Untitled Book, Forward and Chapter 1

Forward

The neighborhood of Rabbit Creek lies along the southern outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. It incorporates the southern end of Anchorage’s Hillside neighborhood, in the Chugach Foothills, and runs downhill to the Old Seward Highway. Rabbit Creek itself begins at Rabbit Lake, a body of water at the feet of the Suicide Peaks, twin glacial-carved pyramids that are visible from anywhere in South Anchorage. From Rabbit Lake, the creek meanders down a gently sloping valley, then weaves between DeArmoun and Rabbit Creek roads, before running into Potter Marsh, a body separated from Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet by the New Seward Highway. Anything from the south side of DeArmoun is generally thought of as “Rabbit Creek”, although I lived on the North side and could almost throw a rock into the creek from my front yard.

In the 1940s through the 1960s, this area was sparsely populated, its primary denizens being homesteaders, social misfits, and people wanting cheap land in decent-sized plots, upon which to build homes and raise families. My father was in the latter group.

The North Slope oil boom began in the 1970s, flooding the state with money, industry, and people. By the 1980s having a house on the Hillside had become a status symbol, which changed the class and social structure of the sprawling neighborhood, as well as causing it to become overbuilt. Old homesteads were divided into smaller plots, which sold for exorbitant sums, and seemingly overnight the picturesque Hillside neighborhood became studded with massive new homes, each with a west-facing wall of glass to take in the sunsets and mountain vistas across Cook Inlet.

I’ve said many times that if I could choose one decade to relive, it’d be the 1970s. There were perhaps a quarter of the people living in South Anchorage as there are now, and the Rabbit Creek neighborhood was primarily woodland, with the occasional former farmstead being used to board horses, or waiting to be sold to real estate developers. This is where we played, fished, camped overnight, rode dirt bikes and snow machines, and built tree forts. This is where my friend Scott and I smoked sneaked cigarettes, before riding our bikes down to the Abbott-O-Rabbit baseball fields, which bordered my grandparents’ former homestead. This is the time when the main body of music referred to as “Classic Rock” was new, and which we listened to on small transistor radios that accompanied us everywhere. The music that is the deepest part of the soundtrack of my life, and that evokes the most nostalgia and fond memories (this period also overlapped with the disco era, and a bit of that seeped into my soundtrack as well).

Although this description might lead one to think of this period in this place as a time of carefree innocence, in middle age I’ve had to confront the fact that there was a darker, far from innocent side of my youth. Having lived with generalized anxiety disorder my entire adult life, through therapy, I’ve only recently began to understand the trauma many of us experienced, and that not everyone survived. After returning to my family home several years ago, I found it depressing to walk through the old neighborhood across the street. Through older eyes and the wisdom that comes through experience, I now have a better understanding how much of what we experienced was genuinely life-altering, and how that influences everything from the way we interact with others to the disproportionately high number of suicides among my peers that followed years after the fact.

The neighborhood is a full-on suburb now, with much of the woodland gone. Older homes evoke memories of friends long since moved away, or tragedy that tore families apart, and some have been demolished entirely. It’s a bittersweet stroll wherein fond memories are overshadowed by heartache and loss, and new information leads one’s mind down a rabbit hole of what might have been. Old wounds are reopened, and this is how we are haunted.

The Anchorage of the 1970s was much more rough-and-tumble than today, although, being immersed in it, we didn’t really think of it that way, as the underworld side primarily affected those who were active participants. It’s only through the lens of history that we can look back, catalog events, and understand how lucky we must’ve been to make it through. The pipeline boom flooded the city with transient construction workers, as well as the tertiary industries catering to oilfield companies, employees, and their families. Cops and judges were dirty, drugs and prostitution flowed freely, and in the underground trades, deals gone fatally awry seemed to be a daily occurrence. The local outlaw motorcycle club beefed with bar and strip club owners for a slice of the vice pie, and the unnamed local mob established themselves as a force not to be crossed. It seems now as if every successful real estate developer of the era had fingers in multiple ventures, some above board some below, and frequently operated even their “legal” businesses outside the law. “After hours” gambling clubs were run from old houses in shady neighborhoods, and shootouts frequently occurred outside theses establishments (some of the most vicious bouncers ever to grace the city kept the guns from coming inside the premises, but everyone had something in their vehicles). At least two notorious serial killers were operating concurrently in this boom-town atmosphere with a police force not yet comprehensive enough to cover all of the new ground.

Now considered a “small big city,” Anchorage is still small town among the core of old-timers, and there’s one degree of separation from anyone. When meeting someone new a good ice-breaking game to play is “Okay, who do we know in common?” Because I promise it’ll be several people. Reading accounts of old crimes in news stories, remembering when they happened, and realizing how close we were to them is very sobering, and begins to put long-held trauma into perspective.

I wanted this story to capture the twilight between innocence and the darkness that reality can become; the precarious tightrope between halcyonic idyll and a waking nightmare. I can’t think of a more fitting backdrop than my community during my formative years. Names have been changed out of respect for the dead and their families, or to protect the privacy of those who are still living. Dates have been altered and events and persons are sometimes combined in a composite format in order to follow a cohesive storyline rather than as a chronology of unrelated situations. But the core events written herein actually happened, either to myself or to people with whom I was closely associated, between the years 1976 and 1980.

February 12, 2022, Knik, Alaska.

For Bruce, Shelley, and the other kids who didn’t make it.

Chapter One

Wil Delsin woke with a start. Having only recently stopped wetting the bed at twelve years old, sudden panic was still his customary mode of waking. After years of embarrassment and inconvenience, he’d subconsciously programed himself to come to at the moment of letting loose, usually during a dream that involved urinating, or some form of flowing water. A quick check of the dry sheets brought relief, so he ignored the need to pee and closed his eyes to relax a while longer, enjoying the red and orange patterns that the sun, already high in the sky and pouring through his window at 7:00 am, left dancing across the inside of his eyelids. Through his partially-opened window, the sound of vehicles downshifting on the steep curve in DeArmoun Road let him know the day was already in full-swing.

