[Pages from the uncorrected proof. To purchase the limited illustrated hardbound edition of this novel go to The Stu Store at Squareup.com. To purchase the non-illustrated ebook, go to those places where ebooks are sold. Thanks, guys.]
Arthur “Artie” Saum
Saturday, February 15th, 2076: 8:07 p.m.
Downtown Alano Club Annex
“My name is Artie, and I’m an addict and an alcoholic,” I say.
“Hi, Artie,” say all the addicts in unison.
“I had two years yesterday.”
Lots of whooping and applauding. I rise from my chair and walk across the room to Michael, who is handing out the chips tonight. Michael hands me my two-year medallion. We hug.
“Love you, brother,” whispers Michael into my ear.
“Me too,” I say.
“Anybody else celebrating multiple years of sobriety tonight?” asks Michael.
He gave out two one-month chips tonight, a six-month and a few newcomer chips. I am the only birthday.
“Well, give yourself a hand for staying clean and sober today.”
The room of twenty plus addicts clap.
Michael puts the chip box down on the front table and walks back to his seat.
“Welcome to the Sunset meeting of Mormon Tea Anonymous,” says Roy, who is leading the meeting tonight. ”We are glad that you are all here.”
He reads from the preamble of Mormon Tea Anonymous. Roy is a short, stocky man in his 30’s. A man you’d like to have beside you in a fight, that’s for sure, yet he has a broad smile and a spiritual glow about him. I was introduced to him at my first M.T.A. meeting. He gave me hope then and still does now. I know his story. It ain’t pretty, but he’s a different man from the one he describes when he shares about his life before he got sober.
“Mormon Tea Anonymous is a fellowship of men, women and children who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and become free of Mormon Tea addiction,” reads Roy. “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using Mormon Tea and all other mind-altering substances including alcohol, and marijuana.”
I look around the room. I see people I’ve known for two years. New faces, too. Some I like. Some I can barely stand, but all I love. Even that guy over there who I’ve never seen before. I love him, too.
“M.T.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politic group, religion, faction, gang or government,” Roy says. “We are self-supporting by our own contributions. Our primary purpose is to stay free of Mormon Tea and all other mind-altering substances and to help others to achieve the same freedom.”
Roy reads the Twelve Steps and some other stuff but I barely hear him. I’m lost in my thoughts, thinking about Michael, Craig, and Georgia and of just how grateful I am right now. I don’t often feel happy with my lot in life, but I do tonight.
“Fifteen minutes before the end of the meeting, we’ll pass the basket,” says Roy. “Does anybody have a topic or a question regarding the program of recovery?”
A moment of silence follows.
“My name is Bob, and I’m an addict.”
“Hey, Bob,” says everyone.
“This is only my third meeting. I haven’t used Tea now for nine days.”
A smattering of applause. “Right on,” someone says.
“I really don’t know what’s wrong with me,” says Bob. “I was happier when I was using Brigham. Okay, maybe not. Fuck.” He pauses. He seems a little lost. That’s OK.
“One moment I’m happy,” he says, “the next I want to take the head off the guy next to me.” He shakes his head. “No offense,” he adds, turning to the man seated next to him.
The man smiles and shrugs, with a look of “I don’t care.”
“I’m all over the fucking place,” continues Bob. “I feel crazier now than when I was smoking Tea every day, all day. Fuck. Anyway, I don’t know if there’s a topic in that, but I just feel nuts. I don’t want to use again,” he pauses. “But I’m afraid I will. I’m really afraid I’ll smoke Brigham again. I stopped nine days ago because I hit my little boy, and I’ve never hit my son before. Never. Fuck me.”
Bob puts his head in his hands. He doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. None of us do. When you’re sharing, no one interrupts you. We give our full attention. We listen. What a gift we give to each other. You are heard and no one stops you from talking. Unless you go on for too long, but we members of Tucson M.T.A. will let you go on for at least five minutes or more before we kindly ask you to wrap it up. Bob lifts his head. His eyes are misty.
“I don’t know. I’ve got a sponsor,” he says. “Craig over there. We’re working the Second Step. I just wonder if I’m going crazy or something. Am I doing something wrong? Christ. Thanks for listening. That’s all I got.”
“Thanks, Bob,” say a few people.
“My name is Craig and I’m an addict.”
Craig is my sponsor, too. What a great guy. “I felt the same way when I quit Brigham five years ago. Tea kicked my ass,” says Craig. “At first when I smoked Brigham, everything was great. I didn’t dream about skulls in the desert anymore. I didn’t feel scared. I didn’t feel anything. It was great. Then, it turned on me. I went from feeling ten-foot-tall and bulletproof, to being paranoid that my girlfriend Peggy was plotting to turn me in to the Feds. And I wasn’t even doing anything that illegal.”
