Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gato De La Noche: Santa Fe 1984

When I lived in Santa Fe I lived with Joel. He had a roommate, Mike I think, who was a musicologist, a good guy but a little anal. Anyway, they lived in a adobe house on Camino De La Luz on a dirt road up near St. John's University (where they were both students) among the hills filled with pinon trees and juniper. The house was actually split in half, so it was a duplex (some other characters lived in the back half, had their own entrance and I never saw them much), but Joel's mud brown house with its tiny porch opened up to the street and gave the illusion of being a single entity. Inside was a kitchen and bathroom, a living room with a red fold down couch (where I slept, kept my U.S. Mail duffle of belongings tucked behind it) then a bedroom accessed from the living area with yet another bedroom--like a shotgun house--accessed from that bedroom.
The house was unkempt, rustic and what I liked best is that they always kept the broken-screened windows open, the doors unlocked, drapes unveiled so that the outside was forever present inside. Scrub hills and dirt road visible, the fresh high-desert air always fresh and flowing so that you never had an accumulation of human odor; there were ants in the sink, lizards, always the chances of bats, snakes, venomous spiders, dust and errant raindrops. It was nice. It was often cold but that clean air made up for the unclean house.
Actually the front door was usually left open because there was a tattered screen door. I slept well in Santa Fe. I worked at The Forge Restaurant downtown--walking each day and night along the winding Canyon Road or Alameda Street to work and back--at the Inn of the Governors. (Later I worked as a bouncer at Club West, also downtown.) I didn't really hang out with Joel all that much--or Mike (one thing about Mike, though: he introduced me to the music of Professor Longhair, John Lee Hooker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt--good stuff--the Clinch Mountain Boys)--but kept my own hours, developed my own school of friends, natives mostly, from work and socializing with those from work. So, I slept quite well and happy most nights, with door wide open to the late night.
And actually, the screen door was torn on the bottom. I came to realize this because some nights there was a cat that came into the house. I don't know if it was a wild, feral cat or just someone's loose house pet (never saw it during the day) and I really don't know how often it visited the house, because--as I said--I slept pretty damn good most nights (which was unusual for me--must have been that New Mexico air). But what I recall is that I was asleep and, at first, would wake up, gently, calmly, for no special reason except maybe out of some animal instinct, to find a cat watching me. It didn't happen every night (that I knew of, at least), didn't follow an exact pattern, maybe I heard it or something, but there that cat was, small and dark figured, sitting on the floor and watching me for some eerie reason, like I was a television and my body displayed old black and white late-night movies. Then when I made a move or if I called it, no matter how softly, it would rise and jump through the bottom of the screen door. Gone.
The cat did not unnerve me, it was just odd. And later I looked forward to its visits, had a better sense of when it came into the house and learned not to try and call it. It must have prowled around some, but most of the time it just watched me. And I watched it.
Santa Fe was a serene time for me. I was done with college--had my degree from the University of Iowa--and the hills, plants, smells, the Spanish and Indian culture all provided me with a quiet and observant adventure, much like--maybe--the mild adventure I provided the post-midnight cat.
The smells of New Mexico stayed with me a long time. In fact, years later when I was in Des Moines around Xmas time, Joel--who still lived in Santa Fe (or maybe he was in Albuquerque then)--had just arrived in Iowa (where his parents lived, but not in Des Moines)and stopped to see me. We went to the Waveland Tap, my favorite watering hole in the city. And Joel was wearing this thick red sweater as he discussed his hitch-hiking and bus riding adventures while on his way back to the midwest and as he sat next to me, even in the little stale-beer and smoke tavern of the Waveland in winter, I could smell New Mexico. There was the distinct sweet smell of pinon and sage and desert dust. And it was emanating from his sweater. I asked him: "Joel, were you wearing that sweater when you were in New Mexico?" And he said: "Yes."
And I bet that cat smelled like New Mexico, too.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Just A Little Drive To Alaska And Back: Anchorage 1983

So we decided to go to Alaska.
This was in May of 1983. We three were still in Iowa City: Brock had just graduated, I had one semester of school left and Matt had longer. The spring semester over, I had gone back to Des Moines to spend some time with the folks, then Matt and Brock drove over--stayed at the house in Urbandale on 65th Street a day or two--before we headed out. Matt had the car: a 80 or 81 Chevy Vega, small, red, used. Our plan was to head to Seattle--Brock's home town--spend a few days there and prepare for the long haul up through British Columbia to Anchorage where we'd look for summer work, maybe find some fishing jobs or something. We didn't know. But we left Des Moines, drove to Sioux City, Iowa--Matt's home town--and stayed there a couple nights. Matt's mom lent me his younger brother's sleeping bag. Matt's younger brother had killed himself--accidentally as it turned out--hung himself while masturbating which, as I understand it, could produce intense climaxes. But it killed him. And now I had his sleeping bag. Their family dog also died while we were there, the day before we left for Seattle/Alaska. Though I was somewhat prone to omens in those days, I did not see these odd morbidities as such.
And so we drove through South Dakota--through Sioux Falls, my home town by birth--and Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, camping the whole way (camped in the snow around Buffalo, WY) and then a longer route along the Columbia River through Oregon to Portland with a stop in Vancouver, WA to see my old house and school (I lived there from age 5 to 10), then finally to Seattle where we stayed at Brock's (in the suburb of Redmond, I think). In Seattle Brock bought a tent and more gear, we ate salmon and other delights, got a taste of the city (I had not been out there since I was a kid), then started the long drive north, crossing into British Columbia at a small border town on Highway 13, near Lynden. We must have camped somewhere in southern B.C., or maybe we drove all the way to Prince George, where we got off the main highway and took Canada 16 west towards Prince Rupert and the coast then later turned onto Highway 37, which was not the usual or safest route and was mainly an unpaved road.
We headed north on this thin rough road through the endless trees and mountains, mainly seeing loggers in their rigs and hunters in pickups--tough vehicles only--human emptiness all around. It was quiet as quiet gets, except for chainsaws in the distance now and then. And when you were on a hill, you could tell if a vehicle was coming toward you because the dust would rise up in a trail, like camp smoke, through the fuzzy pines. We camped another night with no one else near, the sun low like a nightlight for your tent, sky scattershot with stars, then drove up into the Yukon, camped at a crowded spot in Whitehorse that sold showers for three bucks apiece. Then it was into Alaska.
We were stopped at the U.S. border and our car--the little red Vega--was searched because a dog had sniffed out marijuana and there were marijuana seeds on the floor mat. This was Matt's doing--Brock and I had no idea he had any with him and we had none--but they found nothing substantial and we were let go and on our way again. Spent the night camped near a river at Tok. And the next day we drove into Anchorage.