The first day of summer break is magical for any kid, but for school-aged children in the land of brief summers marked with extra-long daylight hours it’s particularly delicious. For a good part of June and July, it never really gets dark at night, and those ethereal, dusky hours are too attractive for youngsters not to sneak out, get up to no good, and try to avoid getting caught. Aside from the fresh air it provided, the sounds of the Alaskan summer nights were the other reason he liked to sleep with his window open a crack. The hoots of Great Horned, Gray, and Snowy owls would give way to the chirps of chickadees by the early morning hours, starting of sporadically and growing progressively more active as the sun got brighter.

This undercurrent of excitement was one of the thoughts running through Wil’s head as he slowly awakened. The other thought was the relief that he had a three-month reprieve from the prison that was school, and specifically the disappointment that had been seventh grade. He’d been looking forward to a fresh start in a bigger school, attending school with his best friend Bryce, who was a year older, and the possibility of making new friends. School so far had been his most oppressive life experience. While intelligent, he’d been a poor student. Adding to this was the fact that, being emotionally behind the curve, and lacking social skills and impulse control, he’d managed to alienate himself from the majority of his classmates. He was, for all intents and purposes, the “weird kid,” although he was mostly oblivious to this. This had been sealed in his last year at Rabbit Creek Elementary, with the shame of losing a playground fight to another boy. In a larger school he thought he’d have the opportunity to reestablish some credibility and make better first impressions. Unfortunately, as his English teacher Mr. Holcomb put it, “Wherever you go, there you are.” It took a while for the meaning of this cryptic advice to set in, but when it did it was sobering. He was stuck with himself. Unable to escape from the pile of hormones, nerdiness, and awkwardness that was himself, he instead opted for the safety of disappearing into the woodwork of secondary school culture. The three thousand-plus student combination complex of seventh through twelve graders that was Hanshew Junior High and Robert Service High School offered as much anonymity as he wanted. He found another avenue of escape in the journal Mr. Holcomb had encouraged him to keep. While other seventh graders groaned when assigned the task, Wil looked forward to journaling time in third period, often even staying into lunch, the ulnar edges of his left palm, little and ring fingers smeared with ink as he dragged his pen across pages leaving mundane observations, poetry, and short stories in its wake. The smearing of ink and graphite that none of his classmates seemed to experience, was the result of being left-handed in a world where writing goes from left to right. Lefties push their hand through what they’ve just written, whereas right-handed folks are leaving their writing behind. The constant ink smears and callus on the last joint of his middle finger did nothing to increase his social standing.

The phone in the entryway began to ring. He ignored it. Kara or Garrett could get it. The phone continued to ring. Everyone was pretending not to hear it. Twenty rings in, that had to be Mom. The longer it rang the angrier she’d be when it was finally answered. Just as he was about to crack and deal with the angry voice on the other end of the line, he heard Kara rustle from her bed in the next room and run down the bare plywood floor of the hallway to answer. Naturally. The good child. Garrett would never have risen to the occasion; being the youngest he seemed perpetually absolved of all responsibility and consequences. Wil listened as his older sister answered affirmatively to instructions for chore assignments. Just because school was out didn’t mean the Delsin kids were on vacation.

Kara flung the door of Wil’s bedroom open, cutting the last thread of his morning reverie. “Mom says to get up. You need to pick up the dog poop and mow the lawn.” “It’s not even my damn dog!” He protested. Kara shrugged condescendingly. “She’s everybody’s dog, you need to do your part.” As usual, she was parroting ethics ingrained by their mother. “Well I never asked for her!” Kara was already on her way down the hall again. Momentarily, loud piano music and over-the-top singing began obnoxiously filling the house. Kara, having inherited their mom’s propensity for control, was good at following orders. Particularly if it happened to annoy Wil. Often she would recruit Garrett, the youngest, to torment the middle child under the aegis of doing their mother’s will.

He grudgingly rolled his skinny frame out of bed, and made his way to the bathroom where he emptied his bladder. He’d been holding it since he woke, somehow ignoring the urge while he enjoyed the last several minutes in bed. “I hope you lifted the seat!” Kara yelled from the living room. “Duh! But I dropped it midstream just for you” he retorted. “Whoops!” “I have to clean the bathrooms today!” she screamed. “Well now you know how I feel about your goddamn dog!” Garrett was standing in his pajamas rubbing his eyes when Will exited the bathroom. “Don’t say ‘goddamn” he chided, “Mom says you’ll go to Hell for that.” Wil planted his palm over Garrett’s face and shoved him back into his room. “I’m tellin’ Mom when she gets home!” “Whatever, ya little turd.”

He made his way along the bare plywood floor until he reached the two steps that descended onto the linoleum of the entryway and kitchen. Kara was busy poring over a book of sheet music in front of her on the piano as she munched a slice of toast with strawberry jam. He grabbed a bowl from the cabinet and filled it from a box of Life cereal. Mona Delsin didn’t buy “junk food” cereal, but hadn’t caught on that the little squares of Life were loaded with sugar on the inside. Thus, it was Wil’s favorite cereal in the house (on the rare occasions he got to spend the night at Bryce’s house, he got to eat the good stuff, usually Cap’n Crunch). He took the plastic pitcher from the fridge and poured the two ounces of milk that Kara had left into his bowl. There was still half a box of Milkman envelopes left, so he tore one open and dumped it in, added the appropriate amount of water, and began to whisk furiously with a potato masher. It’d be lukewarm, but at least it wouldn’t have any lumps.

