The Spirit Hand
The deepest of all the patterns in the human spirit is one of departure and return and the journey implicit in between.
—Laurens van der Post (1906-1996) “Point of Total Return,” Jung and the Story of Our Time, 1975
I am not going to identify myself so forget about it right now—it doesn’t matter anyway—you can just call me the spirit hand because I was awakened last night at like 3:03 a.m.—I’m not a writer—but I wrote this by hand—and in the first person—and turned it over to a publisher because that’s how the spirit told me he wanted it done and he was a very strong spirit. I was under some kind of trance okay—well, believe it or not—I really don’t care—here it is.
It was in 1970 that it happened and I just wish to tell you the story—okay? It’s just something that I have to do—okay? I’m really happy where I am and I don’t want to come back to the world—I just want to tell the story to you and also to let Johnny B know that I not only made it but I made it in 1 hour, 13 minutes and 3 seconds. Okay, so that doesn’t mean anything to you right now but just give me a few more minutes of your time and it will. I mean I’ve waited 41 years to get it to Johnny B—and you—so I think you could give me the benefit of the doubt and read the whole story. I know your time is valuable—Geez—do I ever know about time—see, because time is what this whole story is about—indeed—it was time that cost me my life.
I was living in Miami Beach at the time—I was driving a taxicab and still training at the 5th Street Gym because I would take a fight whenever Chris—Chris Dundee, the boxing promoter, who also owned the gym—asked me to fight. I was a little bit crazy—I’ll admit that now— well, I was only 25 years old at the time and ready to do just about anything—for enough money. I know now that money is worthless but I was young and dumb then and anyway no human being on earth knows even one 1-millionth of what we, in the Spirit World know. So, to get back to the story: when this $1,000-dollar payday came up, well, I didn’t even think about it.
See, there was this shyster who had his law office up on Lincoln Road—who I did a little bit of strong-arm work for once in awhile—and he was in a real dither about not being able to get this package delivered to a Naples law firm by five o’clock that afternoon. I just happened to be in his office that afternoon because he—Johnny B—John Bocassio—owed me $100-dollars. I told you he was a real shyster —whenever he needed you for something he would call you endlessly but when he owed you money, you had to dog him endlessly—and I always did. He was practically in tears over this delivery that he couldn’t make and I was starting to get really mad myself because I had been waiting for twenty minutes to see him and now he comes out of his office in a state of mind that bordered on insanity. A friend of mine—an ex-fighter—was there too. Johnny B owed him $200-bucks and he was short on money—just like me. Then Johnny B stares at us—like we’re strangers he don’t even know—and me and Eddie T put the arm on him for our money and he shrugs us both off and pulls out his roll—a roll that would—literally—choke a horse, and peels off two Ben Franklins, flipping them at me and Eddie T, but Eddie T frowns and his eyes narrow into slits. “You owe me another C-note Johnny?” he barks and Johnny B flips him another hundred-dollar bill. “I’d gladly give you ten times that if you could get this package to Naples by five,” Johnny B growls back.
Eddie T exchanged a bemused look with me. It was a quarter after three p.m. and Naples was about 125 miles from Miami Beach. Eddie T knew that I drove a superfast 1966 650-cc BSA motorcycle that had ported and polished cylinder heads, a chopped flywheel and gearing that changed the ratio in order to allow me so much leeway in shifting that I could stay in first gear until I hit 40-mph and second up to 60-mph. I could weave in and out of traffic and pass cars like no other motorcyclist could and, thereby, make time like no one else could.
“Where in Naples—exactly,” I said.
“About five or so miles from the airport, downtown on … ah—wait a minute—you’re not actually thinking you could make it by five?”
“I looked at my watch—3:20 p.m.—still an hour and forty minutes to go.”
“Johnny, for a grand—shhh—no problem.”
Johnny B looked at me like I was crazy, then at the clock on the wall. “How—I mean how are you going to …ah—?”
“You let me worry about that, just gimme the package and the grand,” I said, and Johnny answered me with his smile—yeah this Johnny B special smile that bordered on a sneer and told you that he wasn’t a shyster for nothing.