Matt's father had an ex-coworker who lived in Anchorage and we visited him and his wife--nice people. I think his name was Wayne Rockne, don't recall Mrs. Rockne's. He offered to let us stay in his motor home out back, but we declined. We found a campsite that was free in Eagle River just outside the city. The campsite became our home while we lived in Alaska.
So there we were. Young and jobless, living in tents in Alaska. I shared a tent with Brock, slept in Matt's dead brother's sleeping bag (which, no disrespect intended, weirded me out sometimes) and it was cold and rainy and there was no hot water at the campsite (no showers) and we didn't have much money.
In Anchorage we got a post office box so that we'd have an address when we applied for jobs. And we occupied ourselves that way, driving into town, looking for work, seeing the sights, drinking beer in low-rent bars, meeting strange people. We drove down to Seward one day, hit that town's unemployment office where we tried for fishing jobs, but the guy dismissed us when he found out we weren't from Alaska. Then back in Anchorage we gravitated to the university there. It was a small school--U. of Alaska Anchorage--but nice. We found that we could hang out there, could use its facilities like we were summer students--so that's where we showered, dressed, where we stayed out of the rain. They even had a sauna that we used.
At the university they had a talking Coke machine. You'd put in your coins and it would say stuff like, PLEASE MAKE YOUR SELECTION and other things. This was a novelty. The machine was right next to a pay phone which we used when we had to call home. And we had to call home because we were running out of money. When Brock called his father (I think Matt and I had already called our fathers by then, asking for a cash infusion), while he was on the phone, Matt and I would hit the buttons of the Coke machine and the machine would say, in it's electronic voice, YOU NEED MORE MONEY. We laughed. Brock tried to keep a straight face, but the machine kept saying, YOU NEED MORE MONEY.
Anyway, we got more money and looked for less and less skilled employment. Finally Matt and I landed a job at a Shakey's Pizza Parlor, on Minnesota Blvd. The manager was young, a nice guy, willing to give us a shot. He, however, did not hire Brock. So he gave Matt and I these crazy striped Shakey's Pizza Parlor shirts, vests, bow ties and hats. A uniform. Which we wore dutifully  the next day when we started. Brock was still looking for employment.
Now, Matt and I felt very silly in the pizza parlor get-up. We were still living in our cold-water-flat-tent-campground up in Eagle River, still showering and doing our toiletries at the UAA. Matt also had a girlfriend back in Iowa City (Holly) and I had Cindy waiting for me in Chicago. Brock had no girl at that time (though he much later married Margaret, Cindy's one-time roommate in Iowa City). And I think it was only our second or third day of work when--as the two of us dressed and saw ourselves in a mirror, then looked at each other--that we quit.
We wanted to go back to Iowa City, to what was familiar, to our girlfriends.
Brock was pissed. (Now that I think of it, Matt and I were always pissing off Brock, disappointing him in some manner or another.) I still feel bad we never told the manager that we quit. We just didn't show up. Kept the goofy outfits. Guess he never trusted people like us again. . . Guess he should have hired Brock instead of us.
So, we gave up our search for settlement in Anchorage. We packed the tents, moved out of Eagle River and drove north, past Denali. Spent a few nights camping near Fairbanks, then drove south, back into the Yukon. At the Canadian border, they waved us on through. No sniffing dogs or questions or delays, just a friendly little wave.
We dropped Brock off back in Seattle--unhappy. We drove back through the northern tier of western states, to Iowa, where I disembarked in Des Moines and Matt went on to Iowa City, where he hooked back up with Holly and went to work for his uncle, doing construction and such. I went back to Iowa City that fall, getting my degree come December. Saw a lot of Cindy. Brock stayed in Seattle, worked at some warehouse, lived at home, and saved up some cash which he used for a car and then, eventually, a long drive to Key West. Matt never went back to school, never graduated (but eventually became an exceptional carpenter, after he unfortunately became an exceptional alcoholic). After graduating, I worked in Des Moines for a few months, then took a train to Santa Fe where I worked and lived with a friend (Joel).
If we had stayed in that motor home, had that sense of place and home with Wayne Rockne, maybe we would have made it. Or if Brock had also been hired, or if we had found better jobs, had no lovers and more gumption, maybe we would have stayed. At least for the whole summer. But maybe it was for the best. If we had stayed, maybe I never would have obtained my undergrad degree--like Matt, who let the Alaska trip break him from that goal. In the long run, some 25 years now, Matt lives in Sioux City and is a master carpenter, Brock is married with two young kids in the Minneapolis area, and I ended up in Florida. We are still friends, in a distant way, a lingering way, but do not contact each other much at all. Not in many years. . . Xmas cards from Margaret and Brock still come once a year.
Maybe nothing would have changed our courses, be it Alaska or love or work. Perhaps destiny--fate--is preordained for each of us and we all react in predictable patterns which, if we could only see them clearly, almost scientifically or statistically, we could stop ourselves from making stupid mistakes. Solve our errant and erroneous ways.
Then again, where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Feat of Strength & The Entertainment Center: Grayton Beach 1985

In the Florida panhandle I lived in a small town along the beach in Walton County: Grayton Beach. I was working at a restaurant, really the only business in town at that time, called the Paradise Cafe. There was a group of us there--young, mobile, hideaways from more populated places in the world--and we worked and wandered around that little beach town like we owned it. Matt was there--which is how I came to be there (via L.A.)--and then Brock drove up from Key West (where he had driven from Seattle) and the three of us, plus an older guy Jeff from Arkansas, lived in a house on stilts in the white sand in the "new" part of Grayton, just west of the main part of town. The house was windswept and sandy, was rented from Mr. Butler month by month, furnished, but not furnished very much. 
Anyway (this is after Matt left town with Roger and the two of them went to New Mexico and lived in the woods for a spell) one night--late night--after work I went over to Doug and Tommy's to drink a beer, smoke a bowl, smoke cigarettes. They had a solid wood stereo cabinet that they no longer wanted, so I said I'd take it. But they wanted to get rid of it NOW and would throw it away if I didn't come get it by tomorrow. I don't know why they were so sick of it. It really was solid wood, not so bad looking, shaped like a sideways "H" with top and bottom open shelves. It was about the size of a dresser. So I said if they wanted to get rid of it NOW then I would take it NOW.
"What? You're gonna carry that thing way over to your house? It's heavy."
As said, I lived in "New" Grayton and would have to walk it through oyster shelled lots and a loose sand trail to get to the road to the stilt house, then up the creaky wood steps.
"That's right," I said. "And I'm going to drink my beer and finish my cigarette at the same time."
They got a laugh out of that.
But I got up from their couch and pulled the big wooden structure out on the porch, lifted it and slung it onto my broadside back, holding onto it with one hand keeping its weight settled on my bent back, then with me left hand I had me my cigarette and picked up me bottle of beer, took a drag of smoke and looked at them as they stood in the doorway, took a slash drink of me beer and then trudged off down the road, saying thanks and goodbye. They were a bit amazed at either my strength or my stupidity but I carried it home through the shells and sand and up the steps. I finished my cigarette and my beer.
