'Don't forget the bread,' and other lessons of winter

"Don't forget the bread! And the leftovers - turkey and ham - and those winter coats you wanted. I put the bread on the top of the green bag so it wouldn't get crushed," said the very generous cousin Monica who always made sure I was loaded wide and deep with Christmas presents and everything else to take on the long trip back to Dayton from techie San Ramon, Calif.

We had the traditional holiday celebrations when all the family - cousins and uncles, sons and daughters, etc. - hugged and kissed and radiated the warmth of the red-cheeked season, and those family special moments continue to inspire a feeling of love and purpose in this world where there is always the chance tornado sand will turn the day black and destroy even to biblical proportions your routine steps home and bludgeon us with doubt and fear. So long ... so long until next year ....

I rolled the van across Bollinger Canyon Road and headed up Highway 680, east to Sacramento. At the $3 pay toll, I could have reached into the box and made change myself: I was eye-to-eye with the person in the booth.

I was feelin' great and was chatty: "I'm headed to Dayton!"

He scrunched up his face and said, "Where's that?"

"About an hour past North Lake Tahoe, 17 miles northeast from Carson City. Have a good day."

Except for the surprise squall, while I was coasting down Interstate 80 by Donner Lake, the trip was going well. I wished I had bought a set of wiper blades, so I took it slow and opened the windows. The rain beat on my face and head where the Tahoe memories are stored with emotions conjuring meanings.

When I lived on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, the ride was an hour less. I didn't mind; I just made more pony express stops, to coin a phrase. Especially at Buck's Beach, where the Mahkewa of the Hopi Tribe performed a ceremony for Hank Jakes in 1980, by the lake, when he lived on Yacht Street, and peopled the territory with ideas and entities that mirrored some of the dark pictures hanging on public walls. Men with swirling scars and that somber look in their gouged eyes that spoke of only doom - the criminal element, on the other hand, his drumbeat of ideas still ripple through autochthonous dreams, like shadows melting in the muttering forest.

That incident happened where Highway 50 intersects 395, could be a scene right out of a Walker Texas Ranger episode, where we get a sense of the evil of the bad guys by something bad they do, say or think or all of the above.

I am referring to the event on Jan. 1, 2002, that made me angry, perhaps angrier than I have ever been in my life.

It was the damn kid! About 17 or 18 by the right window, with two others in the front, about his age, toasting their beer cans. I figure him to be a person who was ready to commit torture, the first, or any chance he got; I figure him to play-act at being devout in order to prevaricate and confuse the gullible masses; I figure him to deny all ethics like the plague.

What seemed to be a homeless elder very slowly crossed that dangerous intersection. He was walking south from Carson toward Minden, perhaps on his way to Las Vegas. (We weren't far from the old Stewart Indian territory, where Hank Jakes turned tribal and left his footprints in the wind.)

He looked like the spitting image of Father Time himself ... an Uncle Remus knapsack hung across his back at his right shoulder; a broken, blue hat made of half cotton and half sky; his coat was frayed back right out of some cosmic syllogism that resolved into solipsism and unnecessarianism.

His face was the face of all humanity (if I am permitted that).

Then the incident happened right in front of me. The cars were backed halfway to Tahoe, as it seemed, impatience and excitement poisoned the air. People wanted to hit the big stores, shop till you drop; but they had to put up with each other in universal traffic intersecting a dark hole in space; their right foot cocked above the gas pedal as if it were a quick-draw pistola. These citizens of greed and power ....

The old man who almost made it to the island on the far right heard the kid screaming at him. "Hey, you wanna sandwich?"

About face! He moved as fast as he could crossing back, very dangerously back, because the red light could change at any time.

There I am watching everything, everything. Then the sonovabitch kid dangled the sandwich and said, "Got this for ya."

The old man's face lit up like a Christmas tree, until the kid pulled it back, rolled up the window, laughed and screamed and clinked beer cans, with his two cronies celebrating some kind of personal victory, and peeled rubber as the light changed to green. I heard their scratchy voices until that evil din was replaced by the yelling and screaming of those very impatient behind me.

I was frozen in time, as if I were a photograph hanging on some timeless wall. I watched the old man scampering to regain the island among the honking and yelling of obscenities. Finally, I came to my senses and tried to reach for the bread in the red bag by the front seat, and somehow toss it to him.

I couldn't do it because it got lost with cousin Monica's presents, and the frustration boiled my brain, until I thought I was going to bleed and be in pain. Then I knew there was no way I could go against the common will. As I turned left, I beheld this poor man consumed by utter defeat, and he was on his knees, bitterly crying.

n Henry A. Weiner, a Dayton resident, teaches English at Western Nevada Community College.


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