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Tuesday August 30th: I slept in Sanderson last night, parked across the street from the Desert Air Motel. A cold Mexico wind blew north and rocked the truck all night. I laid in bed and listened to it whistle against the cab, like something out of an Old West movie.
   This is a dry load, no reefer noise. No engine noise either. Low on fuel, I couldn’t afford to idle. No heat in the sleeper. I wrapped myself in blankets and shivered. The truck burns around a gallon an hour idling. I would’ve ended up five gallons short of Laredo. And the pump won’t suck the tanks absolutely dry. You need to leave a margin for safety.
   Laredo again. Somewhere in this country there may be a dirtier more disgusting truck stop, but I doubt there’s one that could top the entirety of the experience. The parking lot is still, in fact, even more covered with the fine brown desert powder that spreads over a three block surrounding area. With each step, a dust puff erupts from the silt. Small suspended clouds hover above each footfall to mark your path. Park for more than an hour and your truck is completely caked with dirt. And the dirt makes its way inside the building as well. It mixes with the oil and grime. Everything you touch in there leaves a fine dirt and diesel coating on your hands and clothes.
  And the weather. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the August heat inside and out is more stifling than the last time I was here. Still no air-conditioning in the building. Still no ventilation of any kind. And nothing, nothing is clean. The bathrooms are a mish-mash of used, re-installed toilets, no two alike. The doors on the stalls are from old closets. They’re coated with cheap black paint carelessly applied. Long drippy spatters and runs embroider the stalls, the floor, and the porcelain — like Pollock’s dumping doodles. The stink is indescribable, a festering union of urine, feces, BO, vomit, and discarded chewing tobacco.
  There’s a T.V. room filled with plastic lawn chairs: the $3.99 at K-mart variety. But most have been crushed by fat truckers. They’re stacked in the corners with broken or bent legs. Despite there being nowhere to sit, Mexican sit-coms plays confidently on the big screen.
  Laredo is like Hell: once here it’s damn hard to get out. Once your wagon rolls into Mexico without you, it’s time to sit and wait. And wait. And wait for another one. A lot more goes in than comes out.
  Most guys have been here at least a day, some three or four. They just mill around with nothing to do, nowhere to go. There’s a boredom that runs through the place so thick it’s almost palpable. I’m ready to cut some kind of Faustian deal with my new travel agent to get the hell out of here. I dumped my load at the broker as soon as I hit town and now here I sit with everyone else.
  Merle, Merle, why hast thou forsaken me?
  The heat’s bad all year long. The only difference is the humidity. It gets worse. Always worse. It's somewhere around 75% today. Misery.
  Trucks line both sides of Santa Maria Avenue. All night long, hundreds of trucks coming and going. It’s hard to sleep: the noise, the dust, and all night long the Lot Lizards bang on doors offering sex, or whatever you want if you’re willing to pay. There’s no sense threatening them. It’s not as though they’re the ones who will be coming back to wake you later. It’ll be a new crew. They work in shifts.
  And still no competition. The fuel prices here are some of the highest in the country, so high they don’t even list them outside. The signs have been blank, no numbers, for years. On the pumps, where the price is usually listed, just sloppy brushstrokes of paint to opaque the glass — the only game in town. What difference does the price make? Next services — 150 miles, San Antonio.
  In Laredo there are two English language radio stations, three Spanish language, and one that seems to constantly broadcast a test pattern — and the antagonism: U.S. and Mexican drivers. We’re forced to commingle at the truck stop. It doesn’t work very well. A lot of fights, and even more CB word battles. From what I can gather the Mexicans take a primarily comical view of the whole thing.
  They intentionally antagonize the white guys: get on the CB and start singing Mexican songs, or just speaking Spanish, which is enough to drive some of these guys into slobbering fits. They become hysterical screaming into the radio. The Mexicans just laugh. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so sad. The Mexicans definitely get the best of the Gringos. They seem to entertain themselves with their ability to work the white guys into a lather.
  Christ, some of the U.S. drivers are so stupid, too stupid to realize they’re being made fools of. They don’t realize their fury and racism is being laughed at. What a waste of energy. Wish I spoke Spanish so I could understand some of the jokes. They must be good because the laughter never stops.
