Saturday, February 12, 2005

THE LEE SHORE

1 In less than ten minutes we were well on the road, on the 10 freeway heading north – to Alaska. It was our highway to heaven, our Route 66, a yellow brick road. Northward ho. Lighting out for the territory, hi ho silver fashion, easy riding to Abilene up the Chisom Trail; an inner geometric pull had prodded us off our pampered provincial flabby rumps, we had gotten too civilized; a hunger for movement had befallen us, we needed a Mulholand drive. Off to the Land of the Latins. Like the old gold and silver seekers we were rushing it - instead of west, we young men were going north - and taking with us those same yellow fevers, hopes and longings, and even some curiosities. It was the same ol' siren song that sends dice rolling, cards flashing, and roulette and slot wheels spinning; sends us in legions to corner markets for our chits to the lotto, that draws whole populations time and again to Vegas and Monte Carlo and Indian gaming parlors; it was what kicked Magellan, Columbus and Cook out the door – to seek and see not only distant undiscovered country but also fortunes in their untouched, non-corrupted Yahweh given form. Call it greed and gamboling, interest seeking or maybe a proclivity to hoard - but even human vices can turn gallant and epic as they hide under agreeable monikers: we were Exploring, Colonizing, Empire Building, Food Gathering, Adventuring, Visiting. Greed is, after all, sometimes good. Like Oklahoma land grabbers, Caesar and the Kublai Khan, we wanted our share.

The dusty yellow brown Kelloge hills approached in our view, and the concrete ribbon rose before us in the distance, as if inclined, before running up into and over a lap between the mounded cycloidal highlands. Filling our ears was the clapity pulse of our spare but functional engine working at the rear of the bus. Claremont was falling distant at a land speed of approximately sixty miles per hour – cruising speed - a rate the average combustion engine could maintain for a chariot such as ours with relative ease and low relative cost for miles and miles. At that speed, we could, conceivably, if running non-stop, travel the spans of Alexander's world at it's zenith, the Argonautic Expedition, Ptolemy’s Map, the Eight Crusades, Marco Polo's travels, sails of Cortez and Drake, the treks of Lewis and Clark and Perry, in a little over a Julian month. It took eight years for the boy conqueror to enslave the span of his world. And four centuries, and the genius of the Caesar's for Rome to repeat it. Huck Finn, if the Mississippi had been a freeway, and his yacht of logs and twine was instead a Volkswagen bus, he would have been only hours - a half a days motor - from locating Jim back into the bonds of slavery and completing his soul releasing deed. And Odysseus, with piston engine technology nulling his square sail, he may very well have avoided the vision of Hades, the lure of the Sirens, Scylla's six mouths, swirling Charybdis, Hyperons cows, and Calypso's charms, he could have laughed off the Aeolian bag and be-lined to Ithica, easy passage to Penelope and eternal bliss, and coughed in the face of Poseidon. But of course, the gods, being gods, are sly and while they seem to encourage man's inventiveness they also seem to jealously guard their pride and will over man's pretensions, over his Titanic boasts. It would seem no matter how raw or sophisticated his technology, mere man would always have windmills for the lancing.

We rolled up to the crest of the lap. A hillside rose on either side of the freeway, both covered with dry wheatlike grass and studded with clumps of still rooted tumbleweeds, a goldenbrown matted fur over the humping body of the beast. Ahead was a blue white sky, mostly clear, and below that, the great San Gabriel Basin, the floor flat appearing for dozens of miles ahead and to the west. To the east the San Gabriel mountain range paralleled the freeway and demarcated the basin, rose several thousand feet, the ridgeline mild angular inclines and declines ascending or descending from rotund balding summits. The basin floor was flat at the freeway, then, after a couple of miles, it inclined easily for a dozen miles toward the range, slowly steepening until abruptly the range walled, rising, as if slicing up through the basin floor. The mountains directly east were purple and gray against the blue sky. Atop the ridgeline, on the highest summit, antennas and a couple white huts were mere visible specs. That was Mount Polamar where telephone, radio, and television signals were beamed to other high points across country, to satellites orbiting, and eventually to TV's throughout the world.

To the west the Kelloge hills appeared to run in a range around the basin, eventually curving northward way in the distance, then, far ahead, curving eastward toward the mountains. The hills were a yellow brown swelling ridgeline that rolled hilly in rounded mounds, then blended into smooth softly rising brown miniature mountains. To the far west the hillsides had been carved and re-shaped by the bulldozer blades into sharply angled and steplike dirt terraces for hillside housing tracts. Small stucco boxes with pitched pointed roofs stood in even symmetric rows atop the freshly cut unlandscaped light brown terraces. From afar the houses had the look of tents orderly set up for a kind of army encampment.

Ahead, above the hills directly north, thirty or so miles in the far distance, the skyscrapers of the Los Angeles downtown could be seen rising - long narrow rectangular projections, an uplift over the yellow brown rolling horizon, their glass and steel walls glinting faintly in the morning sunlight, rising in a cluster, like a monument of shaded crystal quartz postpiles into the blue sky.

Covering the basin floor from hills to mountain bases were the artery's and abodes of man's enterprise and living. A dense low lying suburban matrix, a tic tac toe upon tic tac toe upon tic tac toe of streets, boulevards, and freeways slicing the land into longitudinal and latitudinal lines to enclose parking lots, office buildings, strip shopping centers, factory's, warehouses, gas stations, movie theatres, city halls and supermarkets, parks and playgrounds and schools - and the abodes for living, blocks and blocks of apartment buildings and tracks of houses, most of it skinned in stucco.

To the eye, taking in the whole view, it was an impression of roadways in a matrix, a quilt of bright and dull colored patches intermingled with dapples of green tree and bush. And laying prominently across it all was a wide gray white river, its bottom a concrete multi-lane floor, shimmering silvery in our distance from the morning sun, it's dual directional flow a fluid of traffic - molecules of tin and rubber.

Hanging lightly, barely noticeable, about the basin and the hills and even going part way up the mountain sides, griming the natural view as if veiling it with a smoky pall, like cigarette haze in a bar, was the after waste of the basins productivity, smog - that Delphic smoke, an apocalyptic innuendo. By noon the view from the Kelloge hills would be less visible, the hills and the mountains beyond would dissolve into faint outlines, the sky scrapers of Los Angeles would be faint ghostly shapes, and the basin would look like a bowl holding a smoky witches brew. But that day we would miss the airy soiling - the gaseous expirations of mans manufactured digestions - we were off, rolling fast to other clean vistas; other Avalons beyond; where even modern man has only lightly tread and hardly soiled; where the primary, if not the only, force to be reckoned with was the natural god in all his visual manifestations and the wanton barely predictable meanness of his nature. The one God with infinite faces and a mass of countenance. But with our youthful vigor and confidence we were hopeful and optimistic, even elated about our encounters to be found ahead. Nate, our captain, our captain, and I, in the shotgun seat, we both gorged on the view. Nate said, "Great view huh, and no traffic, we lucked out." He glanced quickly over his shoulder behind him, "Look at those bucket heads."

I looked back. Brad was asleep stretched out as best he could along the back bench seat. Merril and Klug were camped on the floor in the open gap between the back seat and the front bucket seats. Both were asleep, Merril with his head up on a sleeping bag, his feet toward the front. Klug next to him, but his feet were toward the back and lying under the bench seat.

With gaulfull exaggeration, I could then claim to have driven over the Kelloge Hills and through the basin toward downtown Los Angeles a trillion squared times. And Nate had driven it even more having worked and attended college in West L.A. But that day the view seemed worth every bit the taking in. As if seen anew. Before, it had merely been the way to L.A., a dreary distance to get across. But that day it was seen from the fresh perspective as the start of our romance with the road. A passion became us and the abundance in the natural view became revealed. I saw the mountains rising hugely, the bare hint of trees along the ridgeline, saw the simple beauty in the rolling hills, and lamented the sharp lined geometric transformation of those hills by the housing producers. I saw man’s taking of the land, his assertion over it. I tried to imagine how it must have been, how it must have looked, how awed the first wagon train settlers who lasted vast dusty buffaloed plains, injuns, ovenlike dessert oceans, then rugged rock and boulder strewn mountain passes, to come finally to a precipice or a hilltop, Kelloge Hill perhaps, and saw initially the fruits of their daring and toilsome trip, this bare and fertile California basin, the land that was promised, spilling from a cornucopia, an eternal and enchanted realm, the Shenandoah. A land which exceeded all promises and all imaginings. It must certainly have gripped their hardy soul. And over it, out of concrete, brick, steel and stucco, they would build their Atlantis, their Camelot, their Phaeacia.

Down from the hills, into the basin, the high view to each side of the freeway was largely repetitious: red brick and corrugated metal sheeted industrial buildings, built years ago, mixed with the newer concrete walled tilt-up variety, each containing, like Smith Pipe, an organized and systematized collection of men and equipment laboring to distribute, manufacture, warehouse, or sell wares. Each man, machine, building - a cog in the great capitalistic money machine. Occasionally there were the larger factories, foundries, distilleries, and chemical refineries - all bejeweled with pipes and tanks and smoke stacks coughing steam and smoke and an occasional stench. And blended throughout were the strip shopping centers, the gas stations, the hotels and motels and motor inns, the coffee shops and fast food outlets, all with a flashy neon lit freeway sign: the Hilton, the Hyatt, and Holiday Inn, the Motel 6, the Arco, 76, Shell, Seven-Eleven, Burger King, Builders Emporium, Bob's Big Boy, Toyota and Ford, Denny's, El Pollo Loco, Mc Donalds, Coco's, Texaco, Circle K, The Red Onion. A forest of plastic signage. To the eye a collage of franchise all begging for notice and a bite of the wallet.

All along the freeway through the matrix, through the modern wasteland slouching toward Bethlehem, were the billboards. In the well laid stretches, it looked like a row of movie screens on down the road each hawking, with slick magazine style ads, components of the good life - Camel Cigarettes, BMW's, The Las Vegas Hilton, Chrysler Le Barron and Kool Cigarettes, TWA to Hawaii, Pan Am to London, Cutty Sark and Beefeaters, Tanquray and Canadian Tonic, Rick Dees in the Morning, Minolta Cameras, Budweiser the King of Beers, Coors and the water, KOST FM and the mellow sound, Laker to New York $199, Lincoln Town Car, Corvette, Marlboro where the flavor is, Corona Beer. That view, that Blitzkrieg of industry and brand name, we that merry traveling band, we happy few, we band of brothers, absorbed it for mile upon mile.

There it was, freeway close, a dense hotbed of capitalism. A great basin of business and trade in the tradition of Tyre, Phoenicia, and all the Mediterranean, all under the rule of free enterprise, democracies pride and backbone. What began with hunters trading, chiefs bickering, pharaohs taking, emperors, monarchs, feudal lords and dictators plundering, was now the bazaar of everyman bartering. The free market, the laiz faire ordering and mechanizing of the people, for the people, by the people. Adam Smith and Rousseau realized. Barons were now entrepreneurs, lords now CEO's, fiefdoms moved from fertile fields into concrete tilt-ups. To Fitzgerald and Elliot it was the wasteland. Yet, perhaps it was more a marriage of heaven and hell, which the fires of hell to angels look like torment. But everyman can't be an angel. Prosaic, boring, and bourgeois as it looks, a man has to pass his time, and feed his mouth, and first the mouth then the soul. In the bleak order and routine, the repetition and conformity, with the dollars and smog, came also hospitals nearby, penicillin to cure, television and Vegas to entertain, San Simeon's for the Hearst's, Gatsby's and Smith's, a Ford for all, a Mercedes or a Jag for many, and, while not Ellsinore or Windsor, a little stucco castle for even the lowliest of the dedicated mindless proletariat cogs in the great capitalistic du ex machina.

Soon we were at the edge of the San Gabriel basin into more hills and the scene mellowed with the coming of the less assertive, the more passive landscape of domiciles. Even the billboards abated. Now coming in view were track homes, mostly small, simple, of stucco and shingle roof, their colors fading and lawns dried from constant exposure to freeway exhaust. Then apartments, the stucco shoe boxes, sized to hold the slippers of Colossus, block after block, street upon street, all neatly arrayed in snug proximity for maximum use of allowable densities. After the hills and domiciles, with the great basin behind, the great matrix rolled on undaunted over hill and dale, followed and led us out of the hills, down into another basin where the Los Angeles skyscraper filled skyline came prominently into view.

There - the downtown, where all Southern California concrete arteries and asphalt roads eventually lead, the cerebellum of the matrix, the tall buildings cavalierly built in the name of progress over earthquake faults, the lean glass and concrete skinned towers stabbed high into an increasingly hazing white blue sky. At mid morning the day's clearness was already wearing, the smog lusty as the great machine toiled and churned onward - onward with the millions of capitalist soldiers. As we sped passed the downtown I knew there was an hour or so more of the same, more matrix. And I had seen it before. I decided to slide low in my seat, bring a leg up, and, resting knee to dashboard, I leaned my head back as best I could and nodded off for a few winks. Though the excitement was still buzzing, the sleepless vigor's of the night proved too overpowering. Soon I was fast asleep.



2 When I awoke we were well beyond the dense L.A. matrix, and onto the interstate five freeway. We were coming into hilly country. In the west, Interstate Five is the main artery, the great expressway, the modern Apian way to the north, making for expedient trafficking for the vehicular trade from the Mexican border to the Canadian and all major points between: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Like the Gajis and the Nile were to the great populations along those banks, and the Mississippi once was, and to a lesser extent still is, to St. Louise and New Orleans and the smaller towns in between, the five freeway is to Southern and Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. We were on our four wheeled tin skinned Germanic raft well into the flowing mainstream of the northbound traffic. At sixty miles per hour we could, in a couple of days, take in more variety of scene, cover more ground, than Huck and Jim would have likely been able to see and cover in the whole of their lives. Yet would the increase in territory equate to an increase of adventure or wisdom gained? Such stuff - regardless of travel by lazy moving watery current or pulled speedily along by the oscillations of a piston packing engine - regardless of the vastness and variety of the territory covered - still I suspected - such stuff required the patience of time. A Library of Congress of books could be sped read, but more knowledge and sense gained by the thorough and close reading and consideration of one. Evelyn Wood War and Peace and merely glean that it’s about Russia. A decade before our hitting the road, man proved he could rocket to the moon and back. Though the horizon fans out even further, the cave broadens, the mystery ever multi-dimensions, our natural inborn frontiers still apply; our eyes see only so brightly and clearly, ears hear only so loudly and quietly, the nose suck only air, the skin's touch only so tolerant; our minds only so able, a man's cranium only so high and wide.

As the drive and the morning proceeded, and my enthusiasm for both did not wane, indeed, seemed to swell, I began to realize that, indeed, I was in a romance, an affair of the heart, and one to remember. I had been plucked by an odd arrow; that this meandering, more than the taking in and taking out from the terrain all around, and from interiors to which the road ahead would eventually lead – there were other interiors under heaven and above hell, those introspective and human, various songs of myself calling for the exploring. While I didn’t think much on it, I was slowly coming round, percolating thoughts. In the still of my mind a whisky was brewing, a suspecting - that maybe all this lighting out was perhaps more a lighting in.

Dry golden hills swelled high around us like a rolling Mississippi Valley of massive dunes. It was ranchland, the big country. Scattered sparsely over the golden hillsides were gatherings of dark green trees and bush, a Dry Tortugas of shade. Rusted barbed wire fences making good neighbors were strung over smooth parabolic crests, down into meandering passes, and into broad plateaus, riding a hill and dale roller coaster.

Up on a hillside I saw a cylindrical water tank with a housing all in corrugated sheet steel and rusting in spots. Down a wide valley was a wood barn with a saltbox roof, the sideboards gray from faded white wash. It stood alone amid the valley and hills that ascended easily and long with wide undulating slopes. The short dry grass all around the barn and over the hills was yellow gold in the sunlight. Against a hillside over a low plateau were cattle pens; the wood fencing was dark and dry in the blazing sun. Next to the pen was an oak tree with two main branches that twisted up and sideward from the wide main twisting and knurled trunk; smaller branches split from the two main limbs and twisted and contorted outward, looking as if their extension from the main body into the free air was a dreadful forced necessity.

Around a bend were a few small ranch houses nestled against hillsides. One was dwarfed by tall thick ash trees at each end of the house. A round stone wall was in the front yard, I assumed it was a well. Another house seemed more a shack, old, in need of paint, the siding almost gray; in the yard was an antique tractor with rubberless steel wheels. We had landed in green acres, the countryside, land of Jed and all his kin, of the slow lane and the unmotivated, of the unanxious and unagitated, and odd; there in that spot on the Southern California map only a half hour or so out from the dense metropolitan real and unreal.

The countrified hills were prologue to the mountains. After wending around miles of more bends and hillsides, ahead distantly before us, like a purple brown cresting wave, was a range of mountains. We were driving perpendicular to the range, which, like the San Gabriel's, had a crest which ran steadily along smooth summits.

As we came more out of the hills, the land flattened into a brown rocky immense expanse. An arid upland strewn with clumps of dry bush and mammoth rock formations. To one side I could see the range fall into lesser summits then into a wide valley. On the other side of the valley more hills rose and another range began which was decidedly more rugged; the slopes rising a few thousand feet to swelling summits. As we neared the range I could see the uplands inclining steadily then rising more as it lapped against the mountainside. The rocks over the low land became larger, became boulders, some as large as the bus. Nearer to the valley, the boulders became whole knolls and bars and domes of white rock swelling and bulbing from the dirt and sagebrush. Soon, the occasional rock excrescence began to rear more massive into whole shapes, colossal in size, were like modern sculpture, huge rock forms with quiet lithe lines. Some were gateways to the ineffable. Others brought to mind real subjects. One sculpture rose skyward in an almost rectangular shape, like the Sinai tablets standing on end and leaning back like fallen dominoes. Another swelled seventy or so feet high, ziggurat-like, perhaps the Babeling tower. Another form, long and high, was cracked near the center and lay with the wound smiling skyward; atop the crack was another much smaller form, as if the smaller rock had fallen from nowhere to sit triumphant over a conquered Goliath; or perhaps just Zues tossing stones. Looking over the field, the eye taking it in whole, its omnium-gatherum of eminences, seemingly whimsically swelled and stacked, appeared a testament to natures mercurial aesthetics. It was easy to fathom that the forms were created by one geologic age-old abrupt cataclysm, some holocaust between heaven and hell. I knew though, more true to the fact, was likely this miraculous field, showing all restraint from the dilettante, was the product of millimetered movements over geologic ages, indeed the brew from a long long boiling cauldron.

The stone forms stood sentry at the opening of the valley. As we drove further, the valley became more a canyon that was ripped, by natures Herculean shovel, fathoms deep and a couple miles wide into the mountain range, a Gaillard cut. The canyon, or pass, was a vast breach in the mountains through which access was afforded between the basins of Southern California to the grand vast basin – the basin of basins - in the central part of the state - the San Juaquin. The freeway ran high over the canyon floor along the mountainside on the east side of the canyon, about four or five hundred feet above the floor. The canyon looked like a gargantuan rock quarry, the walls were jagged and showed strata of rock in different shades from gray blue to brown white. Over the floor and piled high, sloping against the canyon walls, forming large hillsides was broken rock from dust sized to pebbles to boulders. About the rocky and bouldery scene at rare interspersions along the floor and on less sheer sides were clusters of tall trees - pinelands. Far below on the west side of the floor was railroad tracks. Resting on a formed gravel bed, the tracks ran contiguous with the canyon wall as it made elongated curves through the pass. Two sets of rails ran adjacent over dark wood ties. From above, the tracks were a dark contrast to the white and blue white rock, looking like a black snake winding through the passageway. As we drove deeper into the pass, into the mountainous ilium, I saw below, on the tracks, making the haul up the canyon, looking like a miniature Lionel, a long freight train with several bright yellow diesel engines pulling dozens of box cars and a few cabooses. Nate noticed me straining my neck to look past him down into the canyon floor, he said, "Putting in that railroad had to be a mean feat."

On the other side of the canyon, along the rising hill and mountainsides, were high-tension power lines strung high over the rugged countryside between tall steel geometrically trussed pylons – which had the look from afar like stick men standing with arms akimbo. As the wiring bound over the land, between the stick men, with the lines slacking low between the pylons, these wire systems - appeared to assault the mountainsides, were a delicate looking mockery of the rugged contour of the land.

In the vista directly ahead, the peaks were numerous and mildly contoured, and rose above the road in variant shades of gray-blue, green, and brown against the blue sky. We had driven miles into the range and I could see that we were high above sea level for as the mountainside went up beyond the road; conifer trees went from sparse groupings to the greater gatherings of dense olden forest. A couple miles more of climbing, and we began a downward descent. Soon the trees again began to disband.

At the end of the pass, the highway came into the stretch called the Grapevine as the incline out of the mountains to the basin floor radicalized. Before us lay what looked like a vast brown crusty flat basin, laid out in front of us running beyond the far horizon, as if the bed of a great pre-historic lake gone dry. To the east, in the far far distance, I could barely make out through the whitish haze of the sky a multitude of snow capped pointed peaks atop a blue gray range – the rugged Sierra Nevada’s – where continental movement over the millenniums had thrust a run of the earths crust upwards of fourteen thousand feet into a massive wall – a line of steeply sided pinnicles of eroding rock and glacier runs. To the west, nearer, were smaller green and brown mountains with smooth gentle contours, obviously mere dwarfs in the eye of the distant Sierras. Northbound the highway ran directly straight, a long grey line laying over the brown flat dusty floor.

As we came down out of the pass, onto the floor, the highway ran on disappearing into a wet appearing mirage made from hot air rising sinuous in the distance. From just off the road a large swirling dust cloud, a jest of a tornado, pirouetted and bounded like Ninjinsky over the dirty plain; then spun onto the road just as we approached and we slammed into it. The bus jostled slightly as it wrestled with the airy swirling dervish, and the flying dust scrapped over the windows and metal sides making slight scratching and scraping sounds, Nate said, "That was weird."

Miles later ahead, the mountains fallen well behind, in the midst of the great dry lakebed, I could see a line of track houses. All were one and two-story smallish piles, all desert anomalies, for in their similar facades was a Cape Cod motif - lapped wood siding, shutters siding windows, round ventilation dampers high near the crest of the front gables. They were painted in seaside like colors, light blue or yellow with white trim, white with dark blue or dark green trim. The houses stood stark and of themselves above the dry floor without even the compliment of a gas station, supermarket, or landscaping. Apparently they were recent constructions, for as we approached, I could see just adjacent to the finished homes the substructure of a housing tract - streets and sidewalks and driveway aprons drawn over a brown tumbleweeded expanse. On the side of the freeway, a large billboard in bright basic cartoon colors depicting a water scene with a yacht and seagulls advertised: The Hatterus Selections. A taste of the eastern seashore transplanted to the vast California central basin. An arrow at the bottom of the scene pointed east, and above it in smaller type was the instruction: "Next Right, Yucca Highway to Silver Pine." I had to wonder – if by similar design back in a Nantucket or in one of those eastern shored cape or port places if there were other housing tracks going up with ranch style adobe looking houses called the Inyo Kern or the Mohave Estates? I concluded with the brown baked far reaching vista before me, likely not.

Soon, on the east side of the freeway, I could see, a few miles in the distance, ruling the view, a whale of a building. A modern Temple Mount rising prominently over the flat dry horizon. It stood several stories above the basin floor, a huge gold colored box, a hanger like structure, sided all in corrugated steel, probably covering the area of a dozen football fields. Around the perimeter at the horizontal roofline maybe ten feet wide was a black plain entablature formed from the same corrugated steel. Over the black in sky blue was painted in a bold display type with a forward slant: NORTHRUP. Around the hanger I could see several low level tilt-up buildings and glass walled office buildings, all painted in corresponding gold and black colors, the institutions corporate heraldry, no doubt. Then circling the complex of buildings spreading out for a short distance in all directions were more housing tracts - the modern day stucco and wood shingle answer to mud and thatch.

As the corporate citadel fell behind I wondered if that was perhaps a glimpse of L.A. in the early days at mid-century, a mere forty or so years gone by, when the matrix was in it's infancy and our homogenous age of hooper was anew. Instead of a big tin isle in the middle of a brown nowhere with the Northrup label, there were several tin, wood, and concrete isles placed here and there over the L.A. basins – labeled Lockeed, Rockwell, Warner Brother's or Paramount, Hugh's or General Dynamics, and each surrounded with collections of apartments, bungalows, and the early housing tracts.

We ran for miles into the flat brown dusty no view until the land began to modify, and take on the darker richer brown almost blackened color of tilled, fertilized, and watered soil. Soon on each side of the freeway the land was fallowed, the furrows running perpendicular like a spreading fan to the highway side. I watched the furrows as they passed by the window and for a bare moment I could look down the trench as each furrow came then passed. I watched them come and go for a while, clicking by, it was almost hypnotic, with the fields siding the road for miles. Eventually the fallowed land gave way to fields of green stems or bush, crop nearing harvest ready. For a few miles on each side of the freeway the fields became covered with a low lying plant with a full rounded tuft, that planted densely, gave the field an ethereal look as if colored with a layer of low lying green yellow clouds. As far as my eye could draw these enchanting green clouds covered the land. "Wonder what crop is that is?" I said.

"Asparagus," Nate said.

"How do you know?" I asked.

He shrugged, "Just do. It's asparagus."

In the distance over the fields I could see long lengths of irrigation pipe held aloft by large metal wheels. The pipe acted as an axle between the wheels, and the lengths I estimated to be a hundred or so yards long. Further on, small in the far distance, I could see the black skeletons of oil derricks, like dozens of black pointed studs breaking the horizon. I knew from my reading that somewhere around there, most of the Getty oil fortune had been made. It was nearing one o'clock. I looked back in the bus and Merril was still sleeping. Klug was reading an issue of Surfing Magazine. Brad was sitting up on the seat, also quietly taking in the view.

"I'm hungry," Nate announced, "I'm gonna stop off over here."

He was pulling the bus off the freeway onto an off ramp. The only hint I had of his reasoning, was a hastily constructed sign at the side of the road - a sheet of plywood with red letters spray painted over it feebly spelling out the come on offer: TACOS 50 CENTS.

Ahead on a side road paralleling the freeway I could see a small eating stand. It had all the pretensions of a dive, and looked, in the familiar but decayed construction of the small facility, as if it was once proudly an outpost for one of the less successful of the burger franchises, a Tasty Freeze or Dairy Queen perhaps. Some enterprising soul probably built it on the vision of capitalizing, making mega bucks, on the highway trade. Yet apparently, the cars and trucks kept moving. I theorized the big three rules of successful retailing - location, location, location - were in this case - bad, bad, bad: going northbound, the eatery was beyond the off ramp, giving the driver no time, once seeing the place, to decide hunger was stirring and then pull off; for the southbound, Bakersfield was nearby, and likely any quenching of hunger or thirst had been done there. Also no other elements of civilization were around besides the eatery, just fertile fields and a few trees, and no gas stations - thus the motorist wanting to kill two birds with one freeway exiting, to fill up stomach and tank, was out of luck and would likely move on.

It was the rare bird who, like Nate, would spot and decide instantly to give the place a chance. This was especially apparent when we pulled up close and saw its lacking the credibility of a franchised name, and saw in its rusted metal awnings, it's dull, fading and cracking paint, darkened and ripped window screens, an entirely all too worn and ill-kept look. On the roof was another encouragement: instead of plastic, the current management, in an obvious cost cutting measure, had propped another large plywood sheet with two by fours, over it graffitied in more red spray paint - the establishments appellation: "Cha Cha's Tacos." I suspected Cha Cha was possibly an ex-migratory worker bitten by the free enterprise bug. "Can't we do a little better - a Burger King perhaps?" I said, looking the place over and concluding it was too much your typical ptomaine palace.

"Hey - we can always eat at a Burger King," Nate said.

Brad stepped out of the bus and beheld the stinky shack in front of him. "What is this place? There's a million places to eat on this highway."

Nate looked over at Brad. "The thrill of it big guy, think of the thrill of it."

"Thrill my ass," Brad said.

Klug said, "Mehico man, it's real third world."

"Yeah - too real," Brad said. "Joe's right – where's a Mc Donald's?"

Nate shook his head as he stepped up to the window and said to Brad, "So negative Smitty, always so negative."

As we were driving up, I noticed from a field behind the eatery was a dust cloud being led by a pickup truck repainted a bright orange, one of those old Chevy's with the eyebrows. Soon it pulled into the lot, still trailing the cloud. After it was parked and the dust dissipated, out of it stepped an old man in dusty jeans and a brown and grey checkered shirt, dirty cowboy boots, and a straw Stetson hat - well stained with fresh and old perspiration around the brim. He moseyed his way over to us and stood behind us in line. There was a distinctly noticeable contrast between us - with our obviously recently purchased and unsoiled clothes, our smooth well scrubbed faces, clear skin, and clean nicely combed hair - and this gentleman, appearing well entrenched in the manners of the agra-industrial complex. Besides the clothes, his face was a deep brown, leathery, and well lined. Over his jaw was some white stubble - he probably bathed and shaved at bedtime. His hair, that which could be seen of it from under his hat, was crew cut closely like a marine's, his eyes drooped a little for a slight hound dog look, and his ears were large and darkly brown. The back of his neck was ever more brown and deeply lined with a web of wrinkles. He wore a wide leather belt which his swelled belly pushed outward and hung slightly over. Stamped in the leather was a flora-like design which flowed around his waist. Connecting the belt was a large silver buckle, a rectangular plate stamped with the initials, in black letters, H.R.C. His Royal Cowpoke perhaps? He stood behind us, his thumbs hooked into his front trouser pockets, and his elbows and shoulders appeared to lean slightly forward. As he stood, he rocked ever so slightly fore and aft on his boots.

Merril walked up and stood next to the man. They were both about the same height, but Merril was much broader. With his full shock of brown hair, nicely cut and combed, with a boyish side part, and with his finer facial features, Merril looked noticeably too good, as if a little unreal, a movie star next to the much humbler appearing man. Merril gave the man a once over, smiled at him with his cocksure grin, then while hiding behind his black rimmed Ray Bans, wearing his Claremont Men’s College sweatshirt, khaki shorts, and topsider canvas deck shoes and white baggy socks, he said, "Howdy."

