Fiction. Novels. Novellas. Short Stories. The prolific breadth of Gary Green’s

fiction is staggering even for experienced web-editors. We offer here excerpts

from two of his novels, “America’s Child” and “Euclid’s Fifth”, and the entirety

of his short story, “Avignon.” This tiny sampling does not begin to scratch the

surface of his fiction works.

America’s Child

(Gary Green’s great American novel)

I am America. I truly believe that buffet macaroni with bright-yellow “cheese-food-product” tastes better than strangozzi and black truffles. While I sincerely appreciate the conspiratorial brilliance that the first bars of Für Elise spell out the name of the tune in old German, I am certain that the iconic first five bars of Johnny B. Goode are among the best music ever written. I have hungered to mimic Shelley’s lyrical intellect in Queen Mab, but honestly, I am thinking that nothing matches the genius of “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” I am America. More pointedly, I love the culture that makes legend always better than reality. Whether it is Davy Crocket defending the Alamo, Jesse James’ social banditry, Wyatt Earp, Teddy Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, the Sputnik red menace, Jack Kennedy, Reaganomics, or weapons of mass destruction: the myths always beat the hell out of the cold facts. That is the historical struggle of form over content, myth versus reality. This is me! I am America. Without the slightest bit of sarcasm or irony, even my proclamation here is born of a stubbornly anti- Darwinian function following form; that content is secondary to form. My high school pal Moshe, the first Jew I ever met and who today is a famous Hollywood screenwriter, brilliantly mythologized Francis Ford Coppola’s opening of the 1972 script for The Godfather with Bonasera proclaiming “I believe in America” to Moshe’s hearing it as “I am America.”  Moe’s line is so much better that I decided to coopt it as my own. Enter Moshe’s flying chicken. Actually it neither flew nor was it a chicken. It was only a rubber chicken; but for me it was a topical irreverent salute to… myself. That's right: a rubber chicken. You know, the traditional prop for a two-man vaudeville act or that you would expect a really bad lounge comic to pull out of his pants; a plucked chicken about 18 inches long and molded from yellow rubber, painted with black eyes, orange beak and long toes, and a red crown. The rubber chicken had become Moshe’s standard prop for his life-as-a- standup-routine daily slapstick existence. At eighteen years old, Moe routinely pulled it from his pants, slapped people’s heads with it, talked to it, and told it jokes: Why did the rubber chicken cross the road? She wanted to stretch her legs. When he graduated from high school, he bequeathed it to me and I immediately tied its legs in a square knot around the rearview mirror of my seven-year-old 1964 Plymouth Valiant where it would remain for many years on the mirrors of many different cars. That stretchy fowl dangled like furry dice as my personal Maginot Line separating myth from reality; a strategically ineffective but great-escape line of defensive fortification to my life.  Eventually I forgot, abandoned, misplaced, or lost the rubber chicken, replacing its protective bulwark with television, film, music, and books. Pop culture succeeded the symbolic bird, shielding me or providing me escape from inadequacies, failures, disappointments, and even truths. Truly, America itself  protected me from the painful realities of life: whether Henry Miller proclaiming, “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive” or the Blues Brothers acknowledging, “It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses. Hit it,” or Woody Guthrie channeling O. Henry with “some men will rob you with a six-gun; others with a fountain pen,” or Michael Corleone explaining his father’s philosophy, “I have no intention of placing my fate in the hands of men whose only qualification is that they managed to con a block of people to vote for them.” Whether in the form or a rubber chicken or pop culture, insulation and escapism are wonderful things; they have saved many of us from the Kennedy or King assassinations, the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall, 9-11, or any of the history- changing benchmarks of my lifetime. We could even sequester personal tragedies, trauma, stress, and life-changing benchmarks behind three networks, the public library, mac & cheese, the big screen, vinyl & CD’s, the golden arches, twelve- cent DC comics, and eventually the Internet. Mine was a much- isolated world. My mother routinely drilled into her three boys that whatever else fails, the one constant is “family.” For almost 57 years, for 20,728 days, I talked to either my mother or my father every single day. The family remained that close and family remained the stability. The combination of isolation and stability made for a very 1950s-like idyllic life regardless of anything outside. Then it began. With my father, at 84 suffering from pneumonia and prostate cancer, transferred from a hospital to a nursing home, my mother entered the hospital with ongoing congestive heart failure. Two years earlier, in early October, she had suffered a massive heart attack followed by a stroke. Every few days, the family would gather around the monitors and hospital bed, where she lay comatose, for what the doctors pronounced to be her last few hours. Finally, on the day before Thanksgiving, as we all stood bedside vigil, she opened her eyes, sat up in bed, and announced, “Isn’t it close to Thanksgiving? I need to get home and cook Thanksgiving dinner.” She recovered enough to go home that next day, with the only on-going symptoms being continued weakness (with her heart only operating at about 30%), and a loss of her sight from the stroke. Though she was not as mobile, often tired, and could not see, the “miraculous” recovery from that medically proclaimed death’s door just served to reinforce the Ozzie and Harriet like buffer zone that I first noticed with the chicken. In a more lucid time, she had produced a living will, which prohibited life support and ordered cremation at the end. For now, she lingered on, with her quality of life constantly declining, for two more years until just after my father entered the nursing home with his ailments. Nine days after her 82 nd  birthday, I received a call that she was back in the hospital and again comatose. Flight connections being what they are, I did not arrive at the hospital until five minutes after midnight. There I found my two brothers sitting by her bed in the stark, dimly lit, hospital room; no monitors and no life support. They had been with her for more than 18 hours with no response from her. I told my brothers to go home and sleep, I would keep watch through the night. They left. I slid a chair back and stood by her deathbed. I put a hand on her arm and said, “Mother, I am here now.” She took a gasping breath and then made a whimpering moan that sounded like pain. Then the breathing stopped and she instantly turned cold. I walked into the corridor and asked the nurse to step into the room. The nurse told me that my mother had died. “I think she was waiting for you to get here,” the nurse said (probably thinking that was comforting; it was not). I called my brothers and broke the news. My brothers said the same thing. The next day at the nursing home, my father was watching Wheel of Fortune on television and guessing the puzzle solutions. My two brothers and I surrounded his bed and I took the lead. “Daddy, we lost mother last night. She’s gone,”  I choked. He partially sat up in the bed, stared into space and loudly proclaimed “Goodbye Dot.” Then he sat back in the bed very quietly. The next morning, I returned to the nursing home to tell him I had to fly to Detroit for a two-day business meeting and I would be back to see him on the third day. We made small talk, and discussed plans for his leaving the nursing home and returning home. At 7:00 the following morning, at the Marriott at DTW Airport, I woke to a call from the nursing home. My father had died during the night. Within a short 72-hour period, that one stability and one constant ceased to exist. The Maginot Line was bullshit, de Gaulle was right; but, by-God, I am America.  