  Homesickness. It usually hits hardest when I’m sitting still. And Laredo is the world headquarters for sittin’ still homesickness.
  Rolling there’s that fascination with what’s moving around me or what I’m moving through. And rolling there’s the distraction and obsession with achieving a destination. But once I stop something strange happens. It probably has to do with free time, time to indulge what are for most routine activities: interacting with friends, going to the movies, museums, bookstores, having sex, reading, simple movement whether physical or cerebral. Here that can’t happen. I’m confined to the truck by heat, dust, and cretinism — Confined at a time when I should be free to roam, free from the anxiousness and worry about getting a load, where it’ll be going, the weather, when to fuel, when not to fuel, how much cash I’ll need for the trip. Sitting still everything catches up. So much is put off until moments like this: paper work, expense reports, log book fiction, cleaning the interior of the truck, minor repairs.
  Sitting still I long to stretch out in a soft chair, or walk into a kitchen and prepare a big messy meal, or for hours roll around naked in bed with a woman of uncommon intelligence and beauty. But I’m stuck in this truck and I wish I was home strutting down Grant Avenue headed for Lost and Found, the Saloon, or Li Po.

RCV # 09                                             09/01/94; 07:11 MST
WE R SEEING A CONSISTANTLY HI # OF BCKNG ACCS. SLO DOWN PEOPLE. GET OUT OF THE TRUCK AND CK BEHIND U B4 U BACK. GO SLO AND CAREFUL WHENEVER IN REVERSE. THERE’S NO EXCUSE 4 BCKNG ACCS. THNX. BUD. SFTY.


Thursday September 1st: oh, this is sweet! A new load headed to Northern California. And a ridiculous amount of time on it due to the Labor Day holiday — rolling again after an unfortunate layover. God I miss Merle. He would’ve never let me sit down here. But that’s over, time to move on. One way or another this is going to work out beautifully, but there’s a dilemma. I can’t put this load in till Tuesday. It’s 10:20 Thursday morning and I’m sitting in Laredo, Texas. Even taking my time I’ll end up with a day and a half to kill.
  The dilemma: where to spend my down time. I’m 1800 miles from the Bay Area, roughly 36 driving hours. Running hard, with minimal sleep, I could be home Saturday morning and have three days off. But then where to go? I could leave the truck at Al’s yard and then what? Do I head up to San Francisco, or stay down in San Jose with Al, Tommy, and Brian? If I run with those guys I know what’ll happen: drunken, schoolboy antics all night, every night: chasing women, spending money, causing trouble.
  Taking the train up to San Francisco offers a different scenario: reclusive solitude, the bookstores, library, museums and galleries, wandering latenight through the streets. The normal routine. I’m conflicted. Human interaction sounds appealing. So does solitude, rest.

  A decision — San Francisco, a spiritual necessity. Maybe hook up with Brian at Al’s yard and drag him up to the city. I’m reasonably rested and feel ready for at least a grand. 400 miles already. No fatigue. I haven’t even stopped yet. At least Phoenix tonight. A thousand miles, maybe as far as Tonapah and sleep at Rip Griffin’s. That’s probably the best idea. Get through Phoenix, so I don’t have to mess with traffic tomorrow morning.


RCV #14                                             09/02/94, 06:54 MST
HEADS UP THIS WKEND EVERYBODY. THIS IS THE LAST BIG HOLIDAY OF THE SUMMER. WATCH 4 THE USUAL MINDLESSNESS. STAY ALERT. WATCH UR FOLLOWING DIS AND DRIVE DEFENSIVELY. THNX. BUD, SFTY.


Friday September 2nd: getaway Friday. The holiday seems in full swing already. Coming off the Grapevine, down in the Valley, two thick lines of red going north and two white ones coming south in the dusky evening. Nothing but taillights and headlights without interruption. I’ve never seen so much traffic out here. And tonight they’re all driving as though intellectually challenged. The last big hurrah of summer and everybody left their brains at home. Five fender benders southbound on the Grapevine. Who knows what kind of madness is waiting down in the Valley. Time to slow down. Time for caution. I’m not in the best shape anyway. Mild brainfog from this hard run. I just can’t stop today, even if I wanted to, it seems biological; can’t stop today, or this weekend. 1,000 miles yesterday. 740 by the time I’m done today. Sleep out in front of Al’s yard tonight, wait for someone to show up in the morning and let me in. The mechanics always work on Saturdays. And I’m sure Al will have at least one crew in the field as well. I should be on the 10:00 train to San Francisco. I’ll have Saturday, Sunday, and most of Monday off.