The man, who was also rather sizing up this citified casual spectacle next to him, smiled slightly, good naturedly, I guess amused some by this kid city slicker. He gave greeting with a nodding movement of his head, where the head dipped downward and the chin moved to the side, a movement reminiscent of what a steer might make.

When it was my turn to order, I stepped up to the window and the site I beheld did nothing to increase my confidence in the sterility of the establishment or my appetite. Housekeeping did not appear to be one of the cardinal concerns. The counters and walls all had a greasy yellowish tint, flies buzzed in squadrons, I could see oil smudges and fingerprints over the stainless steel equipment. The staff was all of Aztec descent and the chief executive officer of the group was a heavyset momasita type. All hands seemed to be over exerting with this flurry of business, each gave the impression that the interior was sauna-like for perspiration looked to glisten their brown skin and black hair. Everyone else ordered tacos, beans, and milkshakes. I ordered a cup of coffee. After we ordered we were requested to step aside to a neighboring window. While standing next to that window awaiting my cafe ole to go, Mr. H.R.D. stepped up to the other window. He ordered, "Two inchiladas with an extree large coffee."

With our orders in hand, each of theirs in brown paper bags showing dark greasy spots, mine in a styrofoam cup, we all in the warmish bright sunlight sat around a graying well weathered picnic table with long wood benches. Nate snickered at me noticing my simple cup of coffee in front of me indicating my qualmishness. In front of him were three tacos wrapped in oily paper and a stryofoam cup of water. It was then that I figured it all out – our pit stop at this dive was a cost cutting measure. For a mere buck and a half Nate made a meal of the greasy but filling fare. He picked up one of the tacos and the shell glistened in the sun with grease. I made a face back, a slight wince. As he chewed, with the others also joining in forming a chorus of crackling taco shells, he said, watching me sip on my coffee, "This reminds me once of somethin' that happened to my dad at a Denny's."

I looked at him.

He said looking at me, "I ever tell you what happened to my dad? I'm sure I did."

I shook my head, "No."

"You sure."

Again I said, "No - what happened?" The way Nate was leading into it I was envisioning a Denny's three course meal and emergency room stomach pumps, then multi-million dollar law suits. Still biting and chewing his taco, he said, "Well one night he comes home and tells us how he had been eatin' lunch at a Denny's in La Mirada - their flagship restaurant I think. And it was a extra hot summer day. One of those Southern Cal late august scorchers. Anyway the air conditionin' for the place was giving out. Everyone was sweatin' like they was in a sauna – especially the help. Then the busboy comes over to his table to refill his water glass. The busboy like everybody was sweatin' like a pig and as he filled the glass - a drop of sweat off his forehead fell into my dad's glass." Then he took another bite out of his taco.

"That it?" I asked.

"Sweatin' in the water glass," Klug said, "I don't know man, that's sorta like pissin in it."

Nate said, "Yep. And with that chilling story my ol' man held us spellbound that night at dinner. Our toes curled."

I shook my head.

Brad said, "Serves him right, eaten at a Denny's."

When Mr. H.R.D. had gotten his order, he moseyed past our table to his pickup, soon the pickup was rolling out of the dirt lot again trailing a cloud of dust. I noticed Merril had watched the man walk from the window to his truck, and watched still the trucks departure as he bit into and chewed on his taco. Brad also noticed Merril's staring and asked, "Friend a yours?"

Merril said, "Yeah - your granddad."

After my coffee cooled down I was able to take a few perilous drinks of it. It was a little weak.

Klug, looking out at the vast green fields said, "Billy bob country. God's country man."

"God's country my ass," Brad said. "Could you imagine livin' out here. It's like that movie, Last Picture Show - only here there ain't no picture show."

"Here it's the last taco stand," Merril said.

"Your spoiled," Nate said.

"And your not?" Brad countered. "You wanna move out here?"

"Naw - no money out here. Don't think." Nate said.

Merril said, "Smitty's right - too much countrified crap. You'd have to hang out with that L.B.J. look alike."

I smiled, for he did rather look like L.B.J.

Soon, for better or worse, our meals stomached, we were back climbing into the bus; excepting Nate and Brad - they were standing outside squabbling. Nate wanted to ride in back and get some sleep by stretching out on the seat. Brad didn't want to drive, he said, "Let Merril drive - that's why he's here ain't it?"

Merril said from inside the bus, "I'm already settled Smitty."

Nate said, "I don't want to be on the floor, it won't kill you to drive."

"Let Joe drive," Brad said.

"Joe probably wants to stretch out and sleep and let Klug ride up front," Nate said.

I ended the squabble by volunteering to drive and Brad rode shotgun.





3 Bakersfield was about ten miles up from the eatery. From the freeway the town had much the look of the L.A. matrix, though obviously a fraction of the size. The components were well spread between empty land, and landscape beautification was sparse, breathing room a plenty - the formula determining the distances between coordinates, within the Bakersfield matrix, taking into account the more plentiful land, less hospitable and temperate clime, and the relative lack of cosmopolitans. No need to cram them in here. The structures were similar - concrete tilt ups, an occasional factory building of brick, wood, or corrugated steel siding. There were a few new glass sided office buildings. The same retail stores and franchise outlets and gas stations were well represented. I could see the same strip shopping centers and, of course, the tract homes, apartments, and a few trailer parks. A couple of the parks looked almost like housing tracts with large double sized mobile homes, which looked like houses with flat roofs. These parks from what I could see were nicely landscaped with palm trees and ferns. A couple of the other parks, one with a rusting neon sign next to the freeway, called Trailerland, did not look as well kept. There were trailers of all shapes and sizes, many of the road trip variety, some looked rusted and dilapidated. All stood amid gardens of asphalt and rock. Along the freeway were a few grain silos - tall silver cylinders surrounded by ramps and conveyor belts. There were a few barn like wood buildings. The largest was bright red with a shingle monitor roof, over the side of it in large white block letters was: The Steer Palace. Several of the businesses along the freeway reflected in their titles the towns industries of choice - oil, ranching, and farming: Jake’s Saddlers, John Deere, Baker Oil Equipment, Collins Feed, ABCO Hardware, Power Derrick and Drilling, Dilbert’s Livestock, Peterson Grain. It all had the look of cow town USA with growth keeping pace with the laggard rural methodologies. And amidst this flat dusty expanse, with the oil derricks and grain silos rising in the distant hot sinuous air, and the basic heartland Americana no frill, no silly accouterments a la page, the place seemed to me misplaced, belonging more to a Texas range.

The land between Bakersfield and San Francisco, save about a half hour out of San Mateo County, was quite similar, fields and more fields of farmland, all in various stages of farming. Some expanses were fallowed, some furrowed, some greenly carpeted, others a yellow gold sea. It was the unassuming quiet beauty of the countryside. Yet it became rather monotonous after a couple of hours of the quiet. The freeway ran straight; ramrod so for many miles through the planted fields which expanded on eastward for miles before rising into the foothills below the Sierras. To the west about ten miles off was a low level gently sloping mountain range covered comfortably with a fur of green yellow grass and an occasional growth of darker and thicker green bush.

As we drove, concrete overpasses would approach and we would pass under. They came at almost even intervals, one every few minutes or so. To each side of most was just more land, more of the fertile expanse.

The low-lying mountains to the west I knew was the range which, on the other side - the western slope, plunged precipitously and rugged into the Pacific Ocean. What to our view were gentle appearing hills and mountains, became, closer to the coastline, a steeply sloped and sheer cliffed land. Land that for eons had been in the perpetual working jaws of the sea, Neptune's cud, undergoing a relentless gnawing under the foamy rolling incoming fringe of the sea. Thus blending with the brine, it all composed the grand and gripping California shoreline. On one side a bland work, on the other, one of the world's great mesmerizing views.

And on the western side of the range was Highway One. The One hugs the mountain slopes and abuts the shoreline, and like the five, gives paved passage to San Francisco and to other Northern California environs. Yet the Highway One, with the construction of the five, became outdated. It was too narrow, only four lanes, even dropping to two in stretches. Its mid route access was rare, and the road was too winding and the drive too time consuming. With the advent of the expedient five, the one was relegated from the trade class to the looky loo tourist trade, from the mover and shaker class, to the leisure class, from servicing the dollar and sense bottom-line realists to the camera toting romantics. We had even considered taking the first in name route but had passed on learning that the travel time would be almost twice that of the five.

While knowing highway history was not one of my foremost educational objectives, I did once obtain somewhere a scant factual background about the One Highway. It was built during the W.A.P. years. Was one of the first major highways constructed in the country for extended automobile travel. And has also become a remnant of times more careful and deliberate. The cost to construct such a highway, over such rugged almost vertical terrain, requiring the mountain carving and tunneling, the gorge bridging, would likely be too cost prohibitive in these pricier times. And cost aside, prohibiting the effort would likely be the opinion that such a road was more an act of whimsy and romance than hard-boiled practicality of engineering and necessity of transit. Why the highway was even originally done before the five is a question to ponder. Why not have initially laid the northern route where now lies the five? Why go over and through mountainsides, over shifting land and waterfall, and deep gorge, over such rugged shore? Perhaps the aesthetics, the awe of it all worked an enchanting Byronic spell over the engineering and politico forefathers who made the big decision, made the original route recommendations, and did the convincing. A play on the rational and commercial bowing to the whimsy of the soul.

A couple of years prior, during one of our summers home from school, Janie and I had made the drive along the one playing the happy tourismos. We stopped at the Hearst Mansion, was impressed somewhat by that massive incoherent collection of beau arts bric a brac, that fine example of what money could buy during less paretic times. When a million dollars really meant a million dollars. Then on to Carmel where I played the Pebble Beach golf links and the Cypress Point Club. Next we went to Monterey and had a fishy meal. Then San Francisco where we stayed at the Mark Hopkins and took in Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Geradelli Square, the opera, cable cars, essentially took in a grand tour of the great venerable metropolitan jewel on the California coast.

But most memorable, elevating the trip from mere outing, was the impression got from the grand coastline. With it's plunging cliffs and mountainsides into a shrewish sea, the craggy golden sculptured rock formations rearing out of the foamy waters, with the waves rolling in and splashing and breaking tempestuously against the rocky ruggedness, turning the snot-green sea into a white frothy shoreline vista, it was art ne plus ultra.

As I stood several times throughout the drive at the roadside high atop cliffs and mountainsides and silently took in the complexity and variation in natures harsh blending of mountain, rock, sky, and sea, I could only conjure grossly sentimental adjectives, marvelous catchall words, to describe the impression and how it pulled my fascination and held me by it's magnifico. It was the best I could do. I saw in this art by the natural god a manifestation of something unimaginably greater than my poor powers to emulate. As my father had once told me about Kant's numenal world, it was something we could only hint at or talk around and I suspected I was not alone in my limitations. Nothing I had seen or read from humankinds artistic optimates seemed to match what was laid before me, not by Michelangelo, Di Vinci, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Van Gogh. Not David, Mona Lisa, Hamlet, Anna Karininan, Starry Night, not the Pyramids, the Parthenon, or St. Pauls - all hubris, woman who come and go talking of Michelangelo. At each stop, the great vistas along the highway sounded a call to my humility, rather evoked Schopenhaurs Compassion Principle, would even seem to me to evoke it in the thickest most insulated will. It was God in his natural glory, trivializing in that grandeur all of man’s puny artistic stages wherein his pretensions as creator are sung. Utterly aware it made me of man’s limitations, how he could only hint at the terror and immensity through a cleaver and fine deployment of a craft, essentially through tricks and scheming - though genius inspired. A man was too limited, boxed in and cornered by his small time, and small mind - it's cares and woes and what little it could possess. Then the ultimate defeat - the accountability of his creations to time. Today Athens and Rome crumble, the Pyramids and the Sphinx erode, whole ancient minds lost in a fire in Alexandria, like Petra going with the wind, blending to dust to be held in handfuls. But the great coastline erodes and elicits new form, transcends time, the art flexing and mocking history.



The straightness of the highway and the monotony of the farmland was enough tedium, but the comings and goings of the concrete overpasses added salt to the wounds, inflicted an ever more torturous twist. Each overpass gave to the drive a periodicalness, a more acute awareness that in getting to the destination a finite but multi-digited number of millimeters, inches, feet, yards, miles, leagues, had to be traversed over seconds, minutes, hours, and days. As the monotony of landscape repelled the attention, each overpass was looked for eagerly, soon too eagerly, with the full knowing that once past, the destination was more near. It became like watching a minute hand move in ticks over the face of a clock. Each overpass seemed to protract relative time, turn seconds to minutes, minutes to hours, thus feet to yards, yards to miles, rather like sitting on a hot stove.

Then, ahead in the horizon, I espied an attention grabber. Floating in low on the troposphere and showing a gray flat underside, but then rising in a white cottonish pile well into the stratosphere was a cloud cumulonimbus, and below it I could see glimmering in the sunlight a shimmering translucent filmy sheet of falling rain. To the distant eye the sheet seemed to undulate vertically like a closed curtain moves from breaths of air moving in through an open window. Over near the hills, to the west, the sunlight illumined a quarter circle of a rainbow falling out of the clouds to the pot of gold well hidden in the folds of the hills. So expansive was the view that I could see the storm almost in totem, the gray and white stack of clouds encircled by blue sky. The clouds approached, and ahead I could see the wet shimmering sheet and the exact demarcation of the storm marked by dry and wet highway. Soon we slammed into the sheet, into the wet, and the sky took on the gray hue of sunless overcast. I flicked on the wipers. They worked poorly, seemed to float like pontoons over the wet torrents which were leaving a clear obfuscating veil over the windshield. I asked, "Hey Klug - what's wrong with your wipers?"

From the back seat Klug looked ahead at me in the rear view mirror. "Don't know man, probably need change'in."

"Why don't you change 'em, they're not working hardly at all."

"Don't know man - never really rains, yeah know."

In Southern California anyway. Fortunately the highway was wide and straight, and traversing through the tempest with an obscure view was more a help to my attention span than a hazardous play on fate. We rolled merrily along through natures car wash for almost an hour. At moments it really came down, pounding over the tin roof. Then quick as it came, it went. The road again became dry, the windshield cleared, and the sunlight and the day all around appeared cleansed, so clear, a water light.



Eventually the road began to rise and fall. The land was swelling again. The freeway signs were telling of our emergence into San Mateo County. We were about an hour outside San Francisco, and making good time, it was just after four. The land around the highway was still being plowed and planted, but the flatness had become long genial knolls, hills, and uplands. Occasionally, I noticed a significant field with even rows of miniature looking trees with tangled limbs and twisting trunks - grape vines composing a vineyard.

I noted our gas was running low and I decided it would be wise to make a stop. But we were still in the wide country and gas stations were few. After a couple miles a station did appear ahead and I pulled over onto the off ramp. The gas station did not appear to be an affiliate of one of the major players in the oil refining-distribution complex, it was an independent, without, in fact, any name distinction. A tall metal sign in front, in the shape of a spoon standing on end, with a faded and rusting surface, read simply in fading but still quite readable dark green letters: GAS. The station itself was a small side gabled house, more a shack, with the facing slope of the roof continuing out beyond the front wall to form a porch overhang. The windows were covered with blackened screens. The exterior was a faded white washed vertical board and batten siding. In front of the house were three gas pumps that looked older, almost antiques – lean tall tin boxes with rounded edges, the enamel paint, chipped and fading - vintage early sixties or fifties maybe.

After parking next to the pumps we all got out and walked around and stretched ourselves, getting our circulation going. Merril was standing away from the bus and away from the rest of us, his hands were up over his head and he was leaning way back and to the side stretching. Nate shouted to him, "Hey Merril - your payin' remember?"

Merril nodded then walked over to the house. The door without a screen had painted on it black letters reading: STORE. As Merril approached the door it appeared he expected the door to readily open. As he took hold and turned the knob, he was still in step. The door was locked though, and he stepped headlong into it. The door jarred him back awkwardly.

Nate said looking at him, "That was a good one."

Merril was playing with the knob, "It's locked. This place is closed."

Klug, who had already dismounted a pump nozzle from the main housing, and had stowed it into the into the side of the bus, and was filling up, said, "No way - someone's gotta be around, I'm getting' gas here."

"Try the other door." Nate said.

He did and the door opened easily. I could hear the ringing of a string of bells attached to the door inside.

I stepped over toward the porch and Brad came up behind, "I gotta take a leak, where's the can?"

I shrugged, "Inside maybe."

He walked past me and stepped up onto the porch. I could hear the hollow sound of the wood floor planks, then he went through the door and again the bells sounded. Feeling looser, the stiffness gone out of my leg and back joints, I decided to also go inside and use the bathroom.

Inside, the store was in one small room apparently walled off from the rest of the house. Crowding the room were tall plywood shelves crammed with various dry sundries, canned and boxed groceries, magazines, canned drinks, candy, potato chips and packaged pastries, flashlights, flares, motor oil, towels. Some San Francisco souvenir paraphernalia was laid out over the counter next to the cash register - post cards, coffee mugs, key chains, pencils, pens, baseball caps, T-shirts, miniature cable cars, and in plastic the lean pyramidal Trans America Building. I didn't see any cold storage, not even a coke machine. Merril was at the register and behind the counter was a younger guy, maby a few years older than us, he had long shoulder length black hair and a poorly trimmed beard. I noticed an open book was laid down flat on the counter. I quickly glanced at the title, something about essays and literary criticsm. I thought, hmm, a part time job for a possible Falkner in training? He was saying to Merril, "No change for that bud."

Merril pleaded a little, "You gotta have it."

The guy shrugged and shook his head, "Not really."

"Not really, what'd ya mean not really?"

Low key and slowly, as if trying to get Merril to fully comprehend what he was saying, the guy said, "I mean, I don't gotta have it. I don't gotta have it, and we don't got it."

I stepped over, "What's goin' on?"

Merril looked impatient, "They don't have any change."

"How much you giving him?" I asked.

"It's a hundred."

"That's all you got?" I asked.

"Yeah."

"How'd you pay for your lunch?"

"I had a five, I brought three hundreds and a five."

Brad came over, "Merril - you dirtbag - that's all you got is hundreds?"

"Yeah."

The guy, casually, said again, "No change for a hundred, maybe for a twenty."

Brad said, "Yeah - yeah we know, and where's the john?"

Again calmly the guy said, "No john."

Brad said, looking surprised, "No bathroom? How can a gas station not have bathrooms."

The guy shrugged a little and said, "Easy. In fact its easier not having bathrooms, than having em'."

Brad shook his head and rolled his eyes as he turned from the counter, and said quietly to me, "Fuckin' guys a comedian."

Then Nate came over, "Where's the head?"

"Don't got any", Brad said. "And dick-brain here don't got any money."

Nate looked at Merril. "No money?"

Merril said, "I got money - just no change. I got hundreds."

"Hundreds?" Nate said, intemperately. "How many hundreds?"

Merril looked sheepish, "Three."

I explained, "They won't change a hundred." .

Nate shook his head and with an agonized gripe said, "Merril, jeeze." Then looking at Brad. "Smitty you pay this time and when we get to San Fran he'll pay ya back."

Brad objected, "Why should I pay for this fat ass - think I'm made a money. What if we can't get change in San Fran?"

I pulled out a twenty. "Here I'll pay - and Merril you can pay me later." I gave the guy the bill and told him Klug would be in with the correct amount we had pumped.

He nodded and took the bill.

Then Nate looked at the guy and asked again, "Where's the bathroom?"

Brad said, "I told ya all ready – they don't got bathrooms." Then putting a sarcastic moan into his voice, "'Cause its easier not to have 'em."

Nate looked at Brad silently for a moment, I suppose surmising what he had just said, then said matter of factly, "Well it is easier not to have 'em."

Brad just said, "Whatever," and walked out.

I followed Brad and when I got back outside I walked over next to the pump, the numbers on the counter ticked around slowly. Klug said, "It's a slow one man. Old and slow."

Merril, Nate, and Brad were at the side of the cottage watering a hedge. They were standing a few feet apart, beyond the reach of each of their fluid swords. Nevertheless, Merril turned toward Brad and sprayed a little in his direction, Brad shouted, “Merril – you butt-head.”

Klug and I smiled, amused.

From down the road I heard a deep booming base sound in rhythm. Then appeared a station wagon, an old Chevy or Ford. It was white and had the fake wood veneer they used to drape on the side of cars styled for the family, but the paint was well dulled, cracked and peeling, and most of the fake veneer had peeled away. Palm sized dents marred the sides and front, and the driver side door was smashed in. The windows, except the windshield, were all darkly tinted, and the tint was cracking and peeling. As the car pulled next to the pumps, I saw that the base sound was coming from two large black speakers, typical house stereo speakers, lodged in the rear carry space. The sound came loud and with each beat I could feel it vibrating within me.

The side door creaked open, the hinges damaged, and appearing from the dark interior was a quick moving indian looking man, skinny wearing tight black jeans and a black vest. His skin was a darker bronzed color and his arms and chest had a few tattoos. His hair was black and hung long and straight to the small of his back. One of his hands had rings on each finger; one in the shape of a large death head. On the wrist of his other hand, was a black leather band with pointed metal studs protruding around it. His face was well pimpled and pocked with black heads. Veins seemed to bug out over his spindly arms. On the back of his vest was sewn in red thread, within a yellow thread border, the head of an indian, similar to the brand logo for Redman Chewing Tobacco. He was skin and bones; so skinny his skin looked vacuum wrapped over his veins and bones.

The man ran quickly into the store then came running back out. Before we were filled up, he had deposited a dollars worth of gas and had left, peeling out then driving fast intemperately with the beat playing on down the road. A fringe player, no doubt.

Klug still holding the pump nozzle said, looking at me and shaking his head, "A speedster."

"Speedster?" I asked.

"Amphetamines, drugs."

I gave a comprehending nod.

"Did you see that guy?" Brad said, as he was walking back. "What the hell was that?"

Klug said, "Geronamo, man."

"What a freak," Brad said.

Klug and I also partook in the irrigation of the hedge. Then after I got the change remaining from my twenty from the china lady, we all piled back into the bus and I drove us back onto the freeway





4 I followed the freeway signs that took us from the 5 to the 580 as we came into a lush green hilled farm hamlet called Tracy. We sped through the hills following more power lines bounding over the hills and over land hemmed in with barbed wire fencing. Cows and steers grazed sparingly over the green. This country continued for what seemed like miles, for almost an hour. Nate was in the shotgun seat studying a folded road map like it were a newspaper, he said, "If we didn't have dipwad to drop off in San Fran we coulda just kept on the five. Going on into the city is gonna add a couple a hours at least."

"Where do I need to go here?" I asked.

"Just a sec here."

The pasturelands over the hills began to give way to towns with housing and commercial structures in greater and denser numbers. Most of the housing was well concealed amid dense green landscaping with an occasional shade of color - a red, pink, yellow, or blue from flowering. Most of the commercial was right off the freeway. The freeway was becoming more filled with cars, tokens of the approach of another matrix. A few minutes more and the freeway signs announced the route to downtown San Francisco and indicating a transfer from the 580 to the 880 would soon be in order. We went back into more vacant hills for a few minutes, covered with long bladed green wild grass and groves of oak that looked like darker green clumps over the grass. Along the freeway were groves of eucalyptus. The trees had thin lightly colored almost white trunks which stood straight, tall and spear-like, into a withering green gray foliage of longish linear leaves. As we came out of the hills into more populated land Nate said, "Don't take the 880, take it south – we should cross the San Mateo Bridge to the 101 and go into the city that way."

I had no idea what he was talking about, but because he wanted to go south, apparently back track I asked, "South – you sure?"

"Yeah – just for a few miles. If we go north we'll have to go into the city over the Bay Bridge and since it's right around rush hour I bet it's jammed."

I nodded. Good planning I thought.

We swung onto the 880 and the land was still basically the same, housing and commercial structures over flat land next to the freeway, which rose a few miles off into more green hills. Soon we were on the San Mateo Bridge, a floating highway like those linking the Florida Keys. It was about ten miles long over the lower San Francisco Bay. We were riding only about twenty feet over the water and all we could see to each side of our concrete span was a bluish silver expanse dappled lightly with wavelets. Off in the near distance to our right, set atop concrete piers poking out of the water, were more high power steel trussed pylons. Again the wires held aloft by these pylons bounded over the water, dipping between the towers, black cycloidal lines drawn over the blue sky.

Over the bridge we came to the 101 and headed north. The land to each side for another fifteen or so minutes was like the land back across the bridge. But soon the hillsides became less green, with grass, bush, and tree giving sway to dwellings - mostly houses that looked like cubical boxes, some were flat topped others capped with slight pyramidal roofs. Closer down at the freeway, yards lessened, many to only a few feet, lot lines became zero; most walls were in blandly colored weather faded stucco. Right along the freeway was a hodge podge of commercial buildings of various shape; mostly small to medium sized glass, concrete, and tin walled - store, office and factory buildings - most older; many motels were interspersed in the mix, some part of a national chain, Holiday Inns and Best Westerns and such; and more billboards. It was an L.A. like matrix brought north and spread over hill and dale. Coming closer into the city the land stayed hilly, and in sections the rows of dwellings stepped up the hillsides like wide stucco stairways.

Still running past the somewhat crowded matrix, we came to the crest of a hill then started down and went around a bend untill before us, spread out over an expanse with slight rolling swells in the land, was what appeared an even more dense matrix of housing and low level commercial buildings. Like a vast jammed warehouse floor, like that warehouse floor in Citizen Kane, covered with a multitude of stacked various sized cubical crating – it spread forward of us toward an abruptly rising downtown - a high rising wall of skyline, an array of monoliths of shimmering glass and steel, and some in stone and conrete in varying shades of grey, where likely, with the intrusion of the bay, the city simply decided it was time to go skyward instead of remaining landward. The crammed and teeming matrix before us, with the freeway - a sinuous gray river moving through, its flow of opposing traffic becoming dense with the oncoming rush hour - we could see was taking us, like the yellow brick road, toward the Emerald City.

It was all - the low level and the skyscraping - the Unreal City. To the right side of the skyline was the bay – a strip of deep glistening blue. To the left, the foreground expanse rose up and over a hill, a local Mt. Sinai. Low in the perspective, low to the sky line and extending out into the blue, was a silver hulk of steel - the Bay Bridge. From our vantage, the suspended roadway spans, held aloft under the parabolic suspension cables, between massive steel towers, extending to a green forested island at mid bay, appeared compressed, as if telephotoed. The remainder of the bridge, beyond the island – the long highway held aloft by girdered steel towers, appeared to elongate, curve and decline toward the Oakland side, as if it was a kind of tail. In sum, it looked as if it were the museum bones of some Mesozoic monster, a water serpent beyond leviathan proportion. The undulant curving of the suspension cables being perhaps the skeleton for some backside fin work, like that atop a spinosaurus; the bi-level roadway spans being the spine; and the concrete foundation pontoons, holding the steel towers, and breaking the water along the entire length were like gray hooves. The distant background, beyond the shimmering glass, silvery tin and gray stone coverings of the skyscrapers, across the blue of the bay waters, and under the lighter blue of the sky were long serene hillsides in melding shades of green, brown and yellow, like the background of a Renaissance painting. The skyline dominated the painting, with the Bay Bridge, I thought, an ornament less aesthetic, more functionally inspired. A Cal-Trans figurine.

We were coming into the city from the south, and from previous visits I would call the approach coming from the backside. The great city on the bay I thought was best approached from the north, seen with the deep blue waters of the bay in the foreground, and the skyline – a dense grove of high rising lean rectangular towers – each looking like one of those boxes that hold liquor bottles - standing abruptly off the shoreline, with the Golden Gate Bridge a tiara to a splendid view. Thus, assuming its place nobly, hidden from our view, behind a wall of high rises and the steeply rising and falling hills that shouldered the downtown, was the golden span. I remembered studying the steel red-orange painted suspension bridge last time I was in town from the northern promontory off Point Bonita. Two great iron rectangular spires, with their clean art deco lines, rose high above the bay to carry an iron girder and concrete roadway; and carry it so high that the greatest of ships, oil tankers, and aircraft carriers, could sail routinely underneath. The span lay two or so miles over a wide inlet – a natural entrance formed between two opposing peninsulas that shield the great bay from the ever greater sea. This grand orange site took me in. Then looking at the Bay Bridge, down the way, I could not help but conjure a comparison. There was a clunky frumpy look to the silver Bay Bridge, its several spires and cable spans looking compact like a wavey festooning; but the Golden Gate I recalled appeared long, sweeping, and elegant, as if a grand Aeolian harp - the instrument formed from the thick main line cables rising and falling in a tremendous parabola between the spires - and the sound coming from a curtain of fine and taut vertical suspension cables. It was, I considered, an engineered statement of style, grace, power, and ingenuity. Technology reaching for art. A statement on par with Eifle’s Tower, the first highway, or another royal in brige lore, the one spanning to Brooklin.

The downtown was before us now just off the freeway. The skylines cluster of skyscrapers, mostly a tall and lean sheer walled conformity with one unorthodox – the pyramid. The fifty or so story glass and steel sided spire - a cousin of the great ones at Cheops: The Trans America Building. And below the high risings, like talus, were the lesser storied office, warehouse, and factory buildings - mostly wood, brick, and stucco sided dwellings. All of it was a dense land blanketing matrix undauntedly, even carelessly, stair stepping over the arduous dilations of the San Francisco peninsula topography. Taking in the view I said, "Great looking city huh?"

"Yeah, looks like somethin' from here," Nate said.

Even Klug and Merril were sitting up taking notice. Merril was on his knees between Nate and myself, Klug was sitting on the back seat with Brad.

"It's cosmo man," Klug said.

"It ain't Kansas," Nate said.

Merril said, "The place has got to be full a woman - and with all those queers - they all oughta be just waitin' for it."

"That's right Merril," Brad said facetiously, "they're all down there waitin' just for you."