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Avignon (a short story)

I had left my room in Paris about 4:30 in the morning, though I'd only hit the bed about 2:30 a.m. Had I known the day coming was to be such a major turning point in my life, I probably would have forced myself to get more sleep; but how do any of us know these things are going to happen before they do?  I had developed the habit of getting very little sleep during this month-and-a-half adventure. Thus, there was a degree physical exhaustion riding on top of the mental and emotional exhaustion I suffered on this trip. But all of that was behind me now; this had been my last night on the European Continent . . . likely for a long while. The expatriate was returning to the United States; at least for the time being. In the lobby there was some minor confusion about whether I had paid a cash supplement to my hotel voucher, but after a broken-English and equally broken-French conversation at the checkout desk, we worked it out (until about four months later when I received a letter from a very distraught night auditor at the hotel). I remember the September chill in the air and a not-quite-rain mist that iced to me as I walked the four blocks to the Metro station; it would be the first of many mists that would cling to me until I could take a paper-towel bath in a sink at a Swiss airport bathroom 30 hours later. Despite the cold, the air still carried a taste of last night's staleness as I ambled past the Sunday-morning-closed bars and restaurants. And the alleyways were still reeking with too-much-beer urine that had been relieved in the early morning, post-bar hours. There was even still a slight clamminess in one shadowed alley-court where I had noticed the local "soiled doves" plying their world's-oldest trade the night before . . . practically in public display for any eyes willing to squint into the darkness at their 100-franc ($20) kneeled performances. I bounced down the concrete steps into the subway station, suddenly springing with too-much energy to be expending for the day ahead of me, and I remember noting that a certain musty odor from the subway seemed to be universal. I had smelled it in Berlin when entering the unterbahn. I had smelled it in London's underground. Even the stoned-out San Francisco BART system (where on my last visit I watched a woman do cartwheels from one end of the car to the other) carried the must. In fact, for years I thought it was just a special New York City smell . . . until I discovered it spewing from the sidewalk grates above the Washington, D.C. subway system one hot July afternoon. I noted the Parisian subway odor carried no particular geographic or cultural flavor that would distinguish it from the good old A-Train rattling its way to Greenwich Village. Just as the New York City sidewalks grayed with age the instant the concrete hardened, so too comes to every city's subway system this putrid musk . . . as a death rattle's last expulsion of breath from the generations of meaningless lives and wanna-be heroes who had trod these very steps. The empty underground walkways echoed with the scurrying of some startled rats, a train many stops down the tube, and even my own breathing: it was that empty. For a moment, and it was only a moment, I felt a warning-tingle that my pal Billy-Bob in Baltimore always called his "spider sense" (from Spiderman comic books; or in his case from Spiderman cartoons on television). It was a feeling that the colorless horse of doom was beneath me and that indeed hell was about to follow me, its pale rider. By 5:30, I was at the Gare du Nord train station and looking for a place to buy a bottle of gas-less water. Before 6:00, I was looking for a smoke-free car on one of the high-speed TVG trains speeding south toward the Mediterranean. And, of course, at 6 a.m. in Paris it was midnight on the evening before back in the United States. I tried to imagine what was going on in my familiar haunts across the Atlantic in Baltimore. I wondered if John and Vinnie were out running the dogs or if they were still spent from a too-late night drinking at Monaghan's. I thought such idle mind-play might help me catch some of the sleep I'd lost; I didn't know it, but I was going to need it later. Since TVG seats are all pre-assigned, I found myself sharing a quartet of seats with an obnoxious, newspaper-rustling, open-mouthed-belching, morning- breathed, overweight Frenchman. Since it was obvious that he was no more thrilled than I about the shared quarters, I had hoped that he might follow my lead of ignoring him. However, he seemed to want to punish me for the rail line's seat assignment system. At every opportunity, he found a new way to prove his special French obnoxiousness. As if the comic-like loud burps were not enough, he began raising his un-showered armpits and scratching them so that the odor spewed toward me like wake-up coffee. Still not content from turning newspaper pages that brushed against me at each slice, he decided that it would be a good time for a manicure. So from a hidden pocket of his briefcase he produced a pair of nail clippers and began hacking away so that the pieces of nail would fly toward the diminutive table between us, my seat, and eventually toward me. I noted, with some delight, that a decade earlier I would likely have forced a physical confrontation. I thought back to those times of rage and could vividly picture my reddening face, the bulging veins in my neck, and the ghastly physical explosion that always sent bystanders begging, "calm down, please, just calm down." Those were insane and fearless days of pulling rude drivers from their cars at traffic lights, pistol whipping mouthing-off street punks, and challenging impudence twice my physical size. But now, I wasn't even angry. At worst, I was amused; amused at the absurdity of his Chaplin- esque performance. And it was in that amusement that I found contentment . . . and sleep. In my rest I planned and dreamed of the events of the next 24 hours, subliminally knowing that this would be my last sleep for at least that long; but having no idea of the intensity of will I was about to suffer. When I awoke after an hour and a half, my bunkie (obviously disappointed in my boredom from his antics) had moved to another corner of the car and left me alone in my quartet of cushioned seats. I wondered why TVG trains don't have the same little compartments that most other European trains have in first class, and I stared out of the now-day lit window at the changing French countryside giving no further thought to the pig on two legs who had shared the first few miles of my morning. Besides, looking at the European greenery patched with an anachronistic-looking nuclear reactor in each town, was much more interesting than wondering what rude antic my car mate might concoct next. The train arrived in Montpelier shortly after noon and by 1:30 I had taken a local train to Agde. And, it was 5:30 that evening before I was back at the train station waiting for the local to Montpelier, a connector to Avignon, a Eurotrain to Geneva, and a finally an 8 a.m. flight to Washington. In Agde, I had taken the wrong bus from the train station. My French is barely good enough to get me around Paris; the southern French dialect is beyond my skills. It was only through the kindness of two German lesbians that I found the correct bus. The comedy of the bus driver speaking to the Germans, who struggled with the French words before discussing them with each other and trying to translate to German and then to English . . . all reminded of my days in the mid-80's in old East Germany. Having never had a German lesson, I learned what little I know of the language from being on the streets of West Germany in 1971. And, though Russian was an unofficial language of East Germany, despite two semesters of college Russian, I speak just enough to get my ass kicked. But I do speak a modicum of French. So as I would try to remember the French words to order vegetarian meals in East Berlin (an unheard-of cultural oddity there anyway), my French-speaking hostess would wrestle with my translation and change it to German for the waitress who would in turn ask a string of German questions to be translated to French and then passed back to me. Confused? So was I. Fortunately this scene was a one-time occurrence in Agde; in East Germany, a decade before, it had been multiple times daily . . . for weeks. The tip of the resort town of Agde is on a little cape into the western Mediterranean and at the point of Cap de'Agde is the region's claim to European- wide fame: le quartier natural . . . an entire nude city on the beach. Beyond a nudist colony, inside the gates stands an entire city with grocery stores, restaurants, shopping and even a Baskin Robbins ice cream parlor . . . all sans clothing. In fact, it is actually illegal to wear clothes in the quarter; nude police officers approach visitors and demand they either strip or leave. Of course one can visit Agde and not even be aware of the natural quarter, and many do; there is much to the resort town even without the alleged freedom of allowing the sandy beach to mold to the shape of one's bare buttocks and allowing the ocean mist to cling to body parts generally untouched by sunlight and sea breezes. My own interest in the region took me several kilometers north of the nude city criticized by the German tabloids as a den of sexual iniquity and a breeding ground for AIDS. The evening train from Agde to Montpelier was two hours late, making me miss the connecting train from Montpelier to Avignon. Once it arrived, because of the lateness, it had picked up passengers waiting for five other locals that were also late. There was not even standing room on the cattle-car packed train. In the United States, I doubt if a similarly packed train would have been allowed to run at all (though I must acknowledge that I have been on some absurdly-filled commuter trains leaving Washington, DC). Re-adjusting my schedule, I had four minutes in Montpelier to make the last train to Avignon. And in Avignon I would have a seven-hour wait for the one train to Geneva. The adventure was just beginning. Avignon, a good-sized city on the often-romanticized Rhone River, is the capital of the southern French providence, Vaucluse. About 80 kilometers north of Marseilles, it is a commercial and tourism center with a population close to 90,000. Its claim to fame in world history is that during one of the great 14th century schisms of the Roman Catholic Church it served as the home of the two "antipopes.” These religion kings and their armies holed-up in a seemingly impenetrable fortress built as the expatriated Papal See by Pope Clement VI. Truly the most fortified palace I have seen anywhere in Europe, the sheer-walled, moated structure looks more like the Castle Dracula or the home of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz or almost anything from Hollywood rather than the real world. Woe unto the religious dilettante who dared lead a force against this structure; it is no wonder that in later centuries it was occupied by various invading armies. In fact, Avignon didn't actually become part of France until almost 1800. I have often fantasized at what hidden treasures the Adventurer might find in such a place; but always jolted to the reality of centuries of plundering and tourist exploitation leaving little of interest or access for the soldier of fortune. The magnificent castle is in the heart of the modern day city. A major four-lane shopping street dead-ends directly into the courtyard of the fortification. The courtyard is surrounded by restaurants, gift shops, a carousel, and