  Jesus, what a run. It feels like somebody filled my head with lacquer thinner. My brain is swimming in a vaporous, sleep deprivational haze. I should be okay. Get a couple hours sleep in the truck tonight. At least an hour and a half on the train tomorrow.
  I called Holly in New York before I got out of Texas. She said I was welcome, in fact encouraged, to use their house while I’m in the city. And this is a hell of a house, perched right on the edge of Telegraph Hill.
  Telegraph Hill: absurdly high rent, spectacular views, just up the road from the Saloon. The house is one enormous bay window three stories tall that looks out over the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, Alcatraz, Berkeley, and my old home, the Port of Oakland. I won’t want to leave.
  Holly and Roger are in New York for at least six months. They like it when someone stays at the house so it doesn’t look deserted. They told me where the key is hidden.
  Man, I should be sitting on the deck, working on the first six-pack by 12:30 tomorrow.

RCV #03                                             09/03/94; 09:57 MST
WTHR: MOSTLY MILD AND DRY. HAVE A GREAT HOLIDAY. STAY SANE. STAY OUT OF TROUBLE. WE NEED U BACK NEXT WK. THNX. BUD, SFTY.

Saturday September 3rd: the paving crew showed up at dawn. Thankfully no one tried to wake me up. I parked out of the way so I wouldn’t have to move. Henry came out at 9:10 and banged on the sleeper, screaming for me to get up if I wanted him to take me to the train. I’d left him a note on the gate.
  Henry is Al’s uncle, also one of his employees. He and I worked together one summer — diesel mechanics wrenching on Al’s equipment.
  Now usually, being a diesel mechanic for a construction company is tough work. But Henry and I managed to pretty much loaf the entire three months. We’d do a small job in the morning then go to lunch. Another small job in the afternoon then punch out. It was one of the most peaceful summers of my life. Hot quiet Alviso where everything’s so still and lethargic you’d swear you were 200 miles from San Jose instead of 2.
  Alviso sits at the south end of San Francisco Bay. From Al’s yard I could see the little harbor two blocks over. I’d sit in the shop with my feet up on the desk and watch the masts of the sail boats rise and fall, rocking gently as the tide rolled in and out twice daily.
  No luxury yachts in Alviso, just an amusing collection of home-builts, run down museum pieces, and half finished trimarans that sit on the low-tide mud, so old and poorly maintained they’re barely able to prevent the free flow of baywater throughout the hulls. Most look abandoned. Can’t help but figure Alviso to be their last stop. Eventually they’ll just decompose, be invited deep into the thick black Bay mud never to be seen again. The entire harbor seems to decay right before your eyes, a little more each day.
  Nonetheless, the rag-tag collection is a vital South Bay housing community providing shelter for some of the most colorful residents of Santa Clara County, residents who look like they’re in Alviso by default rather than plan. Some look like drop-outs, some like they were long ago defeated by a force much more powerful then themselves. Some behave as though in hiding. Others, the true eccentrics, are functional recluses: aimless wandering, exceedingly long hair, or no hair, bizarre clothing, and frequently engaged in conversation with invisible partners. Most are suspicious of strangers and extremely protective of their forgotten enclave. But among themselves there is great warmth, camaraderie, and generosity.
  It’s quiet all day in Alviso, except for the mad rush of trucks and construction crews headed out to job sites early in the morning. Late afternoon the parade reverses — everyone back to their respective yards. But in between the brief explosions of activity the children, dogs, cats, and chickens are rarely disturbed as they wander the fields and streets. I even saw a pig once, wandering happily and freely down Gold Street.
  Henry and me, we’d walk through the empty lot next to the yard then along deserted dusty Taylor Street to Rosita’s. Mexican food and a couple beers for lunch, a couple more beers to aid digestion, and one to carry with us for the long two minute walk back to work. A couple chores in the afternoon then we’d knock off early and head over to Vahl’s for Happy Hour.
