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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs

Bionic Girl

‘I want a second date!’ heralds the Email. ‘And you have one week to turn into the animal you once were twenty-five years ago.’

Twenty-five years? I scratch my chin skipping to the topic box ‘Bionic Girl’.

The memory rushes up. I met Ruby Hunter in 1981 at the indoor broad jump pit where she was practicing for the Michigan State girls’ track team. Time and again, I watched her run, leap and soar with blowing curls to land farther in the sand than I thought humanly possible. That night, after one long, memorable date and due to her prowess and resemblance to the popular TV Bionic Woman, I promised with a farewell kiss, ‘You’re Bionic Girl.’ We lost touch… until today.

‘I found your address at Daily Speculations on the Internet,’ her Email gushes. ‘I’m ripples, red toenails and ready.’

‘Come visit me in the Sonora desert, XOX.’ I bid.

‘Look for a tall, shapely, brunette in aviator sunglasses looking like she could kick your ass.’

‘I shall look down on you through professorial lenses,’ I sign off, and clean them in the library. I rise from the computer and leave to start grueling daily hikes under the hot sun to flatten my belly to impress her. I dismay a week later that the morning of her arrival is premature.

At high noon, she swaggers into the Palo Verde College library looking as described from toenails to ripples to aviator glasses, and taller at 5’11’’ than I remembered. ‘Mr. Keely!’ ignites the fuse of our second date after a quarter-century. The other patrons swing from her face to mine as I read their thoughts, ‘The geezer doesn’t stand a chance.’ She marches forward and peels off the glasses to reveal flashing dark eyes, and bats them. I rise, pull off my one-lens frames and peer at the unworldly Bionic Girl in these parts looking indeed like she can kick my ass.

Minutes later, I drive us in her new SUV one hour southwest from Blythe, Ca. to my far-flung Rancho. I wheel into the drive giddy with past impressions, and adjust the rear view mirror to study her face and reflect how to win her a second time… The Bionic Woman was a 1970’s television series that spun off The Six Million Dollar Man. It stars tennis pro Jaime Sommers who is almost killed in a sky diving accident, but the US Government uses bionic parts to save her. Both legs, one arm, and one ear are artificial giving her semi-super powers with a strengthened right arm to lift a bull, amplified hearing to hear a whisper a mile away, and legs that can run faster than a speeding locomotive. She works for the Feds battling mad scientists and spies for three years as the series enjoys great popularity until, on a final mission, the bionics malfunction and she goes berserk crashing her way out a hospital and threatens to harm America. The Six Million Dollar Man takes pursuit and eventually catches up with her where she collapses in his arms. The character was so popular that ABC was asked to rewrite to bring her back. It is amazingly revealed that Jaime didn’t die after all!

I brake and devise that I shall be the stoic Desert Man and let my property do the talking. She steps down outside the truck charging, ‘I want to see the animals and you. An animal has no ulterior motive and puts its whole heart into each action.’ I hope her fine ear does not hear mine hammer in the response, ‘Welcome to Rancho Scorpion. Please watch your step because I haven’t been home in three months and there’s no telling what’s about.’

‘Yipes’ I yell at her door. A rattlesnake coils just a step from our feet and before my shout is complete Bionic leaps behind and holds my hips to protect from what she’s not seen. ‘A diamondback,’ I caution as she peeks around my kidney. The thick spiral will unwind 4’ if it strikes, so I back us off as it stares balefully flicking a black tongue. It’s huge!’ she gasps. ‘We’ll just be one night,’ I rejoin in my best John Wayne voice, ‘So let’s leave it be.’ We give it a wide birth to tour the rest of my property.

The first stop is a dirt floor drive-through garage made of wood palate sides and a tin roof that we duck under and I pat the rusty-hinged lid of a utility trailer. ‘‘I hauled my belongings in it seven years ago to the Rancho, and this,’ I tap the starter, ‘is the Honda 650 Nighthawk with a sidecar and tow bar that pulled it down from the Sierras.’ A dust devil has raised and blown a couch from the garage entrance and we replace it with a hundred-pound wheel on the cushion. Then we walk fifty yards to a semi-truck van that is my library. I crank open the doors to show the inside with desks, a carpeted loft with reading cushions, and thick insulation of non-fiction books along the walls. I make a gift of The Memory Book by Lorraine but Bionic’s mind seems adrift outside the van in asking, ‘Do you… still use magic to get girls in bed?’ I say, ‘No,’ but secretly place a marker of a small brown envelope labeled ‘Rattlesnake Eggs- Do Not Heat’ in her book, and flick a secret switch to turn on a yowling spook box. Alas, the rubber band trigger for the washer in the envelope is overstretched and the batteries in the spook box are deadened over time. I put away the old tricks and revert to plan A as the stoic Desert Man.

