Friday, May 29, 2020

Gay Bashed in the Cornfield


 Gay Bashed in the Cornfield

by Arlo Hennings

 (excerpt from the book Guitarlo)

Once I’d regained my strength, I returned to the road. But before making it to the end of the parking lot, I started sweating. My underwear felt heavy and damp again, sticking to my legs like soggy swimsuit trunks. With the hot summer winds swirling around my body, each step was heavy and laborious, like walking through chest-deep water in a river current that pulled and pushed me at the same time. I heaved my suitcase up over my right shoulder onto my back, gripped the guitar in my left hand, and kept trudging on toward my goal... New York.

I climbed a long, long hill into another kind of country. The fences had old boots on the posts. No bushes or trees, just a vast blue-green ocean of grass and corn, maybe seven feet tall. After an hour of walking, I reached a bullet-holed sign with worn dented letters on it forming the words, Buffalo Grass. I just could not drag my suitcase another inch and decided to take a breather, while doubling my suitcase for a chair. I’m sure glad I ordered ice water to go from the diner I passed, I thought, as I sipped the cool liquid through the straw poking out the top of plastic covered waxed paper cup.

The two streets of the town were broad, much broader than they needed to be, I pondered, watching tumbleweeds roll through empty lots between the buildings. I heard a continuous squeaking sound, which I followed with my eyes to its source where I found a sheet-metal grocery store billboard and the single-pump gas station sign, rusted and weather-torn each blowing gently back and forth in unison joined in song upon the evening breeze.

A derelict tractor sat in front of me. The wheels were missing, the motor picked clean by metal-eating buzzards. Between its broken headlights was a symbol of a golden bull with man-like legs. I sat on the tractor’s skeleton and fumbled with a series of levers. A humid, static-charged wind toyed with my hair. A thick pallor of dust hung in the air, wrapping the remains of daylight in smoky amber hues that moved through the street like curtains of silk. My vision blurred, while twilight was upon me, and the distant sunset over the hills on the horizon beyond the empty country road.

I did not hear any people moving about — just the sound of some random bird tweets, and the constant squeak, squeak, squeak of the rusted signs moving on the breeze, which also made rustling sounds come from a few trees that surrounded the buildings. I looked to my right past dark mounds of farming refuse, piled up in the backfield of what looked like the remnants of an old grain elevator, long since retired. The last hour of daylight coming to a close was starting to be swallowed up by thickening clouds that were suddenly looming overhead. When a lightning bolt struck the ground, the air-popped like a broken bulb. A horse whinnied, and then bolted across a field toward a barn. Birds, the last to act, jumped from telephone wires and disappeared in the tall corn.

The clouds boiled in black smoke.

“Just a little rain,” I prayed.

I saw a car coming. The shipwreck trick — hurry. I made a barricade out of the suitcase. When the car got close enough I jumped up and down behind the suitcase. A pink colored car with whitewall tires slowed until its o-shaped headlights stopped at my suitcase. I approached the passenger’s side and waved at the black glass. The window came down, and the smell of beer came out.

“Hi, where are you going?” said a young, pretty, blonde girl all flirty-like. Then the girl quickly rolled up the window and returned to the car’s dark interior. I stood there expecting a door to open. A wiper flipped intermittently, taking a moth with its swipe. The engine idled. Nothing happened.

I grabbed my suitcase, knocked at the car window. “Can I get in the back?” I inquired while pushing on the door handle.

The back window came down again. “Do you believe in God?” a voice heavily soaked with liquor asked.

I tried to peer inside.

“I asked you a question, boy,” the voice came at me again, as the dome light ignited, and a middle-aged man wearing a brown cowboy hat stuck his large square chin out.

“Do you believe in God?” he repeated, with a big fat dirty grin.

In the back seat, two other men could barely keep their cowboy hats from falling off. It was extremely funny.

“Yes, sir, I believe in God,” I answered, thinking yes was the correct answer.

One of the other men from the back seat leaned forward, straightening the large silver cabochon clip on his necktie while rubbing his face covered in stubble. “Look at that long hair... oh my, aren’t we pretty,” he said, and looking over to the man who spoke first, he added, “I think what we have here, Roy...is a faggot.” The man called Roy displayed a row of snuff-stained teeth and sprayed a brown stream of spit across my sneakers. “Is that right?” he asked, looking at me, “You like to suck cock, boy?”

The question made the girl giggle.

“I’m a hitchhiker, just passing through guys,” I told them, “on my way to upstate New York.”

“So you’re some kind of little hippie wannabe or something,” stubble-face chortled, “a sex drugs and rock n’ roll addict... eh?”

“What’s wrong with that?” I retorted innocently.

“I’ll bet you five bucks,” said a dirty whisker-faced man, as he switched places at the window with the man they called Roy. He made extra fine use of his left eye- sort of pirate-like, while he slammed his eyelid open and shut as if I was a dumb animal under his hypnosis.

“Five bucks and raise you ten,” said one of the other men, as he sized me up. “Looky here,” the man at the rear window hollered at me, removing his cowboy hat to display a bald head, “This is what a white man should look like.” All the men suddenly put their heads together in a huddle. Roy’s eyes widened with all the enthusiasm of a good lynching. The other men stopped laughing. “I have a friend I’d like you to meet,” Roy roared, “His name is knuckles,” and the car erupted into more laughter.

“The trail runs dead,” he said returning to the window, “If you’re still here when we turn around, we’re going take the sheep shears across your head.” A beer can flew out of the car window and hit me in the chest. Then he hung his bare ass out the window and mooned me. “Bye,” giggled the blonde, waving like a parade queen. The old car shook like a sputtering chainsaw, as they took off, heading east- yes, in the direction I was traveling.

I watched as their taillights disappeared over the horizon. “They’re not coming back... right?” I asked the field of corn, “Cut my hair?” I continued, trying to reassure myself, “They’re just trying to frighten me.” Touching my hair, I imagined myself with a head like a bowling ball. I decided to throw my suitcase and guitar in the ditch and hide somewhere in the cornfield. The muscles in my jaw pulled at something hard.

I stopped at three sets of wires above the ground. I touched them first- sure enough, they were hot- there was no holding it in, “E-e-e-i-i-i!” I yelped and fell back on my ass — an electric fence. The only way into the field was by climbing under the hot wires. I got on my back, inhaled, and wiggled slowly as if I was crawling under a limbo pole, and the lowest wire only gave me maybe about eighteen inches clearance. As a place marker, I dug my right foot into the dirt. It all looked the same. I yanked a fist full of grass out of the ground. It would mark the spot to find my belongings. The corn was at least eight feet high not seven as I had estimated from the road. Stumbling through the grass along the ditch bordering the crops on one side and the road on the other, I followed the field side of the fence line.

Visuals of the dark road opened up, in-between bursts of lightning, and I saw the four men fan out across the field like hunters do when flushing pheasant from the brush. The sight drove my face into the ground. I began to pray fervently, with thoughts so loud I feared they’d hear me, “They can’t get across. They’re too big to crawl under. I have a chance — I have a chance.”

My prayer ended abruptly when scattergun lightning illuminated the field. Each lightning bolt was like a searchlight. I crawled deeper into the field to hide. I imagined my voice reached out in out-of-breath gasps to the other side of the field. It was faint but recognizable, and it was me.

“Give yourself up, coward,” shouted the men, “On the count of three.”

They’d caught me, and suddenly, a pair of boots was kicking at the corn near my head. I almost kissed the leather. The man kicked angrily at the corn all around me, and I made love to the sweet dirt again and again and again- while he kept kicking at the corn. Reality jerked in stop-go lightning-made strobe action.

I remembered a story from a friend of mine who was assaulted by a group of drunken cowboys in a cornfield outside a small town in rural Nebraska. The cowboys marched him around a cattle auctioning ring with a pitchfork to his back. The game was the highest bidder won the prize to shave his hair with sheep shears. He was dumped the next day at a gas station with a bald and bleeding head.

The yelling intensified, and I imagined the worst. Moments later, four-car doors slammed. A car engine started. And then they were gone.

The storm ended and the last remaining sliver of daylight lit the puddles on the road. There was no Universal Man to look into a pothole filled with oil-colored water and sunlight. The answer lay somewhere in the sea of corn. The corn just bowed against the wind in reverence to the storm. I found my suitcase and guitar where I left them and resumed the journey.

The ordeal left me thoroughly drenched and caked in mud. The angry clouds eventually moved on, and the endless night sky became so brightly lit with stars that the road faintly glowed before me. Thoughts of my dry bed back in my parent’s basement with Darcy wrapped around me helped to comfort, but it also made me question if I was doing the right thing? I kept walking mile after mile, my shoes squishing out more water with each step. It was a damp but not a cold evening. There was no place to stop. No place to lie down. The stars, the breeze off the corn, my unknown status followed me, pushing with energy, driving onward into the depth of the night’s cricket song. Keep moving was the only logical thing I could think of. Besides, after all the adrenalin I just worked up during the last crazy leg of my journey, there’s no way I could’ve slept that night. I looked up into the night sky unobstructed by artificial lights, just in time to get a glimpse of a shooting star that landed somewhere over the horizon in the direction of Woodstock. I felt I was headed in the right direction.

The sunrise finally arrived and woke up in the countryside. As brave Helios rode across the land pouring the magic of light of dawn into all living things, a happy feeling came over me. It occurred to me that I was lucky to be alive. I survived.

“Goodbye, Mr. Moon — see you soon.”

I skipped a rock down the road. Imaginary flutes and violins played in tempo with the dripping morning dew. I pulled off a ripe ear of corn and ate it raw.


Hennings is the author of “Guitarlo” an award-nominated memoir that includes his experiences living in Minnesota and Indonesia.

Guitarlo - available where ever books are sold

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, web site ISP, search engines, committee, or other group or individual.