  Henry’s an old Air Force guy. In his sixties now. He still gets up at 3:00 in the morning just like when he was flying. Every morning he’s up early and waiting for it to be time to go to work. By noon he’s a stumbling zombie looking for some place to pass out. After lunch he’d come back and inevitably go into the shop office and put his feet up on the desk. In two minutes his mouth would be hanging wide open, his body limp in a catatonic stupor. He didn’t snore. His mouth would just hang open, slack-jawed and make a sucking sound like a nuclear powered vacuum cleaner. And once he was asleep I’d find a place behind the shop to stretch out and doze myself.
  Every once in a while, Al would come by looking for us — usually something unimportant. He’d walk in the office, see Henry sleeping and start screaming like a lunatic, kicking things, throwing papers and rags, yelling, “Goddamn it, what the fuck’s going on here? Where the fuck is Scott? Christ, what the hell do you think this is Holiday Inn? Where’s Scott? Am I paying him to sleep too? Shit, there’s work to be done around here Uncle.”
  I’d hear the commotion from my strategically chosen point of departure, jump up and run in the back door of the shop and plunge my hands into the solvent bin acting like I was washing parts. Al’d find me with my hands immersed in the tub scrubbing vigorously. Of course, there was nothing in my hands or in the tub. But I knew he wasn’t going to fish around in there to find that out.
  Every time this happened, after Al stomped off, Henry would come over and say the same thing, “OOhh Al, he was pissed boy; I fell asleep. I was looking up a number in the phone book and I just fell asleep for a second, but boy he was pissed. Whathyou been doing? You get anything done?”
  He’d usually been out for an hour or more. “Oh yeah,” I’d say, “I washed all those parts you told me to wash.” “Oh, good, good. I’m glad you was working or Al would’ve gone through the roof.” Of course, he hadn’t told me to wash any parts, but he didn’t give a damn. He didn’t even remember. He was just happy that one of us was working so Al didn’t go into full core meltdown.
  But Henry is Al’s blood, so he could get away with this time and again. Every time Al came out to check on us it was the same thing, as though it were some farce we were performing for an unseen audience.
  But as casually as I took the job I genuinely enjoyed the work. There’s something strangely satisfying and alluring about mechanics for me. It’s almost erotic: the finely machined parts, the precision of the engineering, the tactile nature of metal surfaces: machined, polished, cast, forged, brushed, painted.
  When I worked for Dos Palmos Machine, I used to love putting an engine together. It was like a religious ceremony: laying the parts out, arrayed for easy access in order of their inclusion in the assembly process.
  I used to love just looking at all those pistons, rods, bearings, lifters, the crankshaft, camshaft, timing chain and gears, etc., gleaming in the flourescent light, waiting to become monstrous horsepower. 500 inch big block, open chamber, Chevys. The beautiful cross-hatch pattern of a freshly bored and honed block — deburred and painted inside to aid oil flow and return. The swoshing hiss of piston rings sliding in from the ring compressor into a cylinder. Music of the muses. Spinning a crankshaft in a freshly align-bored block. Watching it spin almost endlessly on new bearings, new bearings with the leading edge scraped to eliminate any burrs that might scratch a freshly ground main journal. But also, less glamoursly, just washing the grease and road gunk off a fuel pump, steering gear, or an air compressor, giving it new life, discovering that underneath its girmy coat it still gleams bright and ready to serve. Since I was a kid — taking things apart just to see what makes them work, and to see if I could put them back together. Sometimes no, usually yes. Maybe I should’ve been a sculptor (I'm not sure what the hell that means).
  The train was almost empty, because of the holiday, I guess. I found an empty double seat down stairs, put in some ear plugs, stretched out, and went to sleep with my duffel bag as a pillow. Just that hour and a half nod reanimated me. I was ready for the city.
  Once off the train I caught a 15 from the station into North Beach, same rough ride through South of Market where PG&E never quite seems to finish all their repair and construction: holes in the road, trench plate everywhere, getting bounced all over the bus. I jumped off at Green and Columbus, and Christ, the place was so crowed it was tough to walk on the sidewalk without crashing into somebody every other step.