I was young and strong in 1985.
It was Brock who called it our entertainment center. We put it in the linoleum-floored sand-gritted living room. Upon it we had 1 lamp, 1 clock-radio (AM and FM of course) and below we stacked some of Brock's books (he had a whole trunkful of books, like he was some kind of Seattle to Key West to Grayton Beach bookmobile) and it was indeed a nice piece.
I don't think it was that entertainment center that kept me in Grayton Beach. Matt and Roger--out in New Mexico--thought that Brock and I were going to come join them by then (it must have been October). And, yes, I had told Brock (who was ready to leave, ready to return to Seattle) that I'd drive with him that November, that he would drop me off in Eugene, Oregon. I'm not sure why I wanted to live in Eugene, exactly, but that was the plan nonetheless. But I liked Grayton. I loved Grayton and the panhandle and the people and the silky waters and the blind-white calcite sand. I did not want to leave and Brock was royally pissed when I eventually told him so.
So Brock left, and then I too eventually left--home to Iowa for Xmas (the cafe in Grayton, like most places there, in 1985, closed in the winter)--and the entertainment center stayed in that stilt house, ceded to Mr. Butler, I guess. But I came back, in the spring, and lived in a different house in a different part of tiny little Grayton Beach. And it was only a few years later that I did get to Seattle, where Matt and Brock were once again, and we lived in another upstairs crazy place and had much the same entertainment as before.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Long Short Trip In Steve's Car: Champaign 1988

This was in the first summer when I lived in Champaign, Illinois. In the winter of 1988 I'd left Seagrove Beach Florida, moved to Champaign to live with Fru, then went to New York City for a few winter/spring months, then returned to Fru and Champaign. So that summer, I had a job doing concrete construction. And I liked that job, liked the people I worked with, liked my life in Champaign for the time being.
We were working on a site in Westville, just south of Danville, east of Champaign, near the Indiana border. I hadn't driven that day and when it was quitting time I needed a ride. There was a new guy, Steve, and he had an old car. I was going to ride with Doug or Kurt, in their respective good old concrete-worker trucks, but Steve wanted me to ride with him. I demurred. He took offense, in some manner, and asked what was wrong.
"Your car will break down," I told him.
And that was the only reason. I knew his car had a lot of problems and this was after a long day of shoveling rock or yanking wet concrete with a comealong or puddling walls while standing on whalers, doing hard manual labor under unforgiving midwest summer sunlight. I just wanted to get back to town, drink a few beers, shower, see my lovely woman, Fru. But Steve was a little hurt. Maybe. It's hard to decipher the emotions of concrete workers sometimes.
So, what the hell, Ok, let's go. I got in the car with him and we drove north and onto I-74 no problem. Windows down, air rushing, work done for the day.
Then there was a problem.
The old car began to act up. Steam rose from the hood as Steve's vehicle slowed and slowed and we pulled off to the side of the highway, near a flat and slight overpass with little but cornfields and fast-passing cars around us. He cursed.  I said nothing. What was I going to say?
We got out of the car, in the heat and hard light. He opened the hood to a great cloud of metallic-smelling steam. We had to wait a while before he attempted to open the radiator cap. I probably smoked a cigarette--probably one borrowed from Steve since I was an irregular smoker. And after a bit he used a rag to pop the radiator cap, more steam and cursing. Then he went to the trunk and pulled out a bucket and handed it to me.
"Go get some water for the radiator," he said.
Water? Where? We were in the middle of farm fields.
"Under the overpass, down there, there's a stream or something."
I took notice of the small bridge-like structure, as flat as the highway, took notice of the line of trees and jungled plants that ran in a line along the green field (still, you could see no water) and I took the bucket and clambered over the guardrail and stumbled down a dry-grass embankment towards the trees.
It was steeper than I imagined, the embankment. The trees taller than at first sight. I was still tired, thirsty, my skin encased in sweat and dust and lime, and here I descended under Interstate 74 when I should have been home with a cold beer to my lips. But down I went, up to the tangle of trees, found an opening and in I went. Into another world.
And that's really the memory. How, from the harsh heat and sun, the shushing of cars and trucks on the freeway, the parched world with an overheated car, I entered into a small forest: it was shaded, cool, dark, trees and bushes thick and undiscovered, birds chirped, flitted about, insects buzzed and crawled and clacked away from me. The world above was muffled, somehow distant. And there was a small stream running there, going close to the trees and then beneath the big highway, beneath the concrete abutments and gravel banks of the overpass and back into more trees on the other side. I took my time as I looked, took it all in--this hidden mini-realm of nature--then I dipped the bucket into the stream, retrieved the water. I had to get back up there, but in some ways did not want to. But I did. I came out of the tender shadows, left behind the redwings and crickets--maybe a turtle or two--and heaved my way back into the heat and up the burnt grass embankment. Back to the blistering speeding cars and Steve and his dead dinosaur-mobile, where he took the creek water and poured it into his machine's thirsty gullet so that we could get on with it. On with the run to our homes and the night and then the return to shoveling concrete the next day.
It worked. The car was mollified and we got back in and he drove me home.
But I still recall that strange dimension, that unknown underworld along a boring highway. Riding home with Steve was worth it after all.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Small Memory in Idaho #1

I still think of this moment now and then, so many years later. It was nothing much, just me at night along a highway in eastern Idaho.
This was when I had left Seattle in the early summer of 1987 and was going back to Iowa. I had driven into Montana, then headed south on I-15, through Dillon, Montana. After that, settlements got pretty sparse. Light was falling into a dusty concrete-colored night. And in Idaho the mountains gave way to arid plains, moon-hills and emptiness. I drove--alone in my blue Ford--and I needed gas.
There was one exit that promised a station, I took it but the station was miles off the Interstate and, when I got there, it was closed. So I had to drive those miles back to I-15 (using up my gas) and onward, mild anxiety and loneliness mixing into the wide desolate spaces.
But the memory was when I pulled off at a rest stop or somewhere--not for gas (which I eventually found before Idaho Falls, and I spent the night in a very cheap motel in Blackfoot, Idaho)--and I stood outside my car trying to think what I should do. I wasn't really worried, not unhappy or happy; I was like the landscape: open and empty, stark, dark and roughly beautiful. So I stood there in that lonely treeless expanse of plains and bald hills--dark mountains in the distance--and let the void seep into me. Deep into me. The smell of sage and dust. The only sounds the diesel engines of tractor-trailers on the highway, few and far between in the darkness. And it was just one of those moments of solitude and solemnity, where the landscape and the suspended seconds match your own life, however briefly. And maybe that's why I still recall it, can sometimes conjure the emotion and landscape up, vividly, when I hear lone trucks on highways at night, or stand alone at gas stations or rest stops when there is nothing much around me.