When we came down off the freeway and into the downtown, it was bustling; traffic clogged the streets, horns occasionally blared, on the boulevard old style trolley busses – long and narrow tin boxes with curved corners and ovaled roofs on embedded rails - with steel arms reaching to overhead wires - clanged by. Glass skinned skyscrapers rose into an orange blue sky. Diesel smell was in the coolish air. At street level, store and hotel fronts were alit and bright in the shade of the canyons between the highrises. On the sidewalks people milled, walked, stood, a few were hailing cabs, were of all shapes and varieties, from the business suite clad, to the casual clad tourists in shorts and t shirts, to just people in nothing fancy slacks, shirts and sweaters. We past a couple streets with the famous Rice-A-Roney wood trolley cars packed with riders, some appearing to be hanging on for dear life on side running boards.

After quickly passing through the business and shopping area of the downtown, we first drove along a few streets in the flatter southern sections – there were less cars, a couple electric powered buses sped past – like any city bus – except at the rear, on the roof, thick steel arms angled upward to run along overhead wires. The streets there were lined with mostly attached townhouses, crammed together, most with stuccoed or masonite facades and the traditional Victorian flourishes - bay windows, some with gables. The simplicity and conformity, and lack of significant landscaping, along the streets indicated it was likely not one of the higher rent neighborhoods. Also emphasizing a pervading budgetary strictness, were arrays of brown telephone poles up each street, the overhead complex of electric, telephone, and electric bus wires, and a preponderance of compact and well used cars in the drives and parallel parked end to end along the street sides.

Nate asked, "So Merril, where you gotta go?"

"I don't know; I gotta call her." Merril said, referring to the girl with whom he was supposed to rendezvous. "I'm supposed to meet her at work."

"It's half past five Merril," Nate said. "She gonna still be there?"

"I think so, she knows I'm comin'."

"So where's her work?" Nate asked.

"I dunno, I gotta call her," Merril said.

"Don't ya think we oughta get on it?" Nate asked.

Merril agreed and we found a pay phone next to a corner gas station. We pulled into the parking lot and stopped. We waited while Merril made his call. Beyond us were the sounds of the city, a horn blaring, a distant siren howling, the clanging bells from the trollys, the grumbling of car and truck engines. As we waited, Nate said, "Okay Joe - after nimrod finds where he's going, we'll get him to change his hundred someplace and get you your money. Then we'll drop him off and go find a place for us to stay the night. Someplace cheap."

"Your not gonna find a cheap place here, downtown," Brad said.

"We will, we just gotta stay outta the uptown, toward the outskirts - we'll ask around," Nate said.

Merril came back and said that apparently, the girl had left her work.

"That's good Merril," Nate said. "So now I suppose you want us to take you to her house? Where she live - Oakland?"

"I don't know," Merril said.

"You don't know?" Nate said.

"I was gonna meet her at her work. She probably thought I was a no show," Merril said.

"She knows you well, huh Merril," Brad said.

Klug laughed and said, "Frazure, Mr. Blow Off, the karma's nailed ya."

"Call her at home," Nate said.

"I don't have her home number."

"Call information," Nate said.

"She isn't listed, I tried."

I said, "John - you come all the way to San Francisco to meet a girl and all you have is her work phone number?"

"You can always get a hold of 'em at work," Merril said.

"Except at half past five," Nate said loudly. "Merril your too much - and it's Friday - she won't be back at work for two more days. Didn't you think to call her before five?"

"Well obviously not," Merril said, matter of factly.

Klug laughed and said, "Frasure man - such a comedy."

Brad said, "Merril, again your dicks in your head - we got you here, now your on your own. If you can't find the bitch you can't expect us to cart you all over town."

"You guys can't just leave me here at some gas station."

"How were you gonna get home anyway?" Brad asked.

"I was gonna fly back to Ontario. She was gonna take me to the airport Sunday night."

Brad said, "You're a big guy - and you got three hundred bucks. Grab a cab."

Nate intervened, "Listen Merril, as much as we like the pleasure of your company - you can come with us tonight - but we're outta here tomorrow - and you're on your own far as gettin' back. And if you stay with us tonight, your payin' a share a the room."

Merril thought about it then said, "I'm here, may as well stay. Maybe if we go out I'll see her out on the town."

"Right Merril. In a city of millions, your gonna to run into one girl in one night on the town," Nate said. "Okay let's drive and find a hotel."

We inquired with an attendant at the gas station about cheap but clean accommodations. We were given directions to a street on the west side which was supposedly lined with hotels and motels meeting our specifications. Following those directions we drove into the hilly sections - up and down a few more crowded streets of attached townhouses with façades that were simple, provincial, and repeating. Streets rose and fell at intimidating angles; some tilted streets had cars parked along the side, side to side, against the falline – looking ominous - like they might roll over, or simply slip down sideways. Then down a couple more blocks and the town homes displayed more style. Now exterior stairways curved down from arched doorways, the bay windows were topped with little front sloping roofs, some were pantiled, small nicely trimmed ferns and hedges stood against and added dashes of green to the smooth stucco pastel walls. As we came nearer to the downtown the dwellings became larger apartment buildings. Most were older early century creations with emphasis on the Victorian. Even the newer buildings displayed efforts to follow the theme with bay windows, simple cornices along the horizontal rooflines, sharply pitched front gabled rooflines, and often stucco gave way to wood cladding.

Up and down a few more streets and we had taken in a wide and various gathering of enhancements that could dress and individualize the basic cubical city dwelling. It appeared everywhere you looked in the great city was an eyeful of architectural bedezinment from modern minimalist to art-deco to derivatives of the classical orders. Many newer buildings, especially those that looked like apartment buildings, kept, in general, to the simple, adding occasionally bay and palladian windows, and some simple molding around windows and doors, and under eves. It appeared, the recent day San Franciscan landlord was propagating, in their recently constructed buildings, a minimalist dollar perserving style that sought only to sudgest the Victorian vein – likely to meet some code requirements. On older buildings, like fancy formed frosting on a cake, we saw, as San Francisco is renowned for, various kinds of eclecticisms and spindle work over the essential Victorian lineage. Some had exteriors painted in brightly colored enamels. One street was especially impressive, and obviously moneyed with dwellings all in brick and stone, roofs in slate, and the exteriors sporting mixtures of Tudor, Neo-Classical, Colonial, and Gothic Revival. A few town homes near the top of a hill were especially venerable reaching the altitudes of the Beaux Arts. One, the most impressive, was a lean faced three-story, with a rusticated gray stone first floor, half doric columns guarding an arched doorway, squares of quoins running up the corners. Each window was recessed and arched segmentaly and tiared with large scrolled keystones. A slight balcony protruded from a third-story center window - a palladean with french doors - and all of it was partially ensconced behind a stone railing with wide bellied balustrades. The roof was above a cornice accented with scrolled brackets, was steeply pitched, and shingled in a black gray slate. Over the balconied window was, in mid relief, a swag of garland centered with an ovaled cartouche. Nate said, as we looked over the place, "Who lives there - the Pope?"

"Summer residence," I said.

We came to the street we were directed towards. It was more a boulevard. The street was wide, and running down the center were more trolley rails in the asphalt. Black wires hung over the rails and the street in a tangle of above ground circuitry. The street was thick with traffic, and along it, besides gas stations, fast food outlets, a couple small strip shopping centers, were several unassuming motels and hotels - each was in form a large stucco apartmentlike building with neon signs, some were back from the street behind a parking lot. Western motels out of a Hopper painting. "That one up ahead looks pretty clean and it's got a parking lot," Nate said, referring to one which advertised itself in a red and yellow sign as The Tides Motor Inn. We parked in the lot, in front of the two-story stucco building with a balconied walkway along the second story. We all got out of the bus and went into the lobby. We milled about in the lobby behind Nate who was at the desk. A small old oriental man was behind the counter. Nate said to him, "We need a room."

The man said loudly, "All of you need woom? Five wooms?"

Nate said, "No - one w-room."

The old man shook his head and waved an agitated hand and said loudly, "No won woon fow five puson. No fow five."

Nate said again not quite getting what the man was saying, "Don't need five. Just one." He held up a finger showing one.

The man shook his head quickly and said, "I no! I no! No wun woon fow five. Two in woom. Too owny."

"So we need three rooms - how much for the rooms?" Nate asked.

"Fifty-five dolla, fifty-five."

"For one room?" Nate asked.

The old man quickly nodded, "Yes."

Nate turned around toward us, "That's too much money. Hundred bucks not counting Merril's room."

"Damn right that's too much," Brad said. "Let's go stay at the Hilton near Union Square. It'll be 'bout a hundred a night - same price."

Nate shook his head, "Let's get outta here."

We got back in the van and drove down the street aways to another motel, this one called, The Golden Gate Motel. From the outside it was almost an exact replica of the other. After parking Nate said, "Okay I'm goin' in and get us a room - you guys wait here and hang low." Then he looked at Merril, "Gimme one a your hundreds."

"Why?" Merril asked.

"Cause I'll pay for the room with the hundred and we'll all reimburse you minus the gas and your share of the room."

Reluctantly, Merril handed over one of his bills. When Nate was gone, Merril mentioned that it was still early, that we should clean up and grab some dinner, and that he knew of a couple of good bars for us to take in. Soon Nate was back and climbed in the bus, then said, "Okay, the room was the cheapest they had, it's got a queen size bed - so a couple of us get the bed and the rest are on the floor."

"One bed?" Brad moaned, "Why didn't you just spend the extra ten bucks for another bed?"

"'Cause it wasn't an extra ten bucks, it was twenty, and they don't got any a those rooms left."

"Look Nate, between the four of us spending an extra twenty bucks is no big deal," Brad said.

"Look Smitty," Nate said, "we gotta conserve our money. Who knows what's gonna happen down the road."

"Fine - if I run oughta money, then I'll call my dad and get some more," Brad said.

"That's great for you," Nate said, "but what about me, Joe, and Klug here? We ain't got the bottomless pit to draw from, you wanna finance all of us?"

Brad shook his head, letting the issue lay.

Nate settled with Merril peeling bills out of a small roll of bills in his hand. Then we drove over and parked next to the room. We grabbed our bags and followed Nate over to the door. He unlocked the door and we walked in. When the light went on, before us was a small room filled with a small queen sized bed. Only about a yard of space was between bed and walls. Worse yet, the floor had no carpet, just a yellowing linoleum. In the rear, a narrow door led to a bathroom. The decor was typical cheap motel. The bedspread was orange with a couple of cigarette burns. On one side of the bed was a wood veneered side table holding a lamp with a turquoise wide bellied stand - the only light in the room. In front of the bed against the wall was a dresser with a square mirror. On the wall over the bed was a painting, a hazy abstract depiction of the Golden Gate set against a turbulent yellow and brown sky.

Brad said, "Look at this crud. We got closets at home bigger than this room. And I ain't sleepin' on this floor."

Nate was starring at the floor with pursed lips, then he looked up, "Well, whoever gets the floor tonight - it won't kill em."

Brad stepped over and laid down on the bed. He said, "Bed's not too bad really. Think I'll take a nap."

"A nap Smitty?" Nate said looking at Brad.

"Yeah, I'm tired. It was a long haul."

Nate said, "Nothin' wrong with that. But what makes you think you got the bed? Maybe the rest of us wanna take a nap."

"Yeah," Klug said.

"Yeah," Merril joined in.

With that they each grabbed Brad by a limb and started dragging him off the bed. Brad yelped, "You fucks! Hey lemme go! Goddamit!"

Once over the floor they dropped him and he landed on the hard surface on his back with a thump. He laid on the floor cursing and moaning as if hurt. Nate was standing over him at his feet, Klug next to him, Nate said, "Look at him, what a whiner."

Merril was kneeling on the bed looking down at Brad and was laughing.

Brad looked at Merril from the floor and said, "What you laughin' at Merril?"

Merril said, "You."

With that, Brad rose up quick and grabbed Merril's sweatshirt and pulled him off the bed. Merril sailed off the bed and fell head first into the wall. He got up slowly holding his head. Brad had jumped back up on the bed and stood up, he said to Merril, "Hey Merril - your head hurt?"

Then Nate jumped up on the bed and pushed Brad who stepped back against the wall. Klug then joined the ruckus and pushed Nate into Brad. Then Merril jumped in pushing Brad into Klug and a titanic king of the hill type fray ensued between the four of them. They pushed and shoved, grunted and yelped and cussed, with each body thrusting foray against the other.

I kept watching from ringside until I thought I had my moment. When it appeared Nate was the victor, alone on the bed, I took a couple steps back for momentum. Then, like a bull charging the cape, stepping quick as I could in the limited space, headstrong with a banzai shriek, with an upward thrusting jab of my shoulder and forearm, I nailed Nate in the lower back. Caught off guard, his body bowed back as he went flying off the bed hard into the wall. And I assumed preeminence on the bed.

Nate was on the floor; I think his wind had gone out of him. He was moaning a little, re-cooperating and regrouping. The wall above him was dented with a shoulder sized depression. The others were laughing, Brad said, "Get up wimp."

Then from the neighboring room came a loud knock on the wall. We all quieted a second.

Nate then slowly got up. He said through what I perceived to be a feigned moaning, "Joe you prick, my backs killing me."

I was keeping my guard, and rightly so, for he then, all at once, jumped after me tackling me around the legs. I fell and the others joined in and we spent another few minutes shoving and falling around and slamming into the walls.

Then there was another even louder knock. Again we stopped. Then Brad shouted loud at the wall, "Shut up!" Then pushed Klug, who grabbed Nate, and again away we went.

Then the phone rang. Again we all stopped in our tracks.

"Who the hells that?" Brad said.

"The noise," I said. "Someone's complained."

Nate cleared his throat, and with easy manner and dainty fingers picked up the phone receiver, brought it to his ear and said quite pleasantly, "Hellow?"

After a pause he said, maintaining the aplomb, "I don't know. Was there noise? I did accidentally trip and hit the wall...yes, everything's fine here...no, nothings damaged."

He hung up the phone and said, "The front desk is ticked. Keep it down."

We were saved by the bell anyway, our faces red and sweaty. For the most part, we were all out of breath and exerted to the point of mild fatigue. It was decided by all to find a place and settle in for a short springtime nap. Brad and I laid atop the bed. Klug and Nate on the floor over sleeping bags. Merril made a nest for himself with a couple of sleeping bags in the bathtub.

With the lights off, the all quiet sounded, and all of us snug in our respective areas, I closed my eyes expecting to readily slumber off. Then out of the quiet dark Nate said, "Hey Joe."

I said, "What?"

"I wouldn't fall asleep if I were you."

Such threats I figured did not merit an answer. I re-closed my eyes and tried to relax. Nate was just playing games; he surely wouldn't do anything while I was asleep. So I told myself. Even with Nate's bedeviling I was tired enough to fall readily to sleep.

I only slept about a half hour, until I awoke suddenly. I had been treated to another cinemascope in the bijou of nod. What I remembered of the dream, I was walking down a street of homes, a street like any number in Claremont. It was night, and I was walking past each house looking into the lighted windows. Behind each window I saw living rooms and bedrooms, but no inhabitants. Then I came to one house and in a bedroom window I saw Jane, I could only see her side profile, she was looking away. I just looked at her and I felt a pitiful feeling then I awoke. The feeling continued as I laid there. Brad was snoring next to me, and I wondered what Janie was doing just then. I looked into the darkness in that seedy motel room. Was she with that old guy, or maybe at home helping her mother with dinner, and wondering what was up with me? I wondered if she even thought about me. She must be, I thought, you would think.

It seemed to me suddenly how my laying there in that dark room on some backside street was rather ridiculous. Just what was I doing? I sat up and rubbed my face with my hands then got up from the bed. Though I had slept shortly, it had been deeply. My head felt thick and sleepy. I stepped over Klug and into the bathroom. In there it was dark like in a cave, and I could hear Merril breathing, snoring faintly in the tub. I turned on the light and Merril was laying down in the tub with a leg dangled over the side. When the light came on he stirred and brought his leg up and turned onto his side. I closed the shower curtain to veil the light from his face. I used the toilet and opted not to flush to keep the noise down. At the sink I splashed water over my face. The water was brisk and chilled, and worked to clear my head of the sleep. As I came more awake I felt better, my spirits lifting some.

I decided to leave the room and take a walk, see the surrounding sights. If there was any. I walked up the street, past more of the cheap motels. From the looks of things, the immediate area around the motel was not a prime local in town. Cars passed quickly. A couple of transients in well worn, dirty, and soiled clothes, with knapsacks and rolled dirty blankets on their backs were sitting on the street corner. I suppose waiting for Godot. I walked up another street. It was another lined with residential row dwellings, connected apartment buildings, all older, of brick, but lacking the Victorian flourishes. The street was a repetition of brick walls and gray concrete balustrades rising from the sidewalk to rectangular recessed entrance ways. The buildings were mostly ill kept. Dark screens over the windows, spray painted graffiti over some walls, doors and window frames in need of paint and repair, black wrought iron fire escapes zig-zagging down over the fronts.

Walking toward me was an old lady, her back was hunched over, she was stepping slow leaning on a cane. A young black man walked quickly past me from behind. He was wearing a football jersey in a fine netlike tear away material in the silver and black Oakland Raider colors. The jersey number was nine. He wore jeans with bell-bottoms that were then almost ten years out of style. Coming from his ears were yellow wires from earplugs, the wires connected to a small portable radio. His head and shoulders rolled slightly as he walked as if he was moving to the music. As he walked past, he took a quick look at me then turned his head away. Though it was well past sunset, and the only light was from the street lamps, he was wearing mirrored sunglasses.

At the far corner of that street was another boulevard. It ran flat for a couple blocks then, like a steep grade on a roller coaster, the street took an abrupt and steep uphill ascent. On each side of the boulevard were large older buildings, five or more stories; most were of brick with black iron exterior fire escapes. Most of the buildings on the bottom floors had storefronts with small canvas awnings over the windows - some of the awnings were faded and ripped. There were many plastic signs above the stores in various sizes, some lettered with Mandarin ideograms. As the street rose up the hill the buildings seemed to stair climb upward with the street. Tall lean boxes, modern castles reaching skyward. At the crest the buildings were more modern and cleaner looking and taller, a couple were well over ten stories. All were sheathed in glass, stucco, concrete or granite-like panels. They looked like high rent apartment and penthouse buildings. Many had rows of balconies enclosed with rod iron going up the sides.

I considered flagging a cab and seeing more of the city, but like Nate, I was conscious of my limited funding. I decided to head back. Before I turned the corner and walked back down the street of brick apartment buildings, I saw down the boulevard a street person in a tattered long coat, a green yellow color, well soiled and torn, his hair was long, gray, and knotty, and his face brown, dirty, and old. He was looking into a large dumpster standing against one of the buildings. I decided that this real backside of the great town was not so alluring.

As I was walking back, my mind left the scene and I started thinking again about Jane. I told myself I would have to put her out of my thoughts for the present, that when I got back home I would work things out. This made me feel better, thinking that I would work things out later. It occurred to me how simple it was really. Times were changing. We were not like our parents who somehow felt pressures to conform to the traditional mores. Our generation was facing a plethora of opportunities. And woman had almost the same options as the men. We had freedom. She wanted to spread her wings. Spend a few years in a career; see what that's all about. Have a few flings; see what that's all about. Eventually she would come around and we would be married. A simple pretty story and again I told myself to put it out of mind.





5 When I got back to the room the others had already gotten up and were getting ready to go out on the big town. Nate was dressed more citified, replacing his flannel shirt was a button down, he kept the jeans. Klug was in the shower. Merril had changed into khaki pants and a tennis shirt. Brad was in the bathroom shaving into a steamed mirror over the sink. After Klug had finished I got into the shower. I heard Klug complain, "Smitty man - your hoggin' the sink, take all night to shave?"

"I'm almost done." Brad said.

"When, next year?" Klug said.

Then I heard Merril put in his two cents, "Yeah Smitty, it's not like your gonna improve on anything."

Brad said, "I wouldn't talk, fatboy."

After drying I did a quick once over on my face with my razor, without shaving cream. I could get away with passing on the cream, my whiskers had yet to develop a stout consistency. Well scrubbed and smooth in face, I went out to the front room and dressed in my Levis and a button down madras plaid shirt. Once we were in the bus and driving out on the boulevard we decided our first objective was to eat. Nate suggested fast food. But the others shouted this down; they were in the big city and wanted a meal worthy of the place, I rather agreed. I was starving, having had only a few gulps of coffee that day. Still, I stayed silent. Nate was not going to be intimidated, "Listen you guys - we're not on a vacation here - this is just a stop. We might have money now to eat at the Top of the Mark - but think how it'll be a month from now."

Brad said, "We already talked about that. Let's go to this place I know on Fisherman's Wharf - it's not expensive. And if you don't want to spend money you can order soup."

We drove past more residential buildings, up and down more boulevards of older brick and masonry buildings with bottom floor store fronts. On the busier streets the night was alighted by the storefronts, the traffic lights, and street lamps. The sidewalks were thick with people milling about and walking. As we came into the better parts of town the storefronts became more stylish, the streetwalkers better dressed. The dwellings also showed a wide variety of styling departing more from the Victorian Queen Anne and Stick into smooth plastered Italianate, the Georgian, Classic Revival, and some Dutch Colonial and Tudor. We were somewhat lost and ended up in the downtown driving briefly past the walls of glass and granite, past older buildings dripping venerably with classical ornamentation. Soon we were on the Embarcadero driving along the waterfront, past long piers beetling out into the bay, some a football field or more in length, and most covered with large warehouse buildings and transit sheds. The bay bridge was lighted with small yellow lights outlining its frame, bringing to it a nighttime refinement and glamor. As we drove toward Fisherman's Wharf, we could see the Golden Gate, its golden spires and suspension basking in the flood of a multitude of flood lamps, glowing orange and reflecting over the dark waters and against the black night sky.

Nearing the wharf, we parked as soon as we found an empty space. We walked down through the wharf area following Brad, who seemed to know where he was going, past the souvenir shops and sidewalk side vendors hawking t-shirts, San Francisco themed trinkets, and crab cocktails. I noticed a cool saltiness in the air. We came to the small marina of fishing boats next to the sidewalk. Nate stopped and looked down at the water covered with parked fishing boats next to narrow wood docks. He leaned forward against the wood railing and pointed toward a boat and said, "That's a small crab boat."

I looked down at it. To my untrained eye, each boat in the marina looked, I thought, basically similar. Nate began pointing out the various types of fishing vessels, but then Brad interrupted, "Hey I'm starvin, we're goin' right over there." He pointed toward a building with large windows over the side next to the marina. "The restaurant is in there, it's called Marios."

Nate nodded, "Alright we'll be right there."

Brad, Klug, and Merril walked off toward the restaurant. Nate continued with his lecture. "That boat there that's a purse seiner..."

While Nate spoke I looked over the boats, I was not well enough schooled in the fishing craft phylum to see the telling details that differentiated the type of fishing that each craft was engaged. The general shape and line of each boat coincided closely. For someone not aware of the detailed differences, the essential lines and construction of the boats, looked like they were in some way related to a transcendent conception of a tug boat: high nosy bow, rails sweeping back to a flat stern, a one or two deck cabin up front with a stack rising toward the rear of the cabin, a larger work area behind the cabin. Some boats were larger, some more sleek in line, most were lubberly, some draped black rubber tires over their sides for bumpers, some had tall metal framed towers over the cabins with small crows nests, each had the boats name painted just rear of the bow below the rail - with most of the display faces in a Barnum style font: DORIA BELL, GINWOOD, BETTY LOU, WHISKY SOUR, SOPHIA LOREN, THE STEVIE, THE LOLABRIGIDA. Some appeared more equipped with various poles and gaffs and mechanical looking gadgets; some had small dingy sized boats with outboards laying in the rear deck. But of course, dissimilarities aside, each had a hull, and a bow and a stern. In the organization of their shape and working design each hull held, between bow and stern, a fishing vessel. And throughout that small marina were many versions of that phylum.

In fact, considered in that way, in classified terms, if there were a Vessel Kingdom and Sub Kingdoms, one of Ships, one of Boats, then working downward, a species of those two might be Sail Powered and Piston Powered. Then a sub-species of those, say, Yachts and Argosies. Then under Argosies make a tribe. Call one Piscatory Ships or Boats, and of that tribe, sub-tribes called Trowlers, Anglers, Purse Seiners, and Crabbers or Potters maybe. In that order of things, before me, was a near complete collection of that particular fish bound tribe and its sub-tribes. But as Nate was to allude, the vessels then before us descended from the Boat sub-kingdom. The essential ascribe qualifying a vessel for the Ship or Boat sub-kingdoms being the length of keel. Over eighty feet and a vessel could command the title of Ship. Yet, none of the keels then before us even neared such lengths.

Of this Piscatory tribe, in looking over the collection, it was clear, the telling similarities between the tribal natives began with the hull. First all were made of wood planking. Second was the shape: bows rose high into an upturned pointed nose or bowstem. Declining then from the nose, the top rails swept back until leveling and running horizontal and parallel from about amidship - or amid boat rather - to the stern. The next obvious similitude was rising above the working deck, just a few feet behind the bowstem to about amidboat was an enclosed cabin. Most of these cabins rose a few feet above the top deck with square windows encased over the front and on the sides. Most had a small square sliding door, either on the side, or in the rear. Again, wood for the cabins seemed the material of choice. On the roof of almost all the cabins, on the hurricane deck, was an open-air flying bridge, the bulwark for those bridges looking like nothing more than sheets of plywood over a wood frame. And on all the boats, behind the cabin, was an open-air work area. Some of the boats also had radio antenna and saucer like radar housings rising above the cabin behind the flying bridge. Most of the boats were painted in a white enamel with black or dark green over trimmings. Some were tedious in gray tones, others more pert with brighter colors; one was black with a tasteless bright pink trim. Beyond these basics however, all further similarities appeared characteristic of the sub-tribes.

From Nate's lecture I was able to discern the telling items that indicated a boats proper sub-tribe, "...in an Angler boat everybody stands in the back and fishes with poles. When they snag a fish they pull the pole up and bring the fish in, then pull the fish off, re-bait the hook and go for another one. They try and float in the middle of a big school so every time the hooks go in almost right away a fish gets hooked. Commercial fishing isn't done this way anymore really, too expensive I guess, or too hard to catch a lot a fish.

"Now a version a that would be done with that boat over there with those long poles..." He was pointing to a boat with two long steel poles rising on each side of the cabin toward the front of the work area. In the rear work area were several coils of steel cable wire. "...What they do is connect hooks onto those cables, bout every inch or so, then bait the hooks with small sardine like fish, then drag the cables through the water. This is called long lining. Those poles swing out like from the side of the boat, forming a big V, and keep the cables away from the boat as they drag. Then later they reel in the cable; some a the boats have small winches that help pull in the lines. See those box like openings in the back of the deck there, or over there in the middle of that deck? Those are hatches; they open below into the hull. There's a lot a space cause the hull goes down pretty far below the waterline - that's where they toss the fish to store ‘em till they get back into port.

"The trawlers have these big rollers in the back with the nets wound up over ‘em, like that boat there. When the nets unrolled and in the water it’s in the shape of a cone, and the boat drags it through the school of fish and they all get caught in the cone. The roller there is just a big winch. Once the nets filled with fish they turn on the winch and roll in the net. Once the nets on the side of the boat they pull the fish out and dump ‘em in the hull. These boats are real small but larger boats have cranes in the back there that can lift the net when it's full and make it easier to dump the catch into the hull.

"The purse seiners are like the trawlers, they got the winch in the back - but they're the ones, like those boats over there, that have the small motor dingy. Down in San Diego they got tuna boats that are huge versions a these boats, and the small motor boat is almost as big as these boats here. What those guys do, is find a big school a fish, then they attach one end of the net to the small motor boat, while the other end stays on the big boat. Each with an end of the net, the small motorboat and the big boat circle round the school, each boat sailing around in opposite directions. When the two boats meet, and the circle is completed, the fish are surrounded, then the end of the net from the motor boat goes back onto the big boat, and the line at the bottom of the net is reeled in, closing the net at the bottom. When that's closed they real in the line at the top of the net, pulling the net around and enclosing the fish.

"Now the crabbers are like that boat there. But that's a small boat - they're goin' for the puny crabs. Up in Alaska were talkin' boats four times that size. Hundred feet, even longer. See those black cages there..." He was referring to a boat with it's rear work area crowded with metal wire cages a couple of feet wide, a yard long, and about a foot high – big enough to hold a cat. "...those cages - they're called pots. I don't know why, but that's what they call 'em. They got doors on the sides, like trap doors which swing into the cage but can't swing back out. So the crabs walk in but don't get back out through the door. Inside the pot you hang cheese or some smelly stuff in cups so the crabs will walk in after it. Then the pots are tied to long lines. The other ends of those lines are tied to plastic marker buoys. See those pink and orange balls over there..." Several basketball sized spherical buoys sat in the rear area next to the pots. "...They bob on the surface marking the trap locations. The traps then sink down and rest on a shelf, or sand bar, or whatever down in the water, and the crabs crawl in. Then the boat goes back and they pull in the pots; and the crab - they end up here in those big pots over there..." He was pointing over along the sidewalk next to the souvenir shops were the sidewalk vendors selling crab and fish meat. Each vendor had a large steel caldron about waist high with steam misting out over the top. "...they steam 'em in the pots then they end up in ketchup as cocktails for the tourists."

"A gruesome fate," I said.

"Yeah, it's a vicious cycle. Now the boats we're gonna be on are a lot bigger, they're all steel, built like tanks. This is amateur stuff around here, more like sport fishing. See how that crab boat over there has a pulley on that pole there..." To the side of a boat was a cane shaped steel pole about a yard long with a pulley hanging at the end. "...those are to run lines over to help ease the raising and lowering of the pots. Some of em probably have small winches. But these pots are light, its nothin' to move these around. But up in Alaska the pots are big, four times the size a those, and they're heavy. Each boat up in Alaska has a crane and a gate like thing that hydraulically raises the trap over the side rail and slides it into the water. And they got big winches to help raise the traps. Up there the king crabs are big, some have been known to have legs six or seven feet long."

"Huh, really?"

"That's what I was told. Might be sorta bullroar though - still they're pretty damn long compared to the sand dabs they catch here."

"What are the other boats fishing for?"

"The purse seiners up here, I don't know. Down in San Diego and San Pedro they go for tuna. The longliners, I guess swordfish or rockfish - and tuna. The trawlers, cod maybe. Up north it's mainly salmon and cod."