  I decided to stop at the Saloon before the long haul up Telegraph Hill to Holly’s Castle. I must’ve looked like a freshly arrived Gold Rush sailor turned miner with my big bag, wrinkled clothes, and five day growth. Nobody said anything. It’s pretty hard to look out of place at the Saloon. Hell, given the small, motley crowd positioned around the bar, I was almost overdressed.
  After an hour or so it was time to tackle the hill, the steepest in San Francisco. Holly’s place is all the way at the top and started down the other side. Makes for spectacular views, but means one hell of a climb to the summit.
  There aren’t too many 90° days a year in San Francisco. But today was one of them. I think the final high was 97. Hot, clear, windless, and a holiday. I couldn’t have asked for better weather, lodging, or circumstances.
  The first thing on my mind was a long, cool shower with the music up loud. Saturday night was starting to creep into my fleshy brain.
  After the shower I stood on the balcony in a towel surveying the situation, trying to decide which direction to head first. The Bay was thick with boats that seemed to be moving to the beat of live music rolling up the hill from somewhere. Not great music, but music! And live. It didn’t need to be great, just loud. And loud it was, coming from all the way down at Pier 23 on the waterfront. From my perfect perch I could see the crowd spilling out the front door and back patio.
  Typically, Pier 23 doesn’t interest me. It’s the only decent bar on the north end of the waterfront, but not my crowd. It attracts the young corporate set. Fresh out of college, feeling loud and important in the delirium of their professional debuts, like a frat party: lots of high fives, baseball caps, bare bellies, and an indefensible overuse of the word “Dude!”
  But with every beer on the balcony the music sounded better and better: the Pied Piper of Filbert Street. I threw on a pair of shorts and down the steps I went, all 355 of them.
  The crowd was more collegiate than ever, but the place was jumping. I found a vacant corner next to the band and parked myself out of the traffic to listen to the music and get drunk.
  It was hot outside, but inside it was nearly unbearable, like driving through the noon August desert with the windows rolled up and the heater on. Everybody was sweating and having a beautiful time. A magic weekend, anything could happen. They all seemed much younger than me and I didn’t care.
  The place kept getting more and more crowded. It became difficult to negotiate the throng, and hard to get to the bar. I started ordering two at a time each trip. My body was absorbing the beer as fast as I could drink it. I tried to pace myself using the music as drinking regulator. Every time the band took a break I headed back to the bar.
  On one trip I was reaching over, grabbing a pair of beers when I noticed a painfully gorgeous young woman standing next to me. 25, 26 maybe. She was struggling against the crowd, unsuccessfully trying to get a drink. She was like something out of one of my Sunday evening freight-road fantasies: trim feminine body covered suggestively by a thin blue summer dress, braless perfect breasts: firm, small to medium, like Marie’s champagne cast. The delicate material outlined them with cruel precision. For me it’s always and completely the breasts. I longed for them.
  A slight position shift and I was close enough to smell her. Her hair. Jasmine I think it was. Christ, breasts and the smell of spring. And beautiful hair — shoulder length, thick, run my fingers through it hair the color of summer dry straw soaked in honey. All the womanless days and miles rioted in my head. I asked her what she wanted to drink and made a joke about the difficulty of the crowd and about my being more aggressive and taller then her petite 5’2” frame. She laughed and gave me an, “Oh you’re so sweet,” smile. “A Long Island Iced Tea would be nice," whatever the hell that is.
  I pulled the two bottles and her glass safely down from over the crowd and offered the drink to her, Jethro Bodine-like, “Twernt nothin ma’am.” I felt like I should kick the floor and say, “Aww shucks.” She asked how much she owed me. Something stupid like, “Know it or not you’ve already paid,” came out of my mouth. “Thank you.” Another big smile. She tried to tell me her name. All I heard was something that sounded like “Behernia.” Just as I got to “...Scott” the band started playing and interrupted my side of the introduction. All the lines I’d been rapidly formulating to use on her suddenly became useless against the noise. She smiled again and pulled on my shoulder. I leaned down. She went up on her tiptoes to say something directly in my ear. Her hot moist breath flowed in. Her lips brushed the tender skin as she spoke. I imagined I felt her tongue. Instant arousal. For a moment I seriously considered severing the fortunate ear from my body and handing it to her Van Gogh-like, a gesture of spontaneous and eternal love. Unfortunately, even with her mouth pressed against my head I couldn’t make out what she was saying. The band was playing too goddamn wonderfully loud. Plus, my hearing’s been pretty well destroyed by everything from race cars, to loud music, to working around all those damn construction company backhoes, air compressors, and jackhammers.
