On The Road, Edinburgh: 1746 vs. 1776

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I stood at a crossroads.  On my left was the most decadently opulent building in Edinburgh, The Palace of Holyroodhouse, one of the official residences of an actual, currently reigning queen.  On my right side, romanticized by a glowing halo of dusk only Edinburgh could produce, was a makeshift camp on open ground, complete with ragged cloth stretched over random poles and a blazing fire.

Is there any question about which of these appealed most to my American, passed through adolescence in the 1960s, Occupy Wall Street, perspective?

The makeshift camp’s blazing fire illuminated its written-on-rag reminder of one thing:  The Declaration of Arbroath.  Okay, that was 1320, more than four centuries before the white, European-centric part of my country won its war of independence and came into existence.  And, yes, Westminster’s methods of achieving “unity” with Scotland…such as Henry VIII’s “rough wooing” and the Duke of Cumberland butchering Highland women and children after his victory at Culloden as late as 1746…were far less civilized than they are today.  But can any Scot who still honors those long centuries of bloodshed and sacrifice sleep peacefully as part of Great Britain?  In this proud, ancient land, I would think none could ignore these famous words from The Declaration of Arbroath:  “…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.  It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom…for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Or am I just a silly American, reared on a Brigadoon-inspired, overly romanticized (translation:  overly simplified and inaccurate) vision of what Scotland really is?  How easy for me to contrast the defeat in 1746, at the last battle for Scotland’s independence at Culloden, with my own country’s successful and permanent break in 1776 from England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, whoever those people were/are?  How much easier for my country…separated by a vast ocean rather than occupying the same, relatively small island…to make that break permanent?  And…perhaps, to be fair…how much more appropriate?

When my rebel soul staunchly supported Scotland’s referendum for independence in 2014, an English friend frowned, saying, “We’re better together.”  Fortunately he failed to unearth my hypocrisy by asking if I’d support a referendum in which the southern part of the United States demanded to be allowed the separation from the union it sought during the American Civil War.  Is the concept of Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, any different than the United States of America?

It’s so easy to romanticize/simplify Scotland’s history.  Was Bonnie Prince Charlie all that bonnie, or was he an Italian-born lover of France who only first set foot in Scotland so he could use a Scottish uprising to draw some of England’s military away from its concurrent war with France?  Was Culloden purely a battle between the Scots and the English, or were there warring Highland clans fighting on opposite sides?

Dusk drew on.  I walked between the Queen’s opulent palace on one side and the makeshift camp of those who remembered The Declaration of Arbroath on the other, to ascend the Radical Road made famous by these words from Sir Walter Scott:  “If I were to choose a spot from which the rising or setting sun could be seen to the greatest possible advantage…it would be that wild path…  Edinburgh…a close-built, high-piled city, stretching itself out beneath in a form, which, to a romantic imagination, may be supposed to represent that of a dragon…the sea…mountains…country…  But as the path gently circles around the base of the cliffs, the prospect, composed as it is of these enchanting and sublime objects, changes at every step, and presents them blended with, or divided from each other, in every possible variety that can gratify the eye and the imagination.  When a piece of scenery so beautiful, yet so varied,…is lighted up by the tints of morning or of evening, and displays all that variety of shadowy depth, enchanted with partial brilliancy, which gives character to even the tamest of landscapes, the effect approaches near to enchantment.”

I can’t help myself; I’m a romantic.

Ink Splatters 3

On The Road, Edinburgh: Dime-a-Dance Romance

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I sat at a table in a grand old dance hall in the heart of Edinburgh’s “New Town.”  But even Edinburgh’s New Town dates back to the Georgian 18th Century, and…at least to the eyes of an American who cut her eye-teeth on rugged individualism…the Scots’ rather tribal way of socializing dates further back than that.

I sat at a table with the group of people I’d come with, somewhat huddled together as if still outside and seeking shelter from the blustery Edinburgh “summer.”  We’d arrived early, so had plenty of opportunity to observe the arrival of others.