“Ok, Mormon Tea is illegal but I wasn’t making it. I wasn’t killing or robbing the rich people. I was just a Tea head. But I started to hear voices that weren’t there, and anyway, you know the drill. Stealing from my friends, not wanting to work, just staying home with my little Flex-TV. Then Peggy threatened to leave me if I didn’t get a job and stop smoking Brigham. So, I left her before she could leave me.”
“Then I did get a job, running with those boys in Santa Rosa. Things got really bad, fast.”
He doesn’t have to name the boys in Santa Rosa. We all know.
“A year later I quit. On day two I went looking for Peggy but she was gone. Took the train east. And it was great, being clean, for about three days.”
“I felt like I was crazier than bat shit for about a month,” says Craig. “Then it got better. I got a sponsor and began to work the Steps with him. And I got lots of Flex-phone numbers of guys in the Program. It slowly got better. I slowly got better, with the help of God Goddess All There Is and from you guys.”
“Now I know this is technically cross-talk,” continues Craig, turning in his chair to look at Bob, “but I think it’s great that you’re here and you’re working the Second Step. You really want this. I can tell. That’s great, man.”
Craig turns and looks at me.
“And congratulations, Artie. Fan-fucking-tastic. Two years. I’m so happy for you.”
I smile and nod toward him.
“Anyway, if you are new, keep coming back. We are all here to help. Thanks for letting me share.”
“Thanks, Craig,” says the group.
An hour later, Craig, Michael and I are heading for New Chicks, the coffee shop where Georgia works. Georgia’s pulling espresso tonight. I wave to her as we walk in. She blows me a kiss.
“What do you want? I’m buying,” says Craig.
“Just a big ass coffee with cream,” I say.
“Michael, you want anything?” asks Craig.
“I’m good,” says Michael. “Thanks, though.”
Craig walks to the counter to order, leaving Michael and me alone at a small table.
“Have you told him about your trip to San Francisco?” asks Michael.
“Going to have to tell him sometime. Or not.” He laughs.
“I’ll tell him in a couple days,” I say. “We aren’t catching the train for another two weeks.”
“Well, he is one of your sponsors,” says Michael. “Then again, sponsors are the last to know anything.”
We both laugh.
“How’s it going with that newcomer who asked you to sponsor him last week?” Michael asks.
“Haven’t heard from him since he took my Flex-phone number.”
“Yeah,” says Michael. “Big gap between the sponsees I have on the books and the ones who actually call. Just the way it is.”
“Yeah,” I sigh. Neither of us laugh at this hard truth.
Craig returns with my coffee with cream. He bought himself what looks like a Big Legged Chick, espresso with synth mocha. Bet he got an extra shot, too. Craig does like his caffeine.
“Thanks for the coffee,” I say.
“You’re welcome,” says Craig.
“So what Step are you on, Artie?” asks Craig.
We laugh. He knows damn well what I’ve done in my recovery. I worked Steps One through Eight in my first two months clean. Been doing Ten, Eleven and Twelve every day since, and working Step Nine as best I can, making right the wrongs I’ve done, and I’m doing a lot of living amends for the good number of people I have no idea how to find. Craig’s mostly busting my chops and perhaps making a little fun of Bill, my A.A. sponsor who seems to always ask that question.
“I’m working Step Fuck You,” I say to Craig.
Craig laughs so hard I think I see mocha coming out his nose. He wipes his face with a brown paper napkin he gets from the dispenser on the table.
“Artie, seriously,” he says, “I’m really happy for you. You’ve been clean two years. You and Georgia seem to be going great, unless you aren’t telling me something.”
“We’re thick as thieves,” I say. “And I’m always not telling you something.”
“I know,” laughs Craig. “Just pulling your chain. But you are living a great life now, Artie. You have a good job at The Instrument Shop. You’re playing real good. You’re writing some nice songs too, man. You aren’t the same person I met two years ago.” “Thanks, bro,” I say.
“But...,” Craig trails off.
“What?” I say.
“Mind if I ask you a personal question with Michael here?” he asks.
“No. Shoot,” I say. I love Craig. He has such good boundaries about this sponsor thing. Bill, my A.A. sponsor? Not so much.
“Well, I just have a feeling you really aren’t telling me something. Something kind of important.”
This time Michael laughs.
“Fuck,” I say under my breath, looking down.
“I’m not trying to put you on the spot...,” says Craig.
“He was going to tell you in a couple of days,” says Michael.
“Tell me what?” asks Craig.
“Georgia and I are taking the train to San Francisco in a couple weeks to visit my grandmother,” I say.
Craig looks down at the table. Thoughtful, not mad, that I kept this from him. He takes a long sip off his Big Legged Chick.
“Have you told your mother yet?” asks Craig.
“Tomorrow,” I say.
“Good,” says Craig.
Peter Saum, Jr.
Monday, February 17th, 2076: 3:11 a.m.