  It sounded like she said, “Many over the day five people seeing east,” as she pointed toward the other side of the room. Obviously imagining something important had been communicated she pulled back to smile then leaned forward again and kissed me on the cheek — unnecessarily long and juicy. Whatever she’d said clearly called for some sort of response. She leaned back and stared, waiting. I had no idea what to say since I had no idea what she’d really said. I just shouted out, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” I have no idea where it came from, or what I was thinking. She laughed hard and caressed my upper arm like I was a close friend or a date. I figured I was in the driver’s seat even though I had no idea what was going on.
  She pulled me down for another audience. More breath. More lips. More Jasmine. More imagination.
  I put my arm around her waist and drew her closer, which seemed appropriately inappropriate. While I was listening to what I couldn’t hear her saying I realized the situation was hopeless. Couldn’t make out a word. All I heard was, “Ain’t no crime to shoot a burrito,” or something like that. No possibility of a conversation. I told myself the situation was futile. This time I made no attempt to respond and just stood there enjoying the view, staring like an idiot. She had the most deliciously delicate skin: tanned, unblemished, smooth as a hand rubbed, 20 coat, candy-apple paint job. She stared back for a minute then shrugged her shoulders with a disappointed look on her face and shuffled off toward the part of the room she had pointed at earlier.
  I shrugged back even though she wasn’t looking. It was early in a long weekend, far too early. I kept thinking about something Mona said last time I saw her in New Orleans. It was Mardi Gras and we were down in the French Quarter watching all the wonderfully hedonistic naked madness. I asked her if, with all the titillation and exposure, people often paired off for quickies. I asked just how far all the decadence went. Titillation was the means and the end she said — that people, at least the women, weren’t likely to take off with someone because, among other considerations, it would mean missing all the fun and activity on the street. She said, “Mardi Gras isn’t about sex, it’s about sexuality.” A nice distinction. So as this woman was sticking her wet mouth on my ear and cheek I kept thinking, “It’s too early. Don’t make me pursue you. I haven’t even had time to enjoy the holiday yet.” The communication problem was simply a good excuse to justify squandering the opportunity. I fully expected to regret the decision later. But I let it go, leaned back, and listened to a great version of Love and Happiness, thinking of everything that lay ahead now that the whole night and weekend was mine — I’d hurdled the first barrier: seems like there’s always someone knocking at the door when you are least in the mood to entertain.
  20:00 the band finished their last set and headed for more familiar surroundings, back up the 355 steps, in the front door of Holly’s Castle, use the facilities and grab something for the long walk down the other side of the hill to North Beach.
  The second band at the Saloon doesn’t start till 21:30. When I walked in there was still an hour to go and most of the crowd from the first band had gone out for dinner or some other attraction. I pulled up a stool in the corner and started writing in my notebook, minding my own business.
  There were only a few other people in the bar, but a different few every ten minutes. Four would leave and five new ones would come in. Five would leave and three more would roll in the door making the rounds on Grant Avenue — the way it always is on Grant before the music starts: prowling, waiting, staking a spot, seeing who’s on the bill. Nervous energy. Where they end up spending the bulk of the evening being largely a matter of where they happened to be when the music started all up and down the street.
  From my corner I watched a couple walk in. Typically, they stood just inside the always open doors for a minute surveying the room, deciding. The woman made my heart moan. Early to mid-30s I guessed. A certain intelligent confidence about her. Quiet elegance, you know, fit in anywhere: the Saloon, Cypress Club, Li Po, Chez Panisse: 501s, delicate white blouse, funky boots — fake leopard. A cross between Haight Street and Pacific Heights. Made to torment me.
  The guy was a stiff, a funeral home cadaver: tasseled shoes, pressed tan trousers, starched white shirt buttoned to the top without a tie, and one of those stupid blue blazers with a crest on the pocket — in 95° weather. Pure pine. The kind of guy who wears a sport coat to a barbecue and shaves first thing every morning, even on Sunday. Laughably out of place at the Saloon.
Except for my stool and two others way over by the window the place was open.