"Where did you hear about all this?"

"When we went to San Diego and San Pedro and researched it."



We left the railing and walked over to the restaurant. Marios was a long established wharf eatery specializing in Italian food and fish prepared, judging by the decor, in the Venetian manner. Inside, the walls were painted in a turquoise blue and next to each table was a red striped dwarfed version of a gondola pole. We found the group seated at a table next to a window looking out onto the marina. They had just been seated after waiting awhile for a table; so effectively, Nate and I had strolled in just in time. After taking our places in the large circular booth, and a perusal of the menu, Nate said, "Thought you said this place was cheap? Soup's four-fifty. For that I get a couple burgers, fries and a coke at McDonald's."

"Then don't eat," Brad said.

A waiter, a tall Italian in an off white dinner jacket and black bow tie took our order. Brad ordered veal; Klug broiled salmon, Merril a steak. I ordered the clam chowder. The waiter then looked at Nate, "You sir?"

"Just bring me some water," Nate said as he handed the waiter his menu.

"Just water?" The waiter reiterated.

"Yeah - water."

The waiter nodded and left. Then Nate said, "Smitty why are we eating here? This place is for tourists. It's bound to be overpriced. We don't need to eat here with a view of the wharf."

"I ate here before - they got good food," Brad said.

Nate shook his head.

The waiter dropped off a basket with two fat loaves of sourdough bread and dinner salads for all, save the two ascetics. I broke one of the loaves in half and buttered it up and ate. Somehow the bread reminded me of how hungry I was; when the waiter came around I waved him over and asked him to add a tuna fish sandwich with my order.

Nate said, "You watch - ten bucks for that soup and sandwich."

While we waited on our food, and they chomped on their salads, we talked about the usual - sports and girls. After going round the bases a few times about it, it was finally agreed all around that the Dodgers were decidedly not bound for the series, that it was likely the Yankees or the Giants. Then Merril was back into his usual braggadocio palavering about his female triumphs. "The girl here in town," he said, "is a real looker, too bad I can't find her - damn shame."

"Where'd you meet her?" Nate asked.

"At Stan's - she was with a couple a girls from Claremont. Matter a fact, one of the girls she was with said she knew you guys from high school, you and Joe. She raved about you guys - made ya out to be the BMOC's. I ended up walkin' 'em home and at her house she brought out your guys high school yearbook. She showed me where you guys signed it - like it was some movie stars signature or somethin'. Just droppin' your guys name gave me big time brownie points. If you guys had been with me we woulda all got lucky - slam dunk. She even knew Smitty - and thought he was a minor celeb."

"What was her name?" I asked.

"Sue somethin'. Ah - rhymes with steel - teel, that 's it, Sue Teel."

I shrugged and tried to think, "I don't know - what she look like?"

Merril said, "Brown hair, kinda plain jane face, tall, okay looking, flat. Nothin' spectacular."

"Lot a brunettes in our class," I said. "Ring a bell Smitty?"

Brad shook his head, "Naw, not really."

Nate just shrugged.

"Well - she knew you guys," Merril concluded.

The food came and salad plates were removed. The large oval plates holding the main and sub-courses looked splendidly appetizing, the vittles laying there glazed and steaming in front of the gourmands. My tuna sandwich was humble pie next to the full generous portioned meals around the table. Nate, like a devils island prisoner, drank his water and broke freeloaded bread. Brad stuffed his cloth napkin into the crack of his collar so that it draped bib-like over his shirt. He looked at Nate, shook his head and said, "You're taking this too far."

"I can't afford to take it lightly," Nate said.

The next fodder for our discussion, which continued amid audible smacking and chewing, the slurping of liquids, and a couple of indulgent belchings, was the legitimacy of our journey. Merril willingly proffered the dissenting opinion, "I just don't see it," he said. "People just don't hand out jobs where a bunch a kids can make twenty grand over a couple a months - and you guys are talking about makin' fifty. It just doesn't make sense."

Again Nate played devils advocate, "Merril we've hashed over it and hashed over it. When Hiesenberg made all that money on the pipeline - there was probably lots a nay sayers sayin' no way - money don't come that easy. And I'm not sayin' it's easy money. But we've checked it out, we're on our way. It don't need any more goin' over."

Merril in his mystifying and delphian way, never the quitter, pressed on, "I'm tellin' you guys – you're wastin' your time. Every one a you guys is goin' up there and making big money? I don't think so. You'll all probably drown. Look, you only live once - so it seems; this fishing thing is how you wanna spend you’re one life? And you’re only young once – jeeze, how long you think you can go on getting in on the easy sex – huh? Think the chicks will be knockin’ you’re doors down when you’re forty? Think about it. Better take it in now while you can. And this manual labor thing – I just don’t get it. You guys are thinkin’ like middle class saps. What are ya gonna do, start drivin’ trucks next? Go out and buy a bunch a shirts with you’re name sowed on 'em? Let me tell you about blue-collar middle class crap – it's for suckers who don’t know how to live. Too much morality in the middle class. And little minds. Big guts and fat chicks who don’t know how to dress. You guys still got time to turn back. We party here tonight. You guys stay maybe for a long weekend. I find that girl I know and we all get some. Then Monday it's back to ol' Claremont and the cradle of civilization and Ma Brownings home cooking. Hey - there's no place like home."

Nate was chewing on a big wad of bread in the side of his mouth, as if it was a cud. "My moms a lousy cook Merril."

Merril smiled, "Well okay, so she can't cook. But another thing. Take Smitty here - when was the last job you had Smitty?"

"I've worked plenty a jobs," Brad said.

"Name one," Merril said.

Nate intervened, "Merril that's it - enough."

Klug spoke up, "Frasure man, so what if he's never worked before?"

"I'm just tellin' you guys how farcical this thing is. Everybody back home thinks you guys have flipped your lids."

Nate said, "You know Merril, I really don't give a rats ass what everybody thinks - especially if they tell a dog like you what they think and not me. Hell with them and to hell with you."

Merril laughed.

"Hey - like my dad used to say," Nate continued, "a man you never knew Merril cause you grew up somewhere in assville, anything worth doin' has a lot a reasons why it shouldn't be done. And the people who do things, crazy as it sometimes seems, are the ones who tend to ignore the down side."

Merril drew his head back and wiped his mouth with his napkin then rolled into a barrage of witful prolixity: "Yeah, yeah, the great coach Browning, the great homespun Claremont wit, philosopher and wiseman, diplomat and psychiatrist to the big and small, one of Pop Warners finest, Knute Rockne revisited. What do ya think he'd say about this trip? When the fish get tough, the tough get fishing? Or maybe hook one for the Gipper? Or fishin's not the thing, it's the only thing? Huh? What'd ya think he'd say?"

Nate laughed a little and shook his head, "Jeeze Merril your really on a roll aren't ya?"

Brad said, "Merril why don't ya shut up. I'm tryin' to enjoy my food here."

Merril ignored Brad and said, "Bottom line is, I'm just layin' the ground work so that when you guys get back, broke and unemployed, I can say I told you so."

"Good Merril, you've served your purpose," Nate said.

"I just think if you don't consider the down side you can really screw yourself, it's stupid not to consider the negatives, that's all I'm sayin," Merril said.

I think Merril's presentiments bore into him rather, for Nate then waxed inspirational, an off the cuff pep talk, probably as much for himself, as for us - his tiny legion of devotees, his nights of the red branch, he said: "Granted, your right. You should consider the negative; in fact you need to consider the negatives. I'd say it's a necessity. But after you've considered 'em, and they don't appear all that insurmountable, and you really think you want to do it, then you ought to do it. You know – it's an odds kinda thing – sure the odds are high, and maybe they're against us – but the payoff looks like it's there. I don't know 'bout you Merril, I know what you think is important. And ya, I'll grant ya, gettin' lucky now and again - its got its place - but the way I see it - the people who do things, get things done - they're the ones who matter in this world. Everything else is crap. Somebody built the skyscrapers out there, somebody runs those boats in the marina, runs the factories here all over town, flies the jets, and runs the airline that owns the jets. Somebody said we're gonna build a bridge across the bay out there and call it the Golden Gate - somebody really did that Merril, actually woke up one morning and said I have a vision of a gold colored bridge goin' across the bay. And somebody sure enough also said the guy was nuts, we don't really need a fuckin' bridge there and the things probably gonna look ugly - a big hunk a orange steel yuckin' up our pretty little bay. Then somebody said hey we're gonna do it, like it or not, screw ya. And all these someone's, these bridge builders, all got somethin' in common - they all got a hellava lot more on their minds than who's screwin' who and who they gonna knock up next."

I pursed my lips and knitted my face slightly and nodded, rather affirming Nate's spiel.

Klug shrugged slightly and tilted his head aggreeably to the side, apparently going along with my assessment.

“You know you’re problem Browning,” Merril said. “You think life is some sorta test a character. Like we’re put on this earth to prove something. We’re here ta live well. Think about it.”

I nodded again, rather affirming what Merril had just said. I was impressed really, especially such a well put sentiment from Merril of all people, I said, “He’s got a interesting point there.”

Klug nodded and said, "Fraze does."

Nate just shook his head, “Yeah, real interestin’. Look Merril it’s like this, I don’t have the money to live well right now; and unfortunately I need the character to make the money.”

I nodded yet again, and thought, touché for Nate.

Merril had on a smug complacent look, he looked at me, "You're supposed to be smart - what do you think?"

I looked at him and shrugged, "Where there's a yin there's a yang, right?"

Brad said, wiping off his mouth with his bib, then pulling it out of his shirt and dropping it on his well scraped plate, "Merril, your a stinkin' harp. Can it."

"Well whatever," Merril said. "You guys go fish - I'm gonna stay here and either find that chick or find another."

Klug chuckled, "Frase man, your a scream."

Dinner could not be complete of course without dessert. While again Nate and I abstained, the others indulged. It was spumoni for the three. While they spooned the tri-colored delight Nate and I watched. My tuna sandwich had been small solace for a sizable void I was still well aware of in my stomach. While Nate's sermon had it's high points, my stomach was doing little to fortify my faith in Nate's folly. The waiter brought the check and laid it down, amusingly enough, in front of Nate. He picked it up and studied it, then looked at me, "Like I said, soup and fish sandwich - ten bucks - actually ten fifty. And the rest a you bucket heads just dropped fifty bucks."

Under Brad's vigilant glare we tossed down our share of the bill and tip. Then we were off and back in the bus. Nate was at the wheel and Merril was co-pilot and tour guide. From the wharf we drove back up the Embarcadero then up Powell then up Columbus - the wide boulevard that runs from the waterfront at Giradelli Square to the financial district where it runs directly into a corner of the Trans America Building. At it's base the pyramid is more affecting. From afar it appears more an elegant elongated obelisk spearing the atmosphere; yet there, at the base, nimbility gives sway to hugeness. At the base, a four or five-story giant beamed triangular concrete truss work seems to lift and suspend the mighty fifty or so story load. From the corner the base appears corpulent and the summit way high, not as whelming as the ancient pyramid at Cheops, but a distinctive and impressive specimen of the skyscraper class.

As we rounded the pyramid, Nate asked, "Merril sure you know where your going?"

"We're on the wrong side a town, we're going toward the bay bridge. We need to go toward the Golden Gate," Merril said.

"In other words back from where we came," Nate said.

"Yeah sorta."

We made a turn and again we were deep amid the glass, granite, and concrete skyscrapers - the hollowed passages of the business district, the canyons of high finance. Upon passing the older bank buildings with their classical exterior visual devices I thought of the ancient metropolis, Petra. I imagined the surrounding modern structures, with their sheer glass and smooth granite sides as the sandstone cliffs. The antique buildings with their grand and formal ornamentation - the rustication, the fluted pilasters over the granite and marble walls, projecting cornices and entablatures, columns from all of the ancient orders - Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, balconies ringed by massive balustrade, reliefed freezes and tympanums, keystones and pediments over windows, raked and rounded cornices, scrolls, rosettes and medallions, fretwork, acanthus leaf, and strapwork - these old buildings, dwarfed by the sheer modern walls around, were, to my imagination, as the great facades carved in the sandstone at Petra. Each an old temple honoring the financial absolutes. And like Petra's storefronts, these old venerations assuming substance and stability, and reinforcing the conceit with the classical festoonery - sly marketing taken to Olympian elevations.

After climbing a steep rise we somehow found ourselves disoriented in the orient, on one of the main drags in the China town section where the facades forgot the Grecian and Victorian, and sentiments of permanence and reverence, seemed to me to take on humor. Bedecked over the street sides of the basic occidental structures was a gaudy ornamentation that burlesqued the eastern architectural traditions. With bright colors especially reds and greens - and gold leaf, the emphasis was on the oriental affinity of the spiritually pleasing upturned and curvilinear. Rooftops were covered in glazed blue and red tile, were shaped pagoda like with hipped dual pitching with concave ridgelines, and had long oxhorn-like brackets jutting and curling skyward from corners and midpoints. Windows and doorways were recessed within ogee arches. Cornices overhung windows and balconies, were carved with fretwork or ornate sinuous dragons or serpents, much of it gold leafed. Lights outlined many of the facades. Plastic neon signs abounded, many in the shape of pagodas, and most had both English and Mandarin lettering. Along the street the lamps were neon lit bronze pagodas atop bamboo-like shafts. At the upper reaches, dragons coiled around the shafts and gnawed at the base of the lamps. "I don't think this is where we're suppose to be," Nate said.

"No, just keep driving," Merril said.

At the corner Merril then said, "Here - Washington Street, go right."

Nate followed the direction then asked, "Now we're going in the right direction?"

"Yeah."

"Good Merril, glad you know where you're going," Nate said, mildly sarcastic.

Along Washington we past more buildings with bottom floor storefronts and a park covered with a labyrinth of hedge work and date palms. On one side of the park was a cathedral, a modest white pink Italian gothic, resplendent in floodlight. A wide single main gable was shouldered with two smaller narrower gables; a large rose window was high in the center over an arched portal. Above the two sided gables, high pointed spires, also alit, reached into the darkness. Atop the two neighboring spires were simple white crosses.

We past a couple more crossing boulevards coming to Van Ness where Merril instructed another right turn. Down Van Ness it was more of the same. We came to the Broadway intersection and stopped for a red light. Down the street was an inferno of neon signs propositioning one and all with sodom promises of massages in the oriental technique, Turkish baths, and stage shows with nudity in the full and topless revelations. All of it grabbed Brad's attention, "Hey let's go down that street."

Nate, always the life of the party, said "Why?"

Merril turned and looked back over his shoulder smiling, "Later Smitty - we go down there later."

The light changing to green, we sped on a couple more blocks then Merril asked for another turn. Nate asked, "Sure you know where your goin'?"

Merril said, "Yeah this looks familiar." He was looking for what was known by the sobriquet, the Devil's Triangle. What comprised the triangle, and hence the reference, were three bars located on three of the four corners of the intersection of Hyde and Beach streets. All three were frequented preponderantly by the young and restless set. As Merril explained while we scouted a parking place, "Of the three on the triangle, the Golden Gate is the one everybody goes to, the other two are all right, they sorta get the runoff. And up the street is Pier Street Annex, the Blue Light, and a couple of other fairly well known bars."

We parked on a residential street - more bay windowed apartment buildings - about a block up from the notorious corner. As we walked down, Merril cautioned, "Now if I were you guys I'd play down the fishing thing, most a the girls in these places are looking for upwardly mobile brain surgeon, investment banker types."

Nate said, "Brain surgeon huh - that's got you written all over it Merril."

"Frasure with a knife," Klug said. "Festive."

The Golden Gate bar appeared to be a pleasant enough hang out, but, I suppose, I had expected more considering it's renown. Far as I knew - this renown - as the place to go when in San Fran, was, within the confines of my youth bound social strata, statewide if not national. It was one of those establishments that youngsters fresh from college and into professional ranks, who also happen to travel around, invariably hear about as the local haunt for their kind. In L.A. it was Mom's in Westwood, or Gladstone's in Malibu; in Seattle F.X. McRory's next to the Dome; in New York, Micky Mantel's on Central Park, or Sard's on 7th, or the Pelican Club on Broadway; in Dallas it was Michael's on Worth Street, or the Grange in Greenville; in Washington D.C. it was the Press Club on Lexington, or The Gold Barrel in Georgetown; and when in Claremont, of course – Stan's and the El Rancho. There are other cities, naturally, and bars in those cities, and other bars in the cities aforementioned, but those were the cities that were popularly traveled by my aging adolescent set, and the bars that, for reasons only metaphysical, acquired this stature as the most recommended.

Outside, the Golden Gate was mostly non-descript. A simple but smart front of wood casing around large picture windows. Tongue and grooved wood paneling over the walls, and all of it painted in a dark green enamel. A pink red neon tube sign spelled the bars name in cursive in both windows. A green awning stretched from the doorway to curbside. Inside the decor was slightly men's clubish with wood paneling mixed with darker green wallpaper. The bar was a long narrow rectangle veneered in dark brown mahogany. The bar was not crowded, but well stocked, and from appearances, the cliental were, as Merril described, in the mainline from the young tony set; stock brokers, management trainees, IBM and Xerox salesmen, freshly minted MBA and legal types, and, no doubt, especially there in Nob City - the sponges of generational prosperity with names from the grocery shelf, medicine cabinet, and Forbes 500. All looked near our age - in the entry level phase - to about mid-thirties. Immediately, I noticed the dress was more formal than in Claremont, blue sport coats and dark suits were common, black dresses and pearls for the ladies. In our jeans, I thought, we were rather de classe.

There we nightlifed as we did at home - the modern day barfly's version of a primitive folk mating dance. Like the myths of old, though with altered scene, gods, mortals, villains, hero’s, and fairy god mothers, it was the same old story line. We stood around and checked things out, took a gander at the more pulchritudinous of the female tribe. Then upon espying a candidate, if the vibes seemed right, moxy was summoned, and a foray made over to the alone gal, or pair, or even more, who appeared open to the advance, and would occasion a conversation. And if luck held, who knows what else - a mating maybe. As we looked around, strolled around - took laps as we called it - it was all quite familiar. They either ignored us or glanced quickly with cool ambiguous looks. I looked at a couple of candidates alone in a corner, they gave me a look back, I looked again and smiled, they smiled. Hmm, interesting, I thought. I walked over.

After lame intros they seemed genuinely impressed by my being from Southern California, and were even more impressed when the conversation made its way around to our exposing our educational credentials. But the topper for their impressionability, what, judging by their reaction, was the cats meow and the John Lennon in one red bow was, shockingly enough - Klug. Seeing me with two prepster pretty's, more than my share, he had come over. And when the conversation got round to him, and the ladies found out he surfed - well now that was truly something. Right there before their lovely eyes, at the Golden Gate Grill no less, a surfer, a kin of the Big Kahuna, brother to the Duke Kahanamoku, a figment out of Big Wednesday, a North Shore god, a myth from Malibu.

"Oh yeah - grew up in Seal Beach," he lustily intoned to their fixed gaze at his goldy sun bleached locks, "been ridin' since I was five."

They said in sync, "Really." And kept their gaze as if in the presents of a rock star.

"Is it hard?" One of the girls asked.

Klug smiled over the double entendre and said, "Sometimes real hard."

I rolled my eyes and sighed, under my breath, "Oh brother." I could not believe this wet between the ears slangrified nimrod was stealing the show. The two girls seemed nice enough, but I noticed one had an engagement type ring on the correct finger – which was wrapped around a sweating brown bottle of beer. I saw it right off because the beer she was holding was some brand I had never seen, Anchor Steam. I asked about it and was quickly informed in almost brush off style that it was a locally brewed beer, sold only locally. With the one apparently hitched and the other appearing enamored of Klug's blonde good looks and beachside hobby, graciously I made an exit on pretensions of touring the men's room. Nate and Brad were with two girls. I thought it best to leave them be. Merril was talking with two. We had all well circulated. I walked over to Merril. As I came up he saw me and said, "This is my buddy here from home - but he's Ivy League too."

I looked at Merril and mouthed, "Too?"

"Yeah, I was tellin' these girls here how we go back east to school," Merril said, then looking at the girls, "he's goin' to the Harvard Medical School."

I looked at the girls and laughed a little embarrassingly, and said trying to diffuse the prevarication without exposing Merril's lame brain, "I just got out of Princeton."

I wouldn't call them showstoppers, but both girls were pretty. They were shorter, close to five foot, both slender, but not skinny. One had red hair which was straight and below her shoulders with bangs, her cheeks were pale and full and lightly freckled, her nose round, she was wearing blue designer jeans and a crew neck wool rag sweater with a big patterned Aztec like design in the weave. The other was blonde, and was looking better with more study. She had small full lips under a round nose, a small chin, roundish cheeks, short bobbed gold hair, a little wavy as if permed slightly, she combed it from a side part, her eyes were blue under quite pretty distinct brows that curved down a little, she wore a black cotton blouse over red designer jeans.

The red head said, referring to my supposed acceptance to the medical school, "That's great - isn't Harvard one of the best?"

I shrugged and said tepidly, "Yeah - I guess." I was thinking now the blond was actually quite good looking, that it was the short hair - it lessened her glamour. But her face was beautiful, fine, nicely featured, princess-like. With longer better styled hair she would be queenly. She said, and with a startling sharp tongue - an incongruity to her looks, "Don't play modest, you know you think your hot shit."

Frankly her crude abruptness did throw me off cue there, I stumbled on my words, "Well huh, I mean. Yeah, it's good that I'm going to Harvard, maybe." Then collecting some edge of my own, "What am I suppose to do, wear a sign?"

Merril smiled; I think he liked this spicy number, "Yeah, what's wrong with going to Harvard?"

The blonde replied, "I just hate it when you ask a guy what school he goes to, and he plays like he's embarrassed by it or something. But you know he thinks he's god's gift. Does it make you a better person?"

I stayed positive and considered her spunky. I shrugged my shoulders.

Merril rolled his eyes and took up the debate, "Better person? What's that got to do with anything? Listen by goin' to an Ivy League - I'm part of the eastern establishment, the eastern elite. Part of the society that's led this country, decided it's moreys and laws, it's M.O. Yeah, I'm better. What the hell have all you Stanford sissy's and Berkeley hippies and Frisco commies done lately? Left to you goofs the Great American Empire would be left to the trees."

I wasn't sure I quite understood his point or how effective it would be on the girls, I looked at Merril my mouth slightly agape, "That was interestin'. Yes, some interesting points there." Then I looked at the girls, "Sounds more like a Yalie to me than a true Harvard yardsman."

The blonde put on a dubious eye narrowing face, "You guys don't go to Harvard. You don't seem smart enough."

Merril laughed and put on surprised airs. Undaunted he said, "Get a load a this one. She's got spine. I like that. What you doin' later?"

"Nothing with you Mr. Harvard yard."

Merril looked at me and winked slightly, then smiled at the girls, "You know your sort of negativo - you got us all wrong. See Joe here - ask him any question - he's a real intellectual. His dad is a famous writer. You are looking at a member of the American intellectual elite."

She looked at me, "Who's your dad?"

I shook my head, "He's not famous."

Merril said, "Kurt Vonnegut - ever hear of Kurt Vonnegut?"

The girl looked at me, "That's your dad?"

I shook my head, "No - he's just kidding you."

The girl looked at Merril, "That's not his father?"

Merril shook his head, "No - I just wanted to see if you've heard of Kurt Vonnegut."

The girl nodded her head, "Oh I see, a test."

Merril said, "Yeah - sorta."

"You're an asshole," the girl said to Merril, her eyes narrowed. Then she looked at me, "So who's your father?"

"He writes books about philosophy, he's a college professor."

"His name's Robert Kelly," Merril said.

The girl nodded and shrugged, "Haven't heard of him."

Merril picked up on this, "There see, and your tellin' us we're stupid."

"Just because he has a smart father, doesn't mean he's smart," the girl said.

"Haven't you heard a heredity?" Merril asked. "It's like race horses, a thoroughbreds a thoroughbred. Go ahead ask him a question about somethin'."

The girl looked at me, "Okay - who's Shakespeare?"

Merril moaned, "Gawd ask him a hard one why don't ya."

I said, "A playwright."

The girl asked, "To be or not to be - what play is that from?"

"Hamlet, it's his soliloquy."

Merril winked a little and gave me a that a boy look.

The girl seemed slightly more impressed, she said, "That's good, I used to date a guy who could recite it."

Merril guffawed, "Hey we're not actors, who you used to date, Lawrence Olivier?"

"No, Edward Zorin, he's on TV now."

"Never heard of him," Merril said.

"He's on a soap opera."

"And he recites Shakespeare - so what?" Merril said.

"Well he could do it," she said.

I said, "So he could recite it huh?" Then talking quicker I recited: "To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of trouble, and by opposing, end them...kind a like that?"

Merril's head went back and his eyes widened, "How'd you know that?"

"Just know it," I said.

The girls smiled, the blonde said, "So you know it?"

"That's about it though," I said.

"What else do you know?"

"Yeah, let's hear somethin' else," Merril said, goading.

I shrugged saying, "I really don't know all that much."

"Come on – say somethin' she'll like hearin'," Merril said.

I looked at the blond and said, "Nymph of my horizons – be all my sins remembered."

The girls looked at me and smiled, the blond brought her hand up and affectionately touched my arm, "That was nice."

Merril said, "Where'd you learn that?"

I looked at him, "They don't teach Shakespeare at Harvard?"

The girls laughed. Well apparently the ugly Americans had found a key to a sentimental door in this hard fibered wench.

Merril said, "See we're not so bad huh?"

The blonde said, "He's not so bad." Then smiled at me.

Merril moaned, "Oh jeeze, listen hon, cultures the biggest sucker bait goin'."

The blonde looked sharp at Merril, "Your right all guys think with their dick - least with guys like him maybe it's not so bad."

Showing his experience with such matters, perhaps seeing something I missed, wisely cutting his losses, Merril rolled his eyes and looked at me with a weary expression, "There all yours bucko, I gotta go take a leak."

With that Merril walked off. The other girl asked, "Does that guy really go to Harvard?"

I shrugged, "I don't know him that well he's a friend of a friend."

The blond smiled and gave a knowing kind of nod. I didn't know quite what she knew – but she nodded that way.

The other girl asked, "So are you really going to medical school?"

I shook my head, "Actually, no."

"So you're friend was lying?" The other girl asked.

"I don't know – I didn't hear what he said," I said.

"He said you guys are going to Harvard, and your in medical school," the blond said, not easily letting me off the hook.

"Well, the thing is," I said, "I'm taking a year off here…" Then I explained our fishing trip, the how and why we were in San Fran.

When I finished my story, the red head asked, very nicely, "But you really did go to Princeton?"

I nodded, "Yes, I did."

The blond asked sharply, "How come men are such liars?"

I shrugged and said, "I'm not lying."

"Your friend lied – he said you were in medical school."

"I told ya, he's a friend of a friend, maybe he misunderstood," I said, now becoming a little irritated at the blond's persistence. Then I added, "You know, he was just trying to impress you."

The redhead said, , "Maybe he didn't mean to lie."

Again I shrugged, "Ya, like I said, he probably didn't get the whole story." I noticed Merril had come out of the bathroom and was now with Klug and the other girls across the room.

My pleading of innocence and the victim of disinformation, I think was working, the hardnosed blonde, I thought, had mellowed toward me, she was giving me a pleasant stare out of the side of her eyes with a slight beguiling smile. Now I was discounting the pluck of her personality, and, I suppose, falling for the beguilement of her look. Of course, I was rather thinking with my - ah - as she called it - or perhaps better put - my lower cerebrum. Thinking I could get in better, possibly more intimate, graces with her in someplace less crowded and seated in a booth, I suggested - under the ploy of being the tourist in town and yearning for another sight to see - that they take me elsewhere. They displayed the usual trepidation, but after some lighthearted cajoling and begging rather, they walked me down the street to the Buena Vista - a well-known Irish motifed bar renowned for it's Irish coffee.

The decor had a Celtic small town pub appeal, a down on the hamlet look. Everything was made of oak, stained dark - bar, booths, tables. A large oval saloon type looking glass in a wide gold leafed frame was behind the bar. Over the mirror, in gold, in a bold Edwardian cursive, was: BUENA VISTA PUB L.T.D.; and below that in the same but smaller cursive: Sanctioned by H.R.H., the Prince of Wales. This got me thinking that either here was a den of protestants, or some enlightened Celts who had, away from the motherland, awakened from history, or just American bar keeps capitalizing on a vague sense and the allure of the Gaelic.

We sat in one of the booths - a boxlike configuration with a wood backrest rising above our heads, straight perpendicular to the level ground. The seat was a bench - parallel to the ground. It was primitive and hardly comforting - a lame attempt, no doubt, to add authenticity. We ordered the standard fare, Irish coffees all around from a cocktail waitress in a low cut, high hemmed green tog. With puffed sleeves and a wide skirt the uniform was parody barmaid garb from the days of Dickens and yore. I noted also the clientele there was older and less decked out than at the Golden Gate, there in our casual raiment we were decidedly chic. As we sat looking at each other, me on one side, the two ladies on the other, the blonde asked, "What's your name?"

I smiled realizing the oversight, "Joe Kelly - and what's your names?"

The blonde called herself Gwen Winters, the red head, Lisa Patterson. Gwen then got right to brass tacks, "So your going fishing?"

In taking a liking to her I felt inclined to confess and set the record straight. I thought if things maybe developed, better to simplify life now. I sort of wanted to explain how I was not going to med school, but was accepted to law school. But then I quickly remembered my lecture of Nate regarding blabbing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and decided to remain vague. I said, "Yeah, goin' to Alaska then back to school. I'm putting Harvard off for a year."

"So you are going to Harvard?" Gwen asked.

I said simply, "Yeah – just not this year."

"Then you go to med school?"

I wanted to just nod, but something in me just wouldn't let me do it. I just figured, what the hell, just set the record straight, so I did. I said, "I'm not going to med school, I was accepted to the law school."

Gwen shook her head and didn't laugh and seemed genuinely perturbed by Merril's charade. She said, "Does that other guy even go to college?"

I shrugged again, "I think so. Like I said he's a friend of a friend."

"What an asshole. He's a real asshole that guy."