Across from New Chicks Coffee Shop
Downtown Tucson, Arizona
I love Tucson at this time of night. Always have.
It’s great to see how the world has come back since the hell of the 2060s. Tucson is the same, but different. Sure, the old Unisource office building sits vacant and dark but Tucson City Hall, the two Pima County government buildings and the new Kino Federal Building glow bright with lights in their windows even at this early hour. The government is busy all the time.
New Chicks is closed, but it’ll be open again in a few hours. I sit on the curb (or what we angel ghosts call sitting) and gaze toward the Kino Federal Building. My family and a lot of others would have been dead long before now if it wasn’t for the U.S. government. Thank you, Sasha.
President Sasha Obama Fulbright, the 54th President of the United States and the daughter of the 44th, inspires Americans even more than her father Barack. Sasha is one of the great problem solvers of her time. In those first weeks after the bombings, rather than continue the initial attempt at martial law, she asked gun owners to contact local law enforcements and see how they could help. The Feds hired many of them to be Deputy U.S. Marshals. She engaged people to work together. And she has stayed involved. Sasha chats to America every week on the Flex-TV.
“America will never be what it was before the Seven Sisters. We all know that,” she said in one address, years ago. “We who have survived are struck with profound grief from the deaths of our families and friends, and we are fueled with rage to avenge their murders and senseless deaths. You have my permission to seek revenge, but it won’t make you feel any better. What will heal you, what will heal us, is to help one another, not kill each other. We need to build a new nation. Smaller, poorer, yes, but perhaps happier and closer to God Goddess All There Is. And closer to each other.”
Sasha helped a lot. We’re lucky to have her.
So in the late 2060s, America went to work. With caution, yes, but with a great deal of faith and hope as well.
Food, water, power and some degree of public safety were the first priorities of the Fulbright Administration. President Fulbright asked for things and she got them. The Congress was one of liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans, so they passed all the laws Sasha asked for.
Trains brought emergency food to those who survived. The interstate system of roads was destroyed during the horrors of the 41 Nights, but we still had the trains. All public works, water and sewer were nationalized. Money and time was spent to get the water flowing in the cities and towns and to help rural communities drill wells. Septic tanks came back and sewers were renovated. We didn’t have much oil but we had coal, wood, cement, and Flex technology. You can do a lot with just wood, coal, Flex tech, cement and trains to carry them. And America did.
Ownerships of the large deposits of coal in the West and in Appalachia were kept privately owned, as were most large corporations. Sasha made a deal with them.
“You can keep your companies, dig your coal, make your computers and cars,” President Fulbright told a meeting with the captains of industry in July of 2063. “Provide phone service, make electricity, produce food, and you all can make a good deal of money. You will be regulated but not strictly.”
The captains smiled at that.
I was there. Hundreds of angel ghosts hovered above Camp David that summer. “Here’s the deal,” the President continued. “We are going to tax the living shit out of you. That’s just the way it’s going to be. The rich and powerful will pay their fair share again. Frankly, you will pay more than your fair share. Most Americans have nothing but their faith, their courage and their friends and families. They have no money, nor will they have any real wealth for a very long time. But you do. You own the factories, the natural resources, the farms. So, you may ask, what do you get in return? Well, you get your freedom and you get your stuff. You can build your houses high in the hills and have your own militia to guard you. The U.S. Government isn’t going to protect your crap.”
“My U.S. Marshals will be protecting the poor and middle class people of America. You, my rich friends, are on your own,” she said. “I won’t meddle in your personal affairs, however cruel, depraved, and kinky they are. I need your goods, your food, your coal, and your phones, and I need your wealth to pay for it. And here’s the kicker.”
Sasha smiled. I remember that smile, that day, like it was yesterday.
”You either agree to this right now,” she said, “or I nationalize your phone factories, your coal fields, your power companies, your food processing centers, your factory farms, your salvage yards and I then make you lie down with the common folk. I’m not asking you, sirs and ma’ams. I’m telling you. Congress will introduce a new tax bill next week. I’ll sign it the week after. Prepare to open your wallets, ladies and gentlemen. Open them wide.”
“Oh, Bob?” Sasha said, looking over at Bob Walker, the president of Blue Cross & Blue Shield. “You’re done. All healthcare will be national healthcare in a couple of months. We are bringing back Medicare. Sorry, Bob.”
Bob shook his head in disgust. He began to speak but the President cut him off with a hand. Sasha didn’t suffer fools well. She still doesn’t.
“Mr. Walker, I don’t need any shit from you today,” she said. “I could ask the Bank of England to freeze your personal fucking assets right now, so don’t you shake your head at me! The King of England and I are friends, don’t you know.”
Walker looked down and didn’t say another word. He knew he was rich and could fly himself and his family anywhere he wanted, and that’s just what Bob Walker did a month later.
