Cross-Post: Butcher, Baker Ebook

Butcher, Baker Open Road Media ebook

I’ve been working with Open Road Media the past few months to (finally) get Butcher, Baker published in the ebook format. I’m proud that they approached us (meaning me and the estate of Walter Gilmour). I’m even more proud that they consider it a classic of the genre. Which, believe me, was not on my mind when the title was first published in 1991. (Yes, Virginia, 25 years ago.)

Since then, Butcher, Baker has been republished multiple times — which explains, in part, why it managed to inspire a motion picture (“The Frozen Ground,” starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack). It’s a story with staying power. And an Alaskan story, through and through.

Now it’s an ebook. An EBOOK.

You can purchase your copy at one of the following fine booksellers:

  • Amazon Kindle edition
  • Apple iBooks (supports iPad and iPhone)
  • Barnes & Noble Nook edition
  • Google Play (supports Android devices)
  • Kobo bookseller (supports multiple formats, including the Kobo eReader)

Original Post: Butcher, Baker Now an Ebook

Hitchhike: New York City

Broadway, New York, 1972New York City is sensory overload. Neither H. nor I really want to be there. But the hippies just drop us off in the Village. Why the Village? Because that’s the only place name we know in NYC. Greenwich Village. It’s famous, right?

It turns out that H. knows someone who lives in Manhattan. She’s an international stewardess for Pan Am. H. has known her since high school. We find a pay phone (quaint) and H. gives her a call. We’re in luck. She’s in town. And she agrees to let us stay with her, though only for a couple of days.

It turns out that she shares an apartment with three other stews and they rotate through on a schedule that ensures no more than two of them are there at the same time. Which is good, because there are only two bedrooms. Her rotation ends in three days, when she flies to another exotic destination. We can only imagine…

The term “stewardess” evokes another era, when air travel was more glamorous. We quickly learn that it’s not as glamorous as it seems; H.’s friend gets international routes because she lacks seniority. She says she’s always exhausted by the end. And Pan Am? Gone to the great airline graveyard in the sky.

The deep irony is that we love New York so much we end up staying until we can stay no longer. We check out Broadway (seedy, very seedy in those days). We spend hour after hour in the Village. There’s free music on the streets. Cheap hotdogs everywhere. And we find that people are… friendly. You talk to them, they talk back. Not like Seattle, where you can talk to strangers but they might ignore you, because they think you’re crazy.

My strongest memory, though, is a used clothing shop in the Village, where the proprietor tries to talk H. into modeling a very transparent blouse. There’s no one else in the store and… It looks really good on her…

Get The Book

This hitchhiking adventure, and others like it, informed “Huck Finn is Dead,” the fictional account of the life and times of Carney James. You should read it, “Huck Finn is Dead,” I mean. You’ll like it.

Hitchhike: The Hippies

The idea is to drive straight through to Massachusetts, stopping only to top off the oil, pump gas or get food. There are five of us now. We can take shifts. Shifts driving. Shifts sleeping. And since H. and I are the newbies, we get the night shift. Of course. Got it. Sure. Perfect.

The three hippies are, more accurately, two men and one woman. At one point in our drive, H. tells me she thinks they are sharing. As in a menage a trois type of sharing. I don’t think about it much. There’s no time for that anyway, not the way we’re driving. Don’t think much about it, that is, until I’m lounging in the back of the truck. One of the hippies hands me a book of erotica and says, “read page 115.” Something about men having sex with men and who does what to whom.

“Isn’t it my turn to go up front and drive?” I ask, handing the book back to him. Well, it was actually.

Later, pouring oil at the side of the highway, I tell H. I’m not actually sure what kind of sharing they do. She says she thinks they share everything. Ok. It doesn’t matter.

At the end of the day, we’re just another made-up American family. In a car, headed to grandmother’s house or wherever it is, praying for cheap gas and good motels. Where some folks stop to get ice cold root beer at A & W, we stop to top off the oil. [Hell, there’s two cases of the stuff at the back of the van.] Where some people gawk at the scenery, we plot our route, day and night, night and day.