“Yeah-uh right—I was born at night but not last night—I’ll give you the package now and the thousand if you get it there before five but if you don’t make it by five … well—”
“Well? Well what Johnny?”
“Well then you owe me a grand.”
“Wha’ … what? I ain’t got a grand and you know it.”
Johnny B gave me his special sneer-smile this time—the one he kept for judges and prosecutors when they knew he had gotten one over on them. “No problem—you can work it off.”
I looked at the clock—3:25 p.m.—and then at Eddie T. My bike was parked next to his Yellow Cab, just a block away. I could be on it and on my way towards Alligator Alley in five minutes. I nodded at Johnny B and gave him my best smile, showing even my gold-capped bicuspid.
“Aw’rye wid me man—give it to me and let me roll on outta here.”
Three minutes later—3:32 p.m.—and with only 1-hour and 28-minutes left I was on my bike and driving over the 41ST Causeway, heading towards I-95. I would get on State Road 84 and be on the Alley in ten minutes and then I would fly and I do mean fly.
The tragedy of life is not that a man loses but that he almost wins.
—Heywood Broun (1888-1939). “Sport for Art’s Sake,” Pieces of Hate and Other Enthusiasms, 1922.
Alligator Alley was little more than a small two-lane highway—running straight through the Everglades—in 1970—but it was a straight shot to Naples from State Road 84 in Ft. Lauderdale and I was well familiar with it because there were numerous Indian Reservations along the way and many times I took a date I had met on the beach to see a Native American member of the Miccosukee or Seminole tribe wrestle an alligator. I was on Alligator Alley by 3:50 and I can still remember my huge smile—it was maybe 80 miles to Naples and the lawyers’ office I was to deliver the package to was barely five minutes away from the end of the Alley. I revved the handle of my BSA and pulled away from the toll-booth, noticing that there were no highway patrol cars anywhere—nothing abnormal about that—I usually hit 100 mph and more on the Alley and had yet to see a trooper anywhere. I revved the gas-handle on my bike up until I was cruising at a little over 100 mph within a few seconds and the trip was on.
When you’re traveling at 100 mph everything flies by pretty fast but I wore contact lenses and clear goggles and could see exceptionally well. There being no restriction on helmets I was bare-headed—making it much easier for my peripheral vision, as well as in front of me.
I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 4:32. I still had twenty-eight minutes left and the end of Alligator Alley was a little less than five miles away; but, then I saw it—just ahead—and there was no mistaking it—it was crossing the road and it looked to be a monster, probably a 20-footer—and an uglier, slimier, scaly green monster I’ve never seen or heard of—and this gator was moving slowly across the road but then stopped completely and stared towards my oncoming bike. Just at that moment—drastically concerned with a monster gator up ahead—my peripheral vision picked up another 20-footer but this one was much scarier than the gator up ahead because it was not made of flesh and blood and scaly green hide but rubber, steel and glass and when I saw it pull onto my side of the Alley and heard the stupefying siren begin its warning wail a shiver ran involuntarily up my back, for this monster made the gator shrink down to nothing because this monster was the scariest of them all—to me at this time—it was a Florida Highway Patrol car and he was after—none other than me. I just had enough time to glance up and see that the 20-foot-plus alligator had disappeared from the road and I saw him running onto the side of the road and into the Everglades when I glanced in my mirror and saw the patrol-car was gaining on me fast. I turned my gas-handle and shot all the way to 120 mph and quickly saw the end of the Alley up ahead—the small toll booth and a man standing outside it looking in my direction, along with a half-dozen parked cars and spectators also scoping this chase out—which is what it had now become, because I wasn’t about to stop, not until I made it to the shyster’s office. I figured I’d pay the speeding ticket out of the grand I was supposed to collect at the law office in Naples. I also spied a miniature blockade up ahead, as two cop cars were blocking the entrance/exit to the Alley but it barely slowed me down, as I downshifted to third gear and my Bee-Zah—as I referred to my BSA motorcycle—slowed down to a little over 80 mph and I somehow managed to steer around the cop cars. I had to go off the road for about twenty feet and when my left shoulder banged against the cop cars’ driver-side mirror it came off the vehicle with a loud clank as it hit the street and skidded along onto the ground. I whipped my bike back onto the road and headed for the lawyers office—only about five miles away. I looked at my watch—it was 4:35 and I still had twenty-five more minutes until my deadline—and I felt I was in the clear. Yeah—that’s right—I felt I was in the clear, right up until I heard the sirens screeching in my ears and I realized I wouldn’t be in the clear until I put the file in the lawyers’ hands—yeah, then they could lock me up, the shyster would spring me, I was as sure of that as I was that the sun would come up the next day. I should have known better—the sun would come up the next morning, but—as we both know now—not for me.