What a great summer of ’63 it was. I fell in love with Sasha Fulbright that year. And she says the word ‘fuck’ better than me.
A new amendment was made to the U.S. Constitution to repeal the 22nd Amendment so Sasha could run for a third term in 2064. She ran a fourth in 2068, then a fifth in 2072. President Sasha Obama Fulbright is 75 years old now. She has hinted she won’t run for a sixth term. Vice President Florence Biden has made sounds she may run. We don’t know yet.
President Fulbright has no children. No husband. He died. I suppose Americans have been her children, and her lover too. No, that’s not entirely true. I forgot about Bill Wilson.
In her twenty years as President, the United States has gone from a country of starving, hopeless, and sick people, to a nation of survivors, with humble hopes for their children, food on their tables, and with good work to do. Americans are healing from their mental and physical wounds with a renewed spirituality and a greater resilience.
On the small fenders of bicycles and scooters to the backs of big coal trains, bumper stickers read Sasha’s favorite two words:
I look down Stone Avenue. A horse-drawn wagon and a Flex-truck or two bring produce in from Benson and Vail, and milk and cheese in from Camp Lowell. Dawn is just a few hours away. I see the lights on at Mo’s Bakery just down Pennington Street.
Life is good. I feel pretty OK in my own skin tonight. I chuckle. Skin. I wish I had skin.
There are only a few cars on the streets of Tucson. The streets themselves are a patchwork of old asphalt and new concrete. A bumpy ride for an old 20th century automobile, but not for the new Flex-cars and -scooters with their big tires and tiny bodies. Bicycles are the most popular form of transportation in Tucson, and the horse and wagon has made a comeback, what with all the horse country surrounding downtown now.
Downtown is the core of my city, with Miracle Mile to the north, Ajo Road to the south, Barrio Anita to the west and the Sam Hughes neighborhood to the east. The University of Arizona is mostly vacant. A small college of agriculture and another college of arts, crafts and music have reopened at the U of A in the past couple years. Towns and cities all over America have shrunk, with the new centers of town being the railroad stations. Everything revolves around the trains. Tucson is no different. The old warehouses that used to rent to me and other artists 50 years ago are true warehouses again, housing food, supplies, coal, goods, clothing, and everything you might want to buy from California, Texas, Wyoming, Louisiana, and Florida. Most of the high rises are vacant, but any building within a mile of downtown that is one story tall and has windows that can open is good property.
Home ownership and renting are cheap. Everything else is pretty expensive. Electricity, Flex stuff. Some goods and services are subsidized by the Federal Government, but real estate is ridiculously inexpensive. It’s supply and demand. There are thousands of homes throughout the Tucson valley that are empty, many used now as scavengers’ treasure troves. If you need a few studs to repair your house in Armory Park, just take your Flex-truck up the road to the suburbs up north. Pick up an old toilet if you need one too, while you’re there. You can buy a house downtown for a year’s wages and homes in the suburbs are free to squatters, though few live out there. Working water lines don’t go out that far. And it’s still a little scary after dark outside of downtown.
It’s safe downtown because most of the populace are now armed with handguns and the U.S. Marshals are loved and respected due to their heroism and fairness in the last few years. Yes, there are still bad people, really bad people, both in and out of town, but most have moved out to the desert, living in houses with solar panels and rain tanks or huge mansions with deep wells bought with drug money.
There are hardly any dogs anymore, most eaten during or after the 41 Nights, but cats are still around.
Damn cats. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them.
And the U.S. Marshals? Goddess, I love them. All Tucsonans do, man, woman, child, and angel ghost. Why, I do believe that’s Marshal Magdalena Gutierrez walking toward Mo’s Bakery right now. I bet she’s getting some scones before her shift.
God, I wish I could smell. I used to love the smell of fresh baked goods. And I haven’t smelled the coal exhaust of a train since I worked at Tweetsie Railroad in North Carolina in the 1980s. Wish I could smell these new coal-fueled trains. Price I pay for being an angel ghost. No big deal. We’re allowed so much from God Goddess All There Is. It’s a wonderful thing.
I think of Trey. I feel sad but not like the other night. Maybe someone’s shining some Light on me this morning.
Mags walks into the bakery. Mo’s wife, Josephine, is at the counter. The two women hug. God bless you, Marshal, Mo, and Josephine. May GGATI’s Light shine on you today, as you protect and feed Tucson. And may Light resonate in your hearts, healing you and your’n, letting you forever know you are never alone.
I raise my eyes to the night sky and gaze upon a sea of stars. I see no moon but I can sure see the Milky Way. I drop my head and look around. Here and there, I see the movements of a few angel ghosts floating near the Kino Federal Building and drifting above this corner of Pennington and Stone. Three angel ghost friends sit on the curb in front of New Chicks.
I’m not alone.
None of us are.