myriads of street performers and vendors. Along the five-block street are regular commercial buildings: banks, clothing stores, specialty shops, a movie theatre, a newsstand, and several bars and sidewalk cafes. At the opposite end of the five-blocks from the fortification is the train station. It was close to 10 p.m. when I arrived in Avignon, but the length of time since I last felt a bed made it seem much later. Like all cities, European or American, nighttime around a train station is a study in street slime. As I walked from the tracks to the inner station, where the timetable marquis reported arriving and departing trains, I eyed the local hustlers, pickpockets, wineos, hookers, and others there to either prey on the travelers or observe night's rituals. Along the way I was, of course, accosted by the requisite number of panhandlers, differing from their American counterparts only in that they could tell their concocted sob-stories in multiple languages with more of a cosmopolitan flair. Boring. I also noticed, with the first wariness I had felt in the station, the powerfully built German Shepherd police dog dragging a short, but stoutly-built policeman by a retaining chain. It was difficult to tell who was the master and who was the animal. Noting the traditional black police beret on the human, and the 9 mm Baretta-92f pistol in his belt, I assumed the man was in charge. As the dog and man rounded the corner out of my sight, I noticed a young couple who had become the center of attention of the 75 or so passengers and locals milling around the station. The woman, scantily clad (as one might expect of a college student in a resort town) with her belongings in a too- expensive knapsack, was having some kind of argument with the man. He was several years older than she was, dressed much rougher and more street-smart, and was obviously drunk . . . just at the annoying stage where he was becoming loud and ugly. He waved a partially consumed wine bottle in the air, as he got louder and louder. As I walked through the station and toward the street, I had to push myself through the crowd that was now forming a circle around the duo as if there were a quarter-toss performance taking place. To reach the exit doors, I was going to have to cut directly across their stage; there was no other way out. It was in mid stage that the scenario became clear to me. The two were not at all a couple. The woman was in fact a college student, a traveler waiting for a train, who was speaking out in German. The drunk was a local who decided to force his advances on the unescorted, non-French-speaking woman. And the crowd had gathered in amusement of the scene. I stopped for a second, debating whether or not to get involved, and then continued my stride assuring myself that in such a large crowd the woman was in no real danger. It was then that he slapped her. Though she dodged, he still brushed the side of her face and hair. As she sat on the floor, unaided by anyone in the growing crowd, he danced a drunken little leprechaun minuet around her in almost Pinocchio-like puppet moves. He swung his hand in the air again and as he did so he sprinkled me with a few drops of the purple vinegar responsible for at least part of his obnoxious behavior. Ignoring me, he lashed again toward his target. Still not feeling the old fire-anger of my past, I stepped between him and the girl just as he rounded his swing. Startled by my sudden movement, he lost his balance and tripped toward the middle of the floor. Without moving my arms from my side where I was carrying my leather travel bag and a newspaper, I dropped for a sweep-kick and assisted him in his tumble. He crashed into the wall and doorway, spilling his alcohol all over himself. The girl thanked me, in German, and I returned a simple, "bitte." From the corner of my eye I could see the French Rin-Tin-Tin and Corporal Rusty charging around the corner toward the crowd. I took that opportunity to slip out the door and down the sidewalk to the side entrance to the station. There I doubled back inside to melt into the crowd and watch what would happen. "Shaolin: looked for and can't be seen," I grinned to myself at the cleverness of my disappearance as visions of David Carradine danced in my tired mind. By the time the dog and officer arrived, the drunk was on his feet verbally challenging the cop. The officer matter-of-factly told the guy to leave. But the chemical poisons from the bottle were too strong and they had already taken control of whatever mind this fool may have possessed. In one of the most idiotic gestures I've seen in many years, the drunk spit on the dog's face and then at the policeman. Then he balled his fist and lunged at the cop's face. In one swift move, obviously the result of hours of training, the beret-capped officer snapped open the dog's muzzle and in perfect English instructed, "Kill him." The dog had been practically digging a hole in the marble station floor, begging his master to let him into the fight. With the English instructions came a ferociousness rarely seen in domesticated animals. Snarls and fangs. And an instant later the cop ordered, "stop" and the dog was back at his master's side. Bitten, bleeding, and obviously defeated, the drunk ran from the building. Less than a minute later he reappeared at the side door where I had returned. Suddenly I felt that my vanishing act might not have been so clever after all. The poor buffoon began showering the cop with a series of French obscenities. Again the officer asked him to leave. And once more the moron rushed toward the cop and the canine. This time, the policeman let loose of the dog's lead as he ordered the attack. At the same time he produced a Louie-whistle and blew it loudly (I have no idea what these whistles are actually called; but they are identical to the whistle that Louie blew in Casablanca when he would order that the usual suspects be rounded up). An instant later he ordered the dog back to his side and in another instant, before the battered drunk could recover, a seeming garrison of heavily armed policemen appeared from unknown hiding places and in full riot gear took the drunk away and ordered the crowd dispersed. I had suffered just about all of this American-like scene that I cared to taste, and decided to make myself scarce by wandering down the shopping road toward the holy fort with the other tourists. In a mindless daze I walked along with a silly half-grin on my face, still entertained by the whole affair. Christ. I breathed deeply the night air and filled my lungs with it as I walked along. The road was slightly downhill until about midway to the castle, then it was slightly uphill; but the incline was hardly noticeable except from a distance. About midway along the road, just where the uphill slope began, I could see tourists bowing off the sidewalk and into a wall of potted plants . . . as if they were trying to avoid something. The row of cement pots prevented them from stepping into the street, and they were obviously uncomfortable about something. As I got closer I could see two men sitting at a table at a sidewalk cafe beside the bend in pedestrian traffic. One of the men was flicking the fire of a cigarette lighter toward the clothes and hands of every passerby, unspokenly threatening to burn them with the flamethrower-like extended torch he had adjusted. As each group of passersby would flinch, the man and his companion would roar with laughter. I scanned the sidewalk, looking for a place to cross the street, but I had come too far and now I, too, was blocked by the cement pots. I looked behind me to consider turning back, but the foot traffic had poised itself into a perfect control pattern with all the people walking toward the fort on my side of the street and all the people walking toward the train station on the other side of the street. There were so many people on the street that I would have had to push my way through a crowd just to retreat. So I moved on, hoping the jester would tire of his game before I got there. But 50 yards away we made eye contact. He glared at me as if I had been his target all along. Billy-Bob's spider sense tingled in me and I felt old confrontations rising up my spine. Damnit. I slung my satchel over my shoulder so that my hands would be free. As I approached, he called out to me in a slur of French words that sounded like gargled Listerine. In my best Clint Eastwood, I asked him, "are you ugly AND stupid, or just ugly?" By now I was only a foot away and he raised his flame toward me. "Stupid, too, I see," I said as I pivoted sideways to avoid him. He glared at me and showered me with another string of undistinguishable words. "I know about sixteen French words, and that wasn't any of them," I smiled and said as I started to walk on. His face tightened in a de Gaulle arrogance that I often see and always find amusing. It's that look the French culture freaks give when they snot-out that only the French recognize true artistic achievement. It's a look most effective when the same cultural elitists try to explain why, then, they gave their highest national lifetime film achievement awards, their Legion of Honor, to Silvester Stallone and to Jerry Lewis. It's the same look that the French parliament had when they passed the 1994 law making marketing of products with non-French names a crime punishable by imprisonment. So I smiled at the glare I was receiving. Determined not to miss me after having met such impertinence to his long-term eye contact, he leaned his chair on two legs and stretched his arms toward me. Instinctively, my hands flew to protect my face and upper body. The crowd halted. In the next disk-access-measure of a fraction of a second, he jabbed toward me and I open-palm blocked the back of his flame-tossing hand. His grip had been looser than it looked and the lighter went flying into the air. At the same time, he lost his two-legged chair balance and fell face first to the sidewalk. A waiter appeared from nowhere and announced to the crowd, "Ah! American kar-at-t y." This brought a round of applause from the halted passersby as well as from the other cafe patrons. I smiled a Japanese-like embarrassment and hurried along the sidewalk out of attention. It was close to midnight and I had been up for almost 20 hours except for the cat nap on the TVG. There would be another 10 hours in front of me before I would find sleep. Despite these asinine little street escapades, the real adventure . . . the adventure of mind . . . had not yet begun. And I was more than exhausted. At the cobblestone court in front of the castle, I blended into a small congregation of tourists and locals. There was an American family being led by a woman spewing a not-exactly-correct version of local history. There were two French college students, sitting cross-legged on a concrete stool near the entrance to the structure; I noted, with the standard amusement, the Groucho-like contradiction in the title of one of the text books jutting from a knapsack: Business Ethics. There was a small crowd gathered in front of three street musicians who had parked themselves several feet above our heads at the base of a huge statue of some should-be-forgotten pope. There was a too-wrinkled, over-the-hill prostitute, warily seeking eye contact from any potential customer. There were several quick-stepping couples and quartets who were apparently in route to or from any of the fern-bar up-scale restaurants near the carousel at the entrance to the courtyard plaza. And there were two dozen or more other gatherings of two, three, or more; each in their own little word and a million miles from the troubled rumblings clanging inside my brain. I