Saturday, May 16, 2020

School for Musical Geniuses

Jon Bream's School for Musical Geniuses

By Arlo Hennings

(originally published in the book Guitarlo)

On the editing floor of my existential documentary were piles of disconnected stories that I had no hope or the energy to reconstruct in some comprehensible way that made sense. To the best of my ability my 18-year old life was as follows:

By 1973, my life in conjunction with age grew to be increasingly messy and complicated. The days of simply hanging a thumb out and moving with the muse were over. The wide-open, timeless moments of 1969-1972 were now compressed into outrunning reality. The reality was, it seemed, that time was running out on me.

I was sick of the hardscrabble means existence that consisted of a few dollars earned at daily labor, someone’s couch, Big Mac Happy Meals, and my skinny little body absorbing the frowns, throw-away, uselessness that is generally associated with a perennial loser.

Communication with my parents had remained sketchy over those last three years, and I didn’t know how to make amends with them.

The way I reconnected with my dad was by happenstance. We met at a crossroads — we were both trying to find a way to earn a living.

While the rest of my family left Minneapolis and relocated to California, my dad stayed behind to start a new job. After his training was completed, he would also transfer to California. Dad got a job through a government assistance program called DVR (Division of Vocational Rehabilitation). They hired him to be one of their vocational counselors, which seemed ironic to me. My dad was going to be a counselor?

After his mysterious roadside accident, that laid him up for years, I knew it hadn’t been easy for my dad to land this job. In order to meet the qualifications, he had to return to night school and complete a Master’s program in vocational not “therapy” counseling.

I sat at my dad’s desk with wide eyes. It had been a long time since I’d seen him last, and I’d never seen him behind a desk. He looked smart in his blue blazer and open-collar shirt, the phone with many buttons, a fax machine, and a secretary.

Although the scene reminded me so much of my own experience with Mr. Vape at Emergency Hennepin County Services for the poor, I was happy to see him and equally glad to see he was over the accident. He was more a mystery than ever, however. I grew up with an “absent dad” syndrome.

I had resigned myself to the philosophy that our estranged relationship was a fact of life and that I’d better make the best of it. He had me booked for an hour and there were other clients following me, so we got on with the meeting.

“There’s a new trade school called Humbolt Institute near downtown Minneapolis,” Dad explained. “I know the admissions coordinator. He can arrange your enrollment.”

“That’s great, Dad, but what does the school teach?” I asked him.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, brushing off the question.

“Who will pay for it?” I inquired further.

“Don’t worry about the money, either.” Dad told me, “I have a relative in the business, and he will give you a job.”

I was a bit stunned by this sudden fair weather life-changing moment and did not ask any further questions.

My dad would not give me money to live on or allow me to stay in his apartment, but he did manage to get DVR to sponsor me as a rehabilitation case. What I was being rehabilitated from, and to what was never explained. This was the third time in my life the word rehabilitation was used pertaining to me. The first time was in elementary school. The second was Mr. Booty, my probation officer. Now, I was hearing it from my father.

My dad had a bona fide accident and a war injury, which left him partially disabled, but how that applied to me was another question. The only sense I could make of the ongoing rehabilitation conversation was basically that a round peg in a world of squares holes needed to be reformatted so it would fit in. When would I wake up from this lost compass nightmare?

My self-esteem was battered enough without the distinction of another negative label. Since no one cared to look at what talent lurked beneath my broken shell, and since no one would back my idea to go to music school, I had little choice other than to go along with dad’s plan and hope for the best. He was my dad after all and if I couldn’t trust him, who could I trust?

Humbolt Institute had created an unfounded, niche market, with a trade program called Dental Technician. In only one year they tried to compress the skills and knowledge of what normally took many years on the job to learn. The art of building prosthetic teeth out of metal and wax was a specialist trade, previously a time-honored tradition, filled by an apprentice. The art could be compared to highly skilled craft-like jewelry making.

Teeth were important, I convinced myself. What would my life be like without them? Furthermore, I reasoned, it looked sexy to be dressed as a dentist in the brochure. The white pressed jacket had an air of privilege, cleanliness, and class. Finally, they called it a “vocational school” where grades were not as important as what my hands could do.

The so-called admissions coordinator was Guy Evers. Unknown to me at the time, Guy had worked for DVR, was my dad’s former colleague, and had been fired.

“How would you like to make $30,000 per year in your first year?” Guy asked, exuding the enthusiasm and sincerity of a stereotypical used-car salesman. However, his round glasses, bow tie, and clipped mustache gave him a sense of innocence.

“I can really make $30,000?” I asked, dreaming about the guitars I could buy with that kind of money

“That is the current starting wage for a crown and bridge technician,” he replied with confidence. It didn’t take much prodding to get a starving 18-year-old to sign a contract promising the deed to a music dream.

“What happens next?” I asked.

“The program begins next month,” Guy said, pushing several documents before me. “Just sign here and there.”

Little did I know that I had just signed for state funding and a student loan. In other words, he was double billing the tuition. What my dad knew I never found out.

The technology of the trade was fascinating with its hand drills, metal casting, and a vast array of high tech dental tools. I would wear a white lab coat and believed each day I went to the school that it was one last day spent in poverty. My musical aspirations would have to be put on hold.

Hy, who owned and taught at the tooth fairy school, happily showed me around the classroom. He was from New York, and he was Jewish, which wasn’t relevant to me at the time. He wore a 48-hour unshaven face, metal-rimmed glasses, and his kinky black hair covered his ears. The teacher also had a great sense of humor, played pranks, and was liked by all the other students.

Being that this was the first class Hy taught, I doubt he knew what the school was up to. I had a hard time bonding with him, which I blamed on myself. I came to the class wearing rock ‘n’ roll on my sleeve — a fixed resident of the slums, inner-city Minneapolis.

Besides my brief stint at a community college and limited professional interaction, I had never closely associated with people from the mainstream before and I felt out of place next to my middle-class classmates. I might as well have been an immigrant from a third world country trying to overcome a feeling of inferiority.

I often found myself talking to a plastic model of a mouth. As I added teeth trying to create a set of dentures, the mouth of the sacred tooth fairy said, “Forget this nonsense. It’s not you!”

“Hush, I am being rehabilitated. Fixing your bite is going to make me rich,” I said to the mouth. I pushed a back molar into the hot wax of the denture and the conversation ended.

The program hours were 8-5, 5 days per week. The first class had 30 students, a lot older than me. Unlike my classmates, I had no money to live on. The school sucked up my grants and loans to leave me nothing for rent, food, and clothes. The best I could do was work part-time in the evening.

Two months into the program my dad moved to California. I was the last in my family to remain in Minneapolis. A new feeling of abandonment found a hole in my skin and burrowed its way into the nervous apple of my heart. “You make your own bed and lie in it,” my mother’s slogan echoed across the vast distance that separated us. This was not the life I imagined when I walked away from my home at 15 years old to rebel for civil rights, the Vietnam War, and to pursue guitar.

I worked four hours per night at the Sears and Roebuck warehouse tower, on Lake Street. It took two bus transfers to get there and back.

“Just because you’re in dental school doesn’t mean you’re above the rest of the world,” the warehouse manager ridiculed. Apparently, the assistant manager had complained about my attitude. Why I wasn’t sure. I did what I was told. The misunderstanding of what the school did and what it meant was a problem.

“It’s not a dental school,” I said. “It’s a trade school. I wish I could be a dentist.”

“Go stock floor six,” he commanded.

Nicknamed the Sears Tower, it was half the size of Willis Tower in Chicago, with its 110 floors. The Lake Street tower was still big enough to get lost in. Each floor was dark and dirty, filled with American consumerism from washing machines on the main level to watches on the top level. I was alone up there every night stocking.

I often wandered the floors going on make-believe shopping trips. I tried on new shoes, marveled at a stereo player, loved the tents in sporting goods, a golden new Rolodex watch on my left arm said something. Sears didn’t sell music instruments, but they did sell a home church organ and I played it at the end of my shift.

One night, I was stocking clothes my size, remembering a recent conversation with my parents.

“Dad, I don’t have any clothes to wear,” I’d complained over the phone, “Mom, can you send me $50? I don’t have any food. Mom and Dad, how do you expect me to go to this school when I am already two months behind in my rent?”

When the help didn’t come, I listened to the devil on my shoulder, “Wear new clothes like underwear. No one will notice. Sears has millions of dollars. You have nothing. Go on.” and reluctantly, and out of desperation mind you, the hungry rat stole a piece of cheese.

Unbeknownst to my classmates, I was forced to return to my circus days of survival tactics. I kept my life as a petty thief, panhandler, and the junkie roommate a secret.

A year later, I graduated from the Tooth Fairy school with straight A’s.

I was a new man with that diploma. The words Dental Technician was inscribed in Gothic letters on parchment and an important sounding slogan in Latin below my name. The world was my oyster now. Doors would fly open like magic with a simple wave of my toothbrush. There would be “Mr.” before my first name.

What could I do with a big salary? Show Vape my first check? What type of guitar would I buy? Buy my first car? Should I spend my first vacation in Cancun?

Since I lived in the inner city on the bus line, and the majority of the employers were located in the suburbs, getting there was a problem.

“How are you going to get here on time?” The 20-year-old owner’s son asked me in the interview.

“Millions of people ride the bus,” I said, proudly showing him my new diploma. “Why should that matter?”

The truth is it didn’t matter. It was an excuse, I later figured out.

“Nice diploma,” the owner said. “There are no open positions, however.”

I looked at the newspaper I held open to the job want ads. Boos Dental Laboratory was an easy bus ride downtown, so I gave them a shot.

The position, crown, and bridge trainee were circled. I showed the manager the ad.

“Oh, that job,” he said. “We filled that position an hour ago.”

My heart sank.

“The owner of your school is Jewish, right?” the manager asked.

It dawned on me that the name Boos was German.

“I wouldn’t know about that Mr. Boos,” I said, and left.

