Wednesday, December 7, 2011
cover art: watercolor inks: Edwin Forrest Ward
A Magic Marker Mystery
One summer I worked for a start-up stock brokerage firm in Philadelphia, filling in for employees on vacation. A personal assistant or receptionist one week, a margin or mail clerk the next, the actor in me embraced and enjoyed it all, the high speed elevator downtown skyscraper 9 to 5. Near the end of my summer employment, before I was to resume teaching, there was a week with no scheduled vacations; consequently, my boss suggested I take on what he represented as “most likely a fruitless task.” Investigate and figure out what happened to some actual hard copy, paper stock certificates that had gone missing. The missing papers represented a considerable sum of real money, money that business insurance would cover – but only with the added cost of greatly increased future insurance premiums. Stock certificates are simply not supposed to go missing. Ever. Especially when they are part of an initial public offering involving many of the firm’s brokers.
My assignment had been characterized as “most likely a fruitless task” because already, a gaggle of in- and out-of-house accountants, the manager of “The Cage,” himself, the repository where stock certificates were housed and handled, and a Securities & Exchange Commission auditor had spent weeks trying to locate the actual stock certificates, all without success. My boss, with whom I was socially connected on a black market level, told me in an aside: “A stoner and artist might see ledgers differently than accountants and auditors.”
Now this story unfolds in the early Seventies’ days of typewriters, mimeographing and carbon copies. Xerox machines are just coming on line. The human hand and mind are of major importance when it comes to financial record keeping and the commerce of securities and stocks, as are pencils, pens and IBM typewriters. Computers run on key punch cards. Fingers key the punch. Accounting is done by hand. Calculators are mechanical and cumbersome and math is in the accountant’s mind. The pages of ledgers are hand turned and generally full of tears, erasures and carbon fingerprints. For archival purposes, records are photographed on microfilm, and so, the hand-crank of a microfilm viewer is where my search for the missing certificates begins and, within two days, ends, in a magic moment.
The missing stock certificates represented shares in a new company that is now a household name: Magic Marker. It’s hard to imagine a Twentieth Century world without Magic Markers, but in the 60s, ballpoint pens required pressure. The felt tip pens and markers of Magic Marker were first a novelty whose use would become ubiquitous. Although the Magic Marker IPO had been quite successful, our firm’s loss of printed shares might cloud Magic Markers future prospects, making shady the circumstances of the initial offering.
Well, after a day of studying the microfilmed records of transactions involving Magic Marker, I had nothing, and no idea of where to investigate next. Because looking at thousands of pieces of paper was mind numbing, I frequented the stairwell often for a toke of weed. I doubted that anyone had stolen the certificates as their size and number precluded an easy smuggle past the scrutiny of the uber observant Cage Boss whose job it was to secure and track each certificate. The apparent loss of the paper stock was on him and it would be his head that rolled once the SEC finalized its investigation. Somewhat ironically, he was the only employee with whom I had not gotten along during my summer’s employment. He was as straight and arrogant and square as I was inexperienced and pot-headed, and he was over-the-top dismissive of me in my role as investigator, so much so that he did not want me in his Cage when I asked if I could see the steps involved in logging in and recording the handling of the certificates. When he spoke to our mutual boss, however, he was told to let me have unfettered access to the Cage, its protocols, and its employees, a directive which really pissed him off as he could not imagine anyone – especially a long-haired twenty-something vacation temp - figuring anything out, since he, himself, had not been able to.
Now every stock certificate passing in or through the cage creates a transaction form in carbon duplicate, documenting its time in house. Every time a stock certificate changed hands its movement from one account to another account and its actual physical location were recorded and dated. Generally stock certificates were either sent to their owners or warehoused by the brokerage in the Cage. Whenever physical stock certificates were given to owners, the in-Cage transaction form was tic marked in a check box: SENT TO OWNER. None of the missing Magic Marker stock had been so marked. All of what was missing was supposed to be here, in the Cage, according to the microfilm. The protocol for tracking the stock certificates was black and white, simple and straightforward.
It’s at this point that I notice a pencil holder full of colorful plastic pens on a desk by the Cage door, a collection of early production prototypes of Magic Marker pens. When the brokerage had been chosen to help launch the IPO, the manufacturer had sent dozens of boxes of promotional pens, demos of all types, all bearing the name Magic Marker. I liked the bold colors of the pens and helped myself to an assortment as I left the Cage to return to the microfilm viewer for another go-round of hopeless squinting and examination.
Now I’ve always been a doodler and I’m no sooner back at the microfilm viewer – after a stairwell’s toke of ganga - convinced I’m on a lost cause, when I absentmindedly begin exploring the uses of these Magic Markers rather than scanning the microfilm. I like the color richness of the line produced when compared to the line of a fountain pen or a regular ballpoint pen, and I fill a half-dozen sheets of paper with colorful abstract mindlessness. The smooth flow of the ink lends itself to creativity, and because there is no need to press the pen point to paper, the stroke is more flowing, artistic, and less graphic. For an hour or so, in the style I will later call squigglism – a cousin of pointillism – I doodle, and then Eureka! – out of nowhere – comes the question: What happens when someone uses a Magic Marker on a two-page carbon copy?
I return to the Cage and retrieve a blank stock transaction sheet. I fill it out and - no surprise here - on Page Two, the brokerage carbon copy, there is nothing. Because the Magic Marker pen writes effortlessly without pressure, the carbon doesn’t transfer to the second page of the form. I return to the microfilm viewer and go over the records again, paying especial attention to the line where is noted the date a piece of stock was handled and I discover that in the middle of May there was a stint of transactions that bore no date, something that would happen if the recorder of the transaction had used a Magic Marker when filling out the form. There was no date and, similarly, no tic mark indicating that the certificates had been SENT TO OWNER. I added up the number of shares represented by the forms missing their recording date, and voila! - their sum equaled the amount of lost stock. The missing stock certificates were not missing at all. They had been sent to their owners. Just the carbon imprint of a check mark was missing. Like magic, it had come to me, the answer, while doodling with Magic Markers.
My boss, my Cheba Cheba client, was so overjoyed that he took me out to lunch, said I was on paid administrative leave for the rest of the week, and handed me the first serious tip of my stoner life: ten crisp Ben Franklins and a case of Magic Marker pens. I never did get a thank you from the Cage Boss whose job I saved, but I did prove right my boss’s guess: art sometimes is better at solving mystery than math.
Friday, November 18, 2011
(as in the plural of coincidence)
Last August, my wife Marcia and I are soaking in the large pool at Strawberry Park Hot Springs outside Steamboat Springs when a funny coincidence occurs. I’ve been coming to these waters once or twice a year since 1974 when a summer’s go-wherever hitch-hiking adventure that started in Philly and ended in Manhattan included a week’s stay here. The place was then, and is still, mystic with coincidee.
Of the events of my first time here many are ripe with other-orld-ly importance. My partner in adventure at the time, Lucia, and I had hitch-hiked ten dirt road miles from town – way off the grid so to speak – to get here. We had been inspired to visit by the storytelling of two kind benefactors, Ron and Vickie, whose buffalo robe scented Dodge van had transported us from Central Nebraska to Rabbit Ears Pass. In their description of the springs, they’d nicknamed the scene Strawberry City and said it was a very high, very trippy place where hundreds of adventuresome characters like Lucia and me were hanging out for the summer. “Don’t go if your adverse to pot or nudity,” they warned, an admonition meant to peak our curiosity.
And now as Lucia and I approach the Strawberry Park Hot Springs deep in the National Forest in the back of a pick-up truck – two local teens have given us a ride as they have sojourned hither for a local boy’s mischievous teenage binocular-ed look-see at the rumored naked hippie chicks – when we climb out of the truck’s bed and begin our careful descent down the trammeled muddy hill into the pocket of running water and alpine mountain holding the springs, I’m quite disappointed with what I’m seeing as I look down upon the scene. My prurient self had hoped for a fog of pot smoke and sea of naked women and there are not even any strawberries! Just a touch of juniper and hollyhock with a lot of rock and shale adorned with rivulets of steamy smoky water running into a pool aside a creek. Of the half dozen bathers, none are naked and there’s not a wild haired one among them. Oh, where is the summer-long party that Ron and Vickie had described? Where are the sun worshippers? The Hippies? The madcap day-trippers and on-the-road adventures like Lucia and me? Where is Strawberry City?”
Well. We’re not two minutes into our switch back approach down from the top of the west hill where the local teens had parked towards the waters of the springs when a most marvelous and unexpected thing occurs. Where just now there were six bathing-suited soakers enjoying the warm waters within view, there are now ten times that, as out from behind that many trees and bushes step dozens of naked men, women and children, as if cued to startle us, most with more than enough hair on their heads to qualify the scene as a drop-out hippie city by the name of Strawberry! Lucia and I are quite stunned as the nudists appear for she had just voiced aloud what I’d been thinking, “Where are all the naked people Ron and Vickie talked about.”
“As if by magic, their appearance” one would think, but, most times, there is a very real explanation for such coincidee.
Apparently the Steamboat Springs Police have a policy of visiting the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Daily, they drive up from town for the purpose of writing revenue-generating tickets and scan the scene from a secluded further hill with state-of-cop-art binoculars in search of anyone sans swimsuit or smoking pot. They generally arrive most days in the early afternoon, a routine well known by the denizens of Strawberry City. Usually some civic-minded person volunteers to serve as lookout, and when the gendarmes are spotted approaching, a warning is signaled and everyone naked scurries into the forest to hide from view. When the cops end their surveillance and head back down the mountain, an all clear is signaled and everyone returns from hiding to the sunlight and hot spring waters of Strawberry City, with today’s ruse and theatrics coinciding with our arrival, “a Fellini moment that should be filmed,” as Lucia would say, in the ever-surprising script of a life.
So, I’m waxing poetic and nostalgic with wife Marcia about my first soak here all those years ago when she queries me with a prankster’s merriment and sky-blue-eyed wonder before swimming away to the cold water of the creek: “Would you rather be here or in Greenwich Village?” And with a splash of mineral water in my direction she adds, “And, look: there’s Damian.”
Now Marcia and I, after thirty-three years of marriage, have little games we play when out and about in the world. One involves seeing semblances of someone we know in a stranger. We type people because of the way he or she might look or talk or act. And so, I immediately get the “Damian” reference when I study the view where Marcia had been looking when she had said, “There’s Damian,” for across the length of this middle pool and the pool above it, by the sluice gate, a guy stands talking with a young woman many years his junior. She appears amused and bemused with his chatter and to the casual observer (in this case: me) her body language denotes a coquettish interest despite the math of their ages: he: forty-something; she: just legal. His long dark hair gathered and bundled atop his head easily sets him apart from most everyone else and draws attention to his stature. His lean physique suggests fitness not hunger and from this distance, some thirty yards, the sparkling demeanor of his eyes is friendly. He’s willing to share whatever it is he’s got and the young woman wants some. A Damian for sure!
Now Damian is a man I met some thirty-seven years ago when I departed these springs that first time.
I meet Damian through the workings of another guy I meet here at Strawberry City, Frank. After a week or so of partying and hanging out, mostly naked and under a cloud of smoke, Lucia and I decide to head out again on our come-what-may hitchhiking adventure. For the most part, we’ll go wherever our rides will take us as we generally have only a half-hearted commitment to any romantic destination we might have in mind: The Rockies, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or, as we decide upon today, The Grand Tetons. Lucy’s luxuriously French pronunciation of Tetons is barely off her pout-y lips when a stranger appears out of nowhere in the shallows of the small spring aside our campsite. “Hey,” he says, “would you happen to know anybody looking for a ride to Jackson Hole Wyoming. My partner broke his leg and is staying behind to recover. I could use some company as I’m planning to take a very scenic route to get there, as in Forest Service roads, back country access roads, and no roads.” That Jackson Hole lies in the shadow of The Grand Tetons is just another one of them coincidee. And so, we join Frank on a four-day backcountry over-the-mountains meander to Jackson Hole that through another series of coincidee brings us to Damian.
Did I mention that Frank was a survivalist long before there was a pop reference to that breed of man? His vehicle was a surplus Korean War era U.S. Navy step van (think Fifties bread delivery truck) that he bought as a kit and built himself. He hand tightened every bolt and screw in its assembly. Frank was dropping out into the wilderness, and he was prepared to forage and explore the backcountry of America for the next two years. His well organized van was packed with canned goods and dried food, gallons of drinking water, topographical maps of Montana, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, two suspended hammocks for sleeping in bad weather, assorted fuels, extra this and that, essential spare parts for the van, a generator, a radio, fishing rods and flies, rifles and ammunition, and mountain climbing gear. Cross a mountain man with a Navy Seal and you get Frank, a bearded, self-taught can-do-anything man. Unfortunately Frank thought he could sing as well as conquer wilderness and for much of the four days of our off-highway jaunt to Jackson he sings show tunes, and I’m not talking hip tunes from off-Broadway or the rock opera Tommy, I’m talking Oklahoma. Over and over and over. Believe me, “Oh what a beautiful morning/Oh what a beautiful day/I’ve got a beautiful feeling/Everything’s going my way” is not so beautiful when Frank sings it for the fifty-fourth time! Anyway as we approach Jackson Hole, the only way into town from the south is on a highway that Frank reluctantly takes. We no sooner hit the asphalt after exiting the wilderness when a thunderous hailstorm explodes in the sky and we are forced to pull off. Another vehicle soon joins us on the highway shoulder, and with coincidee ripe, one of the occupants exits the other car and hustles through the hail to join us in the van. This gentleman - his handle is Doc (his ditty bag contained an assortment of drugs, both pharmaceutical and street) - actually is an acquaintance of Frank, for Frank had given Doc a ride a month earlier as Frank crisscrossed the back country of Northern New Mexico outside Taos and Doc sojourned after the ghost of Carlos Castenada’s Don Juan. Doc suggests we (he, Lucy and I) swap cars for the final drive to Jackson Hole so he can sing-a-long with Frank, a suggestion I applaud, as any excuse will suffice to get me out of earshot of another round of “Oklahoma”! When Lucy and I get into the other car, a Comet with Mississippi plates, we meet its back-seat passenger Damian, a meeting which prompts me to whisper “Right out of Blake,” as this starry-eyed stranger could easily have modeled for William Blake as he illustrated the demons and angels in his famous manuscript. His hair had apparently been growing uncut since the musical Hair was first staged on Broadway; aside from dungarees, woolen serape and denim shirt, he is possession-less, even shoeless, barefoot as a Penitentes Brotherhood pilgrim. Carrying neither money nor ID on his way to The Rainbow Gathering in the Great Northwest, his simple currency for travel is his belief that love provides. When not speaking almost reverently of the town of Bisbee Arizona from whence his travels commenced, he quietly singsongs the Beatle refrain, “All you need is love, Love, all you need is love.” With a nod I concur with his belief in the power of love, but say under my breath to Lucy, “It will be me, not love, that will buy him a beer when we get to Jackson.” No surprise here: Damian will provide for further coincidee.
When our van/car caravan reaches Jackson Hole it is still raining; thus, we travelers – Frank, Damian, Doc, the Comet’s owner Scott, Lucy and I - all take refuge in a tourist saloon on the main square of Jackson Hole. When we enter we are hardly noticed as every patron seems to have their eyes glued to the TV, and for good reason, for at the very moment that I conclude paying for a first round of drinks (Coors for the men and a Coke for Lucia), the first president of the United States to resign, Richard Nixon, does so on the TV under which we stand, prompting an applause that concludes with the firing of a bullet right into the screen of the TV. Glass and cathode tube explode just as a man walks into the bar. This guy, Little John, spies Damian, walks right up and hugs him, and asks if we all need a place to stay. Damian’s eyes catch mine and they seem to sing “All you need is love, Love, all you need is love.” Little John, some long lost friend of Damian, bids us follow and we do, outside, back to our vehicles, and to a smidgen of National Forest land nearby where we are offered the use of a huge communal canvas tent where we weather the late afternoon and evening thunderstorms the next two days. Our first night Damian sermonizes around the campfire about the power of love and about the dropout city he calls home, Bisbee, Arizona. “In Bisbee, all you need is love” he tells us more than once. In fact, his Bisbee rhapsody is so convincing that sixteen years later my wife and I will move to Bisbee in search of that alternate reality where all you need is love. And guess what happens when we venture there? We find Damian living there with a young violinist some thirty years his junior, having managed to live rent-free in the dropout, drop city, former mining town on the Mexican border. Marcia winds up having a solo exhibition of her fine art photography in the studio/gallery that Damian manages, and I wind up with a Poetry Hour on Cochise County Arizona’s community cable radio channel for which Damian produces fine arts programming. Oddly, my mother, before marrying my father, dated Michael Ansara, the actor who played Cochise on the Fifties TV series of the same name.
Just how many coincidee does it take to lead one to where they are? More than sheer coincidence can account for, that is sure.
And now, to come full circle, let us return to the hot waters of Strawberry Park Hot Springs last summer, where the guy engaging the attention of the young woman switches his attention to me. After looking in my direction, he bids the doe-eyed youngster ado, and makes his way across two pools to slip into the water beside me and asks rhetorically, “Nice night, yes?” before going on to detail what brought him here. “I just spent a night in Greenwich Village and it ain’t got nothing on this place,” as if he had somehow overheard Marcia ask me if I’d rather be here or in Greenwich Village. She’d asked because the Village is where the American literary world, its capitol, resides, and the writer in me is always lamenting my lack of a literary agent, many of whom live in Greenwich Village. In effect she was teasingly asking would I trade my life here in Colorado for one in Manhattan? And now this guy, Eric is his name, Eric is telling me that he just stayed a week in the Village. He goes on to tell me about how he lives in Boulder Utah and extracts plant essences. He’d been giving a lecture in Maine on the somewhat arcane process he employs and a member of the audience – a young New York City literary agent who counts a Pulitzer Prize winner among her stable of writers - was so impressed with Eric, that she had offered him the use of her place in the Village. She would be traveling for the summer and she gave him the key to her home. With a nod to the surrounding woods, he says, “Yeah, two days ago I slept in a swank big-city condo, but believe me, I’d rather be here sleeping in the Forest Hotel.”
When I mention the coincidence of my wife just having mentioned Greenwich Village, he quotes Bob Dylan, nasal-ing Bob’s “Take what you have gathered from coincidence” before telling me that I remind him of an old friend.
In a reply prompted by more coincidee, I tell him that my wife had just expressed the same about him to me, that she called him Damian. Expressing an immediately interest in this line of coincidence, he asks me to tell him about this Damian.
“Well, for starters,” I say, “Damian’s hair was as long as yours, he loved younger women, and, most unusual, he wore no shoes.”
“Well, well, well,” he interjects, “neither do I. Wear shoes, that is.”
We go on to discover much that we have in common as we share a few hours together in the coincidee-laden waters of Strawberry City. We exchange contact info and promise to coincide again some time. He also provides me with the name and contact info for his new friend Mary, the very successful literary agent, in New York.
Now a coincidence I’d really enjoy would be for Mary to be as interested in me, my writing, as she apparently is in Eric, his plant essence extracting, thereby completing a circle of coincidee almost forty years in the making. To spark her interest, I’ll be sending “Coincidee,” for her reading pleasure.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Tacony, Beer, Art and Age
Edwin Forrest Ward
Gifts I have: – the words and the theater to incite some young men to foolishness. Two examples here I have involving age and art and alcohol.
Some years ago, in the late Eighties, while attending a Bob Dylan concert with my wife – a punk drunk of a rude young man – apparently the spokesman for a pack of the similarly minded, from whom he hoped to get a laugh – asked with feigned incomprehension, disdaining glare and exaggerated posturing, “What are you doing here, Old Man?” – as if how could I possibly be hip to what he thought hip, given the more than quarter century difference in our age. I didn’t inform him that I first saw Bob Dylan before even his parents were born; rather, I just gave him the standard sophomoric Tacony rhetoric of my Philadelphia youth, the one about the sexual proclivities and enthusiasms of his mother. When he responded by throwing thirty-two ounces of urine colored Coors beer in my direction, I adroitly ducked with alacrity, vanishing with my wife – as if by magic – into the surrounding crowd. The Viet Nam vet behind me, whose new Harley Davidson leather vest and 1977-vintage Rolling Thunder tee shirt got Coors-ed-upon, put an end to El Punko’s enthusiasm for disrespecting elders, as well as to the streak of time in his young life that his nose had remained un-bloodied and, judging by the sound of cracking bone, unbroken. I didn’t lift a finger to orchestrate retaliation, except for perhaps my middle and index, throwing him a sign that means peace in the American vernacular and fuck you in its British origin. Check out Emmett Grogan’s Ringolivio for the reference. This is what I mean by the Tacony in me, an attitude I’ll never be without.
Anyway, young rude men and I are natural enemies, and for some, it seems, my very existence causes stress enough to ensure confrontation. Strangely, art – things like song, dance and poetry – art is often central to these confrontations. I mean who would have thought there could be such behavior at, of all places, a Bob Dylan concert? One possible answer to the query is that my wife – who is ten years - and looks perhaps twenty - years my junior – my wife is so present – is such a presence - and of such Western American beauty that the jealous and frustrated testosterone of youth might prompt a fool to disregard the wisdom of the old Irish adage: It is Death to be a Poet, Death to love a Poet, and Death to mock a Poet.
But, then, Marcia is not with me on this Denver early April Poetry Festival day at Metro State in 1993, a day that, as fate would have it, is also opening day for Denver’s new National Baseball League franchise team, the Colorado Rockies. Rather, I am with Woody Hildebrand, a Wobbly of a friend who is the Denver correspondent for The Nation, the newspaper of the IWW, the International Workers of the World. Woody has invited me to participate in a poetry festival on the Auraria campus sponsored by the Metro State Poetry Club, a student group that Woody had organized and for which he had done the paperwork with the dean’s office to gain access to the sundry perks of being a sanctioned student organization, two of which were (one:) funding and (two:) use of the Metropolitan State College Student Union, with its stage, sound board, microphones, bar, tables and chairs. Sanctioned student organizations could reserve The Union for special events such as football team fundraisers, small musical concerts and literary events, and when his application for the funding of the Poetry Club Festival had been granted in October, Woody had reserved the Student Union for the first Monday in April.
Now Woody and I have a certain solidarity engendered by our practice of the poetic arts, and we share an appreciation for anarchy, mischief and mirth, seeing each other as makers of ritual art. The menagerie of our collective allusions includes pranksters with Pan flutes calling to wolves, carnival geeks, a JW Man in eye-dazzling striped pants, a Goddess by the name of Earth. Between us, we have all nine Muses – all the phases of Diana – covered. We two men live quite differently – I, a husband, father, and entrepreneur; he, an unmarried union man, postal worker – but when we are together we are brothers, which is why Woody has asked me to headline his event. Woody’s access to the Poetry Club’s share of student activity funds means my appearance at the festival is a paid gig. So rare is it to be paid real dollars to read poetry in this town, I am truly honored and should shout it from the rooftops: Poet Paid to Read! Woody has put five months into promotion and when I arrive early outside The Union, it appears his efforts have paid off. There’s already a sizeable crowd and with the exception of a few naysaying, stick-in-the-mud curmudgeons amongst my friends and contemporaries, the entirety of the Denver poetry scene is present. Judging by the comrade-ery and enthusiasm of the gathered presenters and attendees milling about this crisp mile high morning on the Union plaza, I wouldn’t have thought for a minute that the confluence of age, art and alcohol might despoil the day.
When I enter the Union and find Woody, I am as happy for Mr. Hildebrand as a friend can be, although he soon confides in me that trouble is brewing, trouble, that is, with the manager of the Union, the bartender, Bob. And the source of the trouble is this: Bob the Bartender is expecting a large crowd of students to fill the Student Union to watch the Rockies game on the big screen TVs that adorn the wall, both sides, close aside the stage where we poets will read. Bob claims ignorance of the Poetry Club’s reservation despite the fact that a large poster announcing the festival adorns the community bulletin board behind him. The uncompromising tension between Woody and Mr. Manager is fraught with the difference between sport spectators cheering their team and performing artists engaging attention. Woody insists the room is reserved for the Poetry Festival while the bartender maintains he will not be turning off the big screens, disappointing baseball fans and losing a great day of tips.
Into the impasse I step and broker a deal. Simply, I suggest, turn off the sound of the televisions. That way the poetry festival can go on while students who want to watch the Rockies can do just that: watch, as one would a baseball game at the stadium. The alternative: poets reading aloud from the stage as aside them the New York Met’s hometown broadcaster in Manhattan prattles on about the nuances of the game, two such audibles at once, simply will not work. When neither Woody nor Bob respond to my suggestion – they are lost in planning further negotiation – I assert the matter settled with “Cool, let the poetry begin” and walk away.
When a grinning Woody - with his two fingers prominently crossed - catches up with me, he says with a mock innocence, “Geez, I had no idea today was the inaugural of The Rockies.” Did I mention Woody is wearing a New York Mets baseball cap?
Both the festival and the game begin at noon, Mountain Time. Fans of baseball and poetry fill the Student Union. As the third reading poet in the festival lineup, I take the stage just as The Colorado Rockies begin their third time at bat. So far the poetry festival attendees and the baseball fans have co-existed amicably, with neither event actually preventing enjoyment of the other. Sadly, three is not one of my lucky numbers, and when I commence to read the third in my series of thirteen poems, I hear and am interrupted with “Get off the stage Old Man,” a request I patently ignore. During the rest of my performance other derogatory comments are voiced by three student baseball fans, all of which and whom I ignore until I am done. When I do finish, all eyes and ears are upon me. Two things I know: (one) my poetry rocked and (two) my response to the hecklers will be part of the record of this day as half the people in the room are writers. After the applause dies down I let Tacony infuse the artist, proceeding directly to the table where the three hecklers are sitting, each with a pitcher of Coors on the table and a glass in their hand. I don’t say anything. I just stare first at one, and then the second, and then the third, wondering, bemused, if these three young men are up for the comeuppance I’ll exact as I make a Charlie Chaplin kind of move: I use a stiffened right leg and knee to “accidentally” cause the table to tip, towards the three of them, a move so unobservable no one could swear it was anything but an accident. The tipped beer pitchers spill into all of the three fools laps. Indignant, Outraged and Dumb jump up from their chairs with the crotches of their imported cargo pants now soaked with local non-union beer. I mouth a phony apology in their direction and wink before turning my back on them. When they begin whining loudly and yelling their assertion that it was no accident, disturbing everyone with their commotion, and the big mouth of the trinity threatens “I’ll kick your ass,” a campus security guard who had witnessed their earlier actions confiscates their Student Union IDs and eighty-sixes them from the Union for the remainder of the school year.
Again, I didn’t lift a finger although I did lift my leg.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
LUCY & EDDIE
Living through promiscuity ain’t easy. I was Lucky with a capital L. The Lady herself in the flesh has often been with me. Simply said, call her Lady Luck, the lightening of coincidence, against all odds, that there’s any sense at all.
Most times her revelation lies within the cleavage of a smile, the way a name is spoken, in the rapture of a moment of delight. Gazing the depths. Irises and fortuitous coincidence. Liars conspiring to truth. Lady Luck is an assemblage of powers gathered, a diffusion of sweet surrender, engulfed by the illusion of a goddess watching out and stacking the deck for you.
Lucia was Lady Luck in the flesh for sure. She could get a ride to anywhere. An outrageous beauty with a most sexy voice I wanted her for mountain swim and desert, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Together we hitchhiked six weeks from the Delaware River to the Grand Canyon and back to New York, haphazard affairs, both our love and our luck (- and neither of us had read Kerouac!)
To label our interests at the time, I would say that Lucia was into traveling and foreign movies. Me(?), . . . inspired by Dylan, I had sought out the inspiration of women, desired to understand the mysteries of them, was on a quest, in search of another to luck into love with, to meld with and marry, my mate.
We meet hitchhiking the weekend of the Fourth of July in a campground on Cape Hatteras. She is thumbing back to New York with three other women, namely, with her good friend, Elizabeth, and Liz’s younger sister, Becky, along with Becky’s friend, Carolyn. Me, I am traveling alone, off on a great adventure, my possessions in my backpack, destination, nowhere home. It is Lucia gives direction, albeit impetuously, to my quest; it is her spin that puts, it seems, the wind at our back and the especial moments within reach. She keeps open the window to our shot at love right up until we touch down in Manhattan at summer’s end.
The night we meet, the cape - Cape Hatteras, North Carolina - is ripe with mosquitoes. This weekend millions must have hatched. The lack of a breeze exacerbates the situation. An odd combination of climatic factors has spawned the swarm. It is especially odd that mosquitoes would even be sixty miles out in the Atlantic amid all this roiling water and the usually attendant air movement off the surf.