As he sat at the table absentmindedly enjoying his bowl of deceptively sweetened cereal, he read the twin-spread funnies page in the Anchorage Daily News that his father had left open after breakfast. The last remnants of grogginess were gone, and with the tip of his middle finger he extracted a nugget of crust from the inside corner of his right eye and flicked it into oblivion. No one had bothered to mix a pitcher of Minute Maid, and he didn’t feel like mashing up the gooey lump of concentrate. So cereal was it.

Wanting to get his chores out of the way as soon as possible, so that he’d have some free time with Bryce before baseball practice, he threw on his faded H.A.S.H. jeans from the day before and grabbed a clean T-shirt from his army surplus dresser. His blue and white Nikes were in the entryway, where he sat in the heavy wooden chair, also army surplus, to put them on. Then he exited into the bright sunlight. The constant chorus of chickadees was in full swing, and a pair of robins were hopping around, gathering bugs and seeds from the lawn. He took in the smells of damp, sun-warmed freshness as he walked down the gravel driveway to the World War Two era quonset hut that served as a storage shed and his dad’s workshop. Just inside the door, stacked along the front wall, were an array of landscaping tools; shovels, leaf and dirt rakes, pitchforks, and pruning saws and shears. Using a croquet mallet to brush away the thick, dusty spider webs, he selected a heavy square-nosed shovel for his task. There was a week’s worth of fecal matter left on the lawn by Augustine, the Delsin’s pretentiously-named Shetland Sheepdog. Of course no one else had bothered to clean up after her since the initial spring rake and burn, wherein a full winter’s worth had been raked up. Fortunately Shelties are small dogs. After carefully scooping up all of the offensive matter, he hurled it into the brush that grew in the drainage ditch between DeArmoun Road and the Delsin’s property.

After putting the shovel back, he rolled out the orange Craftsman mower, and after what seemed like hundreds of exhausting pulls on the fraying starter cord, it sputtered to life. It was easy getting into the groove of cutting a pattern of swaths through the grass, but as the grass was a couple inches too long, his groove had to be frequently interrupted to empty the cuttings bag and use his hands to scoop the accumulated green mulch from the underside of the blade housing. All in all, it wasn’t a horrible task, even though the lawn on the Delsin’s two-and a half acres was one of the largest in the neighborhood. Two hours later he was finished. Sweating and covered in grass stains, he shook the clippings off of his pant legs and Nikes and stepped into the house.

Kara was still practicing piano. At least she was good at it. Will had never been interested in piano, and after two years his parents agreed that continuing to pay for his lessons was a waste of money. Also unlike Wil, Kara was an exceptional student. This confounded their parents and teachers alike, as when Wil was five years old and Kara six, he had tested higher than her on the IQ tests that were required prior to beginning elementary school. In fact, Kara was just very pragmatic, one of several traits she shared with Mona. She was also very attuned to staying in Mona’s good graces by fulfilling all expectations. Wil was unintentionally obstinate in every way and only interested in following his own path.

Garrett, having made his half-ass stab at the minimal kitchen chores assigned to him, had already headed back to the opposite end of McDowel Lane to a friend’s house. Wil looked at the few greasy dishes sitting in the drying rack that had been “washed,” and felt irritation at the idea that even if any consequences were meted out for such subpar performance, they’d pale in comparison to what he’d suffer had he left the task so poorly done. He’d also very likely have to redo the dishes when Mona got home, which was often the disadvantage of being able to perform a loathed task well. “When I get out of here I’m never gonna let anyone know I’m good at cleaning” he thought to himself.

He grabbed his maroon ball cap from the coat stand in the entryway. “Abbot-O-Rabbit Little League” in stitching across its front. Last year’s hat, it was perfectly broken in with the inside band stained by sweat and dirt, and fit naturally onto his head. Walking down the stairs into the garage, he retrieved his silver, ten-speed Schwinn Varsity from its spot leaning against the rough inside of the timber wall. He looped the strap of a small green transistor radio over the ram’s horn handlebars, hauled it outside, and straddled it. The custom for boys wearing wide-leg bellbottoms like H.A.S.H. and other brands was to get them extra long and fold the hems a couple times into two inch cuffs. As you grew you could unfold the first layer, but the lower edge of the second fold would eventually abrade against the grounds and floors they were dragged across, until they were detaching and hanging by threads, at which point they were either torn or cut off, leaving a uniform frayed and faded hem, as well as a telltale faded line from the original cuff a couple inches above. As Wil had grown since receiving his single coveted pair at Christmas, the well-earned fray was now almost a half-inch too high. If he kept them much longer he ran the risk of being mocked for wearing “high-waters,” so he’d have to cut them off into shorts soon. Still plenty of extra flare in the way for the time being, so he carefully tucked his right pant leg into his tube sock to keep it out of his bike chain. There were already greasy, uniform sets of parallel black dash marks from when he’d forgotten to take this precaution and got his bellbottom jammed in the sprocket.

After launching out of the driveway, he began coasting down the shared gravel lane that intersected at DeArmoun. He spotted a familiar figure at the corner; a tall, lean young man with long dark hair having a smoke while resting sideways across the seat of a raked-out Harley Shovelhead chopper. The denim cutoff vest he was wearing over a red flannel shirt had a familiar patch in the center; a horned human skeleton, comically straddling a huge anchor, emerging from parting waves. With one hand, the laughing skeleton swung the anchor chain like a lariat. “TIDERUNNERS” read the rocker across the top, with a square “MC” patch to the right of the waves and anchor, and “ANCHORAGE” underneath.

Billly “Storm” Dillencourt was a local legend. Older brother by many years to Wil’s best friend Bryce, he’d been a star baseball player and wrestler for Dimond High School. The Dillencourt’s father, Duane, had been a merchant seaman during World War Two. After the war, he linked up with several veteran friends, some of whom would become part of the core of the west coast outlaw motorcycle movement. At the time, if you couldn’t afford a Harley Davidson or an Indian, you rode either a Triumph or B.S.A. Duane rode a bobbed version of the latter. Eventually he headed north with his young family and left the outlaw life behind. He began fishing at a set net site, and was eventually able to purchase a small trawler. Then another. He kept the bobber however, and when Billy was sixteen, he got it running again and started riding it to and from school, and around town. Once he skipped school and rode it to Homer and back, six hours each way. After high school, with the Vietnam War in full swing, Billy enlisted in the Marine Corps. After his first tour he volunteered for a second, and had been decorated for valor as well as receiving a Purple Heart. Then the United States’ involvement in the conflict ended, and Billy came home.