Even though I did not finish high school, I wasn’t so stupid not to recognize where the program went wrong, and subsequently, there wouldn’t be a job for any amount of pay. The diploma was worthless.

Tooth Fairy school had made two big mistakes. First, instead of creating qualified technicians, they graduated with over-qualified apprentices. The fact that I knew more about the field as a whole made the other workers in the business uncomfortable. And second, the school was closed for fraud. They were caught double-dipping the government.

“What now?” I said sadly to the devastated dentist in the mirror.

The stupid idea entered my mind that I could go after those responsible and hold them accountable. Holding a piece of paper that wasn’t worth the ink printed on it, I was emboldened to make a few phone calls.

In an effort to receive some type of settlement for my financial loss and the personal wrong I felt, I filed a formal complaint against the DVR. I was assigned an ombudsman representative. Despite her physical handicap, which left her bound to a wheelchair, she was eager to prove herself. She took careful notes on my case and arranged a meeting with the director of DVR, Bright Sheldon.

“The school was closed for fraud,” I complained. “I reported the problem and no one listened.”

Mr. Sheldon sat behind his big desk, in his big office, and listened. The Minnesota state flag was displayed proudly behind his chair. There was a photo of the new Governor, Wendell Anderson on the wall.

“Why was I made to take out a student loan that I have no means to repay when your funding should have covered everything?” I challenged.

“DVR was not picking up 100 percent of the bill in your case,” Mr. Sheldon smiled and displayed a set of denture perfect white teeth, “we were only paying for a part of the tuition.”

“That was not explained to me. Furthermore, what was I doing receiving money from DVR in the first place?” I questioned.

In front of my ombudsman, Mr. Sheldon was on the record. He looked angry. “That was the plan made for you,” he answered.

“I never applied to be on your program. DVR, don’t get me wrong is a great service. But, as you can see, I am not disabled.” I pointed out, with direct certainty, “what is supposed to be wrong with me? Can I see my case file?”

I jumped up and grabbed a file off Mr. Shelton’s desk with my name on it. In big bold letters was typed Rock Star.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” I shouted and threw the file back on his desk. I had seen my name on too many case files.

“Since you must know,” Shelton paused, “the exact diagnoses haven’t been determined.”

“What else did my Dad write?” I demanded.

The mention of my dad set off a bomb.

“You didn’t tell me your counselor was your dad.” My ombudsman retorted loudly, smashing the metal of the wheelchair with her fist.

“Why should that matter? He works for DVR,” I pushed back.

“This is outrageous,” she shouted at Mr. Sheldon.

Sheldon waved his hand at her to calm down. “What is it you’re looking for, Mr. Hennings?” he asked.

I was suspicious that my dad had cooked up a story about me in an attempt to make himself look good. Was it a trick to get off the hook for our problems? If anyone needed a counselor it was my dad — not me. The little big man in me stood up.

“I never asked for the student loan. The choice of school came through DVR. I want you to reimburse me. All I wanted was to go to a music school like any other talented musician. Why did no one listen to find out if I had talent? Why not help me with a scholarship? Why try to derail my dream with the promise of money?” I protested.

“I am not going to reimburse you,” he hollered, holding up my file and slamming it back down on his desk, reminding me of Vape.

“Then I am going to sue you,” I swore.

He laughed, “Take your best shot.”

My ombudsman’s jaw was swollen shut at this point.

I walked out of the office with the first of many inherited debts I couldn’t pay. The upside was that I had learned a lot of dental vocabulary, and to a dentist’s delight, I could describe in great detail the anatomy of my teeth.

“I think there’s a cavity right here in the interproximal space, mandibular, left #2 bicuspid,” I told the dentist during my next appointment.

“Where did you learn that?” he asked.

“I went to dental technician school,” I clarified, handing him my medical assistance welfare card. “Please check the occlusal surface of my upper first molar, distal cusp, too.”


Hennings is the author of “Guitarlo” an award-nominated memoir that includes his experiences living in Minnesota and Indonesia.

Guitarlo - available where ever books are sold

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, web site ISP, search engines, committee or other group or individual.






Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Deplorables



 THE DEPLORABLES

by Arlo Hennings 


I followed the address deep into the bowels of the inner city to an area of Minneapolis called Taco Town. Part of the neighborhood was essentially an abandoned strip of land that served as the foundation for a large bridge that spanned the Mississippi River. Most of the houses there were boarded up with Do Not Trespass signs nailed over the doors. Long overdue for development, the derelict neighborhood had dilapidated buildings that felt haunted.

The house matching the address was tilting sideways from rot. I gave the gray, paint-flaked door two hard knocks. A tall, young man soon appeared in the doorway. He was wearing an army helmet with an American flag painted on it, no shirt, and a black leather vest. He looked at me over his pink eye bags, studying me suspiciously as he pulled at his stringy, shoulder-length hair, and proclaimed, “You don’t look like a narc.” I replied by looking him straight into his eyes and shaking my head no for reassurance. 

“Is this the place where I can find a ride to L.A?” I asked.
“Come on in,” he welcomed me, “the ceremony is about to begin.”

I followed my host into a combat zone, stagnant with the stench of cigarettes, beer, garbage, and ammonia. The kitchen sink overflowed with dirty dishes. The walls were full of fist holes. In the center of the living room was a splashing puddle made by a steady stream of water coming out of the ceiling fed by a broken toilet upstairs. Blankets covered the windows, and bed sheets were stretched over four chairs to replicate a MASH tent.

I continued following him across the room, while noticing fast-food wrappers and crumbs all over the floor, haphazardly discarded. As my eyes adjusted to the room, five more shoulder-length-haired men wearing headbands and military fatigues came into view. They were sitting on the floor in a pow-wow circle, around a legless table inside their make-believe MASH tent, passing a joint. In the table’s center was a small multicolored, Day-Glo painted trashcan. A badly scratched Kid Rock record album was playing in the background. I guessed them all to be in their 20s.

“Who’s the recruit?” questioned one of the young men wearing a red bandana.
“Who gives a shit?” another guy shouted, “We’re all brothers in the lockdown.”

The guy who let me in nodded toward me with a thumbs-up in acknowledgment then continued to glance and nod at each one in the circle, as he exclaimed, “Any brother of the anti-stay at home revolution is automatically in... right?”  

All six hands, including the guy who let me in, rose with the goal post fingers. My fingers went up in agreement with a nod and a grin. They gave me the impression that I was being sworn into an important mission. My host gestured toward a spot for me to have a seat, and so I did. 

“I found a post on the wall of the old West Bank community free kitchen with an address that led me here,” I explained, loud enough I thought they could all hear. I went on to ask, “Are one of you guys planning to drive to L.A?” And making sure I attempted eye contact with everyone in the circle, I added, “I’m looking to hitch a ride.”

“That would be me,” answered the guy who let me in. “Let me introduce my friends.” He extended his hand to offer a handshake, but when I tried to shake his hand he jerked it back. “Your mother,” he joked, as he poked his large thumb into my chest.

“They call me Spaghetti Man,” he continued, “and to my right here, is Crazy Dave.”  He went around the table with the introductions, “Rodent, Silly Billy, P.T. Barnum, and Sgt. Screw.” 

The troupe each flashed a goal post sign when their name was announced. Spaghetti Man pulled a flask out of his vest pocket, took a hit, and passed it to me. “Aye, those bastions,” he chortled like a pirate, with a jeering look on his face, followed by a loud long belch. Then my jolly host added, “Nurse! Bring me a drink from Bacchus’s private stock for my new friend.”

After my eyes were feeling more well adjusted to the dimly lit room, I saw that Spaghetti Man’s face was the shadowy white color of washed marble. Up close, he had a just-woke-up glaze over his flaky, crimson eyes- similar to eyes I’d seen on the face of roadkill. I later learned, Spaghetti Man was so named, because when he was high on barbiturates he’d crash into things and fall a lot, then get back up to reenact the fall — thus, resembling a wet human noodle. 

 “Aye, it’s a fine day in the lair of the minotaur,” Rodent sputtered, while his head seemed to shake uncontrollably. The Rodent had bright white, straight hair, and a sharp nose that protruded from a chunky face. Because he was prone to being unscrupulous with money, the gang called him by that which he resembled — a rat. Rodent grew up without a father. His mother and his sister, who was impregnated by her stepfather, were both midgets and collected state aid. The Feds had Rodent’s welfare number and were questioning his mother regarding his whereabouts.

Crazy Dave patted Spaghetti Man on the back, as he grabbed the flask, and had a big gulp. Crazy Dave earned his nickname by hiring the gang to drive him insane while under the influence of Lysol-laced cough syrup, so when interviewed by Social Security Disability they would see that he was, in fact, crazy and issue him benefits.

“When did you get out of the hospital?” he asked and took another pull off the flask.
“Three days ago,” Spaghetti Man replied, raising his head like a heavy shield. He picked up a cane and began jabbing at the air, and explained to me, “I beat the cops by jumping from a second-story window. They’ll never get me into their fake news.”

“How do you feel? Does it hurt?” Crazy Dave inquired while examining his legs.
“Well, I can’t bend my legs...” Spaghetti Man groaned, “and I’m supposed to go back and have the plates removed.” I felt sad when I saw his damaged legs. In trying to outrun the law, this heavy, muscular man would never be able to run again. 

“May I propose a toast?” Crazy Dave blurted-out robustly, raising the flask, “Hail the revolution.” At an imaginary line between Earth and heaven, he made a high sign.

The group responded unanimously. The conversation changed to a raid report.
“I scored,” Spaghetti Man proclaimed, producing a tattered envelope from inside his coat. He read out loud, “Department of Internal Revenue Service, $1,200 stimulus check,” then added, “Congratulations, Rodent, your idea worked.” He dropped it into the center of the table as his contribution.
“Right on. That’s good for three months,” Crazy Dave nodded, as he grabbed the check and held it up to my face.
“All right, did anyone else score today? Remember the plan? If we’re going to meet David Duke at the rally we need more money.” He cleared a swath of the beer-stained table with his hand. “All right, who got what? Time for inventory... lay it down here.” 

