Oct

23

Al the Hermit Bo

October 23, 2020 |

Al the Hermit of Slab City, CA died on or about 21 October, 2020, and I’m not sure where the body is.
His demise will interest no one except collectors and students of those who accumulate like packrats so many items in their lifetimes that they may cave in and crush or suffocate them.
 My buddy Al lived alone in the most remote, inaccessible toenail of Slab City near Walmart Wash. A decade ago, he had driven his old Chevy van as close to Salvation Mountain as he wished, and mired it on the hubs in the sand that became his home.  He was about 80 years old.
He was a former advertising ace for McCall’s magazine in NYC, until deciding life in the fast lane wasn’t worth it, and spent his savings traveling the world until retiring ten years ago to the Slabs. He was seldom seen, known by fewer, and kept to himself except to walk in all seasons for three miles to the nearest bus stop in Niland to ride to the Brawley, Ca. library. He was transcribing his life formulas from some 50 spiral notebooks onto a memory stick that he hoped someone would read one day and turn into a book. It was a lifelong quest, but a gibberish of math, Hebrew, philosophy, and pith. He shared it with me once that revealed thousands of lines of what appears to be an ancient language lost to time.
Everything else he owned was inside the van crashed around his mattress on the floor that was wet with urine and feces with the unmistakable stench of death, I figured, about two days earlier in these 90F fall days. The spiral notebooks were there in ziplock bags, and five large garbage bags of memorabilia and correspondence dating back to the dime stamp. including his wedding picture.  I donned a Corona mask against the reek and pulled a couple recent letters to write the senders in New England of his demise.
His false teeth were still on the table, and I snatched his reading glasses. The only other things of note were stuffed animals all over the place and one carcass of a rabbit that was just fur, claws, and teeth in the driver’s seat.
Then I went and sat outside the van and stared off into the sky thinking, Al had it good here. It’s quiet, close to a wash for walking, a beautiful view of Salvation Mountain, and no neighbors. As I thought, a quad bumped over the wash, turned toward the van, and drove right up.
‘I was wondering if it were true,’ said the lady I know. I replied, ‘It appears he died within the past few days. You may look inside, everything is intact except Al.’ The rider lit a cigarette, “I gave him a lift many times over the years. He was a tough old bird.’ I asked, ‘When did the coroner come?’ ‘Coroner? I don’t know.’
She sped off as I wondered how she knew about the death. Probably smelled it from the same wash I had hiked up. I rose and walked an enlarging spiral around the van, and 50 yards away found matching quad tracks. She also happens to be the same individual who found, and moved, the body of Mama Jean one year ago.
A dead body is more valuable than a live one in Slab City if the deceased has a bank account, which Al and Mama Jean did. The technique is to milk the account of its auto-deposits of SSI, which both were on, until the death is discovered by the authorities.
I couldn’t report this to the sheriff or ask the coroner if indeed he had picked up a corpse in a van because they would call me crazy that anyone would move dead bodies to steal their identities.. Besides, my fingerprints are all over the inside of Al’s van.
So, I sat outside, thinking this is likely what the passed citizens would wish for. Why not someone make money from the government after one’s death for as long as possible? It’s a racket out here.    

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