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June 27, 2022

Victory Highway (part XXIV)

By John Trindle

When he reached Denver, he noticed the curved main street, laid out by cows in pioneer days. He remembered a road trip of his youth, when his parents drove them all from Virginia to Boulder, so that his father could give a seminar. He remembered the delightful town and beautiful scenery of the Flat Iron Mountains, so unlike the urban dinginess of Denver. He decided to take a side trip to Boulder, Gordi be damned.

Once he arrived, he went to the University of Colorado campus. The dining hall was named the Alferd Packer Memorial Grill, after Alferd Packer, a famous cannibal, and that somehow fit the literally sophomoric sense of humor at the college. The food wasn't as bad as it sounded, and that evening they were hosting a live acoustic jazz coffee house. Even though the room upstairs was called the Glen Miller Room, the music was here. It wasn't Glen Miller's big band style jazz, either, with his soft silky notes, but the harsher apparently random dissonance of Modern.

He was seated next to a table nearly full of folks, where a small, somewhat hairy man was explaining the various forms of avant-garde jazz in a rather loud voice between numbers. It was annoying but still compelling, and Mark listened. As the voice droned on, he noticed that it was familiar. In fact, the profile, the general build, the man himself was familiar. Mark got up, after his third cup, and walked over to the table.

"Gordi, what the Hell are you doing here? I thought I'd fool you by coming to Boulder instead of Denver."

"I have no idea what you're talking about, friend, and my name is Waring, not Gordi."

"Waring...?" Mark had heard that name before, somewhere. It wasn't a usual name, not at all. "Waring.... Norbel??"

Waring Norbel, for that was he, opened his eyes up a little wider, but didn't betray his surprise in any other way. "You've heard of me." he noted. "Are you an e-zine reader?"

"My wife knew a Waring Norbel, way back when. He's supposed to live out west somewhere."

"Your wife?"

"Laura Stratton."

"No bells."

"Oh, you might know here as Laura Reece. Or Laura Vickers. Or even Laura Lahr."

"Laura Lahr.... yes. We lived together back in the early 80s, in Phoenix. It was another era... You married Laura Lahr?"

"Yeah. She died last year, though. Car accident." Mark slumped a bit as the memory came back to him."

"Damn, I'm sorry to hear that. Have a seat... ?"

"Mark, Mark Stratton," he said dully, and sat down.

"I remember Laura Lahr. She was with me during the Three Mile Island thing and all the other nuclear activism. She was a great campaigner, great heart. She ran the whole program, securing the permits, printing the flyers, making the signs. She was so incredibly organized. One time, she learned two hours before his visit that an NEC inspector was coming to the local plant. She gathered all our expose' materials, printed copies, and got a hundred and twenty picketers to gather in front of the gate to slow down his car while she gave him the binders. And remember, this was in the days before computers were everywhere. She must have been prepared already. She really kept us on our toes, and out of jail."

Mark never knew she was that talented. Or rather, he knew she was talented, because she started such a wide range of projects. It sounded as if she used to finish them too.

"Last call for coffee, we close after this song," announced the guitar player over his previously unused microphone. "Time to go home and sleep." The crowd laughed uproariously, and ordered a last round. Then Waring announced "Reconvene at the Aerie!"

Waring's house was a masterpiece of late 50s, early 60s Terribly Modern architecture. Mark expected to see Hugh Hefner with his pipe and smoking jacket, attended by three of his Bunnies, while Space-Age Bachelor Pad music beebled in the background. It was close, in a kind of twisted way. The jazz was harder and more dissonant. Though no Hef, Waring was indeed flanked by three admiring zine-fans, who were hanging on his every word.

His wife and his daughter each had their own island of admirers, who lapped up the cream of discourse they were offering. Waring's wife Chari Hechenleibel was an expert on dance, modern, ballet, jazz, Morris, whatever. She illustrated her anecdotes with large swooping gestures. His daughter specialized in dark visions of natural philosophy and architecture set to the music of Nine Inch Nails. Mark decided she had been unduly warped by her given name of Anastasia Hechleibel-Norbel. Sort of as the Boy Named Sue in the Johnny Cash song became tougher than tough, she had been forced to become even more opaque than her name.

There were a few glasses of wine, but the main drug of choice seemed to be fantasy, or politics, or just plain old fashioned bull shit. Everyone had an opinion, and illustrated it with arch references to poems or philosophy, the more obscure the better.

He orbited around the three conversational nexi, occasionally throwing in an attempted bon mot when he recognized more than two words in a sentence, and drinking strong Russian tea. The party lasted until about 2, when the people started drifting off in groups of two and three to the bedrooms. Mark was pointed to the last one on the right, where he crashed face down on the water bed. His sleep was fitful, disturbed by visions of a nattering satyr and arch witty bohemian otters.