Jobless due to the pandemic economic meltdown the group supported themselves by petty thievery, with a half-crocked idea that they were modern-day Robin Hoods and social distance freedom fighters. The stealing could be anything from bakery throw away, running out on a restaurant bill, working an unemployment scam, or selling phony pot. The group was as mixed up about their political beliefs as North Korea. They had deluded themselves into thinking that the ends justified the means. They waged battles against a system that was concerned for their lives. Although they were too radical for me I liked their Zeus energy and humor. Besides, I had nowhere else to go — and these guys had a record collection and plenty of free beer. 

“I stole six tubes of airplane glue and sold them to some kids on the corner,” Silly Billy proudly announced. Silly Billy was opposite the man’s nickname because he was hardly silly. More accurate, he was a fearless lunatic. With his wild mashed-up eyes and half-smile, he had a cold, killer stare like a character right out of a Clint Eastwood movie. He could walk straight into a shop and rip them off because the clerks were too afraid to try stopping him. 

Sgt. Screw contributed, “I scored bread from a bakery.” He laid out two loaves. The largest and oldest one of the gang, Sgt. Screw wore a bushy brown caterpillar mustache that had made a nest over his top lip. I wasn’t sure whose fists created the rat holes in the wall, but Screw’s hands were big enough to take down the whole house. He had the demeanor of a gentle giant, however. It was hard for me to believe that he had been a real sergeant for an Afganistan search-and-destroy unit of the U.S. Army. He told me it was his job to take a team into the mountains and kill whatever they found, even women and children. He told a story of how he killed a young farm peasant in the name of duty. A story repeated so many times while I was around him, it felt like I knew every square inch of the desert field where it happened. 

P.T. Barnum shouted, “Viva the fucking revolution!” He was absent in making his contribution but wasn’t criticized for it. P.T. was the youngest of the gang. He looked like a circus clown with his bright red face on fire with acne. His hair was an electric Brillo Pad of coiled madness. He wore green Army fatigue pants and a tan fishing vest. His brothers and sisters enrolled at the Air Force Academy to escape the life of want that his suicidal father left them in, but he would hear none of it. The most well-read member of the gang, P.T. slept with a book in his hands and talked endlessly about buying a travel bus. 

The group shouted together in unison like pirates, “To the revolution!”

I didn’t know what these guys were high on, but if they shouted about the revolution one more time — I thought I might turn into Paul Revere and warn the town that the British were coming. I was given a musketeer-styled hat that had a long pink feather stabbed through the brim, and it was decided my spot at the table was on Spaghetti Man’s right side. 

“Can I borrow your belt?” Spaghetti Man asked Sgt. Screw. 

Without questioning the purpose, he removed his belt and handed it over. On the table lay several spoons. He bent the spoon’s handle back so it would balance on the table and hold liquid. Then he filled the spoon with water. Adding a packet of white sparkly powder, he mixed it into the spoon and said excitedly, “Come on, baby, light my fire.” 

He told me that he was hitting Pine-Sol. There was plenty for me, too, if I wanted. “It’s their high of choice because it offers the best protectant against the bug,” Spaghetti Man said as he produced a syringe. 

With the syringe, he carefully whipped the powder into a milky-white soup. He pulled the plunger and the plastic cylinder filled with a liquid that looked like sour cream. He held up the syringe and flicked it, like a nurse, to make sure there was no air in the chamber. 

“Give me your arm, Crazy Dave.” He strapped the belt around his right arm and pulled it tight. Roller-coaster eyed, he injected him with the syringe. He drove the syringe halfway between his hand and elbow into a large blue vein. 

“Sweet Jane,” Crazy Dave spit out as he watched a line of blood trickle down his arm.
Two more times he jacked the plunger into Crazy Dave’s arm. And then, refilling the syringe, Spaghetti Man stabbed it into his glowing vein. 

The group watched with thrill-filled eyes as they waited their turn. One by one they shot up with the same syringe. I had never seen anyone shoot up before. I was both terrified and fascinated at the same time. The idea entered my mind to stick my arm out and be as daring, but I chickened out. I couldn’t do it. Rodent, who was the last to use the syringe, dropped it on the floor, without noticing, as he said with a wavering voice, “We need an airport for all these goddamn flies.”  

There was one fly, I think, or just an imagined buzzing insect. 

Spaghetti Man called out, in orgasmic, short-of-breath stutters, “I know what to do with those fucking flies.” He pulled Crazy Dave onto his lap and rubbed the top of his head. “Right down the middle,” he chuckled, and the room filled with laughter. Pointing to a brown paper bag, he added, “Hand me my barber kit.” Someone handed it to him, and he dumped the contents out onto the table. A roll of toilet paper, razor, and shaving cream fell out of the bag. 

Crazy Dave sat there like a wooden dummy, too stoned to resist. With trembling fingers, Spaghetti Man parted his hair down the middle. Pointing the shaving cream can over his head he let a white foam snake loose. “A whipped cream Mohawk,” he shouted. “Now for the finishing touch.” Bemused, everyone watched as he drew the razor down the center of Crazy Dave’s scalp, and then rinsed the razor in beer. He pointed at a new one-inch-wide flesh canal down the middle of his head. “Now we have a landing strip for the flies,” Spaghetti Man announced. The remark solicited a round of belly laughs. Next, he placed a row of what appeared to be tubes of lipstick on the table.
“No ceremony is complete without war paint,” he slurred and drew a red line underscored by blue across his cheekbone. Everyone followed by making similar markings on their foreheads and chins. The war paint was placed in my hand, and they all eagerly waited for me to decorate myself, as well.
“Give me your pinky finger and swear,” Spaghetti Man commanded me. “Let’s swear from this point forward that we never keep the truth from one another. Okay?” 

I agreed with an interlocked pinky finger.

“To be a member of the anti-stay-at-home resistance you must have an alias name. Here in the underground, we all go by nicknames. Therefore, I think we should call you Arlo because you look like that folk singer with your guitar and you seem to be a witty guy.” Spaghetti Man went on, “All those in favor, give me the high sign.” He put his right hand up in the air, and the rest of the guys each raised their own, and the whole group said, “Arlo,” in agreement... and so, from that day forward, I’ve been known to go by that name.
My new identity as a patriot fighter was mostly that of a spiritual scavenger sent on urban search-and-find missions. My hustle options were few. I could go with Silly Billy, who said the gays in the park would blow me for $20. I could sell fake pot to the suburban kids on the West Bank, stick food down my pants at the grocery store, sell my blood at the blood bank, or dine and dash. My favorite option, however, was to panhandle with my guitar.

On most weekend nights, the main drag on the West Bank was taking a beer bath. Hundreds of university students packed the cafés and bars with loud conversation and cigarette smoke. Between a café and a bookstore, I headed down an alley, which ended at the first bakery. Inside a large, green dumpster, I found several bags of donuts and bread that were sealed in clear plastic. One bite almost broke my teeth, so I spit it out. Before I could place my hands on a loaf of bread from the next bakery dumpster, I discovered that maggots had beaten me to the plate.  

Defeated at dumpster diving, I decided to put my pillowcase on the sidewalk outside a coffee shop and started to play my guitar. To my surprise, a nickel, quarter, and even a dollar or two landed at my feet. 

Robin Hood’s merry junkies started fighting with each other and the nightly party ended in blood and bruises. Arguments ensued about their plans. I overhead talk about joining the KKK, taking out the Minneapolis DNC office. I didn’t want to participate in any plan they hatched. L.A. was no longer part of their discussion, anyway. So, I packed my things and wished them well with the Revolution.
The Revolution, however, wasn’t so easy to walk away from. The day I had planned to hit the road, the house was invaded by a different kind of war party.

Seven, large ICE agents busted through our door like charging buffalos and pinned each one of us down.
“Where are you I.Ds?” demanded one of them.
“We got nothing,” Spaghetti Man sputtered, as he choked on the buck knife pressed to his throat.
Another one from the group, decorated in medals, “You got pot? I can smell it. Don’t lie to me, or you die!”
P.T. was knocked to the ground, Rodent was pulled by the hair, and Crazy Dave felt a blade across his face, instead of the top of his head.
“Wet backs want to steal our land?” One member of the bust nearly broke off Rodent’s arm.
Silly Billy’s nostrils flared as a knee thrust into his back.
Two of the party began to kick furniture around, looking for anything of value — guns, stereo, money, or drugs.  
We needed the oldest and biggest of the gang, Sgt. Screw to the rescue. Unfortunately, he left earlier. He’d know how to fight back.
Amid the chaos, two more agents entered the house. They were dressed in casual business clothes and wore a crew cut short hair. They looked around and frowned at the men holding us down.
“We thought they were illegals,” the largest of raiders said, still holding his knife firmly to Spaghetti Man’s Adam’s apple.
“Let them go. They’re nobodies the suit said.
Then the day ended as I headed out to find a way to L.A. and the group said they were marching for their anti-quarantine rights. 

Hennings is the author of “Guitarlo” an award-nominated memoir that includes his experiences living in Minnesota and Indonesia.

Guitarlo - available where ever books are sold

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, web site ISP, search engines, committee or other group or individual.


© Arlo Hennings 2020




The First Rainbow Tribe Fest


 The First Rainbow Tribe Fest

by Arlo Hennings 

Artwork by Maryl Skinner/Photo by Denny FitzPatrick
In June of 1972, I was not in line with my high school class for my diploma and a Vietnam War draft number. Rather, with my school of life education, there were more unknowns and adventure, I longed for.

The next calling came in July, I arrived by bus at Strawberry Lake, near Granby, Colorado, for the first Rainbow Tribe gathering. I was the youngest in a group of 11. At the time, I was still on my own and living with two roommates. When they told me about the festival and there was room for one more rider, I jumped at the opportunity. I had never seen the mountains, and I was up for another bus trip.

