No Photos, Please- The Report from the Hodad at the Hodown

The event last night at the Port Townsend Library was billed as a ‘Hodown,’ and featured a local (but world-traveled) bluegrass band, which was really good, and please forgive me for forgetting the band’s name (something something String Band).  I was pretty nervous about reading my stuff, hoping people showed up despite the crowd that did show up (including me) pretty handily fit into the demographic most at risk of dying from any episode of the virus.

Or a person could die on stage.  Not that there was a stage.  I did get some photos sent to my phone from Stephen Davis (thanks for attending), and a video and photos from my daughter, Dru (who sent them live to Trish- great).  I could share them with you, but I won’t; and not just because I’d have to set up some deal on my phone that would probably send me endless bits of junk email; it’s just that…

…It’s all pretty embarrassing, really; publicly reading something I wrote and, probably, hold too dear; and yet I keep trying.  I keep thinking I’ll learn something.  Other than that I really need something to stand behind that’s wider than I am, and that I should wear glasses selected for reading the pages rather than hiding behind them, and that I should read slower, and only read things shorter than twelve hundred plus pages… oh, and that I shouldn’t wear any pants that might, in contrast to my upper body, look like skinny jeans; giving the effect of a bear keg with a glowing red bulb on top, balanced precariously on sticks… other than that… I still, after risking stroking-out from the first reading, really did want to read my excerpt from “Swamis.”

So, maybe I learned something, just not quite enough.

Now Keith Darrock, PT ripper and my contact at the library, did say he’s ‘always willing’ to subject me to this type of public, um, scrutiny.  I did notice that he said ‘always’ with the same gleam in his eye that he has (could have chosen ‘might have’ if that was true) when paddling around me to catch a wave (in, of course, a friendly, competitive way).  Keith and I have been talking about having a THIRD OCCASIONAL SURF CULTURE ON THE STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA AND THE SALISH SEA event.

“Then you can read something from ‘Swamis.'” “Oh. Yeah.” “You know, after it’s actually published.”  “Oh.  Yeah.   Sure.    Then.     Uh huh.”

I am working on the re-re-re-re-edit, a hundred or so pages left to work on; and then there’s the process of having other people look it over, possibly edit it, and then there’s the task of, yeah, selling the thing.

SO STAY TUNED.  Meanwhile, here’s what I read last night:  It is fiction. I never was a cowboy, never was a log truck driver.  I have driven I-5, straight through, many times.

Never Was A Cowboy

I never was a cowboy, never rode a fence line, alone. Still, I believe I can relate.

It’s the aloneness.

Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark; Multnomah, Clackamas, Marion, Linn, Lane, Douglas, Jackson; Siskiyou, Trinity, Shasta, Tehama, Glen, Colusa, Yolo, Solano, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego.

I count the counties, North to South, border to border, rather than the miles. Rather, I count the counties I drive through, rarely all the way North, rarely all the way South. Seattle or Portland, L.A. or some indistinguishable suburb, if there is such a place- it’s all city down there. Urban: Warehouses and apartment houses, single family homes; squeezed and stacked and spread; criss-crossed with congested surface streets and ever-under-construction highways, never quite wide enough; overpasses and underpasses, on and off ramps, collector/distributer lanes with one-at-a-time lights; ever-competitive drivers in sub-compacts sliding in between house husbands in oversized pickups, women executives in luxury Sports Utility Vehicles, motorcyclists splitting the lanes; any patch of open road demanding kamikaze/video game speed; and there are road signs and arrows and overhead indicators flashing updates on how long it will take to get the next so-many miles; billboards, some lit up and flashing a succession of ever-brighter messages about Casinos and Recreational Vehicles and spa retreats and exclusive resorts; neighborhoods designed, obviously, from thousands of feet up; strip mall here, Starbucks there, McDonalds caddy-cornered from Burger King, various Crayola colors on houses, duller colors on warehouses, each building trimmed in white.

Like white lines, between lanes, fog lines and rumble strips to keep us out of the ditch, away from the guardrails.

Drop the load, get another trailer, reverse the order, South to North. Orange, Los Angeles, Kern. I count the rest stops. I count the gas stops, keep track of which ones had the cheaper diesel last time. I keep track of how many miles I have left between, say Redding and Grant’s Pass, then there and Medford. Portland. Tacoma. Closer, closer.