It seemed strange to my American eye that no one appeared to arrive singly or even very often as couples.  Only whole groups came crashing in, as blustery as the weather outside, to pick a territory they quickly secured for themselves.  When the dancing began no one danced with anyone outside their own group, even if the man-woman ratio wasn’t favorable.  So there I was, dancing with another woman from my table, wondering if Scotland’s low population growth might have something to do with exclusionary courting rituals.

On the plus side, everyone .within a group was accommodated and cared for.  Here the less socially adept and the physically challenged were treated with equality and respect.  Truth be told, they might well have been deserted on the sidelines in my country…where so many people would have arrived individually or in smaller groups with no sense of obligation to accommodate others.  I felt I was witnessing the social solidarity in Scotland that had run so counter to Margaret Thatcher’s allowing the heartless loss of jobs through ruthless capitalism.

Finally, as the evening wore on, I did see some intermixing:  some men from another group approached and spoke to our group.  But there was something slightly bristly about it, as if all were prepared to fight at a moment’s notice should the pleasantries go south.

In the midst of this…oh miracle of miracles…I spotted one blazing exception:  a young woman dancing alone.

She had a grace and a sensuous, free-spirited style of dancing that made me think a tree nymph had come in from the woods.  Or at least that the clock had been turned back to somewhere in the 1960s.  Even the way she upended glass after glass of whatever she was drinking spoke more to me of a Pan-like sensuality whilst darting about under a full moon than, say, under a bare lightbulb in some sordid, dime-a-dance-romance hall.

She danced every dance, always alone.  She only paused as briefly as possible to upend the last drink and order the next.  Lights swirled across the dance floor, confusing my vision…or perhaps enhancing my insight.  As I watched her, I started to imagine the lights were headlights.  Could I just barely make out the air horns of large trucks rushing through dangerous mountain passes to meet heartless delivery deadlines?  Or was the moody swirl on that dance floor the steam of some massive engine hurrying a train over a treacherous gorge?

What was she running from?

Heartbreak.  It had to be.

I could feel it in my bones:  The one absolute in her every move was a determination so strong if could only be the determination not to feel unbearable pain.  Losing herself in the sensuality of her dancing, and never stopping dancing, was…like breathing…the only way she knew to survive.

Then she was gone.  I hadn’t seen her leave.  A man with the group I was with told me the lone dancer had finally been kicked out of the place…after it wrote her “peculiar behaviour” off to being high on drugs.  This American, rugged individualist, thinks that…in Edinburgh…her real crime was being alone.

Ink Splatters 3

Changes, Part 15

Continued from previous weeks…

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Ritchie:  “Umm, Umm, Ummm!”

Gary and Mona look from Ritchie’s grin to what he’s grinning at.

Gary:  “The bleached blonde that makes me ashamed of my own race.”

Mona:  “The one who only wanted to try her new album on Ritchie’s stereo when she thought you…”  She mimics Ritchie while looking at Gary, “…’White Boy’…were Ritchie?”

Gary nods.

Ritchie’s still grinning at the bleached blonde with teased, bouffant hair who’s bounding down The Strip toward him…with a big, silly grin on her face.  In a short, tight, silver metallic dress.  As she gets closer, a huge clump of teased hair breaks loose from a “hairdo” otherwise cemented into place by shiny hairspray and flops into her face, obscuring her vision.  She reacts by almost choking on her giggles and grabbing the much drabber girl next to her.  “Wow, Donna!”

Donna fidgets with her long, stringy brown hair.  “You’re really stoned out of your mind this time, Betty Sue.”

Ritchie is mesmerized.  “Betty Sue…”  He caresses his own silver shirt.

Gary smirks.  “The forbidden fruit…”

Betty Sue:  “And lovin’ it, Donna!  I love being high!”  She trips into the street, giggling hysterically.  “All these lights are boss!”

Donna almost trips over her ratty bell bottoms as she struggles to drag a resisting Betty Sue back to the safety of the sidewalk.  “Those are headlights, nitwit!”

Betty Sue breaks loose from Donna to spin around with her arms over her head, which makes her already short silver dress a whole lot shorter.  She crashes into Ritchie and starts giggling hysterically again.  “I just love being high!”

