He took the Greyhound bus to Vegas, a book by Jack Kerouac in his pocket, the bus passing through Pittsburgh then on through the Midwest as he slept in his clothes and washed his face in the tiny bus sink, eating road stop cafeteria food, beef jerky, and marveling at different cities, like Saint Louis, Kansas City and Denver, until at last the chrome plated Greyhound pulled into Vegas, where the air was dry and hot.
"My new life is on" he thought, combing back his long hair.
"Welcome," Master said, his six foot three lean frame emerging from a long white car, "Let's grab some pancakes." They shook hands, Master giving him an all knowing look as if he had been picking up his thoughts the entire time he was on the bus. Remote viewing was something Master had explained in his letters; the ability to see what family and friends were up to at great distances. Master compared it to an E-meter, and the philosophy of Scientology's E. Ron Hubbard. From there it got complicated especially when Master talked about how the E-meter registers repressed emotions and memories and how that registration works as a guide in releasing bad energy, false teachings and...f crap.
The thought of talking to Master over a meal appealed to him because he hadn't talked to anyone in days. Shyness was one of his problems that Master said he could fix. Master drove to a little sun baked place near a filling station. It was obvious Master had been there before because he knew the waitress. "Hello Vera," he said, as they entered the diner, "I'm here with a young writer friend from Baltimore."
Vera's hair was dyed dark and piled high on her head. She had a whiskey voice and a weathered complexion that reflected the soul of the west. She could have come from a family of gunslingers and outlaws. Her wrinkles made him think of cracks in mud after a soaking rain though he felt her tough exterior hid an enormous heart.
He wondered if Vera was Master's old fling because in his letters Master was always making references to sweetheart-waitresses in old cities like Dodge, Cody, Montrose, and Colorado Springs.
He gobbled up the pancakes, the largest he'd ever seen, and felt real joy at being out of the east, with its manicured lawns, flat surface horizon, and smelly Gingko trees.
Master asked him about his trip, then started telling him stories about his old job as a traveling salesroom that had him driving all over Wyoming.
"Still working on The Family as Evil Entity?" Master asked, raising his left eyebrow.
"Yes," he said, "I'm recording the time father came in my room and ordered me to stop reading books and how he threatened to burn them. That's religion for you."
"I figure we'll go over to Reno and meet Kay sometime tomorrow," Master added. "We can get a reading on your life blockages, and see what needs to be worked on. Kay's a designated Clear and works with a lot of people. I had her clear out a whole bunch of shit ten years into my marriage. It's not an infallible system like that old pope of yours but it's damn good."
Vera gave him more pancakes, and piled on the coffee. This was freedom, he thought, this was intelligence and mental expansion. What did they know of Scientology E-meters back in the land of Gingko trees?
"Well, honey, you take care now," Vera said to him when they left. She gave him one of those western winks she must have used as a young woman when saying good-bye to boyfriends.
Master's way of driving was to lean into the steering wheel so that his back rarely touched the car seat. This is when he told his greatest stories about being a young man in the west, his days as a wild drinker, a handsome rabble rouser, and a serious seducer of women.
Kay's house was a simple bungalow in a small sprawl of whitish houses not far from the casino district. En route he kept asking Master if E-meters hurt; if they stuck into the skin like syringes or were strapped to the wrists like watchbands. Master said it was a real meter with wires or straps connected to pulse points.
Kay, Masters said, was an advanced Clear, somebody who had washed away all the emotional garbage in her life. She was now set on life's path as one without a psychological history. She was a healthy blank slate minus the crap.
As they left the car and walked to Kay's door, he hoped he wouldn't appear too screwed up to her. Catholicism has screwed him up; that was Master's message to him anyway. Catholicism had planted its repressive roots in him and was responsible for many hidden damages as well.
Kay was a tall slender woman with brown hair that fell to her shoulders. She wore long delicate Native American earrings. Her welcoming smile suggested a new way of living. He was sure that she knew something that he didn't know and he wanted to know what she knew. Her living room was awash in sunlight and Southwest tapestries. Kay shook his hand and stared into his eyes. He knew that Master had told Kay about him before their arrival. Kay offered them tea and there was some small talk. He looked around for the E-meter, thinking it might be in a case or box somewhere.
"We are in endgame," Kay announced. "What a fantastic time to be nineteen. Everything in the world is about to change."
He noticed a small framed portrait of Charles Manson on the wall.
He could not believe that he was sitting with a perfect woman who had gotten rid of all her personal garbage. She had triumphed over the debilitating effects of family. Master had always told him that he had so much family crap tying him down that it was like a corpse riddled with bullets.