Frankly I thought this delayed reaction a bit stiff, a belaboring narrow humorless view. I tried to console her again, "He was just joking around - he didn't mean anything by it - really. And like I said, I don't think he quite understood the story. He doesn't know me that well."

"No - he's an asshole," she said, and her adamance was well beyond an off the cuff casual remonstration, was thick with an emotional fervor that reeked of venom. She put on a pouting vehement look.

This display de trop I didn't find especially thrilling. I decided to try and be a calming influence I said, "You know - your a great looking girl, both you gals are, but cussing and getting bent outta shape over some dumb guy you've met in a bar – why? It doesn't really become you."

Gwen tilted her head back some, and her face became more sullen. Then she looked at her friend and motioned with her head to the side signaling that it was time to exit stage left. She stood up and grabbed her purse, and with a quick jerk of her hand swept the strap over her shoulder. Then just as quick her friend followed suit and they began walking out of the bar.

As I watched the girls get up, I asked myself, beating myself up rather, just when in hell was I going to learn? Just as they had gotten up, the waitress was back with the drinks. I stood up and quickly settled the bill with the waitress plopping a ten spot on her tray and demanding that she keep the change, then followed the girls out the front door. Outside they were a few yards ahead, I shouted, "Hey wait a sec." They didn't stop. I caught up to them, and walking sideways, like a jerk, while they walked rigid backed and eyes forward in a soldier-like uncompromising stride, I appealed, "Look I'm sorry really. I didn't mean it like that. Really I didn't. It didn't come out right. He is an asshole. And I was stupid. He's not even that good of a friend. He paid us for a ride up here. Come on. Com-ahhnn." I was begging rather.

I got Gwen to stop. And her friend stopped – apparently Gwen called the shots between the two. Gwen looked at me with a smug look. I started talking fast, "Look I know sometimes guys are real idiots. But I didn't lie to you. In fact, I told you what was really going on. That's got to be worth somethin'? I was only trying to tell you how attractive you are. Both of you are."

This didn't seem to appease Gwen much, she looked at her friend then back at me and said, "I probably should be getting home."

"Where do you gals live?"

"Near Nob Hill," Gwen said.

"Well that's close to where I'm stayin' - can you give me a ride?"

A smarter shark would likely have passed on this bait. Cut the losses while the night was still young, yet like an addicted gambler I was averaging down and hoping for a lucky turn of the cards.

Gwen said, "We took a cab."

"Well then let's share one - I'll pay." And without waiting on her consent I strode up to the corner and flagged a cab. After we slid into the backseat of the taxi, Gwen said, "Lisa's closer so we can drop her off first."

Lisa gave the address and the cab sped off on a rollicking ride over the San Francisco streets. It was only a couple of streets before we dropped her off. I thought how the initial cards here were looking better; now I just needed to complete the hand. After Lisa said her goodbyes and call you tomorrows and left the car, I said, "Look, the Fairmont’s right by where you live, right? Why don't we go there for a drink?"

"You staying at the Fairmont?"

"No - we're at the Golden Gate."

"Where's that?"

"Near Union Square."

"I should be getting back."

"Just one drink."

With a hard to get, reluctant nod of her head, she agreed. So I told the driver, "The Fairmont."

The cab sped off, and gravity slid us back in the seat as the car jostled up the boulevard, bouncing over cable car tracks, heading toward the top of Nob Hill. We past the fronts of buildings both alit and dark, passed through intermittent areas awash in a green bluish fluorescent light from overhead street lighting. The cab rose and declined with the terrain as it speedily weaved around and passed slower moving cars. We kept sliding a little over the slick vinyl back seat. I could feel myself pressed back against the seat as the car sped up the hills. At the top of Nob Hill, turning abruptly, the cab drew over to the grand hotel, with its floodlighted entry façade, awash in a bright white day-glow light. We arrived in our yellow Chevy carriage to be left off under a wide royal blue canopy. The car door opened, I climbed out and faced a full coated doorman with a patent leather billed cap and gold shoulder braid, who said a polite and professional, "Good evening sir."

After I squared with the driver, we walked under the long grand canopy, along a red carpeted runway, to the gray stoned front entryway. I could not help but notice the impressive massive first floor rustication - with antes pulling forward an august entry portico with a palladean-like triad of bays. The high center arched bay was framed at each side with a triad of ionic columns. Over the two rectangular side bays were panels carrying carved escutcheons. We walked through this gateway, we two young night hawks, where once had also walked and hobnobbed the great Nabobs, the Railroad Barons and Comstock Kings, the Big Four, and the Bradfordesque Millionaires, and nowadays the Bagdads-by-the-Bay, us in our jeans and taxi - mere hooperisms in the face of that proud portal.

We strolled into the flamboyant and big lobby, then parked ourselves on a couch off to the side in an open niche. In the great room, which was mostly empty, this slight alcove had the feeling of privacy. We sat on smooth red velvet taking in the almost magniloquent bedizenery in front of us. A florid sea of red carpet stretched beyond our wading feet covered with a curving rinceaux of yellow and green exaggerated acanthus-like leaves. Over the expanse a grove of corinthian columns, and pilasters along the walls, the shafts wrapped in yellow and gold veined imitation marble, rose to a network of entablature which framed rectangular ceiling panels laced with large ornate plasterwork. The ceiling panels were festooned with gold leafed ovals of garlands, thumb molding, scallop shells, and swirls of rinceaux. All of it seemed to be reaching for the rococo, yet having toured the splendors of Versailles, the busyness before me seemed too much a preening, a style which overindulged a limited budget, an ersatz imitation, a turn of the century Vegas-like effort.

Gwen noticed me looking around slowly taking scrutiny, "Fancy huh?" she said.

"Looks like a pricy bordello."

She laughed, "It is sorta bad." Her hands I noticed were small and her arms short. She was a small girl really.

A waitress in a black pleated skirt and red blazer came by and took a drink order. I went for a gin and tonic, she a black Russian - another hopeful card in the hand.

We spent the next hour or so telling each other the highlights and lowlights of our respective life histories. My chronicle lasted about two minutes. After I finished she said, "Hard to believe your putting off Harvard to go fishing."

"Yeah, well that's what a lot a people are tellin' me."

"You probably don't want to go, you just think you should go 'cause it's Harvard."

"Might be right about that. So if I don't want to go - you think I should go?"

"I think you should do what you want," She said while pulling out a cigarette from her purse. I reached for a pack of matches laying in an ashtray on a side table at the end of the couch. But before I could ready a match, she had instantly lit the cigarette with a plastic Zippo lighter from her purse. We then got into her life. At first she just answered my questions, was she originally from San Francisco? Then from where? How long in San Fran? Small talk cultivators. Then as the little answers to the little questions became more divulging, she became more expository and loquacious, I said and asked less, until finally for much of an hour said nothing.

She had come to San Francisco by way of St. Paul, Minnesota, via a couple year detour through Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The summer after her high school graduation she had come to California to visit a cousin living in Pacific Palisades. One day they were in Beverly Hills, in Hayman's on Rodeo, shopping - or looking rather. Rubbernecking for celebs, on the sly, and ogling the complacent silken peignoirs and knock out sequined night gowns, when a well tanned and quick talking hombre with a face like Errol Flynn came over and went to work. He struck up a conversation and, next thing they knew, they were at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in the Floriduci Room sipping cappacino. "He was a real charmer," she said with a wry smirk. Next, it was into his Mercedes convertible where they sped off into a coast highway sunset, toward Malibu, to his chinoiserie decored surf side shanty full of elite looking oriental originals. There he graciously supplied them with mini bikinis supposedly fresh in from Rio, and they hot tubed and drank in prep for dinner at the Moustache Cafe in Westwood. At the cafe, at a table directly across the room, sat her first sited celestial body in the flesh, the auteur of the art brut himself, in his wig of peroxide blonde, Andrew Warhol. Soon she prolonged her vacation and became a constant companion of the man from Malibu. After a party in a multi-roomed Mediterranean type villa in the Hombly Hills, she took up with an agent for actors who did well enough to sport a Ferrari, a Brentwood townhouse, a lurid lifestyle, and keyholder to Snow Birds anonymous. He was a fun guy. Then she met, at one of the agents many soirees, her Hollywood heartthrob, a drug free and struggling actor, the Shakespearean turned soap idol, the magnificent Zorin. As his star rose, his interest in her fell, and so also the ax. One fine day she found herself evicted from his Westside one room estate. Thus jilted, the old tinsel town glamour dulled, she opted to join another friend, this one female, for a complete scene change, hence her current showing in the follies of San Fran.

"I just needed to get out of there," she said, "away from that lifestyle."

"Not quite Minnesota huh?"

She looked at me and shook her head a little, "No."

That was what she told me, the extent of the details. But I wondered, of course, about footnotes and between lines, especially after she readily, without hint of protest, downed two additional of the indigo ruskies - and she divulged her birth date was a meager twenty years and some. I had her pegged for twenty-four or five. She was probably popular in Beverly Hills - that is - swimin' pools - movie stars. She had a nicely shaped body on her to accent her other virtues, though she was a bit slight on the topside.

I asked her, "Did you do much of the drugs?"

She sent me a brazen look with a condescending smile, "What do you think?"

I smiled and shrugged and said politely, "I think you didn't."

She laughed, "Your a nice guy. Too nice, I can tell you've lived sheltered."

"Sheltered? What makes you think that?"

"I don't know. I just get that feeling. You have a nice face. I think a lot of things about this world would shock you. You remind me of the boys back home - but your smarter. I can see that. But sheltered."

"And you've seen it all huh?"

She drew a long drag on her cigarette, then blew smoke out of her mouth and nose and smiled. She looked at me out of the corner of her eye as she squashed the butt of the cigarette into the ashtray which she had taken up in her hand. I had my arm extended along the top of the couch, I was leaning on my side faced toward her, she was sitting up in the couch faced toward me. I moved my hand onto her shoulder and gently pulled her toward me. She slid back into the couch and toward me - going along. With her next to me, I touched her neck a little and she looked up at me and I went in. We kissed stiffly, at first, but soon she relaxed. We actually got going pretty good there in the lobby. At one point I glanced over toward the open room and saw an older couple walk past, eyeing us. Her hand went down into my legs, as overt a move a girl could decently make I suppose in public view. She had me going, my randyness was welling – even with the light stench of tobacco I could smell on her breath everytime we got close. I slowly pulled back then stood up and took her hand, "Come on, I need some air," I said.

She willingly went along, and we walked out of the lobby with my arm around her into the cooler night air. I thought about asking her where she lived but then thought better of it - too blatant a suggestion, might queer things. I think I was a little unsure of the territory, and was treading carefully. I rather agreed with her, I got a sense that she had called it right, that compared to her I was an amatuer in certain life areas. Just the way she handled a cigarette impressed me. The few times I had tried smoking I had inhaled my way into a fit of coughing.

I walked her across and up the street toward a park I remembered was in that direction. The streets were empty of traffic and the night had turned strangely quiet. We walked past a flat roofed and cubical imposing brownstone, a stout Beaux Arts. Strictly neo-classical without scrolls, swags or any floral frill, yet the ornamentation flared brazen with thickset lines, hard edges, and this accentuated by the brown red color. An entry porch atop a terrace of wide stairs was fronted by doric pilasters located in pairs periodically under a doric entablature. Along the porch top line and the roofline was a bellied balustrade. Ionic pilasters sided each rectangular window - also browned with segmental pediments. Up each corner were thickly rusticated quoins. I was looking at it, and she said, "That's the Pacific Union Club, used to be owned by some guy named Flood. It's the only house on Nob Hill that didn't fall apart during the big earthquake."

"How'd you know that?"

"Read about it in a book about the city."

As I was looking at the house I thought I heard a deep moaning horn. I said, "Hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"That moaning sound."

We stayed quiet, listening for it. Then it came again - a baritone, and it was followed by a higher pitched horn, a soprano.

"Hear it?" I said.

"Those are the fog horns. The one that's more of a scream they call the sirens."

We listened a moment to the horns and the sirens...low and high...low and high...

Then I led her to the park and we walked up a grass knoll then behind it into a slightly depressed darkened square plateau. Round foliaged ashlar trees stood along the sides. In that depression we were rather hidden from the surrounding city. I walked over next to one of the trees. Across the street was a cathedral - we could see it rising above the hillocks of grass around us - a gray-stoned gothic with rectangular bell towers to each side of a high front gable. The cathedral was all darkened, rising high at the other end I could see a spire rising dark and shadowy into the black sky. In the middle of the gable was a stain glass rose window and on each side an arched window with tracery. The windows were dark. Next to the main church building was a smaller building, a two-story rectory looking structure. Some of the rectangular windows on each floor were alit. Atop the building, like a commercial sign, was a cross lit in bright white neon light, and the cross slowly turned.

We stood looking at each other a moment in the shadows of the tree – ignoring the outsized religious icons to our side. I was leaning against the trunk. I put my hands up on her shoulders, they felt small, full and rounded, and again we began kissing. The deck seemed to be turning generous with each new card dealt to my hand. As we kissed we knelt down onto the lawn and then I laid down on my back and she sat up on me, straddling me at my waist. She looked down on me. Then leaned forward and unbuttoned my shirt, then rubbed her hands over me as she laid down kissing me on the face and neck. "That feel good?" she said.

"Yeah, feels good."

Again she sat up and as I looked at her she undid her blouse and pulled the tails out of her pants and held it open. Her breasts were covered with a red bra that shined in the dim night-light as if it was made of a silk like material. I reached up and undid the clasp at the front of the bra between the cups; she pulled the bra away and let it and her shirt fall off her shoulders. Her breasts were oval and slight and white, the areolas small, the skin at her stomach was darker. Her upper body had a small compact look to it. "Do you think I look good?" She said.

I didn't answer her. I sat up, and faced her and placed my hands on the sides of her body, she felt smaller and warm. She whispered in my ear, "Do I feel good?"

"You feel just fine," I whispered, and we began kissing. Then we laid back down on the grass, and she was over me. As we went at it, this heavy petting, she slid her hand down into my trousers. In my ear she whispered, "You want to, don't you. Don't you."

I pulled back slowly and looked at her with a slight smile. I was definitely wound up and at the ready, my jeans becoming quite uncomfortable. I began kissing her again and slid my hand down into her jeans, they were tight and I went to undo the top button, but then she grabbed my hand and tried to pull it away. She whispered, "No, not tonight."

I pressed on, thinking she was playing the usual tune, no, I'm not that kind of girl routine, but then when I re-slid my hands back into her jeans she grabbed my hand and pulled it out and said sharply, "No! no!"

I backed off. I had been dealt four kings, had bet all including the mortgage, I called, and she showed four aces. She sat up, kneeling on her knees and held her arms crossed over her chest, she shook her head and said, "That's all you guys want, the sex. That's it. And everything's great till something better comes along. Just trade 'em in like cars. Her thighs get fat - she's gotta go. She's too flat, get her implants. Get the implants or you're out the door."

"Implants?" I asked quizzically.

"Yeah they put these bags in there - make them bigger. I could have big breasts for a couple thousand dollars. Some guy was going to pay for me once to get 'em."

I sat up and started buttoning up my shirt. She said, "Guess I should have got them."

I looked at her a second. She was looking away. I slid over to her, and held her shirt up to her. She took it and separated the bra from the shirt and started dressing. I said, "I think your just fine."

As she buttoned up her shirt, I buttoned mine and stood up, I moved my hips adjusting some, but it was mostly unnecessary as I had relaxed. I reached down and took hold of her hand and helped her up, I asked her, "So where do you live?"

"Up the block."

We stood there awkwardly, then I motioned my head toward her block and said, "I'll walk ya back."

As we walked out of the park she said, "I'm sorry, that wasn't very nice."

Though I was pretty irritated really, I just shrugged and said, "It's okay."

We walked the couple blocks to her apartment building, an older one with bay windows, the walls all in red oven brick. We didn't say much along the walk. At the front entrance door to the building we stopped, she brought a key out of her purse, and looked at me. I smiled at her. She smiled and reached her hand up to my shoulder and we kissed again. Then she unlocked the door and opened it, then turned and said, "Think you'd ever want to call me?"

"Sure, why don't you give me your number."

Holding the large wood door open with her foot, she went back into her purse and pulled out a business card and a pen. On the back of the card she wrote her name and phone number, then handed me the card. I looked at the number and repeated it, "Nine, three, nine, forty three, twenty. Sounds easy enough."

Then I turned over the card. In the upper corner was the I.B.M. logo and the name on the card read, Jack Steeple, Marketing Representative. I thought, ah the gods and their sense of humor, and wondered if Steeple could be? Naw. I asked Gwen, "Who's this?"

"Some older guy I met the other night. He's nobody."

I nodded, and wondered if she thought he was also a relative neophyte at life, and had given him the big prick tease. Then I bent down and gave her another quick peck to the cheek; then I watched her go in and walk up the interior stairs. Well that was sort of an interesting waste of time, I thought, as I walked back to the Fairmont. I looked at the card and thought, ya, okay - she was probably right, I had lived sheltered – but there was definitely something not on the level with her. I figured she had done her share of sinning probably, and more than her share of living - and not quite absorbing it all with quite the air she imagined she should. I pocketed the card, but knew I likely would not be needing it.





6 I got back to the Fairmont and the doorman telephoned me a taxi. I waited in the bright lights under the entrance canopy and soon a cab pulled around the corner and into the drive. I climbed in and then realized I didn't know where the motel was. I said to the driver - an older black man with thinning afroed hair, well grayed, "Do you know where the Golden Gate Motel is?"

He said quick, in a raspy loud voice, "Gold Gate? Gold Gate Motel? That's where ya goin?"

"Yeah - you know where it is?"

"Oh sure - ain't Nob Hill though."

"That's for sure."

The cab sped out of the drive. I looked at my watch, it was half past one. As we drove down the streets and boulevards I noticed there were not that many other cars out, and the sidewalks were almost empty. I said, "Sure gets quiet around town late at night."

"Yeah - not too many cars, but peoples is out there. I'm stayin' busy tonight."

We passed the Civic Center - the Opera House and the City Hall Building, the gray-stoned neoclassic. The columned walls were awash in fluorescent pink yellow floodlights. Rising and dominating over the surrounding low-level office and government buildings, like the Dome of Florence, and glowing in white blue light against the black of the night sky, was the baroque dome of the City Hall. Soon we came again into the hardly swank part of town, into the area of unadorned brick and plaster facades. Then I recognized we were on the boulevard with the motel, and soon we were in front. I settled with the driver, tipping him a couple extra dollars, "Thanks bud," he said. As I walked across the parking lot I counted my money. All totaled, I had spent about fifty dollars. I thought, "Jeeze, where did it go?"

Across the parking lot I came upon Nate who was sitting on the curb in front of our room.

"What's goin' on?" I asked as I approached.

Nate was leaning back on his hands and outstretched arms, "The big guy - where you been?"

"Wild goose chase."

"Wouldn't put out huh?"

"Somethin' like that."

"Can't nail 'em all."

"Guess not. So what are you doin' out here?"

"On the way back those guys stopped on Broadway and picked up three hookers."

My eyes widened, "They did?"

"Yep - got em inside there."

"What are they like?"

"Like hookers. A couple are black, one's white with bleached hair. The white one's actually not too bad."

I shook my head, "Those guys are dogs. What are you doin'?"

"I passed. They just got in there, just before you pulled up. I saw you gettin' outta the cab, so I sat down here to wait for ya. You gonna screw around with the girls?"

"Naw. I'm too sheltered."

He looked at me quizzically, "Sheltered?"

"Some girl told me that tonight."

"Ah - sheltered huh. So what was she? Miss been around the block a bunch a times?"

"I don't know. She didn't seem too sheltered though."

"Oh - then you did get lucky."

"No. She wasn't that worldly."

"Too bad. Yeah ol' Merril was tellin' us how you even broke out the Shakespeare. He thinks your a genius now."

"Yeah, I tried."

Nate stood up, "The ol' poetry ploy huh."

"Somethin', like that."

I looked over at the room, "So they're in there huh."

"Yep."

I stepped over to the door and tried to turn the knob quietly like a thief. I could hear a muffled ruckus inside, ladies voices and mixed laughing. The knob wouldn't turn, locked. I stepped over to the window and tried sliding it open. It slid. I carefully and slowly slid it open just a crack, enough to get my hand through. Nate came over and stood next to me. Then I slowly moved the curtain over and looked inside. Nate was up pressing forward looking over my head. Brad was on one side of the bed sitting next to one of the black whores. Klug was on the other side and the blonde whore was sitting on his lap. Merril and the other black whore were standing in the bathroom doorway. That whore had red hair which was so inorganic in its shimmering consistency that it was either a wig or had absorbed a gallon of hairspray.

After a moment, figuring I had seen enough, I stepped back. Nate said, "Listen Smitty gave me ten bucks to get lost for however long it took. How 'bout we go grab something to eat."

"Sounds good to me, I can't believe you got money out of Smitty."

"I started whinin', threatened to call 'em on my share of the room. They were so worked up that they didn't want to take a chance on me queerin' the deal."

We got back in the bus and drove to the first fast food eatery that came along. A place called Big Burger. A cut above Cha Cha's, but still in the grease joint phylum. The take out window and grill area was behind a patio with steel rusting outdoor tables all within a brick and windowed enclosure. I ordered a burger called a double-double with onion rings and a chocolate malt. Nate went for two of the doubles less the rings, with a malt, also chocolate. The patio area was empty, so we had our pick of the tables. We sat down at one to await our nourriture de graisse. Our table wobbled on an asphalt patio dirty with stains and splotches of flattened old gum. As we sat quietly, two pimply faced kids walked in and went up to the order window. Both teenagers were on the young side of sixteen I guessed. The girl had stringy long blonde hair, bleached almost white. Along a part at the top of her head was a stripe of black roots. She wore a tight fitting white T-shirt, black jeans and black boots. The boys hair was cut short, but unevenly, it looked matted and disheveled, as if he had just been roused and gotten out of bed. They ordered. During the wait for their food they stood at the counter engaging in some petting that was on the heavy side for a public display. Nate saw me looking at them and, when I looked back at him, he raised and lowered his brows and shook his head and said, "No respect these young pukes."

I shrugged and said, "Guess not, as if we're ones to talk."

"We should talk. We're about to join up with the old guard. Besides I never blatantly copped a feel in public."

"Oh come on - this is Joe you're talking to."

"No seriously, I've never made out in front of God and everybody."

"Not in front of God?"

"God and everybody. Have you?"

"Yeah, I may have."

"You, Mr. Chip and Putt? When?"

"In high school. At parties. If you'll remember you were Mr. Straight laced in high school, and I every once in a while wasn't worried about having a good time."

"I never saw you makin' out at any parties. I went to just about every party you went to."

"Not really. You'd go to the parties, then you and Marilyn would leave after an hour or so. You never stayed for when things got rolling."

"You weren't known as no make out king."

"No, but I've had my moments."

"So what happened tonight?"

"Nothin'. "

"You were gone long enough."

"Got prick teased."

"Hate it when that happens."

"That's happened to you?"

He shrugged, "Once or twice."

I quickly gave him the bare facts.

"Hmm, sounds a little psycho."

"Yeah, I think she's got issues."

"Not even twenty one and she already hates men." He chuckled.

"Then that bit about her needing implants?"

"Boob job – it’s the latest fad. I did a gal at UCLA that had one – she looked good. I think its gonna catch on."

"Well, honestly she could probably use one. Her body was okay, but it was one a those that blended too much together – like a little girls body."

"Just hittin' puberty huh?"

"Kinda looked that way – especially in the dark."

"Well – she still got ya goin' though."

"She did. Got the hook in, but the line broke. Maybe I was just too aggressive. I don't know."

"Or maybe not aggressive enough."

"Yeah – just didn't have the moves." I said glibly.

"She wanted ya to go down on her – I think that was it."

"Yeah right – I couldn't even get her jeans off."

"She could tell though – you weren’t the type."

"What type's that?"

"To go down on her. You're too Mr. Clean. She saw you comin'."

I made a subtle sour face, "You go down on Marilyn?"

He smiled slightly and shook his head, "We weren’t exactly a circus act in the sac."

"She went down on you though."

"Not really - she wasn't so good at it. She had kinda big teeth."

I shook my head, “Boring sex.”

He shrugged.

They yelled from behind the window that our order was up. Nate got up and retrieved it. As we pulled out our entrees from white bags, and discarded over the table yellow wrapping paper, shiny with oil spots, I noticed the couple leaving each with a small white bag and an extra large styrofoam coffee cup in hand. Perhaps late night stimulus for more bedtime bonzo. As I chewed and sipped on the malt, we continued nonchalantly discussing the intimate details of our behind closed door proclivities.

"What about Jane?" He asked. "I'll bet you guys just whooped it up."

I shook my head with the straw from my malt in my mouth, "Naw." Then pulling the malt away, I said, "our sex was pretty Republican. I liked havin' sex with her though. I miss it – and her. She was my Beatrice."

"You're who?"

I gave a terse nod and with an open hand waved a concise clarifying gesture, "Doris Day."

"Oh," He said, "I think I got it."

"Guess we're pretty white bread when it comes down to it. There's people out there that have seen and done things we've only read in books – if that."

He nodded. "You've read maybe. Frankly I don't care. Think Kennedy ever? You know. He was a fuck around." He asked mischievously.

I shrugged, "I hope not."

"Probably did – right in the Oval office – or on Air Force One."

"Well, he was a Democrate."

"You think John Wayne beats off?"

"Wasn't he a Republican?"

"I can't picture it."

"You think John Wayne goes down on 'em?"

"If he's horny enough."

"Just doesn't seem to fit."

"What seems and is are likely leagues apart."

"Who said that?"

"I did."

"Catchy."

"Brevity is the soul of wit."

"Hmm, I like that. That’s a good one."

"Not mine. Shakespeare."

"Oh. You read much a that?"

"Yeah, actually, lot of it – part of being born to the manner."

He was down to a last large chunk of his burger, he plopped it into his mouth and as he chewed, he nodded some, then as he swallowed he said, "Had to read some a that in college – couldn't make heads or tails of it. They really talk like that in the old days?"

I shrugged, "Just the plays. Iambic pentameter it’s called. That was the style."

"Why?"

"Beats me. Upper crust thing I guess."

He nodded as he took a swing of his drink and as he brought the cup down he said, "I tell ya a guy who beats off – Merril"

I nodded agreeing, "Yeah, he's a whacker."

I asked Nate about the evening. Between smacks and swallows he went through a bar by bar account: "That damn Merril took us all over town. Nothin' happened at the Golden Gate. Girls me and Smitty were talking to were bla at best. Klug and Merril were hooked into a couple, but one was married and the other liked Klug but wasn't a player. I guess he got her number. Now he can call her long distance. Then Merril takes us back downtown to this club at the top of the St. Francis Hotel, called Oz. After the wizard."

I said, "Oh yeah - Jane and I went there once."

Talking with food in his mouth Nate continued, "Yeah - neat place if you like loud music and ugly old hags tryin' to look like teenagers."

"When Jane and I went I noticed some young ones in the crowd."

"Yeah there were, but so what, they all look the same in that dark light. Ever notice that everybody looks a lot better in a dark bar. Then you get 'em outside in a bright light and blah, the ten you were dancin' with is a five."

"True I've always liked myself better in bar light."

"Right. And it was five bucks cover charge to get into the place. So I said I'm not payin'. So Merril paid for me."

"Merril paid? Doesn't sound like him."

Nate laughed, "I know, but I guess he thought I'd talk everybody into leaving."

"Did he buy you a drink?"

"Naw, I drank water all night."

"That was sportin' of you - no wonder you didn't have a good time."

"Yeah really. Gotta be drunk to enjoy those joints. Anyhow nobody strikes gold at Oz. So then Merril says we gotta leave, that he knows this other sure thing spot called the Paradise or some other name like that. You know they're all the same these clubs. Dark, loud music, the flashy lights, expensive booze. I mean the guys runnin' these joints must be laughin' all the way to the bank. It's like a franchise, a fixed formula, rent some space, put up some lights, install a bar, a dance floor and a stereo, and away you go. They oughta just build the things like burger joints on all the street corners and call em Mc Disco's or somethin."

"Or Mc Meats."

He smiled a little, "Yeah, something like that."

"So what happened at the Paradise?"

"Nothin’. Again we drive across town. And Merril got us lost again, finally we find the place. It's in some warehouse building, least that's what it looked like. Couldn't of been a warehouse though cause the dance floor was on top of this pool that had a plastic floor built on top of it."

"Pool huh?"

"Yeah - that's the places claim to fame. Dance over the pool. A big deal let me tell ya," he said sarcastically. "So we get there and there's a line outside the place. Well I wasn't gonna wait in line. Not to get into some disco. Plus the people in the line weren't exactly top drawer, know what I mean?"

"Boots and leather?"

"Yeah, like their all fifties rejects from the hells angels. And maybe I didn't take a good look, but I didn't see one girl in that line that I'd wanna be with. So Merril starts whining, tellin' us how the line will only take a few minutes and how we already drove out there. So we're kinda goin' back and forth, stay or not stay, and we're at the end of the building away from the front door. Then a few yards away from us a side door opens up and a couple guys come out. Well Merril runs over and grabs the door before it shuts and then we're in."

"On the sly."

"Yep. Like kids sneakin' into the movies."

"I take it cause we're sittin' here and the hookers are back in the room, Paradise was more Paradise lost."

"Yeah, bunch a crap again. Place was packed. They had these black dancers up on this stage in these see through outfits. And the musics goin' and I don't know, either my hearing was goin' or the music seemed way loud, but I couldn't hear a thing. You know, right away I see Merril and those guys walk over to the bar. They stood there in the back of a big crowd of people jam packed along the whole length of the bar screamin' for drinks. Like that's the first thing they gotta do - it's like they're programmed - they can't be in the place without a drink in their hand. So I'm walkin' around without a drink, and sure enough, I'm an outcast. Ever notice that, everybody always has a drink in those places. I mean without a drink, you’re naked."

I laughed, "The leper."

