have lots of these lightning bugs stuck on there blinking pulsing this greenish phosphorescence and lay it down in the grass and look at it and…what? Looking down out of a night plane is the same I think. Those lightning bugs. And you know what? Lightning bugs do that light because they want to fuck. They want to make love. They’re looking for some body. Somebody. Like stars stuck in cities from the sky at night you know? Stars stuck. Wine.”

Memories of The Geek Beat, Copyright 1978,1980, 2012, All Rights Reserved Joseph Michael Reynolds

Bonus Feature