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  • I once knew a man whose street name was Puzzles. He had HOBO tattooed on his knuckles and AROUND THE WORLD tattooed on the back of his other hand, as well as a box car on his ring finger, for he considered himself married to the rails.

    He had startling good looks, reminding me of the father of my boys, when I met him on Molokai in the early eighties. We had lived outdoors on the east end, in Honokoi Valley, adjacent to Halawa. I was swept away from my previous existence as a commodities broker in Dallas by love, adventure and the sublime beauty which surrounded us.

    Our home was a tent under Pandanus trees beside the ocean. Our sustenance was breadfruit, liliquo, hands of bananas, papaya, opihi and fish we speared with arbolets. My bare feet had contact with the earth, unless we hiked out of the valley and hitched to Kaunakakai. I wore Sears and Roebuck boots, camo and canvas, with a machete looped through my belt. I swung it methodically to cut a path out of the bush and up the switchback to the road where we waited to hitch a ride with tourists in rental cars.

    It was the street kids in the French Quarter who awakened memories of my seemingly ancient agreement to abandon traditional living and vie for freedom from all constraints. I didn’t ride the rails in Hawaii; they were only to transport sugar cane. I did wear a skank (but called it a bandana,) stash a backpack under koa, and learn an entire new set of skills, necessary for survival if one was homeless.

    After a month of living in nature, I’d marvel over memories of drywall and rectangular plastic outlets, from which electricity was accessed. The idea of a postman or water pouring from faucets seemed surreal.

    I had known this cycle of freedom, healing and love would re-occur. I was 23 1/2 when I met Niall. I thought I’d be 47 when my next all-consuming awakening arrived. But I was 53.More than ready. And he appeared.

    Puzzles handed me a five dollar bill from money he’d spanged from tourists. He was a traveler, hanging out with street kids flying signs, busking, and Bourbon surfing, lifting Grenades, Pina Colados and Hurricanes out of the trash. They ate out of “white boxes,” fine dining leftovers in the French Quarter, and whatever the restaurants hand out.

    I refused his money, and was perplexed by his offer. He insisted. I bought a latte with the five bucks, and thought deeply about the meaning of this exchange. He was 6’3” with dark wavy hair and ringlets under a cap with the bill shoved up, west coast skateboarder style. His shoulders were broad. He was strong and young and there was something remarkable about the light in his eyes and the energy he exuded.

    I considered my re-payment options. If I gave him $10 and asked him to double that when he could, and give me $20, and we increased it geometrically the reciprocity would be risky, but rewarding. Just like I like it.
    I did the math a little compulsively and strung it out as far as I could, like chess moves in advance. One of us would profit from the other, inevitably, in the final analysis. And as I had learned and always trusted, every interaction was a learning and growing experience.

    It was the third or fourth time we’d met, when he gave me the five. He said “You never recognize me.” And it was true. His face seemed mutable and I would discover his nature was also. Puzzles.
    I ran into him on Decatur, nearly in front of my door, the next day. I handed him the ten and quickly told him the premise. Our paths crossed again later as the sun set, in Jackson Square.

    He was sitting at a Tarot table with Suki. She was from Hawaii, a yogini nee lady of the evening, with a jewel over her third eye and hair dyed the color of absinthe. He darted across the Square and I meandered to the gypsy side of the readers, passing the Cabildo. I spoke to one of the many readers named "Raven," and saw Puzzles again, out of the corner of my eye. He was elusive, vanishing before my eyes.

    When I arrived at my home, above the daiquiri shop, he was on the stoop near my door. I invited him up. We did a few shots of Patron silver and I prepared a meal. Israeli couscous, orange bell peppers and garlic with baked oysters. He stayed. And just like that we out did ourselves with reciprocity of kindness, love making, thoughtful gifts and gestures and shared spiritual insights.

    He told me stories. And, he also gave me a false name and birthdate. He talked of the elements and how he intimately knew them. He prayed and sometimes spoke in tongues, quietly. He was attuned if my benign liver tumors were swelling, and could effortlessly follow and palpate lymphatic channels, and heal me. He kept me well.
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