I suggest we exit the van for a romantic walk through the desert into the setting sun with a pause at a nearby animal spring to ripen our reunion. The ten acres in Sand Valley that I bought dirt cheap and built up is but one stub of the vast Sonora that stretches miles in every direction from my property line, strewn with Ocotillo and Barrel Cactus and crosscut by dry washes fringed green by Ironwood and Palo Verde trees, with peculiar creatures living in them like tarantulas, scorpions, the rattlers, tortoises, coyote, deer and one mountain lion that I know of for sure. We labor uphill under the afternoon sun for two hours until I finally pant, ‘It’s just up the wash.’ She strides rhythmically, tirelessly on steeled legs through the soft sand until the canyon narrows and there’s the first glimmer of water.

‘Is is a mirage?’ she asks seeing the pool ringed by Palo Verde. ’It’s a real wildlife spring,’ I assure as we gain the edge.

She utters, ‘I’m unchanged over the years,’ and in the split-second twixt the drop of clothes and vanishing into the drinker I glimpse the Nordic beauty of Bionic Woman. ‘How do you stay so fit?’ I ask once we’re in up to our necks. ‘I work out on the heavy bag after work, Elliptical Machine before bed, and hike weekends. My body is a temple and a machine that I like to fine tune.’ We sit in awkward silence, take each other’s pulse at 60/minute and compliment our mutual vitality. Birds flit up to drink and we rescue a dozen drowning honeybees with sticks. At last, I clasp my hinds behind my head to ask, ‘What did you do before and after our big night?’

‘I grew up a Midwest tomboy playing sports and riding horses and motorcycles instead of playing with dolls. When I got straight A’s through school and was all-state in track and basketball, my dad told me at graduation, ‘You’re my smartest and most athletic child, so why couldn’t you have been a son? Take your diploma and make me proud with some grandsons.’ Instead, I worked my way through Michigan State and became a microbiologist, then a UPS negotiator with sixty women working under me, raised a family and divorced, and recently took a sales job for a big pharmaceutical company riding western Arizona in a regalia of dresses and heels. In a 30-second sales window with doctors between patients I suggest a hike or bike to make the sales pitch later and enjoy great success with the strategy. I live in Phoenix in a cookie-cutter suburb in a tasteful home decorated by my own art surrounded by a high brick wall and with my strong political view after all these years of how to cure a liberal: Work hard all your life, sweat out a family, and give half of each dollar to the government. I’m the same person you knew on our first date but your name for me stuck and became a self-filling prophecy. My children call me Bionic Mom and ask why other mothers don’t ripple at the abdomen. I became a third degree black belt in karate that gives me a ton of confidence. Now it’s your turn,’ she thrusts a finger in my chest.

‘In contrast, Bionic, my vicissitudes follow Buck the dog’s in Jack London’s Call of the Wild. I left a loving Idaho family for Michigan State veterinary school. I took the DVM to California and embarked as a pro racquetball player. Then I chucked it to hobo boxcars in America, followed by travel to 96 countries. I heard a new call seven years ago and arrived in the desert to learn to be a hermit. I don’t get out much and was shocked by your Email.’

‘The Bionic TV series ended in 1979,’ she explains. ‘You and I had our memorable all-nighter in 1981. This is our 25th anniversary!’

I propose we celebrate by taking a roundabout way home to view the wildlife at dusk, so we exit the spring and dress. We enter the half-mile wide Milpitas Wash that in a few miles will pass the Rancho and continue twenty more to the Colorado River. We stride swiftly but darkness falls as fast so I light the way with a tiny flashlight clenched between my teeth brushing back the Ironwood thorny arms and Smoke Tree green limbs. ‘It’s a Twilight Zone in here,’ she says, as the Big Dipper swings below the horizon. On losing the North Star minutes later, I admit like Davie Crockett, ‘I’m bewildered but not lost’. The penlight dims on the further march until I rejoice, ‘There’s the spiral stair!’ that over the wash is the highest point in the Valley. We hasten to it, yet the tiny light reveals a rash of parallel slashes in the sand, each 18’’ long, and we proceed on cats’ feet. ‘The tracks are getting fresher,’ whispers Bionic at the moment, a step ahead, is the maker sidewinder. A spade head rises out its coil.