It was a moment of desolation and peace, of knowing and not knowing my place in the world.
That's all.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Very Very Short Life in Bellingham, Washington: Seattle 1987

This was when I lived in Seattle with Brock and Matt--in the Queen Anne neighborhood--next to Brock's father's printing shop and but a block or two from the Space Needle. The three of us had taken a little road trip up north, into the Cascades near Mt. Baker and into towns like Mount Vernon, Sedro Woolley, Concrete, but also to Bellingham. And I decided I was going to move to Bellingham by myself: find a job, write, look into attending Western Washington University and get a degree in education so I could teach. Before Seattle I'd been living in Florida's panhandle with a woman I thought I loved. But I left her, drove all by myself from Gulf Trace in Walton County to L.A. and then up to Seattle, where my old friends, best friends, were. A long and lonely trip. And after months of working and sleeping on the couch and then the floor in Seattle, wallowing in my own brand of self-pity and sadness, the Big Unknown Dread invading my body each night as I lay awake watching the lights of the city dance along the walls from the window, I was ready--told myself I was ready--to be off again. I wanted to live by myself in a new town. I wanted to write.
I recall that in Florida, the woman I lived with in a house on the beach who would go out on coke binges while I slept because I had to get up and paint houses in Seaside the next day, this woman, "T", who I did love and was still recovering from that love, she told me before I left her: "You'll never marry. You'll always live alone." So, maybe I was just trying to fulfill her prophecy.
I went ahead and made my plans for Bellingham--a smallish city along protected Pacific water near the San Juan Islands, east of big Vancouver Island, a blue-collar city of steep hills and trees and visible snow-capped mountains, a very rainy/foggy beautiful town--while living in the little upstairs under-repair apartment with Matt and Brock. I decided I would leave in one week, after I got paid (was working at the print shop for Brock's dad, also helping to remodel the apartment, also owned by Brock's dad). I was reading Bukowski and Rilke and Raymond Carver at the time. Then the end of the week came and I said good bye to my three friends, told everyone at the print shop I was moving to Bellingham and would not be back. And I put my belongings together, everything fitting into the trunk of my powder blue Ford Maverick (which I had bought from my parents in Des Moines a year earlier after dropping out of the Iowa Writers Workshop in Iowa City). Then I hit I-5 North, worked my way through the traffic and treed hills, the towns of Everett and Mount Vernon, alone and driving once again, on up to Bellingham and a new life.
Or so I thought.
It was March--the 9th to be exact, 1987--and I made my first "encampment" at the Motel Six in Bellingham. There I sat with scattered newspapers and insipid TV shows, berating myself for my lackluster past, a guilt and shame tied in with leaving "T" in Florida and having withdrawn from the Writers Workshop in Iowa City the previous fall. With my perceived failure as a student, as a writer and lover and as a human being, I guess, I was very depressed and this move to the snowy/wet/green northwest corner of the USA was supposed to help me heal, help me reconnect with myself and invigorate my writing. All I wanted was to find some small place to live, scavenge for employment and write; then I wanted to meet some people, meet a new woman, maybe go back to school at Western Washington. I wanted to resurrect myself in that classic American way through migration and self-invention.
With the newspaper ads in hand, I drove around looking at places for rent. Stopped at the University for coffee. It sat on a big hill and I could look down at the city--the crumbly bar-infused downtown, the docks and port, the water and islands and the mountains on those islands. It was sunny, coldish, a few clouds roiling in like benign drunken uncles.
After a few looks, I settled on a big green house near the campus. The house was divided up into many apartments with a communal kitchen. It was a downtrodden, semi-slimy off-campus goo-goo-head student kind of place. But I liked it well enough to start my new life out. And it was cheap, rented month by month. So, I met the man running the show, gave him a $45 deposit on a downstairs room towards the back that looked down the hillside to the sea and the city. Again, not so bad.
But there was a catch. I couldn't move in just yet, the man said. He was a middle-aged bushy-haired Kurt Vonnegut-looking guy, maybe his name was Dave. And because he was a Kurt Vonnegut-looking guy, I trusted him when he said that a girl was living in the room right now but the apartment would be clear in a week or less. Hmmmm. Okay, I said and still handed over my 45 dollars and I had his number and so everything was cool except that it was on hold for a week. Or less.
Back then, the Motel Six was only about $20 a night. Back then, I didn't want to spend $20 a night, so I drove out to a rest area on the highway (I'd spent many nights at rest areas over the years whilst traveling.) I scoped out the rest stop, hung out, let the Big Unknown Dread retake my stomach and mind... That year, in Florida and Seattle was not a good one. As I said, I was full of depression, heavy like a cannon ball in my stomach, like a vulture on my chest, a nest of shipworms in my brain. I was still working through the exact problem: dropping out of the Iowa grad school, breaking up with "T" in Gulf Trace, the long lonesome drive, sleeping on the floor in Seattle and working small jobs, growing out of my youth--Thirty Years of Age was within my vision--was also on my mind. So this dread and sadness and self-hatred was always with me, a ghost, a shadow, a guilt of some kind. And at the rest stop was one of those abandoned cats. Some lost kitty all curled, cold and mean on top of a picnic table. I'd seen a lot of them on my transcontinental trip and here was another and I said, to myself:
"Damn, I can't stay at this godforsaken urinal stop with dying house pets at my heels! I'm driving back to Bellingham to put some beers down my gullet, maybe play some pool with strangers and take a chance on meeting some woman who will take me home with her for the night. And if that fails, then I will come back along the highway and try to sleep in the coffin of my car."
I don't remember exactly why I stayed in the Bellingham area, since I couldn't move into a room for a while. I didn't really have the money to waste for a week's wait. Was it that I thought I might have my apartment sooner? Was it because I'd told everyone in Seattle that I wasn't coming back? Was I prepping for the life I envisioned in this sea-mountain town? Don't know, but I had only a few beers in depressing nowhere bars in Bellingham, then came back to the same rest stop. No kitty in sight. Spent a lousy cramped night in my car--worrying, worrying--getting up with the shady sun and driving back north.
But the drive reinvigorated me. The beauty of the landscape was inescapable, tamping down my neurotic doubts. Low mountains forested with hairy pines, abutments of cloven rock and the snowy big peaks in the distance. Cool and fresh and green. Views of placid Pacific waters. So I again returned to Bellingham, goofed around, and again left, this time to spend a night at a State Park south of the city. It would be better than living in my Maverick, or sleeping on the floor in Seattle. Nature would be my salvation--at least for another night.