The mosquitoes are so bad, I have been sitting in my tent ever since the sun went down, for more than a couple of hours. A worried cloud of doubt at the worth of the adventure I am on depresses me. I have no actual plans. I am not following in anyone’s footsteps that I know of. I guess I am hiding out as I have trouble dealing with the blame of the taboos I have broken. I can’t speak again with the lawyers. With my wife. With my lover and her F.B.I. husband, the trouble of the tangled web I helped weave in that affair. The venereal ties. And now my best friend is making it with my someday-to-be ex back in Wenona in the house I’ve spent years restoring. I’ve already put my signature on papers to be free. I’ve signed over the house for one cent, as in one penny, bullied by the lawyers into paying for my infidelity. Last time I went by the locks had been changed. “Your adulterous ass ain’t welcome” had been the last phone hang up I’d heard. Now just an irrelevant part of personal history: the grape arbor, the attic view of the bird sanctuary, the pool, the dog, the summers spent in sweaty restoration; only history: the attempt at love eternal, six years married through college and early careers. The school where I work, its faculty, seems tainted now that I’ve opened the floodgates to infidelity and watered the roots of incestuous-ness inherent in any group of people.
So the plan is to hitchhike south or west, wherever the ride might take me. Pitch a tent on mountain top if need be, I am prepared, as I’ve purchased a used French-made mountain-climber backpack, two light weight sleeping bags that can be zipped together, and a mountain tent for two, hoping that somewhere along the way I’ll find someone to adventure with me.
But here I am, hiding in my tent from mosquitoes!
In a weak moment of my resolve, I decide to call Cecelia even though I know in my heart of hearts she is not the companion of my dreams, although she is the last woman to whom the door to my heart has opened, the key to which, as Stevenson says, “Is always on the inside;” likewise, hers, too, has been unlocked. No, the companion of my dreams has something to do with the Babe, the Sara of Song, the cheerleader on the other side, as she shapes herself in my consciousness, an aboriginal dream, an Indian dream, of Little White Dove, Miss Other Locale. Meanwhile when it comes to Cecelia and me: our fingers are ready to worship each other, our mouths know how to adore. Reciprocal totems in search of white light release, C and I will always be good friends.
So I’m sitting in my tent, the pounding surf crashing in the humid, salty air, air so saturated with moisture that the mosquitoes almost seem to ride the vapors, and I decide that I need to talk with Cecelia to see if she might call me to her. For if Cecelia is home at her parents’ house in Altura Vista, I’ll forgo my dance with chance and play it safe, conceive a plan with her welcoming arms, that beautiful demure-ity, my destination. Fear of more peril than biting insects comes into play as I consider my options. I can easily invent excuses to explain the early ending of my great adventure to all those I’ve left behind, my sisters and pals. Hell the close call with the trooper in Delaware is reason enough. My stash is worth years of trouble should I be busted for it.
I decide to walk the campground in search of a phone. On the East Coast, even out on the cape, civilization and the primordial beach are almost inseparable, the cultivated and the wild, as is the patterned randomness of intersecting lives.
I change from my bathing suit to my jeans and put on a long sleeve blue denim work shirt to ward off the swarms. With my sandals I put on socks. It must be still near ninety even though it’s gotta be somewhere near midnight. I crawl outside and immediately inhale through my nose what seems like a swat team of insects. I beat a retreat, scramble back into my tent through its zippered netting and gather my thoughts. Somehow the compelling reasons to call Cecelia no longer are the issue here, rather now I want to overcome the bugs. I won’t be stymied in my quest by no little blood-suckers, I say aloud. Breathe deeply and slowly, I tell myself. Use the stuff of yoga. Carry your own weather with you. Believe the shaman stuff of recent reading.
I focus on my breathing, absorbing the serenity that shadows being alone. I calm down and soon return to the swamp of breeze-less air outside my tent. I fluff my natural ‘fro to hang evenly around my neck to hide the mosquito meat and blood beneath. My long curls shield my forehead; likewise, my ears and the back of my neck. I’ve only my hands and my throat and face beneath my eyes exposed. I breathe slowly and deeply, counting to insure that it takes twice as long to exhale as it does to inhale, and head toward the southern end of the campground toward a lone electric light which beckons me toward what I hope will prove to be a slice of civilization that includes a pay phone. I figure it probably marks a restroom for the campground. After a few yoga breath movements, I realize I can handle the bugs. At least they aren’t Wildwoods-by-the-Sea wetlands green head flies, and they seem smaller than the breeds I’d known in Jersey where the joke is that mosquitoes there can’t get in your windows because their wings are too big. And as my night vision comes into play, my eyes adjust to the moisture softened moonlight that but barely filters through the humidity. Although everyone’s campsite is marked, and the grid like design of the authority in charge of the campground is quite rigid, the tents, some glowing from within, in their assorted shapes and sizes, appear randomly placed. A hodgepodge, I think. Somewhere a flute is being played. So close is the sea, as I stroll, I imagine other beaches I have read about, the beach of the Bedouin, the blonde sand to match the hair of California girls, the magus beach of Greece. I reach the swell of a dune when I realize I have risen somehow above the insect swarm. I can see over all the tents and watch less misty than the beach itself the boisterous and patterned turgid cape surf sea, watch and sense its random impulsive wave, its power and its danger, oh how the sea seems to want to overtake the land, especially so far from the mainland as Cape Hatteras is. Belladonna-like, the winds and clouds above, those between me and that slipper-ed moon, they part, and I sense for the first time this summer the presence of stars, the numerous millions.
So I’m alive, and I’m reminded that things change, that ocean surf can crash violently on the shore, that in physics it’s the randomness that matters. I have a number of other now forgotten speculations related to the stars and sleeping campers down below, ruminations about my place among them, my place at any gathering. It’s always been compassion, my diplomatic understanding of others, and my disbelief when it comes to what it seems the majority believe, these three are what keeps me on the outside where the poet lives. Being outside lets me focus on what might lie within.
I turn from this vision of the stars and sea and look down the other side of the dune to where I expect to catch some sight of the bathrooms and the electric light I’d used to guide me and see that it illuminates a scene that someday I hope to paint: a governmental issue cinder block facility with screened vents at roof line, two doors, one marked Men the other Women, between which rises one tall pole with mercury vapor light attached, and wah la! . . . a pay phone that is quite the object of attention as a line of perhaps a dozen people wait to use it. I take my place, lucky thirteen, in line.
Other people are hanging out, dealing with the heat, waiting for friends or family to finish in the restrooms or finish with the phone, contending with the mosquitoes, which, for me, are back since having descended from the dune top. A teenage girl sitting atop a pile of sleeping bags is busy with her hands swatting at the mosquitoes that have already made a mess of her thighs and calves. She unties one of the bags she sits on and then with it she covers herself completely. Another teenager and a tall dark haired woman join her, and they, too, wrap themselves in their bags to fend off the insects.
I realize I might have to wait an hour to use the phone because I think a lot of people must be conspiring with distant loves via AT&T. The bugs harry and hurry most people on their way after using the phone, but as I move up in line to number nine, I note a pronounced dismay, some annoyance and perturbation, some blues, possesses the woman who just got off the phone. I hear her mention to her companions, the three women making like turtles with their bodies hidden under down with their toes sticking out, that “No one answered.” From the discussion I gather they cannot count on any money to be wired and thus the possibility of checking into a motel is out, not having ten dollars between them. Exasperation and the child beneath the surface prompt a whine in the voice of the youngest. “I’m so tired,” she moans, as obviously they all are. I piece together from their remarks that they have been hitchhiking since early that morning; thus with the exception of time in sedans, most of their time has been spent exposed to the elements, under the sun of July amid the heat of the South (Georgia mostly), and now they must suffer the insect-laden, sea salt air, and all they have with them apparently are sleeping bags, the clothes they wear, and a few accouterments of womanly hygiene: combs, brushes, toothbrushes, etceteras, in assorted shoulder bags.
It is Carolyn who speaks to me. Her teenage bravado and New York sense of irony remind me of the many high school students in my life about whom I have mused lustfully. I am alerted to the possibility of further interaction with these four most beautiful women.
“Hey, excuse me, but do you have a place where we can sleep tonight? I mean, can we sleep in your car? Please. We got bags, we just ain’t got no tent, and we got to sleep out of reach of these mosquitoes! These things she asks and asserts all with a most flirtatious pout, childlike and sultry, although that’s perhaps just the way I read her genuine desperation. She goes on before I can respond to introduce to me her friends with a quick run down of how they came to be here, on the beach with nowhere to sleep.
I tell them my name. Eddie. After six years of teaching I’ve grown used to the sound of Mr. Mc Bard, and that I chose to introduce myself as Eddie surprises me. I’ve somehow resurrected an old childhood moniker of mine, as that’s what the kids I grew up with called me, although my given first name is Edwin.
“Well, Eddie, what are you doing here on a night like this? Are you a traveler like our teacher friend here, Lucia?”
Lucia is the raven-haired woman who’d I’d just but glimpsed as she covered herself with the sleeping bag moments before. She unwraps her face and smiles up at me from where she sits on the sand. The door to coincidence is opened with Carolyn’s mention of Lucia’s occupation, and I step through when I reply that I am a teacher too.
Whatever fears there might have been about these four girls hooking up with me evaporate with the quick rap I give them about my being a teacher off on a great adventure to wherever.
Eventually I offer a solution to their dilemma.
“Look,” I say, “I don't have a car; I just have a small nylon tent. I don't know how comfortable it would be for five of us, but you're welcome to give it a try.” I feel something more than just that slivered moon is rising. The metaphor that best describes the prospect of me sleeping in that little tent with four women ranging in age from seventeen to twenty may have something to do with a rising Venus above all the clam shells on the beach. Having been raised by a loving mother and three older sisters I have always enjoyed the company of women. The crowded sleeping arrangement would be far better than the alternative of sleeping with the mosquitoes. And I offer my hand to Lucia who seems to be the oldest of the women, and who, according to Carolyn, is responsible for their predicament, as it had been Lucia’s idea, her desire to sleep on the beach. At her lead they had detoured from their intention of returning to New York to hitchhike out of their way down the Cape. When she arises from her sitting position in the sand, I am devoured by her sensuality, the casual revelation of her full frame, the exposed midriff of her Sicilian flesh, her Italian mahogany eyes, her waterfall of thick black hair that curls just above her braless breasts.
“Thank you, Eddie,” she says in her syrupy, petulant way. It is because of the way she looks at me, I know I won’t be making that phone call to Cecelia. Not tomorrow, not ever again.
“Aren’t you going to use the phone?” she asks.
It isn’t really a lie when I say, “I think it’s too late.”
I am quite impressed by the adventurous spirits of Liz, Lucia, Becky and Carolyn. They’ve been hitchhiking the last three weeks all over the South as Liz and Becky had received money from their father in Georgia who was estranged from their mother in New York, to visit him in Gay, Georgia, where he worked in the yards. It had been Lucia’s idea that they hitchhike and thereby save the money the two sisters would have spent on bus fare. They’ve stretched a one week adventure into three, but they are, with the exception of Lucia, now anxious to return to the Long Island suburbs where Becky and Carolyn can tell of their adventures and their daring to their high school friends and Liz will prepare for her upcoming senior year at Columbia. They tell of mostly being picked up by traveling families. Their favorite three days were spent on a Hippie bus with a group of people who were more or less heading to Colorado to join a commune in the mountains west of Walsenburg, but the Smokey Mountains had waylaid them and they’d partied long and high and long-haired.
At the top of the hill on our way to my tent we gaze on the carnival of moonlight washed tents below. Many still have lights on inside them; it is a modern sojourner’s scene, American style.
When we get to my tent, I unzip the screening and the four all crawl inside. I admire each derriere scamper in, as only a horny traveling man on a great adventure can, and follow.
I have a small electric lantern and I turn it on and hang it from a loop sown into the seam of the roof of the tent. All four women as if on cue commence to deal with their hair, trying with fingers and combs to make sense of their sun scorched, tangled tresses, perhaps to rid their hair of any clinging pesky mosquitoes. Lucia has a brush and she sits closest to me. There isn’t a lot of arm room for her to brush her hair, given its length, and without asking, I take the brush from her hand and bid her scoot round so her back is to me. I brush her hair, careful to let my fingers bus her nape as I gather it. As I comb I watch the others struggle with theirs. After a while I switch from brushing Lucia’s hair to gently kneading the muscles along her shoulder tops and continue soaking up the scene of the three younger women preparing for sleep. I offer each of them something from my backpack to serve as a pillow for them. Carolyn gets my extra jeans, Liz the down parka I’d brought for the mountains I hoped to encounter, and Becky the second sleeping bag I carry. When Liz and Becky and Carolyn are done with their sleep preparations and preening, I turn out the light.
Lucia sits in between my legs. Much of my spirit is aroused, flowing cock-ward, and careful not to let her note its growth, I lean forward and whisper the question, “Would you like to get high?” She turns around, puts her fingers to her lips, points at the tent flap and smiles. We step outside and fall for each other in such a way, we will spend sparkling time together. Not only do we love each other in the flesh, even more so, I think we love the very idea of each other.
The summer of 1974, pot is the medium, the grease, the web, the secret handshake, the trails illuminated, and when Lucia and I step outside, we partake of the Columbian reefer I have with me. I remark how it hangs in the air and seems to keep the mosquitoes away. Lucia notices and remarks that there are other clouds about, and we both sort of snicker at the connection we feel with the sources of all those other clouds that mingle in the stillness of the summer. Even if it isn’t true, I feel that there are others like me in this campground out on a great adventure. These and other relaxed intuitions, I babble on while we stand there by the tent smoking.
With an amused smile she accents her disbelief with a question she answers herself.
“You mean it, don't you, what you just said, that there are a lot of travelers in this campground? Well, most of them are on vacation. That’s different from traveling. Believe me, I know, I’ve traveled. And there’s only one way to travel and that’s like you, by whim, by thumb, by wit if some special place calls. I love being somewhere different every night. Last summer I hitchhiked all over Italy. I even hitchhiked in Africa where it’s totally illegal.”
“Shit, it’s illegal here, too, in many states. I got busted for hitchhiking two days ago in Delaware. I had to bus it out of Dover. The cops made me buy a ticket.”
“I’d love to hitchhike in South America, in Chile. Can you imagine,” she wonders, “what those mountains must be like? Clouds below you, the sheep, the beautiful parkas. Have you ever seen photographs or movies of Andean people? Their hair is thick and black and their eyes are round like their faces, God, the men are gorgeous on their lamas. Just beautiful. And can you imagine playing flute with the old women there in some ancient Indian place around a sipapu? When I go to Manhattan in September to substitute teach, I’m going to study the flute in night school at Columbia.”
Now all the while that I stand there as she prattles on about South America, I study her face. There is this strong Italian stature to it, I mean Lucia is a big girl, twenty and maybe still growing, an inch or two beyond six feet, which puts my eyes at a level with her throat, where her long tanned neck undulates with the movement of her vocalizations. I will grow to adore her throat, but getting back to her face, it is strong, but her features are round rather than broad, her nose almost bird-like in its Romanesque length. Her eyes sparkle as she talks, and, fueled by her enthusiasm, I am imbued with a sense of hope.
When she pauses and asks me what I want to do with the roach that has gone out in her fingers, a sudden yawn is followed by my first sight of her glorious stretching. Lioness like somehow, I think, the way she shakes her hair.
I stash the roach and bend to unzip the zipper. The mosquitoes are not that deterred by the fragrance. A week on the road and my odor, I’m sure, entices them. As I squat to attend to the bottom horizontal zippers, Lucia squats also and whispers, “That was nice. Let’s go swimming together in the morning, OK?”
“Sounds great,” I say and add, “And I don’t think the mosquitoes will be around in the morning. We got to both dream of a breeze, or of the sea washing them away.”
We both crawl into the tent where the three girls are sleeping soundly. I have to turn on the light again to determine where Lucia and I might fit in, and the light disturbs the sleeping girls not a twit. I make a quick intimate study of each of their faces and realize the similarity of both Liz and her sister’s features. I conclude they are Irish as Patty’s Pig, given the pug of their noses, the freckled complexions. Carolyn, on the other hand, her features are less place-able, her ethnicity a hard one to tag. Her dark hair, as does Lucia's, makes me think of a Mediterranean lineage. I’ll have to ask her in the morning about her background.
The only way Lucia and I can fit into the arrangement of arms and limbs is for her to lie in the center. She nuzzles her back into Liz and prods her toward the side of the tent and her sister. Then she wakes up Carolyn and asks her to inch closer to her side of the tent. I then lay down, my back to Lucia, as that’s the only way I can fit. Lucia has to curve her body just to fit in my tent. I fall asleep after an hour of devouring the scent of the four women who encase me, my ears full of the sound of their breathing. I study Carolyn’s face in profile as she sleeps on her back. I come to the conclusion she is Yugoslavian or Greek just before I fall to sleep.
Five hours later I awake to the coffee of my whispered name. Lucia likes to drag out certain words in her everyday speech, and already she has tenderized my name. The way her pout-y lips say my name is just so sexy. More than once some months from now I’ll call in sick and head north to visit her in the Village after hearing her say my name on the phone.
“Eddie,” she is lisping in her North Jersey accent. “Eddie . . . Eddie.”
When I uncurl and turn to face her, she is kneeling and already out of her bag. She takes me by surprise with a quick, light kiss on my lips and then she scats like a cat out of the tent. She is still dressed in long jeans and red flannel shirt with tails tied to expose her midriff. Outside the tent, the faintest light of dawn is perceptible in the east toward which the tent’s opening faces. I notice the flap moves a bit with a breeze that seems to be coming from the ocean which lies perhaps two hundred yards away.
I pop up to follow but the zipper of my sleeping bag snags Carolyn’s hair, and she wakes to the tug of it. “Sorry,” I whisper, then un-snag her hair. She looks now even younger than she had last night, and her teenage bravado comes not into play. In that instant of awakening she seems for some coy reason embarrassed, perhaps just startled by the sight of my hairy bare chest in such proximity.
“I’m going swimming with Lucia. Do you want to swim with us?”
“No thanks, I’m afraid of the water. I don’t know how to swim. Anyway, I want to sleep ‘til noon.”
I crawl out of the tent. Lucia is standing on the path at the top of the small series of dunes that separate the dry sand of the campground from the actual beach. Lucia turns and sees that I am on my way and then commences to remove first her shirt and next her shorts, underwear and all, in one deft stepping out of it. The sun which just then pops over the horizon back-lights her as only such scenes can be back lit. Then she disappears from view as she descends the other side of the dune.
I race up the dune and scan all around to see if there isn’t anyone else up yet, anyone out walking, not out of shyness but out of caution as I had noticed the posted warning: No Nude Bathing, on the kiosk where I paid my camping fee the previous evening.
I step out of my cutoffs and BVDs, leap seaward off the top of the dune, and run after Lucia as fast as I
have ever run. She has fifty yards on me when I start after her, but by the time my feet first hit water I am but a dozen yards behind her. She dives into the waves and begins swimming out from the beach. I am but one wave behind her as I dive over the surf. Out past the breakers I catch up with her. Dog paddling, she has turned to face me. I swim like a baby to its mother, right up against her. Her breasts are buoyed by the buoyant salt sea. Her long hair lies on the water behind her, calamari-like. I kiss her tentatively on the lips and embrace her with both my arms. Of course, we sink under the water and have to let go of each other to regain the surface.
We kiss again, this time using our arms and our feet to stay afloat. Only our lips and our tongues touch. We kiss like this for a minute or two, all the while staring intently into each other’s eyes, as if scrutinizing irises to determine each other’s ultimate intention, grading the effect of our kissing on each other’s dilation.
Suddenly Lucia’s eyes widen and reflect a terror, as if she has just remembered something horrible, something quite contrary to the emotions of the moment. She pulls back and cries, “The beach! Look how far out we've come!”
I turn around in the water and instantly understand the panic I saw in her eyes. We are a good half mile out and quite north of the campground.
We both start swimming toward where we had entered the surf. We soon realize, however, that we will make better progress if we swim toward the beach at an angle northward. Believe me, the terror of our situation is real. The water behaves differently sixty miles offshore than it does where it meets the mainland. Even as we make our way toward the cape, the area of water that we progress in moves independent of our efforts away from land. With each advance west, we drift north. There’s no time now for anything but strong swimming and after intense effort we are back to the swell of the waves just east of the breakers. I swim next to her and touch her shoulder with my hand. She turns her head and looks at me. From under the water her hand finds its way to my chest. She holds me at arms length for a moment and then turns sprinting freestyle toward the beach. We both catch the next wave and body surf the last thirty yards. We are adrenalized when we hit shore. Unfortunately we are almost a mile north of where we started. And naked. Between us and our clothes there are surely going to be people.
By now the sun is a good twenty degrees above the horizon and high noon’s scorch and blaze and bake are augured in the warmth that our wet white bodies suck out of the atmosphere. I’m strolling naked with a naked young woman along the beach of a dangerous shore. Many are the people who have drowned in this area. Lucia and I, ourselves, separate yet together, just underwent a test of our strengths and our mutual luck, perhaps a test of our stupidity, and abreast of one another we have passed. Running Bear and Little White Dove maybe wind up not drowning after all; maybe they just move further up-river, much the same way that we had drifted north along the cape. Lucky we are that we hadn’t been part of a volume of water rolling eastward.
A threesome, I assume they are a family of husband, wife and daughter, approaches us from the south. A white sheep dog makes passes at the waves while bounding in front of them. It’s fetching a frisbee the child is throwing.
Lucia is still walking toward them, perhaps unaware of her own nakedness, although I’m sure like me she is as aware of mine as I am of hers. It’s extraordinary and not often one gets to walk naked with someone they’ve just met, having just survived some Poseidon misadventure, except, perhaps, when the name of the game is love quest, at stake, the rule-less worship betwixt lovers, the whole kit and caboodle, marriage and the baby carriage, fire, liar, co-conspire, rattle them random the odds about this.
As we draw close to the family, I bump and direct Lucia toward the water. It’s not that I don’t want them to see me, I just worry about being hassled, after all, it is some US Department of Something sanctioned campground. It isn’t a nudist colony.
“Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, . . . let’s just hang in the water and let them pass by. I promise I’ll keep my feet on the bottom.”
As the family passes by us we stand, in the raging surf, our feet sinking first this way then that in the sand, slammed up against one another, kissing again, this time with more than our lips touching. From a short distance past us, the wife looks back and waves as if inured and used to seeing naked people kissing in the surf. A lot of people are up ahead now so we fight the undertow and surf the last half-mile as we progress south, waist-deep in the water, to the area of the campground. It isn’t so much that the water hides our nakedness, it is just that we remain distanced from the beachcombers and dog walkers, the distance a function of our growing awareness of our physical selves, our animal selves, the attraction of each to each.
Eventually we get back to the vicinity of where we think we left our clothing and casually stroll the last hundred yards across the open beach to retrieve it. We ascend the dune and step smack into the plain view of dozens of people who are stirring below us in the campground, watching the dawn, going toward and from the john, just lounging, boiling water for coffee, and other early-morning campground things. We’ve stepped naked onto an elevated stage of anyone looking eastward, as most are. And our clothes are gone, or so we think, until Lucia spots the red of her flannel shirt some distance away, on a further dune, on the other side of the trail from the campground to the beach. Perhaps perked by the titillation of exhibitionism, we saunter slowly down one dune and up the next, dress on top of the hill as casually as if we are putting on hats, and zigzag our way in the direction of my tent. I walk aside Lucia, not hand in hand or anything like that, for it is as if we know our acts together only mean something to us. Prior to this morning I have never been naked in such a public way. An appreciation for the lifestyle of hot springs and hot tubs will come later.
I had arrived right before dark the night before and even though I had walked from my site to the phone, I have been mostly confused about the layout and relation of the camp to what lies further south, but now in the morning light after the drifting, the swimming and the walking, I am getting a good sense of how the land lies, of how the sea and sky and cape relate.
To the north I can see, a few miles off, the Hatteras Lighthouse. I know it to be a tourist attraction of sorts, a designated historical site having to do with the many ship-wrecks and heroic rescues that have occurred nearby. To the south the cape appears to be curving ever so slightly westwards. To the west the sand rises, first to the level of the dunes where dune grass grows, and then to the level of the highway which connects horizontally with a sky of unbroken blue. Beyond that I know there to be sixty miles of deep ocean between here and Charleston.
I am instantly aware that other people turn their heads to follow the image of Lucia and me as we pick our path back. Watching Lucia do anything when she is as up as she is now is like watching the animal within the flesh, flair of the lion, whims of the mare, smile of a dolphin, the wings of a bird.
Just as I’m trying to figure out what to say next, Lucia suggests, “Let’s hitchhike down to the point and up to that lighthouse,” and then adds, “Probably, Liz and the girls will want to go too.” Like I am, she, too, is in awe of the possibilities of where we might take this attraction between us, and she endeavors to keep open the option of our adventure amid her loyalties and connexus with the other women. “I know they’re all in a hurry to get home. I hope I can convince them to hang here at the beach awhile. I have until September before I move to New York.”
Instinctively I know somehow her last statement harbors a question. Something to do with me, with my quest. She’s hinting at her availability. It is a moment to be seized before it is absorbed in that brilliant blue of opportunity gone.
“Hey, do you want to travel with me? Hitchhike together. I got what it takes, camp stuff for two?”
Lucia always has a powerful effect on people, especially men. She is a head turner, charismatic in a sensual, animal way. Still a certain shyness possesses her when it comes to men. Not to be forgotten: we haven’t known each other but for the last eight hours, during which five of those we’d slept. It’s no wonder she stammers her response.
“Eddie, I . . . I . . . I'd love to go hitchhiking with . . . with you, but I’m the one that convinced Liz to hitchhike rather than ride the bus to and from Georgia. I got to see them safely back to Long Island. I got to go with them. Besides, I have to start looking now for an apartment for the fall. But, God, I’d love to go with you.”
The window of opportunity for more time coincidental is closing.
I keep the possibility of a date open with “How about I meet you somewhere in a week or so? New York, Long Island, wherever. Once you find a place, what will you do for the rest of the summer?”
“Well, believe it or not, I'm hoping to hitchhike to Boston where I might bum a boat ride to Jamaica. Americans are living on the beach there, smoking ganja, hanging out in communes, being artists. The Georgia hippies told us all about the scene there. Seems some members of a commune that helped to build the stage for Woodstock got stranded in Puerto Rico after the music festival promoter they were working for lost his backing. Anyway, the guy who told us said that I'd surely be welcome there.”
Do I want to go to Jamaica? Would I go with her there? Is she hinting that she’d like me to join her? As I juggle these considerations, tempted to resign myself to traveling alone, she puts the stops on the diminishing window before it closes. Lucia Cilento muses aloud that she’d also love to see the Rockies.
I leap through with “If you’re up for it, so am I,” and I add, “We’ll rendezvous in . . .”
“Ridgeway, New Jersey, at my mother’s house. I’ll give you the phone number before we leave.”
When we get back to my tent, which now looks even smaller than it did the day before, Liz and Becky are up and ready for the day, waiting for our return. Liz has some good news. She had walked to the parking lot up on the highway and looked for vans with New York plates, hoping to find someone who’d take them back to Long Island, and she’d met a man and woman who could.
“Lucky for me,” she goes on, “but they won’t be going back until tomorrow. If we want to ride with them, we got to be in the parking lot at eight in the morning. What do you think? Should we wait until tomorrow or should we start hitchhiking this morning to give ourselves plenty of time?”
Before Lucia can reply, I interject, “You shouldn’t leave this morning. You just got here last night. You haven’t even been down to the water yet. This is a beautiful place. Hey, besides, Lucy and I were hoping you would hitchhike with us up to the lighthouse and down to the point.” I sweeten the deal. “I’ll let you have my tent tonight. I was going to get a room at the Last Motel one night while I was here anyway, before I head out, to get the sand out of my hair and the salt off my skin. I’ll do the motel thing tonight. You can have the tent to yourselves.”
Lucia and Liz look at each other like the best friends they are. Their eyes make inferences and ask questions whose answers are found in the breath of the opened eyelid, in the sparkle of the cornea, in the line of eyebrow raised. Liz takes the lead, knowing well Lucia’s genuine shyness, knowing Lucia would fret about my veiled proposition.
Liz responds to my suggestion. “I guess it’s settled. We’ll ride back in the van tomorrow. Now, let’s wake up Carolyn and walk up to the motel camp store and find some food for breakfast.”
The ascent of the corkscrew staircase to the top of the tower augurs the high Colorado hikes of late summer. A line of tourists ten minutes ahead of us snakes its way above us, up the steep, indeed, arduously narrow, wooden stairway. The voice of their exertions floats down the stairwell to reach us at the bottom. A chestnut banister clings, as it spirals upward, a man made vine climbing to the light at the top of the wall of pre-Civil War quarried stone. Leading the way I set an easy pace, for the slope is steep and the risers high. I know I am on display from the rear, the male among four females, a lad off to ritual, perhaps in the company of a reincarnated Diana, in the role of her new beaux, along with her trinity of friends, the Fates, for all I know. Lucia is beneath the other girls in our line of ascent; still I sense her eyes upon me even when I’m out of sight, around, beyond the curve of wending stairwell. The last of the tourists who’d gone in before us during the ten o’clock hour pass us going down as we near the top, so when we reach the keeper’s watch room below the light room, we find we have it all to ourselves.