He woke to the morning sun streaming in through the front windows of the mountainside house. After deciphering the proper use of the incredibly intricate coffee machine (having scalded himself only twice), he finally ended up with something both drinkable and caffeinated. He also grabbed a few packets of biscotti. He went out on the patio, to be greeted by incredibly nippy air. The pine trees were covered in what looked to his east coast eyes to be flocking, the white fluffy spray used around Christmas. He pondered the kind of nutcase who would spray all the trees on a hillside.

"It's ice fog" said a voice behind him. Anastasia. She had lived with Waring's first wife in Arizona most of her life, and sensed his confusion. "The humid air comes up the side of the mountain, and freezes. Kind of like frost but on a much grander scale. It's my favorite weather feature here."

"What else do you like here, versus Arizona?" asked Mark. "I'm looking for a place to live, and I was thinking San Francisco. But it doesn't matter right now, actually."

"It's a big change. The best part... I guess the people. The people here are tolerant. They really, truly, don't care if you're different. They don't care if you're the same, either. Actually, they're pretty friendly considering the fact they don't care about anything much at all. I think it's that business of banding together for survival."

"Survival?"

"Yeah, the downside of this place is the winter. We're stuck here for weeks at a time on a regular basis. When everyone faces something like that, they tend to help each other out. Dad's got a stockpile of stuff, a generator, everything. We can go for a week or two no problem. Haven't had to eat anybody yet, anyway."

"Oh. Good."

"Yeah, Dad's a stocker, not a Packer. Get it?"

Mark certainly did, having visited the Alferd Packer Memorial Grill the previous night, and lobbed his last biscotti at her. She caught it gracefully, peeled the wrapper and ate it in two bites. "Now you're really safe." She giggled, and ran into the house.

"Weird girl. Big surprise there, of course." mused Mark. He thanked the now awake Waring and Chari, and drove down the mountain, back to Boulder, and then to Denver.

Denver, Colorado 001829

Mark goes through the following towns. It is so old fashioned on this road that he imagines he is transported back in time. He twists and turns up the winding mountain roads, so reminscent of The Shining. Old billboards and road signs still cluttered the landscape. His car starts bucking and stalling at one point, Mark pulls over and adjusts the carburetors. An ancient prospector-like person asks him if he needs help, and mysteriously disappears.

He passes:
Golden, Idaho Springs, Empire, Fraser, Tabernash, Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs, Steamboat Springs, Hayden, and Craig, He forgets the carburetor adjustment and is stressed out as the car chokes up again.

He stops for the night at Vernal. This is less than 300 miles but it is a very long day due to winding mountain roads and time travel.

Vernal, UT 002191

Dinosaurs and Ute Trading Post.

Mark drives through Heber City. Heber Valley Steam Railroad

Mark is afraid to stop in Salt Lake, he always has had a problem with the enthusiastically religious. He remembered his friend Roger, a Catholic, who would invite the Jehovah's Witnesses in for epistemological debate. Other folks he heard of would answer the door naked, or invite the JWs to participate in a sacrifice.

Many of the patrons of #mcreadys considered themselves Polyamorous. They arranged themselves in multiples, usually one very needy woman with two more more men. It helped if the men were caretakers and trying to avoid a truly intimate relationship. One man would be the legal husband, but the other had no status at all. It took only a little observation to note that though the legal husband stayed, there was a high turnover in the supernumaries.

One set started as that kind of triad, but one of the husbands was a strong personality too. He brought more and more women into the union. At least one was handfasted to him but not his other wives or husband. This group, known as the Borg, ended up with at least two husbands and three wives. There was a fashion on the channel to join the Borg, which inflated the number to well over a dozen. None of these folks were handfasted, though, and so once the fashion passed the Borg shrank back to "normal."

Another set of #mcready-ans were in a quad, two husbands and two wives. They were pretty much on the same level of control, and ran the union like a corporation. It helped that they were all Robert Heinlein fans.

It seemed to both Laura and Mark that life was complex enough in a monogamous relationship. At one point in her past, Laura was an efficiency expert, specializing in time and motion studies of industrial processes. Mark's mathematical bent prompted him to note that complexity went up as N! or N*(n-1)*(n-2)...*2. A dyad was complexity 2, a triad complexity 6, the quad was 24, and the Borg at their canonical level (assuming the stray wife was really married to all of them) was 120. Laura concluded that if the average monogamously married couple spent 3 hours a week maintaining their relationship, the Borg would have to spend 180 hours a week. Of course, we're limited to 168 hours a week of actual time, and so the Borg would have to spend every waking moment dealing with each others' feelings, and every sleeping moment as well. She didn't even consider the extra planning required by issues which didn't crop up for monogamous couples, such as sleeping arrangements and car pooling.

Mark passed Elko and made it as far as Winnemuca before stopping for the night.

Article © John Trindle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-02-07
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