"And I tell you something, I don't know if it was 'cause I didn't have a drink - but I'd go to talk with these girls and I was gettin' the cold shoulder. I'd look at one and say - how's it goin' - and she'd look at me and then walk off. You know granted, sometimes things click, and you get lucky, but you know - that's rare. And maybe I'm all screwed up, but you know I just don't see the point of it. Why do people go to these clubs? Okay their lonely, they wanna get outta the house, away from the same ol' walls, so they go to this place to meet people, and some go to try and get the quick sex fix. But think about it. Your tryin' to meet someone. But you can't talk to 'em 'cause the musics too loud, your probably half drunk from the booze, you can't even get a good look at 'em 'cause it's too dark or crowded. So you're there to meet somebody, maybe even have sex with 'em. But based on what? Can't talk to 'em, can't really see 'em, your faculties are impaired. See what I'm sayin'? And I don't know how many times I've gone to these places, me, the Nate, and had girls cold shoulder me, or play these stupid games. Like tonight. I meet this girl at that Oz. I talk to her for a couple minutes. She's pretty nice. Then she sorta walks off and starts talkin' to this other guy who I can see is a real drip. And she keeps talkin' to this guy. Almost the whole time we were there she talked to that guy."

"Maybe she liked him, didn't like you."

"Come on. I know how I do with the woman - and not only that, just before we were leaving she comes up to me and goes - you guys aren't leavin' are ya? If she didn't like me what's she doin' comin' up to me like that? She would've ignored me if she didn't like me. But you know she meets me, we talk, sorta hittin' it off - then she's gotta go yap with some other guy for hours to make me jealous or somethin'. You know Joe woman have never been a problem with me - but in those places it's a joke. I just don't get why guys like Merril put themselves through that punishment."

"Way he makes it sound, he's got a good batting average. I've been hittin' pretty good lately."

"You got laid before we came out here. Once. How many times you been laid out of a bar?"

He did have a point. "Once. Well I guess twice - at a bar in Princeton. But I guess that wouldn't really count because I knew the girls."

"And how many times you been in a bar?"

"More than twice."

"Right - and take it from me - Merril ain't as lucky as you think. I spent a lot a time with him carousing last summer and we got laid, but we wasted a hellava lot a time chasin'. And I’m talkin’ time wasted."

Our dinners devoured, we collected our trash and shoved it into a small covered trash bin next to the door. The bin was overflowing with papers and cups oozing out of the trap door in the lid. We continued our discussion as we motored back to the motel.

"Sounds like your sour on the ol' cafe society," I said.

"Been sour on it a long time. I'm just ticked off cause I let Merril cart me all over town. And you know, it's been awhile really since I've been out clubin' it, and I was just lookin' around at those people and they all started looking the same. Blonds, brunettes, red heads, good looking, not so good looking, but so what? They were all the same, standing around with a drink in their hand tryin' to look busy, or talkin' with the first available stiff. It just seems to me the whole things a waste. Guys like Merril seems that's all they do is live for the next night a merry making in the bars. Work, school, just pre-tuning for the merry making."

Nate pulled into our motel's lot and parked the bus. We got out and walked over to the door of our room. I listened but couldn't hear anything. I stepped over to the window and quietly slid it to the side more and again we assumed our voyeur positions. It was an R-rated and wanton cinerama. Brad was on the floor next to the bed without his pants on. His whore was leaning over him, at his waist, her back to his face, working on him. At one point she said, "Honey you got one big dong here. Ooh this is a big dong." It appeared the whore was not just patronizing. In it's telescopic form it appeared Brad was quite endowed. On the bed was Klug with the blonde hoar, she was naked mounted atop him at the midriff. Her hip was belly dancing back and forth on him. Her body looked pale and skinny, and she was flat. Klug didn't seem to be too caught up in the whole thing. His expression seemed more akin to a scientist fact-finding than a young hedonist enwrapped in the loins of lascivious ruttishness. I stepped back from the window and so did Nate. I sat down on the curb. The saturnalia inside between the errant knaves I found rather stale, flat, and unprofitable. Nate sat down and leaned back on his hands, he said, "Smitty's perfect evidence disproven the theory that girls want a guy that's well hung. At school you know he had a couple a girls, and he got his share - but he's never had 'em knockin' down the doors to have a go with the Apollo booster."

I told him the story about Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the statues.

He observed: "Sounds like Fitzgerald was sort of gullible for a big time writer. Typical of broads though, always tryin' to find somethin' to put over on ya."

"Yeah - but keep in mind - those days were before playboy and x-ratings. I wonder if everyone was more naive back then. I wonder if couples waited until they got married."

"You know you'd think you'd wanna test drive the thing for ya got married."

"Mr. theoretical tonight aren't you?"

"Just wonderin."

"Seems like a lot goes over these days. Pre-marital sex isn't a big deal, couples living together without being married."

"A good time to be alive."

"Suppose so – even if we've been sheltered."

He just shook his head and said, "That chick was fuckin' with ya. You know, that deal was all about intimidation – she was intimidated by you."

"Me? How do you figure?"

"Think about it. Pretty obviouse she was a semi-groupie pass around – and she knew it. And she's insecure about it. She meets you, Mr. Clean Harvard, and you intimidated her – she didn't think anyway in hell she was going to get you to take her serious."

"That’s not true. I might of taken her serious, depending on the circumstance."

He rolled his eyes slightly, "Come on Joey. Did she even go to college? Sounds like she smokes like a chimney. And she pretty much admitted to you she was passed around Hollywood. After five years with a girl the class of Janie – you're gonna stoop to that chick? Miss Virginia Slim?"

I shrugged, "Well."

"Yeah, well."

"Okay, so – just because she doesn't think I'll take her serious – why she gotta fool around with me like that?"

"'Cause she's a chick – I don't know. Somethin' was rattlin' around up there in her head. Part of her probably wanted to see if she could sucker you in. Part of her probably wanted to fool around. Maybe she wanted to fool around then maybe you said somethin' or just maybe her sense kicked in and she pulled out – said to herself, this guy just wants to fuck around, fuck him."

"Yeah, that’s probably what it was – she got smart all of a sudden. Where you comin' up with this stuff?"

He shrugged and said something that genuinely surprised me, "Hey, I'm the Nate, been hated all my life. Every once in a while I've ran into the dark side."

I winced a little with disbelief and said, "What are you talkin' about – I've never known anyone better liked than you. I've never heard anyone say anything bad about you. Especially in high school."

He shook his head, "Geeze Joe, sometimes I gotta wonder about you. Like I said before – that chick was right – you were sheltered. You're sort of right, in high school on the surface I was well liked, no doubt. But in high school if guys were envious or whatever, they were too young and dumb to do anything about it – it was college that I saw it really. Especially in a fraternity. I mean, guys get along and all, but some guys are really up tight and take it really personal that their just, you know…"

"No I don't know – what?"

"You know, just naturally sort of a loser."

"A loser?"

"Ya, you know – somebody girls aren’t gonna take serious, much less put out for, or they just aren’t up to par, they're twerps, or like Smitty – he's got his good points – but he's not exactly suave and deboner."

"I don't know – he can put it on, sorta. He looks okay in a blazer and tie."

"Yeah maby, but no matter how you dress it up - he's still Smitty."

"Smitty isn't envious of you, or me. Least I don't think."

"No, he's not – at least it hasn't surfaced really if he is. At bottom Smitty's a pretty good guy."

"So this sorta goes along with what you were sayin' to me once a couple years back about how everyone is stacked on various levels – like you and I are on a level, Smitty not on quite the same level, etcetera?"

"Yeah, I guess it sorta goes along with it – some guys either are on a lower level or think they're on a lower level – and there real insecure about it."

"All this you learned at UCLA?"

He shook his head, "No paley, I learned it all over. Look life's got the light side, and the dark side. Older we get – the more we get to see the dark."

"I don't know Nate, like I said, I doubt I've ever heard anyone say anything untoward about you. At least seriously, with venom."

"Well Joey, its like this – you're a friend of mine and most everybody we know, knows this, so they aren't gonna blatently say anything untoward to you about me. And vice versa. But I'm just tellin' you its out there. Now its pretty hard to say much about us – 'cause we're pretty low key and we handle ourselves okay; but I've seen it, people don't like guys with too much goin' for 'em."

"So what happened at UCLA that educated you to the ways of the world?"

"Just bein' in the thick of the football team, and the fraternity. I'll give you an example, You remember Paul Craig?"

"Sure." Paul had played football with us in high school, and I considered him a friend from those days, not a close one, but a friend nonetheless.

"Well he was a Sigma Alpha at UCLA, considered the top house among the fraternities there. Anyway – they rushed me pretty hard, and I was probably going to go with them – but I never got a bid outa them. And Smitty rushed 'em too apparently – and he never got a bid. Then after I joined up with Smitty's fraternity and got to know some of the guys in the Sigma Alpha house – I come to find out that I was gonna get a bid – but I got whats called a ding. What that means is one a the members of the house votes no on you and you're blackballed. In that house it only takes one no vote to cancel you out."

"Paul told you you got blackballed?"

He smiled and laughed lightly, then shook his head, "No Sherlock – Paul Craig was the guy who dinged me."

"Seriously? You sure about that?"

"Yep, I told Smitty about it – and he said the guy dinged him too. I never had any problems with that guy – why would he ding me and Smitty from the house?"

"I don't know – okay, maybe he's a big cheese in the house and he didn't want anybody from back home queerin' that."

"Yeah – or somethin' like that. Anyway one of his frat brothers who didn't like him told Smitty all about it."

"Huh."

"Yeah, huh."

"I don't know why he would ding you guys. I thought he was a friend really."

"Ya – but he wasn't in our close group, he didn't grow up with us, you know. And he probably thought in his little mind that we were keeping him on the outs or somethin'. You know – so now we all go up to UCLA and its payback time. It’s a competitive world joey boy. And ol' Paul Craig plays the game."

"I knodded. "Yeah, sounds plausible, it just doesn't make sense. I would think you'd want your friends with you."

"Well, maybe like I was sayin, he didn't think we were all that good a friends, and he was just thinking fuck all if he was gonna spend another four years playin' second fiddle to Brad Smith and Nate Browning. Either that, or Smitty and I just don't cut the grey poupon – that house was pretty trendy, lot a pretty boys from big time big buck areas, Beverly Hills, Palos Verdes, you know."

"Sounds like that’s more probable – he was embarrassed to be from Green Acres Claremont.

Nate smiled, "Yeah, whatever. Now we're really fallin' behind with this fishin' thing.

"Yep, some people are wonderin'."

"You did the smart thing – go to college someplace where no one knew ya and you had to get by on just your good looks – and football talent."

I knodded some more, "Yeah, I think I see more about what your talking about."

"Lucky for you, you got the family trust fund, real of it is – you're not gonna have to get too far into the real world and fight it out."

And you're gonna have to?

"Yeah, I'm gonna have to. You're right though, I don't think it’s a good idea to be too paranoid. Just aware."

Just then the door opened and the hookers came out. First the blond. She had a big purple purse over her shoulder. She was buttoning her blouse which was well open. Then each of the two black whores. All of them were wearing tight brightly colored clothes and lacy black nylons. They all had brightly colored exceedingly long fingernails. As Brad's hooker came through the doorway she was saying in a high screeching voice, "Hun I never seen a dong dat big, you shoulda seen it, whew it was a big one. And I seen a lot a dongs."

Nate and I walked into the room. I noticed a stale smell, similar to a locker room. Klug was in bed. Brad on the floor in a sleeping bag. Merril came out of the bathroom wearing his boxers.

Nate started in on Brad mimicking the whores voice in a high pitch, "Oh what a big dong you have there white boy. A big dong. A donkey dong. Your girl know what a donkey dong you got, huh white boy? Cost you extra white boy to swallow that big dong."

Merril added, "Regular mouthful, huh Smitty."

Brad said, "You assholes are just jealous."

Nate asked, "Was it worth it?"

Brad said, "Naw - mine wouldn't even let me screw her."

Merril said, "She was afraid you'd cut her a new hole."

"Klug got laid," Nate said. "Big time."

"Yeah - she wasn't so bad. Tight bod," Klug said.

"What about you Merril? I know you got some story to tell."

Merril shrugged. "I got laid."

Nate was skeptical. "Merril you nailed that whore? She was a buffalo."

"She had the Winnebegos all right," Merril said. "Yeah she liked it. Thought the tub action was kinky."

"So how much did all the fun cost you bucketheads?" Nate asked.

"Not much," Merril said.

"How much Klug? I know you had to shell it out for that prize."

"Hundred and a half," Klug said.

Nate shook his head and asked, "How much for you Smitty?"

"I don't know, I don't count it."

"A hundred and a half Klug?" Nate said. "To plow some girl you wouldn't look twice at in a bar?"

"No way man. She wasn't bad really. I'da looked twice at her. She was a with it girl man. Just sorta dumb."



The war stories over, we all hit the sack for again another night, while outside our solid wood door and stucco shelter the unreal city played out it's history, and the moon and the sun kept an orbital vigil in search of the equinox, and we, in quiescent recuperation, made ready for also a sun rising and another days revelry.





7 My eyes opened and all I saw was the side of the bed rising next to me and the wall close on my other side. For a moment I wondered where I was, and even felt a slight pang of panic. Then I realized - oh yeah - I was in that lousy motel room. Then I felt the floor I was laying on, hard and cold, like a rock. The slim body of padding in my sleeping bag did little to insulate and comfort me, and along my body were sore spots - floor sores. I hadn't slept well. Though I drank little alcohol the night before in the bars, my head felt heavy and still sleepy as if slightly hung over. The room was lit dimly from the morning light brightening the white curtains over the window. I sat up, slid out of the bag, walked over to the window and pulled the curtain over slightly to look out. Though the bright sunlight hit my eyes suddenly, It was a stale scene, a near empty parking lot surrounded by yellow stucco walls and two stacked rows of evenly spaced brown doors. I could see stars of refracted sunlight bursting off the windows and chrome of the cars. And there were muffled whooshing sounds from the passing street traffic.

Well I was up, I thought. And what about these guys? Brad was below me on the floor in a sleeping bag, as I had been. In the bed under the covers was Klug, and next to him in a sleeping bag was Nate. All three were motionless, breathing only, dead to the world. I went into the bathroom and turned on the light. Merril was in the tub again, a sleeping bag twisting around him. The light didn't bother his sleep. I again slid the shower curtain closed, then used the toilet; after that I went back to my sleeping bag and laid down again. And again, like a bad habit, I thought about Jane. How when we had been together in motel rooms, how she looked sleeping in bed, her bare shoulders coming out of the sheets and her yellow hair. Then I stopped thinking about it and scolded myself, told myself that I had to stop thinking about her.

I leaned over to my bag and fished around in the clothes and pulled out one of the books I had brought, Brideshead Revisited. I already had the book mostly licked, only the last few pages to read, when Charles realizes love has died between he and the army, and he is middle aged, homeless, childless, loveless, and a friend to Hooper. I quickly turned my bag around so that my head was toward the end of the bed, where there was more light, the window light being less shaded from the bed. I began reading. After about fifteen minutes I had come to the final line of the story: "Your looking unusually cheerful today, said the second-in-command." The book had been a good read, and had taken me awhile to read it, for I had a bad habit of going back and re-reading some of Waugh's more beautifully composed passages. I was doing that again, going back to Charles' conversion to the baroque, and the languor of youth - how unique and quintessential it is! When out of the periphery of my vision I saw Klug leaning on his side, above me at the other end of the bed, he was looking at me, blank faced, the look a monkey in a zoo gives a spectator. I said, without looking up from my book, "Klug - you awake - or is that how you sleep?"

"I'm awake," he said. "What is that?"

"It's a book. You've seen one before haven't you?"

"What's it called?" He was squinting his eyes, as if needing spectacles, "Bride-es-head Re-vised, Ev-elyn Wog-h?"

"Waugh."

"Never heard a her - what kind a book is that?"

"She's a he - and it's a novel."

"Oh," he said, then he shook his head. "Bad name man. Probably got the poundin' when he was a kid."

"Maybe."

With Klug staring at me I didn't much feel like reading so I closed the book and set it on the floor, "You getting up Klug?"

"Yeah - probably," he said. "You finished with that book?"

"Yeah."

"Can I read it?"

"Sure," I picked it up and tossed it over to him.

He took the book and shrugged, "Might like it." He sat up on his pillow and started flicking the pages and reading.

The reading had made me a little sleepy again, I halfway dozed off. A few minutes later, in my doze, a bright light brightened my eyelids. I opened my eyes and it was Nate pulling the curtain open. I heard Brad on the other side of the bed say, "Gawd - close that thing."

"Come on Smitty - get up," Nate said, again in his Napoleonic voice. "It's almost eleven." Then Nate looked at me, "You gonna sleep all day too?"

"I was up already - but you guys were sleeping," I said, then sat up.

Nate looked at Klug who was still reading. In a chiding tone, he asked, "Klug what the hell are you doin'?"

"Readin' man."

"Since when can you read?"

"I like readin' - just don't have time."

Brad from the floor said, "Yeah, like you’re so busy."

"Hey, I went to college too ya know," Klug said.

Brad sat up, his hair was all matted to one side and his eyes looked swollen.

Nate scrutinized the book, "Brideshead Revisited, sounds like one a Joey's."

"Yeah it's kinda cool," Klug said.

"Aren't you gonna need a dictionary?" Brad said.

"No man, it's not hard at all - got some screwy Latin here though. Hey Joey - what's eat in acadia ego mean?"

"Means, I too lived in arcadia."

"Come on Klug - you didn't know that?" Nate said.

"Yeah man - and you did. You learned Latin at fucla, what a fest."

"Sounds kinda limp wristed to me," Brad said.

"It's culture Smitty - something you know a lot about," Nate said.

"I'll pass," Brad said.

"It is kinda queerie," Klug said, "but it's cool. Listen." And he cocked his neck bringing his chin up to assume a simpering British look and air, and through a stiff chin, his throaty aqua pitched voice taking on an exaggerated English accent, he said, "Cheerio chum! We shant be long now! Rightyoh!" Then he chuckled his Popeye gargle.

Brad and Nate looked at Klug with blank expressions. Then Brad said, "Your gonna read that crap Klug?"

Klug said, "Yeah man, I sorta like it."

Nate looked at me, "That book any good?"

"Yeah - it's a great work," I said.

"What's it about?" Nate asked.

"Don't tell 'em - let me finish," Klug said.

"It's okay Klug - knowing the basic story won't kill it for you - it's not a murder mystery," I said.

"Well don't tell 'em too much," Klug said.

"I won't. It's about the decline of an English aristocratic family before World War two."

Brad said, "Right up your alley Klug - decline that is."

Nate said, "Decline huh - what they do - lose their ass in the stock market?"

"No, it's a little more complicated," I said.

Nate had stepped over to the bathroom. He turned on the light and said loudly, "Merril get up - we're outta here - we need the shower."



We dressed which took almost an hour with each of us showering and crowding around the sink to shave and comb. Merril was moving slow, was way behind having laid down on the bed to get a quick catnap on the soft mattress.

I was stepping into my Levis when Klug, already dressed, looked at me from over by the bed table and asked, "Hey, you seen my wallet?"

I said, "No."

He then looked through the drawers of the bed table, and under the bed, as if he was snooping around. Then he looked on the bed at Merril, "Hey Fraze - you see my wallet?"

Merril said through closed eyes, "No."

Then Brad, who had his pants on and was slipping on a T-shirt said, "You know now that you mention it - wonder where my wallet is? I thought it was in these pants. I'm almost sure." He was patting his hands over the pockets and his face took on an abandoned look.

Klug then said, with a sharp edge of panic in his voice, "Hey man, I can't find my wallet. I had it last night - I had it when I paid the girl, just before I nailed her." He looked at Brad, "Your wallets gone man?"

"Yeah - I think it is," Brad said looking about the room.

Klug looked at Merril, "Fraze - you got your money?"

Merril turned over in the bed and said as he got up, "I don't know. He stepped over to his pants piled on the floor in the corner of the room and checked the pockets, "Goddamn!" he snapped. "They got my money!" He cursed and called the hookers vile names.

"Your money?" Brad wined, "I had over fifteen hundred bucks!" He laid his hands open, jerking them as he said loud, "I can't believe it! They stole from us!"

Klug limply sat down on the bed, "Man - I had over a grand. What an enema!"

Nate walked out of the bathroom wearing his boxers; a razor was in one hand and shaving cream over half his face, apparently he had heard it all from the bathroom. "Are you guys sayin' your broke, that you got rolled by those whores?"

Brad was on the edge of the bed sitting in the thinker position. Klug was sitting with his forearms limp on his knees looking down at the floor. Both were a bleak site. Merril was pacing the room like a bull in a pen cussing up a storm in a hissing voice that resembled compressed air.

Nate watched Merril for a second and said, "Merril why don't you cool your jets - it's your fault they're in this mess."

"My fault?! My fault?!" Merril shouted.

"Yeah - your the one who brought up the idea to get the hookers and kept harpin' on it. Your the one who's brains lodged between his balls."

"Fine, it's my fault, all my fault," Merril said agitated, mocking a confession.

"I don't think it's anybodies fault," I said. "The point is we have a lot less money."

"Man we don't got any money," Klug said.

"We're screwed. That's it. We're screwed," Brad said, throwing up his arms.

Nate went back in and finished shaving. I reclined on the bed, my back against the wall. The others sulked and cussed, at one point Klug said, "I don't know man, it don't look good."

The ultimate in demeaning appellation for the female persuasion flew in the air like Chinese fire crackers popping.

"So now what do we do?" Brad said finally, settling down some.

"I don't know man, I don't know," Klug said.

"There's not much you can do - what are you guys gonna do broke?" Merril said.

"I know. I ain't goin' nowhere with no money," Brad said.

"Your right man, I feel naked goin' anywhere broke," Klug said. "This is a dumb deal man, a dumb deal."

I said, "Maybe it's best this way, it'll force us to concentrate on getting jobs."

Merril said, "Concentrate on getting jobs? Yeah - you'll be concentrating on how to eat. Smitty - your used to first class - now your gonna bum around?"

"Really - I ain't gonna be beggin' you and Nate for money all the time - you guys'll stein me the whole way. Especially that asshole Nate," Brad said.

"Yeah that's bleak man. Real bleak goin' to Nate for cashola," Klug said.

"Just what you need huh Smitty - a summer bein' Nate's lacky," Merril said.

"Hey Merril - can it," Nate said emerging clean and clean shavin from the bathroom. As he grabbed his clothes and dressed he said, "Okay Joe how much you got?"

"Bout seven-fifty," I said.

"Okay, so I got five," Nate said, "that's a grand. That'll get us up there and a place to stay and enough left over to eat for a month - if we eat light. If we run out a money then we come back. I don't see a problem."

"There's four a you guys - a place for a month is gonna cost you five hundred," Merril said. "Four a you guys are gonna eat for five hundred? This is the eighties now - age a hyper-inflation."

"I don't know man, Frasure I think's right," Klug said.

"Hell it's gonna cost you guys a hundred bucks just for gas'in up for the rest of the trip." Merril said.

"He's right," Brad said, "he's right. We're screwed."

Nate looked hard at Brad, "Smitty, I can't believe you. All ya gotta do is call your dad and they'll send ya more money."

"Are you kidding?" Brad said. "They weren't exactly thrilled on this thing in the first place. And I'm gonna call 'em and tell 'em I lost fifteen hundred bucks? And I'm gonna tell em I lost it to a black whore?"

"Come on Smitty," Nate said, "your parents will spring for it. What if you were in Europe or something on vacation, huh?"

"Not the same thing," Brad said.

"Yeah it is," Nate said. "And you know you don't need to tell 'em about the whores. Just say your wallet got stolen."

"What about Klug?" Merril reminded.

"What about him?" Nate asked. "He can borrow from us."

Merril said, "Klug you gonna want to get cheaped by these guys for the summer?"

"I don't know man," Klug said, glumly.

"What if you get some gal that wants to lay ya," Merril said. "Think these guys'll loan you money to take her out?"

Nate looked at Merril crosswise, "Don't you gotta take a shower?"

"I'm just pointing a few things out," Merril said.

"Look Klug we'll get you handled," Nate said, "and Smitty why don't you just phone home right now."

"Their not even home," Brad said.

"Where are they?" Nate asked.

"Probably Palm Springs."

"Call 'em there."

"Naw. I'll call my dad Monday at the office. He's easier at the office."

"They're ya go," Nate said, then looking at Klug, "don't worry about it Klug. What are ya gonna do anyway at home - surf? No, you'll probably have to go get a job - you'll be just as broke at home as you are here. May as well hang with us awhile longer, we'll loan you money, and you've come this far."

Klug moved his head to each side and reluctantly agreed.

As we gathered our bags and repacked the bus, Merril was getting ready. He was still in the shower when we were standing around in the parking lot next to the bus, ready to leave. Nate came out of the room and said, "Okay let's roll."

"What about Fraze?" Klug said.

"What about him?" Nate asked.

"Is he comin'?" Klug asked.

"I don't know. We did our job didn't we - and now we're leavin'," Nate said.

"He doesn't have any money," Klug said.

"He'll get by," Smitty said with a smug smile.

I pulled out my roll of bills and peeled off a twenty. "Here I'll leave him a twenty - why don't you to the same," I said to Nate.

Nate pulled out his bills and peeled off a ten and handed it to me, "We'll leave him twenty. No use bein' too generous. He'll call down south and get someone to wire em' up some money." He took the bill inside the room, and the rest of us got in the bus.

Brad wanted to drive, I rode co-pilot. Nate came back and got in the bus and we pulled out of the lot.

"Did you even say anything to Merril?" I asked.

Nate said, "No."

I said, "Oh well."



There in the city, the day was one of those almost unreal, resplendently clear, filled with the water light. Sky was deeply blue with a few white billowy puffs of cloud. As we came atop a hill with a view, the bay water was deeply blue with veins of turquoise. Hanging about the bay, crawling on cats paws through the Golden Gate, and fingering into the city was fog. The thick white gray steamy cover made it look as if lengths of the city had disappeared, or, as with the fog that had moved over a section of the financial district, it gave the high-rise buildings, piercing the blanket, the look as if the concrete and glass were founded on a billowy misty empyrean landscape. The fog was partially enveloping the Golden Gate from just above the roadway span downward. The orange iron spires and the suspension cables rose above the mist, like sails on racing sloops running on a gray sea. As we drove from the hilltop into the city the day alternated from the brilliant sunshine to a dreary overcast.

Soon we were on the bay bridge, well in the sun, high over the blue bay on the bottom deck span, heading northbound to the 503 expressway which would eventually take us back to the 5. Nate was on the floor sleeping. Klug was laying over the rear seat reading my book, and appearing, to my surprise, well engrossed in the Brideshead revisit. Sleeping on the linoleum floor had made faint strides toward quenching my fatigue. I felt the need for a nice feathery bed, but had to improvise. I settled into my seat, brought a leg up, placing the knee against the dash, and, to the lullaby of the clappity engine, I dozed off.





8 Coming awake I glanced at my watch, I had slept over an hour. I looked over my shoulder and saw that Nate and Klug were still asleep. We were back into countryside, on a meandering highway, with the land cambering gently on each side before rising into hills in the near distance, all of it covered with long green yellow meadow grass. Occasionally, in the green over a hillside, or on the cambered flatlands, like a square red brown patch on a quilt, were dirt fields of cultivated grape vines. The squat, twisting, and knotted trunks of the vines sprouted small green leaves and looked like variants of bonsai. Other fields looked recently fallowed, the dirt clumped and dark, and above the furrows ran rows of string line between yard high wood stakes. Along some of the lines were bantling vines strung out of the ground and attached to the lines, the vines winding fragile up to the lines like black twine with tiny green teardrop leaves. Between the fields ran tire rutted roads of light brown clay. A small wood home or barn sometimes swept by. Then I saw a couple homes way off the road, up on knolls, which were large and stately, like European country estate houses. My guess was that we were in the Napa wine country. A small road sign went fleeing by, and I thought I had read that it listed the highway number as 128. Being in the wine country and on a highway 128 didn't seem right. I didn't recall a 128 on the map along the route between San Francisco and the 5. "You know where you’re going?" I asked Brad.

"Yeah, goin' north."

"Shouldn't we be on the 5 by now?"

"I dunno. I'm just followin' the signs."

"Which road did you take when we were well out of San Francisco?"

"The 80, same road as the bridge. Then I took the first sign that said north."

"It just said north?"

"No said Napa - north."

"Napa? I don't think we're supposed to be going toward Napa," I said, pulling out the map from the small tin lidded glove box. I unfolded it, the paper becoming large in front of me. After a quick study of the varicose veins of lines over the shape of northern California, I saw sure enough we were well off our designated beatin' path. "Brad - you took a wrong turn. You took the 8, then the 22, now were on the 128. Have we come to Yontville?"

"What ville?"

"Yontville."

"I think it was back aways. We went through some small pony town with a bunch a old trashy buildings."

"That was probably it. This isn't the right way."

"Sign said north. We're goin' north right?"

"Not that simple," I said. I made some re-navigations then told him, "Stay on the 128 here to St. Helena - but don't take the 128 east to Davis - whatever you do. We'll just take this road to the 101 - and take the 101 up. Screwed up Smitty."

"How much more time will it take?"

"Couple hours probably."

I stayed awake to insure Brad navigated the 128 properly. If we went toward Davis eventually the 128 would take us to the 505, then the 5, but both the 128 and the 505 looked like country roads and would probably take hours to negotiate; so I made the command decision and switched us northbound by the 101 route.

In the south, the 101 ran through the L.A. basins then became the coastline route between Ventura and San Louis Obispo. Along that stretch the 101 was not at all as rugged or scenic as that of the more northern 1. Mostly a uniform view of arching hills to the east of the roadside covered with dry brown grass, and across the road, a sandy pebbly coastline which swept passively and shallow into the dark green blue expanse. At San Louis Obispo the 101 turned inland and ran through the San Benito and Monterey Mountains. The mountains became more hilly and variant, green and treed, the more northward. In Southern California, the 101 was not a prime artery after leaving the L.A. basins, functioning really as a link to and between the small inland towns within the mountains. But in Northern California, at a town called Legget, the 101 intersects the highway 1 at the one's northern most endpoint, and from there the 101 replaces the one as the prime western most route. From Legget, the 101 continues through the Humbolt Hills and mountains to abutting the coastline once again at Eureka. We would, if I had read the map correctly, meet the 101 by the 128 at a place called Geyserville in the Sonoma Hills, well south of Legget. As we became more northern, the hills amplified, the contours became rugged and the grassy cover turned afroed with shrub trees with green gray foliage. We past quickly through the small quaint rustic tourist traps of Castiloga and Philo. Each a romanticized country town scene of tiny homes and shop buildings in Queen Anne and stick Victorian. Some of houses, though small, had big house flourishes - small square and round towers capped with pointed roofs. Most all the houses were elaborated with complex spindle work and painted in bright enameled colors.