  I’d turned away and wasn’t looking as they walked down the bar. I didn’t see who led the way. She took the stool next to mine, him on the other side. It seemed odd: a nearly empty bar and they had to sit right next to me. It made me uncomfortable.
  I went over to pump some money in the jukebox: 90-13, Sweet Virginia, among others.
  I sat back down and started scribbling in the notebook again. They didn’t seem to be speaking. They hadn’t uttered a word to each other since they walked in.
  She struck up a conversation with me — “So are you a writer?” I had to laugh, “Well I write, but I wouldn’t waste any time in a bookstore looking for something with my name on it. Nah....I’d say no. At best I’m a reader.” “So how long have you been a writer?”
  More conversation. A hundred different tangents. The stiff stared at the memorabilia along the wall like an imbecile. Sarah and I took turns buying him and ourselves drinks.
  Neither of us made any effort to include him in the conversation.
  I wondered? — date gone bad? — relationship going bad? — some kind of hustle: a threesome, voyeur? I figured, just ask. I didn’t particularly care about the answer. He went to take a leak and I posed the question. “Oh, we’re just old friends, old acquaintances more accurately. He was my college boyfriend’s buddy. Huh...some buddy, he’s been trying to bed me ever since we met. I don’t think he understands I’m not, or why I’m not interested. You know, he can’t understand how any woman could possibly resist his self-perceived beauty and charm. I think he thinks I’m just playing hard to get.”
  “Are you?” “My god no. The thought of being in bed with him makes me nauseous. But a couple times a year he’s in town and he always calls me and suggests we have dinner or something; which would be fine except at some point he always ends up suggesting we get naked together. I mean, he’s that crude and pathetic about it.” “So why do you keep getting together with him then? You don’t seem like someone who’d put up with that sort of thing for too long.” “Yeah, well, I guess it’s a combination of hoping or thinking he’ll eventually grow up, along with some kind of misguided good-little-girl need to be nice to everybody. But he got down to business quick this time. I mean, it didn’t take two hours before he was suggesting we head back to my place and play fireman; you know, see how quickly we could get undressed. I told him that firemen get dressed, not undressed quickly. He just stood there staring at the sky with his mouth hanging open, like an idiot, hoping that some witty response would fly into his empty head. Best he could come up with was, ‘Well lets go play anyway.’ The guy has the I.Q. of concrete. Anyway, I’ve finally had it. I just want him gone. . .I just want him to go back to his hotel. Maybe you can help me with my problem.” “I think I already have. I’m pretty sure he gets the hint.” “I hope so, but I doubt it. Anyway, I’m really sorry to dump on you like this, but I’m at my breaking point and you’re easy to talk to. I mean, I’ve enjoyed our conversation, at least that part before the Jim story. Lets change the subject. I’d rather hear more about what you don’t write.” “Well, first of all, don’t be sorry. I asked, remember?” “Yeah, but still. . . .” “No, I asked because I’m interested — I’ve really enjoyed our conversation as well. So why not use it as motivation, view it as an opportunity? You know, find a way to get rid of Jim and we’ll sit here and talk the night away. Hell, I’ll tell you about every literary idea I’ve ever had; if not tonight, who knows when or if we’ll ever get another chance. Like I told you, I’m a cross-country truck driver. I may not be back for a couple months.” “Get rid of him how? Remember the good-little-girl problem? What would I say? You have to help me. I’m not that calculating. If I was, I probably wouldn’t be here with him in the first place.” “Just say you don’t feel well and you want to go home, ALONE. It’s simple. Don’t make a big project out of it. He already knows you’re disgusted with him. Finish it. Don’t leave him out there on the highway to die slowly. Put him out of his misery. Send him on his way. I’ll wait here for you.”
  When Jim came back she set the hook. “I’m getting a real bad headache from the smoke in here. Do you mind if we leave?”
After she left I sat wondering. Our conversation made me think she might be something out of the ordinary. Certainly she was beautiful. Skin and blue-green eyes so luscious she looked as though she’d just stepped out of a Vermeer painting. Yeah, that’s it! Christ, I knew she reminded me of someone and I just remembered who it is: Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. They could be sisters, 300 years apart. Same serene, alluring face, so tender, guileless, and warm you’d imagine she could heal the sick with just that soft smile. A face of silent vulnerability.