And Larrabee State Park was just the ticket. I had borrowed Matt's tent and some gear--how nice of him to lend it to me when I wasn't coming back--and set up camp away from the mainstream sites. A place you parked and had to walk into--not far--that was close to the shoreline: big trees and ferns, slugs and frogs, water pure and captivating with the mountainous San Juans out there looking isolated, like self-contained lives belonging to someone else, someone happy and settled. I hiked a trail to Fragrance Lake--alone, no one else anywhere, not even fresh bear scat for company--then occupied myself with wood gathering and canned-chili-eating until night's darkness plummeted upon me and the Great Loneliness plummeted into my heart once again.
Inward inward I traveled. Self-pity my best friend. Mistakes the only memories I could muster.
But I stoked up the fire. Sliced some pepperoni, some cheddar, ate it on top of Wheat Thins. Realized that this was the first time I'd ever camped all by myself and that the last time I'd camped was at Falling Waters State Park in north Florida with "T". Ahhh. Companionship and conversation. Wine and smoked oysters from a tin. Sex in the tent. . .
And in the night the wind picked up, heavy but dry. And there was a great groaning, moaning in the forest. I could not sleep. And so I ventured out of my tent and the moon was full, it cast a bright yellow light upon the woods so that I did not need a flashlight. And in that daffodil light I saw that the moaning was from two big trees whose trunks had grown across each other and the wind was moving them, rubbing them together and I couldn't help but to see it as a arboreal orgy, some deciduous sex up in the canopy of the night.
Man, I was lonely.
And I eventually went back to sleep. Woke to another beautiful day. Another hike. Packed my belongings and Matt's tent into my powder blue Maverick and did not head to Bellingham. I drove back to Seattle.
But I went back to work for Brock's dad. Went back to drinking cheap beers in the bars of Queen Anne. Breakfasts at the Mecca Cafe. Sleeping on the floor. Jokes and smokes with my amigos. Still lonely, lost and downtrodden, my plan was to return to Bellingham and the life that awaited me there. I had the Vonnegut-looking guy's phone number. And I'd call and call but never could get him on the phone. 
After maybe two weeks, I gave up. Said goodbye to my $45. My Bellingham dreams.
Seattle is not a good city to be depressed in: grayness and rain and gloomy bums wandering its streets. Come summer, I left. Went back to Iowa for a spell and then went back to the beach towns of Walton County, Florida. I did not go back to "T".

For quite a few years I still thought of Bellingham. Thought about how my life would be different if I hadn't run back to Seattle. If I hadn't of given up so easily, hadn't been so lonely and cheap and unwilling to stick with my vision. Would I have succeeded there? Would I have committed myself to my writing any better than I had? Would I have met someone or gone back to school and become a teacher?... Can't say, of course. And, yes, it's a common thought: what would have and only if. But it's also a profound question/thought. Apply it to yourself, what small venture or plan did you abandon? What if you had not? Yet, as said, this only crossed my mind once in a while, for a few years.
I later lived in Missoula, Montana and returned to Seattle quite a few times after that, even took a trip to the San Juan Islands. Brock was still in Seattle then. I got married in Seattle, to an Illinois girl. But now I haven't been to Washington State in--what--more than fifteen years.
And I've never been back to Bellingham.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

City of Reptiles: Los Angeles 1985

This is not a true post for this blog. This is but a story based on maybe something that could be a true post for this blog . . . I just had to start somewhere. It's too long and too untrue and too structured. It does not need to be read and really, probably should not be read in connection with this blog. I should delete it yet, I haven't so far . . .

Flew into Burbank Airport from Chicago after two months away and there Tice was waiting for me all decked out in a blue silk shirt, sunglasses, as tan as a rotten banana. I'd been whistling away my time in Iowa, writing, unemployed and living in my parent's basement, running everyday at my old high school's track. So it was good to see Tice again--I worked for him--and I grabbed my bags and we zooped off in his little brown cheese-wedge of a sports car, down the streets of Burbank under the dry trees and traffic signs, windows down, the Doors playing on the radio. It felt good to be back in Southern California, the megalomaniac city of L.A. but a freeway or two away.
"Had a good time?" he asked when we were stopped at Victory Boulevard.
"Sure I did. Was in Chicago for the last two weeks."
"Got all fucked up?"
"No, I did not. I stayed with Cindy, slept soundly every night."
"Well," Tice said and peered over his extra-cave-dark sunglasses at me, "we'll take care of that."
And then we zoomed ahead, cutting lanes, slipping through yellow-just-red lights, all the way to the Oakwood Apartments off Barham in North Hollywood where all I did was dump my duffle of belongings into my old spongy bed before we were off again, down Olive towards the Pago Pago, a dispirited little lounge slugged in behind the studios.
"We meeting Wade at the Pago?"
"Not now," he told me. "He's finishing a job in Arcadia."
Tice ran his own contractor business--a single crew most of the time--of which I was considered a foreman, even though I didn't know much about construction. We had been remodeling Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centers in strip malls all around the county, in San Bernardino, once in San Diego. I'd been working for him for about a year, Tice being an old college pal, and he put me up at his apartment at Oakwood. Wade was staying there now, also. I didn't care about the work one way or the other, really. I just liked being in sunny SoCal, seeing and feeling everything new under the smog.
"What about Bob and Roy?"
"I haven't seen them around for a while. Bob's been drinking up at the Blue Room, I heard. Roy took off, I think. Back to Canyon Country."
"So it's only Wade and me?"
"Yeah, yeah and whoever else we need. Don't worry about work. Wade's gonna meet us later. He's got some stuff."
Stuff, I thought and knew, could mean about anything drung related: crank or weed or coke, pills or shrooms or acid. Wade was the bagman. Tice was the boss. I was what? Detatched and uncommitted.
Tice parked in a smidgen of space in the alleyway and we came in through the back door like good time-honored patrons do. And inside of the black hole of the Pago Pago were the same old faces sitting in the same old places along the padded and curving bar, still clinging to the same old drinks.
There was Casual Dave, a forty year old boy-man always in a good mood, and Half Moon the credit card thief, Ricky the knife-wielding Belizean, Orofino the pool shark and an assortment of other fuck-ups who recognized me and asked where I'd been and how I was doing and would I buy them a drink.
"Hey it's you. Howyadoing? Whatchyawant?"
It was Lenny, raspy-voiced and barrel-bodied, the bartender who owned an honest-to-god gold mine up around Lone Pine where he went once a year to chuck dynamite into a hole in the ground just to prove to the state of California that he was still using the land. He got me a beer and a shot of Wild Turkey. Got Tice the same.
And so I drank and talked about the same things I'd talked about two months ago and played inspired games of afternoon pool in the recessive-gened darkness of the bar in Burbank while we waited for Wade to show up with his stuff.