He found some success commercial fishing with Duane for a while, and even earned his six-pack license to captain a charter boat. This was where he’d earned the nickname “Storm,” for his reputation of remaining calm in the middle of one. Strangers who heard him referred to by this monicker would take a look at him and might assume he was a known brawler with a short fuse, but anyone who took the time to get to know him found a man with a calm demeanor, and a cool, calculated approach to adversity. Ultimately however, the sea wasn’t where he wanted to make his living. He also missed the camaraderie he’d found in the Marine Corps. After dusting off the venerable B.S.A., he began riding with some friends. Before long he was a “hang around” with the Tiderunners motorcycle club, the area’s only outlaw MC. When he was invited to prospect, the TMC had a strict “American only” policy regarding motorcycles. Only Harleys and Indians were allowed, and nobody rode an Indian. And so, the cherished English bobber would eventually have to return to Duane’s garage before Billy could be considered for full membership.

After several months as a prospect, Billy and another prospect friend, Delmer Fowler, stopped in at the secluded Cache Club near the remote west end of Dimond Boulevard to have a couple beers and a few games of pool. It was immediately apparent that counter-culture types weren’t part of the usual crowd at the bar, which was a mostly older, conservative clientele. World War Two and Korean War veterans, Firemen, blue-collar working stiffs, and off-duty APD cops. Billy had felt the unwelcoming stares the moment they’d walked through the door, but wasn’t one to back down from intimidation. A group of six boisterous fellows came into the club and greeted all the regulars. Clean-cut and brawny, Billy quickly pegged them as off-duty APD cops. He could feel the menacing looks being shot his way, and muttered to Delmer that it might be a good time to leave. As they made their way toward the door, the fattest cop in the group made some comment about “long-haired scooter trash,” Billy made a retort about the cop’s mother riding “bitch”, and a very one-sided brawl ensued, emptying the bar into the parking lot. Impossibly outnumbered, Billy and Delmer were overwhelmed and beaten senseless, then tossed into the trunk of a Cadillac and hogtied with belts. The off-duty cops drove them forty miles Portage Valley, beat on them some more, and dragged them off the road, dumping them into the dry bed of one of the glacial tributaries that flowed into Portage Creek. After a while, Billy revived somewhat, managed to cut his restraints on the broken edge of a large rock, and crawled out to the road with a concussion, six broken ribs, and a lot of bloody lacerations and swelling. Some hippie kids who’d been camping nearby spotted him while heading out in their Volkswagen Microbus on a beer run. They found Delmer and carried him into the bus, and drove both of them back to Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Delmer was in a coma for nearly a month, and never did fully recover from his head injury. He would die almost two years later from an overdose of his pain medication and whiskey.

As Billy healed, he heard the news that the two prospects’ bikes had been found in a sand pit not far from the Cache Club, having been worked over with what looked like a sledge hammer and a hacksaw. Friends had hoisted what was left of the B.S.A. into the back of a pickup, and it was now sitting on the workbench of the one-car garage in Billy’s Spenard Rental. A friend who was a full-patch TMC member managed to find a ’66 Shovelhead at a good price as it needed some work, after the original owner had laid it down pretty hard a few years prior. They stretched out the frame in a dramatic rake, added long forks, shotgun pipes and a sissy bar, lowered the suspension, and did some milling magic to the heads that dramatically increased horsepower and torque. They stripped off everything Billy didn’t think was necessary, and another friend at a body shop gave it a red, orange, and yellow flamed-out paint job. Billy now had a true, club-ready biker’s bike. Some would even call it a “righteous scooter.”

Two months after the beatdown, Billy drove to the Cache Club in his rust-red ‘60 Ford pickup near closing time, and staked out a corner of the parking lot. After watching people slowly trickle out in couples or as individuals, he spotted one group who he recognized as four of his six original assailants. As they joked and laughed loudly while making their way to a couple parked sedans, Billy got out of his pickup, his hair tucked into a baseball cap, armed with a cocked-and-locked Colt 1911 in his waistband, and a huge padlock that he’d used to secure his B.S.A., a red bandana knotted through the shackle and wrapped around his hand. He casually walked up behind the group and waylaid them with the padlock, leaving all four unconscious and sending two to the hospital. One of the cops was carrying a J-frame .38 in an ankle holster, and Billy took it as a trophy. No one ever said a thing, cops or regulars. Nothing was ever investigated, nor were any charges ever filed. Everyone knew they’d crossed the line of acceptable police brutality, even for those early Trans-Alaska Pipeline years, and were lucky to have gotten off so easily with merely lumps, stitches, and a night in the hospital for a couple of them. Billy could’ve easily killed all of them. In the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, a number of APD cops who were supposed to be securing properties were actually discovered to be participating in the looting. One of them ended up getting shot by a storekeeper who didn’t have a clear view of who was robbing his shop. The wounded and disgraced officer was fired, and now worked security at National Bank of Alaska, where he was easily identified by the limp that had resulted from his gunshot wound. After that shameful event, APD had made an effort to reform their ranks at the demands of an angry mayor and citizenry, so when officers did occasionally deviate from the straight and narrow, no one on that side of the thin blue line wanted any attention drawn to the matter. At the next TMC meeting, Billy was officially patched in.