Fortunately, it wasn’t just the beauty that drew me. That alone wouldn’t be enough. If there isn’t some kind of intellectual connection, usually, I’d just as soon save the time and energy, especially when I had to pack so much living into a so short weekend. But still, it’d been a while since I’d enjoyed the rejuvenating thrill of a woman’s naked flesh.
  I considered whether I’d be willing to get stupid for a while if she turned out to be less than our brief encounter had suggested. I finally got tired of thinking about it and decided to let the experience unfold as it might, let the moment offer what it would. Besides, it was 50/50 that she’d even show and figured I might not ever see her again. I didn’t want to waste too much energy fretting over something that might never happen. I ordered more beers, talked to Augie and listened to the jukebox.
  She was back in an hour and a half — immediate comfort settled in between us, as though we’d known each other for years. Our ease of interaction was a little disconcerting and made me wonder where we might be headed, why, and how fast. So quickly the confusion sets in.
  We sat at the bar while behind us Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers worked their way into a second set. For almost an hour I listened to and stared at Sarah with the open-mouthed amazement of a madman suddenly reminded of a nearly forgotten vision.
  At one point, reflexively impulsively, I reached out and brushed back a stray wisp of hair that had fallen across one side of her face. My fingers gently stroking her ear, I left my hand against her cheek for a moment after smoothing the tuft back into place. As though coming out of a trance, I suddenly became aware of what I was doing, of my presumptuousness. If I’d been younger I would’ve blushed. Instead, to cover my embarrassment, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. She smiled that soothing Vemeer smile and squeezed my hand as I slipped off the stool.
  On the way back from the men’s room I asked Johnny if he’d play it for me, for us. My perpetual request, Jumping at Shadows, slow and seductive. He winked and smiled.
  Just barely flicking at the strings, so you almost have to strain to hear the notes, the way he knows I love to hear him play, Johnny seduced the room.
  Sarah and I danced, close, but not smashed together. I didn’t want to be obvious or base. But I was far enough gone by that time that I was having trouble not falling into the band. The dance floor is so small and crowded that it requires a fair degree of coordination to stay upright, even when sober. I didn’t want to humiliate myself. No face down on the floor. As Johnny’s voice trailed off with the last verse we retook our stools back at the bar. Johnny went back to basics: loud and fast. Over the noise of the band and the screams by our ears for drinks, I suggested we head up the hill, have our own party. She was almost as far along as me by then and equally tired of shouting back and forth. We headed for Holly’s Castle.
  I never stopped yapping the whole way. Someone to talk to for once. Energy. So furious and incessant was my blabbing that I was backpedaling up the hill. I had to stay in front of her, face her, talk directly at her as we walked, arms flailing reflexively for effect, tongue flying around uncontrollably in my mouth, words spitting out like machine gun fire, two month’s worth of conversation downloaded in five uphill blocks. It all came out: world politics, the biochemical implications of American Cheese Food, Kierkegaard’s anxiety, subjective orgasms, everything. Uninterrupted torrents of words randomly and tenuously strung together by the flimsiest line of reasoning and irrationality imaginable. Even my own embarrassment couldn’t stop me.
  Fortunately, she seemed to be terribly amused by the display. She later told me the exhibition of marginal insanity was actually attractive to her.
  Once in the Castle we immediately sent the stereo clipping at the hush black night. The dancing and laughing was interrupted only by my forgetfulness. I’d forgotten to get anything to drink at the store. No way I was going back down that hill. We mounted a desperate search for alcohol, tearing through every room in the house.
  We found a well hidden stash of French wine upstairs, opened a bottle for each of us and headed back to the living room — a larger dance floor this time with Tupelo Honey and spectacular views all to ourselves. All windows open, still too hot in the house, eventually we retired to the deck on the top floor. Like foreplay: the view: the skyline, the twinkling East Bay hills, the Bay Bridge, Coit Tower — nightlit with cinematic splendor. Through shimmering waves of heat Berkeley looked good. Oakland as well. The Port blazed with determination. Treasure Island seemed childlike, Alcatraz forbidding.
Sunday September 4th: everything after the rooftop dance is a blank. Came to face down on the deck sometime after dawn this morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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