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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs


New Faces and Old Aces, by Bo Keely

This story is so ugly it's wrapped in tissues of lessons.

The burrow I inhabit on Rancho Scorpion lays 40 miles southwest of the nearest supply town of Blythe, California. It's two hours, a buffer for the eight Sand Valley residents, along circuitous, sandy tracks that wash out during biannual cloudbursts. I re-supply once-a-month in town and occasionally catch a Greyhound to the Phoenix airport to travel the world. Some say I live on burrowed time with all the creatures in the hole, and I point out that we all do, and the hole is an archetype for the skull. The 8 x10 x5 livable box ten feet below the desert floor has wrap-around 1/4 wire mesh where outside the creatures scuttle and peek like a child s formicary. I see through the wire tarantulas, sidewinders, 7 inch scorpions, packrats, barking geckos, lizards, bugs and spiders. But, you see, the most interesting out there are the Sand Valley denizens.

When my neighbor, Injun Joe, shot off the sheriff's thumb six years ago he protested the man removing a tire planter for a 12 yr old tree he had raised from a seed. It, and about 2,000 more tires on the 40-acres, were substantial proof of an informal, illegal business of charging two bucks for disposal of each environmental threat. The thumb fell and the Injun melted into the desert. Most focused on the sheriff that day and ignored how a 67-year old man could walk out a 100-square mile undetected by sniffing dogs and searching copters. He had help. He hiked twelve miles on high, hard ground leaving no prints to the Cowells on the Valley lip.

The Injun crested the hill to view the Confederate flag above an upside-down Stars-and-Stripes at the Cowells' forsaken hovel crawling with kids, cats and dogs. Jets laden with 1000-pound bombs and helicopters with machine guns passing overhead to the Coco Mountain Gunnery Range routinely buzzed the flagpole so close and often that it threatened to excise the Rebel Flag. The family threw rocks up and complained to the Feds. The FBI visited and explained to Grandpa Cowell that the harassment would cease if only they'd fly the American flag right-side-up. Of course, nothing changed until the Injun fugitive appeared.

The Cowells sympathizied and drove him to the Blythe Greyhound where he rode a bus to a Colorado Indian reservation. However, the authorities hauled the Cowells to court where the district judge ordered, Leave California or go to jail . They fled six years ago.

"The Cowells are back!" warned my neighbor war vet T.J yesterday with binoculars dangling from his neck. I thought you were one of them sneaking up. They're thieves, mistreat their dogs and ain't allowed back in California. He climbed a hill lookout and his wife Laura whispered, "All that's true but they ain't so bad. My husband's got an ax to grind after Grandpa Cowell sneaked up on him sleeping and put a knife to his throat. Imagine that. My man jerked up on the mattress and there was a short fight to see who was the Valley alpha. I dashed for the scattergun, pointed and screamed for them to stop acting like kids or I d empty both barrels. The next day my husband met the old man on the road and beat him with a pipe to an inch of his life."

I spelled out that since the fugitive incident occurred a few months before I moved to the Valley six years ago, I'd delay judgment until after I met the Cowells. "Fine," replied Laura. They drive a sliver pickup down on the springs with belongings. I drove away and to town to re-supply.

The Kitchen is the free food trough for street people and desert rats like me living around Blythe. A daily four-course meal and didactic chat about the lower levels of Maslow's Pyramid of Needs draws an indigent core of thirty each summer and triple that in winter. Truly, about half the patrons are welfare rich.

New faces! greeted the cook as the door slammed behind me. I ignored the shuffle of a dozen sets of feet. Later, a voice during peaches asked, Sir? , and I disregarded it. Sir! it insisted. I pivoted to behold an old lady with a sunken grin and dark eyes. Eight faces girdled her. Do you know where I can live, she asked. An old, bearded man also looked on, a middle-age strapping son, his wife, an aunt, three children and a baby. The problem, explained a ten-year old grandson, Is we got four dogs. They had just driven from Arkansas. I provided directions to a fleabag motel that allows pets and watched them through a window drive off in a silver pickup laden like the Beverly Hillbillies.

The Cowells had asked to camp on my property. I said no. I liked their earthy side, but they are parasites. They are part of an immigration mass that flocks to milk California's welfare. Blythe is the state's hindermost desert outpost on the Colorado River that separates it from Arizona and the entire nation's South. Families arrive to rent a post office box for the necessary California address, and camp on the river, rent a trailer on the Arizona side, or squat in Sand Valley where the cost of living is dirt-cheap. They have the sense to use no birth control in their ample free time since more children equals a bigger handout. Sly ones meet the right psychologist and attorney to declare them hindered physically or mentally for SSI payments. For example, the so-called dyslexics and psychotics in Sand Valley get $750 per month. Other arrivals seek unemployment that is also deep in the California treasure.

Various people have tried to induce me to welfare over the years. Just tell a shrink you live in a burrow like a mouse. I've resisted each time but two years ago did attempt to draw unemployment. A glut of subs where I sub-teach had put me out of work. A year hence, with faded savings, I walked into the local unemployment office. I was suspect when the computer showed I'd never applied before. It was ultimately denied since compensation was based on my last quarterly income which was zilch.

I left the Kitchen and Blythe and bumped along the Sand Valley track with a trunk load of pasta and a burning thought. The social contract is that people have a right to breed, live and fly their flag if no one is hurt, but these barnacles weight the taxpayers. At Rancho Scorpion, I kicked the dust from my boots, looked up and gave thanks to the stars, and descended the stairs into the burrow. They're everywhere, you know. I don't see but hear them at night.

For more of Steve "Bo" Keely's writings

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