I had come back to make a little cash, see the sights, returned from those months of scribble-writing on my novel and sleeping in my parents' Des Moines basement. Days of running my high school track round and round like a pony ride at the State Fair, staying clean and sober and thinking good thoughts, working my way away from something I could not name, some great dread within the system of myself. And then the weeks in Chicago with Cindy, my sometimes girlfriend, who I knew loved me, who let me stay at her apartment in Skokie while she went to work at her father's framing business in Wriglyville. Who I had left once again. Come back to work for Tice. Tice a responsible memeber of the working community, an employer of the outcasts and desperate, of those who wanted only a weeks worth of undocumented income to refill their clustered bottles of alcohol, their papers, pipes and needles--their very veins--some cash flow to re-rail their own personal train wrecks and get on with their reptilian existence. I had come back--and even drinking in the afternoon at the Pago Pago--I did not see myself as one of them.
What the hell.
I was feeling good. Pleased. Even happy. Drinking and shooting pool and bumming a cigarette or five as the day's sun made its trip to the Pacific. And then there was a phone call and the message was to get back to Oakwood, where Wade and his stuff now were, and where there was some kind of complex-wide club party going on. But we were supposed to meet him at the room first.

Cigarettes, beer, tequila, marijuana, cocaine and a sheet of acid. They were arrayed like a painter's palette upon the kitchen counter, the alcohol in the sink among clean scales of ice. This was Wade's stuff. Wade, younger than me, had lived on his own since the age of fifteen, had blue-ink tattoos of crowned Nittany Lions on each arm and had spent a year locked up at Chino for drug dealing. Wade, the son of a Camp Pendleton soldier who abandoned his wife and kids, had recently abandoned his own common-law wife and young son so that--as best I could tell--he could work for Tice and live with Tice and thus hang out in bars and arrange to get the stuff that he was now displaying to me.
I was already a bit wobbly from the beer and whiskey and the flight in, and the wares before me made my mind balk and I asked if this was all for one night.
"Yes," Wade said. "It's for your return to the Golden State."
What the hell, again.
I grabbed a beer and Wade began chopping at some coke spilled upon a mirror, giving me a pinch to tooth. Which I did, feeling the immediate Novocain swim upon my gums. Tice grinned as Wade went back to his chore, scraping little brittle lava flows of lines from his minced pile.
He offered me the first snort with Tice producing a hundred dollar bill rolled tight as a tube and I snorkeled up line one and then line two with each nostril, passed the mirror on to me gentlemen friends. They did likewise and we lit cigarettes and cracked the tequila for a quick shot and I felt the turbulent rise within me, the great stiffening of my brain stem. And Wade rolled joints while Tice put on some music. All we had was a single tape-playing boom box, less than one-handful of tapes, and he slapped in the Eric Clapton cassette that was really the only one we ever played, cranked it up to distorted volume as we drank and smoked and talked. Did another line. Wade now scraping the marching powder into an amber vial that had a miniature spoon dangling from its lid. The acid was placed in the mold-friendly fridge. A joint was lit, passed among us as Eric Clapton sang, as he had sang months ago, while the night waited for us like a sleeping lizard outside the balcony doors.

I never paid much money for my drugs. I bought alcohol freely, cigarettes, would kick in for weed or coke if asked to. But usually, it seemed, I just hung out with people whose appetites--or addictions--were stronger than mine. And maybe it was because I never asked them for it, never whined or wheedled, so they  willingly cut me in with their illicities. Or maybe it was because, generally, I was a pleasant fellow. Calm. A listener. A go-alonger. And when I did get drunk or stoned or hopped-up, I could be funny. Wicked. I was a strange entertainment. I could become quite animated and maybe that was the true investment, the cost, of giving me their drugs, to bring me out as a floor show for the night. Maybe.
And so after the coke, the pot, a shot of tequila to smooth out any remaining second-thought wrinkles, we went out into the warm desert air. Stood out behind our building among the many buildings of the complex, the fuzzy hill directly behind us looming high, ringed with dry dusky light--that golden, southern, California light--and before us lay the black paths that ran between the honeycombs of stacked dwellings, snakeblack asphalt that ran to the tennis court and parking lots and swimming pool and clubhouse. We could hear the music of the party like scrambled confetti in our ears, so we pointed ourselves in that direction.
And the clubhouse was full of people and there were drinks and food spread upon tables. All these milling humans of which I recognized a few or more. A mini-world noisy and drunken and well fed. We ate but little. Drank more beer. Jammed delight into our heads. And then Wade struck up a conversation with some short-skirted blonde--legs, blue eyes and dimples. She was also an ingratiating non-stop-smarmy-talker. It did not take long to discover that she didn't live at the Oakwood, but had crashed the party. It also didn't take long to see that she was already coked to smithereens--which excited Wade greatly.
Turns out this young woman was from Chicago, had, in fact, gone to the same south side high school as Tice. Or so she claimed. And even though she was from Chicago, I saw her as a wannabe California girl at heart: self-involved and deeply convicted to the pop/advertised culture of the day. It took but one drink more and the promise of one snort more for Wade to get her to go back to the apartment with the three of us.
So back to the room and Eric Clapton on the beatbox once again. Wade wisely hid the farrago of drugs from view, leaving only the drink sand the vial of cocaine semi-surreptitious in his pocket. And we all chatted and drank and smoked and Wade doled out skinny lines now and then just to keep things jumping, just to keep the blonde there among us. And she went on and on about this and that celebrity she had spied about town, from Eddie Van Halen at a party to Forrest Tucker at a car wash. And she went on about movies and fast cars and clubs in Hollywood. Her face oafish and bright and her smile like spilt milk in the cavity of her mouth. And the Clapton wore down and she tuned in a radio station where the resilient Rolling Stones sang a song.
"Oh, oh, I love this song, she said then sung, "Start me up--oh I love Mick--Start me up!" her bouncy body beaming in curves, mouth open again, "Wow!"
"Hey," I said, weary of her now or maybe trying to get her attention, "if Mick Jagger wants to equate his life with a car engine, that's his business, but I wouldn't love him for it."
Wade laughed. Tice chuckled and sat cooly upon the couch, began to roll a joint. And so it went, she flitting about, talking talking, Wade trying to teach her new tricks.
"She told me she isn't wearing any underwear," he said. "Show 'em."
And she looked around and smiled and lifted her little dress to show us a clean shank of white buttocks.
"A little more," Wade said, face devious, playing it as a game.
"No, not yet," she said, also gamelike, intimating that we'd have to give her more blow to show more.
But I didn't care. I saw her as a waste of time, a disruption in the ramping of my electrical power grid for the evening. She was a jellyfish. A piece of grit in my oyster night, one that would never produce a pearl. And I sat with Tice to languidly smoke his joint as she went about, flashing us, Wade now getting agitated because he wanted her to do more but not sure if it was worth the price of his cocaine. But the vial came out again, powder duly snorted from the tiny spoon but not lined up upon the narcissistic mirror, then the vial was passed among the three of us so that she did not know who possessed it. So that she now honeybeed about coming to each of us, playing a street vendors shell game, a three card Monte, looking for the vial. And I just back in California, dealing with my own personal dishevelment, could not help but to see her as desperate and obscene, did not want to see it, so I went out to the balcony.