Myriads of people came many on a spiritual quest, many who sought a deeper connection with the Earth, and many more just drawn to be a part of it all. Many Native Americans attended, believing the event to be a fulfillment of a prophecy called the “Ghost Dance” and a sign that the Spirit was returning to the land. I’d understood little of the significance of the event at the time. The designation of the name “Rainbow Tribe” referred to people of all races coming together in peace and harmony. It was the beginning of a new era. They said the same thing at Woodstock too, but this tribe wasn't only about the music.

We arrived to find that access to the area had been blocked off, at least temporarily, so some people were hiking in, while others set up a base camp at the foot of the mountains. Even though it was July, the temperature in the mountains dropped sharply at night. I constructed a simple lean-to out of tree branches and slept on a bed of leaves and blankets at night. Reminiscent of Woodstock, the area was very primitive and the event was free for all. People brought in their food and freely shared it.

Open latrines contaminated the well water and many fell ill from drinking it. Despite the hot air temperature, the lake was much too cold for bathing. As days passed, some replaced soiled clothing with garments fashioned from leaves, while many just went naked. The rough living conditions didn’t dampen the spirits of the people though. The days filled with sound and celebration.

Unlike Woodstock, just three years earlier, the Rainbow Gathering was about the spirit of the Earth called “Gaia”. There were no bands and no electricity. Still, every day many people came together and made music. Some brought instruments, others improvised by blowing on bottles, banging on pans, or knocking sticks together. Sometimes a group of as many as a thousand people would join together in song or spiritual chanting. At other times smaller groups would gather around one of the many campfires that dotted the mountainside at night. I joined them, taking it all in and pondering what it all meant. There was talk of healing of both the Earth and her people, and much of the sacred chanting was aimed to this end.

I waded through a sea of sound, smoke, and tie-dye, in search of somewhere to sit before a makeshift stage. Seating consisted of piles of leaves scattered around the ground, which turned out to be quite uncomfortable. The crowd sat facing what was presumably the performance area and waited for what seemed an inordinately long time for the session to begin.

Finally, a group assembled in the staging area amidst a collection of instruments. A man, who turned out to be the leader of the group, launched into a lengthy introduction of the collective and the assortment of instruments. I judged the man to be in his late 50s, although his time-worn face could easily belong to someone much older. He had long, straggly hair that did not appear to have been combed in quite some time. He was draped in tie-dye, and a gaudy array of bangles and baubles adorned his neck, arms, ears, and fingers causing him to jangle like a junk wagon when he walked.

The self-proclaimed musician droned on for nearly an hour, describing the instruments that surrounded him. They included a didgeridoo, tabla, a dotar, Tibetan singing bowls, and a Native American flute, along with several sticks, bells, and cymbals. The man, who referred to himself as our “brother,” had an oratory style more like that of a preacher than of a sound healer as he told how he and a group of his devotees had fasted for three days and through prayer and sound had healed a woman with a broken hip. He concluded by inviting everyone to sit up or lie down, whatever was most comfortable, and to participate by praying, singing, or however, we felt inclined. Then with one mighty and extended blast on the didgeridoo, the event was underway.

I had already been squirming in discomfort for a while, so I opted to lie down, relieved to be able to relax the muscles in my back that ached from the tension created by the awkward position in which I’d been sitting. The deep, resonating hum of the didgeridoo gave way to voices chanting in what sounded like a Hare Krishna sing along. As the instruments joined in, one by one, it quickly became apparent that none of the “professional” musicians could play any of the instruments well. Instead, they produced a distracting clangor of discordant sounds, out of sync and off tempo.

I observed as one of the musicians frantically fanned an odd-looking stringed instrument as if it had become possessed and was trying to escape. A braless woman danced around, breasts flopping and arms waving ecstatically. Others joined in and no one seemed to notice or care that the movements of their dance had little connection with the music. A drum pulsated like a heartbeat, joined by the chiming of bells and the bonging of bowls. The notes of the flute floated on a dense cloud of smoke from several pots of burning incense. Periodically, voices joined in with mantras and devotional chanting, intertwined with stories extolling the magical healing virtues of Gaia. I laid back and closed my eyes, trying to ignore the chaotic symphony of instruments and voices and single out one sound I could focus on.

“Arlo… Arlo, wake up,” whispered a young woman excitedly, rousing me from sleep. “Come on. Hurry,” she encouraged, motioning me to follow her.

I grabbed a blanket, wrapped it around me against the chill of the pre-dawn mountain air, and followed in silence as she led me up the side of a mountain. She ran ahead of me, ascending the rocky trail with the agility of a mountain goat. Unaccustomed to the altitude and the thin air, I struggled to keep up. She paused occasionally to let me catch my breath, and then pressed on. Just when I thought I couldn’t take another step, she smiled. “Come on. We’re almost there,” she said softly, taking my hand.

We reached the peak and collapsed breathless against a large rock. Just then the first rays of the sun began to dance across the distant horizon in a kaleidoscope of color that gradually filled the sky above and chased the shadows from the mountaintops that surrounded us. As I beheld the breathtaking panorama, I didn’t think I’d ever seen anything so beautiful. We sat in silence for a long while, and then she spoke, “What do you see?”

“I see a nice bed and a good meal.”

Then she asked, “What matters most to you, Arlo?”

I thought about it for a moment, and replied, “Owning a nice guitar.” I turned to look at my companion who I imagined to be an older incarnation of my lost girlfriend, as though seeking approval for my answer. The hooded woman sat gazing out across the mountains. A brisk morning breeze lifted her long, black hair in waves of light and color that fell all around her, nearly brushing the ground on which we sat. Her eyes sparkled with the light of the sun. I searched them for answers, but she only smiled.

I leaned back against the rock and closed my eyes, basking in the warmth of the sun that now bathed the top of the mountain. As I began to drift off I heard her say, “I have to go now, but we will meet again.”

“Wait,” I said, as I opened my eyes, but she was already gone, as though she had disappeared into the thin mountain air. I realized that I didn’t even know her name, yet it hadn’t seemed odd to me that she had known mine. In the days that followed, I wandered the trails and climbed to the top of several mountain peaks, as well as searching the crowd in the valley, but she was nowhere to be found.

After four days in the mountains, we were all starving, dirty, exhausted, and some were ill, but we also had the satisfaction of knowing that we had been part of something important. We piled into the bus for the trip home back on Earth.

I was not the last to leave the Rainbow Festival. My roommate was carried doubled over in fever from Hepatitis onto the bus where he slept the whole way back to Minneapolis.

I hope the attendees left the land in better shape than Max Yasgur’s farm.

Except for the bus owner, who I ran into at a McDonald’s years later, divorced and jobless, I never saw my rainbow tribe again.

“Being there” at the moment, one never knows the historical reference of these “happenings.” Cooked up in the mad mind of a self-proclaimed prophet, the Rainbow Tribe outlasted anyone’s prophecy that the idea of Rainbow Fest would survive four decades and grow to a worldwide favorite among its many followers.

When I read I missed the 40th anniversary of the event, I had my nostalgic “OMG” YouTube moment, shaking my head in utter disbelief; I had attended the original gathering? And now, I had the dubious honor being tagged as a second one of “them,” Woodstock being the first.

The Rainbow Tribe and Native Americans went their separate ways.

I found a small stone in my drawer of forgotten reasons. When I rubbed the rock in my hand it spoke to me that it was from the rainbow gathering. I was to carry it “for the pyramid.”

It’s never too late for the Ghost Dance.


Hennings is the author of “Guitarlo” an award-nominated memoir that includes his experiences living in Minnesota and Indonesia.

Guitarlo - available where ever books are sold

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, web site ISP, search engines, committee or other group or individual.


© Arlo Hennings 2020




Tuesday, March 10, 2020

In Search of the Happy Ending

In Search of the Happy Ending

By Arlo Hennings

Arlo Hennings and daughter


After a year and half of unanswered emails/entreaties/pleas to my 22-year-old daughter, Danika, I received the long-awaited reply. She had been working 10 hours per day in an $8-per-hour, no-benefits fast-food job to finagle time with co-workers so she could visit me. She had never traveled overseas by herself, so I booked a route with the fewest connections and layovers as possible. I cashed out my last bit of savings from a 401k savings plan to pay for the trip. Soon, my precious daughter and I would be reunited.

Before she left America we spoke by phone.

“I hope you still recognize me,” she said in a trembling voice. I answered, wrought by guilt, that it didn’t matter what she looked like. Her remark puzzled me until I saw her at the airport.

I had met foreigners on Bali who wanted to be as far apart from their family as possible, but I did not share the sentiment. I had always wanted to remain close to my daughter. Once again, I had that chance to clear the air between us and reconnect.

I divorced when Danika was 17 years old; about the same age I was when my parents divorced. Like my own parents, my wife and I were torn apart long before legal separation.

I knew that misunderstandings and unresolved issues stood between Danika and me. I had left her to fend for herself when her mother’s drinking drove me to pack my bags. Along with my deep desire to heal our wounds from the past, I also wanted us to build new memories together.

It was hard for me to accept that clearing the air and re-bonding with family was something I had done my whole life.

“I didn’t know when I’d get another chance,” was what I had said about my parents, too. The important thing was, to be honest with her about my feelings. It might not be easy and I might hear things I didn’t want to hear, but I remembered that anything that comes out of it can’t be as difficult as the ongoing uncertainty I was experiencing. And also, I tried to remember how differently I viewed the world, and my parents, when I was 22. I hoped that we could at least gain some ground in understanding each other. I thought of activities that would give her a chance to meet the local people and experience how they lived. That would be a wonderful experience for her.

I would look for cues from her and find out what she hoped to get from her time on Bali. Relax, I thought to myself. Enjoy your daughter and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Tuti, my Indonesian wife and I set about preparing her room. I drew up some tentative sightseeing plans and we’d play it by ear. That night before she arrived I looked at her two framed photos next to my bed. One frame she had made out of painted noodles in third grade. In the other photo, which I downloaded off her Facebook page, she looked so grown up. The cruelty of time pulled at my heart, and I stared at the ceiling, seeking solace in memories of her childhood.