The view from the windows of the lighthouse is awesome as the narrow width of the cape, its vulnerability to swollen sea, its fragility, is most apparent. Despite the generally placid July Atlantic that is within view, instantly I know I wouldn’t want to be here on this ribbon of land, this far out in the Atlantic, during raucous weather. But it’s incredibly summery today, as summery as the tie-dyed tee shirt the boyish Becky wears. An airplane drifts towards us from the north, flying slowly and trailing a sign advertising some Cape Hatteras delight. On one of the walls between the windows facing east and seaward, a plaque details the names of those who have died trying to rescue others in these Hatteras waters. Liz remarks that many, most of them, in fact, have the same last name, McKrue, a family that as a ledger on a table below affirms still involves itself in the profession of rescuing shipwrecked sailors. In my mind I imagine the look of a McKrue: the smoking pipe in ocean salted, weather beaten hands, the draw of the apparatus curved like the neck of a swan, the sterling vision of those blue eyes below the widow’s peak of wavy hair, the stained tobacco teeth, an acute feel for the weather in the freckled hands that hold the match, a ponder-er, head full of star maps and charted shoals and coastal landmarks. As this and many of my further adventures lead me to believe: anywhere anyone goes, it seems there’s a family got an understanding of and a lock on the land, on the professions native to the geography of it. For good or for bad? I’m not sure, although I’d wager a McKrue will be ready to rescue shipwrecked sailors from the hazardous shoals a hundred years from now.
A wonder occurs: what geography of employment connects the Mc Bards, what common denominator is there among my clan? I’m scrolling through a mental list of the occupations of sundry aunts and uncles, trying to discern a web between them as I stare out at the horizon that fills my vision from periphery to periphery. Truckers, accountants, union men, government spies, convicted felons, and I realize that they all do have something in common, as perpetuity of motion gives similarity to every ocean wave. Uncle Bob, Dad, Uncle Ray, Aunt Mary, Mother, Vincent, the other Edwin Forrest, anyone of my family whom I call to memory, each and every one, loves to gamble. Pinochle, poker, horses, the numbers, anything to beat the odds. To the Mc Bards it is all about the pleasure of taking risks and winning!, beating the odds with a roll of the dice, a gamble paying off, the ticket at the window amid the noise of the track, and understanding the odds, gauging moves to order the overt randomness of a life into a kindness, simple as that. I imagine this is why these women have accompanied me here, have led me here, to this towering view of the sea, for a circumstantial thought, a question answered, a glimpse of my true nature in the ponder of a musing. If I ever have a kid, I think, I’ll call him Risk, or Lucky. Like this view, fifty-fifty, of sea and sky, I feel I have at least even odds of making something happen with this beautiful Lucia, who now stands on the balcony outside, an image that gives flesh to inspiration and recklessness simultaneously. Encouraged by a sullen but steady breeze, the door marked Keeper Only wings shut, as Lucia must have opened it and gained access to the outside balcony through it. The same slight gust also flutters Lucia’s hair in this vision of her, looking towards Africa one moment and Sweden the next. She exalts in the bluster, in the caress of the wind. Her profile would ennoble the prowl of a ship. She turns away from the sea and looks back into the interior through the window, first at me and then to her girlfriends aside me. She cups her hands around her lips and slowly mouths the words to some prophesy that includes Ireland as well as Sweden.
Liz joins Lucia on the small balcony, and I notice Lucia has a habit of leaning toward Liz whenever they talk, a gesture that is a function of their difference in height. Liz, like myself, is about five-eight. They speak together conspiratorially and then they both laugh before coming back inside. Lucia is almost blushing and she averts her face from mine to read the small print of the ledger. Becky and Carolyn have a peek at the view from the balcony in their turn, and then I go out alone.
The breeze and the warm sun are wondrous. I close my eyes against the late morning glare of light on the slate water, and then, squinting, with eyes shaded by a weave of fingers, I search the sea for sight of ships, but I see none. Just that airplane, now well past the campground, with its serpent of advertisement, flies languidly towards the extremity of the cape. I wonder at the distance to it, the distance to the horizon. A few miles? Ten? A hundred? How high the sky? has more meaning here. I have no experience nor perspective by which to judge distance here, for the water confounds me, knowing what I see on the sparkling surface, this disc, this record of shinning sea, with the cape but a scratch across it, is but a superficial minor aspect of the ocean’s totality, given the volume of it, the miracle of and diverse quantity of life fulfilling it, the mystery and the hunger, the power below the water’s surface. How far down to the wreck of the Santa Regina mentioned in the log of shipwrecks? How purposeful the lives of men who tend the sea? How like Sisyphus? How heroic? How like Pyrrhus? How extreme? The first ghost riders were sailors.
Back inside I find I’m alone; the women are gone. I hear squeals of laughter, the trill of girlish glee, and the pattern of racing feet going down the wooden stairs. Whereas it was a long haul coming up, it’s a goat’s delight going down, with gravity the drive, and the snake of a hand rail allows the assuredness of arm and hand to steady the momentum downward. When I reach bottom, before going outside, I check the registry we had signed coming in. I am still curious about Carolyn’s lineage. Ever since this morning when I’d startled and woke her, she has not looked me in the eye or spoken directly to me. Above Lucia Cilento I find Carolyn Ararat written in a neat calligraphy. The signatures of Liz and Becky look surprisingly dissimilar, although both resemble Palmer method Catholic. I've signed Eddie Mc Bard, leaving out the Forrest.
Outside the door to the lighthouse Carolyn is photographing Becky and Liz who are dancing in the sand with the surf and sky as backdrop. Lucia directs the sisters to stand facing each other, toe to toe. They are the same height although Becky at seventeen is slighter than Liz. Their profiles are strikingly similar and Lucia asks Carolyn to get a close-up of their faces, the sky between which she says, “Gives shape to a chalice of blue light.”
I step out of the shade and the coolness of the lighthouse. A group of people are queuing up in the shade of the tower to the north, waiting to be admitted by the caretaker at eleven. I walk over to Lucia and put my arm around her waist.
“Carolyn, would you take one of me and Lucy,” I suggest. But when Carolyn puts the camera up to her eye to focus, Lucia indicates with a push on my arm and a shove of the hips that she’d rather I wasn’t so familiar in front of the camera, in front of her friends. The mixed message of her desire to stand independent of me now after our morning together, like the mystery of the ocean’s depth and its contents, astounds me. A fool I am to think Lucia will reveal the treasure of herself as easily as she had allowed the first kiss of morning. There will be more delight than foreplay and orgasm when it comes to making love with Lucia, should she allow our flirtation to go that far. At first I attribute her seeming irritation with my forwardness to shyness in front of friends. Perhaps she is just not used to the familiarity of a man’s hand on her hip. A chant of beats, a four line poem, pops into my head
She could be virgin
She could be breeze
Lucia be forest
Be tree under me
Thumbing a ride for the five of us proves difficult so we split up. Lucia, Becky and Carolyn get a ride to the point in a car already crowded with a family of three and a dog. I had thought and hoped that Lucia would hitch with me, but it is Lucia, not Liz, who climbs into the back seat of the car after Becky and Carolyn when the woman riding shotgun says, “There’s only room for three.” Liz and I luck into a ride shortly thereafter, standing in the back of a pickup crowded with rental bikes and surfboards, taking in three hundred and sixty degrees of horizon, three hundred and fifty of which is the Atlantic Ocean, over exposing our skin, I’m sure, to the sun the last fifteen miles of the cape.
As we drive by the campground and the Last Motel, Liz tells me, “Lucy told me all about this morning, I mean about almost drowning. If you’re going to go with her to the Rockies, you’d better take better care of her than you did this morning. She confides in me and warns me that Lucy’s daring can be reckless. She adds, “Lucy is too trusting of people in general and not trusting enough when it comes to men.” She also asks quite seriously, “Can I trust you with Lucia's feelings? Can I trust you’ll get her back to New York with her heart in one piece?”
It is a most serious question, and I’m not sure what to say. I’m keenly aware of her face as her eyes study mine, as her brain, through her ears, analyzes the timber of my voice, as I promise, “I won’t let anything bad happen to Lucia, or to her heart.”
The point is a disappointment. It is crowded and quite commercialized, what with the RV campground, the ferry wharf, and the businesses attendant to the comings and goings of automobiles. When we catch up with the girls on the beach down by land’s end, Lucia insists we return north to the area of the campground where “There, at least, are no fucking Winnebagos!” It’s hard to feel claustrophobic in the wilderness, but I can’t help but agree that the crowds of cars and RV’s give this area of the cape a madcap feel, as if the urban sprawl of Manhattan is minutes away.
On the way back, I hitch with Lucia. A couple from Bryn Mawr on the Mainline northwest of Philadelphia offers us a ride in their VW Bug. The inside of the car is heavy with what I believe to be the odor of hashish. My suspicion is proved right when the driver, a man in his mid-twenties, pulls out a shotgun style bamboo pipe from under his bucket seat. His companion stuffs it full of loose tobacco and slivers of opiated hash which she removes with her thumbnail from a chunk the size of a package of smokes. I’ve never seen so much hash at one time and I say so. Lucia asks whether or not it is Moroccan, and the woman offers Lucia the first toke while answering, “Yes, it is Moroccan. We spent Easter vacation in North Africa. We got this hash from an ex-patriot painter we got friendly with. We smuggled it into the States disguised as a pack of French Galloise cigarettes.” She and Lucia excitedly exchange points of North Saharan reference and compare their North African itineraries while I take my turn with the pipe. One toke and I know it’s the most potent smoke I’ve ever had.
“Any chance I might get some of this from you?” I ask. “We could trade. I’m holding some nice Columbian, up at the campground.”
“Sounds like a good deal to me. What do you think, Honey?”
His companion nods agreement, and she adds, “Well, if we’re going to commit a felony together, we, at least, ought to know each other’s names. I’m Honey West, and this here driving fool is Jimmy Delaney.”
I hand Jimmy the pipe and say, “Good to meet you Jimmy Delaney and Honey West. I'm Eddie Mc Bard from Philadelphia, and this is . . .”
“Lucy Cilento,” Lucia interrupts, as she’s not about to allow me to speak for her. All through our adventures of the next six weeks and our affair which will last until October, the public Lucy will always appear unattached, as that’s the way she likes it, that’s the way she operates. Behind closed doors we might meld, but to others we will always appear to be just friends.
Back at the campground, we find the mosquitoes have woken from their slumber. Now there are seven of us in the tent all smoking reefer and hash. After a go round with the pipe, we all get a case of the giggles when Carolyn remarks that the Lighthouse looks like a comic book rocket ship, and Liz says it looks rather like something else to her. Indeed, the two large dunes topped with dune grass in the distant foreground look like hairy testicles aside the phallus of the light tower.
After Jimmy and Honey leave us - they’re headed to a campground hours away, just north of
Virginia Beach - I offer a plan for the evening. A party at the Last Motel.
“I’ll check in and rent the room for one. After it gets dark, you can all sneak in, use the shower if you want, whatever. Meanwhile I’ll get some beer and sandwiches or something at the camp store for all of us to eat. My treat.”
Carolyn comments, “It’s so hot, could you maybe get us some ice cream? My favorite munchie when I’m stoned is ice cream.”
Walking to the Last Motel, I envision myself in the room, smoking hash, drinking beer, and eating ice cream with Lucy, Liz, Carolyn and Becky. Lucia’s continual assertion of her independence has thrown a damper on my hope to get next to her. I’m looking for more than a companion to accompany me on my adventures, and now I’ve committed myself to a rendezvous with her in a week or so. Of course, I could just blow it off. But the loneliness and depression that had settled on me last night had been no fun. I decide that even if I don’t get it on with Lucy, it would be a gas to hitchhike with her. And besides, I remind myself, it’s far easier to hitch as a man and a woman than it is to hitch as a man alone. I mean I know if I were driving and saw Lucia on the roadway, I’d pull over and offer her a ride even if she was traveling with a long haired backpacker who looked like me. As I reach the motel office, it’s the image of Lucia on the off-limits balcony of the lighthouse that wins the argument for me. Intimacy with such defiant beauty, on any level, even just as friends, will do, will make my great adventure even greater.
Just as the sun is going down I return to my tent. A six pack of Dixie, along with popsicles and five turkey sandwiches, sits chilling in the motel room fridge. I’m freshly shaved and showered, and ready for a party, and here are all the women sleeping. The hash and the long day in the sun has taken its toll, I guess.
“Hey, anybody want to party?” I ask, unzipping the netting. All four wake up yawning and gemutlich in their bags. I can smell their comfort and restfulness.
“Did you get any ice cream?” Becky wants to know.
I tell her the camp store had no ice cream per se, but they did have popsicles. “You can take your tongue for a sleigh ride,” I tell her. “I bought some frozen fudge pops, sandwiches, and beer. If we hurry to the room, we can eat them before they melt.”
Back at my room, I open the window out of sight of the motel office for the four women to climb in. The bed, a double, sits under the window and all four have to struggle through the narrow aperture to gain entry to the room by worming through the window and then onto and across the bed. It takes some dexterity and I watch their movements with a mixture of lust and delight. Lucy has the hardest time of it, because she’s the tallest, and therefore can not bring her legs in sideways as had the other women. I help her by grabbing her under the arms and pulling her across the bed in one quick movement which leads me to fall backwards onto the floor on my ass. Her feet are now sticking out the window, her torso is sideways across the length of the bed and her head is in my crotch as I’d not let go of her armpits when I fell. Her black-haired head between my thighs is a scene I hope will repeat itself.
We eat the Fudgie-Wuggies and the sandwiches. We smoke quite a bit of the hash I’d traded for with Jimmy, as we are unaware of the dictum, Less is More, and I am definitely grooving on the hint of opiate that marbles the Moroccan. For me, the scene is Paradise Found. Inwardly, I gloat at the luck of my life. Already today I’ve swum and walked naked with the beautiful Lucia, copped hash in the wilderness, had the revelation about a lineage of gambling in the family, and am now looking forward to seducing Lucia. I go so far as to consider what it would take to seduce the puzzle of Carolyn, I don’t care she’s just seventeen, if Lucia spurns my attempt, for I can’t forget the bashfulness of Carolyn this morning.
Lucy and Liz are lying on the bed. Carolyn and Becky are playing Five Hundred Rummy on the floor. I’m also on the floor, back to the wall, firing up another joint. I can’t imagine how I’ll ever cull Lucia away from her friends, get rid of them, for now my horniness manifests itself. I’m actually getting a hard-on and decide I’d better excuse myself, for my cut-offs are tight enough without an erection in the equation.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes. I need some air,” I say and exit the motel room. Outside the little whisper of slivered moon hangs upside-down like a frown amid a multitude of stars. I search for the big dipper and find it easily. I’m stressed about the state of affairs back in the room. If they all spend the night with me, I know I won’t be getting laid, and I am worried I’ll make some sort of fool of myself, coming on to Lucia, who has been distant, almost moody, since I’d pulled her in the window. I come up with a plan: I’ll offer the room to the women for the night and I’ll ask Lucy if she wants to go for a walk. I’ll steer her back to my tent and put the moves on her there. I’m hoping the private Lucia that I kissed this morning will reinvent herself and pick up after where we left off this morning, maybe grant me the sex that I am after.
When I return to the room, however, it is empty. The beers that Carolyn and Becky had been drinking sit half full on the dresser. “Fuck,” I say aloud and disappointedly. Then I hear the sound of the shower behind the closed bathroom door and spy Lucia’s sandals on the floor. I remove my tee-shirt, cut-offs, sandals and BVD’s, and climb into bed, pulling the sheet up to my hips. I lie back, prone on the bed, and listen to the water run as I study the textured surface of the ceiling. With its seashell and cut glass shade, the one seventy watt bulb in the lamp on the dresser throws dappled light across it.
It takes what seems like forever for the shower to quiet. I feel anticipation is about to end and think of Keats’ poem about the Grecian urn, about his contention that an eternity of anticipation is better than the real thing. I’m hopeful that he was wrong, as the shadow of Lucia grows across the ceiling. She’s running the longest fingers of my life through her wet waterfall of hair, whipping it backwards to cascade down her back. Her breasts look creamy given the tan of her face, legs and midriff. Her dark aureoles are the eyes of her sexuality and they stare down at me. I want to say something reassuring, something corny like “I love you,” but remain silent.
“Eddie, Eddie, Eddie, what are you going to do for the next two weeks, while I’m apartment hunting in Manhattan?” she asks. “Because, you do know, I want to go with you.” This she says as she bends down over me, her right breast just above my mouth. I could, she is so close, tongue her nipple, but I wait for her to lower her breast to my lips. When she lies on top of me I pull her downwards so I can kiss those pout-y lips. I’m so turned on the instantaneousness of my erection catches her by surprise. Off of me she rolls and pines, quite contrary to the mood that I thought we were in, “Eddie Eddie Eddie. Do we have to go all the way? Can’t we relax and enjoy each other without going all the way? You know, I think fucking can get in the way sometimes. I mean guys I meet, they all want me that way. It can turn out meaning so little.” She’s willing to lie naked in bed with me yet feigns disinterest in gratification. She could be about to rule out penetration. My cock is arguably as ready as it’s ever been, what with my age and recent unwanted abstinence. The gorgeous naked flesh of Lucia fills the bed beside me. I pull back the sheets and, ever the supplicant, begin with her breasts. “Lucy,” I say, “There’s a first time for everything,” and roll atop her. I kiss her deeply and fervently, on her mouth, her breasts, her neck, before my penis makes its way inside. I am so hard I bump against the latex of her diaphragm and ejaculate completely. Then I remove myself, slide my body down hers, and commence to bring her to orgasm with my tongue. All this while she’s not touched me with her hands, but as I tongue her clitoris, she entwines her fingers in my curls and pulls my head hard against her. Her moanings are loud enough to wake the dead, and I wonder if we’ll be charged in the morning for double occupancy. Surely everyone in the motel can hear her cooings and gooings. I wonder if they hear us in the campground.
The next morning is a fast forward separation. After the crowded sleep of the night before, everyone sleeps late. Lucia's companions awake us in a panic, for it’s almost time to rendezvous at the parking lot to catch the mythic ride that will take them non-stop to Long Island. Lucy rolls out of bed, shakes out her hair, stretches, then attends to the business of reorganizing belongings. She disappears into the bathroom and reappears dressed, shoulder bag together.
“I left my mother’s phone number with Liz’s lipstick on the mirror. Call me. I can’t let us miss our ride.” A quick swoop and bus of a kiss on my lips, so quick I might have missed it if I had not been paying desperate attention, is my last sight of her face.
“I’ll call. I promise,” I say to the tumble of black hair and sashay legs long of Lucia disappearing seaward out the motel door heading for New York.
“Am I just another rake or am I looking for my mate?” - these and similar poetic questions, conundrums and koans I pose myself over the course of the next two weeks, prior to my reunion with Lucia. Put dispassionately, I preoccupy myself with thoughts and imaginings of Lucia. Here I am, not four months sans wife, and already I see myself involved with Lucia, imaging her as wife one moment, the ultimate impossibility the next. I spend my time mostly back in New Jersey, my great adventure on hold. My sister has a beach house in Stone Harbor and I wind up there after spending three bored days alone on Sherri and Bill Vaughn’s farm outside Glassboro. Time crawls thereby embellishing anticipation with eternal qualities, like in the poem, on the vase; still I’m depressed because I know I'm only killing time waiting to telephone Lucia. Down the shore or at the farm, the backdrop doesn’t matter. For the adrenal surge to keep me fit for rendezvous, I nurse the images that I remember: Lucia’s face looking up at me on the beach from under the hood of her sleeping bag, the cardinal almond eyed feel of flying when I’d looked, intimate and straight, into the heaven of her eyes; or from behind, on the other side of the lighthouse window glass as she inhales the horizon for the scent of her roots, for rumor of new European films, a placid Atlantic behind her from waist down, an ocean of rolling sky above, blue denim, red shirt, iron railing, bare feet. My favorite image to recall is one of her running naked towards the breakers.
In a notebook I write: She is the breeze among a rest stop full of vans, a wind beyond the caravan of traveler, and I note below it that whereas many are the men, few are the women whirling alone around America this summer. Everywhere I travel it seems the world is young and it’s possible to imagine the world of these tidal plains millennia ago. It’s quite visible still outside the cities and farms alongside the highways east of the Appalachians, in the movement of rivers and estuaries into bays, in the movement of a forest of towering deciduous trees. The security and lifestyle of the everyday East Coast workday world means nothing to the tide or wind. Outside of cities the depth of distance is more pronounced and profound, the weather more a measure of your belief in luck and circumstance. On the open roads of the Coast between North Carolina and New Jersey I have sensed for the first time the curvature of the earth and own a heightened sense of the lay of the land. It is perceptible here too on the beach. On a Friday, with the crowds of weekenders already beginning to crowd the beach, I make arrangements with my sister to borrow a car for a few days. I can delay the phone call no longer, and I telephone Lucia’s mother’s house three days earlier than we’d planned, and lucky, lucky me, Lucia answers the phone.
“I’m in Jersey with a car. Let me come by. I can be there in an hour or two, depends on the traffic,” begins our conversation, and that afternoon, checking out the scene from the anonymity of my sister’s Chevy Nova, I’m outside her mother’s lovely cottage of a house in Ridgeway, clean denim the look, long curls, tanned skin, eyes sparking like a leprechaun’s. Lucia and her mother are conversing in Italian and drinking coffee on the side porch. Her mother sits in a pillowed wicker chair, and Lucia is standing across the table from her dressed in white shirt and skirt, the only glimpse of Lucia in a dress I ever get, a moment in the myth of any human’s quest.
Lucy disappears inside the house and I stand on the roadway leaning, the dungaree-ed traveler, against the car, waiting for the front door of this suburban neighborhood house to open, revealing the daughter within. I realize now that Lucy comes with a family, she’s not just a dream on the road to the Rockies. There are feelings here: trust, fear, resentment, love. I wonder what Lucia’s mother will think of me? After a short while I walk back towards the screened side porch where Dominina sits. I offer, “Hello. Is Lucy here?” not sure if I should ask for Lucy or Lucia when speaking with her mother.
“Nina, this is Eddie Mc Bard, the teacher I told you about.”
Lucia has come, from within the house out the front door, up behind me and stands speaking over my shoulder, almost as if she’s keeping me between herself and her mother to be shielded from her mother’s influence, her mother’s emotions. She prompts me to offer my hand to her mother. Nina takes mine in hers and switches the concentrated alertness of her being from my face and that of her daughter’s behind mine to my open palm splayed between the fingers and thumbs of her hands. She’s a small woman whose handling and examination of my hand is like that of a farm hand’s. She turns it over and then back to further examine the grip of my fingers.
“I trust my daughter’s safety to this hand. Be careful, Mister Eddie Mc Bard. Take care of this my wild daughter, Lucy Cilento, who now breaks my heart. She seems to forget she is a teacher, not a gypsy.”
“Come on, Nina, don’t worry. We won’t even be hitch-hiking after all. Eddie’s got a car and we’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Momma, please, be happy, I want to travel. I’m like you, I’m more gypsy than Italian when it comes to love of moving through. Nina, remember the stories you told me, of how you left Sicily to wind up here, in Bergen County, how many times you’ve told me of the magic of those days. I’ll be back to teach in September. I’ll call you, Momma, some Sunday morning after church. In a couple of weeks.” Lucy grabs me by the back belt loop on my pants and gets me started backpedaling across the lawn. Then we race to the car, as if to outrun any rebuke her mother might make, be gone before some last minute desperation prevails in preventing our departure.
As soon as we’re out of range of her mother’s influence, Lucia wants to know if we can ditch the car, return it and hitch. She admits the car had come in handy, as it helped mitigate her mother's fears, but Lucia doesn’t like the idea that we have a car. “The luck and coincidence of traveling is bourgeois when you have a car,” she says, and then leaps to “Cars are a bad drug.”
I like having the car, the luxury of it. Fact is, I still miss driving the Swinger that Carol got with the house. I don’t want to spend all day just hitchhiking to Cape Cod, I want to be at Cape Cod in the time it will take us to drive. Hell, when we met, I was only hitchhiking out of necessity, not out of the romantic notions that possess Lucia. I find the car a wonderful short-term option. I remind her we can sleep in it if need be; besides, we only have it for the weekend as my sister needs it back by Monday morning in New Hope. We’ll head west on Monday after we return it. I also argue that we can cover a lot more territory in a weekend with the car than we can by thumb, and she counters with “Quantity is not quality.”
But the weekend is mostly a bust. We no sooner reach the extremity of Cape Cod when it begins raining, and it does so periodically all day Saturday, and it is raining Sunday morning when we head towards Pennsylvania and my sister’s house. In the interim we have a mostly fun, if less than intimate, time. We sleep in the car both nights, Lucia in the back seat and me in the front. We smoke a lot of dope, walk the beach when it isn’t raining, and ferry to Martha’s Vineyard where we sit reading magazines all day in a coffee house full of poetry books, listening to Dylan’s Planet Waves, Side One, being played over and over by the bookseller, an old beatnik of a man, a hipster with a beard to his belly. I realize how much I enjoy simply looking at Lucia. Her expressions are delightful. I love listening to her speak. She voices opinions on subjects about which I have none. She eulogizes the waning influence and diminished power of a French director, and she rhapsodizes the cinematic genus of Fellini. She speaks of South and Central American politics and the beauty of the people of Brazil. Without dashing my hopes for a future seduction, in not so many words, rather with her body language, Lucia lets me know that sex is taboo for a while. Never in the car. Not in the rain and sand. “Besides,” she says, “I don’t like being responsible for birth control.”
“So let’s make a baby,” I joke, but Lucia Cilento finds this not very funny.
All the way to Pennsylvania I redefine my expectations of where Lucia fits into my life. Reluctance is no fun, so we’ll pass on sex for a while. Get back to the original dream of adventure. Our plan is to make it to the Rockies and the Grand Canyon. See the Painted Desert. Smoke dope with an Apache. But any of these might be deferred if chance offers us a better deal, the deal between us being we’ll go where ever we are taken.
It is a strange Sunday night at my sister’s house. She and my someday-to-be-ex wife are good friends and they’d been even friendlier since my infidelity and desertion. Not that she is rude to Lucia or anything like that, although she does insist that we not sleep in the same room as she doesn’t want my nieces to get the wrong idea, for they don’t know that their Aunt Carol and my brother Edwin are getting a divorce.
Now this is the first that Lucia is hearing of my being married, and even though we seem to be committed to the we’re-just-good-friends routine, she is unnerved and annoyed.
It’s not important. My marriage is over and has been for months. I never told you because it has nothing to do with us, with our hitchhiking. I would have told you on Cape Cod but I was afraid you might misunderstand and ask me to take you back to your mother’s, cop some foreign film attitude and walk off in the rain. Lucia, like myself, is finding out that surprise is a great gift of the gods. Lucia pouts off to a bedroom upstairs and I play with the scab of the pain I feel in relation to my ex. I’d never considered that Carol would no longer be Aunt to my nephew and nieces. Never realized the severity and finality of the bridges burned the day I seduced Cecelia. Never considered how my affair might disrupt my tenure as a teacher. After all, C had been a student teacher working under my supervision and the whole of Wenona knew of our affair.
And now I understand: depending on what happens between tomorrow and September, I may, or I may not, return to my life of tenured teaching in New Jersey. The backpack in the garage is my home. When I finally make it to sleep on the couch, I understand that I could wind up with Lucia in Laramie or Laredo, Jamaica or Montana. All I know: I’m gonna go.
Over the course of the next few days we make our way west. All sullenness on Lucia’s part evaporates our first early morning out. We eat blackberries we find alongside the road. We catch a ride with a guy selling illegal radar detectors. He travels from small town to small town with a trunk full of electronics. He brags that he will never pay taxes again with the likes of Richard Nixon playing king, a position Lucia says that she can relate to. I find his outlaw braggadocio refreshing. I paraphrase Dylan, reminding us all that, as oxymoronic as it sounds, honesty is required to live outside the law.