I watched the night. My mind and heart raced with the traffic and lights of the valley, the balled lights of jets coming over the Verdugo Mountains into Burbank. And then she came out and sidled up next to me. She took my hand and began to suck my fingers.
My skewed and self-deceptive moarality was high in my mind as she slobbered my index finger. I did not know why, exactly, I felt so superior to this sad woman. But I did. I was apalled, disgusted, self-righteous. I also, at another level, wanted to fuck her. But I obeyed my sense of a higher order.
"It's all gone," I told her.
She removed my finger from her pink mouth.
"All gone," I said, looking her in the eyes.
Evidently she believed me. Because those eyes went dull and she turned and left the balcony, sped through the room and went out the door.
I returned to the room.
"What happened?"
"I guess she had to go home."
I sat down on the couch. Someone had put the Clapton tape back in the box. We laid in stasis, lost for the moment in our many-layered intoxication. Then Tice laughed.
"Man," Wade said, "we all could have fucked her. Did you see her fly around to each of us? But, man, she was a bitch though. What a nose."
And we all laughed, as men can so easily and callously laugh at women, and we began to forget her. The girl was but an appetizer for the night, because there was still the party at the clubhouse and pool, still plenty of pot and drinks and other delights. And we forgot her because Wade went to the freezer and pulled out the sheet of acid.
Now the plan had been, more or less--according to Wade--to get roared up on the cocaine, temper that with marijuana, and save enough coke to keep us awake for a late-night acid trip. The beer and tequila--like cigarettes--were never considered into the equation, they were just normal ingesta,  par for the course.
But plans change, so Wade handed us each an early dose, a tiny tab of acid which he placed upon our tongues in communion, where we let them dissolve like the first snowflakes of winter--even if it doesn't snow in Southern California. And we rose, beers in hand, Clapton still playing, and went out the door again, went down and dismounted the stairway, headed for the pool and party.

The thing about tripping--be it on LSD or alcohol or one's own ego--is to keep in touch with what I call the Third Eye. Now the First Eye is what you actually do and say, and the Second Eye is your immediate subconscious, what you think before doing and saying. The Third Eye--in my estimation--is the omniscient watcher, the detached camera of the self, like when you feel you are in a movie or a novel and can be aware of the trivial or horrible wealth of your actions but do not worry about it. Because you can see yourself and know the Third Eye is watching, that all is correctable if you so want. That is, you can get wildly high and discombobulated on a trip and be safe, as long as you can still view yourself from the vantage point of the Third Eye. But of course, there is a fourth thing. Not an eye but a Reptilian Brain that is deep, the deepest, within us all. The Reptilian Brain is the wellspring from which we react from instinct, such as a moment of dire self-survival, or the desired realm you reach during copulation, or--when you are truly fucked-up--how you can navigate your world during blind drunks or drugged blackouts.
But I was not concerned with any of that as we walked, my ego hyper-extended by the coke, my soul soft and dreamy from the pot, and of course the depressant of alcohol--which has always been my true-blue drug of choice--and stimulus of nicotine which allowed me to enjoy the warring factions within my bloodstream as we re-wandered the black paths, this time making it to the pool.
And the pool itself was a glorious shimmering thing. There were many people gathered around it, people half lit, half darkened, in the gold and grays and greens, all bordered by concrete and thorny bougainvillea and feathery eucalyptus. But I was mesmerized, suddenly and frankly, by the luxuriant rectangle of water, water clean and shallow and halo-blue, underlit by yellow lights. There was only the three of us and the others were but Ghost People, and the wind and the apartment accoutrements were but props set beneath the black backdrop of sky and hills. And I was no disturbed when the pool itself began to warp with light and rise up ever so gently, like an ocean swell, and roll from deep to shallow end. After all--I told myself--I had been such a good boy the last few months. The sobriety and running, the positive thinking and typing away upon my manual typewriter in my parents' basement, rewriting my first novel that I'd once thought I'd finished during my last year of college in Iowa City. And I had nestled in Chicago with Cindy, a relationship also in the works, finished and unfinished like my novel. And here, now, less than eight hours back in the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, I had ingested quantities from the Four Major Drug Groups and was still standing, was feeling perfectly strange and fine.
I lit a cigarette and then saw a frog in the far end of the pool. No, not a frog, but some dark amphibian or prehistoric catfish, swimming, casting its shadow along the undulating pool bottom. And it steadily grew larger, coming towards Wade, Tice and I and our own private splendors. The party music played. The Ghost People went about their ghostly ways and I was relieved to see the catfish-amphibian thing come out of the pool a changeling, as it morphed into human form. Ha, ha, it was only a swimmer. Yes, only a swimmer.
Wade tapped me on the elbow and motioned me to follow him and we went behind the manicured eucalyptus divide, Tice also, to smoke yet another joint, just a few yards shy of the unbubbling Jacuzzi. Tice lit it up. Smothered his face with smoke. The people in the spa seemed oblivious. A small group in hot water--a pool of their own--that was calm and small, steaming. But Wade, seeing the spa, turned the timer knob--which we stood by--and before I could even take the joint the Jacuzzi erupted and the people within it cheered and giggled. Great vents of steam rose as I smoked my turn and watched. Then a single form rose from the round burbling pool and came to us.
It was a kid, maybe eighteen, with a large nose, who came out of the tub dripping pebbles of water upon the walk, some young guy covered with an aquarium shine. He wore pinkish quilt-patterned boxers for swim gear and a pair of oversized Nomad sunglasses and he came directly to me. Out of all the people in SoCal, all the humanoids at this party, out of the three of us, he picked me to dribble up to and talk.
Maybe it was because I held the joint.
He was some big-nosed kid from Texas, said Ralph was his name, and I handed him the joint, hoping to keep him quiet because I had fallen deep into my own psyche by then, drugged beyond redemption, but he went right ahead and began to tell me about his lifetime of problems.
Ralph told me he was from a broken family, how he was out of work, then drawled out numerous teenage platitudes--dead-end nonsense--about life and misfortune and taking things a day at a time and then he went back to his joblessness, that he needed work to stay in L.A. and that he had an interview set up but thought that he would skip it. He said the employer wanted references and that he had none. And I don't know why, don't know why, but I listened to him as he passed the wetted joint to Wade and was filled with some desire to help him, advise him, to take him under my angelic wing and show him a one-way path to self-illumination so that he could clearly see his own abject stupidity.
"Look," I said in a loud tough-lovish way, "now you just go ahead to that interview and get that job! When these employers say they want references it's just a matter of course, bureaucracy, so you can lie--take a chance--it won't matter, they never check it out!"