All that chrome and flaming paint that Billy was now leaning against was the most beautiful thing Will had ever seen. Which was fitting, as Billy Dillencourt was officially the coolest and most badass person he’d ever seen. As the wheels of his Schwinn crunched over gravel, Billy’s head turned Wil’s direction, the sunlight catching his mirrored aviator shades. “How’s it goin’, Willy?” He greeted him. “Hey, Billy. And uh, it’s just Wil now.” “Yeah? Got hair on your balls yet?” Wil looked irritated, but said nothing. Billy took a drag off his Marlboro. “That’s what I thought. We’re both Williams, right? If I had to deal with it you gotta deal with it. When you can buy me a beer I’ll call ya whatever you want.”

“If he gets any taller he’s gonna be buyin’ me a beer first!” They both turned at the sound of the lilting female voice as Sherri Kavanaugh casually strolled down the lane. “Hey, handsome” she greeted. “Mornin’, babe” Billy replied. “Not you, asshole; I was talkin’ to Willy!” Billy laughed, Wil smiled awkwardly and blushed. “Haven’t ya heard, babe? It’s just Wil now. Little Willy’s all grown up.” Sherri had been the babysitter for the Delsin kids when Wil was younger. Then one night while she was sitting, she’d had a boyfriend drop by; a particularly shady kid named Ritchie. When Pete and Mona Delsin came home earlier than expected, they found the children asleep on the living room floor, and Sherri and Ritchie in their bed.

“Awww, nooo; he’s always gonna be my widdle Willy!” Sherri teased as she aggressively pinched his cheek and tousled his mop of wavy reddish brown hair. “Oh shit! I can still do this, right!? Or are you too big now, ‘Wil?” He pushed her hand away, and said “How’d you like it if I did that to your hair!?” while reaching for her head. She intercepted and playfully restrained both of his arms pulling him into a hug, “I’m about to ride into town on the back of a bike, what do I care? I got hair spray in my purse!” She pulled him in tighter from behind and kissed the top of his head, her perfume nearly overpowering him. If it was possible to blush harder, Wil did. Sherri knew that neighborhood kids teased Wil about having a crush on her, and she played that angle to entertain herself at his expense. Wil did in fact like her, loved her even. Just not in any romantic sense. While crushes on girls had become the talk of boys in his age, Wil just wasn’t feeling it. He’d play along when other guys talked about who they wanted to “go with,” or make out with, or screw. Naturally the majority of them weren’t doing any of these things, so Wil’s lack of action with the opposite sex hadn’t drawn any particular attention.

Billy was clearly amused by Wil’s discomfort. “Whatcha up to today, little man; hangin’ with my bro’?” Sherri released him. “Sure am, headed over there right now.” Billy nodded, threw one leg over the saddle, and held the chopper steady as Sherri climbed on behind him. As he did so, Wil caught a momentary glimpse of the butt of the legendary .38 protruding from his waistband just above his right hip. Just behind, in the position Billy referred to as “Four O’Clock,” a short-bladed hunting knife hung in its sheath from his heavily-tooled belt. “Cool, tell him I said ‘hi’ and I’ll see him at the game Thursday. Don’t tell my mom I was here; if she finds out I didn’t stop by I’ll never hear the end of it.” He took the cigarette out of his mouth and flicked it expertly, in a long arc into the ditch. “What’re you gonna give me not to tell her?” Wil challenged. “I’ll give you a kick in your little baby balls if you do, how’s that.” Sherri, looking faux appalled, giggled and slapped Billy playfully on his shoulder. Billy kicked over the big chopper and its throaty rumble filled the neighborhood, “See ya round, Willy!” he enunciated the childhood name mockingly. Wil flipped them both a bird with each hand as the Harley peeled out in a cloud of rubber smoke and exhaust. He watched them disappear down DeArmoun, the accelerating rumble of the big engine still almost ear-splittingly loud a quarter mile away.

After the babysitting scandal, The Kavanaughs were off-limits to the Delsin kids. Mona referred to the two sisters as “bad kids” who they were to have nothing to do with. Which was challenging, as they always had to share the lane that ran alongside the Delsin property. Aside from that, Sherri, was always nice to Wil. The younger sister, Violet, was not. When Wil was five, Violet had led him into the wooded lot behind his house. She pointed to a devil’s club bush that was growing, and informed him that “The devil made that!” She then abandoned him, leaving him in a panic. When he made it out of the woods and identified the compacted dirt and gravel of McDowel Lane, he cried tears of fear and relief as he ran home. Another time she’d pushed him down while a group of older kids chased and then surrounded him at her request when he got off the school bus. She felt that he’d gotten mouthy with her earlier at school. But Sherri had always been kind, although prone to associate with less than savory people. He couldn’t have identified Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh if he saw them. If they ever left the house, it must have been at night.

Wil shot across the road, and onto the oiled gravel of East 140th. He passed the Buchanan house, a cube-like modern affair, where Mrs. Buchanan was tending to her sunflowers. They waved to each other. In their backyard the Buchanans had a small foot bridge over the creek, that passed over a waterfall. They allowed neighborhood kids to fish for trout from it, and it was a pleasant spot to enjoy a grape soda and a sandwich while trying to catch rainbows. He crossed the neighborhood bridge over Rabbit Creek, a construction of large steel culverts covered with timbers and packed earth. Some years, if there’d been a heavy snow season, the creek, usually a shallow babbling brook, would become a raging torrent as warmer weather melted the heavy snowpack in the mountains. Several years prior, this torrent had flooded over the banks of the creek and passed over the bridge, destroying it. Mona had taken toddlers Wil and Kara down to watch the heavy equipment moving what was left of the old logs out of the way before replacing them. She held on to both of their hands and kept well back, but Wil could still clearly recall the awesome power of the raging water. Rolling across the bridge now, gaps had appeared that were large enough to see the clear, shallow water passing underneath, spilling over stones and fallen branches as it exited the culverts. A large flatbed truck drove across. He felt the whole construction bounce and shake, confident that if the water level once again rose that high, this bridge would also be washing away.