Mona’s looking up and down Sunset Strip.  Then she turns to Gary.  “This Betty Sue’s a nark magnet if I ever saw one.  Better throw that pot Ritchie gave you in that garbage can behind you.”

Gary starts to do so, but Ritchie snatches the pot out of his hand.

Ritchie:  “What you doin’, White Boy?  This is mah chance!”

Betty Sue grabs Ritchie to keep from falling, then runs her hand over his silver shirt but talks to Donna.  “Way that dealer was dressed was boss!”

Donna:  “Not sure his giving you the last of that ‘better than acid’ shit he had was ‘boss’…”

Gary grabs Donna.  “That dealer!  Where is he?”

Donna jerks free and snatches Betty Sue away from Ritchie.  “Narks!”  Dragging Better Sue after her, Donna starts running away from Gary, Ritchie, and Mona.

Mona puts a hand on Ritchie’s shoulder.  “Thought you were going to check out a liquor store down on Pico with the wino.  After what happened to us do you really want to…”

Ritchie:  “I know, Mona.  I know.”  He looks down at the sidewalk, but then looks up to see Donna dragging Betty Sue away from him against her will.  He shakes Mona’s hand off.  “But this is mah chance!  That blonde is beautiful!  And high as a kite.  One whiff of this fine New York pot and she’s gonna’ trot after me all the back to the beach and mah ‘boss’ stereo with KLH speakers.”  He runs after Betty Sue.

Mona slumps her shoulders and turns back to Gary.  “Poor Ritchie.”

Gary:  “A victim of the times.”

Betty Sue has managed to get Donna to stop a short distance away.  Betty Sue spreads her arms wide and throws her head back to look at the sky.  “Boss!”  She starts to giggle again, then stops suddenly.  “I understand everything, all of it.”

Ritchie catches up.  “Do you understand what this is?”

Donna starts to snatch Betty Sue away again, but stops when she sees the pot Ritchie’s holding out.

Ritchie stands tall.  “This here is super fine, gen-u-ine, Panamanian Red!”

Donna:  “Hey…  No stems.  No seeds.  Who processed this shit?  A tobacco company?”

Betty Sue sounds breathless.  “Wow!  This stuff looks ‘better than acid,’ too!”  But she’s distracted by the headlights again, trips into the street, and jumps aside just in time as a car zips by.  “Cars…  I don’t like cars.”

Donna sidles up to Ritchie, still eyeing the pot.  “Hey, I like that silver shirt.”

Betty Sue staggers about behind them, still in the street.  “But maybe they’ll get rid of cars someday…”

Donna runs her fingers over Ritchie’s shirt.  When a car honks behind them, she reaches back to yank Betty Sue out of the street.  “Hey…  Betty Sue here in her silver dress and you in your silver shirt…”  Donna trails off as she shoves Ritchie and Betty Sue together, standing back to admire them as Ritchie rather sweetly wraps his arm around Betty Sue.

Betty Sue glares after the car that honked at her.  Her escaped clump of teased hair obscures her vision so she can’t really see Ritchie’s face.  She snuggles up to his shirt and smiles.

Even Gary smiles as he and Mona catch up.  “‘It had to be a blonde.’  Mickey Spillane would love this.”

Betty Sue looks up and repeats Gary’s last words, “…love this.”

Donna stands back a bit farther and mimics taking a picture of Betty Sue and Ritchie.  “All that silver metallic clothing.  You don’t look like you were born in the ’40s.  You look like two people who were born in the 25th Century!”

Betty Sue:  “…two people who were born in the 25th Century!”

Gary screams, “No!  Don’t say that!”

Mona:  “Born in the 20th…”

A crackle like lightning fades away.

Mona:  “Too late.”

Donna stares at the empty sidewalk in front of her.  “Betty Sue!”  She looks all around, finally turning to Gary and Mona.  “Those two just…”

Mona and Gary finish Donna’s sentence together.  “Disappeared.”

Donna starts shaking.  “Maybe I should go home to my parents.  Go back to school.  Buy some hair rollers…saddle shoes.”  She darts off through a crowd of late-night revelers.