‘The perfect track!’ I eject dancing around the savvy serpent. ‘This happens only once in a tracker’s life.’ ‘I feel so lucky,’ Bionic says uneasily. ‘Stand back,’ I nobly raise a palm. ‘Get a branch.’ She breaks and forks over a foot-long stick that I cast aside scolding, ‘It’s risky business,’ and myself snap off a three-foot limb. I lift and carry the snake a few feet to drop at a steel corner post of the Rancho as it neither sounds nor strikes. As it wiggles away, I theorize, ‘This must be Sir, the 8’’ juvenile that grew longer following me around the Rancho, I suppose for amusement.’

Excitedly I show Bionic the marker post embedded in the earth with a 4’’ cap engraved ‘U.S. Geological Survey- 1918’. ‘Please urinate on it to mark our territory,’ I suggest. She snorts, ‘That’s puerile and not legally binding.’ I like that verve and take her elbow into the property a hundred yards to the tool shed for a living bedtime story. She sits with a fresh flashlight on an oil drum while I scratch the dirt three times with my foot, the secret summons of the Packrats. There’s a soft rustle… Goldie pokes her Mickey Mouse face around an ammo tin, yawns wide, and blinks in disbelief that the upright is returned. Bionic trembles with joy as the squirrel-like creature takes peanut after peanut from her fingers and deposits them with thunks in a coffee can. ‘I adore her! I want the pick of the litter.’

‘I can never release a Trader Rat, the world’s greatest trader, into captivity,’ I retort, and describe six months earlier how Goldie orphaned a sole pup inside my trailer in trade for a pair of reading glasses. I traced them to the midden (home) an hour later by setting a clock alarm that she took. I hand fed the infant BandAid until at three months the hoarding instinct kicked in and he began to fetch me every bright trinket from the Rancho dark corners. I carried him to a nearby ghost town to retrieve gold as in the Old West, but my million-dollar Packrat brought none and I retired him to a conventional Packrat life at the Rancho where he tails and chews my toenails until I play tag. BandAid doesn’t surface tonight, and Bionic gawks at their 4’ nest of sticks, a hundred items from my shed and trailer- nails, screws, tools, silverware, rope, extension cords, paperclips and pens, a sock and glove- and sundry cactus joints to guard against our archenemy rattler.

The desert bedtime story a success, I grasp Bionic’s elbow and confess, ‘I took a cue from the Packrats and dug my own burrow a year ago.’ I lead her out the shed and fifty yards through the cool night air to a cellar-like door flush on the desert surface, and tug on a secret handle. The door lifts, the lady hesitates, and we descend ten steps into my one-room midden. Papers, computer discs and cans litter the floor from a recent writing spree. Bionic settles in the captain’s chair where I fold before her a Murphy-style laptop and describe how solar panels on the roof power it, and that I compose stories with the help of my muse BandAid who likes to prance on the keyboard. There are also bookshelves in the burrow, beanbag, small bed, and one wall of ¼’’ wire mesh where I watch my neighbors like a wide-screen. I see lizards, tarantulas, snakes, barking geckos and the snooping coyote. ‘I’m flabbergasted!’ Bionic bursts. ‘How far underground are we?’ ‘Ten feet,’ I answer… ‘so it’s a bomb shelter,’ and enigmatically cut another cry short by taking her hand up the burrow.

Her faithful grip is a divining rod that veers me a certain number of steps in a specific direction to a big rock, lift it, and confide, ‘In the worst scenario- if I don’t return from a mission- only you know the location of my buried jar of cash.’ I bend and dust an inch of dirt from a gleaming silver cap and urge, ‘Unscrew it,’ but as she squats and reaches a 8’’ Giant Scorpion crawls on the lid and menacingly waves its claws. ‘The guard is a coincidence!’ I insist and speedily replace the rock.

‘It’s going to be a crazy night,’ roars Bionic rocking on her heels. ‘I’d like to use the bathroom before we…’ The sky thunders, BOOM, the ground shakes, and the western horizon flashes. She ducks toward the burrow shouting, ‘What is it?’ I clutch her shoulder and divert us to the spiral staircase to race up to the top deck. Through binoculars she views a squadron of jets climb, bank, dive and pepper the plywood tank targets three miles away with 1000-lb. bombs. As ten-story smoke plumes march on the wind at us, she howls, ‘I’m on Mars looking at War of the Worlds on Earth!’