Our rides are often short and we seem to zigzag north and south as well as west. For the most part, under a canopy of pleasant and dry summer night skies, we sleep aside each other in separate bags wherever we find ourselves to be when the odds of a ride indicate the practicality of calling it a day. We spend a lot of time at country crossroads in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Sometimes even miles apart such intersections look the same. The people who offer us rides all have the good intention of taking us further: a trucker moving produce to Cincinnati; a university chaplain on his way back to his parents’ farm; two different carloads of teenage locals out looking for fun, from towns sixty miles apart, who, after a phone call to arrange it, pony express us to a third crossroad of a town in Western Pennsylvania, a hundred and twenty miles from where we met the first carload. Something I learn about the small towns of Central Pennsylvania is that adolescents play there the game of driving on moonlit nights in the thick of the forests with their headlights off to, one, scare the hell out of anyone not knowledgeable of the road and of the practice, and, two, for the sheer excitement of enjoying the marvel of a large waxing moon above the treetops serving as the only source of light thirty miles from town at sixty miles an hour, an experience that turns most serene after my initial fright abates, standing next to Lucia holding on to the roll bar affixed to the rear of the cab swaying with the turns in the road, leaning, knowing right now that we are sharing this experience of speed and moon and danger and delight. But the night we spend in
Cincinnati we wind up aside a concrete bike path under a pedestrian walkway spanning some tributary of the Ohio River. Our night of urban unsound sleep dictates that we alter our modus operandi: we will still go wherever our ride takes us, but we will pass or quit a ride early rather than wind up in a city from here on out.
Our first lengthy ride takes us from the outskirts of Cincinnati to Kansas City, Missouri, and turns into a two-day adventure. Dave, a law student from Missouri, stops to pick up us on the interstate. He’s driving a Mustang and pulling on a trailer some kind of small, sleek, most modern sail boat. As we are squeezing into his already crowded car, after a quick exchange of first names, he starts lecturing us about the illegality of hitchhiking on the interstates.
“You should only hitch from the state entry to the on-ramps. A state trooper can arrest you for even walking on the interstate. In Ohio, they’re sticklers, I know. I used to hitchhike back and forth between Notre Dame and Cincinnati.” He also tells us that in some states, like Colorado, it is illegal to hitchhike anywhere.
Dave is willing to take us all the way to K.C. with him, and asks, “Can either of you drive?” He complains that driving more than an hour or two at a time always stiffens his neck. When I volunteer, he asks to see my driver’s license, which, along with a Blue Cross membership card, is the only identification I carry. It is clipped to all the money I have in the world, four hundred and twenty dollars, four C notes and a Jackson. What with Dave’s scrupulous attention to legality, I decide not to bring up the issue of marijuana with him, even though it had been a part of practically all of our rides before. The chaplain had the best dope, Maui Wowee! he had called it. Dave, his psyche immersed in the waters of law, reminds me of Perkins, my boss, the vice-principal where I work, who is also an undercover state narcotics agent, a spy in the house of the Seventies, working the law to collect two salaries.
Naturally Dave is more interested in Lucia, the exotic New Yorker, than me, and as with everyone with whom we will get involved during our travels, the first thing on our benefactor’s mind after his lecture about hitchhiking is the wonder: Are Lucy and I lovers? When I get out of the back seat with Lucia to drive, Dave takes the other front seat without offering it to Lucia. I wonder: is his intent the game, divide and conquer?
From her seat in the back, Lucia speaks interestingly on sundry subjects. When she quotes the last line of some Trouffe movie in French, Dave responds in French. That they both speak French delights Lucia. Apparently she asks Dave in French if he would like to have his stiff neck massaged, for he centers himself in the bucket seat, lays his head on the rest, and reclines the angle of the seat back. Lucia hasn’t put her hands on me sensually or sexually since the Last Motel in Hatteras, and here she is massaging Dave. As I drive, I detect upon his countenance, a gloating, a fantasizing, a reading of much into her massage. I’m afraid he’s about to respond to the good vibes of Lucy’s touch with some touching of his own and complicate my life. I consider that maybe Lucia like myself is out looking for her mate; maybe I’ve already been ruled out.
His fingers, nervous in his lap, telegraph his intention to put his hand on hers. I’m reminded and aware that Lucia understands little of the absolute lure of her being, of the innuendo of her fingers upon flesh.
I formulate a conditional proposition: if this scene is right out of the movies, then I had better act as well as spectate. Like the thick woods Pennsylvania teenage pranksters I turn out the headlights of the Mustang. Dave bolts upright in panic with the sudden disappearance of both his dash lights and the illumination of his headlights and cracks the vanity mirror on the visor he’d been using to watch Lucia.
“What are you doing?” he shrills, as he strains against his seat belt, stretching to reach the headlight switch.
I respond, “What, you never skunk-ed growing up in Cincinnati?”
“Driving without headlights is illegal,” is his retort.
“Yeah, I know, but that don’t mean it ain’t fun.”
Smoke and mirrors. Distraction. I win. The massage is over.
Night fades to morning, fades to hot farmland afternoon. A rest stop here, a rest stop there, a rolling sea of acreages farmed in between. I make notes in my journal of odd sights, crazy images, observations, revelations, metaphysical and visual. At night on the roads, trucks far outnumber the cars, and for which safety is but one reason, the truckers are generally professional and courteous, flashing high beams to pass and talking road talk on their CBs. Natural gas and oil wells begin to appear occasionally here and there above the horizon of July corn, and I append the caption, Blood of Earth, to a quick pencil rendering of a grasshopper-shaped rig. In some places the highway is so straight ahead, looking forward is like looking down the barrel of a gun.
By late afternoon we are within fifty miles of Kansas City, according to the highway sign I catch a glimpse of, waking from a siesta in the back seat. I wonder what I’ve missed while sleeping. The birdsong of Lucia and Dave chattering in French bothers me. When speaking English Lucy has an almost lisping syrupy-ness about her enunciation despite her New York years, but when she speaks French, the tremor of her voice reflects a gaiety of spirit - there is an altogether brighter tone to it, not present when I speak English with her; evidence, I think, to support the Sapir-Whorfe theory of language that posits the minority view that language shapes society, rather than converse. I already know she reserves Italian for anger and her mother. Weeks from now on an Indian reservation in Idaho, Lucy’s ability to make sense of other languages will save us from having to contend with a cocky five foot two bitterly racist drunk who is spoiling to rumble with a white man.
After a final exchange with Dave in French, Lucia tells me that Dave has offered to let us stay in his apartment for a couple of days if we want.
“Dave says we can go sailing with him tomorrow and the day after that if we want. Groovy, yes,
Eddie? We can hitchhike west from the lake when we want.”
Dave’s apartment is a second story walk-up three room affair atop a ground floor garage where we stow the boat and trailer amid the remnant gear of other sporting interests of Dave: a parachute, fishing poles, climbing ropes and pinions, a scared and dented kayak. A poor student Dave is not, judging by his playthings.
Upstairs, both the living room and bedroom are cluttered with the debris of six years of university life away from home. A Peter Max of a couch sits across from a cinder block bookcase sporting Advent speakers, amplifier and turntable, hundreds of albums, law books and novels. Unique and assorted empty bottles of exotic alcohol fill the window ledges. A dreary Boston Fern begs the north light and humidity of the Eastern Seaboard. Late Sixties rock and roll posters are affixed to the walls along with a number of clippings and photos of David Thompson, last season’s media darling of college basketball.
Dave tells us we can both stash our packs in his bedroom. We do and he joins us in his room as Lucia unrolls her sleeping bag. A sexual tension fills the air because the subject of where each of us will sleep tonight has not yet been broached.
Dave is prattling on about the legal repercussions of some aspect of communal living, a subject Lucia must have brought up in French earlier, for I have no recollection of it being mentioned as a concern in search of a legal opinion.
When I unbuckle the straps of my pack to unroll my bag, Lucia answers the unasked question of where she would like to sleep tonight when she takes my sleeping bag and zippers it to hers to make one double bag which she then gathers up and carries back to the living room.
“Dinner’s on me. I’ll be back in a bit. I’m walking to that A&P we passed coming up that last hill to see what I can find.”
After a dinner of fresh fruit and corn bread, Dave proposes that we head out for the lake early. He says that he likes to set sail in the darkness to catch dawn on the lake. He’s says that he will set his alarm for three-thirty. Thus we shouldn’t stay out too late at the jazz club we intend to visit, that Lucia found on her roundabout return from grocery shopping earlier. Dave is not interested in bar-hopping, he has given up drinking, gone the AA route ever since his second year of law school. The empty bottles affirm his former propensity for excessiveness.
As soon as we are out the door in the Kansas City night I fire up the first joint of the evening. We are both glad for the hospitality and generosity of Dave yet delighted to be free of him, of his wants, needs and agenda. The moon is finally full and lights the tin roofs of some houses in the neighborhood below in such a way as to produce a haphazard checkerboard effect. The games of the night are about to begin.
Our night on the town is a story in itself, the beginning of a most extraordinary twenty-four hours. We walk to Betty’s Bar, which, according to the painted lettering on the brick of the building, showcases Jazz Live. On the edge of David’s neighborhood, north of downtown, in an area of warehouses and loading docks and an occasional saloon, Betty’s has gone the way of the Seventies and is a discotheque. The bandstand, instead of being a staging area for piano, bass, drums, guitar and horns, sports a monster stereo system that is in sync with a plethora of strobe lights and panning spotlights. The woofers are so large and the bottom of the music so intense, the floor vibrates and I can feel its pulse through my sandals. Old skylights above umbrella a canopy of macramé-hung potted plants. The walls are wild with back lit stain glass art. The cocktail tables sprout wild lamps, and neon statements, one in black light and the other electric blue, frame the dance floor in cursive script, Gaya and Kokopeli. On the far wall a tiger leaps out of a red neon ring. The visuals and overdose of sound certainly are unique in my experience, but since we’ve been hoping for some live music, Lucia and I leave.
We walk around the University area awhile but find nothing of interest. An hour’s random spiraling of the neighborhood leads us back to Betty’s. It's more crowded than it was earlier and the sound levels are more tolerable. Something is happening here. The crowd is dressed urban gentry, a 3.2 East Coast fashion statement. But the crowd, quite a bit of it amateurishly drunk, is definitely having fun. We each get a drink, beer for me and water for Lucia, at the bar, and return to stand near the door on the periphery from where we have a view of the whole scene. Above the crowd the dance floor is a polished movie scene of smoky delight. People are dancing separate, apart, and pushing their moves in a heart-felt, gymnastics, physical triumph sort of way. The nation is celebrating. The liberal defiance of support for the War in Viet Nam outlasted support, and eventually those in favor of peace triumphed, have won, and the general feeling in the intellectual air this year is that The War is Over! We all have won, won in that at least the war is over. No more the worry of the draft, the conscription of my generation. Most of the boys from my neighborhood in Philly went to Viet Nam. And most of them enlisted. I was the only boy on the team my last year of football not to go to Vietnam. Opinion and practice do change is the lesson that this evolution or dissolution of jazz joint to disco typifies. A nation at war can become a nation at peace, and that’s what I perceive to be the message conveyed in the bodies of the dancers. The War is Over! Let’s celebrate! People are dancing passionately on the dance floor. Many of the dancers are decked out in outrageous attire, both men and women, satin and polyester the fabric of fashion. Despite Dave’s admonishment to get to sleep early, we hang and feast on this sight of America at peace, America able to dance again.
It had been hard to have fun during the war years, for even at home one never forgot for a moment the terror of war, and its horrors. Hard to go out dancing when friends are overseas. The division in the country, the division within families over politics, these things happen with any war, but the War in Viet Nam, like Korea, has been wrenching-ly divisive. When the count was in, thank god, the pacifists amongst us won, and Nixon has signed the Paris Peace Accords, effectively withdrawing our involvement.
Indeed, let’s party on! The war is won! And I ask Lucia to dance. She says she doesn’t like to dance, but I cajole and tease and eventually beg her to dance with me. Out on the dance floor we more or less epitomize our outside perspective. I think that we must look like ghosts among all the glitter and glamour and flash of the people around us. We are denim blue, doing a reggae shuffle, they are the pride of a good celebration, of peace over war and people over government. After dancing awhile, we retreat to the farthest corner of the disco by an exit and sit at a table where we are joined by Bob.
Bob is a bouncer, an off duty moonlighting cop.
“I caught your accent at the bar. Philly, right? Me, too. You_s guys peeked in here earlier, yeah?”
He responds to our mutual nod with follow up questions. “What part of Philly are you from? Did you ever hear of The Dentist?” He tells me that's his nickname. I was one of Philly’s finest. I was bodyguard for Rizzo, himself, one time. The paper called me ‘The Dentist,’ for Christ’s sake, because I was always knocking out the teeth of punks who resist arrest. He smiles displaying a mixture of real and gold teeth. I lost some myself as you can see.”
And after awhile it turns out that we have a dozen mutual friends and acquaintances, Catholicism the primary connection. Naturally he wants to buy us a drink and he teases Lucia when she says she’s only drinking water. The teasing introduces a male versus female tension into their conversation and repartee, and whereas Lucia might be shy around men when it comes to sex, she is not shy about her right to be any kind of person, any kind of woman, she wants. She injects her passion and wit on this subject into the conversation, and it encourages Bob to taunt her further, a game playing indulging the dominant male warrior within him. When he returns with our drinks, the teasing resumes, the dialogue between them accusatory. Bob relates the story of a fellow soldier who winds up committing suicide because he falls in love with a Vietnamese woman who gets drafted into the army by the enemy. “A hootch chick,” he calls her, and Lucia takes offense with his sexist view of women. An argument ensues that gets down and dirty right away, gutter Philly versus smart-alec New York, going to the subject of racism and the quality of fucking, but there’s a smile between them the whole time, and it remains right there, a meeting of the minds that knows it won’t go any further. He tries to make a point.
“Look, Miss Cilento, that woman on the dance floor by the exit, the woman in the red platform shoes, she’s dancing, quote, like a hootch chick, unquote.”
Even though she knows he’s only trying to get her goat, she pushes it further, knowing she can push his button when she asserts that black men are better fucks than white men, knowing the dis is on him, probing further to explore and expose the racist depths of his bigotry. Such challenging repartee is the norm growing up in Philly, and I hope Lucia is going to be thick-skinned about what he might say in response. He cants to the disco beat a litany of the nationality or race of the peoples that he hates. Their nationality or race is proceeded with the vilest of adjectival reference, and their homelands span the globe. If he has the time he will name every race, every nationality in the world, with the exception of Lithuanian (his own), but a disturbance at the front door requires his attention. Their repartee is ended. The peril of their repartee is over.
Bob’s up and on his way in an instant. He moves slowly towards the commotion. He firmly pushes people aside as he wades towards two men arguing. I follow after him. Lucia remains at our table. As I’m right behind him in his wake, people take me for an authority as well and move out of my way.
I can see right away that the men are having some sort of personal argument and are not about to fight. Bob walks between them and makes an announcement, both effective and preposterous: “Anybody wants to fight, just let me know. ‘Cause those who wish to fight will have to fight first with me and Eddie Mc Bard. And believe me, two friends of Jerry Judge get together, covering each other’s back, we ain’t going down, no way, no how.”
The men must be really both just drunk and stupid. Why else would they both do what they do next, that is, swing in foolish anger at Bob? In an instant of utter ferocity, he steps between them and smashes an elbow into their faces simultaneously as their effete punches glance off his shoulder blades. Both men are instantly aware of two things: neither alone or together are they a match for the bouncer and the fresh blood in their cupped hands which they hold to their mouths probably contains teeth. When they are handcuffed by a second bouncer, their lost teeth fall to the floor and Bob kicks them out the door as the unfortunate fools are led outside, quite submissive now, to await the arrival of a patrol car.
I join Lucia back at the table and tell her what happened. We decide to leave, enough of this kind of partying and celebrating. I suggest we head back to Dave’s, and we exit Bettys only to run into Bob.
“Leaving already, I hadn’t even gotten to the names of the many kinds of Arabs that I hate?”
There is blood on his elbows and a little on his shirt. Lucia is troubled and looks it. She’s squinting and pouting and frowning, all at the same time. “Hey, Eddie Mc Bard and Lucy Cilento, I want to show you something. Please, I want you to meet someone. It’s not far, only a few blocks away. I got to go home and change. Come along. I want you to meet my girlfriend, Brenda. She’s supposed to stay in bed now; she’s gotten so big.”
There’s no polite way to decline (after all, we’re both boys from North East Philly, Mayfair, to be exact). Lucy and I find ourselves walking with him to his apartment. Along the way he tells us more about himself and how he came to be here this Kansas City summer night.
Bob grew up in a neighborhood not far from where I grew up in Philadelphia. Because we are the same age, we probably played against each other in Police Athletic League football. Since he was a quarterback and I had been a defensive guard, it’s likely that I had even tackled him once or twice.
Bob talks as we walk about things he did in Nam. Not specifically, but in a general fashion.
“I did some horrible things, things I could never tell anyone, but I want you to know, it’s no different over here. Believe me, there’s always going to be war.” He muses aloud, “I had the time of my life over there.”
To share his pride and joy and delight in his upcoming fatherhood is why he’s asked us to come say hello to his bed-ridden girlfriend. He tells us that it’s all a big secret and must be so.
“My friends, the other cops who moonlight here at Betty’s, don’t even know. Nobody can know about Brenda until my divorce with my first wife is final. I’d lose my job with Kansas City if they found out I was living with a woman who is not my wife, no matter she’s going to have my kid. “It wasn’t easy getting onto the force here in K.C., and now that I have to keep two apartments, one for me where everyone thinks I live and my real home, here with Brenda, I can’t afford to lose my job.”
We arrive in front of an old fashioned Five & Dime. It is the corner establishment at the end of a row of small storefronts. We walk around to the alley in back, and only after Bob scans the area for sight of any one else, does he unlock a door and lead us up a flight of stairs at the top of which another door gives entry to his apartment.
“Before we go in, let me tell you about how I met Brenda, so you’ll understand why no one can know about this, especially any of the people at Betty’s. Too many snitches and ass-holes hang out around there, and I especially got to keep my job, my insurance, with a son on the way. Brenda already knows he’s a boy.”
Standing in the dark listening to Bob relate the story of him and Brenda, as if to a confessor, I think of my current search for my anima. Standing here I contemplate what I know of this Lucia whose hand is in mine, who is standing at the top of this staircase listening to the secrets of this guy who knows a guy who I grew up with in Philly; and the Holmesburg Boys Club’s notorious black and orange uniformed football team (that I captained, Robert Ethridge quarterback-ed, and Jerry Judge tight-end-ed for) is the reason.
“See, I was married before I went to Nam, but afterwards, we fought, me and Cheryl, my first wife. I turned her on to drinking; then she couldn’t stop. I quit being a cop in Philly. I was up on charges of shaking down pimps, pocketing their cash, shit like that. I resigned and moved here to get away from my wife and to take up some serious fishing. So I’m not a week here in the city, and while on patrol, an old woman gets my attention and tells me there’s a guy beating up his wife up on the third floor. Domestic violence calls are as dangerous as any so as I make my way up the stairs to the third floor, I have my piece ready in hand with the safety off. The door to where I’m headed is open and when I look in I see a guy sitting in a beach chair watching television, a tough, about thirty, with jail-house tattoos covering his arms.
“When he sees me in the doorway he swings shut the door, but my boot is over the threshold and causes the door to bounce off of my foot and swing back to careen into his face. I slam it with my free hand to add to the violence of the rebound. He stumbles back away from the door and I enter the living room. A noise behind me startles me and I turn with pistol in hand towards a closet door that is opening, and there is Brenda. She’s got an eye swollen shut and her lips are bloody, and she looks anxiously at me, her rescuer, relieved to find me in uniform. She’s only wearing a tee-shirt and when she exits the closet and heads to the bathroom, I do a crazy thing: I lay down my gun. Brenda’s bozo of a boyfriend is digging around in a sink full of dirty dishes, and he comes up with a steak knife.
“I tell him, ‘You just lost your woman. She’s leaving with me. But it’s your lucky night, Mister Tattoo, cause you ain’t going to jail, mother fucker, but you’re going to get hurt, hurt so bad, you’d rather be in jail already. Come on, I’ve put down my piece. This is you’re chance. Try smacking me around like a woman. This is your fair chance to take me out. And you’d better. Cause I’m going to hurt you bad and leave you lying here in a puddle of teeth and blood. Ain’t no woman ever gonna look twice at the tattooed, toothless sorry mess I’m gonna make of you, you white trash son of a bitch.’
“I took out a bunch of his teeth, knocked him out cold with my first right to his face. With his fall he took out the tv, the only source of light in the room. Brenda came out of the bathroom into the living room and stood staring in the darkness at her boyfriend in a heap on the floor amid the glass of the broken tv screen.
“She asks me, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ and I gave her two choices. ‘Go to the station, make a complaint, and fill out a report; or come home with me.’ I say, ‘That is unless you still want to lay claim to what’s lying on the floor.’
“Me and Brenda been together ever since, but it’s all hush hush, cause you can’t be a cop and be living in sin, out of wedlock, with a woman, not here in Kansas City. Let’s be quiet when we go in, in case she is asleep.”
We three enter the apartment. When Bob turns on the lights, the living room is but barely illuminated with black light, and the strangest scene is revealed. Against the far wall are a series of aquariums, to the right of which is a huge terrarium. A piece of Plexiglas, the length of the wall, stands floor to ceiling, and behind it are dozens of exotic plants, succulents and cacti and jade and others whose names I do not know.
Come, let me see if Brenda is awake. He opens the door to what must be a bedroom and ordinary tungsten light whites out the blue and purplish glow of the black light. After a moment Bob asks us to step into the room with him to meet Brenda.
Brenda is sitting up, reading in a bed, pillows propped around her. “Hello. Sorry, I can’t get up to greet you, but I’ve just now got this belly of mine comfortable.”
“Hi, I’m Lucy.”
“I’m Eddie. Congratulations on your baby to be. How far along are you?”
“Eight months, but I’m so big I think the doctors may have miscalculated. Believe me, I’m ready anytime little Bobbie’s ready.”
Brenda is literally glowing with beauty. An aura of health and happiness is the outward sign of what must be an inner harmony. Just the way she says “Little Bobbie” is so dear. A yawn on Brenda’s part incites Bob to cut short the visit and say, “We’ll let you get back to resting and reading. We’re just gonna have a quick drink then I must get back to Betty’s. You know how crazy it gets there around last call. I just wanted to share my excitement with someone, and Eddie, here, is a friend of a friend of mine in Philly. Lucy and Eddie are just passing through. They can keep our secret. He grew up with Jerry Judge, the boxer I told you about, the guy who knocked out my first tooth.”
“You’re quite a reader, aren’t you Brenda?” Lucia asks. The dresser by the curtained window supports stacks of novels and cookbooks.
“Mostly novels,” Brenda replies.
“Have you read A Hundred Years of Solitude?”
“Never heard of it.”
“Here, I have a copy of it in my bag. It’s the most beautiful book I’ve ever read, but then of course I love exotic places and far away time. Lucia digs out a ratty copy of Marquez’ latest novel and hands it to Brenda.
“Thanks a lot. It looks wonderful. I’ll let you know how I like it. You guys can visit again sometime after little Bobbie’s born. I’ll give it back to you then, ‘cause from what I hear, I won’t be doing much reading after he’s born.
“Good night, Babe. I’ll see you tomorrow after work.”
We exit the bedroom, close the door, and the black light reappears.
“I use the black light because it’s not deleterious to my night vision. Something I learned in Nam. You don’t want to overdose on light when you work nights. After I finish at Betty’s I do my full shift with the city until noon.”
I step over to the aquariums and ask Bob, “What kind of fish are they?”
“Mostly they are predators. This one here is a fresh water shark, and these two, believe it or not, are piranha. Here, watch this.”
He bends down and opens the cabinet door that supports the tank. He pulls out a smaller aquarium that holds numerous small fish, removes the lid, nets a fish and drops it into the piranha tank. Immediately, there's a splashing and commotion and when things settle down, the newcomer to the tank is no where to be seen.
“You can have the next one, Billy,” Bob says. “How about a quick drink, before we leave? Two Philly boys can’t meet and not toast the luck of our meeting.”
Lucy declines and is sullen and silent. She obviously did not enjoy the feeding. While Bob goes to the kitchen for some whiskey, Lucia and I sit on the couch.
“Bob’s not your everyday sort of guy, is he?”
Lucia doesn’t respond, but her eyes widen as she studies the terrarium of plants. Her eyes dart back and forth studying the contents.
“There are lizards in there. I just saw one move.”
I look at the jade plant and sure enough there are three different species of lizard lying on its branches, and now that I’ve seen them I realize there are even more. Then I realize that under one of the black lights hanging inside the terrarium lies a snake, and a small garter snake it is not.
Bob has returned from the kitchen with a bottle of George Dickel and three shot glasses. “Discovered my other pets, huh? Most of them I brought here from Philly, although I just got the boa. I busted a dealer last week and helped myself to the snake he owned. Looked like it hadn’t been fed in a month. He hasn’t moved much. I hope he gets along with the lizards.”
Bob pours out three shots, apparently choosing to ignore Lucy’s declination. “To Jerry Judge,” says he.
I add, “To the obvious love of you and Brenda.” Lucia adds, “To the coincidence! Just think, if you hadn’t answered that domestic violence call, Little Bobbie wouldn’t be about to be born.”
We three slug down the whiskey and then Bob pours out more, although Lucia insists this time she doesn’t need another.
“To people like us,” we drink before I refuse another shot, although Bob drinks a quick third, and says, “I’ve got to be getting back. It’s a long night and morning ahead of me. Thanks for coming over. You’re the first two people, outside me and Brenda, ever been here.” He goes back into the bedroom and comes out changing his shirt. He’s a huge man, no doubt about it, his chest is hairless and the muscles define themselves as he stretches to put his arms in the shirt. I notice Lucia checking out his physique, and I wonder what, if any, comparisons she might be making. Bob must have close to eighty pounds on me and I wonder how someone of my stature ranks in comparison to Bob in the balance beam of Lucy’s brain. I know if I had to duke it out with someone like Bob in order to win the affections of a female, I’d probably be celibate.
“Got to get back to it. What about you? You going back to Betty’s?”
“No, Bob. Thanks for sharing the secret of you, Brenda and Bobbie with us? I know I’ll never forget this place.”
Outside, Bob goes his way, and we go ours, back to Dave’s, where much inspired by the tale of Brenda and Bob, we crawl into our double bag on the floor and take up where we left off in Hatteras.
Five hours later it is still dark when we enter the water and climb aboard Dave’s catamaran. I’m reminded of the time I swam in the Chesapeake Bay with a gang of college friends at midnight. There is a subliminal terror about swimming in the dark, and this boating in the dark is very reminiscent of it. The moon has already set and the only light apart from fading starlight is that of an occasional vehicle up on the roadway that spans the dam responsible for this lake. Lucia is beside me in the seat that spans the pontoons of the boat. Dave steers from the seat behind us, holding on to the rigging of the sail and adjusting its angle to the slight breeze. After five minutes of this, Dave collapses his sail and we drift in the darkness. The lake water laps and splashes. The sound of wings overhead reminds me of dream sounds I have heard. I hear Lucia breathing, I hear myself breathing, waiting for the light of dawn to break.
And what a roseate dawn, worthy of a rosary of thanks. Unlike Gerald Manley Hopkins who had his “dapple dawn drawn falcon,” I have a sky cut by gulls. The yellow then the pink of it, then total blue. The shadows cast by rippling lake water when the angle of the sun to it is slight is the same as the shadow web of psychic-active vision that often attends psychedelic hallucination. And the new morning comes on quickly. No sooner the first glimpse of it than out of the water pops the sun; indeed, the sun is sometimes child of the sea, dripping for a moment above the horizon with fire.
“What’s the name of the boat?” I ask and Dave tells me, “Lady of the Lake.” I realize that Lucy is the only lady on the lake, and I am either Galahad or Arthur, or the author of this event, this incredible dawn. I sense for the first time the role desire and faith play in the script of a life, for it is my desire for Lucia and my faith in luck that enables me to be here now, on this boat, under this sky, with Lucia aside me and our councilor Dave at the helm.
We sail and swim and drink coffee from the thermos Dave has brought. The color of the water changes as does the sky’s. Lucia doesn’t mention Bob or Brenda, or the two guys with the broken teeth. She broods. She gazes across the water as if she’s forever just about to get a glimpse of where the world is perfect. She’s looking either for another of her kind or someone to counter the passion of her longing to travel. This boat, a tramp steamer, wouldn’t matter. There is something wonderful about these moments on water, floating, conscience on hold, worry at bay, sensing how my own being, my body, is molded in the same way that geography shapes a city. I experience a beautiful state of consciousness. Numerous classical references pop into my head. A poem of mine sounds also in my head, one I’d written years ago when I was creating poetry for the Friday night get-togethers with Ronnie and Elaine. A narrative poem of despair turned around by the music of sitar, it comes to mind and I recite it for Dave and Lucia. I'd memorized it years ago and performed it maybe twice, but here it is fresh, line after line being given a walk on the water. I finish. Lucia smiles a big smile, one with teeth, one here and now and that’s for me, because of me. And I respond in kind, for Lucy’s the reason I’m here at all, under this sky, on this lake, on board the Lady of the Lake.
Returning to land, I try to remember the name of the boat that Odysseus set sail in, but can’t. I compare in my mind’s eye the qualities of this lake water with those of the bay I’d boated in summers with my aunt and uncle. The water here is empty compared to where I grew up, empty, less death, newer.