Mona and Gary stand in silence.  Slowly they draw closer and wrap their arms around each other, still staring at the empty sidewalk where Ritchie and Betty Sue were.

Mona:  “Do you think they’ll make it back?”

Gary:  “Maybe they won’t want to.”

Mona:  “Maybe…”

Gary:  “Maybe what?”

Mona:  “Maybe…just maybe…none of this really happened?”

A random late night reveler, dressed like a court jester from long ago, leaps into the empty space where Ritchie and Betty Sue were.  The jester starts juggling three sparkly balls, winking at Gary and Mona.  Then he pockets the balls, bows low with a flourish, does an about face and bows again, flipping his tunic up to show off the top of his diamond-patterned leggings before leaping away to perform for others.

Gary:  “How will we ever know for sure if any of this was real?”

Mona:  “There’s only one way.”

Gary:  “How?”

Mona:  “The Reverend.”

Gary:  “What reverend?”

Mona:  “The one that died saving Ritchie’s life.  If this really happened, and they don’t come back, that Reverend should still be alive now.”

Gary:  “Right!  Because Ritchie hasn’t been born yet!  Where was that Reverend again?”

Mona:  “Up north.  The town was Ukiah.  His church was called Peoples Temple.”

Gary:  “Yeah, yeah, now I remember the wino going on about it when we were in the forest.  And that Ritchie gave you the full name for ‘Reverend Jim’ the night he first told you about that car accident.”

Mona:  “Yup.  That’s the one.”

Gary:  “People’s Temple…”

Mona:  “Sounded like some kind of sick cult, liable to do something stupid.”

Gary:  “Hope they haven’t followed through on their dream to move to Guyana yet, so we can ask them if their Reverend’s still alive.”

Mona:  “But we’ve got his name…”

Gary:  “True, but do we really want to go through the phone book, including the Guyana phone book, to track down anyone with a name as common as Jim Jones?”

THE END

Ink Splatters 3

Changes, Part 14

Continued from previous weeks…

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A blonde, driving a shiny Corvette convertible, pauses to look Ritchie over as if he were a cockroach.

Gary rolls his eyes.

Mona glares at her, hard.

Ritchie does his best to look oblivious.

The blonde flips a not-quite-empty coffee cup at Ritchie before continuing down Sunset Strip.

Mona:  “Probably a comment on the coffee.”

Gary:  “All that bleach must have seeped into her brain, or she’d know better than to get take-out outside of New York.”

Ritchie’s still looking after the ‘Vette that’s disappearing down The Strip amidst blinding reflections from the streetlights.

Mona puts a hand on Ritchie’s shoulder.  “So…  You said you have something for Gary?”

Ritchie swats at some of the blonde’s coffee that hit his sleeve.  “Not so loud, Mona.”

Gary whispers, “What is it?”

Ritchie palms him something.  “In your pocket, man.  Quick.  Strip’s crawling with narks tonight.”

Gary rolls his eyes.  “That might explain why we can’t find our ‘better than acid’ dope dealer!”  Then he touches what he just put in his pocket and looks confused.

Ritchie whispers, “That’s the rest of the pot you brought me from New York.”

Gary hunches his shoulders and flips his palms up, questioning.

Ritchie studies his own boots.  “It’s yours.  I don’t want my money back or nuthin’.”

Gary looks even more confused.

Ritchie shrugs it off, again trying to look oblivious.  “Me and the wino are going to check out a liquor store down on Pico.”

Mona and Gary exchange a knowing look.

Gary puts a hand on Ritchie’s shoulder.  “Your way of keeping things simple…”

Ritchie shakes Gary’s hand off.  “Watch it, White Boy.”

Mona:  “Ritchie, there’s more to it than reverting to a legal drug.  You’ve got to help us!  We’re trying to find that clothes-horse dealer who sold Gary that ‘better than acid’ so what happened to us can’t happen to others!”

But now Ritchie’s truly oblivious to Gary and Mona.  He’s spotted the bleached blonde that only wanted to play her new record album on his “boss” stereo when she thought Ritchie was white.

To be continued next week…

Ink Splatters 3