The shrubbery along the greenbelt, mostly devils club and cow parsnip, was giving off its characteristic pungent fragrance. Almost skunky, but neither unpleasant nor overpowering. It was a smell he strongly associated with summer. Fresh. The scent of moving water. As East 140th curved into Buffalo, he peddled harder up the slight incline, and into the grid of gravel roads inside of which the Dillencourt house was nestled.

As he crested the hill, an unfamiliar gray El Camino was slowly making its way along Buffalo, its chrome aftermarket exhaust rumbling like a dragster. He watched cautiously as they approached each other from opposite directions, as was his normal practice. Often, neighborhood encounters between younger kids and teenagers didn’t go well for the younger party. As they got close enough that he could see the driver and passenger, he felt his heart sink into his stomach. The driver was Charlie Parks, and his passenger was Dickie Hill. Both older teenagers, still of high school age, but neither was in school. They were known bullies, and also suspected of numerous break-ins around South Anchorage. Why couldn’t Billy and Sherri have hung around two more minutes. No way these two punks would’ve thought of doing anything with Billy sitting right there. Hell, they even knew better than to mess with Sherri. But here he was, on his own, about to face whatever was coming. Both delinquents had their windows rolled down, Thin Lizzy blaring from an 8-track stereo. Charlie’s left elbow was resting on the door, can of Budweiser in hand. Wil sped up slightly while carefully trying to avoid the appearance of taking flight. Nevertheless, he was looking for openings in the brush on his side of the road through which he could make an escape. Charlie didn’t stop the car, which was a good sign. Wil was starting to think this might be a non-event. But nope; just as they passed each other, Charlie made eye contact, shouted “Hey, ya little faggot!” and launched the beer can in Wil’s direction. It only hit him below the knee, and was only partially full. Just enough to splatter some of its sour-smelling contents on his pant leg. Charlie then let out the clutch and hit the gas, pelting Will with gravel before swerving down the hill Wil had just climbed leaving a cloud of gritty dust. “Huh” Wil thought. “Guess that could’ve gone worse. He must have somewhere to be.” Still, as the adrenaline crescendo began to subside, he started to shake, and his fear was replaced by helpless anger. He peddled harder down Shoshoni toward Bryce’s house, imagining all the things he could’ve done had he been older. Bigger. Stronger. Someone like Billy Dillencourt. Either of the Dillencourt brothers for that matter; Bryce was never one to back down from a fight or be intimidated even by adults, although most local bullies didn’t bother him because everyone knew who his brother was.

Wil fought back tears of impotent rage. He couldn’t have Bryce catch him with wet eyes, he already had enough flaws for Bryce to make fun of as it was. A block away he slowed down and dismounted to walk his bike the rest of the way. He wiped his eyes with the inside of his shirt and started to catch his breath.

I Eat Poisonous Plants

Amanita Muscaria, Fly Agaric mushroom

The fluid in the dropper is an opaque off-white; almost opalescent. I empty it under my tongue, then sit back and feel the gentle burn of the grain alcohol base. I hold it there a full minute as instructed. The taste is strong, but not unpleasant. Fruity, but also almost soapy. Like I opened my mouth just as someone sprayed a nice air freshener, but a quick glimpse at the very simple ingredients list reveals nothing as noxious as chemical perfume. “Fly Agaric caps. Grain alcohol. Distilled water.” There’s a picture of a familiar, iconic, orange-red mushroom sprinkled with small white bumps. This is a tincture of the toxic Amanita Muscaria mushroom.

Fly Agaric caps being prepared. Photo credit Emporium Black

I can’t think of this fungus without instinctively recalling a lifetime of misinformation about it. Somewhere in my dad’s house I’m sure there’s still a 1970s pocket edition of Wild Edible and Poisonous Plants of Alaska. As children, the description within of Amanita Muscaria was sufficient to scare us away from it. In Boy Scouts we were warned that a single bite was certain, agonizing death, and that even touching it would allow the poison to pass through your skin and destroy your liver. So the pretty toadstools that appeared each rainy August were more often than not carefully removed and disposed of.

Selection of Datura-based truffles, photo credit Emporium Black

I was well into my thirties before I discovered that, in addition to fatalities from Amanita consumption being exceedingly rare (none verified within the last century), it’s also a very storied plant medicine with a cross-cultural pharmacopaea that predates written history. Yes it’s toxic and it can kill you, but this is dependent upon factors which can be eliminated if the plant matter is suitably processed by a qualified herbalist or ethnobotanist who’s studied plant medicines.

The Fly Agaric mushroom contains poison that can produce violent abdominal cramps and vomiting. In high enough dosages, one could theoretically vomit themselves to death through extreme dehydration or other emergent issues, such as ruptures within the digestive tract. If the toxin is removed however, what’s left behind are muscimol and ibotenic acid, both of which have very potent opiate and hallucinogenic properties.

My daily serving of Fly Agaric tincture from The Jagged Path

Various cultures developed their own methods of removing the poisons. The Greeks and Romans fed the fungus to snails, which, not being affected by the poison, would break it down into harmless substances during digestion. The snails could then be cooked and eaten, giving the consumer the psychedelic effects without the abdominal discomfort. On the Greek island of Patmos, where John the Divine penned the book of Revelation, There are ruins of a second-century monastery. Within these ruins is a mosaic that depicts people carrying baskets of snails and reddish-orange mushrooms sprinkled with white dots (and this could very well explain some of the visions written in St. John’s Apocalypse). Siberian shamans feed the mushrooms to reindeer, then collect the reindeers’ urine and drink it. Their way of “taking one for the team” to seek wisdom to share with their people.

Fortunately, modern herbalists can produce substances such as tinctures, ointments, and even truffles, all of which are way less gross than eating snails or drinking pee.