Dave points out a sandstone bear shaped monument. It marks the north point of the lake. The boat ramp is west of it. “But I’m tacking north because I know the winds will get me west faster if I point in that direction.”
After we beach and return the catamaran to its trailer, we face an awkward moment. Dave’s hoping to show us around Kansas City. He’s charmed by his place in it, and he wants to share some of its secrets with us. He says, “We’ll go on the lawyer’s tour.” Even though he’d not scored in terms of Lucia’s affections, he’s enjoyed the exotica of our company the last forty-eight hours and he’d enjoy it longer were it up to him. But it’s not. It’s up to Lucia, as always, and she says, “We'll hitch like you sail. North to go West. We’ll leave from here. Maybe get a ride with you back out to the highway.” At the crossroads, we'll head north on our way west to the Rockies. Kansas City’s nice, you’re nice, this lake, this sail boat is nice, but we’re on our way to the mountains. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana. It doesn’t matter where me and Eddie cross the Great Divide, but we’re on our way. I wanna see a bear, a real bear.”
Six hours later we're somewhere in North Central Kansas. Another crossroads. Our rides have been short. The land in between, vast and planted. County highway crossroads to county highway crossroads, town to town. I guess we only have an hour or so of daylight left. A family in a pickup stops. They're heading west, but only a mile or so, to the county fair. Such a short ride may not help us at all.
The best way to the Rockies out of here is to go north to the interstate; it's seventy miles. Then hitch West, they tell us. But if we want, they'd be glad to take us in the direction of the fair. They warn us: “After the fair lets out, there won't be any traffic going west or north through here until morning, if then, it being the weekend. “
“It's up to you,” Lucia says. “Either way, I know there's going to be stars out tonight. There's still not a cloud in the sky.”
The sky is still blue but you can sense the skylight of dusk that is coming. We climb in the back of the pickup and are off to the county fair, in the middle of the Mid West somewhere. The view is mostly of corn, taller than me, but from the bed of the truck I can see over the corn stalks. Not far from the crossroads to the northwest, there is a town that we'd not been aware of, a town of seven or eight business establishments, forty or fifty houses, half of which are mobile homes set on cinder block. Everybody's got good looking grass with gardens out back. We cross its main street on the county road heading west.
The fair is in an un-farmed field. Thirty cars are parked haphazardly in another field adjacent to it. Two good size tents house the contents of the fair.
In one tent we find prize animals: goats and lambs, a llama, calves and horses, bred and raised by children in the county. Blue Ribbon winners. A black and white photo of the winning child is clipped onto each cage or pen. Most of the time the child is posed with his animal at home in front of his or her home, proud parents off to the side or in the background, an image of family so profound, I hit on an understanding of the haunt that destroyed my marriage, namely, its seemingly destined to be childless nature as Carol hadn't ever gotten pregnant despite a few years trying. Somewhere deep inside resides the longing to be a father, a longing revealed to me by my reaction to these black and whites. The photographs all carry the signature of the photographer on their over-mats, Marcia Zimmer 1974. They are on the one hand portraits of the children with their animals, but on the other hand, and more so, they are documents of a gorgeous time, a time when all is possible, turning this babe into a yearling or turning a nation away from war. All the kids have a look in common, they are fair and blonde and beautiful. I look around at the people in the tent. Most of them are fair skinned and well fed. They have a cultural resemblance, a physical likeness to one another, at least when compared to the olive skinned, long legged, black haired Lucy beside me. I think about these kids raising animals. I realize this scene that's happening around me, of children showing to the world new life that they've nurtured, is an annual rite of human summer that I'd missed growing up as I did, where I did. I'm really enjoying the whole atmosphere of the exhibition: the straw floor, the canvas of the tent roof and flaps, the way the parents around me never loose sight of their kids, the overheard learned discussions going on about the fine points of the champions, the smell of the animals, the smell of their feed and waste. People mill, mingle and chat. We move on to the next tent.
Inside we find a combination arcade and sideshow. A half a dozen old-fashioned pin ball machines line the entry and children clutter around them playing and watching the ricocheting shiny steel ball. The sound of the flippers flipping, bumpers bumping, and points racking up reminds me of the bowling alleys of my youth where I spent countless Sunday mornings when I was assumed to be a church. A half a dozen spinning wheels offer games of chance where for a nickel or a dime or a quarter there's a chance to win a stuffed animal or a carton of cigarettes or a record album. At the far end of the tent there's a small stage raised maybe a foot above the straw and a couple of dozen folding chairs. A man takes the stage with a microphone and tells us, “The last to perform for you tonight, many of you will remember from last year, the rambler from Indiana, Russell Rounder.” Those already sitting and waiting applaud enthusiastically and roundly in welcoming him.
I look at Lucia and she looks at me. We exchange shrugs as neither of us have a clue. We stash our packs under the last pin ball machine and gravitate forward with the crowd. Most of the people in the other tent have joined those here for whatever is about to happen. Those standing jostle and spread out until each has a view. Lucia and I stand at the back of the crowd as Russell Rounder takes the stage. I guess him to be from around here. He looks like an older brother of one of the kids from the black and white photographs in the other tent. Bright eyed, handsome as only a man in his early twenties can be, European-by-the-Sea, transplanted here, the operative being transplant, and plant indeed. Just picture the corn. Exchange the cowboy boots for wooden shoes and you'd have the image of a Dutchman, a face Rembrandt would paint. I wonder if the photographer Marcia Zimmer is here to capture it on film. A worthy and wearing well guitar is strapped over his shoulder. The man who introduced Rounder brings out another microphone and positions it to amplify the acoustic guitar. Small speakers hang from two of the poles that support the roof above the stage. Russell Rounder begins strumming his guitar and humming ever so softly. Everyone quiets. The last pinball bounces around its way down the maze of gravity and bumpers then quiets. Rounder pauses. The cicada's and crickets outside, their sounds, are incessant this time of evening, but only now during this pause in his strumming do I hear them for the first time, imagine their numbers. The image of a million preying mantis comes to mind.
Russell begins to sing and instantly his talent overwhelms me. Recognizable immediately is his genius. Whatever else he might be, he is a singer songwriter extraordinaire. No mistaking him for a regular man with a regular job with a regular life in America. He is the minstrel man, the mythic tambourine man of the coffee house folk scene of my youth. Moving others with words, being moved by others' words, true folksingers and their fans displayed a passionate belief in the power of words back then that seems lost now in the post Woodstock mix. With guitars strumming, my naive belief in the power of truth gave the early Sixties a seriousness to match the incomprehensibility of the escalating war in Viet Nam.
Rounder sings and croons and yodels his way through an assortment of his own songs. Each song is of a different genre - blues, folk, country, blue grass, rock, western - but what they all have in common is his unique phrasing and modernist, Dylan-esque commentary. He sings mostly of the West although his observations certainly reflect upon the nation. When he sings a love song about a woman named
Karen with the refrain, I'm still caring about you, the hair on the back of my neck literally stands up, so powerful and human and confessional is the emotion he invokes. My memory swells and I'm saturated with feelings for my wife Carol. Sadness and hope, guilt and grief, the deceit and anger of betrayal, the relief of release.
Christ, we'd grown up in the same neighborhood and had even been sweethearts in the fourth grade. At eighteen, we'd met again and then married at twenty. From the get go, however, there had been something subliminally wrong between us. Some ghost of doubt appeared almost daily in my mind's eye. The poetry I wrote in those days expressed a longing I never fully understood. I longed to be inspired by a woman. I wanted to be in awe of, not in possession of a woman. I'm sure Carol, too, felt it, although when I first confessed my adultery, she had denied that there was anything missing in our relationship. At this moment I wish I could communicate to her the truth of Rounder's song, for, indeed, I still care about Carol, but I've somehow fallen out of love with her.
Rounder announces his last song and it brings me back to the here and now, a song with the repeating phrase, I get lonesome out there, a song that reaffirms that even creativity and talent the likes of Rounder's is still no replacement for companionship and love.
I take Lucia's hand and know that whatever happens in the long run between me and her, these weeks we've spent together have not been lonesome ones. I've never felt better in my life despite the daily uncertainties of where we'll spend the night, of where our journey will take us. At the conclusion of his performance, Rounder thanks everyone for the county's invitation to sing at the fair and makes his exit. Backing away from the mike he says something about having to be in Saint Louis for a gig tomorrow afternoon. As suddenly as he has appeared in my life, he's gone. I want to speak with him, let him know how great a talent I think he is, how touched I'd been. Lucia and I exit as he had, through the side door of the tent, to the field where people have parked their cars.
I scan the field for sight of Rounder but do not see him. The sun is now down and the heat of the afternoon has lessened, although it's muggier now. I hear the sound of the corn being watered amid the talk of families returning to their vehicles. A Sixty-two Ford Falcon to my right revs up amidst a cloud of exhaust. I recognize the make and model as my mother had owned one for a while, although hers was a deep blue and this is white. Through the windshield I spot Rounder. He's slouching behind the wheel of the car. A smoke hangs languid between his lips and he's peering down and through the smoke of it, squinting because of the acridity of the nicotine smoke, to read something on his dashboard, probably his gas gauge. He eases the car into gear and forward through the field, through the maze of parked cars. Lucy and I cut him off at the final point of egress from the parking area back to the dirt road that leads to the county road.
As Rounder approaches, Lucy waves him down. Pulling over out of the way so as not to block the way of the cars behind, the Falcon comes to a stop beside us.
I begin, “I wanted to just say how great I thought your performance was.” I tell him how much I'd enjoyed his playing and singing, how much I like his song writing. Lucia praises him in three different languages. I ask in a whisper, ‘Would you like to get high?” and his eyes light up, delighted at the prospect.
“I really should hit the road if I expect to make Saint Louis by morning, but I always got time for a doobie.”
So we get in the Falcon, Lucy in the front and me in the back. Rounder drives half way to the county road; then off into the corn field we go. A left, then another, then a right, and somehow we've come to a place surrounded by corn. I fire up the joint and pass it to Rounder. Except for Rounder expressing approval for the quality of the smoke, we three sit in the Falcon and pass the joint without speaking, listening to the insects and the sounds of the fair which drift to us in the humid evening and the Doppler-ing sound of water being sprayed on the corn somewhere nearby and east.
It's obvious Russ lives a lot in his car. The contents of the back seat look like the contents of my backpack: sleeping bag, coffee-making stuff, a tent, a gym bag stuffed with clothes, a poncho. A stash of apples and honey and peanut butter, a plastic jug of drinking water, a tin canteen and a set of utensils rattle around together in a bucket on the floor.
Aloud I remind Lucia, “Let's not space our backpacks.” I tell Russ, “We're hitchhiking west. We stashed our stuff back there, in the tent under the pinball machines while we listened to you sing. Too bad, you ain't going west. We'd hit you up for a ride.”
He tells us he's just come from Denver. He'd had a gig playing for tips in a Café there, the Mercury
Café, home of misfits of all kinds.
“Denver was groovy, but I just got messed up by a couple of women there, you know. After Saint Louis where he is to play at a bluegrass festival along the banks of the Mississippi, he is heading off to Chicago to land a record deal.
“I'll play from the roof of this here Falcon if I have to, or play on the corner if I have to, but I'm gonna be heard by someone at Flying Fish Records.”
He has a plan. He has a hope.
“I want to write songs and make money as a songwriter. Let Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings cover me and make me rich! Anybody wants to can sing my songs. I just write them. They were already there, you know.”
After a bit I grow nervous about our belongings back in the tent, and I suggest Russ drop us off back at the fair. He offers to take us back out to the crossroads and he waits, parked off to the side of the road, while we go back into the tent to get our packs. A paranoid worry -What if are packs are gone - disturbs my high.
And sure enough, our packs are gone. In fact, two of the pinball machines are gone. The fair has ended and the side show people are packing up already and beginning to disassemble the tent.
“They must be around here somewhere. Somebody must have just moved them out of the way.” Just then a voice from behind. “Mister are you looking for these?”
Teenagers, a boy and girl, stand behind us, to the side of the entrance. Behind them our packs lean against the wall of the tent. “We put them aside when you didn't come back for them. We saw you arrive in the back of the Maloney's truck. Hiking and hitchhiking. Gosh, what a way to travel. Neat, don't you think, Sally. This here is Sally Williams and I'm John Wesley.” He extends his hand.
Lucia reaches for it and takes it between her two hands.
“Lucia Cilento, and this is my boyfriend, Eddie Mc Bard. Thanks for watching out for us and our packs.”
We talk about the fair. We tell them we are teachers and that we're headed towards the mountains. John and Sally are obviously rooted in the geography of this area. They are quite proud of Our fair. They appear as wholesome and green as the early August Kansas corn that surrounds us. They seem perfectly in place, somehow; still they enjoy the idea of an adventure such as ours, and John offers out of the blue to drive us to the interstate. He and Sally would love the excuse of his benevolence towards us as the reason to stay out late on their date. But first, he needs to go by his house to let his mother know, and for Sally to telephone her parents from his house to let them know she'd be getting home later than planned.
So a ride to the interstate it is, with these two kids, John and Sally.
“Let me carry your pack, Mister Mc Bard.”
Outside we walk, the four of us, first to Russ Rounder's car where we tell him our plans, thank him again for the show, and say a good-bye, and then to John's car. We stow our packs in the trunk of his Buick. It's my Mom's car, but, of course, she can't drive it.
John's house is a stone and mortar affair on the eastern edge of town up against the cornfields. It is separated from the town itself by an irrigation ditch over which one lone span gives access to the yard.
Inside John tells us we should wait in the living room while he speaks with his mother in the back bedroom. Sally goes into the kitchen to call her parents. We sit on the couch.
What a treat to be here, I think. Being inside another family's home. The room is comfortable and commodious, given the smallish appearance the house has from the outside. There's an upright piano on one wall; photographs of what look like three generations of Wesley's stand atop it. Framed portraits of a lot of men in uniform. Both curtained windows in the room are fronted by tables on which vases full of freshly cut flowers sit. Two rockers make up the rest of the living room furniture. John returns and asks us to, “Come. Say hello to my mother,” and we follow him to his mother's bedroom. She's not sickly. She just likes to retire to her bedroom right after sundown. Always has.
His mother's bedroom is as Lucia immediately whispers in my ear, Right out of a Fellini movie. It is full of dolls from all around the world. They perch and sit and stand on chairs, window sills, and furniture tops. Larger ones up high, smaller ones below.
“I had five sons before John here, Mister Mc Bard, Miss Cilento. Each one joined the navy when he was seventeen. To see the world. I signed the papers to let each one enlist. My son Bill started me off collecting these dolls. Billy was my oldest and the first to go overseas, and he used to send me a doll from every major port he made, and when the next four joined up, they did the same.” Pointing to the dolls she says, “I never get lonely for my boys even though they live in different parts of the world. I just look at a doll and know my boys carry me with them all over the world.
“But I ain't signing papers for my Johnny here. No way. Times have changed. I don't trust any government that would send eighteen-year-olds off to war. Child abuse, I call it. The Navy at peace is a beautiful service to be in, but the navy at war is no place for children. Besides, I think John, here, is the Wesley destined to stay in Weston. Go ahead, look around, Lucia, the whole world's here in this room.”
While Lucy checks out the dolls, I speak with Wilma. I tell her it had been kind of John to offer us a ride. That it is very much appreciated. Sally joins us in the bedroom, telling us that her parents were ruffled by her request to stay out later than planned. “I have to call home as soon as we reach Pizza Palace to let them know we've arrived there.” In an aside to Lucy and I she lets us know that she hadn't mentioned us, or the answer would have been an emphatic “No!”
Wilma offers to buy the pizza we'll share when we get to I-80, and she produces a small purse out of which she extracts a ten dollar bill which she hands to her son. “Enjoy and be safe.”
We thank her and leave the bedroom and then the house.
During the ride to I-80 I become aware of something I can't quite put my finger on. I itch. Seriously itch in certain places. Right now I itch where my forearm rests on the armrest. My rump is itchy where I sit on it. Maybe it's the plastic seat coverings. With Lucy now asleep beside me in the back seat, I examine my forearm as best I can in the darkness of the moving car, but can discern nothing unusual about its appearance, although my hand detects a couple of bumps on my elbow, as if the skin is swollen around some clogged pores. I think that maybe I've been bitten by insects. I decide to put it out of my mind, the itch, and fall off to sleep with the sleeping Lucia in my arms, her head a wild black flower in my lap.
An hour later I awake to the lights of the businesses that cluster together on the north side of I_80. A gas station, the Pizza Palace, a custard stand, and the Lost American Diner glitter in the farmland darkness along a frontage road on the north side of the highway. A used car lot sits at the west end of the strip in the middle of nowhere. As we pull into the parking lot of the Pizza Palace, I notice the lights going off in the Custard Stand and in the gas station. The Lost American Diner is still lit up, although I notice there is but one car parked in its lot. Probably the cook's.
We no sooner walk into the Pizza Palace, when the hostess and cashier asks Sally if she is Sally Williams. “Your mother just called and wants you to call her. She said you'd be arriving any minute, and here you are.”
I excuse myself and go off to the restroom. I may have fallen asleep, but I haven't forgotten my itch. I want to examine myself in the light of a mirror. Once inside, I remove my shirt and examine my reflection, and I'm confused by what I see. I seem to have a rash that until this evening I haven't been aware of. On my elbows and the flesh of the forearms near them. Under my arms, too, although I don't feel any itchiness at the moment. I lock the bathroom door and remove my pants to have a look at my butt. It's a small mirror hung pretty high, but if I stand against the far wall away from it I can see my white ass. Even though it had itched in the car, I see no rash, although there seems to be the beginnings of a few scattered pimples. I conclude the plastic of the Naugahyde of the Buick's upholstery must have somehow irritated my skin. Maybe I'm sweating out of my pores the toxins of an East Coast urban childhood. Cleansing myself of the baggage of my raised Catholic and believing Irish soul. I think stigmata. I think of statues moving. I think of being trapped inside the body of a pig with the consciousness of a man, under the spell of Circe. I think that I should figure out a way to bath more on our adventure. I know I'd sure like to shower. I close my eyes shutting out the reflection of myself. I loosen my belt. I take a deep breath slowly. I take another and another and slowly my consciousness crawls through the muscles of my body. I sense the tension in my shoulders due to their burden of carrying my pack. There's also a tension in my lower back, but it is slight. All and all I feel great. I dress and return to Lucia and John and Sally.
Over pizza Sally asks Lucia fifty questions about New York. “Is it safe? Do you live in an apartment? What floor are you on? Do people really go up on the roofs to hang out? Can you really go to the movies twenty-four hours a day? The subway never stops? I hear there are hundreds of bakeries. Is New York cheesecake as good as they say it is?”
Each question Lucia answers with a playful embellishment, implying that New York City is even better than any dream of it could be. She's having fun being the idol of these farm town kids. “The city is wonderful. People from all over the world. Food from all over the world. But I'll tell you something, Sally. New York ain't for me. I might live there next year; I have a one year lease on my apartment. But after that I'm off. Off to Chile. Or back to the Sahara.”
I note that Lucia's response includes no mention of me in her visions of the future, reminding me that, like myself, she hasn't a clue as to where our relationship is going, despite our amorousness last night. While Lucia and Sally prattle on, I recap the last twenty-four hours. I guess it to be now getting on towards midnight, and last night at midnight I was in Betty's Bar looking for live Kansas City jazz. Between now and then there's been Bob from Philly and his pregnant girlfriend Brenda; the fish, the lizards; the teeth of the boys at the bar and the teeth of Brenda's tattooed abuser amid the broken glass of the tv screen, the steak knife in his hand; our second and much groovier love making; the lights of dawn, its colors on the lake, my recitation of a poem presumed forgotten, the wind in the catamaran sail; the sundry pickup trucks and crossroads, the million ears of corn; the fair, the beautiful photographs of the 4H winners with their animals and families; Russ Rounder, his talent and charm, the joint we smoked in the cornfield; this pizza, paid for by John's aging mother who spends her time after sundown among three hundred dolls mailed her by loving sons from ports of call worldwide. When John says that it's almost eleven and they'd better be heading back to have Sally home by midnight as promised, I realize there's still an hour left in the day. I intend to use it to find a good place to sleep.
Outside John and Sally head back to Weston in the Buick. In my vision they climb the first hill past the interstate underpass and then their taillights disappear as they sink southward towards Kansas.
We walk west, uphill. A quiet silence between us. We are alone, together, again.
I guess we better just sleep somewhere down the road. A little way beyond this area. Hitch from the middle of that hill up ahead in the morning. Hope we get a ride before we get arrested for hitching on the interstate. We're somewhere in Nebraska. One good ride tomorrow and we could be in the mountains, a couple of miles high. “Hey, we could sleep in the back seat of one of the cars in the used car lot. There might be a station wagon or something like that. Let's check out the lot back there and see if the vehicles are locked.”
By now all the business are closed. There's not a car in any of the parking lots. We walk back to the used car concern beyond the closed restaurants. I scan the cars for a wagon or van but don't find one. There is, however, a model mobile home. A paper notice in the window lists its price at seven thousand dollars.
“Wouldn't it be a gas if it were unlocked,” I say aloud. “I could use a shower.”
And sure enough it is. Unlocked, that is. And into the aluminum house we slide, closing the door on the night of a most incredible day.
Inside I pull out a flashlight to survey the interior. This here trailer is a most modern bachelor pad. An eight track stereo system with amplifier, tuner and speakers sits on a bookcase that spans the headboard of a, believe it or not, double waterbed. Kitchen appliances, a sink, refrigerator and dishwasher line the far wall. A narrow hall leads back to another room that's outfitted to look like a construction supervisor's office. It has a door to the outside that is locked and dead bolted. I realize we'd entered the trailer from the back. I wonder how it would appear and what would happen if we are caught here.
Lucy and I discuss the merits of our sleeping inside. We could get caught. We could be busted. We could take a shower. That we'd get to fuck on a waterbed wins the argument for me.
I'm afraid to turn on a light in the house for fear that someone nearby will notice it, so by the light of my flashlight that I hold in my hands, Lucia showers in the warm darkness of the shower stall. The top of her head is higher than the showerhead and she has to bend her knees to rinse the Dr. Bonner's Castle Soap out of her hair. She holds the light for me as well and also for me while I shave. The glass of the bathroom mirror captures both of our reflections as I shave and she points the flashlight. She's somewhat stooped forward so as to level her head with mine and her breasts hang down rather than against her chest. I slide sideways behind her and encircle her with my arms, cupping a breast in each hand. I rise up on my toes to kiss her neck as she bends her knees to receive it. My cock nuzzles against her anus and for the first time the thought of anal sex enters my head. I leave it there as if it is pressing there by accident. What does she think of this, I wonder. I realize I've closed my eyes and open them. She's waiting for me to make the next move. It seems it would be easy to penetrate her ass. I wonder how much stronger the sensation of coming would be given the imagined narrowness of the anus. I'm wondering how it will feel for her, and almost as if in response, Lucia's hands reach backwards around her and she guides my cock forward into her vagina, giving my intentions the benefit of her doubt. It feels good standing there with my erection full within her. I am fondling her breasts and kissing the nape of her neck. I remember the waterbed and disengage from her.
“Let's get in bed, Lucy, my Love. No telling how early the car salesman arrives.” And we literally dive out of the bathroom and into the bed. Later, it is as I'm eating her with her ass cupped in my hands that I feel the prickly bumps on her ass. Like the ones on my elbows. I try to dismiss the coincidence but can not. I'll bring it up in the morning with her. Her orgasm in my mouth puts us both to sleep.
Despite the waterbed, my night's sleep is not the greatest. I dream of insects alive in the ground crawling along the roots of the corn which sink deep in the rich soil. Everywhere in the darkness are roots bypassing each other and insects crawl to the surface along them. They change into birds when they reach the surface. Each one shits before taking flight and the droppings run down into the earth along the mishmash of roots. I wake up itchy and wonder if the plastic of the waterbed is making me itch. I realize the shower hadn't helped. I wonder if I'm allergic to something. Maybe I'm allergic to the chemicals being sprayed on the corn. After a couple hours of fitful sleep, I wake Lucia with a kiss.
With all the optimism I can muster I tell her, “Today we make the Rockies.” I fondle her breasts softly, following the curve of them with the palm of my hand. Inspired by the grand softness of them I offer a plan: “Let's head to the Grand Tetons.”
“Not until you do to me what you did to me last night. I never felt so good in all my life.”
For the rest of our travels, cunnilingus will be the glue that binds our sexual relationship. She holds my head at the mouth of her vagina with a passionate hunger, an aspect of Lucia that rarely shows itself to the world. It matches mine. We are building the trust to reveal ourselves fully to each other. I am a most happy man now that Lucia is a poem on the end of my tongue. We are now capable of and deep enough into pleasure that love might actually be engendered.
“Lucy, do me a favor. Get rid of your diaphragm. I know you don't like it. Neither do I. And I've never worn a condom. I can control myself. I don't have to come inside you. I just want you to make me feel as good as I make you feel.”
It's already light when we position ourselves on the side of the interstate half way up a small knoll a short distance from the frontage road. Not much traffic, just an occasional semi roaring by at what seems to be ninety. I guess it to be about six or six thirty. The prairie here is an ocean of wheat and native grasses, forever sculpted by a noticeable wind. The sky is huge and dusty with high thin clouds that'll be gone by late morning. An approaching van slows and comes to a stop. The side door slides and here's three guys sleepy in blankets and bags who wiggle themselves into a different configuration to make room for Lucia and me and our two packs.
“Going to the mountains?” I ask, and the woman riding shotgun narrates that she and Ron, nodding proudly and lovingly towards the driver, are heading halfway across Wyoming, then dropping down into Colorado. She points to a place on a road map. Steamboat Springs is their destination. The driver, Ron, and she are a couple. The other three are, like us, hitchhikers. Ron and Vickie picked them up last night at different points along I-80. Noah and Alfred are headed to the Great Northwest, Rainbow Festival bound. They're from Milwaukee. Matt, a city Chicagoan, is going as far as Ron and Vickie will take him.
The van has a wild smell. It emanates from the tanned hides and smoky blankets that cover the walls and floor of the van. Noah and Alfred lie under buffalo robes trying to catch a little more sleep before Cheyenne. Matt is wrapped in a Hudson Bay blanket, green with an off center black stripe.
Ron and Vickie are returning to Colorado after trading and selling bead work and hides they'd tanned themselves in Chicago. Ron is a huge individual, bearded, big bellied and dressed in buckskin top to bottom. A full moon of beard and hair circumscribes a Santa Claus of a face. He's wearing a most beautiful pair of beaded moccasins. He drives the van like a captain, using the rear view to keep an eye on his guests. Vickie casually wears a deerskin dress covered with quills and beading, as casually as I wear denim. I think to myself that she looks the cross of Hippie and Sioux. I can smell the tanned hide of her dress, the leather in her braided hair. I wonder if she has a sister. Even though we are riding in a gasoline engine powered 1973 Dodge Tradesman van, I feel somehow a century removed from the fast food pizza of last night and the flashing lights of another night's Kansas City disco. A hundred years in two days, I think. Just another couple hundred miles to the mountains.
Lucia's sitting on the rear wheel well looking out the back windows of the van. I sit facing her my back against the engine cover between Ron and Vickie. I draw up my knees and hug them. The van speeds westward. I dig out a joint from my bag. Everyone partakes and the van sails on. Stoned, I ponder the pros and cons of going to Colorado, for according to Dave, hitchhiking is illegal there. Even on county roads. Maybe it's best to get out in Wyoming before Ron and Vickie drop south towards Steamboat, I think.
Vickie tells me that Alfred and Noah are getting out in Cheyenne to head north for awhile on their way to Seattle for the Rainbow Festival. Noah tells me that the Rainbow is a gathering of people who get together every year, usually on National Forest land where you can always camp for free. He tells how he went last year and had the time of his life. It's mostly freaks, and families, who do a lot of sharing. “A real natural high,” he titters.
I tell Ron and Vickie that Lucy and I are, more or less, headed to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming; still, I ask them about this Steamboat Springs place.
“What, is Steamboat Springs on a river or something?”
“No, no. Steamboat Springs is called Steamboat because of the hot springs in the area. There's a hot springs city pool, right in town. Today' it's mostly a ski resort, although a lot of people go there for the hot springs. If you ever do go there, be sure to check out the hot springs out side of town. Quite a place. Quite a scene. They're called Strawberry Hills. They're nine, . . . ten miles north and west of Steamboat in the National Forest. Ask anyone in town and they'll tell you how to get there. Usually a lot of people are there, it seems from all over the world. Some people camp out all summer.”
Lucy joins us in the front of the van to hear about the hot springs. Vickie jokes with us that we should not be adverse to nudity if we plan on soaking there.
“I've never been to a hot springs,” she says to me excitedly, imploringly.
“Steamboat it is,” I announce. “We'll head north to the Tetons after a sojourn swing through Colorado.”