I considered myself fortunate that I was able to experience Danika’s life during her key developmental years. Those years helped me to more clearly define my manhood and to grow from the responsibility that can only come from caring for a child. My heart goes out to those brave solo moms and dads who have raised children by themselves.

As Tuti lay next to me in bed and worked on Sodoku my thoughts filled with images of parenthood.

I spent my rainy days remembering when I first saw her enter this world. I organized, into chronological order, every photo I had of her. My snapshots of her life spanned 21 years, but I lingered over her newborn photos. I chose the name Danika because it means “Morning Star” in old-world Slavic. Our family isn’t Slavic, but I liked the meaning of the name and how it rolls off the tongue. When I looked into the dawn sky, the first star would always be Danika. In her first photo, Danika’s face looks like a little squashed bean bag, skin turned fuzzy pink, cheeks appearing softer than bunny fur, and her eyes are closed tightly in the sanctity of the newborn dream. She is cozied up in a blanket, stocking cap, and a pair of socks adorned with Tinker Bell.

The little girl I raised had matured into a complex young adult. Now, on the eve of her arrival, I didn’t know what her vision was — or whether she had one. What were the young woman’s dreams? I wanted to know.

I hoped that our father-daughter love/connection/bond would encourage and guide us to be open, honest, and patient with each other. I was willing to listen, even if the truth, or her views, might hurt me. I wanted Danika to understand many things about me, too. I wanted her to know how I looked at my own, self-made life. I felt that she was old enough to relate and grasp the meaning of it all. Our relationship, more than ever, was about balance. So I thought it would help if I told her how I perceived balance, and I hoped the time and place for such talk would come.

The next evening, I waited for her arrival at the airport with the same anxiety as the night she was born. An endless line of passengers walked by and, still, where was she? I checked the arrival screen 10 times and her stork wasn’t there. Perhaps, I missed it. My heart fell off a cliff as I pondered what to do.

Suddenly, there she was — rushing for me in slow motion, suitcase dropped, arms wide open, happily in shock. Her face, a female, cloned version of my own, was full of travel stress. We embraced, rubbing our cheeks together. Danika gave me the first of my long-overdue daddy hugs. Tears from her beautiful, round, green eyes soaked my shirt collar as we stood there speechless. I inhaled her perfume and felt her soft skin again. The little mermaid (my nickname) and I were finally reunited.

My daughter arrived late in the evening after a spine-bending, 27-hour flight. I broke the ice and whispered into her ear, “Welcome to Bali, Danika!”

I stepped back and introduced her to Tuti. Danika gave her a big smile and a hug, and Tuti blushed. Not knowing English, Tuti acted a little awkward and stumbled into the conversation with uncertainty. Finally, I introduced my taxi driver, Made, a young, handsome Balinese man with a gift for manners. He picked up Danika’s luggage. Together, Tuti and Made repeated my words, “Welcome.”

As I walked with her arm in arm like a proud dad to our taxi, I noticed why she was so nervous over the phone about her looks. In the past year and a half, she had become weight-challenged. I knew this wasn’t normal for her and I thought carefully about how I might respond if she invited me to talk about it. If she wanted to lose the weight, I knew she could if she set her mind to it. However, it was not my agenda. If she was comfortable then there was no fix needed, but I wanted to help her conquer that mountain if it was an issue. We might begin by trying some of the Indonesian vegetable diets, walking through rice fields, and swimming.

All that mattered to me was that she be happy. More than anything, I wanted to hear about her dreams. She mentioned midwifery earlier; Robin Lim’s famous birthing clinic is in Ubud. I could take her there. I didn’t know what else might interest her, but I would show her as much as I could.

Made tossed Danika’s backpack into the trunk and we were off. She watched with awe as we passed by the deities and shops that lined the same road that first bore witness to my arrival. Danika wasted no time asking what everything meant.

The rest of the ride back to my guesthouse was filled with catch-up gossip from everything about her annoying job, car repairs, and a revealing laundry list of complaints about her mother — a subject I mostly succeeded in transcending. For the sake of my daughter, I let her vent and unload while I nodded attentively in a caring way.

Tuti, however, remained silent, and Danika did not address her. We would need more time to sort it all out together and to talk about new beginnings.

The next morning, the island personally welcomed her. The sun rose with the vibration of an ancient gong. Butterflies danced in a mad ballet above the bright red flowers. Morning dew dropped from the jungle flora like the notes of a plucked harp. White-winged egrets flew overhead with the soft flutter of a fanned violin.

Because it was an important ceremonial day, Danika awoke to the sound of chanting from the nearby Balinese temple. While she drank her first cup of the unfiltered, raw grounds of the Balinese coffee, she watched a long line of old women carry construction rocks on their heads. A breeze kicked up and a group of colorful dragon kites took to the wind and defied gravity in spontaneous aerial acrobatics. The loud cough of a broken motorbike muffler sent a herd of ducks quacking across the road. Bali was in full swing.

“What do you want to do on your first day?” I jumped up and down on her bed like I did when she was little.

“Let’s go for a motorbike ride,” she said, excited.

I took her on a “jungle tour” of the many ancient, moss-encrusted temples, neon-green rice fields, plantations, and dwellings to meet the local people. I could hear her camera click away as she held onto me on the back of the motorbike. I loved the feel of her arms around my waist, holding her daddy like she did when sledding down a steep hill.

I was surprised by how Danika began to record the details. Nothing escaped her attention: spiders on the wall, geckos clinging to the ceiling, (she named the critters) exotic flora or a bowl of rainbow-colored dragon fruit, soursop, mangosteens, passion fruit, snake fruit, and mango. She was also intrigued by the traditional Balinese artists in the village: works by the master painter Ketut; handmade wood carvings of masks and animals; woven baskets, and pottery. She saw local men pushing street cart grills; signs in Sanskrit; plows pulled by cows; roosters and chickens everywhere; women balancing giant bowls of fruit on their heads. And she heard the music.

“What are they playing, Dad?” she asked as we drove past a temple.

“That is called gamelan,” I answered. “It’s a rhythmically complex, traditional musical ensemble. They use a variety of handmade musical instruments: metallophones, xylophones, kendang (drums), gongs, bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Sometimes there is a vocalist, too. I will arrange for you to try it if you like. To be an artist in Balinese Hinduism is a way to be close to Saraswati, the goddess of literature, music, and the arts. So, almost everyone is some kind of artist.”

Everything was meticulously recorded into her camera and diary.

“Why are the gamelan players all male?” she probed.

“There are a few women gamelan ensembles too, but most are men. Why I am not sure. Mark that question down.” Her map of Bali got a red mark on it indicating where we had been. It was hard for me at first to really believe she was here. It felt like a broken puzzle that was magically reassembling itself.

I reflected that there was no good reason for the lack of communication from her during the past year and a half, and I didn’t care to pursue it. I gathered she was bummed out when her seven-year boyfriend dropped her in favor of another woman? However, she had skipped over Father’s Day, my birthday, Christmas, and any acknowledgment of the birthday gift I had sent her. Also, she never responded to the wedding photos I had posted online. Honestly, I felt a bit hurt.

The more time I spent with Danika the more Tuti’s behavior progressively changed in an unexplainable way. I had a premonition that there might be a storm brewing between the two, but wasn’t sure from which direction it would come. Tuti was my third wife. Danika was downright inhospitable towards my second wife.

“People shouldn’t get married so fast after meeting on the Internet,” she scolded. No matter how hard I tried to bring them together my second ex locked herself behind the bedroom door. I prayed that Danika would accept Tuti and be grown-up about it.

“I can’t believe how well you’ve adjusted to the time-zone change,” I said to Danika. “It’s like you’ve suffered no jet lag whatsoever.”

“I got to sleep right away when we got back from the airport. With the trip, and working 10 hours per day for months to come here, I needed a lot of rest.”

“Is the room okay?” I asked as I helped her to unpack her things.

“It’s perfect. And I love your little guest house. I think it’s cute. I can’t believe you only pay $450 per month for it. That’s so insane, Dad. My friends would be so jealous.”

“I wish you could live here with me, hon. There’s so much we could do together.”

“I’d like that,” she said without hesitation. “Bali is so mesmerizing. My friends will flip out when they see my photos.”

“Besides what you told me about Mom and other things, how are Boo Boo and Aunt Laurie?” I asked, wondering about my cat and my ex-sister-in-law, who was fighting cancer.

“Until I can find a permanent home, Boo Boo sleeps at the end of my bed. He’s one happy kitty cat, Dad. Aunt Laurie isn’t doing well. The treatments aren’t working.” Danika paused and changed the subject. She asked me for some fatherly-type advice about this new guy she met and that bowled me over emotionally. The question was, he had a girlfriend and what should she do. It hurt not being involved in her life, but I knew it was time for her to face the uncertainty of life, too. She showed me his photo.

“He’s a good-looking guy,” I said. “What’s his name and where did you meet him?”

“His name is Brian and he delivers sandwiches at the shop where I work,” she explained.

“How long has he been with his girlfriend?” I said.

“I’m not exactly sure, or even if she is really his girlfriend,” Danika said.

“I suggest you stay friends and see what he does.”

“I thought the same thing,” she nodded, approvingly.

“How do you like Tuti?” I said, wanting to get at what was really on my mind. “Did you like my wedding photos?” A giant photo of Tuti and me hung on the living room wall. Danika walked by it many times but never commented. Talking about the photo helped her process my new relationship. I explained the wedding attire and told her the amusing tale of the (first) ceremony. I acknowledged her feelings and invited her to join me on this journey.

“I’m hoping you’ll accept Tuti as my life companion,” I said, “and also think about adopting her 25 family members as your relatives. They’re all a lot of fun.”