The End is Really the Beginning
The tragedy of a man who has found himself out.
—J.M. Barrie (1860-1937). What Every Woman Knows, 4, 1908.
There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.
—Louis L’Amour (1908-1988). Opening paragraph, Lonely on the Mountain, 1980
The tragedy of a man who has found himself out—yeah, I sure did that boy— whew, I was sure a dummy, I wanna tell you that. J.M. Barrie was a smart cookie—I wanna tell you—and I oughta know because I know him—no, really—I do. I call him Jamie, he likes that, a Scotsman he was, ah, I mean is ah, well anyway you probably know him because he wrote Peter Pan but he wrote a lot of other stuff too. Well, I’m not supposed to get into that too much but I figure you probably won’t believe me anyway but he told me I’d of made a pretty good writer and he should know because he was the President of a society for writers when he was living. Yeah, I’m not really supposed to talk about that anyway so … oh yeah—that’s right—I almost forgot—I gotta finish my story—sorry about that.
Okay, so anyway I downshifted quickly to second gear and held my clutch in until I was doing about 60-mph and then let her out and I barely felt the slight jolt as the gear clicked in and the bike ran smoothly on. There were cops all over the place now and I could see at least a half-dozen in my rearview mirror. I was getting close to my destination and the speed limit was down to 35-mph, which wasn’t my biggest danger—no, my biggest fear was swerving around slow-moving vehicles and pedestrians. I down-shifted to first gear and scooted around cars and pedestrians as easily as a cat jumping off a chair and the cop cars soon disappeared from my view. I knew they must be scratching their heads at how I could go so fast without shifting and it brought a note of delight to my subconscious. This is the last thing I remember thinking—that and seeing the law office, on a corner with a crosswalk where I saw a woman crossing the street at the last second—I was doing 50-mph and I swerved around her just in time—I missed her by a good foot but I hadn’t seen the cop car on the opposite side heading my way. He hit me doing 60-mph and I was flung from my bike into the air about thirty feet where I came down on top of a fire hydrant and bounced through a plate-glass window in, yes—that’s right—the law office that was my destination. The last thing I saw was my watch and I still remember it was 4:43 p.m. and I saw the second hand sweep three seconds—just as I took in my last breath. I had made it in 1-hour, 13 minutes and three seconds.
Like I said before, I am very happy where I am and I can do whatever I want to here, including—as you see here—writing. I can tell you this I have met some real writers up here and I do mean real—guys like J.M. Barrie, John Steinbeck, Heywood Broun, Louis L’Amour, Laurens van der Post, Edgar Rice Burroughs and so many more I don’t have enough paper to mention half of them but you can see what I mean—and most of them have told me I could be a good writer and I may write again if I think it might help someone navigate their way through the world and its many evils and enticements. Like this story shows you that you should not rush anything—you should take your time and ponder the likely consequences. It took me 41-years to write this but—see—41 years is a long time for people in the world but here, where I am, it is like—well—it’s more like 41 seconds—that’s right you heard right, 41 seconds.
So, I have decided to take all these great, historic writers’ advice and attempt to write another story. Please expect to read another of my stories say, around, 2052.
Well, then again, some of you may be here by then—hey that’ll be great—you’ll love it here. You really will. I’ll look for you.