Soon we were on the 101 and the country became mountainous. Slopes steeply angled from the road on both sides to ridgelines that rose and fell sharply between broad summits. The road was following the curvature of a narrow valley. Then after going into a hillside through a long tunnel we came back out into shade and the road abutted the Russian River. The valley had become wider, and the water flowed just below the roadway over a wide rocky sluice strewn with large smooth and inchoate boulders. White caps from the water splashing over the rocks speckled over a blue gray sheen. Over the banks on the other side were groves of large sycamores with tall stout trunks and broad open crowns of foliage turning a gold brown. The trunks were a light brown with darker spots and I could see a couple had fallen over to lay atop the river between boulders.

We followed the river a couple of miles, then the road began rising above the valley floor and soon turned back into the mountains away from the valley. The road kept climbing and, higher up, the forest was beginning with clusters of fir and cypress. Then the road came around a bend into a forest of the trees. Then around another bend, and we came out of the forest and were high over the valley floor rolling over a silver steel girdered trestle bridge. Way below, a couple hundred foot plunge, the valley was thick with the gold brown foliage of the sycamores, and the sun glimmered over the water as it flowed along the rocky bed. Over the bridge, we were back in the forest.

We rounded a few more hillsides and came to a small town, Willits. More a roadside stop than a town. There was a gas station and a small store in a cabin – its walls were of plywood painted a dull red, all under a gray tin roof. We pulled into the station to top off the gas tank. I got out of the bus and walked around. Nate and Brad went into the cabin to pay for the gas, Klug again manned the pump. I stepped over to him and asked as he was inserting and working the pump nozzle, "So you still reading the book?"

With the nozzle inserted into the side of the bus, and gas flowing, he looked at me and said in his newly found british twang, "Ryteo."

"You like it?"

"It's okay. Sort a beastly here and there."

"Beastly huh, how far you gotten?"

"I was sorta readin' around. Just picken up on the lingo. It's sorta lame here and there but I'm gettin' it. They really talk that way?"

"It's fairly accurate I'd say."

"It seems kinda hyped."

"Hyped?"

"Yeah - you know - too proper. It's kinda kool though, all those clubs and how they lived with lunches and teas and all that civilized crap. Think it was really like that?"

"I think so. Still a lot like it I hear."

"You think they still screw around with tea? I mean sometimes I don't even got time for lunch."

"It's a ritual, I think they still do it."

Nate came out, followed by Brad holding a small bag of potato chips in one hand and with the other, dipping it in the bag and pulling out fingers full of potato chips before stuffing them into his mouth. He said, his mouth still smacking on the chips, "Hey it's almost three, when we gonna eat?"

"I'm sorta hungry too," Nate said. "Oughta be somethin' around here."

After we gassed up, we drove down the road and spotted a small diner in a large log walled building. A small neon sign claimed it was the Ice House Inn. We parked with Nate announcing the place as looking "Pretty good."

Brad assessed, "Better than that bean dip joint yesterday."

Klug said, "I liked that place man - good tacos – sorta like Mazatlon."

We walked over a hollow sounding porch of wood planks into the diner. The interior was sided with the other side of the logs, shiny with varnish, and as such, the room was darkened. The ceiling rose along the slope of the end gables and appeared to be cedar planks, also varnished. Along the walls were hurricane lamps and hanging from the ceiling were small wagon wheels carrying small bellied jar lamps around the rims. Red vinyl booths ran down one wall and wood tables with wood chairs filled the dining room. We slid into one of the booths. There were a few other patrons - local looking calibans. We looked around and took a gander of them. At one table there were four in jeans and wool shirts, one had a down vest with a rip in the back and the stuffing was oozing through. One wore a billed cap with a patch sewn on the front - a yellow silhouette of a bulldozer and the word CAT in capitals underneath. All four wore their hair long and disheveled with long sideburns - a couple had beards. At another booth was a similar looking pair. At another table were two ladies, both plump, one actually quite amazonian, she wore a tight fitting sweatshirt that strained to cover her amplitude. Klug said after we had taken in the place, "Hey where's Yogi?"

The waitress came by and brought us water and menus. She was young looking, a teenager, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. She had an awkward looking out of proportion baby huey body, thick legs and midriff, and flat above the waist. Her arms and shoulders were husky and thick, and filled her t-shirt. Her face was plain and pale, round and plumpish, with soft features, slight acne, and a prominently weak chin. She had spindly blond hair that came off her head to her shoulders from a crooked part, a few curls dripped on the sides. A half baked try at infusing body. She was shy with us, quiet and business like in her manner. After silently handing us our menus all she said was, "The special today is barbecue pork. Then she walked off."

Klug made a face and said, "Beastly."

Nate said, "We can't all be pretty. I think she likes Smitty."

Brad said, "She's lame. Look at this place, these people."

"Country road jamboree," Klug said.

Nate asked Brad, "What's wrong with this place?"

"I just don't like it. I don't like rednecks," Brad said.

"Smitty don't take a hankerin' for the billy bobs," Klug said.

"Your a snob Smitty," Nate said.

"So what?" Brad said.

"It's Green Acres man, where's Mr. Ziffle?" Klug said.

The menus were a simple four by eleven piece of paper, were mimeographed copies of a hand written master. The mimeograph was the blue carbon type, pre-xerox hand crank technology. Klug said, "Man it's the old blue stuff from school - remember."

Brad said, "How back assed can ya be - they don't even have a damn xerox machine 'round here."

Klug was holding the paper up to his nose, "Smell it man, can you smell it, 'member that smell?"

Nate looked at Klug a little peevishly, "Your just beside yourself here huh guy?"

I noticed our waitress had been over talking rather lengthy and cordially - even flirtatiously, it appeared, to the four sodbusters across the room. When she left their table she came over to ours. She said as little as possible and seemed hurried. I doubted she was all that busy; it was just us, and the three other tables. I think she didn't feel quite at home with us city slickers. After we had all given her our orders, Nate made a friendly gesture and asked the girl, "So is this your restaurant?"

She looked at Nate quickly, and her eyes widened as if caught off guard by the question, then she shook her head and said, "No-ah, no it's not," then walked off.

Klug laughed, "She's star struck man."

Brad said looking at Nate, "You're a kiss ass."

"Just bein' friendly Smitty," Nate said.

"With that ugly thing - yuk," Brad said.

"Well Smitty it ain't easy bein' ugly - pricks like you won't talk to ya."

"Yeah. So what," Brad said.

"Precisely," I said.

"What?" Brad said looking at me.

Nate smiled.

We were quiet a moment as we each leaned back and settled in. Klug then asked me regarding the book, "So Joey man, what's the deal with this Sebastian - is he sorta a clown or what?"

"Yeah, I guess you could say he's sort of screwy," I said.

"Is he a lame brain or just a screw off?" Klug asked.

I smiled, "Screw off, I guess."

"So what's the comedy with the bear man? Isn't he kinda old to be runnin' around with a stuffed bear? And talkin' to it."

"Yeah, I'd say so."

"Wouldn't the guys pound on 'em though - runnin' around campus with a teddy bear. I don't see a guy gettin' away with that at Claremont Men's."

"Or at Princeton, or at UCLA," I said. "But the story is taking place at an earlier time, and at Oxford in England. And he was a lord. I'm sure he was considered eccentric but in the context of the story, at that time and place, yeah I think it's plausible. And Waugh I think shows fairly well that Sebastian had a way about him that could get away with flamboyant eccentricity."

Klug's mouth was slightly agape as he took in my attempts to support the reality of the book. I believed the book, because I was more learned about those times in post first World War England. But to Klug it was a brave new world and must have seemed surreal.

Nate then asked, "What is all this? Teddy bears on campus and oddball English lords. What's that book about anyway?"

I said, "I told you - it's about an English aristocratic family."

"Sounds like crud to me," Brad said, "what the hell is an aristocrat anyway? Who's an aristocrat in this country?"

"There isn't any titled aristocracy in this country," I said, "no lords or viscounts or barons, everyone's equal, in theory. In this country we have a moneyed aristocracy, or as Menken called it - a plutocracy."

"What about the DuPont's, and Rockerfeller's, and the Kennedy's?" Nate said.

"Like I said, they're not earls or lords, just rich," I said.

"Who's Menken?" Nate asked.

"H. L. Menken, a well known social commentator in the thirties. He wrote a lot about the lack of culture and true refinement in this country, said our culture was too controlled by the fashionable folk, wealthy industrialists with interior decorator - country club mentalities."

Klug said, "Sounds like Smitty."

I said, "Yeah, I guess Brad is kind of an American aristocrat."

"Kinda is right - and that's stretchin' it," Nate said.

"An aristocrat huh," Brad said, "kinda like the sound a that."

Klug laughed and said, "Such a comedy - Lord Smitty."

"Yeah - the Earl of Cucamonga," Nate said.

We laughed.

Our food came and quietly the waitress set our plates down in front of us. After she had finished she was turning to leave without saying anything, and Nate said, "Thank you."

She turned and looked at Nate with a slight quiet smile, then quickly walked away.

With his cheeks bulging with food Klug asked again referring to the book, "That guy with the stutter - Blanch - he queer?"

"Yeah pretty much I guess," I said. "Although Waugh indicates I think, he plays both sides of the street."

"He's a flamer. He got pounded though - dumped in the fountain," Klug said.

"I don't think he was too appreciated by his peers. Waugh uses Blanch as a contrast to Sebastian and Charles. Blanch appears to live a squalid lust induced lifestyle. Whereas Sebastian and Charles their relationship is much different."

"What is this a homo book?" Nate said.

Klug said, "Not really man. But sorta. Joey - are those guys fags?"

"Waughs vague about the whole thing. If a homosexual reads the book I think he would say they were down the line gays and the relationship portrayed is an idealization of that form. But we're not gay, and have been reared in a prejudicial anti-homosexual society."

"And proud of it," Brad interrupted.

I looked at Brad, "Right - see. So we would probably be less inclined to see the book in homosexual terms. We see the relationship between Sebastian and Charles as a special friendship based on their unique highly refined sensibilities. Their bond being not lust or sex, but a heightened appreciation of the great beauty and pleasures in their life."

Nate shook his head, "That's how it is with the Kelly's - they got their own language."

"Nate man," Klug said, "I kinda see what he's sayin' - you gotta read the book."

Nate looked at Klug a moment blank faced, then belched.

Klug's answer to that, in an even more exaggerated and hearty impish twang, "I say ol' boy - that was splendid."

I smiled, Smitty rolled his eyes and gave a snide glance toward Klug. Nate allowed a slight grin.

We ate for a few minutes quietly, then Nate said, "Good thing we got Joey ridin' shotgun - with Smitty at the helm we'd probably be in Vegas."

"I followed the signs," Brad said.

"Smitty," Nate said, "there's lots a roads leadin' to Rome, but we're tryin' to take the quickest one. Now here we are somewhere in Egypt."

"We're not that far off, Joey says we're only goin' to lose an hour or so," Brad said.

"Couple a hours - at least. Not an hour or so," Nate said.

"Then you drive," Brad said.

I said, "On the map, I saw we might be able to make up some time by taking the 61. It cuts off from the 101 at Crescent City and goes to the five. I think that could be the fastest way to go."

"Crescent City - the Wave Surf Shop's up there," Klug said.

"The Wave Surf Shop?" Nate asked sounding incredulous.

"Yeah man, it's the most northern surf shop in California, and it's got a big Oahu Bay type wave painted on the side of the buildin'. Big article was on it in Surfer Mag."

Nate looked at Klug again with a blank face, then said curtly, "So what?"

Klug said, "Well I'd like to see it man. It's the store with the wave."

Again Nate looked at Klug a moment, then squinted his eyes subtly as if studying him, then said, "Ya know Klug - I got you all wrong. I always thought you were sorta a sponge head. But no. You are really broad-minded. Any brain that can take in Joey's artsy fartsy book about teddy bears, lords, and queers, and at the same time wanna drive to a store to see it's exterior paint 'cause it was in Surfer Magazine, well that's a brain - that's, that's a brain that..."

He was at a loss for a word; I helped, "To behold."

Nate looked at me and said, "Yeah - to behold. I was gonna say that."

Klug shrugged aside Nate's sarcasm, "Hey man ya know, I'm a lordly thing."

Upon hearing that, having finished his food, Brad belched, again.

After a couple minutes we were all finished. The waitress had left the check on the table, Nate and I split the cost, leaving the money on the table. As we walked out, we passed the waitress. She was clearing a table and her head was down over her work. Nate said to her, "Bye now - don't work too hard."

I saw her look up and give him a little smile.

When we came outside the blue sky had disappeared above a gray overcast. Back on the road we drove again through more mountains and forests. I began to feel sleepy from a full stomach and again dozed off in my seat.





9 I must have slept for well over an hour because when I awoke we were out of the mountains. The day had become gray in overcast and across the highway I could see a brown field of grass and shrub, and beyond that, a glasslike expanse of gray, like a mirror. It looked like a lagoon; brown sandy bars with brown shrubs with reeds surrounded it. Across the water was a knoll of brown damp sand, appeared to be tidal flats. On the lagoon side, at the base of the knoll, were clumps of the brown grass and reeds. Over the knoll I could see the ocean. It was a gray sea with the surface rough with wavelets and undulations. About half a mile out in the sea was a thick fog bank, which made it the look as if the sea went out to the fog, and that was the end of it, the great jumping off point, the nemesis of Columbus, the end of the known world.

A road sign announced that we had come to Eureka. As we past through the town, the lagoon widened into a bay, and over the tidal flats was a breakwater paralleling the road, a riprap of huge boulders. A small marina of fishing boats, all looking like small purse seiners, like those in San Francisco, were tied to pill box buoys bobbing in the water at each boats bow and stern. Brown long knolled hills came gently down from low summits a couple miles off the highway. There were few buildings making up the town and all were small and well spread out around the bay and up into the hills. Most were of clapboard siding, some of brick, there were a few sheds in corrugated sheet metal, the metal streaked with rust. Most of the houses had not been recently painted and had the dull color of weathered wood. Around the buildings were a few lone leafless trees, a couple of oaks - the dark twisting trunks and branches silhouetted against the gray sky and brown mountainside. Next to one house on the slope was the ribs and keel for a large wood boat on blocks. The wood was well faded and greyed as if the ark project had stayed neglected through many turns of the seasons. Past the town and the bay, the shoreline became all tidelands of thick clumps of grass and reeds right off the roadside. Then nearing shore, the beach was a drenched brown expanse to the gray incoming waters frosted with a soapy foam. For about an hour the highway slowly winded along the shoreline and kept essentially the same view.

Then the highway turned inland and we climbed back into the hills and into dark green thickly forested mountains. Well into the mountains we came to another town. I missed the road sign designating the town and I didn't see it on the map. Perhaps it wasn't a legal municipality per se. I could tell by the look it was a company town of some sort. It was all in a valley that fell off slightly below the highway, a couple dozen or so feet, enough to give view of the entire expanse of the town from the highway. About a half mile off the road a mountainside, densely covered with dark green sequoias, rose over the town. The mountain rose up into the overcast, which hung low, a hundred or so feet over the town. Where the mountain sliced into the clouds I could see a misty grayness hanging about the trees. Most of the town consisted of factory buildings spread over most of the valley, most were a couple stories high, sided and roofed with corrugated steel sheets. One building along the road had a saw tooth roof; a couple of others had monitor roofs. Large fan housings squatted over the roofs between networks of sheet metal ductwork. All of it, buildings, roofs, and ventilation equipment, were painted a white yellow – they had just sprayed it all the one color.

Along one perimeter of the factory buildings, running perpendicular to the highway, were three straight rows of bungalow type housing. Each house was a simple clapboard sided box, a bungalow, with end gables, and a gray asphalt shingled roof. Each had a small step made of wood that served as a porch and stepped up to an entrance door cut into the side gable. Each house was painted in the same yellow as the factory buildings. The straightness of the rows and the uniformity of the houses gave it a military camp look. The roads around the buildings and houses were brown and muddy. There was a church among the houses, but a far cry from Notre Dame. It was a bungalow, like the houses, with simply the addition of a small wood steeple atop the front gable. In the windows along the sides were black shades. I imagined walking into the nave and instead of pews seeing folding metal chairs, a folding banquet table covered with a white cloth for an alter, and with wood floors and plywood walls - a scarcity of candles due to the fire hazard. Smoke drifted over some of the houses from round stovepipes poking out of the roofs. I heard Nate in the back say, "Look at this place. What town's this?"

Klug said referring to the color, "Puckville man."

"How could you live in a place like this?" Nate asked.

It looked so removed, like some sort of gulag. While father moon and sister sun, and this tiny planet, and the cosmic rest, moved moment to moment turning and turning in the widening gyres, with relative velocities, in dynamic sync with the immortal presence, here I thought, we had come to a still point of the turning world. My guess was that the yellow town was a lumber camp and mill. It served, I suppose, as a prelude to the great forests ahead.

The highway kept climbing and winding into mountains dense with forest. Brad was taking the tight curves carelessly fast. Nate was sitting upright on the back bench seat. When Brad took a curve Nate would lift his feet and slide over the slick vinyl and bang into the side of the bus. Klug who was on the floor still absorbed in the book found himself rolling and sliding over the floor. Klug shouted at Brad after several of the curves, "Smitty, your makin' me sick man - slow it down."

Brad then began laughing in a squealing pitch like a Tasmanian Banshee and sped up even more around a few more curves.

Nate then said, "Smitty - we do wanna get there - alive, if it's not too much for ya."

We came to a couple of hair pin turns and the bus even slid and whipped a little out of control when Brad sped around the corners. Klug slid into the door, he shouted, "Smitty man - cool your jets!"

To this Brad replied with the same laughter and wiggled the bus over the road. Finally the road straightened for a ways and Brad settled down. Klug then joined Nate up on the seat. He sat forward with his elbows on his knees and his head down, not looking quite well.

We were deep into the Del Norte Mountains, among the great redwood forest. The road was winding in through the redwoods and was darkened in a shade made more somber by the overcast above. I saw that some of the big trees that towered high disappeared into the mist. We were well into the vaults of the great grove. White grayish light seemed to trickle down from the tips of the green narrow tapering foliage, becoming shadowy among the enlarged trunk bases, buttressed with wide spreading roots. I had to crane my neck out of the window to see how high the trees went. Most were over a hundred feet, many others went too high into the clouds. To each side of the road the bare trunks stood gigantic. Some had diameters the length of the bus, the trunks were so dense that I could only see thirty or so yards into the dark reddened woods. Each trunk was covered with a rough fibrous red brown bark that was very thick and deeply fluted in broad ridges as it ran upward slightly spiraling.

Most were as tall and as old as Trajans Column, some twice the height, these cyclopean wonders, old as civilization, aristocrats of a kingdom whose subjects number in the multi-billions. It was Da Vinci who, five hundred years ago, discovered how trees aged. In the year one million five hundred thousand B.C., early man learned to make fire with kindling. At one hundred and twenty thousand B.C., man left the cave and built covered shelters with roofs supported by wood beams. At fifty thousand B.C. the first rafts and boats were crafted from large logs. At five thousand B.C., the legendary Noah built a 450 foot ark from cypress trees. Thirty five hundred B.C., man invented the wheel fashioned out of wood blocks, and then quickly came the cart, also of wood. Twenty seven hundred B.C. is the said origin of the oldest currently living tree, a pine we moderns have named Methuselah. The Wright Brothers built their first airplane, Flyer, out of spruce and ash, and they hand carved the nine-foot long propellers from laminated spruce - just a few years into the century. And in the world economy of just seventy five years post the Wright Brothers and their wooden sky bound contraption - two billion eight hundred million trees are cut down each year worldwide, with most devoured by the United and enterprising States. As I strained my neck gawking at the red royals, I wondered how many foolish crane necked sightseers they had patiently endured; who, on bare feet, first came wearing top coats of animal hide; then later shod in cloth and pulling a mule or horse, with gear slung over the animals back; then in wood wagons pulled by horse or oxen; and finally they came in metal contraptions wearing sweatshirts, aiming little black boxes noosed around their necks, recording in chemical, their individual histories while the great trees stood mocking the tourismos spit in the ocean destiny's.

Klug asked Brad to pull the bus over and park a moment. Brad asked, "Can't you hold it?"

"It ain't that man, I gotta puke - you got me car sick."

Brad pulled over and Klug left the bus and went off disappearing among the grand trunks. Even with the engine idling I could hear the wind jostling high in the crowns above. Soon Klug was back, and as he climbed in said, "Puked it out - feel lot better. Those trees are big mothers."

Before Klug could sit down Brad pressed hard on the gas, gunning it. As the bus took off, Klug fell back into Nate on the seat. Nate said, "Watch it Klug."

Klug shouted, "Smitty your a jerk man."



It was almost an hour through the mountains and the redwoods until we were back into green rolling hills and in view of the coastline. A few more minutes and we were pulling into Crescent City. It was early evening - but still light, though overcast. The town was a small collection of one and two-story brick and stucco buildings, and small clapboard sided cottages. A well kept but unpretentious town. As we drove through, Klug said, a little excited, "Hey man - there it is - pullover."

Brad said, "There's what?" As he pulled over to the curb.

"The store man, right there," Klug said, pointing across the street toward a two-story masonry building. On the side of the building, facing us, over the windowless wall was adequately painted, in various shades of blue and white, a great frothy wave. Looking more like a cartoon, with some hurling exaggeration, less a product of the realism school, the tidal oscillation was depicted in near break, just when the wall has risen up and the lip is turning over and the wind is blowing a steamy mist off the lip.

"I wanna get a picture here man," Klug said.

Nate objected, "Klug - it's just a wave painted on a building. What's the big deal?"

"Come on man, just a picture," Klug said, as he rummaged through his bag then pulled forth a small thirty-five millimeter camera.

Nate said, "Your like a kid." Then resigned himself to it. "All right get your damn picture of your damn wave, but hurry it up."

Brad turned off the engine and we all got out. On our side of the street a painter was cleaning up after a days work and on his pick up truck were a couple of stepladders. Klug spotted the ladders and said, "Got an idea here." He borrowed one of the ladders, ran it across the street, and leaned it up against the building into the heart of the wave. Nate and I stood leaning up against the bus, with our arms crossed, while Brad, with camera in hand, lined up the shot and Klug composed the picture. With Brad and props in place, and at the ready, Klug climbed the ladder then assumed a surfers pose, his arms outstretched to each side, crucifix position, his knees and back bent, crouched down as if he was fearlessly taking the Niagara Falls drop down the wild one.

Brad yelled, "Okay - got it."

Klug said, "Okay one more." He then stood straight, rigid, knees locked, his arms fully elongated over head, his eyes he made wide and stuck out his tongue almost to his chin.

I shouted, "What pose is that?"

He shouted back, "The wipeout."

I looked over at Nate and he rolled his eyes. Then he shouted, "You finished Klug?"

"Yeah man," he said, hustling down off the ladder then running it back across the street, returning it to the painter.

Then we were off again with Nate saying, "Let's get outta this rink one skateboard town."



The 101 at Crescent City turned abruptly back inland and again into mountainous country. Soon we came to where the 199 forked off from the 101. We spent about a half hour in mountains forested with tall surger pines, narrower trunked than the redwoods, but quite tall, many were over a hundred feet. The bark was gray with thin furrows and irregular scaly ridges. And the trees seemed more spread with a dozen feet between each tree. Perhaps the redwoods were just as apart from core to core, but the bases of the trunks, being four or five times the circumference of these surger pines, the redwood forest appeared much more dense. In these forests I could see well into their depths.

The shade over the road was darkening when we came to the California - Oregon border. Dusk had come and was all but gone. At the border we stopped again for another picture. Nate and Klug stood to each side of the road sign announcing Oregon. Brad got on top of Klug's shoulders. Then we took another with Brad, Nate and me simply standing by the sign.

Klug asked if he could drive, and Brad assented, relinquishing the pilots chair. I stayed up front in the shotgun seat. In moments the great golden state was behind. California the land of superlatives: of the fifty states the population then was the largest, the economy the biggest - an economy that, if California were a nation unto its own, then would have been the seventh largest of all the worlds nations. California, home to Los Angeles - the most populous city in the U.S.; home to Hollywood and the film and television industry, with products that are yearly consumed and are influencing billions of minds world wide, probably the most effective and profitable propaganda machine to operate in the history of man's efforts to civility. In California more land acreage is worked agriculturally than in any other U.S. state. With modern technology, if the land were utilized to its maximum, California could probably feed the world's billions. In California is both the highest and lowest points in the contiguous U.S., Mt. Whitney at 14,500 feet above sea level, and Death Valley at a negative 280 feet. In Yosemite Valley is Yosemite Falls, the worlds second highest waterfall. Not to mention the valley would likely be on any naturalists top ten vistas of the world worth beholding. Lake Tahoe is the highest large body of water in North America. The Sequoia Gargantuan in Sequoia National Park is the world's largest living thing. The Methusala Pine is in the Inyo National Forrest - the world's oldest living thing. Near Napa is the largest Petrified Tree. In Anaheim is the world's largest concrete replica of one of the worlds great peaks, the Matterhorn at Disneyland; not to mention Disneyland is the most traveled to spot per square foot than any small spot in the world. California's population is likely the most diverse melting pot of any of the other states, and is likely worldclass - from San Francisco's Chinatown which houses the largest Chinese settlement outside the orient, to the world famous celebrities of the Hollywood hamlet, to the lumberjacks of the strange yellow town outside Eureka, from Beverly Hills millionaires to Seal Beach surfers, to the cosmopolites of San Francisco, to the surburbanites entrenched in the L.A. middle class basins, to the cultivated wine snobs of Napa, to the farmers of San Joaquin, the struggling blacks of Watts, to the Berkeley liberals, and the Chicanos of east L.A., from the dessert rats of Dunmovin, to the dessert sophisticates of Palm Springs. This cornucopia we were leaving to make our way to a tiny island in the Bering Sea - which has not even one tree – indeed, our heads should have been examined.





10 The dark was falling suddenly. The 199 ran through a wide valley with mountain ranges paralleling to each side. On one side the mountains rose up about ten miles off the road, on the other about a mile. The sky had cleared of the overcast after a few minutes of coming into Oregon. As the sky turned into the luminous blue of twilight, the mountains had turned into a fulsome purple. As the sky blackened, the mountains gradually disappeared into a shadowy blackness. As night fell everything around us became very dark with only the ghostlike shimmer of the headlight beams on the black asphalt and on the immediate roadside shrubbery to indicate any life beyond the tin vibrating walls of the bus. It was a dark moonless night, and only by settling low in my chair and craning my neck back could I catch a glimpse out the window of a star spangled sky. But from the view out of the windows, the night seemed dark and deep, so very black, like a black inky sea, and the headlights some newfangled laser that sliced our way through, parting the black sea, and we like submariners in our craft knifing through the belly of an indigo depth.

Klug announced, "Man we gotta find a gas station, the ol boat here's runnin' low."

We drove several miles without site of a station, a passing sign indicated that the turn off for the 5 was about twenty miles ahead. "There's gotta be something on this road," I said.

I looked back, Nate and Brad had dozed off. Nate on the seat, both legs bent, one up against the back of the seat, the other, dangled over, with the foot flat on the floor; Brad was on the floor, his feet lay under the seat.

Klug said, "It's so damn dark out here I can't see anything off the road. And we haven't seen another car since the border."

"It didn't look on the map like a major road," I said.

After a few minutes I saw up ahead a single front light, "There's something."

"Yeah, I see it man."

We approached the light but as we came close we saw it was just a small light on the outside of a roadside shack.

"No gas there," Klug said.

"Nope," I said.

A couple of more miles and still nothing.

"We're on fumes man," Klug said.

"I can't believe there's nothing out here - and there's no road signs telling you there's nothing."

"It's Oregon man, the outback," Klug said. "No fun runnin' out here, full a spooks out here man."

After another mile or so I saw a faint orange light. As we came closer I saw that the light emanated from a round sign - the familiar logo for Union 76. "Here we go - pull in," I said.

Klug exhaled a sign of relief, "Phew - I'm tellin' ya - just made it."

Klug parked next to the pumps. The station was another country outpost, two old pumps in front of a small clapboard house. Through a picture window next to the door, behind some lacy curtains, I could see the blue neonic glow of a black and white television tube and the dull glow from a lamplight. "Looks like someone's here," I said.

"Hope so man." Klug said.

Our stopping woke Nate and Brad up, "Why are we stoppin?" Brad asked.

"Gas man, can't ride on air," Klug said.

"Already?" Brad asked.

"Been awhile - since before puckville," Klug said.

As soon as we stepped out of the bus into the dark night we were at once taken by the galactic thronged sky. Stars and galaxies in more than mere multitudes, the milky way, that great stellar grove cradled by the goddess nut, these thousand points of light freckling the night sky atop Jacob's ladder, a bounteous pirates treasure trove of tiny diamonds sparkling over a jewelers velvet sable. It just hit us, this aggrandizement of glitter. We who were well traveled in more civilized quarters, where the plenitude of outdoor manufactored light washed the night sky and faded to black all but the most near and most brilliant of the universe.

"Look at those stars man," Klug said.

We were all, we band of four, gaping.

Then Nate who was staring at another quadrant of that awesome dome shouted, with for him was an unusual amount of exhilaration, "Hey look at that!"

We turned around and he was pointing toward the North. A pencil thin line of white light was streaking, extending, drawing over the sky.

"Shooting star man, whoa, it's a lordly one," Klug said.

"That was a real flamer," Brad said. "Don't see those in Claremont."

When the star faded Nate said, "Well - crashed and burned. Let's see if we can get some gas."

Nate walked over to the house; Klug over to the bus to get the pump nozzle into the tank.