Moments later she coos, ‘I remember our first night together…’ but I press her hand to stop and reply, ‘This can go on for hours,’ and gesture down to the outhouse. We descend the stair and I light the way to the privy fifty yards away. ‘Why so far?’ she wonders. ‘I like to relax… Geez!’ I jump for the third time tonight. Another rattler stretches 4’ on the sand, so we circle it through a Jumping Cholla patch where I demonstrate with the flashlight handle how the cactus joints break and spring easily away. We reach the latrine safely where I discretely walk off to pluck spines from my palms. Bionic’s bloodcurdling screech arrests me and she stalks out cursing, ‘I got a big splinter on the potty seat!’ I think, Christ, she expects me to squeeze it out, but I can’t bring myself to show the spiny palms of Desert Man.

We hobble back around the rattler and cactus to the compound and wheel to face each other under a crescent moon with yellow flares and an acrid haze floating in. Another bomb strikes and there’s no romance on the horizon. I revolve in place pointing to the sleep options: Library loft, camper shell, horse trailer with mattress, garage couch, burrow, or a waterbed on sawhorses under the stars. ‘I want to be far off the desert floor from the crawlies,’ she mumbles and gimps to the waterbed ladder. I reach up, painfully tuck her in, and when she offers a broken inch from the wood sliver, take it and kiss her once on the forehead. Then I scuff bit by bit to my burrow to descend to sleep with the fanciful notion that I have shown Bionic Girl a great time on our second date that except for the splinter and stickers would have consummated with a greater glory than the war games. I’ll try again tomorrow.

At daybreak, I bound the steps up into the sunshine. How fortunate our second date to this instant is laid with so many Tantric delays. My eyes adjust to the light and I tiptoe across the sand to the raven haired beauty sprawled across the waterbed and rrest my elbows on the edge. ‘Good morning,’ I murmur, but she bolts upright as if out of a nightmare. ‘Midnight booms… Star Wars with white tracers… Goldie gnawed the frame…Where were you?… In the burrow snoring!‘ Now she curls an index finger under my nose and demands, ‘Where are my underwear?’ I dash to the midden but return empty handed. ‘No matter,’ she mutters pulling on jeans. ‘Prepare for my departure.’

Has Ruby gone bonkers like the TV Bionic Woman?

No, I reconsider. I presented her with better than a corsage- three rattlesnakes and a scorpion- but just didn’t pass muster with the diminished magic. Yet, other couples after that one big night may rekindle their flame on a second date. The lesson is why wait so long?

She descends the ladder to stand with hands on hips and declares, ‘My two morning requisites are Starbucks and a shower.’ I meekly proffer a Soymilk and Handy-Wipes that she sips bitterly while wiping the blood of yesterday’s adventures. Unexpectedly she sweeps everything aside to reach out… pats my Buddha belly and hitches her own belt imploring, ‘You have been my teacher, my guide and inspiration for twenty-five years. Now you have a future in a desert fat farm. I’ve lost a pound each eight hours since my arrival, and now I’ll leave before I dissolve.’

I grasp my toothbrush in resignation for the farewell kiss. The toothpaste is hardened over time so I reach in her bathroom kit to grab a tube and pinch a red dollop. I scrub like the dickens until fantastically my lips shrink back, tongue numbs and eyes tear. I hoist the tube to the sun and scream ‘Hemorrhoid Ointment!’ dribbling it on the sand to her and yell, ‘Rectify this!’

My lost love responds, ‘I’ve something to give you before I go,’ and my heart races as she pulls a scroll from her pocket. I peel back the yellowing tape to unroll a two-foot drawing and whistle.

‘I drew it after our big date,’ she says softly.

‘It’s me exactly… a quarter-century ago!‘

‘Exactly!’ she repeats.

Her right hand crushes me into her body until my breath is squeezed and she whispers, ‘I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re my Six Million Dollar Man!’ My eyes pop as I rejoice that this is less a split of lovers and than a division of lifestyles. She releases me and lays a patch out the driveway. There’s little more to say about this morning as I clasp the document drooling ointment and squint after the fading truck with the deep realization that real life isn’t TV, and the desert is no place to dream of a woman.

For more of Steve "Bo" Keely's writings