April 2008

Used karma

By David Feela

Most people who believe in karma know that, like starlight, it often takes most of a lifetime to reach the individual who deserves it. Karma, for those of you who skipped the ’60s, is that quirky mystical approach to justice that occurs without the intervention of the police department or a lengthy court proceeding. Karma could save taxpayers money if the cosmos served up humanity’s just desserts a little more like fast food.

Pam and I witnessed a perfect example of karma as we drove back to Cortez along a recreational stretch of highway between Cañon City and Salida, but we may have inadvertently upset some kind of natural balance that is necessary for karmic harmony.

We finished our visit to Denver tangled in traffic, filling our idle time with jokes about good karma and my old VW Karman Ghia. Eventually we escaped the city and as I negotiated the more picturesque Arkansas River curves, a pickup truck suddenly pulled out in front of us.

I remember pumping the brakes hard, controlling my temper, and managing to say something neutral like, “Well, well, at least we’re moving slowly enough to enjoy the scenery.”

“But look,” Pam said, pointing toward a shiny object as it slipped off the back of the accelerating pickup. “That must be the fastest karma I’ve ever seen.”

I pulled to the shoulder, then backed up to the spot where the object came to rest. I opened my door and picked it up: just a wristwatch, and a cheap one at that.

Now let me get this part straight, because I don’t want to get sued: The real Nick Nolte may know nothing about what happened next.

We saw the same truck parked on the shoulder not more than a mile up river. A man hobbling across the gravel, as if the earth was a bed of hot coals. He must have been searching for a better fishing hole and this new spot meant another chance for him — a place to redeem himself in the river of time, to improve his judgment, to cast for better things. (Remember: I’m just speculating here.)

I pulled over once more and Pam rolled the window down. “Excuse me,” she called. The man limped closer to our car. “This wristwatch fell off your truck back there when you pulled out.”

The man gave us a huge Hollywood grin, teeth shining like the lights of a boulevard marquee. I swear, he looked just like Nick Nolte, but I didn’t say anything, sympathetic to the possibility that some people are obliged to spend their lives looking like somebody else.

“Well, I’ll be,” he replied. “I keep losing these watches. That’s about the 15th one I’ve bought.” We both giggled appreciatively, sensing this was a moment.

We stared at him; he stared at his watch. Then he leaned closer to the open window and looked into the car. “I’ll remember you two,” he crooned, as if delivering an Academy Award performance.

He was good. And we believed him in that flicker of sunlight beside a backdrop of the Arkansas River, because everything about this encounter was unreal. Movie stars are encouraged to tell lies without ever being held accountable.

Don’t get me wrong: we didn’t mind being lied to by Nick Nolte; in fact, we laughed about it all the way home.

When we stopped for gas and told an attendant about the incident, he informed us that Nolte, in fact, did own a ranch somewhere in the vicinity.

I still don’t know if we actually returned Nick Nolte’s wristwatch, but it doesn’t matter. I just hope whoever he was doesn’t get the idea that driving recklessly as he did will always be rewarded.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.