sat on one of the dusty cement pedestals, seemingly constructed in modern times as seats for tourists. As soon as I sat, I began to flashback over the events of the past month. At the same time, I cruised the crowd with my eyes and watched new faces come and go. My mind raced back to the overnight train trip to Berlin and the pained horror that I had absorbed as I walked beneath the Brandenberg Gate where a decade before "The Wall" had blocked such free flowing traffic. The night air in Avignon sent a chill across my scalp as I flashed back to Berlin to the recently boarded-up, barbed-wired building where the East Germans had built a supposedly "eternal" flame and memorial to remind the world that the atrocities of Nazism would never again haunt the planet; I choked back a genuine tear at how cruel history was to forget in less than a lifetime. I remembered my sadness at that sight being tempered by the comical sight of a cloth seat-cover like drape with neoclassical walls painted on it hanging over the entire facade of a Communist-built modern office building; amusing steps to erase the marks of socialism. And that smile brought back the silly escapade of being thrown out of a casino in Berlin for wearing jeans. "Never mind that I could buy or sell anyone of you in here, given the sorry state of your currency" I had smirked at the hostess, "but the only thing worse than a pig capitalist is a wanna-be pig capitalist." How sad my beloved Berlin had become; how tragic the fall of the East had actually been, despite the praises of the western media. For the first time since arriving in Avignon, I noticed a cold chill in the air . . . and a peculiar mist starting to cling to me and the rest of the court's patrons. I realized that chill of memories I had felt was in fact a chill of temperature; thus the mystery of the metaphysical died before it was born. I brushed off the cold and continued my tired review of my adventure. As my mind was racing around Tuscany’s winding roads and up one particular mountain to the Carrera marble works, I became intensely aware of the light in the courtyard. Here I sat, in the middle of the night, yet the court was as full of people as it might be in mid-afternoon. Illuminated by only seven bright orange lights, the artificial illumination in the open plaza was bright enough to read by. Each of the seven inner-city-like light poles was finished in a gold-type plating that added to the already-too-ornate motif of the setting. Noting that where each illuminated area turned to shadows the light of the next picked up, I saw, for the first time, a series of small alleyways running off the court in every direction. With no streetlights at all, the contrast between the alleys and the plaza was stark. That probably accounted for why all the milling people wandered to and from the well-lit street and not in or out of any of the ominous-looking alleys. That was also why I was so startled when an old man with wiry white hair, in a sort of Albert Einstein free-styling, strutted from one of the darkened passages. His rumpled suit indicated that he had once been affluent . . . or at least now wore a rich man's discarded clothes. His appearance was, indeed, a strut, for he walked into the court as if he owned it. He surveyed each individual in his plaza, as if trying to make eye contact with any one of his subjects. But all ignored him. Finally his gaze turned toward me and I met his fiery eyes straight on with my own laser-gaze. Unlike such eyeballing confrontations in American cities, this one took a bizarre turn when as soon as we made contact he pulled his eyes away and stared at the sky. With the intensity of an astronomer, he seemed to be studying the stars. Instinctively, I followed his eyes upward to see what great wonder might be up there. All I saw was the big dipper. When my eyes returned to earth, he was gone. It was a disappearing act worthy of my highest grasps for the theatrically absurd in my own life. Now intrigued, I stretched myself up from my comfortable seat and walked toward a group of dark alleys, trying to remember from which one he had come. Each looked dark and forbidding, and for the clichéd life of me I couldn't remember to which he had returned. I walked by five or six of the entranceways, peering and listening down each one for a clue. The seventh alley was just as dark and ominous as the others, but down that one I could hear the gurgling sound of a river . . . so I walked into the darkness toward it. The length of my day really was starting to get to me. I was chasing shadows and now I was starting to rock in my steps to the rhythm of the river's noise, much the same way the whine of a jet engine or the clicking of train wheels over the tracks lull one into a rhythmic trance. Here I was being lulled by the seductive voice of the mighty Rhone River. The alley twisted and turned and twisted again, getting narrower and narrower as I rambled further from the mighty castle. What an ironic way to go, I thought, the anti-Christ lost forever in the shadow of the anti-popes' See. Even in sleepless frustration, my melodramatic inflation of reality was in full swing. And, I had to wonder if I was chasing a white rabbit down a hole into Wonderland. Lit now only by starlight, the alley became a parody of bad movie chase scenes through European cities. Opening from the alley, every few yards, there was a large wooden door. Of course all the doors were covered. Finally the alley ended . . . a dead end with the only escapes being back the way I came or through the one doorway near the end of the alley that was open. I could hear the river's roar through that doorway, so I figured, "what-the-hell, I've got nothing better to do," and I entered. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, or Bela Legossi would each have felt at home with the dry-ice looking mist that clung to the ground and wrapped upward to my knees. I, however, was neither amused nor interested in the clinging dampness. The fog trailed upward from my knees to nothingness, but along the way to oblivion it coated my skin, my face, and the lens of my glasses with still one more mist in the day's collection of eeriness. A blue glow covered the nothingness around me and ahead I could hear music . . . from a trumpet that seemed to be talking in a New Orleans type blue jazz wail. But behind me and all around me was empty. The rationally working mind of a man who'd had some sleep might have deduced that the white- haired man could not have come down this way; but in the new morning hours my mind was far from fresh. The blue glow was now all around me and I couldn't find any source of the light. The glow seemed to be floating, as stupid as that seemed to me, in the cloud-like mist of nothingness that hung in the air. The dry-ice horror film swamp held the eerie glow neither low nor high . . .it was everywhere. Beyond the glow I couldn't find anything and my first reaction was a panic, heightened after I called out and received no answer. It REALLY was like living a horror movie. Finally my first rational thought was to follow the walkway until I could find walls or other doors or some sign of life. It seemed like logical enough of a thought. The problem was that the mist didn't seem to end. I walked along the pathway, even stopping once or twice to reassure myself by stooping down and touching it with my right hand. I walked and then I walked some more until I thought I had been walking for hours. Then I walked some more. It did not seem possible that this misty place . . . or any place in Avignon could be so large without some sign of life, even in the middle of the night. After what seemed like several more hours, I decided to measure my steps so I would have some way to judge how far I had been walking, for clearly now I was lost in the mist and had no hope of returning the way I had come. I assumed there must be some way to get back to the train station from a side street; only I couldn't find any streets. I estimated each step to be a foot long. After ten-thousand-five- hundred and sixty of these steps; a full two miles, I stopped. There was no way this road could be two miles long without some buildings, life, or at least change in terrain; and I could still hear the jazz music, which had gotten neither closer nor more distant. I was sure that he must have somehow missed the corners and had been walking in circles. But if that was the case, I couldn't understand why I hadn't seen the entrance way again. Fear is conditioned and I have rarely been treated to that conditioning. Now I was starting to experience it, and I didn't like it a one bit. This just did not make any sense at all. The walkway seemed endless and that damned mist was everywhere. It wasn't possible, yet here it was. I hoped that the lack of sleep had made me dizzy enough that I was still in a daze. I hoped that I would wake up in a minute or so. After a few minutes of standing and trying to decide what to do next, I walked away from the pathway. As I walked on and on through the mist of nothingness I amusedly considered the idea that I might be dead; but I put that thought out of his mind after I decided that I would know for sure if I had died. I pressed on through the cloud. Then after another time that seemed like hours and after more steps that seemed like miles, the blue mist and light dimmed. For the first time I could look down and see my hand in the light . . . but not far beyond my hand. Finally, further ahead I could hear voices . . . lots of voices. And though there was still nothing distinguishable either behind me or beside me, I was coming on to a street . . . a street very busy with pedestrian traffic and no vehicles. The closer I got to the street the lower the misty cloud dropped toward the ground, until finally I stood on the street and the fog was barely a dampness at my ankles. And, thank God, the blue glow was gone. A bizarre street of uneven cobblestones bordered on my right by rows of three-story sharp-roof houses and on my left a canal, perhaps the source of the fog. The canal was about 20 feet wide and on the opposite side from me was another cobblestone street and house formation . . . like a mirror image of the spot where I stood. Starting ahead of where I stood, along the canal I could see a half dozen or more walk bridges, a couple of blocks apart from each other, spanning the water and connecting the two streets. Both streets were filled with hundreds of people, walking along as if unaware of the hour, stopping to gaze in the windows of the buildings, crossing the bridges, talking, laughing . . . and going about all the normal functions of life on the street at one o'clock in the morning. I stepped into the crowd and noticed the mist seemed to completely disappear and turn to dampness and puddles along cobblestone. I walked along toward the bridges. Where less than a half-an-hour of real time earlier I had been idly killing time, waiting for a train, on emptying streets in Avignon . . . I now seemed to have been transported (as in "beam me up, Scotty") to something at least foreign to the setting where I had been seated and hours away in mental time. If it were possible, I would say that I had been transported hundreds of miles away to northern Europe and was now walking along Amsterdam's famed all-night red light district. Though such things are, at least, impossible, there is no denying the fact that Avignon has no such quarter as I was now strolling. THAT much logic and reasoning I still possessed. The ornate ironwork along the railing of the first bridge held my eyes as I got closer. Like the brick front of a New England university, the bridge was covered with twisting ivy vines . . . but these vines were iron and each finely detailed leaf had been carefully cast in the hard metal. The bridge itself was cobblestone with a three-foot pole jutting from the center; ideal for tying one's horse, I supposed. The span made a small bow so that one had to walk slightly uphill to get to the center of the bridge and then slightly downhill to get to the other side. Once across, a quick look at the street and buildings left no doubt in my mind: I was in fact in Amsterdam again. The language spoken on the street by the masses around me was a combination of English and Dutch; and the signs on the shops were in both Dutch and English. I walked along the riverbank, separated on my left from the ten feet down to the water only by a chain running at knee-height through posts spread about fifteen feet apart. On my right stood a row of city-like connected houses, each about 4 stories tall but only about 12 feet wide. Each had either a street-level or basement (looking up at the street) store front picture window. Each window was set as a display space with a back wall no more than three feet behind the window, and a combination of blue and red floor lights illuminating the area in front of the wall. In each window was a high-back stool and on almost every stool sat a very-alive, almost-nude woman. Most of the women were Black or Asian, which I took as noteworthy in this Nordic Aryan country . . . if that is where I was. Each woman seemed to have her own style of motioning to the crowd as people would press tightly against the windows to see all that was displayed to them. Some used their fingers or entire arms to gesture to the men in the crowd. Some used eye contact. Others silently mouthed obscene words in both Dutch and English. Still others would periodically expose one of the few unexposed areas of their bodies and nod with their head toward the door. It was Amsterdam's shopping district of prostitution. This spectacle continued for several blocks along the waterfront, with fifteen to twenty such window displays in each row of houses before an alley way would break the monotony. Even in my travels, often in some seamier sections of the world, such an overt display of sex-for-hire was a little unsettling. Along one stretch of storefronts I came upon two uniformed policemen hungrily watching one window sitter. Noting the Amsterdam police patch on their shoulders, I asked, "Is this legal?" The older of the two officers looked at me and then answered, "This is Amsterdam; it's not il- legal." I continued my walk, planning to dart into the next alley and leave this nonsense behind. As I moved along, I looked at the faces of the women in the windows and contrasted them with the almost taunting faces of the men and women in the street glaring toward the windows. Though Amsterdam's red light district is one of the oldest and most famous of all the European whoring districts, it remains a mystery to me how it has lasted so long; to me it became boring and even sad after only a few windows. As I turned toward an alley, I wondered what becomes of too-old or too-wrinkled window sitters when their commodity-value no longer warrants window sitting. The alley was short and led directly to a large square where several hundred people were gathered around a mime troupe; an odd gathering for such a late night/early morning hour, I thought. I could see a large gold crown on the head of one mime. Two other mimes were covered with a horse costume, one as the front end and another as the rear end. Strapped across the white horse was a long bow and a quiver of arrows. I could not see the actions of the other actors, so I decided to move in closer. Before I had walked ten feet I was accosted by a pan handler, speaking to me in English with a heavy British accent. I told him I had no money and I continued walking. For some reason he elected to ignore my response and though he had been walking in the opposite direction, he turned to follow me. In a couple of seconds he caught up with me and was again asking for money. Having no desire to come in any further contact with this unshaven and unbathed panhandler, I turned sharply to my left. Not only did he follow, but he blocked my path and reached out to touch me. I felt my old rage explode; though I thought I had learned to contain it. The muscles in my back tightened, my stomach began to churn, and I felt the blood rush to my head. I knew the fire was rushing from my eyes as my words became loud and sharp. I screamed in a voice that was hoarse with an unnamed rage, "Don't put your hands on me. Don't stand in front of me." "You have no right to tell me where to stand; I am free," he confronted. In one of my insane rages, that was NOT the thing to say to me. He pressed closer to me and continued to lecture about his freedom. Again, he reached out to touch me. I felt my reflexes snap with the energy I knew always leads to trouble. I knew what was going to happen before it happened and the people closest to me in the crowd could see a hungry gleam spark to my eyes. In my stomach, I felt that burning acid climbing to my throat. And I felt my back muscles flex and my spine stretch to its full height from my normally stooped stance. I prepared to take his life, there on the street, and it was a feeling I thought had been safely locked away. "I warned you once; is it worth your life to harass me?" I demanded as I backhanded his attempted grip at my jacket sleeve. His voice got louder and his determination for me to give him money seemed to stiffen. "You have the right to not give me money. If you don't want to give me money just say so. But you cannot tell me where to stand and where to walk. Do not try to tell me where I cannot stand. I am an individual. I am a human being. I have dignity. I can walk wherever I want to. You cannot tell me where to walk. You are not God. You do not control the life of another human being. I have freedom.  As a human being I am free to walk where I want to walk..." and he went on and on . . . and on . . . and on. In my anger and preparation for combat, I should have been driven to attack by his insane soapbox ranting. Instead, I was totally disarmed. It wasn't the insanity of it; one expects insanity from street people. But his empty-headed ranting with all the buzz words of freedom, rights, dignity, individuality, and so on struck me as tragic. The tragedy of his emptiness, the dilettante-like use of words of which he had no grasp of the meanings nor the philosophical bases for his armchair ravings, the spewing of buzz words . . . all hit too close to home. For an instant I flashed-back to the time when I had spewed such empty-headed rantings to strangers on the streets, on campuses, or where ever I could rave. . . the original angry young man in the streets during the antiwar movement of the late 60s and early 70. He lectured in empty stupidity the same way I used to lecture with the same buzz words . . . all the time saying absolutely nothing. As he tossed about the word "freedom," Kris Kristofferson's most well-known refrain raced into my mind: "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." By this time I had hesitated, the ever-fatal thing to do in a confrontation. In the hesitation my rage melted to sadness and my sadness became amusement. The amusement was at myself for being bothered; not by the panhandling nor even his confrontation over my rejection. The amusement was over the fact that "there, but for the grace of God, go I." Indeed, he was too close to home and I wanted to get away. I cut through the crowd, slipped back down the short alley, returned to the red-light street, and crossed the bridge back to the side where I had begun. I continued walking for several blocks until I came to the second bridge. Wondering if this quarter held more picture-window instant romance or other street mimes, I crossed this bridge back to the other bank of the river. Again, I noted the bowing incline of the bridge. And again, the other side of the bridge took me into a world I did not expect to find, albeit a much different “world.” The street on this side of the bridge looked nothing like Amsterdam. It looked nothing like the other side of the bridge. And it didn't look like Avignon, either; from the trees and other vegetation it looked more like southern Italy. What a strange configuration for a city, I thought, to have so many variances all within a few blocks. The street was wide and concrete (rather than cobblestone). It looked vaguely familiar to me: at once like Milan and then a few feet farther along like something south of Rome, perhaps Naples. The street was dirty, littered with wind-blown garbage. Two young women dressed like 42nd Street hookers walked by me, and I realized that I may in fact be in Italy. This suspicion was almost instantly confirmed by seven leg-swinging Cabarini, with their Uzi machine guns, goose-stepping by me so close that I had to jump out of the way. A bright red convertible Ferrari was parked blocking the walkway, so I stepped around it and toward another alley. I thought it odd that a car would be parked in such a place, and I stared at it in wonderment for a moment or so, looking blankly at the red fiery horse-head Ferrari trademark symbols on the quarter panels. Two nostril-like headers flared from the engine compartment, and a turbo-charger scoop showed that this vehicle was either built for speed or show . . . or both. My admiration for the red horse-power machine was interrupted as a seeming bum stepped from the alleyway and asked me, in Italian, if I wanted my shoes shined. Noting that I was wearing Reeboks, I thanked him and turned down the offer. He lowered himself toward my shoes, and again I said NO . . . this time loudly and in Italian, English, French, and German. I wanted to make sure all my bases were covered. In an instant he sprang from the lowered position and lunged toward me, wielding a stiletto that he had produced from a hidden sheath. I blocked his slashing jab with my satchel and I grabbed his arm to twist him off balance. As I turned him, I kicked him in the small of his back and again repeated, NO. Before he could turn back to me the Cabarini had returned and dragged him away at gunpoint, offering no conversation nor explanation to me. I shook my head and decided I'd seen enough of this side of the bridge. I stepped back around the red car and a group of six or seven small boys and girls, about 9 to 12 years old, blocked my path. Each child was holding an open newspaper and walking toward me. I instantly recognized the old gypsy pick-pocket distraction and, in English, told them that I would break the arm of the first little asshole that touched me. They scurried away like light- doused rats, and I crossed the bridge back to safety. Back on cobblestone and mist, I continued walking toward the third bridge. I wondered what amazing geographic and temporal transformation awaited me there. What strange tricks with lack of sleep! Had my mind been fresh I might have unraveled the mystery as soon as I saw the third bridge; but it was not fresh. The day had already been too long. Poor Alice was too far into Wonderland to have anything rational happen. The third bridge, like the first, was a magnificently ornate iron structure. Unlike either of the other bridges, this one had an overhead structure as well as the ornate railings. Forming an arch at the entrance to the bridge were two triple-larger-than-life iron black stallions, standing on their back legs with their front legs meeting in rage at the top of the arch. It was an excellent piece of metalwork; but beyond that, it was an incredible entranceway to the bridge. I eagerly crossed, anxious to see what other artistic