Saturday, June 21, 2008


for Jaybird

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse

Not shaking the grass.

---Ezra Pound

Letters, Arizona Daily Sun, December 20:
Dear stranger who returned my wallet, I’m in a down-town restaurant thinking about how this diner, in the nearly ten years I’ve lived in Flagstaff, has served everybody: tourists, folks off the Rezzes, visitors up from the Southern sprawl, ragged wanderers in off the cold streets; me and my dead friend, Jaybird. I’m thinking about this bone-cold time of the year, of endings and beginnings. I’m thinking of Jaybird, of his lonesome death and how his life was far from lonesome.
Where’s the wallet come in? I lost it the night of Jaybird’s memorial service. A bunch of us told stories in a smoky room. People spoke of their sorrow that his death had been just a cold fact in the local paper. I decided to write my piece of his story instead of saying it. When I went to my truck to get money for Jaybird’s memorial stone, my wallet was gone. Dark parking lot, shaky neighborhood, oh well. I came home, called the cops, waited and thought about Jaybird’s story.
I knew him briefly. In that short time, he did nothing but give. He heard I was working on a novel about Viet Nam vets and he found guys who wanted their stories told. He listened when I needed to talk about my own small inner war. He heard I was spiritually lonely and showed me a photo he had takien that he believed showed the presence of God. He carried it with him for months and when our paths weren’t crossing, gave it to a friend to give to me. All of that, but most of all, he told his story with absolute honesty.
His story? The truth? Prison. Drugs. Booze. Serious physical damage. Pain beyond what most of us will every face.
His story? Truth? A recovering life of compassion and williness. Sobriety. Teaching himself to read and write---in his 40’s. Tears and belly laughter. Pain endured and transformed. Wisdom given. He would love that I am passing this on.
Stranger, you were kin to Jaybird when you called and said you’d found my wallet and wouldn’t tell me your name. I wanted to send you a thank-you. Flagstaff and Jaybird and my imperfect recovery have taught me that.
So, I’ll give half of what I would have given you to Victim Witness and half for Jaybird’s memorial stone. Thank you stranger. Thank you Jay.

I wrote Jaybird’s memorial letter in 1994. That Christmas friends and I went to a Laughlin casino. I played twenty dollars in nickles, twenty dollars in quarters and twenty dollars in dollars. When the money was gone, we went to the lavishly insipid buffet; my Cockney friend repaired to the bar; my other friend and I walked along the river. Everything seemed bejewelled and perfectly shabby and poignant.
Christmas morning, I bought bad coffee and sat on by the river. I listened to Alvin and the Chipmunks sing Jingle Bells over the casino outdoor speakers. It was still dark. I watched airplane lights race across the opposite shore, lift slowly and ascend. The dark began to soften above the far mountains. I knew I was the happiest I had been in years.
That was the beginning of my affair with slot machines. It gave me greater ease and fun than any lover I have every known. At first, my friends and went twice a year; then once a month; and then, I went alone---once, twice, three, four times a month. I tried to quit even though I didn’t want to. I loved the game, the casinos, the workers. I found stories there I would have found nowhere else.
Jaybird’s ghost has been watching over me. He might have carried me through the loss ot the Flagstaff I loved so dearly and to a hard-scrabble California town. His ghost must have sat beside me a week ago when I put my hand up in a little room of brave people and said, “I’m Mary and I’m a compulsive gambler.”
Jay, thanks again. I will pass it on.