The plan is to avoid cities. Going around them is faster. “We don’t like cities,” the woman announces. There’s a wry smile on her face and I like it that she’s not to be taken too seriously. Because, long hair and hippiedom notwithstanding, the two dudes are actually quite serious. Super serious, even. They’re East Coast hippies, I guess.

So we’re driving. Just driving. Through Minnesota, then east on a trajectory that takes us across the Mississippi River, through Wisconsin and around Chicago. I’m kind of bummed. I wanted to see Chicago. I see its reach instead, the suburbs sprawling like prairie cancer.

Crossing the Mississippi at La Crosse, Wisconsin.

La Crosse, Wisconsin, Mississippi River Bridge. Photo by Huck. Link to original.

Jamming onward, we zoom through Indiana, hard on the heels of Ohio. We’ll hit Boston any minute now.

By the time I wake up somewhere in the dark of night, we have changed course. As I take wheel watch I quickly realize we’re no longer on I-90, which is the straightest shot to Boston. No, we’re now on I-80. Yes, of course, one can still get to Boston on this route. But the never-waver-straight-to-Boston hippies are now… meandering.

I ask about it, this sudden change of direction. One of the dudes says, “We changed our minds. We’re headed for New York.”

“New York?”

“New York City,” he adds, stifling a yawn. “The Big Apple. Just stay on I-80.”

Later, checking the map, I realize they probably hit I-80 by mistake, taking a right at the junction, when they should have taken a left. But it’s the woman’s words that pop into my brain. The ones about, “We don’t like cities.”

Of course. Got it. Sure. Perfect.

Get The Book

This hitchhiking adventure, and others like it, informed “Huck Finn is Dead,” the fictional account of the life and times of Carney James. You should read it, “Huck Finn is Dead,” I mean. You’ll like it.

Hitchhike: The Tramp, Pt. 2

While we make our way to a full-service rest stop, the tramp falls into a routine. He takes a drink. Goes silent as the alcohol percolates. Then out of nowhere there’s a shout, his voice edgy and belligerent. “Slow down,” he demands. “You’re driving too fast.” And then:

“Why the hell did you pass that car? There’s no need to pass that car.”

At the rest stop, H. and I are both out of the car. Time to re-calibrate. I start pumping gas. I want to put his half-full theory to the test. H. has other things on her mind.

“He was trying to feel me up the whole time,” H. says. “Nonstop.”

“Nonstop? I saw him go for your boobs,” I reply. “So what do we do? Leave him here?”

“Let’s get him a hamburger and sober him up. If we can sober him up… Oh. And I’m riding in the back seat. He’s all yours.”

“Thanks.”

The tramp holds tight on the passenger side while I pump gas, barely aware of the surrounding conversation. That doesn’t mean he’s happy. “There was no need to stop here,” he growls. “I fucking hate Texaco,” he adds. “Let’s go. Let’s fucking go.”

“Hey, she’s getting us some burgers. You said you were hungry, right? And don’t worry, we’ll be on the road soon. Just want to check the gas, that’s all.”

“You don’t trust me? Well screw you.”

The burgers are a welcome sight and the tramp seems calmed by H.’s presence. Temporarily calmed. As we pull onto the freeway, his coffee cup loses its dashboard perch and spills to the floor. He explodes, a pot boiling over.

“Goddamn it, god fucking damn it, who taught you fucking how to drive, anyways? Jesus, why don’t you just let me drive?”

I see H.’s face in the rearview. Scared. We both know this can’t continue, that we’re fooling ourselves with offers of hamburger and reasonableness. “Ok,” I assure him. “We’ll go up the road a ways and then we’ll get out. Okay?”

He doesn’t answer. We roll onto the highway, on the lookout for the next rest stop. Which means we’ll have to put up with him for awhile. “You’re right about the gas gauge,” I say, trying to placate him in the meantime. “Filled up it reads half a tank. Weird.” Still nothing from him. I’m glad. His silence is golden.