marvels awaited. Here the bank of the river was lined with square-cut stones and rather than a chain between me and the river, here was a stone and iron wall. Clearly, it was a much classier river-side area. I glanced along the street and in less time than it takes to now tell you, I realized that I was standing not on the Rhone but on the Seine; I was back at home in Paris. No doubt about it; I knew those streets as well as you know your own neighborhood. It was as if I had just left the Greenwich-Village-like Left Bank and was now on the Rive Doite. I looked at the small sidewalk cafes, the specialty shops, the sidewalk vendors; I was definitely on the Right Bank. I stopped at the fountain to rest and took a deep breath of the clean freshness of the gurgling waters. Leaning into the fountain's base, I doused my sleep-starved face and hair and then sat on the marble steps to rest and watch the crowds of hipper-than-thou Parisian students talking, flirting, thinking, writing, smoking, crying, loving, and living all of the passions they believed to be trademark of life in Paris. I rubbed my hands across my face, over my forehead, and through my now-wet hair, wiping sleep from my eyes, mist from my skin, oil from my hair, and the long day from my mind. I glanced, again, around the square at the cafes hoping to catch a glimpse of the spirit of Sartre, the eyes of the next de Beauvoir, or a conversation between a wanna-be Paul Nizan and the latest version of the 1968 new left. Alas, I saw only the classic, deliciously dark, round French eyes of youth, clinging desperately to a tradition they knew only by reputation and not by corporeal flavor. And, as if to pour salt into their unseen wounds, someone had a Japanese-made Sony boom box blasting the current American top-40 in an elevator-like Muzak background to the surreal scene. I made a last wanting survey of the square, resting my eyes of a moment on an anguished young Fabio-look-alike, doubled in Victorian melodramatic pain and cursing the heavens for the evil deeds of a lost love. I moved on to a-not-so-clandestine exchange of money and cocaine, an American-like street scene with the noted absence of guns. For a couple of minutes I watched a middle-of-the-night picnic as three snackers shared fruit, cheese, red wine, and a long loaf of bread; how very French! Rushing with the excitement of the familiar, I jumped to my feet and started running toward what I knew to be even more familiar streets. I left the water front, darted by the grey stone buildings, and toward the national monument at the foot of the Champs D'Lyssee. Breathless, and still excited, I ran northwest, up the hills and passed the Pere Lachese cemetery. Despite the late hour, there were still lines of teenage mourners waiting to get a crying glimpse of Jim Morrison's grave; children whose parents had been children when the rock & roll god had mysteriously died in Paris. I looked into their wanting eyes and read the hunger for the touch of an earthly legend; a living monument to place their hopes and beliefs. "God bless rock and roll," I thought as I hurried along the street and up the hill. Up the crooked streets, the hill finally ended at a park-like median between two one-lane streets in front of the Moulin Rouge. Out of breath, I stopped for a moment to rest before continuing toward the quarters of the City of Lights that I knew best. From one of the district's dozens of sex clubs, a street barker called to me. In French, I answered, "Je ne parle pas Francais." Recognizing the lack of nasal and the flattened twang of my accent, he said, "I speak English," and he began giving me the sales pitch to step into the live stage sex show. Promising to give me a "special price," he tried to herd me into the glittering entranceway by putting one hand in a tight grip on my left wrist and the other hand near my wallet close to my chest. Still reeling from the Italian street encounter, I snapped to a defensive posture and sharply blocked his hand at my chest. I grabbed my left wrist with my right hand and twisted toward the weak point in his grip. At the same time, I flipped my left hand backwards and turned his hold on me to an awkward twist of his own wrist. Using that unbalancing move, I shoved him further off balance and against the wall of the entranceway. "Do not touch," I commanded. Rather than continue along my way, as I should have, I firmed my stance into the concrete sidewalk and prepared for his return. I bent my knees, straightened my back, crooked my elbows, and assumed the classical horse stance, preparing for combat. From unseen shadowy entrances to the theatre, two larger-than-life bouncers stepped to his side. I looked into their eyes for craziness and found none, realizing that neither posed any real threat to me; and, of course, since I was not in the United States there was no danger of gunplay, only fists or knives. I decided to kick the one on my right in the face with a roundhouse kick and on the spin down push my weight into the breast bone of the second. Then I would deal with the smaller, original assailant. I shifted my weight and began to stretch for the attack at the same time that the smaller man spoke, again in English. "Why are you so angry, my friend? I am only doing my job and trying to sell you a little pleasure," he asked. He was right. Why was I so angry? Suddenly the comedy of the entire scene hit me and I realized that it was stupid. What an asinine thing to be angry about! What a stupid reason to kick two overgrown French linebackers! In fact, it wasn't just the scene that was stupid; it was my very existence. What is with this hostility? Why am I angry? What is the source of all this tension? What-the-hell is all of this about? Why do I even care? What purpose is there in becoming angry, hostile, tense, or in any way affected by such silliness? Even if he had been trying to lift my wallet, as it looked, such things happen tens of thousands of times daily; it was nothing that should require such hostility. At best, it was amusing that I even was bothered by it all. Did I have nothing in life better to do than get bent out of shape over the absurd daily happenings of morons? In the big picture, it was pretty trivial. That, of course, didn't mean tolerating assaults or even stupidity. But it also didn't mean creating a scene, jarring peoples lives (including my own), breaking bones, giving or getting ulcers, or even slowing my pace in life for such nuisances. It would have been simple to neutralize such a nuisance and the go along my path. If the big picture is important; if the end always justifies the means of getting there; if there is indeed a dialectical relationship between content and form, quality and quantity, being and nothingness . . . then slowing one's pace or blocking the path in the quest for The Adventure, the search for IT, is the ultimate absurdity of existence. It was Albert Einstein's sad observation of the nothingness of the hopes and stirrings that chase most men restlessly through life, coming to manifestation! It was my own prophetic warning of two decades earlier coming back to haunt me: "never allow making a living get in the way of living." It was the simplest of philosophical inquiries: "why?”! Suddenly the question was not simply, "why was I displaying anger at this street barker for the night club." The real question that this simple-minded hustler had asked me was, "what are you doing with your life and WHY?" A huge smile covered my face. I slapped him on the shoulder and then on the back. His two protectors were confused by my sudden change of behavior and they froze in their steps, waiting to see what aggression might follow. I gave him a polite European pat on the side of his face and spoke, "Mon ami, you are right. I have no reason to be angry with you. It is your calling to put your hand in my pocket and guide me inside. But today I have no time for such. Go about your business and let's both recognize that my decision to walk by here prompted you to ply your trade. And now we both know it was not the thing for either of us to do." Then it was clear to me. The whole apocalypse was clear. The seven lights and the seven pathways; the wire-haired old man; the road chosen; I understood. How simple! The white mime horse with the quiver of arrows; the red Ferrari horse with the stiletto; the black horse at the bridge and the balancing of existence here; and of course there would be one more horse and rider I would meet on this journey. So simple! And such a sleepless stupor of imagination. I finally had direction and somewhat of an understanding for these bizarre events. No longer did I need to wonder, to worry about sleep, or even to count the hours from the Avignon train station. I even knew where I would next be led. So I abandoned my rush through Paris toward Montemartre and doubled back toward one of the train stations. I decided to rest my weariness by taking a Metro. On the way down the steps to the station I noticed the absence of the must smell. A subway without the smell? The Paris subway without the smell? Of course. So simple. For the cross-city ride I chose a nearly empty car, assuming it would fill by the time we had traveled the thirteen stops to the right train station. I sat in an empty seat, leaned my tired head against the window, and smiled at the events of this long day and the revelations of this long trip. At the first stop I was joined, in the seat facing mine, by a yellow-haired woman with a rounded fat face in her late twenties or early thirties. I noted she was carrying a British Airway ticket, a couple of English-language books, and a UK passport jutting out of a zipper-pocket of her nylon knapsack. I concluded from that evidence and her typically-Brit crooked teeth, that she was a subject of Great Britain. She looked at me, looked around the car, and then with great effort she finally spoke to me. From her mouth spewed a string of French words disguised in a British accent in such costume that I had no idea what was being said to me. Had it not been for the tonal inflection, I would not have even known it was a question. "I'm an American; you don't speak English do you?" I answered. "Actually, I AM English," she answered with a startled look on her face. Quietly amused, I noted the arrogance in her possessive tone of the language. She was asking directions to the train station that would put her on the TVG to Avignon. I gave her directions and she described to me what she expected to find in Avignon. Strangely, she made no mention of the Holy See, the great river, or any of the other tourist sights. Instead, she described a lifestyle and an escape from her dreary routine as a teacher in an adult education institution in a small English town. Her vision of Avignon, based on a trip taken there in her college days with roommates, was of a carefree resort and a few moments away from frolicking Riviera beaches. The escape theme never left her description. After telling me her life story, she finally got around to asking about mine. I simply told her that I was an American outlaw, hiding out in Paris and that should she see my face on CNN that night to please not tell officials that she had seen me on the continent. Before she had an opportunity to question my yarn, I exited the subway car at my stop and watched her and the rubber-tired Parisian subway roll off toward the next stop. As I bounded the wooden-slat steps of the escalator, upward toward the street and the train station, I smiled in amusement at the story I had told her. It was certainly worthy of my friend Charlie Jude, the 50-year-old Marxist pervert from Baltimore who told women outrageous stories to get into their pants. He