Time passes, Alfred and Noah get out on the outskirts of Cheyenne to head north on I_25. Matt, the Chicagoan, remains. He has neither money nor true destination. He seems to be attaching himself to Lucia and me as I am the man with marijuana.
He coughs, “Got any whiskey?” after a toke on the roach he'd been Bogarting since earlier on. He's traveling at the whim of life's generosity and he's got a smile friendly enough to enable his beggar_ ings. He doesn't exactly endear himself to me. Later Lucy asks Ron to drop us off east of Steamboat up on Rabbit Ears Pass so that we can sleep on a mountain. Lucy wants to camp below the rock after which the pass is named. Under the Rabbit Ears rock. And when we get out of the van and say our farewells to Vickie and Ron, Matt somehow winds up with us in a pass over the Rockies. He says he's got to spend one night on the mountain top with us. “Besides, all the animal skins were beginning to make my skin itch.”
My own itch had returned while riding in the van the last few hours, a rash of sensation where I'd been sitting on my haunches. And now I don't itch anywhere. Here on the road. Standing in the middle of an incredible wilderness, backpack on my shoulders, companions, our scents a drift on a breeze stiff enough to flutter lime green aspen leaves.
We are standing south of the Rabbit Ear rock. The highway down which Ron and Vicky head disappears around a switchback bend descending westwards. The afternoon sun is as warm and welcoming as the thousands of flowers around us are colorful and plenty.
“Indian paintbrush,” Matt says. “And that beauty there is a Columbine. I read a lot. I could tell you a lot about Colorado. The Color Red refers more to the clay of Southern Colorado, though.”
It's indescribable the beauty of this patch of mountain slope as it rises towards the bottom of the exposed stone. There's a National Forest campground a quarter of a mile east on the south side of the highway, but it charges a fee, so we decide to just pitch our tent up the hill at the foot of the granite.
Two minutes into our hike, we all three are straining. Breathing is tiring what with the exertion of carrying backpacks uphill. The air is thinner here and the slope of the hill is much steeper than we imagined. The progress of a hundred yards here seems like the progress of a mile at sea level. Matt starts coughing uncontrollably, and since I must admit the strain of our ascent is more than I'd expected, we give up on the idea of camping near the shelter of the rock, and pitch my tent in the open in the upper of two meadows of flowers half way between the rock and the road. I guess we're a mile from both the rock above and the road below.
No sooner do we have the tent up that we need it as the first of two different storms appears out of nowhere and washes the vale of the pass with ten minutes of downpour. Matt tells us he's read that if you don't like the weather in the mountains, just wait a minute. It'll change. We wait it out together all crammed in the tent. And sure, enough, the rain soon changes back to bright sun, and we all stretch out in it to toast our flat land skins, unaware of the power of sun at high altitude. Baking in the sun, however, seems to aggravate my skin condition and I chide myself for not having discussed it with Lucia. I vow to myself to bring it up with her as soon as we are alone. Later we share the fruit that Lucy has, and for dinner on my one burner we warm first canned corn then beans. Late afternoon turns to early evening quickly. The skylight moves through a rainbow of dusk hues. The temperature drops. Night arrives. My itchiness has subsided. I pray it never returns. The stars come out and we three sit huddled together, a triangle of backs, amazed at the number of stars and shooting stars. Before tonight I'd seen but maybe one or two in my whole life, and already tonight I've seen a half dozen. The constellations swirl and swill and zodiac above us, and we all three, in turn, wax poetic about the sky we are under. Matt calls the stars the eyes of God. I say that they are chinks in the brick and mortar of eternity. Lucy asks if there's a star for every grain of sand.
After a good night joint, Lucy and I crawl in the tent and into our bags zippered together. We get naked within it and entwine ourselves to maximize the comfort of each other's warmth for it is growing quite cold. Matt who has only an army surplus blanket to sleep with curls up beside us, and immediately falls asleep, as if to enjoy the high in dreamtime. Lucy and I too fall asleep, but after an hour or so, we are awakened by the shivering and mumbles of Matt whose teeth are actually chattering in his half sleep. Not only is he cold, but he is sick and feverish. His shivering continues and he begins talking in his half sleep about Robin, begging her not to do something. He moans and cries and shivers and sweats and seems almost to be headed towards delirium. It dawns on me that he's also experiencing some sort of withdraw. He's got the no alcohol, need some, heebie-jeebies. I wake him, but he's mostly out of it due to his fever. I unzip my side of the bag and tell him to roll in. Lucy enfolds him within her arms and I squeeze my back up against him. I zipper the zipper. Lucy and I warm him back up and probably save him from pneumonia.
Next morning Matt tells us he's had enough of the mountain and its cold. I dreamed I fell into Lake Michigan. He heads off down the hill and disappears into the trees by the side of the road. From our vantage point we see him walking west in the direction of Steamboat. Lucia and I are not sorry to see him go. We're ready for the privacy of each other and luxuriate the morning away in a cloud of smoke and love making. I pass on bringing up the subject of my sorry skin. My worry about it is a dull ache; luckily the landscape distracts me from it. Eventually we wander down the hillside to the road I search of drinking water at the campground where we meet an unusual couple.
The man, Sullivan, is from Austin. He works in some capacity with the university there. His wife, Suni, is a Tai Chi instructor. They offer to cook us breakfast and we accept. Over rice pancakes and tea, we each share tidbits about ourselves. Sullivan had been in Viet Nam, early on, before there was much warfare. Suni interrupts his recall of Viet Nam asking if we've ever seen anyone do Tai Chi. When Lucy replies, “No, but I'd love to,” Suni invites us to watch her at dawn the next morning. My favorite Tai Chi welcomes the dawn, so don't be late. Meet me in the meadow below your tent around five.
Lucia and I spend the rest of the morning hiking along a rocky stream that traverses from north to south in a meandering fashion the mountain park cupped by the east and west summits of Rabbit Ears Pass. Our hiking is easy and absolutely as beautiful as are our surroundings. Lodge Pole pine and aspen are the surrounding woodsy souls. Tickled by the ever-present kiss of alpine wind, a kaleidoscope of brilliant blue sky, pine and alpine lime summer green umbrellas our ascent. Occasionally we cross open areas where I get the sense I would not want to be here in a storm, judging from the damage done to the occasional lightning scarred pine.
Eventually the stream meets its shaper. Beaver. Their damn is right out of the books. The water behind is calm, green with the reflection of pine along the shore and blue with the reflection of the sky, a mirror reflection of the universe, convex in its perspective. Enhancing this spectacular image further, a large black bear enters the picture and takes center stage about hundred yards ahead. He or she is eating something, maybe berries, alongside the pond. Its back is towards us.
I grab Lucia's hand and point. No sooner does she see at what I'm pointing than she squeals delightedly, “O my God, a bear.” Her spoken delight ricochets off the rock of the streambed. She might have well as tapped that bear on the shoulder. Our presence has been announced.
The bear who hasn't been standing at its full height to munch now does. This animal is huge, Christ, it looks to be well over eight feet, and a football field away. It cranes its neck in search of any danger, looking around for the source of the sound. I push Lucia off the trail behind a rock and point my finger to her lips, indicating that our silence is golden and maybe life saving. I'm afraid to look back at the bear, for fear he'll see my white face. I know I'm out of my element. I don't know jack about bears. Did he hear us? Did he smell us? Did he see us?
I look back and he's not in sight. Suddenly the beautiful forest is not so beautiful, for it's home
to hungry bears as well as day tripping tourists. I whisper to Lucia that I don't see him. Lucia
whispers back, “That don't mean he's gone.”
“Let's wait five, then head down, “ I propose, and we do. It's a long five during which we both catch our breath against the surge of adrenalin we just experienced. I listen acutely for the possible sound of the bear's approach, but hear none. My heart is pumping as we leave the cover of the rock and head downstream towards the campground. We hike fast, almost running. After a quarter of a mile or so we stop to assess our situation. If the bear were chasing us, surely he'd be on us by now. Still, the greater distance between us the better, and we are just about to resume our quickened pace. Lucy kneels on one knee retying her sneakers. I am standing, looking uphill for any sign of the bear. Suddenly frightened we are as the sound of an animal nearby and crashing through trees alerts us both to full attention. The hair on my neck is literally on electromagnetic alert. My eyes pan for sight of the bear, and then not ten feet from us a huge velvet antlered buck bounds by. He looks almost terrified when he sees us. Terrified of me I hope, not of a bear giving chase. This all is so startling that both Lucy and I laugh to relieve the pressure of our imagined terror once it's obvious there is no bear in pursuit. The campground and then our tent in the meadow of flowers are both welcome sights when we return to them.
Later on in the afternoon, I have an even greater scare.
I'm drawing with my pen a sketch of what I see. From here down to the road is a mile of August wild mountain flowers. A different kind of lushness than New Jersey in August, my drawing hopes to apture in the patterning of my pencil strokes the density of the flowers in my field of vision. I can't depict color but I can imply this startling abundance here close to top of the world. When I finish the sketch I realize that Lucia's no longer sunbathing behind me by the tent.
I look inside the tent, but she's not there either. Nor are her shoes and clothes. She must have gone off to potty or something, I think. Five minutes pass. Ten minutes pass. I have no idea how long she's been gone. I have no clue as to her direction, except that she didn't go in the direction I was drawing. I try to discern her trail but can't. If she's at a higher elevation, surely she can see the orange of the tent. She must have wandered east or west as they both slope slightly downwards. Soon I realize Lucy's probably lost. Hadn't Liz told me a long time ago that Lucy could be reckless. Hadn't she been reckless squealing in delight when she saw the bear. I begin calling her name in the hope that she can hear me. I do so for a good ten minutes, but still no Lucy. My calling seems ineffectual. My voice grows raspy.
Then I remember that in a pouch on my backpack, I have a whistle that Joe Carideo gave me to use coaching basketball last winter. Jimmy Boyd had advised me a whistle was good to have when hiking, and I'd packed it. I dig it out and begin shrilling its sound. Minutes pass. My worry is turning to out and out fear that Lucy is lost. I continue blowing the whistle intermittently. Three long whistles at a time. I wonder if I should go down to the campground for help. I wonder should I leave the area of the tent and go look for her. My mind races and I tell myself aloud, I can't believe that this is happening. I remember how cold Matt was without a sleeping bag. I continue blowing the whistle. Time is passing. She could be getting farther and farther out of range of my whistling. Another fifty shrills and, O thank God, there she is waving from a rock a half mile east of the tent. Minutes later we meet half way. I am angry at her foolishness but so happy that she is safe that we fuck right on the side of the mountain up against a boulder. An airplane, a commercial jet of some sort inches across the sky behind the face of Lucia who presses me against the rock. I always knew that rabbit's feet were lucky, and now I know that rabbit ears are likewise.
The next morning we meet Suni in the meadow before dawn. She is alone.
“My husband, he likes to sleep in. I don't mind if you watch, for I know how beautiful Tai Chi is. But, please do not speak or distract me. And thank you for coming.” Suni stands in the middle of the meadow and we watch from a short distance off. We huddle against the chill of the late night, wrapped in our bags as she beckons the sun with a syrupy summons. Her movements are torturously slow in the dawning light. The sky to the east changes colors almost as imperceptibly as Suni moves her body. But move she does and only when she's at some sort of epiphany of position do I realize how much her position and orientation to me have changed. As with dawn that spans the difference between night and day.
So here on this mountain, after Matt, bear, buck, and fear of Lucy being lost, I experience my first taste of artistic dance. I am witness to a dance that - unlike the only dancing I ever did which was to court and to woo, to attract a woman - Suni dances for the sun. Literally. She would have danced alone for the sun if we had not been there. According to what she told us yesterday, she dances for the sun every morning of her life. And what unfolding, what appreciation is embodied in her very breathing and minimalist moving. What worship. Her dance. What church, this universe of starry skies and dawning suns. What a gift to my understanding is this ritual that I am witness to.
After thanking Suni who departs to go prepare breakfast for herself and Sullivan, Lucia and I return and strike camp. By seven we are on the side of the road waiting for a ride to Steamboat which according to Suni is in the valley ten miles west of the west summit of Rabbit Ears. Too far to walk, but with nothing to do but wait for a ride, we decided to walk with a sign on Lucia's back that says WEST. This way we will not be technically hitchhiking. It isn't that you can't accept rides, according to the Colorado law; it's that you can not solicit them. This we'd been told by Ron and Vickie. And it works. Walking along the road the first car to pass us is a State Trooper who slows to have a better look at us, especially long at the long legged Lucia, then speeds on down the highway. The very next car stops, and a local Steamboat Springs waitress, takes us into Steamboat. She drops us off in the middle of town. It's not quite eight, but already the tourists are busy awakening and scurrying in preparation for another day in the high country summer wilderness of North Western Colorado. Our ride suggests we catch breakfast at a small cafe, and we do. After yesterday's scares I've got the appetite of an October bear.
We spend the morning walking Steamboat from one end to the other. There is a natural foods store and we stock up on provisions for the next few days as we now plan to pitch camp at the Strawberry Hills Hot Springs and maybe lay back for a couple of days if it's as cool a place as Ron and Vickie had implied. I wonder if we'll run into them or Matt. I read a day old newspaper. The president is under some sort of further suspicion. Watergate is the word. Gas prices are skyrocketing again. Depressing, and seemingly of little significance on this glorious morning in Steamboat Springs Colorado. We ask a gas station attendant the way to Strawberry Hills, and we follow his directions to a dirt road leaving town that supposedly dead ends at the hot springs. It's ten miles, too far to walk, again, so we wait for a ride by walking, this time with the sign on my back. After a half mile or so, a pickup truck stops, and we're offered a ride by two teenage locals. We climb in the back with our packs and head up the mountain.
It's a bouncy slow ride along a dirt road that cuts through aspen forests, clings to the side of mountains where there's only room for one vehicle, and crosses more than one wild mountain stream. We also cross the first cattle guard grate of this city boy's life.
Now all the way up the mountain I'm imaging what these hot springs are like. Hot water cascading down a slope that mixes with the waters of a cold mountain stream. People naked and soaking. The thought of walking around naked with Lucia reminds me of our first morning together back at Hatteras when we almost drowned. Damn, I am reminded, she gets herself into trouble; a wanderer with little sense of direction, she's reckless, indeed.
The pickup stops suddenly, and one of the kids in the cab tells us, “There they are,” pointing down a slope towards a couple of pools of water. I'm not sure what I'm looking at. Rivulets of greenish water seepage scar the gray of the exposed rock across the bowl of land that cups the springs. But I see no one naked, and I am disappointed. All I see are about a dozen people sitting around or in the pools of water. Where, I wonder, is the crowd that Ron and Vickie had described as hippies camping out all summer.
As we're getting out of the truck a local sheriff's car appears behind us although it doesn't come as close to the pools as the pick up. It parks back in the shade of the Lodge Pole pine trees that cover the last hillock. The driver takes off his sunglasses and studies the area below with a pair of binoculars as we help each other on with our packs. After a minute of gazing, the officer puts down the binoculars, backs the car around, and heads back towards town. We thank the boys who refrain from getting out of the truck as they've just come up to watch. We head down towards the pools, and as we descend a beaten path away from the truck, we witness a most extraordinary sight. Almost as if out of nowhere, from behind the trunks of trees and out from behind bushes step at least fifty naked people. Men, women, children. From those already in the pools, a chorus of cheers and glee and applause. As we find out later, everyone knows that the sheriff leaves town each noon to check on nudity at the springs. Thus everyday he arrives at twelve twenty for his examination of the area. He tickets nudist fifty dollars if he spies any. It's all a game. You just got to know the rules.
Now the hot springs themselves are something else. In pools created both by nature and ingenious bathers, the water captured by the arrangement of rocks is perfectly hot. Almost too hot sometimes, at which times, a wheel-rigged sluice gate can be opened to allow in more cold water. Some pools are entirely too hot. But oh, the world is a different place when you are soaking in one hundred degree water at ten thousand feet. Especially, if you are naked with others of your species.
We spend four days at the juncture of hot springs and cold stream. Beside the main soaking pools there are smaller spring fed pools upstream in the woods created by the heated water, and aside one of these we pitch my tent and make camp. In the cold stream we keep the Coors I'd bought in Steamboat. We mostly eat fruit and sandwiches of cheese or peanut butter and honey. We buy drinking water from a guy with a car who goes to town each morning; my guess is that he has a number of other products for sale as well. He's got a lot of thirsty customers.
What with all the other people camping nearby, Lucia and I don't have to depend just on each other for company, and we often spend hours separated, doing our own thing. After all, we're not married, and there are a lot of interesting (and naked) people here off on their own great adventures. I meet people from Texas and Washington, Holland and Canada. Some, like myself, arrived here by accident and coincidence. Others are here because they'd been here before or because someone had told them about Strawberry Hills. Most people I meet seem like Lucia to be great travelers. I hear stories of other wonderful high, natural places, special spots on earth where humans partake of another reality, one rooted in earth, in place, a reality less anxious, less stressed by money, more spiritual and hopeful.
Debashiesh, a Canadian of Cambodian descent, from Vancouver, tells me of a great place on the outskirts of that city. Named for the number of off shore shipwrecks there the last hundred years, Wreck Beach is a stretch of land's end where Canadians gather to play on the beach naked.
“And have for years. The scene there is so unlike the rest of the world. People openly buy, sell, and use drugs on the beach. You can cop morphine, amphetamine, acid, heroin, anything there, although it's hard to score good reefer there. The only law enforced is that there's no camping allowed. Come dusk, the beach empties and everyone retreats to the dominant reality, the one of clothes and work and school and law and anal order. Sundays in the summer there are hundreds of people there. Mostly stoned and sunbathing. The water's too cold and rough for swimming. The Church of Sunday Sun and Sin, I call it.” One night a guy from my native Pennsylvania tells of a place I'd never heard of, Belize, in Central America. A lot of Americans, especially Colorado natives, visit and hang out there. A lot of artists and Hippies. He goes there to spelunk. Caving is one of his three great passions. He story-tells a tale of his having actually discovered a Stone Age burial sight in the winter of 1973 in an underground cave twelve miles from the tropical forest surface entrance along an underground river by a hot spring. A Stone Age shaman's bones still to this day lie there undisturbed. Stone amulets encircle the skeletal remains. His second great passion is checking out hot springs. He loves the chance meeting of people in out of the ordinary places. He and his wife were actually married here at Strawberry Hills, two years ago. Their anniversary is the day after tomorrow. And these stories unwind as the vapors off the surface of the water merge with the chill of the mountain high night. This woodsy pocket of human activity forsakes all worry. Floating, I don't need to close my eyes to fantasize how good I feel lying in these waters, listening to these stories. I am clear as a bell. Inspired. I consider the concept of sacred places. Does it take humans to make a place sacred?
One evening a guy from Saint Paul tells about traveling in Africa. Visiting a painter friend in Spain, he met a woman, an older Belgian, who needed a companion in order for her to travel in Africa. Some places it's illegal for anyone, a man or a woman, to travel alone.
“She dispenses out of date European vaccines in the poorest of places, in the poorest of nations.” Places, names that are new to me. Burkina Faso. Burundi. Countries that weren't on the map in my Catholic elementary Fifties' and Jesuit high Sixties' school texts. Rwanda. I've traveled two thousand miles to get here and now the world I realize is immensely bigger than I'd envisioned.
Late mornings and afternoons are not the best time at the springs themselves as the water pools are not shaded. High mountain sun is intense and I find that when I expose myself to it, my numerous skin rashes commence to itch. So my routine, with or without Lucia, becomes to soak early morning; hike along the stream, so as not to get lost, until early afternoon; read, write, draw or nap until late afternoon in the shade of the pine and aspen that canopy my tent; and then hang out and soak late into the night.
The stories of foreign exotic places is what Lucia enjoys most, but, of course, my favorite thing about the hot springs is the presence of naked women. Growing up Catholic I hadn't gotten to see a lot of naked women. Bikini clad, yes; but nude, no. And here there are tall ones, short ones, thin ones, fat ones, a feast for my parochial eyes. An archipelago of islands of breast floats in the water around me. Women lie naked on the rocks sun bathing and moon bathing. I compare each naked woman to the few naked women I have seen in my life: my mother, my wife, Cecilia and Lucia. And the mystery of each woman does not suffer for this comparison of their nakedness; indeed, it is enhanced, for it is not her look but what a woman does that creates the lure, the love. Therein lies the true mystery and I spend hours fantasizing and imagining. I can't help but wonder how and to what degree each and every woman that I spy relates to sex and fucking. To pleasure, the receiving and the giving of it. Certainly, Carol and Cecilia and Lucia are quite different when it comes to making love. The sounds they make, the tremor of their murmurings, the words they choose to speak. Each has a different pet name for me: Daddy Dog, Cutie Pie, Bard. Each has a different way to ride me, to hold me, to be passionate. I wonder how the tall blonde from Holland with her Dutch accent who speaks of the hot springs in Sweden would sound in orgasm. Given her long neck, how deep in her throat would my cock go. How squishy and cushy would the fat assed woman from the University of Colorado be from behind? How sensitive each nipple? Each mystery, each woman, I decide, must surely be utterly unique.
Naturally Lucia and I have a great time of it late night in our double bag or immersed in the warm waters of our private upstream pool after the turn on and relaxation of an evening's soak. Our second night I bring up the subject of my skin rash. Lucia says she's noticed nothing unusual about herself, although she tells me her rump was itchy a few days ago, a condition she attributes to the fiber glass of Dave's catamaran. She suggests that maybe I should go see a doctor in Steamboat, and on the third day of our stay at Strawberry Hills, we catch a ride into the town of Steamboat with the water jug man, Tommy. There we three gorge ourselves with a great breakfast of bacon and eggs and hotcakes and brewed coffee, after which I visit a small hospital clinic where I'm told that I suffer from non-specific dermatitis, whatever the hell that means. I am given an antibiotic to take over the course of the next ten days and a cortisone cream to apply externally. One application and the itch I'd been suffering since sitting in the vinyl booths of the cafe that morning subsides. When I rendezvous with Lucia who'd been shopping at City Market for foodstuffs to last the next few days, I encourage her to be examined as well, for the bumps on her ass that night in Nebraska seemed so much like the bumps on my under forearms
“My teacher's insurance card will cover the cost of an examination,” I tell her. “You might have what I have. Maybe I'm contagious. Just sign in at the clinic as my wife, Carol Marie Mc Bard.”
Lucy adamantly declines and reassures me she's not suffering from any itch. At noon, as we'd prearranged, we catch a ride with Tommy back to the springs. In the car I realize something is troubling Lucia, for she refuses the joint which Tommy offers to share with us. Tommy tells us he sells more than water up at the springs and he wonders if I'd like to buy any marijuana.
I tell him that I'm already in pocket, but inquire if he knows where I might get some acid. There's been a lot of references to tripping made by the story tellers at the springs, but no one seems to have any. Tommy tells me he can get some for me and promises to cop for me in a couple of days when he makes a run to Lake Granby which is about two hours southeast of Steamboat where he knows a chef who imports from San Francisco some bitchin blotter.
Later that afternoon Lucy and I have a great fight, for the subject of my wife having come up depresses her.
“I didn't know you were married when I hooked up with you,” she pouts. Lucy does not ask, but wants to know, where we are headed.
“Are we just fucking good friends, or what, Bard?”
Again I assure her that my relationship with Carol is over, and that a divorce is only a matter of time. A formality. As to the nature of our relationship, I answer that we're certainly more than fucking good friends.
“ We got some sort of destiny on our side. Some sort of magic made by the coincidence of our meeting. I'm willing to let the magic ride.”
Nonetheless, Lucia's funk lasts the rest of the day. Not until later that night, when I tell her “I love you” for the first time, does her funk disappear. And it's odd that when I whisper the words, they sound different than when I'd said them to the other women in my life, for this woman who floats on the surface of the hot spring pool with her head on the shore and her crotch in my mouth, balanced and buoyant on the head of my penis, is the first woman in my life who seems to be in charge of her own destiny. She has placed herself here. Led me to be here, the cunnilinguist below. The stars above arrange themselves in her eyes. I admire Lucy for her becoming, her who she is, not because she allows me sex, but rather because her life allows for magic and coincidence, a shot at life rich with chance an adventure, a life of forever going and becoming, a life quite different than the one of suburban dreams fulfilled. Lucy walks the road with her own two feet, under her own propulsion, down a path of her own haphazard choosing, where further is the aim, higher the zenith. Why not Belize, or Chile or Burkina Faso? Why not a pole or the equator? Why aspire to the same old thing as dictated by the circumstances of birth and geography? Given her recklessness, she will always be the product of luck and her determination to find out if her hunch is right, that there are other dreams besides the dominant
“I love you, too,” she tells me later as we fall asleep. I sleep deeper than I have in days, for the itch of my skin has finally abated, and Lucy and I have both spoken aloud our intention. I love you. What does it mean? What do I mean when I say it? What does Lucy mean when she says it? What are we intending to do?
In the morning I awake before Lucia and crawl out of the bag and tent into the fog of a low-lying cloud. It surrounds me as water does a creature in a shallow bay. It's literally trip-y, and I trip twice in the invisibility of such white fog. I'm in the soup of a witch, I joke to myself as I walk away from the tent in the direction of the road to urinate. I carry the fog as the soul does the mind, like a crab the dank of the bay.
A half hour later the sun is out, the cloud or the fog, whatever it was, has lifted, a disappearing act so subtle and quick I miss the transition while I am back in the tent waking Lucia. We eat bagels and cream cheese, drink instant coffee, and discuss a plan for the day.
“I'm getting bored here. The pools are wonderful but enough is enough. Let's head up towards the Tetons. I'm itchy to travel.”
No sooner does Lucia announce her desire than Frank appears in our life. He's wearing the uniform of the dedicated woodsmen from top to bottom. He's a walking Swiss Army Knife, a caricature of an Eagle Scout squared. And strangely enough he says to us, “I'm Frank Slaughter. Survivalist. I've been mountain climbing over by Craig, but my partner fell and broke his leg. He's going to rendezvous with me back here in October. Meantime, I'm headed up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Do you guys know anybody here might need a ride. I'm going the long way, mostly off road, cross-country in my truck. I can use the company, and somebody here at the hot springs might be headed towards the Tetons.”
Two hours later after one final soak, Frank, Lucia and I head off cross-country, off road, in his 1952 Navy Surplus truck, a step van. Looks kind of like a Fifties' bread truck. A delivery van. Frank and his partner built it themselves by buying all the parts at auction for eight hundred bucks. It is crammed full of gear and enough food to last a winter. Mostly dried food and rice and beans and nuts and grains. It's extremely organized. Frank and his broken legged friend were literally dropping out and into the woods. “Thinking about settling in Northern California or Oregon. But not until I've explored Montana and Utah and Idaho. Two years, then I'll pick a place. That's my plan.”
For five days we ride with Frank.
Frank has already dropped out. He is our guide. He has a slough of maps, topographical and astronomical. He charts our progress towards Jackson Hole by keeping track of our mileage on his odometer. A compass tells him how far we've gone in any particular direction. And when Frank says some incredible sight or landscape peculiarity will soon be forth coming, he is always right. Each night he corroborates his estimate of our location by reading the stars with a bowl of water and a sextant. He knows where we are each night. Frank knows a lot about a lot of things. He loves the wilderness of place and mind. He's a high tech mountain man, dressed in army surplus, different than the mountain man, Ron, who wore buckskin and beaded moccasins.
Since returning from the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin war, he's read a lot about politics and government. His investigative nature led him to search out the full spectrum of thought. He read John Birch material one day and the Yippie perspective the next. He'd been a Yaffer one term in college. A Jane Fonda freak the next. He'd tuned in, thought deeply, and dropped not out, but into the wilderness. Frank says that a government out of control is the greatest menace. He speaks of atrocities in the name of government he'd witnesses in the waters off Viet Nam, in the name of freedom, in the name of democracy. Stories of interrogations in the blazing sun, barefoot prisoners their feet blistering on the boiling decks of metal ship, prisoners thrown from helicopters to their deaths. He speaks about national corruption. He can go on and on and on about the Republicans and their Tricky Dick leader. He studied and read and concluded, as he said many times, “Too many modern American leaders are morally bankrupt at best, at worst corrupt.” He also asserts that the law lives above the law. His angle on it all is, “Outside the law is where I want to be.” He's served his time in the navy, and he owes allegiance to no one, no nation. For now the only thing he needs from society, from America, is gas for the step van. And if you know where to find it, there's a lot of gas in government pumps to be had for the taking on B.L.M. land and at sites unattended in the off-seasons which is nine months of the year.
“People are fine. You two are fine. The millions back in San Diego are fine. It's government that'll kill you or enslave you. Send you off to war for politics. Still, I must admit it was the navy taught me how to set sail in a step van.”