Photo credit, The Jagged Path

Social media mining algorithms being what they are, I only had to interact with one random interesting post before my feed became busy with a subculture known as “poisoners.” These are people with a passion for and a tremendous collective knowledge of how to work with various poisonous plants to achieve medicinal properties. Among those I follow are Bobbi of The Jagged Path, Seamus Black of Emporium Black, and Coby Michael of The Poisoner’s Apothecary.

Hemlock. Photo credit, The Jagged Path

At this point, I think a more comprehensive understanding of the term “poison” is in order. What is a poison exactly? Certainly there are caustic and harmful substances that have no physiologically beneficial properties whatsoever, and in our modern western society this is what usually comes to mind when one sees the iconic skull and crossbones on a label. But there’s a much broader, historical idea as well. Witches, witchdoctors, shamans, and folk healers used thousands of baneful plants to injure when desired, but also to heal. Any doctor can tell you that the difference between a drug and a poison is dosage, and indeed the same drugs used to anesthetize patients for surgeries are also used to execute prisoners sentenced to capital punishment. The atropine injectors they issued us in the Army contain a substance synthesized from belladonna, and this is used to counter the deadly effects of nerve agent. It is itself a harmful substance however, so a second injector is included to act as an antidote to the nerve agent antidote. The earliest practitioners of homeopathy used actual poisons such as arsenic in very small amounts, a far cry from the sugar pills you can buy at Whole Foods. In fact, arsenic is still used in some of the older chemotherapy formulas used to treat cancer. My naturopath once prescribed me apis, a substance distilled from ground-up bees, to counter a particularly nasty spider bite (my leg swelled to the point that it was too painful to stand). I’ve heard anecdotal accounts of people who claim to have used it to stop anaphylaxis from bee stings in its tracks.

In shamanic thought, one definition of poison is anything more than what’s needed. Food. Sleep. Anger. Money. Attachment. Even water and oxygen are fatal in ridiculously voluminous amounts. I’ve taken Vicodin after a surgery; one or two takes the edge off the pain, but I know that eating the entire bottle will kill me. I enjoy a drink or two now and then, but I know that chugging an entire bottle of fine bourbon might kill me. Such is the way of baneful plants. A leaf of the Datura plant will kill you. A thin, half-inch sliver from a leaf however can have a sedative effect, or even a mind-opening one. This concept of appropriate dosage is what I’m focusing on as I take my first nervous steps down this ancient yet new-to-me path.

Monkshood. Photo credit, The Jagged Path

Bobbi at The Jagged Path has several of her tinctures formulated to a micro dose at half a dropper full per day. A few minutes after taking the recommended dosage of Fly Agaric, I start to feel the now-familiar gentle warmth spreading through my body. This is followed by a sedative effect not unlike Xanax, but without the grogginess or “hangover” that often follows. This is timely for me, as the Veterans Administration has recently cut off the “AS-NEEDED” Xanax script That I had for twenty years. Our country being at war perpetually since 2003 has created a subculture of damaged young and middle-aged men and women, many of whom suffer chronic pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as the result of an unprecedented number of combat deployments. It’s predictable that drugs such as opiates and benzodiazepines would be used to self-medicate, often to the point of the VA’s sometimes arbitrarily-assigned definitions of abuse. Therefore, the culture of care within the VA has moved hard against continuing to prescribe such medications unless “absolutely necessary.” Never mind that pain and suffering are subjective; the pendulum has swung in a less compassionate direction by removing medicine and often leaving a void without timely treatment interventions to replace them.

Fly Agaric and wild blueberries being prepared for truffles. Photo, Emporium Black

But I digress. Im off the benzos, which, while leading to a lot of unnecessary anxiety over the course of the pandemic, is not necessarily a bad thing. The long-term effects of this class of drugs on cognitive function and memory is becoming better understood, so they’re not something I want to continue to need. As it happens, one of the claimed benefits of Fly Agaric is in the recovery from benzodiazepine addiction.

Ghost Pipe. Photo credit, The Jagged Path

In addition to the Fly Agaric tincture she makes, Bobbi also uses many other plants, some baneful and some not. Of the former, extracts of datura, henbane, mandrake, mugwort, belladonna, Monkshood, and wormwood can be purchased. On the lighter side she offers lotus, rose, white willow, and a selection of digestive bitters, among other concoctions.

Emporium Black

“Flying ointments” are ancient formulas used by European witches. While much scary folklore has been attributed to them by superstitious peasants and clergy, such as using the rendered fat of babies to allow witches to fly, they are in fact psychedelic preparations used to bring about a transcendent or meditative state during rituals, or to relieve pain or enhance healing. It’s probable that their hallucinogenic, analgesic, or euphoria-enhancing properties are where the comparison to “flying” comes from, and this description was exaggerated and demonized by the spiritually monopolizing church.

Datura. Photo credit, Emporium Black

Bobbi, a practicing witch, makes and sells flying ointments. I have a tin of her Fly Agaric witches’ flying ointment, but I’ve yet to try it as of this writing. She makes several others, each of which are tailored to achieve a specific effect.

Brugmansia. Photo credit, The Jagged Path

Seamus Black, a retired chef and chocolatier, opened Emporium Black in 2019. His slogan is “Flying ointments made to be eaten.” His particular specialty is disguising these traditional plant teachers in chocolate truffles. With his decades of experience in ethnobotany and the Native American Church, he is well-trained in the formulation and use of entheogens. And while he does advise to start with half a truffle and wait ten minutes before deciding if you want the other half, he also states that none of them will cause anyone to “trip balls.” He’s worked out a formula where a single truffle will have the best effect for the broadest audience, without causing any distress for a consumer. And his comprehensive description is spot-on. It’s nothing like splitting an eighth of psilocybin ‘shrooms with your friend at a festival, or certainly not anything like dropping a hit of acid. Each truffle has its own formula designed for a particular effect, and can contain datura, Fly Agaric, mugwort, henbane, mandrake, wormwood, rowan berries, and any of several other baneful plants, as well as more innocent ingredients to add flavor and make the experience more palatable. Nevertheless, the gothic art on each individual package bears a skull and crossbones, and warns consumers to “Eat at your own risk.” All wrapped in silky Belgian or white chocolate.