had told a woman, just released from prison, that he was a homicide detective; when she began to question that, he told her that he was actually a Cuban secret agent on assignment to the police homicide squad in Baltimore. Then there was the story that he was an Hispanic refugee from Miami; he had convinced a national labor union of that story and had been hired as their token minority employee (he was actually of Italian descent). Then on a train trip from Washington to Orlando, he told the conductor that he was a Jewish pediatrician from Boston; that story held until a woman on the train suffered a heart attack and the call went out for the good doctor. He had also convinced a pair of schoolteachers to shed their virtue in a threesome with him after he claimed to be a high-powered corporate attorney. In fact, that lawyer lie was the one he worked on his family. His mother, his sister, and his rich, but elderly, Aunt Francine all believed that he was a lawyer; a lie aided by a desktop-publishing diploma I whipped up for him after I wrote his Masters Thesis to help him get a legitimate MA in labor relations. The aunt had even bought him a car as a "graduation present" when he allegedly finished law school at 48 years old. Ah Charlie, what you could have done with my outlaw-hiding-in-Paris tale! In minutes, I was on a southbound high-speed train. I closed my eyes and when I reopened them I had arrived in Menton, a small Riviera resort six high- speed hours from Paris, four kilometers from the Italian border, and eight kilometers from Monte Carlo. With my satchel over my shoulder, I jumped off the train, almost-ran down the hill and across four blocks to the waterfront. There I walked across the shiny pebbles that made up the beach, and I touched the blue Mediterranean. At my back were the cliffs and the snow-capped mountains kissing the clouds; in front of me was the waterway of ancient western civilization. My eyes scanned the beach. To my left were sunbathers; the requisite Riviera topless women and bronzed men worshiping something the Coco Channel had told them to do in 1955. To my right were families, lone walkers, young lovers, and other tourist absorbing what nature had offered to this chin of France, Menton. But there was no sign of my fourth horse; no symbolic icon for the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse. I stared long into the sea and then turned back toward the cliffs. The sea's mist mixed with the mountains' fresh air to renew and re-energize me. I crossed the pebbles, the wide street and two smaller streets, and walked toward the shopping district of the town. Passed the children riding the carousel, the Indian street vendors selling Italian leather and braided strings, by the small-room shops, I wandered. Still no horse. Damn, maybe I was wrong. Most of the Riviera resort towns have one or more streets like this one; usually one or two blocks from the sea. These five or six blocks-long streets are wide, but cars and bicycles are banned. From sun up to sun down they are filled with pedestrians, craftspeople, and would-be mercantilists; at night they are totally vacant. And though my body and all coporeal reality told me that the hour was early in morning darkness, the existential reality in Menton was late afternoon with just-setting sunshine. I walked along the six blocks of this shopping street until it dead-ended at a spiral stone stairway that lead up toward the cliffs. I started back toward the other end, still looking for the horse or the horse icon. Near the carousel, only a block or so back west of the stairway, I saw a group of round concrete platforms, apparently built as seats for weary shoppers.  I sat down on one of the dusty cement pedestals, closed my eyes and began to review the events since I left my hotel room at 4:30 am. It was if the whole day . . . no, my whole trip . . . had all led up to the one significant moment in Paris when I questioned the validity of trivial reality. I began to weigh the impact of what I had concluded; the impact of that damnable "WHY." I instantly realized that if I applied that "why" ...that big-picture vs. little picture outlook; that dialectical analysis to all things, then I would turn upside down my entire life. I would wreck my defined existence as it was and I would wreck the molds and institutionalized expectations of those around me . . . people I worked with, friends, enemies, business acquaintances, and many others. I realized that if I suddenly returned to the United States with a new "fuck this trivial bullshit" attitude, all hell would break lose on many fronts. I thought about the sage advice that my straight-world friends would give about "think about your home and your mortgage," or "think about your work and your future," or, "you MUST be responsible." I thought about the equally sage advice that friends like Billy-Bob would have, "Get the hell out of Dodge City, while the getting is good" (of course his idea of out-of-Dodge-City was a move to Laughlin, Nevada and a life in the desert as a professional gambler; and I had already been down that trail). Sitting on the pedestal, I could feel the morning sun's warm rays on my scalp, warming down my hair to my shoulders, to my arms, down my back. I could taste the pure mist in the air and my lungs filled with the freshness of it all. As the sun sank and the crowd thinned, I again closed my eyes and considered the impact of what had happened today. In my usual melodrama, I weighed the moment against significant moment of history. What if Oswald (or the bums on the grassy knoll) had missed? What if Stalin had lived? What if Hitler hadn't invaded Russia? What if the South had won the Civil War? What if Richard had not had a Brother John to become a tyrant? What if . . . My overdone and theatrical sense of reality was a bit carried away; but too, I knew that at least for my corner of the world, indeed, all hell would break loose if I accepted the very reality that I had just lived through. I knew it would mean the absolute death of an epoch of not just my life but in multiple existences. From private lives to businesses to lawyers and courts to expectations and much more . . . they would be in chaos when it came to dealing with me, or the nothingness I would leave behind. And I decided to do just that. I decided to reject the stupid, trivial obstacles in the path toward my elusive IT; objections to the Great Adventure which was life itself. I was going to walk away from the tensions, the stupidity, the mundane, the expected, the social mores, the pretenses, the self-righteous, the pompous, the empty shells disguising as depth, the contentless forms. I was going to simply walk away from life as I knew it and return to life as I lived it. All pretenses were coming down. Living was more important than pretending. I was NOT going to wake up one day and discover that I was 75 years old and I lived a lie, wondering where I had turned wrong. Regardless of the hell that was to follow, regardless of the death of expectations of many others, I was going to do it. I bounded my spine to full erection in a cold chill of reality. My eyes opened in a startled awareness. And there I sat . . . on the concrete pedestal . . . in front of the Holy See. . . in Avignon . . . waiting for my train to Geneva. I looked at my watch and realized that it was time to be at the station, waiting for the train. I walked along the wide street, back toward the station. From a hidden alleyway a grimy-looking man stepped in front of me and asked for money. I smiled, "I have nothing to give you," I told him, in English. He said something to me in French and I kept walking. Inside the train station, I took the steps down to the underground corridor beneath the tracks, and then the steps up to the platform between the tracks. At one end of the platform was a passed-out man wrapped in a long wool coat. A few feet from him a woman sat on the cement platform, cross-legged, writing a letter and using one knee as her writing table. Circling her, like a buzzard waiting to pick rotting flesh, was a muscular Italian pretty-boy. He would speak and she would either ignore him or brush him off, depending on what he said. She looked at me, realized that she could get up and leave without any interference from him, smiled, and elected to keep her seat. I walked along the platform and noted that after a few minutes Pretty Boy lost interest. I watched a mouse with a Milky Way wrapper in its mouth run from the bottom of a trash can toward the ledge of the platform and then disappear down toward the track. Looking down the two feet or so, I could see the mouse running along the crossties with his treasure. The digital clocks on poles every 15 or so feet along the tracks announced the time to be 5:14 am. Two trains were due at 5:15; one bound for Geneva and one bound for Paris. I looked as far down the tracks, in both directions, as I could see. There was some movement, a couple of railroad light signals, but no sign of either train. I looked up at the rounded roof of the station, about 100 feet over my head and I could see morning birds darting in and out of the open ends of the structure. A few seconds later I heard the clicking sound of the departure boards changing on the clock poles and the train to Paris was announced. It pulled into the station and I watched its doors slide open as a sea of new arrivals bounded to the platform and welcomed themselves to Avignon. The train was one of the older, long, red SCNF trains with Sherlock Holmes like compartments, a couple of sleeping cars, and cattle-car style second-class coaches. It was pulled by a powerful and modern electric engine, but it looked like the trains in the station as Rick reads Ilsa's note in the rain before Sam  pushes him onto the train. Before the Paris train pulled out, my train arrived on the opposite side of the platform. It was an even older-looking train and rather than being French, it was a Swiss train with dark green wooden siding on the outside of the cars. I smiled at the Swiss cross on the side of the train, knowing the Swiss railroad's obsession with being on time and noting the clock now read exactly 5:15 I knew we'd arrive in Geneva exactly on time. I made my way to my semi-private reserved compartment which I shared with a sleeping Japanese exchange student. Using my satchel as a pillow I took over the entire east-side bench just as he had taken the western one. In seconds I was asleep, awakened only once about 45 minutes later by a conductor who addressed me in both German and French. After a glance at the American eagle on the front of my passport, he spoke to me in English. I gave him my ticket and asked that he awaken me at the Geneva Airport stop. Then I was asleep again, wondering where the fourth horse was. I awoke again about two minutes before the conductor opened the compartment door and was startled at the snow falling outside the train. "Must be Switzerland," I thought. Finally, in the airport I went directly to the first class lounge for SwissAir passengers, checked in and asked for directions to the bathroom. There at the sink I changed clothes and gave myself a paper-towel bath, washing away the European mists and hours and adventures. I brushed my teeth, washed my glasses, and then combed my hair. As I combed back my getting-long strands, I stared directly into the mirror so that my own blue eyes reflected back into me . . . looking deep back into me. I thought for a minute about the trip back to the States and I thought about the turmoil sure to follow all the changes I would bring with me. And as I looked into my own eyes I knew the answer: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him."

