On the morning of the day I needed to head back to the Bay Area, I went to see Roy once more.
The only thing he asked me for, a roll of toilet paper, was tucked in to a sack with a few cans of soup and some fruit. I also took a notebook ring binder and a sheaf of filler paper.
I got out the story he’d given me. I told him I liked his story, it jumped around a little but the genuine voice of the story teller came through. I had a couple of questions where the storyline was not clear. When I asked him the questions, he did not need to refer to the story to make the edits.
Reaching his hand toward the papers, he said, “I’ll work on it a little more. I do have trouble finding a continuum in my stories.”
“Tell me, Al, how do you keep people from stealing what you write?”
“That is a question I get asked by young writers. I don’t know anyone who has been stolen from. As nearly as I can tell, it is so rare that it isn’t worth the worry. I’d rather see you get your stories out there. Get a following. If you get enough people wanting to read what you write, you’ll get published in copyrighted magazines. If you get a book together, you can get your own copyright.”
“Is it expensive?”
“Cheap. You can register on line these days.”
He looked off toward the horizon. “I guess all artists are paranoid.”
“No one can steal what you haven’t created yet.” I said.
He reached toward his story still in my hand.
“Okay, I’ll work on it,” he said.
“Want to work on it together while I am here?”
“No, I’d like to hang on to it.”
His hand stretched out to me and I knew it wasn’t going any where without the pages in it. I gave him the story—not at all sure I’d ever see it again—and drifted on to another topic.
“How do you get by, Roy, what do you do for money?”
“I get food stamps,” he said. I don’t have any trouble proving I am poor. Sometimes I buy a little turquoise and carve it. Food is expensive. A pound of meat costs three dollars. I eat a pound of meat a day when I can.”
“I don’t eat a pound of meat a day. I couldn’t,” I said.
“You don’t live like I do.”
“Did you ever work for wages?
“Some. I worked on a ranch for a guy who never paid me. He kept telling me he’d pay me when he sold some cattle or horses. But he never did. Finally, he told me he’d pay me when he sold the ranch. But when he sold it, he didn’t pay me.”
“I figured out that if you didn’t have much, you didn’t have much to deal with. If you had anything, someone would take it away from you.”
Much as I wanted more of this conversation, I needed to get my other wheels turning. I had to get up the road so I could traverse the 70 desolate miles between Parker and 29 Palms before dark.
“I’ll be around somewhere. I may go over and dry-pan a little for gold.”
“Try to let me know where you are.”