It is then that H. grabs my attention from the back seat. She’s daintily holding a rolled up piece of toilet paper by the threads. As I take it in, she lets it drop to the floor. “It’s a turd,” she says. “A dried up turd wrapped in toilet paper.”

In the miles ahead, we hit a detour. It’s not the first. Out west, there are only two seasons. Winter. And road-building. They’re funneling us through a single lane; it’s a hassle you put up with. Another indignity.


Source: Hark’s Photos

But this time, H. spots an out. Leaving the construction zone, she spies a yellow Dodge panel truck and three hippies at the side of the road. She says, “Stop.” I turn around and pull in behind them, not failing to notice the truck’s raised hood. “Are you sure?”

“The truck is old,” H. explains when she gets back. “They have to keep feeding it oil. That’s why the hood’s up. Oh. And they’ll give us a ride. They’re from Massachusetts and they’re headed home.”

It’s a simple matter to pull our packs out of the tramp’s car and into the truck. But the tramp is confused by this roadside dance. We resolve to be methodical. Deliberate. To ignore him. Soon we’re pulling away with the Massachusetts hippies. As we peer out the back window, H. and I watch the tramp slide into the driver’s seat and start his car. Shit. He’s going to follow us. Then, at the last minute, he pulls off the road. He stops.

We’re gone.

Get The Book

This hitchhiking adventure, and others like it, informed “Huck Finn is Dead,” the fictional account of the life and times of Carney James. You should read it, “Huck Finn is Dead,” I mean. You’ll like it.

Hitchhike: The Tramp, Pt. 1

South Dakota. The sun is a blank white fire rolling across the sky. H. and I are squatted at an underpass, watching swallows swoop to their nests while the cars pass by, oblivious. It’s ninety degrees in the shade.

An hour of this is fine. (No, it’s not.) And now we’re going on several without a ride. This is no place to be. Finally a battered Ford sedan staggers to a stop and the driver leans over to talk to us, the rolled down windows his only air conditioning.

“You going to Sioux Falls?” I ask casually, trying not to look desperate. He’s in his forties but looks older. Older and harder, with a two day beard, rumpled hair, stained shirt.

“Is that on the way to Chicago?”

“Yes. You going that far?”

“Well, let me tell you,” he replies. “I’m drunk.”

H. asks him the essential question. The question of the hour, if not the day. “You mind if we drive?”

“Ok,” he says. “I’m real tired.”

He slides to the passenger side, H. settling between us, me driving. Barely underway and out comes a pint. “Do you want some whiskey?” “No.” “Do you mind if I do?” “No.” Bottle to his mouth, he takes a straight shot. My mouth burns just watching.

The car has problems. It doesn’t seem able to hit more than fifty. Ok, then, we’ll settle into the slow lane. That’s when I notice the gas gauge reads “empty.” No, he tells us, it’s broken. “When it’s full, it reads half a tank.” He leans over to check it himself, making sure to glance his arm across H.’s breasts as he goes by. She squirms.

“We got 150 miles in it easy,” he proclaims on the way back to his perch. H. sneaks me a look. It says, “he did it again.” Asshole. He’s already back at the whiskey. Tells us he’s glad to have the company. Offers us money. Passes out, his head awkward against the door jamb.


Photo by Snap Man. Powered by Fotopedia

“I still don’t trust this gas gauge,” I tell H. “We don’t know when he last filled up. Or if…”

“Maybe we should pull over at the next gas station.” Her voice is a mix of disquiet and loathing. We’ve got our eyes out.

Get The Book

This hitchhiking adventure, and others like it, informed “Huck Finn is Dead,” the fictional account of the life and times of Carney James. You should read it, “Huck Finn is Dead,” I mean. You’ll like it.

Hitchhike: The Wedding Ring

I was a Boy Scout. Should have known better. Never pitch a tent on a slope. Gravity always wins. Your sleeping bag will slide.

Unless, of course, you are in Rapid City, South Dakota, and want to stay close to the freeway. Yeah, okay, sure, we can live with this. We sleep little. H. packs up and is ready to go before dawn. Not her usual M.O.