Truffles from Emporium Black. Photo credit, Emporium Black

Seamus recommends taking one of his truffles on an empty stomach, or with coffee and a light snack. He advises one should then meditate, or focus their intentions, engaging in some kind of creative activity. I started off a bit nervous about the truffles that contain datura, after recalling stories from the ’80s of teenagers in southern states smoking “Jimson Weed” and ending up comatose. but this anxiety quickly left, as a sedative mood and light body high overtook me. The psychedelic effect was in no way intoxicating or incapacitating; it was more a shifting of my mental state to one of far-seeing introspection. This was not unlike my thoughts the day after my first experience with psilocybin, where the big realizations came after the “high” part of the trip had worn off. Only now, I was in that state of mind almost instantly, along with just being in a “chill” mood.

Egyptian Henbane. Photo credit, Emporium Black

Elsewhere on this site, Ive written of my affinity toward the shamanic archetype of the fool, and that one of the methods employed by the fool is to drink poison and turn it into medicine. At the time of writing I was speaking figuratively of turning adversity into humor, and literally of using alcohol as a social lubricant and agent of mirth. At the time I had no conscious awareness that, with the help and guidance of some truly talented and inspirational individuals, I’d be stepping down the path of seekers and seers of generations past, working with plant spirit teachers to increase my awareness and heal my body and mind.

Blessings.

Disclaimer: I am neither a health care professional nor herbalist, merely a seeker recounting my personal, subjective experience. Nothing written here should be considered as advice or prescription to treat medical or psychological conditions, nor are the products mentioned intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Furthermore, no one should engage in the consumption of baneful plants on their own, as doing so can lead to serious illness or death. If this is a path that interests you, contact a qualified and reputable herbalist or ethnobotanist who specializes in these plant medicines, and ALWAYS consult a physician before undertaking this venture if you have a medical condition or are on medication that may negatively interact with plant substances. Links to companies or individuals who I follow and have experience with their products are listed here.

View The Jagged Path Website

Visit the Emporium Black website

Visit The Poisoners Apothecary website

Impermanence

Entropy.

Thermodynamics.

The constant wearing, grinding, decaying destruction and recreation of the universal pulse.

“Nothing lasts forever,” and “the only constant is change” in the world of cliche.

The Colossus of Rhodes is long gone. The Sphinx has no nose.

In an instant, nine centuries of vanity becomes a sand mandala dissipating in the gentle breeze of time.

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The Fool

Let’s talk about the fool.

Clown. Joker. Trickster. Idiot…

Wise in their stupidity, holy and offensive.

Some people call me the space cowboy. Don’t pity the fool, because everybody plays the fool.

And then, some aren’t playing…

The fool is zero in the deck. The number of ultimate potential. The wild card. The fool can be anywhere and is ever present. The fool is the beginning, or the end, or anywhere in the “fool’s journey” in between.

The fool is a fakir; a magician who changes the reality of single mind or an assembly with a trick. The fool plants the seed of a tree of questions, each question a possibility.

The fool is a shaman who drinks poison and turns it into medicine. Drink puts the fool between this world and the other. Drink lubricates a fool socially, that they may put a room at ease with a joke. They inhale the negativity of the world, and exhale humor. And this… is not without cost. But I’ll gladly pick up the check if you leave feeling lighter.

The fool is the eyes and ears of the court. You’re watching the fool, but they’re reading you. The court is the fool’s mirror; their reflection in each one shows what secrets are hidden. Speak to the fool truthfully, or lie and show an even deeper truth.

The fool speaks truth to power (it’s part of the job). However, the fool is aware that the axe is ever present, so best that truth is honeyed when spoken to those with the most to lose, lest the axe sever a head… or a friendship.

The fool is loved and hated, ignored and promoted. But the fool is always present, always watching, and listening, and learning. What’s in their bag of tricks? What’s in their pocket?

To underestimate the fool is… well, foolish

God is a Mask that Your Mind Wears

Birth.

Death.

Void.

Repeat.

We arrive, again, not knowing who we are. At first, we’re barely aware that we are. And we are immediately dependent upon another. An other. Others. From this condition, it is only natural that at some point along the way we begin to trick ourselves into thinking there’s an even greater other beyond the ones we see, hear, and feel.

This greater other, this ultimate other, is difficult to define, but define it we must.

For some, vagueness is sufficient. I am. Ein Sof. Tao. Alpha and Omega.

For others, anthropomorphism is necessary. Sometimes for the collective intelligence of the universe. Other times as archetypes for specific forces of nature.

Regardless, these are tools that we use to focus will and manipulate our “reality.”

The more and the longer we depend on an other, the more and the bigger masks we will have. Sometimes, often through crisis, our masks will crack, and we see ourselves.

When you learn the limitations of medicine, one can despair, or one can begin learning how to maintain one’s own health, and also accept that, ultimately, your clock has to run out.

When you understand that 911 isn’t immediate, you might begin planning to handle emergencies on your own.

And when prayers aren’t answered, one may begin to realize they’ve been praying to themselves all along, and begin the work to manifest their own will.

Carve and paint your own god-mask, as fierce, as placid, or as beautiful as you desire. It always worked when you didn’t know it was you, put it to use now.

Sunday Evening

Sunday evening has its own distinct ennui.

In the milieu of our Monday through Friday work world, the weekend is gold. Our payment for and our respite from the grind of producing.

Saturday night is the climax, Sunday morning the comfort after.

By afternoon, we’re feeling the end of the cycle. The twilight of the week. The death of an arbitrary unit of time.

We quietly mourn the end of the good times, and then feel the pause of the void before the new week is born.