"Man, I never thought of it that way," he said. "You mean it's sort of like official business. They ask everyone?"
"That's right." And I nodded with paternal sarcasm, with satisfaction that my directness had gotten through hi betel nut-hard head. Ralph was definitely eighteen at best.
Tice and Wade stood by me, also nodding, chuckling, passing the never-ending joint around once again. And Ralph was now stuck to us like a wad of gum upon the Golden State Freeway. He stood expectantly in front of me, eyeing me and the tapered joint, blocking my view of the bubbling pool behind him, where the ghosts sat steaming like so many plucked chickens. And after his puffs upon the joint he began to tell me more, all about his life in Texas on the Gulf Coast, and about his troubles with his girlfriend.
"She was gonna come out here. I already sent her the money for the flight and everything. But when I got to the airport she wasn't even on that flight." He was bewildered by this turn of events and I looked at him sternly, this boy with a huge nose now dripping like candle wax, the powdered steam of the spa rising behind him as if he had just crossed the Styx, with his Nomads encapsulating his eyes like the eyes of some ghastly refrigerated insect, his hair still wet and plastered upon his skull like an ill-fitting black pancake. Skin translucent and dopey, platypus-like ears unevenly stabbed into both sides of his head.
"Did you call her to find out why?" I snapped.
"Well, no," he drawled.
"Well what do you think, kid?" I asked, my tongue a sharp and flexed muscle in my mouth. "Obviously she took your cash, bought some coke, and right now she's probably driving around Houston, naked, in a car full of black men!"
Tice and Wade howled. They were finally getting a return in their investment in me. And I realized this, knew it was what they wanted, and could not let me benefactors down. Ralph even laughed right along with them.
"Yeah, but... " and the boy was right back into his weary querying about job and girl and proper references.
"Now I told you what to do about the job! I told you about the girl! Forget her--or go back to Texas!" All my intoxicated and radiated energy was concentrated upon poor Ralph's dilemmas. I knew I was there, there that very night, to solve his eternal struggles. "Just go back to Texas!"
"I can't," he said. "I got in trouble."
And then Ralph laid out a whole sad worthless tale on me about being involved with drugs and narcing and about Mexican cocaine mafiosos. I didn't think he had enough brains to lie, to create such a story, but I doubted very much that there was any true danger in it. But I was still there, ready to preach to him, direct him, to turn his life around and put him onto the path of enlightenment.
"Drugs!" I said and my words flew freely from my mouth, forethoughtless as if they were locusts cast upon the idolatry of the world. I was all Third Eye now. "Well, that figures! That's always the problem with you young ones: drugs! You always end up in Los Angeles, hopping from hot tub to hot tub, looking for hand outs and advice!" I put the boy to shame. He looked embarrassed. "You've got to shape up, Ralph! Get the goddamned job and stay off the drugs! No drugs!"
Oh it felt good. Tice and Wade laughed openly. The people around us were within earshot but did not care. And I did not care. The Third Eye of myself looked down upon me as I suddenly saw myself in a new true light. And I told myself that I was a shaman, a sage of wisdom. In my blitzed mind I was The Way. I was Jesus H. Christ reborn on earth to help everyone, especially candle-nosed Texas kids in trouble. By now the Third Eye was ringing me, passing judgement as these thoughts of grandeur began to take hold among my many still-living brain cells. Maybe it was only the coke, but I was not going to listen to my detached conscious. The nimbus of my ego was too great.
"You're right, you're right," the kid said. "But you see, O also like to surf. And when I go to the beach none of these guys will let me surf because they're locals only..."
And I blew up:
"What the hell are you talking about? Surfing? You have problems with job, drugs, women and now surfing? Get your priorities straight, kid! Get off the drugs and get to work! Quit namby-pambying around looking for others to support you! You need the hard road, the straight and narrow. Quit fucking around, Ralph!"
He tried to say something but I cut him off. "No!" Tried again but again I dismissed him. "No, Ralph!" I stopped him, held up my hand, balled my fist. Tice and Wade were still an amused audience but I no longer saw it as comic. I was serious. My arm felt strong and solid like a staff, a scepter, my fist was the Big Blue Crystal of the Almighty. I held my ruling arm up against the transgressions of this poor boy, and I had spoken. Had laid down the law and now it was up to him to follow the path or forever wallow in his little purgatory. I was wise and triumphant. I was the King.
And Ralph got smaller. He crouched down then and suckled the pale remnant roach of marijuana, lips pooched upon its nib, a singular fine trail of smoke rising before his waxy face. And now behind him, in my view, was the Jacuzzi with its collection of mortals soaking in the roiled water. And I stood there, both astounded by my personal greatness while also fearing it. Somewhere, even with the Third Eye blinded, I knew it was a self-delusional indulgence that went too far. And then I saw him.
In the heated water was an old silver-haired maniac man, sitting at its edge among the vented steam. He was a rotund man, face big and boated and red-blood-vessel-broken. The yellow lights shown upon him. The churning waters surrounded his legs and feet. And in the pool were two black girls. Nice sumptuous young women in green and purple suits, their skin so dark and lustrous. And the man sat above them holding his arms out--fingers splayed to the dim stars--and he was blabbering, "Hooblahboolaroo."
It was outright, unbelievable, cartoonish blabbering. Nonsense. Childlike. Incomprehensible. "Blooblahbahroohaha." His face was distorted and beyond ruddiness, his fat body bathed in steam, and the girls were looking at him, then at each other, gaining faces of abject fright and repulsion. And the man said to them, "Touch my hands!"
"No," they said.
"Hold my hands!"
"No." And they waded away from him, began to scramble out of the fuming waters as he went off on another rant: "Bleebahloolababah!" Now shaking his hands minstrel-like, gospel preacher-like. His face ludicrous.
I was stunned. I thought it was some mean trick. A hallucination. No one else--save the departing women--appeared to notice the man in the hot tub. And somewhere, swimming in my rational mind, I knew who the crazy man was. Not by name, but I knew he lived in the complex, that he had been a successful screenwriter who was now upon hard times, alcoholic, who was rumored to be on the verge of being kicked out of his apartment because he stored newspapers--stacked like cordwood--in his apartment. That, and the failure to pay rent. I knew this, but also could not help but to see it--this sudden image of the flailing fat man in sulfur waters--as a dreaded omen.
I was frightened and ashamed. And I had to quickly cut myself away from our little mongrel-pack, away from Ralph and my friends. Went back to the swimming pool alone, sat upon a chair and tried to take in the pool's cool blueness. Tranquility. But beyond the short divider of trimmed eucalyptus and snake plants, I could still hear the barbaric ranting. In my mind I could see the melting man in the boiling pool. And I knew that I was not the King.
He was.
He was The Great Reptile King and He was waiting for me.
Waiting to show me The Way.