"This is not a magical gadget," Kay insisted, finally revealing the cream colored E-meter that for some reason reminded him of an Edsel or his great aunt's Chevrolet Impala. "The meter will show you where you need to do work." A long tube contained a Velcro-like wrist band, and there were wire ends that plugged onto your skin but held in place by suction cups and tape. It reminded him of a blood pressure pump. Other wires connected to the tips of the fingers. It connected to your pulse so that when you talked the reader could gage the responses of the needle.
Master began the questioning.
"Can you remember the first time you expressed your natural self and then received punishment for it?"
He talked about wetting the bed as a child. Wetting the bed was about retention, holding things back and then letting them go inappropriately. His stuttering was another issue. Someone early on had blocked his flow of words so that when he talked he sounded like he was slowly suffocating to death.
"Relive that memory for me now," Kay interjected. For some reason his eyes drifted to a small Mayan artifact on a bookshelf where E. Ron Hubbard's book lay open like a bible. It seemed as if Manson was looking directly into his eyes.
"I was ten," he said, going back in time to a family Philly Sunday dinner with Grandma Kelly. "Grandma was seated at the head of the table. Mother had cooked a pot roast and put out her best silver. Everyone was in high spirits when for some reason I blurted out that Grandma looked like a spider. We may have been playing some kind of game in which we were supposed to say what people at the table looked like. "
"What made you say a spider?"
"Grandma wore hats with netting in the front and back. The netting covered the back of her head in big swoops. She looked like a spider because the nets reminded me of a web "
"What happened then?"
"Father ordered me to go to my room. Then he came upstairs and beat me. I was screaming. He kept doing it until my brother came up and told him to stop. My brother threatened to beat him up though he was just a little runt. He did eventually throw a punch, and father stopped."
Master and Kay were peering at the needle like scientists. They asked more questions, very personal ones. He began to feel they were intruding. He was letting everything out; stories about Fluffy the sexual molester babysitter and how his paternal grandmother and an aunt had died in an automobile accident while on their way to his fifth birthday party. Kay's ears perked up when he mentioned the car wreck. Her facial mannerisms told him that this accident had created a deep wound in him.
"Look at that needle," Kay remarked. He looked at the little Mayan god and recalled what he remembered of that day: a festive mood in the house with the dining room table set before the phone call came in. The heavy black rotary phone with white dials bore his younger aunt's frantic voice: "Get your mother! Get your Mother!"
It was hard for him to dig further into his past after that.
"Calculations are iffy," Kay told Master. "He should not go home again."
"He's actually killing off his family as he writes his book," Master said.
Kay undid the E-meter and replaced it in the box. Master reminded him that his task was to go on and write as if he still had the meter strapped to his wrist. That would take some time, he said, but the important thing was not to hurry. Life overhauls are not done overnight. Although the meter was in the box he felt a pulsating in his arm and a vague tingling throughout his body. It was as if an energy form was rushing through his cells to every organ and limb. He told Kay and Master that he felt something "electrical."
"It's a process," Kay said, flinging back her long hair
The next thing he knew he was in Master's car traveling through the desert. They had said a quick good-bye to Kay; Kay had hugged him and wished him luck on his journey. "Remember, you are your own god," she advised. "You have a new father now." She pinched his cheek. But in the car all he could think of was what lay ahead, all the work it would take to undo the layers of crap his family had imposed on him.
They drove for what seemed like hours, Master talking non-stop, relating experiences from his youth. In every story a similar moral prevailed: the necessity to reject what was given at birth.
The terrain changed. They drove through a mountainous area where there were streams and rocks. The sky, a cobalt blue, brought him a sense of peace. Master said it was Wyoming's the Snowy Range. A magnificent cliff rose high up in front of them; it was as if a mountain had been cut in half and molded into a flat surface. Master and he got out of the car and walked over the boulders, which were spread out over a grassy surface. Together they looked at the mountains.
Master stood atop one boulder, he on another. It was a pivotal moment, during which something was exchanged. He had a sense of vows being exchanged, of a promise not articulated but something deep, a connection that would last. He looked out into the rugged landscape and as he did so he made a promise to himself that he would always do what Master told him to do. He would obey Master in all things, and he would remember this landscape in times of weakness; he would recall the feeling, the sky, and especially the mountains.
He would remember it all forever, even when Master was dead, and even long after he realized that in Las Vegas at age 19 he had made one of the worst decisions in his life.