Euclid’s Fifth The Saga of a Pinto Bean

"God created men; but it was Colonel Colt who made them equal."  ...Old Frontier Saying The case itself would have been a beautiful addition to any collection of fine things. I was a mahogany with two gold in­laid hinges and latches. The lid of the box had been hand- carved to show a scene of a stage coach rolling through the frontier on a dusty road. On a rock ledge above the coach, two Indians were pointing their bowed arrows, and riding up toward the Indians from the stage road came a cow waddie on the back of a beautifully carved horse and holding a drawn long-barreled revolver. The lid was so well carved and the so finely varnished that it could have hung in any fine art gallery. But the real prize was inside the box. There wooden slats, covered with a fine cloth, partitioning small section of the box. A rectangular section in the upper left side of the box contained two paper-wrapped packages printed with the label, "Six Combustible Envelope Cartridges made of Hatard's powder especi­ally for Col. Colt's Patent revolving holster pistol." The words "Col. Colts Patent" were printed in a double-block outline image. In a triangular section of the box using half of the right side of the rectangles as its base, was a bulb-shaped brass powder flask. Em­bossed with eagles fanning their wings and cannons mounted about flag-shields and inlaid with tiny strings of gold, the flask shined as if it were coated with oil. A tiny spring-operated thumb spout topped the tear-like bulb. The next section of the box, below the triangle and rec­tangle but still on the left side of the box, contained an odd- looking tool device. One end seemed to be a screw driver with a wooden carved swing-arm handle. The other end was bulb with a little wrench and a pick. This plain-looking tool, ornate only in the circles carved in the swing arm, rested in a strange seven- sided compartment of the box. In the lower right corner of the box was another rectangular slated section. The center of this section held a wooden inlay of slats that formed a perfect circle in the center of the rec­tangle. And in this circle was a round metal can, less than an inch across. Printed on top of the can was: "Eley Brothers 250 metal lined caps for use with Colt's patented powder pistols. Manufactured in London." Each of these sections had a wooden lid cut in the exact shape of the section. The lid too was covered with a fine cloth. And a hand-carved wooden button-like knob was attached to each lid to make a handle. The lids would fit smugly and could be just dropped into place. But the largest section of the box was a five-sided section. And it was in that section that the gun rested. It wasn't your typical over-the-counter Colt Revolver. Obviously this was an old ball and cap model. Cap and ball guns were rarely seen anymore. Since as early as 1872 when the Colt company had introduced the famed .45 caliber "Peacemaker," ball and cap pistols had been seen less and less. Though Colonel Sam Colt (who wasn't really a colonel at all) had died back in 1862, his company had lived on to become the password for holster guns in America and in England. But this wasn't even the standard production Hartford, Connecticut Colt. This was a very special gun. In the first place it was one of the famed Colt Presentation models. The barrel was etched with lace-like designs that stretched from the front sight to the body of the gun. There at the body, just where the barrel began to touch the body, three inlaid old circles smoke-ringed around the weapon. For the rest of the barrel that reached back to the cylinder there was a gold inlay design of two foxes in a battle. The gun was a beautiful silver color with these golden designs seeming to done on the metal. The rest of the metal parts of the weapon were etched with more lace-like design and embossed with tiny hunting scenes, wild horse scenes, and cowboy shooting scenes. The metal was so heavily ornamented that it seemed a shame to think of this beautiful work of art as a tool to wield death.   Below the metal parts of the weapon, thought it should have never been a weapon, the grips were made from a finely carved charter oak. The scene on the grips showed a single leaf budding from a series of branches of a mighty limb. And the cylinder itself, bordered by inlaid hand alternating silver and gold, was engraved with a stage coach scene. But even this beauty was not the real treasure of the gun. This weapon had been produced by the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, Samuel Colt's first factory, in Peterson, New Jersey. And the actual gunsmithing, before the finish­ing, had been done by Elishak. Root himself...Colt's right hand man and the man who built the company after its founder died. This weapon had been in one-of-a-kind gift made especially for one man and presented to that man by Root, Colt and famed diplomat (and former Connecticut governor) Thomas Seymour. And that was the real treasure of this gun, for below the carved wooden grips on the butt of the gun...the saddle band...on the single strand of metal was a name. The one-word name was inlaid in fold from braided golden strings. The name stood alone; not to be questioned as a first name or a last name. In fact, it was more like a statement than a name. But any man who caught glimpse of the holstered gun would see the statement; would see the name in gold: Walker. But that was a long time ago. The gun box with its beautifully carved top had not even been opened in 15 years. It was on a top shelf, hidden with the memories that had been locked away with it. But because a person hiding a box away in a dark closet, that does not make the box go away; it is still there even though it is hidden. And safely on that shelf it could be brought out at any time. That must have been the purpose of putting it there in the first bring it out at some time, otherwise it would have been sold, thrown away or discarded. An idea, like a love...or a hate...or a revenge is the same way. Because that idea has been put on a dark shelf for 15 years does not mean that the idea is gone. And just like that box, the idea was kept on that shelf so that it could be brought out at any time. That had been the purpose of keeping the idea all those bring it out at some time; to bring it out at the right time. So on the right day, fifteen years after a woman's love had died for every human being except her five-year-old son, she remem­bered the day that her Walker had been gunned down. And it was as she pulled that memory off of its shelf she called for her son, now twenty-years-old. He knew as soon as he saw her face that something was very important. He'd never seen that look in his mother's eyes before. Then when she spoke with a seriousness in her voice that he'd never heard, he felt an icy hand touch some place deep in his spine. And he didn't say a word as his mother spoke. "Now your father is 20 years dead. It's time we had a man and a gun,"  she spoke to him with a power that he never knew a woman's voice could command. To his own dismay, he knew exactly what he would have to do. His mother didn't even have to explain that port to him. And he knew that once he left the farm that night he would never be back; he would never see his mother again. But it was something that had to be done. Since he was five years old he'd known that someday it would have to be done. He took the carved box down from its hidden place on the shelf. He pulled the latches aside and lifted the lid. And the gun was there. As he picked it up, his mother brought him the holster for it. And, finally it was that very day and at the very moment as he strapped the bottom leather of the holster to his leg that history would cause to be written. Men's freewill died at that instant. From then on history would be only parts for actors who would follow a script they'd never seen. Picking up the fun was not the end, but strapping it on was.