I kept studying the sky. I had seen night skies like that before when I was younger on camping trips, or when in the mountains snow skiing. But that sky of stars, such a multitude, had not struck me in the past quite as it did that night. Perhaps it was the blackness of the moonless night which may have brought them out in even more numbers, with more spangled resplendence - standing there I could not remember seeing such a starlit sky. Or perhaps it was the nature of the trip, my ego was relaxed, I was not concerned with the fun of skiing or camping, I was deliberately opening up and foisting myself on the scenery and the experience of the trip. Coming as it did at the windup of my youth and formal education, I considered the trip a last youthful hurrah, and was wise enough to try and take it all in - for who knew what the future held - likely more books and cloistered rooms. And of course my education took a toll. Before, I could look at the stars and sense the beauty. But before I looked on with the slant of youthful ignorance - with a vague and causual, if at all, familiarity with human life's stark finalities. Now I knew - being post baccalaureate - and then some - more than just the childhood standards about starry nights. I knew something about the universe, something scientific, how even to the great minds it was vast and mystical, vast beyond comprehension really. As a kid, those stars above I vaguely knew as galaxies and solar systems like our own, each star a sun like our own, or a collection of suns; but then, in that tiny parking lot of that countryside 76 station, as I looked skyward, I knew also, all too well, that the nearest of those pin pricks of light with a sun like our own was Proxima Centauri - which was four light years away, a mere twenty trillion miles. I knew also that the farthest pin pricks could have long been darkened by some cosmic cataclysm, yet their light would still shine to us for a million more years because of the distance the light would have to travel. I knew how, at the speed of light, our suns light took eight minuscule minutes to reach earth and that the speed of light was one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles per second - not per hour - per second. Given that knowledge, that perspective, that infinite seeming ethereal dome beyond was an almost overwhelming and chilling site; beautiful yes, as before, but that night - also sublime. How petty and supercilious that sky made of our long running disciplined machinations, our vanity of vanities, like a cave-in at an anthill, the ants scurry but the world and the heavens turn oblivious. Our anxieties, our day-to-day livings and longings, indeed our every move and woe – just trees dropping deep in a far away woodland. Our humanness assigns so much to our existence, but yet above us in a clear night sky we are beset with almost overwhelming evidence of how slight and temporary is our stay in the all of it, we are quickly just passing through, all of us. It elicited, I thought, a silence - for us to simply lay back and not be, just contemplate its wonder.

Then I felt a slap on my shoulder and Nate's voice which snapped me out of my deference, he said, "Your gonna get a neck ache standin' there like that all night."

I looked back down, lowering my sights back into the world at hand. Nate was being followed by an old man, hobbling along with what looked like a stiff injured leg. He was dressed in soiled gray pants and a red and white plaid flannel shirt, and suspenders, and was hunched over a little, his slight shoulders turning inward. What was left of his gray hair was matted and swirled over his head. His face was a map of bold and tiny wrinkle lines that withdrew from his eyes and mouth; his mouth was like a toothless hole amid the wrinkled skin. He said in an old gritty voice, "I was just gonna turn off the light and hit the sac." He pulled the switch on the pump and it began operating.

"Good thing you didn't 'cause we really need the gas," Nate said.

"Yeah, you boys are lucky - this is the only station on this road."

"Why is that?" Nate asked. "Isn't there anybody out here?"

"Nope. Nothin' really, just a few ranches. Nobody takes this road no more. They go by way the 101 or the five. There's nothin' out here to bring 'em off those roads." As he spoke his eyes krinkled pleasently amid the tiny wrinkles.

"How come your here?"

"Oh, don't know really. Only sell a few tanks a week. I own it, and the wife passed a couple years back. State makes the company sell me the gas. Too much trouble ta move I speck."

"Live out here by yourself huh?"

"Oh yeah - got Max though. My shepherd. Used to be more business out here 'fore the mills shut down. The collogists, they shut em down."

Klug said, "Too bad man. The bastards."

The old man laughed good naturedly and said, "Yeah, they didn't do me too good. Helped the trees though I speck, probably for the better."

"How far to the five?" Klug asked.

"Not real far, half hour - twenty minutes."

"We woulda been stuck man," Klug said.

The old man laughed, "Yeah, like I said, just was gonna close 'er down. Was inside watchin' the Welk show, soon as a commercial hit I was gonna switch 'er off."

The nozzle clicked and the pump shut off. Klug pulled the nozzle out of the bus and re-cradled it at the side of the pump.

As Nate paid and the old man made change, his hands looking thin and bony, and shaking slightly as he layed out the bills and coins slowly into Nate's open palm. Nate said, "Pretty peaceful here I imagine."

"Yeah it's quiet. Not like the city."

We climbed back into the bus, got the engine going, waved a slight goodbye to the old man, and drove off. As we pulled out of the driveway I looked behind out of the back window and saw the old man watch us a moment, then turn and walk back toward the house. A few seconds later, when we were well down the road, I saw the orange sign recede and soon go black. The orange sign would be the last light beyond our headlights I would see for almost an hour. With that valley so dark as we drove, I could imagine the need for man to travel in packs, then tribes, then hordes, then towns, cities, empires – from somewhere in Ethiopia, originating in the black, in the fear the black must have caused. I wondered about the lone trappers, how they defiantly stood up to it, suffered their cabin and midnight fevers year in and year out, how they got by, alone, what madness firmed their souls.

All of us were quiet as we drove. I tried the radio but the reception was weak and only a.m., all I got was different tones of snow and static and a couple winding signal wines. Klug said, "Ain't gonna work out here man - lousy radio."

"No tape player or tapes?"

"Had one - busted."

"No music Klug?"

"I know - I was gonna buy a player but instead I'm here."

"Instead you got laid huh?"

"Yeah - bum steer man."

Nate and Brad were back asleep. Then ahead I saw some lights, as we came closer we could see it was the on-ramp to the five. Once on the five we were still in a dark starry night but along the highway were lights from small towns we passed and streetlights at overpasses. Still, judging from the extent of the dark, the land to each side of the highway was rural.

Again Klug asked me about the book, he wanted to know if I had read it, I assured him I had. "Yeah ol Sebastian - he's a partian' guy. Drinks too much though."

"Yeah, and later it does him in."

"I got a bro' like him, drugs and booze. He's all screwed up. And my ol' man's a boozer."

"Sorry to hear that."

"They think it's hereditary."

"Too bad. You didn't inherit it I guess?"

"Not yet anyway, and it's a step bro'. I just like to flake around too much. But even with that I ain't all that bad."

"You just graduated didn't you?"

"Yeah."

"Merril graduate?"

"Naw - he slouched off, he's got another semester probably."

"I see."

"Yeah - the Fraze. Piece a work. Hey what's pur-ent mean?"

"Pur-ent?"

"Sebastian or Charles says it about the girls they pickup at Ma Mayfields."

"You mean purient."

"Yeah - what's that mean?"

"Means yuck."

"So why doesn't he just say yuck or they were gross man. Why purient?"

"That's their culture, it's very refined."

"That's true - I rank 'em all rhinos with the suavey and de-boner. But even though their upper echelon, they're still dick arounds like us, I like that."

I smiled. "Even with the pretensions, they party."

"Yeah, they got that Ma Mayfields and the Ol' One Hundredth just like we got Regimes and Bubbles. And Mulcasters kind of a dick head, like the Frase. And then the Rex, I rank him high, he hangs with Max and Effie."

"Yeah Rex makes a good show."

"The guy I can't figure out is Charlie. He seams kinda bla don't ya think? I mean the guy don't surf, play polo, doesn't seem to get the babes, and he doesn't like anybody except Sebastian - he doesn't like Rex, I don't see why he doesn't like Rex. Rex is bond."

"Charles likes beauty, that's what he likes about Sebastian."

"What, 'cause Sebastian's good lookin'?"

"That and his life, and all that's in it. It had so much more than what was in Charles' life."

"Yeah ol' Sebastian he's got it made. But he's a kid man. But it's a bond kidness. He kinda reminds me a my dad."

"Your dad?"

"Yeah my real one - he's a screw around."

"How's that?"

"Well my grandad made some money, had somethin' to do with oil and gas. Well, my granddad, before he kicked, he spent a lot, then my ol' man spent even more. And like I said, he was like Sebastian - drank like a fish."

"How'd you get to the West Coast?"

"My dad moved us out here, 'cause a the weather – to Pacific Palisades, with all the rich beach rats. Ronald Reagan lived on our street – when he was movie starin' it."

"You knew the Reagan's?"

"I didn't. My parents sorta did. Just neighbor's – he was just some old guy down the street who dyed his hair."

I smiled. "I thought you were from Seal Beach?"

"Yeah well, when I was in high school my mom I think she nailed my ol’ man to the wall, caught him double timin' her, so she dumped him and married a guy who didn't drink or screw around. So we moved down the coast to Seal Beach. But Seal Beach ain't the Palasades. Most a my buddy's at home are from there. Claremont's a little like the Palasades. Monied. Palasades a little more monied though. But in Claremont you got the brain trust. They're both snotty enclaves."

I thought of Fitzgerald's maxim and asked him, "So you think the rich are different huh?"

"Well sorta. They got the cadash to bond themselves. You know people without the cadash, they shop at Sears, wear Fruit of the Loom, date fat chicks, and they don't got the air."

"The air?"

"Yeah man - the sense of their coolness."

"I see - so Klug – so where you shop?"

"Depends – on the clothes. Dress stuff from a place called Atkinson's in the Palasades. My dad gets all his stuff there. He's got an account, I just charge it up." He laughed. "My beachwear though, I get that at Jack's in Huntington or at Hobies in Seal."

"Your dad still well off?"

"Oh yeah. He ain't hurtin’. But I doubt there's much left."

"Sounds like your sort of a snob Klug."

"Not really man - but I know the difference. I see it when I go from the Palasades to Seal Beach. Seal Beach is aw, I don't know."

"Not quite up to snuff?"

"Yeah, somethin' like that."

"So what was your major?"

"Econ."

"So was mine."

"Yeah Keynes, Freedman, and Adam Smith - all those bros, had to study ‘em all. And I rhinoed man, got a three-five grade point."

"That's good Klug - surprises me."

"Yeah, everybody thinks I'm stupid. So what. Right now I'm tired a studyin’. Burned me out. I figure I got two or three years beatin' off time, then I'll get bonded and rhino for the dough. When I'm twenty-five I'll square my act."

"You have any idea what you're going to do?"

"Naw - go sell somethin' probably. Probably real estate. The guy Flaka - that's my mom – that’s what we call her - the guy she hooked into, that's how he made his."

"You call your mom Flaka?"

"Yeah - she's full a flak you know."

"So what are you gonna do for the next couple a years?"

"Make some money here maybe, on the Alaskan safari; then take five in Hawaii for a year. Surf the north shore, smoke the Hawaiian devil weed. Then take in Australia, surf the Gold Coast. Get laid by the topless Aussie broads. Just sorta live a ramblin' movie."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Yeah - the chill out."

"You see much a your dad?"

"My real one – some, not a lot. I'm pretty close though to Herb."

"Herb?"

"Yeah - Flakas hubbie."

"Get along with him huh?"

"Yeah we get along good."

"You weren't real cut up when you parents split?"

"Not really. Lot a my buddies parents were split, and I saw it comin’. I knew my dad was high flyin' it."

"You knew he was seein' other girls?"

"It was pretty much known. My buddies told me they saw him at the country club bar with chicks, you know. I knew somethin' was up."

"Sounds like your moms done okay with Herb."

"Yeah she has. Herb's cool. He gets pretty hyped and he ain't no styler, and my mom's pretty good stuff - looks wise - and Herb ain't no Gary Grant - but he don't flake out on ya. Like my old man was gonna pick up the tab on my college - but he marlied - so Herb picked it up. He said it was a loan though - but I could take my time payin' it back."

"Sounds like you and Herb get along well."

"Oh yeah. Herb thinks I'm a marine. My step bro's from his last marriage, he's kind of a dummy. Compared to that kid I'm the Duke. I surf he don't, I rhinoed through school, he didn't even graduate high school. Herb likes me cause I try and kick the kids butt a little. I took him surfin' and play the big bro, you know."

"Taught him to surf huh - that's good Klug."

"Naw - took him surfin’. The guys too lame to learn man. I tried, but I ain't no miracle worker."

"Kid just don't have it huh?"

"Nope. Some got it, some don't, and he don't. It's like my dad, big screw off, drinks, parties. But my dad learned to surf and he's hell on the tennis court and on the links. In some ways he's bond. Like Sebastian bond but not bond."

"It's all relative I guess."

"Yeah well - Herb's kid is relative lame - know what I'm sayin’?"





11 Through the dark night we traveled through the Oregon countryside. As we came to a bend or a corner, the headlight beams would flash into the roadsides, and through most of the state I saw aglow in the beams the trunks and the crowns of conifers. Occasionally I could see, or thought I saw, a hillside or mountainside rising in the distance above the road, the curving outline appearing a darker shadow against the black sky. As we came closer to a town, I would notice a disbanding of the trees and soon in the near distance, a gathering of lights; then we would be among the lights. Most of the towns were small, mere outposts, the lights few and the night well stretched between.

We ran quickly through Salem and Springfield which were larger towns, but still outposts compared to Southern California standards. Each of the towns was simply a collection of lights - with the lights right along the roadside the typical commercial signage in front of or over small commercial buildings - and immediately beyond these larger and brighter lights - the smaller intermittent dots of light from streetlights. Even in the larger towns, the lights were well spread between far voids of night, and spread out in total for only a nominal distance that we came on and passed quickly by. I thought how each dot of light was a lamp post marking a laxed matrix of expansive dimension but simple complexion, an island of meager life amid a vast black dimension. The population of the California we left was just under twenty three million; Oregon's was just under two million. The long running darkness on each side of the highway seemed a good indicator of this vast difference in populous.

After a few hour stretch of dark with few interspersing lights, we came to more lights, still scattered but more frequent. I could see that the lights were within a well shrubbed and forested landscape.

Then almost all at once it came on us, appearing right now, as if we were on some carnival fun house ride, like Mr. Toads Wild Ride - where through a black tunnel you shoot, then a door pops open and there it is, a bright alighted fantastic scene meant to astound and scare - this was how Portland came upon us. Coming out of the dark forested land, at once we drove onto a steel trussed bridge, the trusses forming a long high arch above the road deck, all brightly and fantastically alighted in a lavender and pink orange fluorescent hue. The bed of the bridge was a grated steel, and when the bus rolled onto the bridge a loud rumbling vibrating sound droned from the tires. The bridge ran high over the Columbia River. And the lighting of the bridge glowed over the water bringing out a dark smooth slightly shimmering and tilled surface. On one side of the bridge the river darkened into a matrix of many lights, then blended with the expansive black beyond. On the other side the matrix of lights was dense, and along the riverbank was a wharf and warehouses; along the river were a couple quayside cranes, and below one of the cranes was a cargo ship. The whole dockside was alit from small lights on the cranes and buildings, and large spotlights from lamps atop tall poles standing along the riverbank. I could see the movement of men and forklifts and cranes under the lights. Next to the docks was a line of tall grain silos, tall cylinders sixty or so feet high, but still well below the bridge. Beyond the riverfront I could see within the matrix of lights a few high-rise buildings, shorter versions of the class, toping out at ten or so stories.

Quickly we were over the long bridge and were back into forested land, and the lights came fewer and fewer. After fifteen or so minutes, back came the long dark stretches, back we were into the dark tunnel leading to the next room in our funhouse of concocted and pretended peril. I looked back and saw Nate and Brad awake and sitting up on the back seat. Though we were all awake, we were staying quiet.



After a few more hours our driving began to outlast and wear down the nights blackness. The dark sky began to pale taking on a cyanic glow. The land around became revealed as if a black fog had lifted slowly, as stage scenery comes out as the halogen lighting slowly warms bright. Around us were forests, thick densities of fir and spruce - tall and full with conical crowns. The highway was lined for miles with a thick green tall growing mass of Christmas like trees. Under the canopy of the conifers was a lush rain forest like undergrowth, a luxuriant tangle of ferns with long lean triangular yellow green pinnate leaves amid thick green grass, bladed as high as our waists. It was so thick that it looked like giant impenetrable hedge groves lining the gray concrete of the freeway. I saw a sign that indicated Seattle was another sixty miles so I laid my head back and dozed off.

I slept fitfully, opening my eyes every several miles to more forests and green heaving land. I noticed road signs began to announce Tacoma and Seattle, and amid the forest and land was the sprouting of buildings and a few housing tracks, vestiges of another matrix.

Soon Tacoma was spread out on each side of the freeway over a swelled and green landscape, a crowded L.A. type matrix of low lying buildings, housing tracts, boulevards of strip centers and fast food joints and mixed in with thick dappling of green. Up there in the Pacific Northwest it was obvious that the matrix was cut into thick lushly grown land of dense forest and thick undergrowth. In the distance to the east, rising into a blue morning sky with an orange pinkish halo was Mt. Rainier - with its snow blanketed volcanic summit rising well above neighboring peaks, a North American Kilimenjaro. Out of Tacoma the land again became green and forested and mounded. Along the highway were knolls covered with tall green yellow grass, and as the gray concrete freeway would bend, the knolls would follow. Above the knolls, the hillsides would rise with a covering of dense green forest.

Seattle began with houses scattered among the trees over the hillsides. Then the highway came to a long valley. On each side of the valley were dark green forested hills. The freeway ran along and hugged the hills on the east side. On the west side of the freeway the valley lay about seventy feet below, with the floor running level almost a mile to the hillsides beyond. Over the valley floor was the Boeing Corporation airport and aircraft manufacturing complex. Along the far side of the valley were enormous steel and concrete walled hanger and factory buildings, some with ovaled roofs. There were also a few glass sided office complex buildings. Some of the hanger buildings appeared to encompass several hundred thousand square feet and rise several stories. Over the remainder of the valley floor, from the buildings to the hillside rising to the freeway, was an expanse of black asphalt and light grey concrete runways, aprons and staging areas. Just below the highway lined wingtip to wingtip and occasionally two and three deep were jet airliners in various final stages of manufacture. Some were painted in the brand colors of an airline, some gleamed naked and silver, all had numerous ladders draped from wings and sides. Small trucks and forklifts were parked among the planes looking like mice attending elephants.

At the north end, the valley narrowed and the opposite hills declined into the Puget Sound, and the highway came closer to the sound. Here downtown Seattle came into view. From the highway to the sound, the valley floor extended toward the downtown. Over this section of valley was a prospect of low-level brick and metal sided warehouse and factory buildings, a gray and brown and dingy view. Another warehouse floor of stacked crates and boxes. Beyond the seedy expanse, along the sound was the main harbor area. From our vantage only a strip of the blue water could be seen; and rising from below the horizon line of the buildings were several navy gray quayside cranes, and the uppermost decks, stacks, and the mast trees, of a couple cargo ships. On the south side of the harbor was a well forested hilly peninsula beetling into the sound. Over the hills I could see, within the woods, large older homes. On the other side of the highway, to the east, were more hills, not as densely forested, landscaped mostly with imported varieties of trees, oaks, elms, and magnolias. Most of these trees looked large and well along in years. Among the trees were many houses - most were small folk type homes with lapped siding and front porches, early century primogenitors of the tract house genus. The valley of warehouse and commercial buildings ran on northward straight into the downtown which appeared to begin with the Seattle Dome - a circular concrete white gray coliseum with a tremendous white mushroom dome swelling over the top. Beyond that were several high rises, a couple looked to rise at least fifty stories, both were skinned in black tinted glass. The high rises looked tightly grouped; the glass and metal skins made it look like a rock crystalline formation – a pressing of columns and spires abruptly rising out of the ground.

As we neared the high rises, more of the Sound came into view, and we could see the blue water was spotted with several darkly green and well wooded islands. Some of the islands looked near, only a mile or two out, some much further, several miles. Far to the west, many miles beyond the waters, we could see, in the clear morning, the sharp triangular and pointed peaks of the Olympic Mountains rising purple and rugged. A large ferryboat with wide forward and rear mouths opening into the lower garage deck, with a small pilot house amid ship, was skimming toward us, a long rectangular ship, like a flower box on the water, far out by one of the islands. The Sound was smooth and oily and the ferry made a slight undulant wake over the quiet blue silvery water. The highway ran right adjacent to the dense downtown metropolis, and once past the main high-rise area we could see the city expanding on several miles northward and eastward.

A mile beyond the high-rised downtown, dominating a skyline of buildings of several stories and less - mostly less, was the Space Needle - Seattle's signature: as is Eifle's tower for Paris, London's Big Ben, San Francisco's Golden Gate, New York's Empire State, and L.A.'s smog. It's martian inspired, war of the world's science fiction observation deck - a tremendous flying saucer, suspended five hundred feet skyward, appearing to dispel gravity atop a connected triad of three spindly delicate looking steel columns, each rising from ground to the saucer in a long slight elliptical curve. In the tradition of Eiffel a serene beau ideal of the engineers ingenuity.

Nearing the Needle we could see most of the rest of the city which appeared an L.A. like matrix that gamboled over long hills and peninsulas. The land swelled from the Sound and Lake Washington - which lay a mile or so into the interior of the city, east of the Sound. Unlike the L.A. matrix, here the greenery dominated, housing and buildings though densely situated seemed only to dot the thick rolling expanse of pine forests and mature well foliaged planted woodlands. Almost the entire matrix beyond the downtown seemed enshrouded by a vast green lushly foliaged canopy. A city and a rainforest interpolated.

I asked, "Well what do you guys think?"

Nate said, "Nice city, why don't we drive around?"

Brad said, "I'm tired, let's get a room some place."

"Smitty you've been sleepin' the whole trip up - how could you be tired?" Nate asked.

"I haven't slept the last couple a hours - and besides, sleepin' in this bus ain't sleepin'."

"How ‘bout we go by the docks - check it out man?" Klug said.

"Where's the docks?" I asked.

"Who knows," Nate said, "let's just get off here and make our way towards the waterfront."

We were off the freeway someplace just past the Space Needle. We made our way past plain brick and stucco office buildings, a few condominium buildings and strip shopping centers, past a park encircling the Space Needle, then more office buildings, then came the downtown. Again we were amidst brick and concrete walled canyons, and like San Francisco the city streets were roller coaster rides over the hillsides. We came atop a steep hill with a view, and below in the morning light the waters of the sound were bluer, a luminous mauve slate. The ferry I had seen was pulling into a wharf. Shadows covered the almost empty streets and lower lying buildings. The city was just coming awake. We drove past some large public buildings one sided in gray granite, and another in a cream colored marble, both sleek modern blocks of glass and steel; in front, along their walls, lining the sidewalk, were many dirty and disheveled homeless types, most were men with long ill-kept hair and knotted dirty beards.

Klug said, "It's the kutes."

Most of the non high-rise buildings were older, many had been renovated, most similar, in line and exterior flourishes, to the Victorian buildings of San Francisco - but with a definite restraint on the embellishment. Here, in the sapphire of the Pacific Northwest, it was simple elegance with a trace of the prairie style: wood siding with horizontal patterns, details around windows and rooflines emphasized horizontal lines, simple casements with minimal pediments around doors and windows, glazed and leaded glass windows, many with angular geometric designs, some bay windows. We drove down Alaskan Way, which ran along the waterfront; past large wharfs jutting out into the Sound. Most were covered with steel and concrete sided transit buildings - most were clean looking, painted in light colors of white, sky blue, and yellow. We drove under a concrete viaduct which paralleled most of the shoreline at the downtown, then decided to turn up Seneca Street. We passed more buildings and ended up back close to the freeway.

"So where's the docks?" Brad said.

"Who knows," Nate said.

"It's almost seven, let's get out of here and find a motel and get some sleep," Brad said.

"The docks gotta be around here someplace, there's the water, let's find 'em," Nate said.

"I'm sort of tired myself," I said. "I wouldn't mind some sleep before we take the cooks tour."

"Alright, look for a motel," Nate said.

We were back on the north side of the downtown, on some boulevard - a typical across town artery – running through low to middlin rent districts, lined with the typical American big city businesses – used car lots, car repair garages, franchised coffee shops and burger joints, pawn shops, dive and topless bars, liquor stores, massage parlors, and cheap motels – with rooms by the day, week, and month. Up ahead was a grotesque plastic sign in the caricatured shape of a rocket ship. Suspended around the rocket on plastic poles were plastic balls in bright colors. One was ringed - a Saturnalian representation no doubt. Over the rocket it said in neon: The Rocket Motel. Behind the sign was another stucco walled motel, a relocated Golden Gate Inn, but in Seattle painted turquoise. I suspected it was a fossil, like the Space Needle, from the World's Fair of the early sixties, Circa Kennedy and the Mercury astronauts.

"Let's pull in there," Brad said.

"Looks cheap," Nate said.

"Nice paint job," Klug said as we pulled into the drive.

Just as we had done at the motel in San Francisco, Nate checked us into this one. The room was more spacious, had two large beds - and carpeting. We all bedded down, except for Nate. Apparently he was riding on adrenalin, he claimed to be rested enough and said he was going to explore more around town. Before leaving he asked Brad about calling his Dad for more money.

"I told ya tomorrow - when he's at the office," Brad said.

"How much do you think he'll give you?" Nate asked.

"Don't know. I'll ask for the same and go down from there."

"Think he'll spring for a grand?" Nate asked.

"Maybe, I don't know. He's generally in a good mood on Monday."

"Well you had your money stolen Smitty - it's not like you carelessly lost it or somethin'," Nate said.

"I know. But so what? You heard what my dad thinks about this trip."

"Well let's say you get five. We got about fifteen hundred then between us. It'll probably cost us four hundred a month to get an apartment. That leaves about a grand - but that's for only a month. If we stay two months that leaves seven hundred to live on, 'bout ten bucks a day. That isn't much for three guys."

"Not a lot left for nightlife," Klug said.

"Forget the nightlife Klug, we're not here to nightlife." Nate said.

"Whatever man, but I don't know 'bout you, I get real horny for nightlife after a few days," Klug said.

"He's right - we're gonna have to be doin' something while we're up here," Brad said.

"Then get more money from your dad," Nate said.

"You worry too much," Brad said. "I'll do the best I can, and besides even if I get more, which I probably won't, I ain't gonna be the bank up here."

"Smitty, you and Klug were the ones who lost your money. I didn't lose it," Nate said.

"No kidding," Brad said.

"I'm just trying to point a couple things out. What are we gonna do if it takes more than a month up here to get jobs?" Nate asked.

"You go ahead and worry you’re nuts off," Brad said, "I'm gonna sleep."

I said, "if it looks like we're goin' to get a job and we run out of money after a month or so, I'm sure we can always get more money out of our parents."

"I can't get any money from my mother. Maybe you guys can get some," Nate said.

I speculated Nate was worried that if we all spent his money initially, and later he wasn't able to get any more, then he would eventually be subjected to our purse strings. The issue was still in the air when Nate left. I laid my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes. I was still a little restless. I began thinking. Again Jane was getting top billing. I ran through it again in my mind. It was probably all related to the blow to my ego. I just couldn't stand the fact that she broke up with me. Like they say, we want what we can't have. Then maybe it was the fear of the unknown, that I wouldn't find someone as good as Jane. Or just the plain fear over the rattling of my comfortable and secure orbit. I was a rational guy, liked control, a place for everything and everything in its place. I was not big on loose ended extremities. Yet I was beginning to realize that my somewhat womb-like painless rather comfortable upwardly moving life was, to a great degree, a product of profound luck. I was lucky to have the parents I had, with their backgrounds and wisdom; lucky to have the friends I had made; lucky to have the mind and discipline that I had; lucky to have relative good looks, a good robust constitution, and a strong coordinated physicality; lucky for the people that had taken an interest in me and influenced my life. I was not purely a sum total of my own affectations, not hardly an island unto myself. Things had really gone my way, like Jobe, before the wager, I had been blessed, the luck of the Irish had shined. Perhaps that was it, I was fearing that the end of the line had come, God and the leprechauns had awoke, realized that for Joe Kelly they had fallen asleep on the switch - had left it too long on good fortune; or God had made a new wager with ol' Satan and Joe Kelly was the new test pilot. But naw I thought, that's all bosh. I was Catholic, not a very good one, a jack Catholic - had confessed only a couple times after my first communion. It was the one area in their children's lives that my parents had effected only a half-baked effort. My father had over intellectualized all the religiosity out of our systems. Only my mother's fence sitting had kept us still on the fringes of the fold, so to speak. And the way I saw it, God wasn't interested in Joe Kelly, literally. God being God certainly wasn't foolish enough to make wagers with a nemesis over a Catholic, Catholics being Catholic. These were my comforting thoughts which helped me to fall asleep.

I slept in a dreamless void and then was awakened by Nate opening the door. It was just before nine by my watch, so he had probably been gone just over a couple hours. He saw that I was awake. Brad and Klug were knocked out on the other bed. Brad under the covers, Klug atop the covers in his sleeping bag. He came over and sat on the side of the bed and started taking off his boots.

"You find the docks?" I asked in a low voice almost a whisper.

He nodded and said also keeping his voice low, "Yeah I did, everything is on the other side of town, there's a big lake we didn't see past the Space Needle. Everything's on the lake."

"Lake huh?"

"Yeah - Lake Washington. That's the Sound we saw out there - west. North a here there's a big canal like river that leads to the lake - a big thing. Some locks in the canal separate the salt water from the fresh water. The docks are bout five minutes from here on the lake. It's a marina like they got in San Fran, only a lot bigger. And they call it Fisherman's Wharf here too. They got a lot of the small boats - but I also saw a few a the big ones."

"Any jobs?"

"Don't know. I just drove around. There's a few other places around the lake - mostly on the canal - where I saw fishing boats docked."

"So what are we gonna do? Get an apartment?"

He shrugged, "I don't know. We need more money. Even when Brad gets his money - he's gonna control it - and you know he's gonna spend. I don't think it's too realistic us lastin' more than a month without any extra money. We gotta think a somethin'."

With that Nate stood up and unrolled his sleeping bag on the bed with the opening at the other end. After undressing to his boxers, he said standing at the end of the bed, "Gimme one a those pillows."

I tossed him a pillow and he then slid into his bag. I turned my head away from his bag and went back off to sleep.

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