I heard a few spokes pop loose in her head.

“Dad, you look killer in your Aladdin costume and Tuti looks great as Jasmine,” she responded in a neutral, semi-flattering tone. I took it as a promising sign.

Danika added, “Tuti seems like a nice person, Dad. But you’re so out there. Did you really understand what was happening?”

She had me on that point. “No, I didn’t understand the ceremony, exactly, but they gave me good direction.” I shrugged my shoulders. “During the ceremony, I had my laptop set on the Google translator.” I paused to chuckle. “We haven’t been together that long, and the language I admit is a challenge. Please be patient with her. She is painfully shy and has never had interaction with a “white” woman before. Can you try to be open-minded?” I said looking for the understanding in her eyes.

“Chill out, Dad, you look a little tense.” She pulled her hair behind her ears.

I put my hands in my pockets to show I was not getting defensive.

“Oh, Dad . . . ” she rolled her eyes.

Her attitude wasn’t exactly supportive but it wasn’t negative either. She had changed a lot since I last saw her. She progressed from drawing a dry, hard line to lubricating it with a bit of open brio.

Tuti was in the kitchen cooking and Danika did not offer to go lend a hand. She was our guest and contributing to the event wasn’t a requirement, but I thought the kitchen was a place where women could begin a bonding thing? Nevertheless, I felt as though we were moving forward. I let it go as an adjustment period.

Later, Tuti came into our room and began rearranging the place as if to make it into two separate apartments. One was for Danika and me, and one for her. Several times Tuti had me reposition the TV set so it would be viewable only where Danika and I could see it separately. I assumed we would be together in whatever we did. That prompted the question of why the remodeling project?

Danika retreated into the upstairs guest room with my laptop and that left me trying to translate like mad from an Indonesian dictionary. Since I couldn’t form complete sentences I had to do it Pig Latin style, unsure if the meaning was backward.

“Tuti, what is wrong with you?” I said slowly in her language.

Like a Balinese Legongdancer, I got a lot of intricate eyes and hand movements. I figured the story meant something along the lines that she was jealous of my daughter and frustrated because of the communication. I explained again that I hadn’t seen my daughter in a long time and to please try to be accommodating. Try and fit in. Whatever I said or how I said it sent her crying to Wayan’s house. Thankfully, Wayan’s wife spoke Javanese and got the problem resolved. Well, for the most part. Tuti eventually came around but it was a slow warm-up process.

Danika noticed Tuti’s behavior as being a little peculiar.

“She’s just a little nervous, that’s all.” I sighed.

I wanted Danika’s 23rd birthday celebration to be the special birthday of birthdays. Wayan and his family stopped by to show their respects and my daughter was deeply moved by their gratitude and graciousness. They offered to help her dress up in a formal Balinese costume for her birthday, as well as adorn the yard with handmade Balinese birthday art.

I had invited many of the local villagers to the party. Wayan’s wife and her friends cooked for hours, stirring up traditional Indonesian food like Laksa (vegetable soup), nasi goreng (rice with egg) and many types of fruit. Afterward, while sampling the local cuisine, Danika said, “If I could only eat like this at home.”

In addition, Wayan called upon the local salon girls to give my daughter a traditional Balinese ceremonial makeover. The makeover consisted of a golden headdress and exotic makeup, including a colorful dress called payas besar. Once they finished, my daughter glowed with positive energy equal to Sri Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of love and beauty.

Putu and Komang, the salon girls in their early 20s, normally performed their art for weddings because the Balinese don’t celebrate their birthdays in the western sense. But for Danika, they turned my bedroom into a palace and Danika was the reigning princess.

As the two girls began to paint Danika’s eyes with a hue of pink and purple, Danika sat there like a wise caterpillar waiting for her transformation on the sacred leaf of life.

“How do the Balinese traditionally celebrate their birthdays?” she hummed.

“They don’t do it with cake, candles, and formal invitations like we do,” I explained. “Instead, the family makes offerings called natab. The person whose birthday it is will pray for health, happiness, and guidance, amidst wafts of ritual smoke. At the end of the ceremony, a piece of white cotton called benang sri datu is tied around the person’s right wrist, hung over the ears, and one is placed on the head. These all fall off in time. While on the body, they are said to protect the wearer from negative influences such as demons known as buta-kala.”

Putu and Komang made a fuss over Danika adding and subtracting makeup to the cheeks, above the eyes, and along the nose. They were creating a goddess and it had to be perfect. Next, they carefully fitted Danika into the dress

“Do you remember your birthdays when you were little?” I smiled and snapped a photograph.

“I vividly recall my birthday when I turned seven. You got me a Snow White costume and a wand. You tied balloons around a tree and we played games,” she said. A tear grew in the corner of her eye. “But, this is unbelievable, Dad. I am so happy right now.”

Putu grabbed a tissue and dried Danika’s eye. She spoke a few words in Balinese. I understood it to mean, “Don’t ruin your makeup.” Finally, the headdress was placed on top of her head. The goddess was now complete.

“Holy crap, Dad, the crown is really heavy,” she laughed and touched it with her right hand. The salon girls gave her a hand mirror and Danika stared into it with a bedazzled, frozen expression; unsure by what magic whose reflection was in the glass.

“You look awesome,” I kissed her on the forehead. “Happy birthday, sweetie.”

I took Danika by the hand and walked her out to the patio where the party awaited her.

Wayan had also worked tirelessly for hours, meticulously cutting and threading paper bamboo into intricate hanging designs called paku pipit. Made brought his daughter and friend to perform a traditional Balinese Pendet “welcome” dance. As each guest greeted my daughter they bowed in her honor. No one had ever bowed to Danika before and she was drop-jawed. She sat happily speechless with colorfully wrapped presents at her feet. Tuti was the last one to kneel down before her and handed Danika a wrapped present. Danika wasted no time unwrapping it and to her surprise, she held the gift for all to see as if it were a personal endowment by the gods.

“Thank you, Tuti.” Danika hugged her.

Tuti took the golden necklace and placed it around her neck. cantik, (beautiful) she said and lit the candles on her cake.

“Make your wish, kiddo.” I urged.

Danika took a deep breath until her face turned blue.

She blew so hard that the frosting almost came off her cake. We called it an early evening and Danika asked the salon girls to remove her crown because the weight was giving her a headache.

“Goodnight,” we bowed before our departing guests.

I let Danika decide what she wanted to do on the island. She had bookmarked a few places: Uluwatu Temple along Bali’s southern coast, and a temple in the north. We visited both of them.

The tour ended with the two of us side by side on the bed, curled up to a 99-cent, pirated movie that a local merchant was peddling. It was called, Spring Break; about a bunch of college kids partying on the beach. I watched up to the point when the girls started to take off their clothes.

As she was growing up we watched all of the Disney movies 100 times over, and it was “tradition,” Danika used to call it, that we relaxed together, engrossed in a story. We read books, too, but the movies were her favorite. Chilling out before a flick together went a long way in re-establishing a lost comfort zone we both desperately needed.

I left Danika to her movie and I crawled into bed with Tuti. It was only 8 p.m. and she was already sleeping, which was not her routine. I knew it was an escape. I felt guilty that she was feeling neglected, and I would make it up to her.

The next morning I talked about one possible future.

“I have one plan that might work as a way I can afford to support myself and possibly a way that you can stay for as long as you want.” I showed Danika an architectural drawing of a villa I wanted to build. “It’s a risk because it will take all my savings to pull it off. If I fail, well, I guess that’s not an option. Would you be interested in helping me design the interior?”

Danika looked at the drawing carefully. “Where is it located and how big is it?”

“It’s just down the road from here in the next village. I got a deal on approximately two Are of land (400 meters square). It sits on a riverbank and overlooks rice fields. That way, I don’t use any important agricultural land.” I waved a ruler over the picture. “It will be a one-bedroom, kitchen, living room, upper deck, and two lower jungle terraces. The front will be all sliding-glass doors. I want there to be plenty of light. The way land prices are skyrocketing here, I think I can get good rent or sell it. What do you think?”

“I would love to be your decorator, Dad,” she replied, with excitement.

“Can you also help me think of a name?” I joined her enthusiasm.

We were halfway through our coffee when the owner’s mother of my guesthouse walked through the gate carrying a basket full of incense, flowers, and rice decorations. She looked like royalty in her lacy white kebayas and sarong with colorful flowers painted on it. The traditional Balinese ceremonial clothing was complete with a jacket-like blouse that is usually made with sheer material and embroidered with a floral pattern. They are custom made and fitted to each lady, who looks elegant in them. The Ibu (middle age) woman also had her hair tied back into a bun and wore a small yellow flower behind her right ear.

I greeted her, “Selamat sore. That means good afternoon.” I told Danika.

“What is she doing, Dad?” Danika carefully watched her every move.

“At different times of the lunar cycle, and other ceremonial times, they come and bless our home to ward off evil spirits,” I explained.

Danika grabbed her camera. “That is so cool, Dad. Back home all the neighbors do is complain about mowing the grass.

I chuckled, “Here they consider their land sacred. It all goes back to that balance thing we saw at the temples.”

“I want to be in balance with you, Dad,” she sneezed. “Do you have a tissue?”

“Save that thought,” I handed her a tissue. “Are you coming down with a traveler’s cold?”

Tuti recognized what was happening and gave Danika some local medicine to help with her cold. We picked up our dishes and took them to the kitchen where Danika rinsed them off. Tuti tried to stop her.

“Relax Tuti,” Danika said, politely. “You’re not our maid. Being our cook is enough.”

Tuti had been hard at work in the kitchen cooking many types of vegetables, rice, and spices for dinner. When her meal was ready, Tuti brought us the steaming plates and joined us at the table. Enjoying food is one of those times when body language can fill any void left by words. We happily ate everything. Together.