During the late mornings while we drive, Frank likes to sing songs from Broadway musicals. He knows all the music to a dozen shows. Any show that has been made into a movie, he'd seen it three or four times. His memory banks are as full of lyrics as the back of the van is full of gear and dried food.
Lucia sometimes sings with him if she knows the words. They enjoy themselves as only singers really letting loose do. Lucia's voice can be indeed most joyous. Her and Frank hit some incredible notes together, as well as some misses good for a laugh.
I feel left out even though I know I'm guilty of non participation. Why don't I sing? Because I never learned how? I don't know a thing about the language of music. Even though all my sisters played piano and could read music, I learned nothing even from osmosis. When I sang on the corner a capella with my friends, I usually faked that I knew what I was doing. I sang low so as not to offend. I could read a poem to the delight of my friends, but I never made them suffer my singing.
Frank never tires. He will sing for hours if I don't beg for silence. I wonder if he sings to himself when he's alone in the woods. Right now, I'd like to be away from his singing in that stand of aspen, listening to each and every flutter, chirp and scurry. I've never been to a Broadway musical in my life. I do not like what I've seen of them in the movies or on TV.
It is the morning of our fourth day with Frank. It's been nice the crawl from Steamboat to West Central Wyoming, but I'd prefer more alone time with Lucy. Only time we're alone is at night in the tent. Our nakedness and casualness at the hot springs has been replaced with a peculiar claustrophobia, despite the fact we are miles from anyone; the enclosed feeling of the truck is like a hat on my head. My rash is beginning to flare up again. The August heat in the high country adds to the stifling feeling have. I know both Lucia and Frank suffer the same.
Frank is disappearing into the hinterland wilderness areas of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Montana, and if his dream works out, we may be the last two people he speaks to, unless he runs into others like himself. His duty is to survive the dinosaurs of the age. He will roam the range and wilderness for a couple of years before choosing a place to settle. Politics, he asserts, never gets better; politics only gets worse. But he is a survivalist.
I worry for Frank's sanity. Being alone in the woods ain't never a good idea, I've been told. A broken bone alone can be fatal. If a bear were to get him, I think, his legend is in our hands. I know I'm not ever going to hear the soundtrack from the movie Oklahoma without thinking of Frank, chest expanded, hands on the wheel, sitting on the bar stool of his step van seat, the funny way he looks down his nose to keep his eyes on the dirt roads we travel.
Our time in the step van seems to be doing my skin nothing nice. I have a rash again on my ass from sitting so long in the van. During a pause between songs, when Frank tells us that we're an hour from the blacktop that will take us to Jackson Hole, I feel like any traveler after a three-day bus ride. I look forward to seeing again other human beings who do not sing. Chances are I'll not see Frank again. He's seen the Tetons and Yellowstone and he'll skirt them by taking back roads towards Northern Idaho. Besides, he hates what government tourist traps do to the ecology of a place. Roads are one thing, but parking lots and grand lodges and over hiking and over fishing and the daily pollution of the middle class on vacation, these things drive him crazy.
“Have you ever seen what a logging company can do to a mountain side forest in a season in Oregon?”
We're no sooner on the highway when out of nowhere, it even takes Frank by surprise, comes a hailstorm. One minute we're cruising on a summer day at fifty miles an hour, the next we're lucky the windows haven't shattered from the deluge of sudden hail. Three minutes of rain followed by twenty of hail the size of golf balls. The inside of the van is like a drum solo never heard on Broadway. It sounds like war.
A car pulls off the road in front of us after we do. Over the din of the hail pounding Lucia tells us that the people in the back seat of the car ahead are waving and trying to get out attention. The window is foggy, but it's obvious someone is trying to pantomime a message. Suddenly the hail stops as quickly as it has started, and the sun is out. The rear passenger door of the Comet opens and a man and a dog scamper out and walk towards us waving.
“It's Doc and Chieba,” says Frank.
Doc and Chieba are not the only occupants of the lime green Comet with Mississippi plates. There is also Scott, the driver and owner, and a perfect image of a mystic, Damian. Scott's a third year student at Ol' Miss doing a road trip. He started out alone, but says he's had riders of one sort or another ever since he left Baton Rouge. He'd picked up Damian just south of Tucson in Tombstone, Arizona and Doc and the dog outside of Durango, Colorado. Damian, the summer's most outrageous encountered traveler, he's headed to visit someone in Oregon, to what end he never alludes, and Doc and the dog are off to the Rainbow Festival. Earlier Scott had given rides to a couple of crazy Oklahoma girls in West Texas who were on their way to Hollywood, L A. He'd spent two wild days with them hilariously drunk on Mescal in the Painted Desert. It's lazy where I live. I like the West, he tells me more than once. All this I learn after Lucia and I wind up in the Comet, for Doc has traded places with Lucy and me, for he is somewhat of an acquaintance of Frank's. Frank and Doc had met earlier in the month in the San Juan Mountains at a commune called Libre. Doc's uncle is a founding member, and Doc had spent the early part of the summer hanging out there. Frank had just accidentally come across Libre during his June meanderings in Southern Colorado when he spied the geodesic dome which is Libre's main house across the Huerfeno Valley from the mountain top he and his partner had climbed. Frank and Doc had met then. When Doc saw the step van in the hail, he knew it had to be Frank's. The incidence of coincidence always helps spur the traveler onward and Doc and Frank share a laugh over it.
The other guy in the Comet is outrageous. Damian is literally a barefoot traveler. He has hair as long as it gets and a beard of similar length. He wears his smile in his eyes. He's tall enough to be a madman in Blake or a villain in Dostoyevsky. He has no money. He's the personification of the marriage of trust and foolhardiness. He tells me and Lucy, “The world provides for anyone with love in their hearts.” The cynic in me thinks that it'll be me who buys him a beer when we get to town.
We six - Frank, Doc, Lucy, Scott, Damian and I - arrive in the town square of Jackson Hole in the pouring rain of a late afternoon high mountain shower. After a hesitant goodbye to me and Lucy, a wave from the window of the van punctuates Frank's departure into the wilderness. Doc joins the rest of us after putting Chieba in the Comet. Black Labs are not allowed in bars and that's where we're heading to escape the downpour.
We all race in the rain. The barefoot among us wins.
Once inside we find a tourist saloon full of tourists seeking shelter from the storm. The place is packed. It's actually so full it's steamy. There's no place left to sit so we all group together near one end of the bar, under a wall-mounted television. I offer to buy Damian a beer and his faith that the world will provide is reaffirmed. He thanks me with his eyes.
There's an orchestrated stagecoach robbery takes place every night of tourist season right outside the bar at six o'clock. A lot of those crowded in the bar have come to see it. But the rain has yet to slacken. If it keeps up, the robbery will be canceled for this evening. This I learn from a local patron sitting at the bar who strikes up a conversation with me. He also tells me that there's only one place to avoid in the whole of the city. Don't go to Catch Canyon. “Nothin' but thieves and vagrants,” he says.
More people stuff themselves into the bar. I buy another round of drinks for us all. I feel a sense of camaraderie with these three guys who I've only known an hour. Neither Damian nor Doc have a tent or the makings of a lean-to. Scott can always sleep in his car, but I'm not going to consider sharing the tent with Damian, Doc and his Dog. The women in Hatteras were one thing, Damian and Doc are another. Besides, I'd done my good deed for the month when I saved Matt from freezing to death that night on Rabbit Ears Pass.
We're in a town, and I haven't got the least bit of desire to hitchhike in the rain right now. The beer and heat of the bar make me feel sleepy. Suddenly the decibel level of the bar talk around us drops to a chatter, and I realize that a lot of people are intently watching the screen under which we are huddled. The bartender jumps up on the bar and cranks up the volume. A voice announces, “And now the President of the United States.”
Two minutes later the first President of the United States to resign resigns. The bar roars. In delight, in fear, in approval, in anger, in happiness? Who knows? Someone fires a gun at the tv and its vacuum tubes explode in a shatter of glass. Worst of all, slivers fall in my beer. Don't want no glass in my gullet, I think just as somebody shouts that the drinks are on the house. We five knights of the road belly up to the bar to take up the proffered offer.
Just then, through the crowd walks Little John.
LJ is an old friend of Damian, and wouldn't you know it, he has the perfect solution to our sleeping dilemma. We finish our free beer and follow LJ out to his truck which is coincidentally enough parked right next to Scott's Comet. We get our belongings and the dog Chieba out of the Comet and pile into the back of LJ's pick up. Damian rides in the cab with LJ, once again, reassured that the world provides for a heart full of love.
A half an hour later we're bouncing slowly down a rain rutted road in Catch Canyon, a smidgen of National Forest Land just on the outskirts of Jackson Hole. Darkness and mud greet us as we climb out of the truck. According to what LJ tells us there's a communal tent about a half-mile up the creek, and we set off towards it. Along the way we pass numerous campsites. Campfires and Coleman lanterns illuminate them. Indeed, it is crowded in Catch Canyon.
Even though we have my tent and even though we're ready again for some time together alone, we decide to stay the evening with LJ, Damian, Scott, and Doc. After a short hike we arrive at the communal tent which is a large canvas affair. It could easily sleep twenty people. LJ tells us that it was here when he arrived in late June. Inside already are two sleeping bags and some gear, as well as a stash of dry firewood.
A short time later, the other occupants of the tent return, Paul and Terry from Milwaukee. Terry tells us it's his birthday and LJ offers to make a campfire cake to celebrate. Soon we have a large campfire roaring around which we all relax and tell stories. Other campers join us and soon there are a dozen of us. Lucy is the only woman among us. Twenty-two eyes follow her every move. I suspect that most of the others at the birthday party are covetous of the affection she shows me.
After singing birthday wishes to Terry, all break out their private reserve. It's amazing how ready everyone is to share. We share pot, two varieties besides the Columbian I carry; whiskey, some George Dickel; my first taste of Mescal; hash, compliments of the birthday boy; and cocaine, courtesy of Doc. By midnight, we are for the most part totally inebriated, happy and high. The story telling goes on to two in the morning.
Damian tells the first story. Actually, he practically preaches the first story.
Basically, Damian tells us of Bisbee, Arizona where he lives. Bisbee is a small former mining town near the Mexican border. Bisbee had at one time been the rival of San Francisco. In the 1890's the town and its environs had a population of close to a hundred thousand people. There was a world-class trolley system. Bisbee supported three opera halls, and more saloons than the rest of the cities in the state put together. But as is the case with boom towns, it eventually went bust. During the forties the population leveled off at about forty thousand, and it remained so for the next thirty years. And then, a couple of years ago, the price of copper plummeted, and the mining company closed the Bisbee mine, which, incidentally, is actually in the middle of town. It still is the world's largest open pit mine. When the mine closed, the population fell from forty thousand to two thousand within the course of a year. Property values fell like the price of copper, and houses could be had for close to nothing. Some people actually bought houses for a few hundred dollars, and squatters got houses for nothing. During the summer of Seventy-two, Bisbee was transformed into the Drop Out Capitol of the West. Hippies, artists, dreamers, and cons flocked there from all over the world. Damian proclaimed Bisbee the Love Capitol of the World.
Now keep in mind that Damian looks like something right out of Blake, and here he is, barefoot and long-haired, narrating the story of Bisbee around the Catch Canyon campfire. I am intrigued by this notion of a city where houses can be had for nothing and love is the dominant drug.
“All you need is love in your heart, and there's a place for you in Bisbee,” he asserts at the end of his spiel with a nod of his head that ends with him looking star-ward. Damian is so convincing and devout in his beliefs that Larry, a guy from Buffalo, announces that he's selling his camping gear if anyone is interested. He's heading to Bisbee in the morning.
A pun of a clever story is told by Scott, the Mississippian with the Comet. It begins with a challenge. “I'll bet that I've been higher than anyone here.” Naturally, Doc the dealer from New York disagrees, and he tells the story of how his dog got the name Chieba.
“In Columbia and Brazil, the best pot is known as chieba chieba,” he begins, and he tells us how he once spent a week aboard a teakwood yacht smoking nothing but the best pot and snorting coke with two of his distant cousins, blood members of the Medellin family. At one point he got quite seasick and when, after puking, he smoked more chieba chieba, he actually hallucinated that he was melting like ice all over the deck, as if he were doing acid. That's high.
After a few more rounds of bragging by assorted members of the party, Scott tells us of his highest adventure.
Although he lives in Mississippi and was born there, he spent last summer life guarding at a country club pool in Aurora, Colorado, just outside Denver, as his father is in the Air Force and has been stationed at Lowery Air Force Base the last two years. One afternoon, Scott noticed a young girl beginning to flounder in the deep end of the pool by the diving boards.
She had apparently panicked after diving off the high dive. She must have swallowed some water after having dived too deep. Scott dove in from his stand and rescued the girl, who was more embarrassed than in danger.
Later that afternoon in the guard room, the father of the girl, an Air Force Colonel, stopped by to thank Scott.
Naturally Scott downplayed his heroism and told the Colonel that the girl had never ever really been in danger.
“Is there any way I can show my appreciation?” The Colonel asked, as he pulled out a roll of money. “Can I tip you, or can I contribute some money to a Guard Fund? Throw a party? Anything, I just want to show my appreciation.”
No, I couldn't take any money. I get paid to be a guard, and I was just doing my job.”
“Please, think,” the Colonel went on, “there must be something I can do for you. It's only fair I be allowed to thank you for saving my daughter's life?”
“Well, OK., maybe there is something you can do for me.”
“Anything, just ask.”
“Take me for a ride in a Phantom jet. My Dad is in the Air Force, and he's always talking about how fantastic it must be. Could you do that for me?”
Two weeks later, after a ten day class that the Colonel insisted Scott take, Scott flew in a Phantom.
“I could see the curvature of the earth, I was so high. While flying over the Rockies outside Denver, I could see all the way to Cheyenne. According to the Colonel, we skimmed the stratosphere. Believe me, there's more than one way, as Jimi Hendrix sings, ‘to kiss the sky.’”
Naturally, Scott wins the contest hands down, and his story so delights Doc, that Doc lays out another round of lines for all the revelers. We are all quite high, but hardly as high as Scott must have been a year ago at the extremity of the Colorado sky.
As dawn begins to make its presence known, everyone retires. Lucy and I, Scott, Damian, Terry, Paul and Doc all return to the communal tent.
Once back in our bags which we have zipped together, Lucy and I, find ourselves itching to fuck, what with the cocaine, pot, brandy and Mescal coursing our bloodstream. No matter there are five other men in the tent, we do just that. The voyeuristic eyes of the others adds to our delight. We have a wonderful time.
The next day we hang out with Scott. It begins with a late breakfast at noon. Now that it's daylight in Catch Canyon, I realize how many people are here. It's a strange thing. For most of the year this forested canyon is socked in with snow, inaccessible, inhabited only by the elements and species non human, but in late June, July and August, humans flock to the canyon, like penguins to an island, guarding the birthplace egg of their species. Hundreds of people are camped along this narrow swatch of forest. To some they are nothing more than squatters. There is a Medieval, living in the woods, odor of wood smoke veil to the scene. The communal tent seems centrally located in this kite of a canyon. Catch Creek is awesome in its turgor and tumble; its gray rock polished black and blue by perpetual abrasion on one side, the text where gravity inscribes with water.
Scott's got a day to spend before he heads east to Medicine Bow, a small town west of Laramie in the Snowy Range. A couple of fellow Mississippians attend the university in Laramie.
We drive up to Jackson Lake and get to groove from its shores on the splendor of the Tetons. We lounge in the shade and luxuriate in the light of the high mountain flowers which are approaching the zenith of their blooming. A short hike and a quick nap, a toke of weed, and we three all recover from our birthday bash hangovers.
The view from the shores of Jackson Lake is about as good as any view of snow-capped peaks there is. Summer below, the snow of other seasons above, perfectly picturesque is this slice of nature, her breasts grand and naked. The exposed mountaintops are a simulari of tree bud.
An image of George telling us of spelunking in Belize comes to mind. A shaman of stones and bones and survivalist Frank on top of his mountain enter the equation. I close my eyes. I sense through my powers of equilibrium the expanse of space between me and that mountain top where I envision an Olympian replica of me resides, directing my life when he's not indulging himself with the pleasures of heaven. The spirit of me is made of vapor and synchronicity, light and reciprocity. Awesome are the odds against the coincidence of even a fleeting glance.
Is it there, always, along for the ride, a mirror of itself on the other side, the utter invisible you? Who is maker? Who is made? Who is you? The made, the taker? Can't see through the sparkle of the sunlight on water. Only with eyes closed, in sleep, in dream, in fantasy, in imaginings, can you catch sight of the invisible you. Life is how we dress it. Make the spirit seen.
Dressed in suits of ovulated skins
mirror descendants reign
is, I tell myself, what I'll write down later, and as darkness descends it's a vision of Lucia I see, languid, combing her hair, inserting her fingers within it to lift handfuls high and then releasing - in a slow time let go, with her arms extended high up and behind her - each strand its full parabolic cascading length, each feathering itself in falling. Lucia's a double exposure of a harp that goes on playing itself by facing the wind and a ship maiden carved on the bow of a ship that goes on sailing, day and night, trusting in the music of an escort of dolphins. On the lookout, always just above the surface of the depths, queen of vision, safety, flight, the music of breath, of movement, both day and night.
The sense I have of things, standing on this beach, is that it's always new beginnings. Ain't much difference between now and when ancient ancestors stood on the shore of an unpopulated lake splendor holding the hand of a loved one, someone precious and dear. That's what this worship of Lucia, this woman, is all about. And I wonder: if she's the carved maiden, what am I? If she's the harp, what am I? Wind, ship, fingers playing, brow on the prowl, ocean, music? Who is made, who is maker? A resolution of all duality is the toil required to pay the toll on a man made road to heaven.
Lucy and I spend the evening in Catch Canyon, snug inside my tent, alone for the first time in a long time. I rest comfortably on my back as Lucy falls asleep in my arms, her head cradled in the crook of my arm. She is asleep on her side, half of her atop me. I can see the stars of August, bright testaments to time long ago, out the screen of my tent. Time and space so long ago just goes to show that all is just illusion born of synchronicity. My eyes here, in this place, light from a billion years ago now falling. In places like this, in this canyon, on this night, the Pleiades shooting stars across my eyes, the woman of sinew and firm flesh who could so easily be the mother of earth herself asleep along the lay of my body, the perfect accompaniment of voices off in the distance, the imagined tales of the travelers sitting around the fire, entertaining, establishing rank. O what a special relish is this instantaneity.
I wonder what story I would tell if I was at a campfire with strangers tonight. There's so many good things happen to a man in his life. The question is: are they worthy of retelling? Are they entertaining or illuminating, beautiful or frightening, boring or bright? Like life, it's how you write it.
The next morning Lucy and I hike the canyon along the creek. It's a very relaxed pace we keep. The trail is clearly marked. The sky is densely blue. After the companionship of the last few days, we're happy to have this morning alone together. Our hike is what hiking is all about. It is relaxing and invigorating at the same time. My head feels as clear as the waters that tumble and cascade beside us.
Peace of mind and tranquility of heart are what we catch in Catch Canyon this morning.
We spend a final night in Catch Canyon and then hitchhike north in the morning to Yellowstone and reach the famed National Park in the afternoon.
Now when I use the word park, I think of Tacony Park in Philadelphia where I grew up, or Central Park in Manhattan. These parks are something to be traversed in an hour or a day, but Yellowstone is something quite different. You could spend a year in Yellowstone and still not come close to having covered its expanse. Also, the park seems more suited to cars than hitchhikers, for there are literally thousands of cars coming and going. In the parking lot by the main lodge there are hundreds of rv's, cars and Airstreams.
We follow the crowds to watch Old Faithful blow its stack and witness the event with perhaps five hundred other tourists. It is hot and our packs seem burdensome. I feel out of place, and a great depression comes over me, for I am not impressed by this natural wonder. I might as well be at the Jersey Shore on the Boardwalk watching the surf or an amusement ride. The presence of the crowds cast an ordinary pall over the geyser's grandness.
Lucy must be thinking the same, for on our way back to the lodge where I hope to have a beer, she tells me she wants to move on. “All the tourists remind me of New Jersey. Besides, it's the journey, not the destination that matters.”
I realize that Lucia will probably never settle down.
After a Coors at the lodge bar, we hitchhike west from the parking lot. Our first ride takes us out of the park to a highway that runs south where we catch a ride with Bill Rex.
Bill Rex is a descendant of Brigham Young's original Mormon entourage. He's old enough to be my grandfather. Bill tells us that his great grandfather founded the town of Rexburg, Idaho at the request of Brigham Young himself. The outskirts of Rexburg is Bill's destination. Although he has relatives in Rexburg he never actually stays in town anymore. He is a Jack-Mormon, someone who's been disavowed, excommunicated, and banished from the company of devout Mormons for his dissolution, his fall. Akin to refusing to pay taxes for revolutionary reasons, Bill refuses to tithe the Mormon Church for material reasons.
He's got a camper shell inset in his pickup which he calls home. He tells us he spends summers in Idaho, Montana and Oregon, and winters in Arizona and New Mexico. Social Security pays for his gas. He's a talented fisherman and hunter. His reasons for having dropped out of society are different than say Frank's. Corrupt politics and his experience of the war had disillusioned Frank; this Bill Rex has been soured by organized religion's hold on his part of the world to become the expatriate within. Bill the banished and Frank the vanishing are very much alike. I think their numbers must be growing. Don't we all disappear for awhile. Some you'd never recognize later on; others reappear unchanged.
Bill is proud of his Mormon heritage. After all, not only had kin founded Rexburg, but his great grandfather provided Brigham Young with the horses required to reach the site of Salt Lake. Many of Bill's siblings and relatives, there were eleven children in his family, were major players in Rexburg. One had been mayor and another had actually run for governor. Rexburg is the largest Mormon settlement in Idaho.
Bill can't believe I've never caught a trout, and he offers to take us to one of his favorite fishing spots just east of Rexburg. I tell him I have no rod, and he tells me I won't need one.
We leave his truck parked near a small concrete bridge that spans a stream and hike a short distance into the Idaho wilderness. Along the way, Bill points out various edible plants and berries. We snack on something called gooseberries. They are tart and refreshing in the heat. Soon we switchback our way and wind up under the bridge where we left the truck. Bill takes out a fishing net and approaches the area where a spillway-like structure supporting the bridge up above meets the water. Within a minute or two of studying the lay of the air and pond surface, Bill wades into the knee high water. In one hand he holds some stones, in the other a net.
Five minutes go by and then Bill Rex catches lunch with a startle of stones and a quick slash at the water with the net. “When I was younger I could get them on shore with my hands,” he jokes.
Bill's headed to an area some thirty miles west of Rexburg. Over our lunch of trout and potatoes, Bill counsels us to hitchhike from Rexburg south rather than go further with him because there's not even a crossroads for seventy miles in the direction he's going.
He advises us to be sure the ride is going at least as far as Idaho Falls, for there's nothing but wilderness in between there and Rexburg. We listen to his suggestion and leave him at a crossroads just south of Rexburg. We lean our packs up against each other by the side of the road. Waiting to solicit a ride, we stand, talking.
Sometimes, time passes slowly and this is one of those times. There's nary a hint of a breeze, the sun is relentless, straight down and bouncing back up off the asphalt, especially after the shaded shadows of our hike with Bill. The roadway is as hot as the dust on it is dusty.
I amuse myself by throwing small stones at certain other stones I deem targets. Only I know if I hit what I am aiming at. This bugs Lucy and she tells me so.
“Why don't you tell me what you're aiming for?”
“Haven't we had this conversation before? And what did I say then? ‘I love you,’ right?”
“Love scares me, Eddie. How I feel for you scares me. There's no rhyme to it. Here I am, dreaming of Jamaica and Africa and Chile while you dream of finding a place to love in America. We 're . . .”
“I don't like where this conversation's going,” I interrupt. The quandary she would conjure is a conundrum. I fall on my knees in front of her, grab her hips with my hands and pull her to her knees before me. I see myself swimming in the pool of her eyes. The brown of them a surface to skry above. I pull Lucia hard against me in an embrace passionate and machismo. My tongue is a probe. Her temperature hot. We must look like an adoradi of snakes, or bookends without books, to the gyring hawk above. I nuzzle and kiss her eyes and ears, the neck of her reluctance.
She pushes my nuzzling breast-wards. She kisses the top of my head as a mother would an infant.
A prayer of a stance it is: on our knees. She and I both know there must be truth and a guarding of the
secrets between us.
“Can't it be just here, Lucy. Kissing and hiking and hitching and fucking. Can't we keep on exploring each other without a destination scripted and spoken? I'm having a good time, I feel acutely alive. I delight in the outrageousness of the coincidence about everything that's happening to us. And it's you, dear Lucy, who's led us here. Woman, I love your sense of adventure, your trust in the road. I love fucking you Lucy. I come so freely and completely. I love eating you. I love you above and below me, coy or desperate. I love the way you speak, your girlish lisp. I love your exotic dreams. Your wanting to play flute in a kiva high in the Andes. I'm infatuated with your fascination for cultures foreign and far. But ‘What am I aiming at?’ I don't know. And if I did know, it probably wouldn't have a name.”
After a pause I go on. “We both have plans for September. So from now to then let's keep on enjoying every bit of each other. Let's not dwell on whether or not we're going to grow old together. We still have a destiny up for grabs for another couple of weeks.”
Lucy, at first, doesn't respond with words; rather she unzips my pants and slides her hand through the slit of my boxers, wraps her long fingers around my stiffening, and looks straight into my eyes. I am pinned to the wall of sky behind me. With her other hand she takes my right hand and covers her heart with it.
“Since like me, you were brought up Catholic, Eddie, you ought to know that making love has a purpose
other than pleasure.”
Just then the first car to head south out of Rexburg since an hour ago screeches to a stop fifty feet past us, as if the driver hadn't seen us until he passed us. His car is an old Fifty-two Chevy Belair. The driver is as young as the car is old. He's got thin straggly hair down to his shoulders. He's missing teeth, upper and lower, in the center of his mouth, but he smiles widely nonetheless.
“A hockey puck took out my front pearly whites. I played a year of semi-pro hockey after the Marines. Grew up in Canada, but I got relatives here on the Res. You guys headed to the powwow?”
“We're headed south. Eventually towards Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Mostly we're just having a look at the West. What's this powwow?”
“It's the yearly big to do on the Blackfoot Reservation. Everybody comes from all over the res and pitches camp for a week. There's a rodeo and dancing and food and party mayhem. Kids come and fall in love. Lot's of gambling, too. It's a party. That's where I'm headed, you should check it out before you head south to Idaho Falls.”
“Can we camp there, I mean at the powwow?”
“Hell, anybody can. A lot of people from town come out. It's a good time. I been coming off and on since I was a kid. My aunt married into the tribe.”
Contrary to the advice of Bill Rex, to only accept a long ride out of Rexburg, we accept this short hitch. Twenty miles down the road we exit the blacktop on to a dirt road, and a mile and a half later after ascending a rise I catch sight of maybe fifty large white tepees that ring the southern and western edge of a large oval, the eastern rim of which is comprised of RV's and pickups and cars of all sorts, some down right ancient. The northern end of the oval is a rudimentary area fenced off for rodeo-ing. There's but one stand of trees off to the north where there are a few smaller non-traditional tents staked out. Outside the configured oval to the west there are tented booths serving as concession stands and a couple of small amusement rides.
G. G., our new friend, parks the Chevy on the rim of the oval and scrambles out of the car. “See you around. I've got to go find the drummers. My cousin is one, and around the drummers you'll find the beautiful women, and that's where you'll find me. Hey, sleep in my car if you want. I'll be hanging with my cousin.”
Lucy and I decide to stay for a day or so and wind up staying three days on the Blackfoot Reservation at pow-wow. We put up my orange mountain tent amidst the chaos of campers and canvas at the north end of the site. It looks so puny, almost silly, given the noble beauty of the tall white tepees.
Lucia and I have a great time. The visual experience of powwow is surreal and religious; the ceremonial clothing is part of the highest theater.
The partying is just about around the clock. A cold Coors can be had for fifty cents and a can of pop or juice for a quarter. Frybread is available anytime, day or night. About the only time there's little going on is late mornings. But starting about one in the afternoon the activity is ceaseless and the spirit of this annual rite of summer is contagious.
The days at powwow develop a pattern. We sleep until late morning, eat fry bread for breakfast, watch the rodeo in the afternoon, drink a few late afternoon beers and get high, retire to the tent for the late afternoon to fuck and to nap, eat a dinner of roast corn and bean burritos for the price of a subway token, Steppenwolf a walk outside the powwow site to smoke a joint, and then return to watch the dancing and listen to the drumming until the wee hours. When we crawl into the tent at say three in the morning, most of the rendezvous-ers are still up and partying. It seems like some of the gambling games go on round the clock.