Rapid City, South Dakota
Rapid City. Source: M. Mingda Liu, Wikipedia

A guy named Chris picks us up. Chris from Michigan. Actually, two guys named Chris. Both from Michigan. They want to buy us snacks, buy us coffee, hey, what about breakfast? Please, guys, that’s okay. We’re fine. We’re doing fine. [Note to self: Next time… Take ’em up on it.]

With the miles we learn that Chris is doing less than fine.

Seems like he was wandering the South Dakota Badlands and forgot why they were so named back to aboriginal times. Had his fiancĂ©e’s engagement ring with him. It was too valuable to leave in the car. Someone might steal it.

Proceeds to lose the damn thing in the prehistoric dust.

So Chris enlisted Chris to help him find the missing ring. Slowly, painstakingly, Chris tries to reconstruct his meanderings. Tries to find the spot. Useless. This territory is barely mapped. Each opening looks similar. Is different. No marked trails. Only insinuations. You are in an infinite geologic web. The Matrix. Before The Matrix.

Badlands
Badlands. Source: Wereldburger758, Wikipedia

After a few unsuccessful forays, we stop and make camp. There’s beer and conversation. Regrets hinted at but left unnamed. H. gives me a squint. Tells me later about the “N” word. I didn’t hear it. The vast starkness of this place silences stupid things. Not that they go away. Just that they fall off for a while…

Chris finally gets to the point, his voice caught in the campfire. “I’ve got to find that ring,” he declares. “I don’t know how I’ll explain it to her if I don’t.”

“Tell the truth,” H. suggests. “Just tell the truth.”

Get The Book

This hitchhiking adventure, and others like it, informed “Huck Finn is Dead,” the fictional account of the life and times of Carney James. You should read it, “Huck Finn is Dead,” I mean. You’ll like it.

Hitchhike: Stein from Jersey

His name was Stein. Driving a Ford beater, he stops to pick up H. and I just outside Missoula, Montana. “I pick up every hitchhiker I see or have room for,” he declares. We trade names. He says, “I’m the only Stein from New Jersey who isn’t Jewish.”

He’s been driving two days straight, energy courtesy of LSD and whole wheat bread. It’s the only things he’ll eat. He’s cut a rectangular path across the U.S., courtesy of his dad, who’s paying for gas and repairs. There’s only one condition: that he return to college in the fall. That’s when we learn he’s been “pretty screwed up on drugs,” and this is his dad’s way of keeping him on the academic path.

As he should. After all, there’s a war going on. We’re both draft age.

Starting in Jersey, Stein cut his hair and headed to Florida, took a right turn across the South, cruised north at California and is now on the final stretch, headed home by way of the northern tier. He’s been driving for three weeks.

“Wow,” I say. “Did you go to Seattle?” He nods. “How did you like it?”

“It’s a terrible place, a real bummer. I wouldn’t want to live there.” Later he confesses that he went through Seattle nonstop. On the freeway. At night.

At least Stein has us locked in for most of Montana — all 500 miles of it. That’s a good thing. But all good things must end. Soon enough, just after Billings, we’ll reach a fork in the road. We’ll have to choose our highway.

Stein is thinking Interstate 94, which takes him north, near the Canadian border. Says he might go see a friend in Minot, North Dakota. Except that “he’s not expecting me for another month.” Says he might head to New Orleans instead. “I’ve got the whole summer.”

H. and I are thinking Interstate 90, a straight shot to Boston, where we’re headed. But we’re open to I-94. We’ve got the whole summer. Open until Stein, apparently feeling comfortable with us, tells us that he really likes to “ride in the trunk.”

“Ride in the trunk?”

“Yeah, you guys drive and I’ll ride in the trunk.”

When we get out of the car, it’s raining. Stein the Gentile waves goodbye. We take the southern split, headed in the direction of Yellowstone. It feels safer, somehow, than being with Stein on I-94, him riding in the trunk, stoned out of his mind on LSD.

Get The Book

This hitchhiking adventure, and others like it, informed “Huck Finn is Dead,” the fictional account of the life and times of Carney James. You should read it, “Huck Finn is Dead,” I mean. You’ll like it.