For one final trip, Danika asked to visit the peaceful little island of Gili Air. Motorbikes and cars are banned there, and transport is via donkey cart. In the morning, we caught a fast-craft boat that had us anchored in the harbor within an hour and a half. We were greeted by brightly painted red, blue, and green wooden fishing boats that rocked gently on the water, like toy boats in a bathtub. The color of the water was the first thing that spoke to me. It reminded me of the crystal clear ocean of the Maya Riviera, Mexico. “This place reminds me of where we stayed in Xcalak, Mexico when I was a kid,” Danika reflected. “The roads are all sand, everything is sand and seashells.” Her voice jumped a notch in pitch.

“Dad, give me your camera,” Danika exclaimed. “Everything is made out of bamboo.”

We hired a driver and cart, which felt like it was hitched to a raging bull. The donkey cart rocked so bad that we almost bounced off our seat to the rutted road below. Danika tried to get in a shot when she didn’t need both hands to hold on.

“This is a blast, Dad. More fun than a ride at Valley Fair,” Danika yelled over the beating hooves of the donkey.

“I’m glad you like it, hon,” I said, as my words bounced out of my throat.

We were greeted by the eager-to-please resort manager, Dune, a Muslim and native Gili islander. He told us that due to the Ramadan holiday, we wouldn’t hear beach discos from the neighboring “party island” of Trawangan. I welcomed the extra peace and quiet. While we waited for Dune to prep our room, Danika and I grabbed a beer.

“I really like the beach here, Dad. It’s so dreamy. I want to lie out and get some rays. I am so pale and my nose is stuffy,” she complained.

I watched her observing local beach boys who were about her own age. I suspected that she needed a break from guru dad and would like to hang out with other 20-somethings.

“Let’s get settled and find a beach chair and chill out Dad,” she said, finishing her beer.

We soon discovered that our “resort” lacked the promised amenities. We had arrived on the Island of No. No electricity, no air conditioning, no toiletries, no drinking water, no Wi-Fi, and (for a short while) no beach chairs. The place had six guests, but only four chairs and they were occupied. Danika, taking it all in stride, set out to search for seashells.

“Look at this one, Dad. It’s an arrowhead sand dollar.” Danika held it to her throat. “It would make a cool necklace.”

“What about this one?” she asked.

“It’s a sea biscuit. You’d have to drill a hole through it for a pendant.”

Purple, orange, and pink sea fans decorated the sand like the bottom of a pet shop aquarium. Danika picked one up and hooked it to her hair.

“That’s cute, mermaid,” I said.

She bent down to carefully comb through the sand.

“What are you looking for?”

“I’m looking for a seahorse,” she answered.

Finally, the guests left their beach chairs and we, with respect for nature, left our shells where we found them. Danika claimed a chair and stretched out the stomach-side down.

“Dad, will you please put sunscreen on me?” she asked. Like I did when she was a baby after a bath, I spread the lotion over her arms, back, and legs.

“What would you like to do tonight? I asked. There’s a traditional Joged dance on the beach. Would you like to go?”

“That sounds awesome, Dad,” she gave two thumbs up.

As the sun began to set we found our own private slice of paradise and waited for the show to start. Several heavily ornamented young girls appeared in costumes made of shiny gold headdresses and flowing dresses. They played recorded gamelan music and began to tell their story. Danika studied the multiple levels of articulations in their faces, eyes, hands, arms, hips, and feet, which were carefully coordinated to reflect layers of percussive sounds. The sacred stories are many and varied but usually an accompaniment to the perpetual dissolving and reforming of the world. The creative and reproductive balance is often personified by a conflict with a demon, deity, or god.

“They’re like cosmic dolls,” Danika whispered to me. “Their grace is remarkable.”

“Most of the dance stories, everything we’ve seen in the temples and ceremonies, more or less pertain to balance. How to be in balance with the universe?” I sighed. “That’s why I asked you to hold that thought back at the villa. The more time we are spending together, the more I believe that Bali is bringing us back into balance with each other.”

The dance ended and the tourists scattered. Danika and I looked up at the last rays of sunlight bouncing off the peak of Mt. Agung, and I said, “Ever since you were born and now more than ever since you arrived, I have been thinking about balance.”

“How can we be in balance, Dad?” she queried.

“How about we talk about it over dinner?” I offered.

We walked down to Captain Jack’s warung, a rustic, bamboo restaurant on the beach. Jack’s had chairs for everybody. For the first time in years, my daughter and I sat together at a seaside table. Musing over the various menu options and exotic tropical drinks like Yoga on Ice and the Red Octopus, kept us in a happy-tourist state of mind.

A gentle breeze caused the table lamp to flicker and the overhead lamp to sway. After that brief distraction, I started to dread the thought of her leaving. I sat quietly, mustering the courage not to fall apart in despair. The plan was that she’d return for the building/decorating later, was all I had to hold on to.

My little mermaid broke the silence.

“I don’t know what to think about marriage, having a child, school, my job, and things like my car,” she said in a frustrated tone. “I don’t want to end up over my head in debt to a student loan and credit cards.”

“Whatever you decide to do, Danika, I will support it any way I can.”

Danika picked up the menu. “I want to order the Strawberry Fields Forever shake,” she said. “It says here it’s full of those mushrooms?”

“Oh, you know about stuff like that?”

I grabbed the menu and read the small print: This drink contains locally grown mushrooms and the management takes no responsibility for any side effects thereof: enjoy in moderation.

She reacted to the look of disapproval on my face.

“I’m old enough to make my own decisions, Dad. Besides, you did it, too, didn’t you? Why can’t I? Besides, I’ve done it before,” she smirked.

“Okay, it’s your vacation and you are free to do what you want. However, those mushrooms can be a little hard on your stomach so maybe better you should have a salad or something small to eat first.”

“Got it, Dad…”

We moved from the table to the beach where we chilled out.

Danika finished the rest of her drink, then held the glass high. “Bon voyage, peace, Dad.” She closed her eyes, laid quietly on the sand, and didn’t move for the next few hours.

I sat like a hawk, fulfilling my old role as the gate guardian.

If I could help it and I knew unrealistic, it was to spare her a life of drama, dogma, ceremony, and misspent energy. She was at a crossroads, figuring out about life and where she was going with it. I was also at a crossroads, asking the same questions. I hoped she would leave Bali with a sense that beginning again was a good thing. It could be something we could do together?

Our solitude was interrupted later by the twang of an out-of-tune guitar. An attractive young man appeared and started singing to her. She opened her eyes, sat up, and smiled. In a gentle and romantic voice, he serenaded her with a traditional Indonesian cinta (love) song.

“How do you feel?” I said.

“A little thirsty and spacey, but cool, Dad.” She touched the ground with the palm of her hand.

I handed her a bottle of water and recalled how I used to sing to her, too. Guru Dad was a lot of things but born yesterday wasn’t one of them. I caught the hint and left her on the beach to follow her own path. I could stop protecting her now. I would later learn about her vision, assuming she had one to share.

She returned to the beach villa around sunrise and woke me.

“I don’t want to go home, Dad. I feel like I’m just getting started,” she sighed. As soon as her head hit the pillow she was under.

While I watched her sleep, I embraced how her trip to Bali was a new start for both of us.

“Twelve days isn’t long enough,” she complained. “I can’t bear the thought of going back to being a sandwich maker.”

“I know how you feel; minimum-wage jobs suck. And our time together was too short, but there will be another,” I promised, twice.

“When you get back, do one thing for me, okay?”

“Name it,” she snapped.

“Go easy on Mom. On this trip I’ve seen you grow into your own truth; it can put a whole different face on things. In other words, at some point, you’ll get it. I don’t know what mom’s honesty issues are, but as you’ve so wonderfully shown me — you are your own woman now, with your own dreams. I am no longer the sacred key holder of ‘the why.’ You are.”

“I swear, Dad, I will try.”

By 10 p.m. she was packed for the inevitable and awaited Made’s arrival. Along the way back to the airport, Made’s van was filled with a reflective, temple-like solemnity.

At the terminal entrance, Tuti gave Danika a warm hug. Danika returned the embrace. “You were wonderful, Tuti. Thank you for the wonderful meals and necklace, terima kasih (thank you). I think I lost 10 pounds.” She put her bags down and hugged her again. “I wish you and my dad a beautiful marriage.”

Danika then faced Made. “You were great too,” she shook his hand and bowed. “All of you, including Wayan and the whole village. You were truly unforgettable. Please don’t forget to send me a friend request on Facebook,” she waved.

I escorted my daughter past security to make sure she didn’t get lost in the confusion of the airport construction. We hugged one last time before she crossed the security barrier.

Our hearts had gone through an X-ray.

“I can’t believe you’re leaving. You just got here. I will miss you.”

“Until next time, Dad.”

Danika stepped back through security, wrapped her arms around my body, and squeezed me tight. I gave her everything I could and hoped that our story would keep changing for the better.

“Let me know what happens with your villa,” she said, then released her embrace.

I watched her pass through the point of no return, and my mermaid took wing.



I wrestled in agony on how to end this story. I was torn between letting it end leaving to think everything worked out for the better and life went on. Or should I share the truth on how it ended? Do you want a happy ending or the truth? I’m torn.

You decide –

“I’m sorry we can’t help her here. We are transporting her to a specialist ICU for liver and kidney failure.” The doctor called me long distance from the emergency room in America.

In the interim, her mother had drunk herself to death. During the depression, my daughter started drinking too. Possibly too much. Nobody is certain. She was the youngest patient in the hospital for liver disease.

I arrived as soon as I could.

Her liver team informed me she would need a liver transplant or die. My daughter was now homeless and disabled. I helped her to obtain a small disability income. There was no other family to help and I am her guru again.

What was I going to do with the life I created on Bali?

I covered my face with my hands and said, “How will this end?”


Please consider a donation to my daughter's medical GoFundMe 


Hennings is the author of “Guitarlo” an award-nominated memoir that includes his experiences living in Minnesota and Indonesia.

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© Arlo Hennings 2020