Basically, although there are a few white tourists and townees around in the afternoon to watch the rodeo, Lucy and I are the only white people at powwow. Our white skin sticks out among the Blackfoot as the orange of our tent does among the whiteness of the tepees. Lucy's height and my long curly hair give us away even at a distance. For the most part no one seems to care that we are among them. On three separate occasions we are invited to eat with someone. During our time in conversation with the people who befriend us, we are peppered with questions about the most ordinary of subjects. Who's my favorite singer. Do we like football? Of what religion am I? Does Lucy have a beauty secret as her skin is so perfect? Do we hunt, do we fish? Have we been to Yellowstone? Did I serve in Viet Nam? What's my favorite beer? What's the best movie out now? I decide we are as exotic and interesting to the Blackfoot as they are to me, judging by their response to our answers to those questions. We laugh and argue opinions.
The most haunting and beautiful aspect of the powwow is the dancing. It begins a short time after dusk. The dancers, men and women, are dressed in traditional ceremonial clothes. The women wear soft skin dresses that sing and the men wear fringe that whips the air about them. Apparently every dance narrates some aspect of Blackfoot history. Generally the dancers follow the route of a large circle. Sometimes during the course of a rotation, dancers will change places or drop out only to return at a later point in the progress of the dance, sometimes wearing different clothing. Movement is for the most part minimal but continual, although there are times of occasional frenzied dancing. The stories we watch danced out are sedate, serious. The most remarkable aspect of the dancing is its duration. For hours dancers dance, some almost seem entranced. Lucy and I watch, we drink beer, we sneak around smoking pot, and we pick up on the trance-like state of two a.m., as a big sliver of moon sails west above our heads amidst a hundred million stars while forty beaded and braided and quilled dancers retell the centuries old tale of the tribe, the dancers and audience aglow in the yellow, red light of the bonfires, bound by the groove of the singing and drumming set by the musicians, all of whom have hair longer than that of the new rock stars. As I imagine the dancers do likewise, I feel that I am watching and walking in my sleep, witnessing a communal dream, lucky and blessed to be here, privy to the expression of such tribal ritual.
Lucy's says, “Fellini and Truffaut ought to see this!”
Our last night at powwow, we run into a wee bit of trouble.
It's about midnight. Friday about to become Saturday. Lucia and I have been watching about twenty people, grandmothers, young men and women, parents with babes in their arms, doing some serious gambling. The game is one of deception and guessing. No cards are involved although the players all wear poker faces. With eight players to both of two sides, one of whom seems to be principal player or games-man, the teams drum on a log between them and hope to guide their games-man to be right when the time to speak or nod or reveal is at hand. A lot of money changes hands. Players come and go although I notice a majority seem never to leave the game. The partnership of the players reminds me of pinochle. I'm still trying to figure out the fine points of the game and watching intently when Lucia interrupts my study.
“There's a drunk behind us talking' bad about us. I don't speak Blackfoot but I get his meaning. He's talking trash. He wants to provoke a fight. With you or anyone who would defend us.”
I turn and take in the scene behind me. A guy in a white, fringed shirt, cowboy hat and boots, bolo, and blue jeans stands amidst three or four other men. He is intoxicated and posturing. He switches in the middle of a sentence from his native tongue to English, ending with “White trash ain't welcome at powwow.” He's a smallish man, wiry. Actually he looks to be as white as he is Blackfoot. He's probably one of the rodeo riders.
The situation is delicate. I am not naive. As a kid I've been in this situation before. Punk with a chip on his drunken shoulder with a minor player egging him on. I am aware of a dozen things on the tip of my tongue, beginning with asshole and ending with zit face. I choose silence. I am aware that everyone is interested in my response. The stage is set for drama, comedy or tragedy, who knows? I step out of the crowd into a more lighted area near the entrance to the rodeo rink. All the while I am scanning the crowd looking in to each and every one's eyes for an instant. I trust the love in my heart. Things will work out well I tell myself. I catch sight of Little Big Man as he steps out of the crowd he's with. For an instant we are both on a field of drunken honor. I do not bite at his racist bait. As if nothing is happening, as if anything said or done by him could never matter, I step back into the bunch of people near Lucia, as if I am nothing but a figment of his imagination. Any fight now is solely at his instigation. He turns to look at his friends for support and further encouragement but none is forthcoming. It seems as if the eyes of the entire tribe are watching. The balance of savage and social is being determined. The moment to look good or vain in the eyes of the gods passes. Lucia and I so meld with the spirit of the others around us that we effectively disappear. Lucia takes up talking with the people, a family of five, with whom she'd been conversing when she'd first overheard him. We all are laughing at a remark of the youngest. The drunk can only now make a fool of himself if he goes on with his braggadocio and threats, no matter what language he chooses. Others will intervene, elders or friend, for he is out of hand. Everyone, even he, knows his words are hollow. My silence makes them arguably lame.
Throughout the whole minute or two that it takes for this incident to occur, I am aware of the presence of evil. The face it wears is incidental. I've seen troublemakers before. Usually it takes more than one man to open the door.
Later after watching a couple hours of dancing Lucia and I return to our tent. A wariness pervades our consciousness. I feel alien this night. I am not horny. My sleep is uneasy.
Rather than stay another day for the conclusion of the festivities, there is an all Blackfoot band going to play some rock and roll prior to the last of the ceremonial dances, we break camp and hike out to the road early in the morning. The trouble that didn't erupt last night could easily happen again should I run into Little Man again. The first mile is up hill. Neither of the two cars that pass us heading out offers us a ride.
Near the top of the hill we stop as that is the best place to hitch from. We look back on the powwow scene below. Smoke is now rising from breakfast campfires. The dust of activity in the rodeo arena floats in the cloudless sunlight of Idaho morning. From this vantage point I imagine Little Man searching the campground for sight of me. He's got to watch out for his own back now. He can't find me. He doesn't know what I might do. He's not sure if I was ever there. He's now got another chip on his shoulder. Another reason to dislike himself. There's no such thing as a happy racist.
My rash is back, and when I comment on it, Lucia tells me she has one too. On her ass, elbows and neck at scalp line. She uses the cortisone cream I offer. This rash of mine is a puzzle. The antibiotics I've been taking are effete. I know my rash is worse than it had been.
After a while we get a ride off the reservation to the highway, and soon we are in the company of John Cass.
Mister Cass is on his way to the Rio Grande and then east to El Paso, and yes, he is going by the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, our stated destination. A modern entrepreneur, John works the roads he travels; for instance, he buys Blackfoot goods in Rexburg and sells them in Scottsdale, Arizona. He does junk stores everywhere he goes, for he knows what sells, what people are into, in different places. He calls himself the King of Second-hand. He's got some quilts in the back seat that he plans to sell in Smaller Utah. John Cass like Bill Rex is a former Mormon. His infidelities got him divorced and expelled five years ago. He candidly speaks of his adulterous proclivities. He tells us that man ain't meant to be monogamous. He confides in us some Mormon secrets. For instance, he'd never seen his first wife naked. He approaches his revelations as an informant would and keeps bringing sex into the conversation. For instance, he tells us that the entire time he was married to his Mormon wife, she never gave him head. He works this fact into his tale numerous times, as if it is the key to understanding the moral of the story. He goes further in his description of what Mormon women won't do all the while prattling on about the insular nature of Mormon society. Between his sexual innuendo and the way he almost leers at Lucia when he's speaking of the no fun sex he had with his wife, I want out of the car. It's been six hours of Idaho and Utah heat crammed into the front seat with this dirty old man. Twice we stop in small towns where John Cass searches for bargains that he can turn a profit on. He snickers and gloats when he tells me how little he paid for the pots he puts in his trunk.
I don't like this guy one bit, his creepy sexually unsatisfied self. Lucia and I discuss our discomfort with John and decide we'll go only as far as the next town which promises to be larger than this crossroads, ten building blip in the desert.
When we reach the red light at the north end of Panguitch, I tell John Cass abruptly that we're getting out here rather than going on to Arizona with him as we'd said earlier, interrupting another of his dirty old man adultery parables, about how the pleasure of a moment is better than languishing in the uncertainty of monogamy. I open the car door for Lucia and she's out on the roadway in an instant. Out the door I follow her and then turn to retrieve our packs from the back seat.
Bill is actually drooling, just the tiniest amount, out the corners of his lips. He's looking pleadingly at me, as if he's about to offer us a motel room with him for the night. All his talk of Mormon secrets was a preface to the proposition he's about to make. I'll buy you dinner in Arizona. I know a great motel there.
I lift Lucia's pack on to her back and swing mine up on one shoulder. I offer my hand to John Cass to shake. When he pleads with his eyes one last time to get laid. I withdraw my hand and he takes off in a shower of gravel, right through the only red light for a hundred miles.
There's a pharmacy across the main street and with my rash in mind, I lead us there. From its proprietor we learn there is a doctor in town. His office is not but two blocks away. On our way there we pass an old man coming our way. As I have a hunch he could be our man, I ask him if he is Doctor Graves.
“ Yes, I am, but my office hours are over for the day. I'm closed until Monday.”
“Please, Doctor, I've got an itch and rash that's driving me crazy. Lucia, too. I saw a doctor in Wyoming, but the cream and antibiotics that he gave me only chilled it for a while. Please, we're just passing through and can't wait until Monday. Can't you just take a look at us,” I plead.
Lucia adds a lisping “Pretty please” and seems to win him over with her girlish pleading. Doctor or not, any man would like to examine Lucy. “OK., follow me,” he says and we do, up the street and back to his office. Once inside he tells us both to undress in his examination room. Lucia and I both get naked. Under the fluorescent light here it is obvious that Lucy and I both have a serious problem. There are trails of rash and pimples all over our bodies. Under Lucy's breasts, under her arms, on our inner thighs.
Doctor Graves enters the room and a smile breaks out across his face.
“Scabies,” he proclaims. “You both have scabies. Have you been camping where people have dogs? Have you been sleeping where a dog has slept? Scabies is a parasite most commonly found in dogs, but humans get infected, too. All the little red marks on your skin, that's the eggs of the parasites inflaming the skin as the body rejects the egg casing. The individual scabies eventually die. But meanwhile the females have laid a bunch of eggs. The live parasites congregate where the body gets warmed up. Hence on your buttocks where you sit, and on your elbows where we rest our arms when sitting. Where the weight of Lucy's hair lies on her neck. Under your armpits and near your crotch. But I laugh because your problem is easily diagnosed and cured.”
Ten minutes later we're back at the drugstore purchasing the prescribed solution we are to apply to our skin. We then rent a room at a motel, our first since Hatteras. We take, as per the doctor's instruction, hot showers. The heat lures the scabies to the surface of the skin. Then we apply the liquid to every inch of our body. It burns and stings. Lucy cries when I apply it to her neck and scalp it stings so intensely.
Still we are relieved, for I have faith in this elderly doctor's diagnosis. We are to reapply the solution after showering in the morning, and then again ten days from now in order to kill any scabies that have hatched during that time. Graves has assured us the treatment will work, and given the sting of the first application, I believe him. I go to sleep this night confident that my skin problems are finally over.
Twenty-four hours after being diagnosed with scabies, twenty-four hours after that delicious hot motel shower, twenty four hours after not fucking while the medicine fried those heat seeking subcutaneous scabies, Lucia and I find ourselves on the edge of the Grand Canyon. It had been one ride direct, from Panguitch to the Kaibob National Forest on the North Rim where we'd pitched the tent in the middle of a large saucer of a land-lay amidst a million wild mountain meadow flowers. We'd hitched a second ride to here, the lookout point on the rim.
We are amidst a thousand other tourists. The trailhead to the canyon floor looks like the entrance to an amusement ride. A line of hikers and people on mules winds its way downward from the rim. Lucia and I get in line and go down a short way into the canyon. We go a very short way considering how far it is to the bottom and the Colorado River below. We're aware how steep it will be coming back. After the expanse of the geography we'd traveled to get here, the trail here is oppressive, with its slope and heat, with the mule dung and flies and crowds of hikers.
“Reminds me of the parking lot at Yellowstone or Asbury Park,” Lucia laments.
“Let's get back to our tent,” I reply and we hitch six miles north to our campsite.
The night in the meadow of the Kaibob Forest I see something higher than a phantom jet. It is a light crawling across the umbrella of moonless night sky. It's light is unlike that of the stars, it doesn't twinkle or burn white brightly. It moves at an altitude much higher than that of the commercial jet liners that traverse this quadrant of night sky on their way to Denver or Los Angeles or Houston. The light becomes the focus of our attention when Lucy suggests the possibility of alien origin.
“Could be a UFO. The high deserts are known for the number of reports of UFOs.”
I don't know whether or not she is kidding. I contemplate the likelihood of it being a flying saucer when an explanation comes to me. “It's a satellite. They're always up there. Looking down, taking pictures, beaming back weather and information on troop movements.
Kinda creepy. A government that spies on itself and its citizens. The eye of another country in your sky. It's the high tec version of the F.B.I. Someday there'll be a net of them surrounding the earth. Man will have to be subterranean to be private. Being on the road is another.
The next morning, recalling the letdown of the heat and crowds at the North Rim, we are spurred to depart. Two places that interest me are somewhat close: Bisbee in Southern Arizona about which Damian had spoken and Santa Fe, the Spanish heart of the Great Southwest.
Santa Fe is Lucy's first choice, and we head in that direction. At dusk on the same day we're not a hundred miles closer to New Mexico. Our progress has been slow, a two mile ride here, a twenty mile ride there, with desert hot hours in between.
A van appears on the western horizon and I pray for deliverance. We need to make some progress, for the terrain looks spidery and imagined scorpions traverse it.
The van does come to a stop, but the guy riding shotgun announces that there's not enough room for us. The entire van is stuffed full with electronics and stereo components. The two guys are on their way to Albuquerque. They'd love to give us a ride, but there's only room for one. The offer is to Lucy.
Lucy looks into the van and determines that there's room for us all if somebody sits on somebody's lap.
“Hey, there's room for us all. We'll tie our packs on the roof and I'll sit in my boyfriend's lap. You got to take us to Albuquerque with you. There might not be a another car until morning, and I want to get somewhere closer to Santa Fe.”
After a little maneuvering and jostling, the front of the van is rearranged to accommodate the four of us. Lucy does sit on my lap. Dusk pinks into blackness and we speed east towards Santa Fe. We smoke the last of my reefer and take up the driver's offer of a taste of amphetamine. Lucy declines, but I snort up the tiniest of lines, he cuts on the engine cover. Instantly I am aware it's going to be a long night.
In Albuquerque, Lone Wolf and Sid, drop us off at a friend of Sid's. Ricky lives in small trailer house not far from Old Town Albuquerque. Rick is a mostly toothless speed freak. The kind that sits in a chair all evening, grooving with adrenalin and shaking. But he's friendly and gracious. He tells us we can spend the night if we want. We can sleep in his bed, as he won't be doing much sleeping tonight. Ha. Other speedsters stop by. Rick hardly moves from a chair at his table. All his transactions are conducted there. He drinks a lot of beer. He tells us he reads a lot when he's high, and I give him my signed copy of Another Roadside Attraction to read that I got from Carl Smith who knew Tom Robbins well.
After an hour of small talk with Rick, we leave our stuff in Rick's trailer and walk the streets of Albuquerque. It appears not to be a rich city. There is an over-baked, lackluster light to it. The cars are old, the streets are old, the grass is scorched. People languish rather than luxuriate. We seem to be on the downslide of our great adventure, passing the night in a trailer park in the barrio with a speed freak Choctaw Indian who like our previous Indian guide, G.G., is missing most of his front teeth.
I search the sky for the satellites of the evening before, but I gather they are not visible given the city lights. I think about the minds that plotted their trajectories and the hands that crafted their gadgetry. I think about Blackfoot women dancing eight hours and the hands that crafted their beadwork and quill work. I think of a multitude of perspectives in this world, some modern and others primitive. I think about the short time left before I'm back in New Jersey and Lucia is back in New York. I think about my Carol and the house and the dog and the fact that Jimmy Boyd's now sleeping in my bed. I think about Cecelia. About how we'll be on the same faculty. I think about how I seem to have sleep walked through six years of teaching and marriage. I think about how big I've discovered the world to be. How deep the canyon and how high the mountains. I think about the millions of Americans who were not brought up on Catholicism. I think about how much I liked being naked with the others at Strawberry Hills Hot Springs.
I feel a sassy sexuality come upon me, pleaser and pleased, without imploring please. I want to share a fantasy with Lucy and I do.
We are strolling late at night back to Rick's trailer. Our plan is to sleep there. We'll head to Santa Fe in the morning. I'm feeling as good as speed gets, and I know I won't be sleeping until tomorrow. A wanton whisper within gives shape to its name. I tell Lucia a fantasy of women conspiring to slake my deepest desires. The words soothe the jingle-jangled edginess of the Albuquerque side streets where we walk. I finish the tale once we're back at Rick's with the bedroom door shut.
Lucia is surprised by the revelations of the story, and not offended. Really, she asks, “You'd want to be with two women at the same time? You think you got enough dick for that?”
“I got more than enough desire. Lucy, every women I see I want to taste. I undress everyone of them. I size them up and wonder wantonly what it would be like. Fucking this one from behind while you help me to please her further. That one squatting on my face as you ride my erection, your hands fondling her, milking her for every flush of fervor. And as much as I want to taste every woman, I want you.” We fuck on floor atop the jumble of our bags and clothes. In the living room Rick reads Another Roadside Attraction aloud. He laughs and titters in places. He's delighted to be sitting at table, drinking beer and reading Robbins. A couple from another world is fucking in his bedroom.
Hyde Park is a campground and picnic area in the mountain hills just outside of Santa Fe. We've never heard of it, but our second ride out of Albuquerque tells us about it, and after an afternoon in Santa Fe we hitch our way to it. It is an ideal campground. There are roofed three sided structures for camping. Ours has a map of South America pinned to one wall that a previous camper left. A family of chipmunks gather to watch whenever we eat and to pilfer when we are not.
Basically we chill three days in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mornings we sleep late and hike. Afternoons, we hang out in town among the Indian artisans in the square and listen to the music of Hippie guitarists and classical flutists. Over the course of our afternoons we visit every art gallery in town. Our last afternoon Lucy decides to buy from an Indian craftsmen a present for me. From the display on his rug Lucy selects a small amulet with a thin silver chain. The rectangular pendent intaglios the figure of Thoth. It is strange that an image of the Egyptian god of writing, crafted by a Navajo, should find itself here, around my Irish neck, hanging like a crucifix or scapular or blessed miraculous medallion.
Late afternoon we return to Hyde Park in the late afternoon where we read and write and eat and nap. At dusk we build a fire, watch it for a while, and then retire to the sleeping bag to make love and dream.
Returning east becomes the subject of my dreams and our conversations. Lucy wants to head home via the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans, but I tell her of my experience in New Orleans in the summer and advocate a route less humid.
Our final night we agree to continue to let coincidence and fate create our itinerary. The next morning we hike into Santa Fe and then out to the interstate where a ride takes us in a generally northern direction to a place on the highway near Las Vegas, New Mexico. It is here we meet another two charming, albeit preposterous travelers, CheeChee and Byron.
Just prior to the arrival of CheeChee and Byron on the scene, Lucia and I spend a futile three hours hitching. We talk about the future, our future. We discuss the logistics of carrying on a long distance romance as I'll be living somewhere near Philly in New Jersey and she'll be living in Manhattan. Since neither of us have a car, I remind her Amtrak covers the distance in ninety minutes. We recount all the wonderful people of the last month and wonder what luck has in store for us next.
“Our next ride,” I announce in the style of a radio dee-jay, “will be our highest ride yet. No more the back seats of VWs or the flatbeds of pickups. No more Mormons or speed freaks. Our next ride is gonna be a doper's dream. You watch. I've been out of pot for three days now, and I predict our next ride is going to get us high.”
Now at the very moment I utter these words, Lucia notices a van has stopped a good hundred yards past us. A woman has gotten out and is waving to us. We cover the distance to it at a trot and load ourselves and our backpacks into a most deluxe, swank conversion of a van. I'm awed by the glamour of the van's interior, its mini candelabra lighting, its luscious paneling, the woodwork of the cabinetry and fold down table, across which roll, when Byron punches the accelerator, a number of small spotted seeds. My prediction concerning the nature of this ride is right on.
“Nice seeds,” I remark and hand them to CheeChee. The ice is broken, and after a quick round of introductions and handshakes, CheeChee produces a long pipe from under her captain's seat. She fills it with slivers of hash and some luscious brown Jamaican which she removes from a candy tin. We become high friends instantly and soon thereafter we commit a felony together as I buy an ounce of pot from Byron for the incredibly low price of forty dollars, half what it would be in Philly.
As it turns out Byron is a dope dealer and a cabinet-maker. He has converted the van we're in himself and it is full of hidden compartments. The compartments are mostly full of pot he bought in Florida seven days ago. He started out with twenty pounds and is down to eleven. CheeChee has just joined him in Flagstaff that morning.
Apparently, CheeChee and Byron had recently split up after a two-year affair. CheeChee had terminated their relationship on the grounds of his dangerous lifestyle but had accepted his long distance offer of a cross-country trip in his new van. Just as friends, had sealed the deal and Byron had sent her a plane ticket to fly from Atlanta to Flagstaff. Their plan is to spend the next two weeks on the road. It is from the get-go obvious that Byron wants to resurrect their love while CheeChee's only along for the ride. The distraction of us helps keep them from resolving the question of their future together.
On the border between New Mexico and Colorado, we stop for gas. We drive through perhaps a dozen filling stations until Byron tells us, “This one will work.” It's a small Texaco at the northern edge of Raton. The gas attendant is a freak, that is, he's got the wild look of a cross between a hippie and a beatnik, like he's been partying six years since high school.
The attendant and Byron go inside the station. When Byron exits he is smiling. The attendant is more than willing to swap gasoline for pot and we take on twenty gallons of unleaded. We also wash the van around the side of the station while we wait for the attendant's friend to arrive, who, upon arrival, purchases what appears to be three pounds of the same marijuana I had purchased earlier. Judging by the smile in the eyes of the Raton boys, I gather the deal was a sweet one all the way around.
“Only eight left to go, Honey,” he tells CheeChee. “No more biz for the next few days, I promise. Let's hit a Holiday Inn. My treat, you guys, too. We'll get a room with a couple of double beds. And a couple of bottles of Mescal. Let's party.”
And we do, party for the next three days. Also we cover a lot of ground. I mean we head first east then south then east then west then north. We wind up generally corkscrewing in the direction of the Great Lakes as Byron wants to fish for northern pike in a lake he's heard of in Wisconsin. Both CheeChee and Byron like the van to be constantly rolling and I do a lot of driving. I see a lot of Tennessee and Mississippi and Missouri roll by. I see the insides of three different Holiday Inns. Lucy and I make love while CheeChee and Byron swim in the pool and vice versa. The three days are a blur of pot smoke, cocaine, hash and champagne. Lucy reads a lot and CheeChee combs her hair a lot. We all rap about the state of marijuana in America and lament its illegal status. Of course, Byron says he hopes it stays illegal; then at least, the cops and feds won't control it. He wants pot in the hands of risk takers and entrepreneurs like himself. In the last two weeks alone he is responsible for getting people high in six different states. But it is Byron's illegal activities that obstructs the likelihood of he and CheeChee rekindling their love.
“My father is a nuclear physicist, for Christ sakes. I'm supposed to switch to M.I.T. next January to follow in his footsteps. What are you going to do? Sell pot at gas stations between Atlanta and Boston while I design nuclear reactors?”
But all parties must come to an end and after perhaps two thousand miles of haphazard meandering, a lot of hotel swimming pools and cocktails pool side, after a sea of smoke and champagne and bearing witness to the doomed love that lingered between our benefactors, Lucy and I decide to abandon ship somewhere in Wisconsin and thumb an Interstate east. According to the map I carry I figure I_80 will get us back to New York and ask Byron to drop us off when we cross it heading north. An hour later we're in the cab of a semi heading to Chicago. New York is just around the corner. Lucy and I are coming in for a landing. It is twilight. We are off the interstate. We are out of the semi. We are walking to the on ramp of an interstate heading east; I guess it to be maybe six blocks from here. The neighborhood is dreary and getting drearier as we progress through it. Catty corner to us at an intersection, a gang of teenage girls spies us and begins paralleling our route from across the street. After a block, when we head east towards the on-ramp, they do likewise. Dusk is done and night is upon us.
One of the teenagers, a tall African American girl with a close cropped Afro intones in a shrill of a challenge, “What you doin' here, girl, in our neighborhood? Whachodoin?!”
I sense the New Jersey wise-ass in Lucia will respond and prove provocative. I advise her not to respond and hold her hand.
“Whachodoin?” parrots another in the crowd as it mirrors our progress.
We reach the on-ramp which in this instance is a down-ramp that gives access to a maze of interstate exchanges in the distance. There are a dozen housing projects obscuring moonrise. The white noise of the traffic in the distance is not quite loud enough to mask the threat in the voices of the girls across the street.
“Girl what you doing here, in our neighborhood?”
This time Lucy responds both in English and Italian, “You all ain't got nothing to worry about. I already got a man, he's right here beside me. I ain't here looking to steal nobody's boyfriend.”
As she repeats herself in Italian, I flash on the scene at rendezvous that might have turned ugly. These girls are about to either laugh or up the ante.
But we never find out what the girls think, as a car headed to Gary, Indiana pulls between the gang of girls across the street and us.
The driver asks us the same question, “What are you doing around here?” and offers us a ride. After we're in the car, the girls surround it and block our passage. The doors are locked. The girls are all checking out Lucia. Who is the woman who hitchhikes? Who is it that touches down in strange places? The girls want to see the woman just passing through. The gang parts. We drive east. It'll be midnight when we get where our good Samaritan is going. I've grown spoiled the last few days with Byron and CheeChee.
“Just drop us off at a motel in Gary,” I ask, and he does. I spend thirty of my last ninety dollars on a motel as I don't want to sleep on the side of the road. We'll sleep late and hit the highway at noon. Maybe camp somewhere in Pennsylvania or Ohio tomorrow. Monday morning we should be back in New York. Whatever that means.
As it turns out, however, our first ride in the morning is a semi headed to New York with a drop off in Eire, Pennsylvania. We spend the night at a truck stop. Our driver sleeps about six hours in his cabin bed and Lucy and I sleep in the grass near a picnic bench. We reach New York late Monday morning. We are dropped off illegally on the side of an expressway on the edge of the rim of Lower Manhattan about thirty feet below street level. Lucy has a friend who lives on the lower west side and that is why we've exited here where there is no walkway. Old strata of New York growth are evidenced by the exposed remnants of buildings that had been removed to make way for the highways.
We ascend the wall of rubble and concrete. We literally climb the thirty feet to street side from the macadam of the road. We are greeted by a paranoid schizophrenic toothless homeless woman at the top of our climb at street side. She starts screaming for me to leave her alone. We disappear into
For a few days we kick back and enjoy Manhattan. Lucy's friend Liz is at the Jersey shore for the week, and we sleep at her apartment. We spend the rest of our waking hours bopping about Manhattan. We go to the movies a lot, my first sampling of foreign films. We avoid the subject of the future. We go to plays and reggae bars and jazz joints and local neighborhood festivals, wringing the most out of each moment, all the while aware our time is up. On our third morning, after a breakfast on the fire escape outside Liz's kitchen, we do the good bye thing: me, with the backpack, on the stairway headed down four flights to street and then underground to subway, Penn Station bound; and she, at the top of the stairs, the iron of the fire escape hatch marking her image, as for the first time in months we put geography between us. I head by commuter train in the direction of my sister's New Hope house; Lucy hangs with Liz to await her September First Lower East Side move-in.
By October I'm into another woman's erogenous zones, and even though I continue to see Lucy sporadically - a weekend in the cabin where I live, at her pad on the Lower East Side for occasional mid-week evenings - I am driven to find other lovers.
Last time I see Lucy, we're outside 30th Street Station in Philly. She's come down from Manhattan for the weekend to see the school play I've worked on. It's a glorious late October afternoon. A rare Philadelphia occurrence, the sky is actually blue. Coming over the Walt Whitman Bridge, the blend of sky and skyline had been picture perfect.
Lucy's wearing a cozy red wool shirt and jeans; her black hair is as long as ever. She tilts her head to hear what I am saying. A flock of pigeons that had been scavenging the ground near an overflowing trash can suddenly flutter upward. As she turns her head to check out the birds, I mumble something about a new girlfriend. She turns her face back towards me to say that she saw it coming. We both are teary with the surprise of how hurt and sad we are. She turns and disappears.
Years later, I mail Lucy, in care of her mother in Jersey, postcards announcing a poetry venue I'm hosting in Denver. A phone call from her follows some months later.
Lucy lives in Europe and is married to a Norwegian photographer she met in Africa the summer that followed our great adventure, and I'm in Denver awaiting the birth of my first child. We are both truly happy, and claim enchanted lives. We both agree our time together was better than any movie, foreign or not. Eddie Mc Bard and Lucia Cilento. . . Lucy and Eddie. . . great name for a book.