Miles are converted to minutes. Oregon, on I-5, is almost exactly three hundred miles, with markers, south to north. If I stop only once for gas, whiz, maybe get a quickie mart burrito, I can average fifty miles an hour. So, 300 divided by 50; six; yeah, six hours. If I want to make it in five hours: 300 divided by 5 equals, yeah; sixty. The speed limit for semi-trucks is… anyway, I’ve done it; even with half the state mountains and the other half one big valley, even with the seemingly permanent slowdown south of Portland.

That would have been in Summer, of course; none of the chaining and unchaining, avalanches and black ice and whiteout snowstorms; and without some fool sliding and jack-knifing and closing all the lanes. This rarely uneventful trip would be what high lead loggers, back in the northwest, in the country, in the woods, would call ‘spooling;’ the choker-setters hooking the freshly-felled, limbed logs onto the overhead lines; a variety of whistles, controlled by the Whistle Punk, signaling the movements, the Yarder Engineer at the tower, on signals from the Hook Tender (these are all semi-official titles), stopping and starting the lines; logs eased onto the landing, loaded onto a waiting log truck. Spooling.

Things almost never go that way.

If I hadn’t gotten hurt by an improperly choked log (my fault) I wouldn’t have become a log truck driver. If I hadn’t parked too close to the edge (my fault), if my dad’s truck hadn’t rolled, sideways, down two hundred foot of mountain when the constant rain weakened the old tires and rock and gravel landing until just enough of it gave way (not my fault); if I had, actually, been a cowboy, I wouldn’t be one of an army of long haul truckers; I wouldn’t be sitting in my ergonomic, multi-position, massage-available, heat on demand chair/throne/saddle; in my temperature controlled cab/office/cubicle/cell; with a corral full of horsepower in the front and a full bunk in the back; a great sound/video system, and a hands-free telephone with, nowadays, only a few blank spots, the deepest valleys between the highest peaks.

I could make more comparisons between me and a cowboy. I wanted to. It was the telephone thing that stopped me. No one, really, left to talk to. A hundred-seventy-five-thousand-dollar semi-truck with all the customized amenities wasn’t enough to keep my woman (woman does sound more cowboy than wife or girlfriend or fiancé) riding with me. Time on the road, even together, time away doesn’t help a relationship. Blank spots, increasing over time.

Over time, without real movement, real exercise, with real gravity and the inevitable weight gain, road food becomes something like skittles or pretzels, doled-out a few at a time. Time. Time, that’s what I keep track of. A cigarette takes about seven minutes to smoke, a cigar can last longer; road songs rarely go over ten minutes; even the Grateful Dead, live, in concert. Road songs might not keep you awake, but you can sing along. Maybe. You can listen to local radio. It used to be that the choice, out in the boondocks, came down to country-western or some preacher.

I frequently chose the preaching. “Amen.”

It’s about twelve hundred miles of road, Seattle to L.A., with regulations on how many hours you are permitted to spend behind the wheel. Averaging fifty miles an hour, that’s twenty-four hours. Eight, eight, eight.

There are places, landmarks by now, where a trucker can get a shower and a meal, with lockers and a lot big enough for however many trucks from the almost-unbroken caravan stop in. There are dealers who can amp you up or chill you out; women who don’t mind climbing into your bunk, who might comment on the luxuriousness without asking who you customized it for.

That might make you feel less alone.

For a certain amount of time. Are you then more alone? I can’t answer that. I try to avoid questions. I have a job, some sort of load to deliver. It doesn’t matter what it is. It matters that I get it there. And then, another load. Another schedule. Same road, same mountains you can’t quite see, low toward the coast, jagged to the East- same mountains, different side.

Then again, maybe loneliness is like… I’m trying to think of a proper metaphor. Loneliness is one blanket when you really need two.1

Best I can come up with.

My favorite spot on the route, I-5, north to south, is heading down Mount Shasta, slaloming, foot off the pedals, half an hour before sunrise, the sky some crazy shades you might never see; purple to green, orange to red to blue-white-purple on the rock pile peaks so close to me; reaching up as I’m threading, weaving, winding my way down.

It’s my name on the doors of my rig, hand lettered, with drop shading and highlights. I’ve been known, window down, to tap on it to some road song beat, so many minutes to somewhere, my left arm perpetually tanned, drafting off of the rig in front of me, a variety of people passing me in the fast lane. Sometimes, sometimes when everything’s just spooling, I feel like I am so incredibly, impossibly free.

I never was a cowboy, but, from my office, my cubicle, my cell; I can’t help wondering where your fog line is, your rumble strip, your guardrails, your landmarks.

Cowboy (or Cowgirl) on.

 

Angels Unaware- Nearly-True Tales from Surf Route 101

Angels Unaware- Mostly-True Tales from Surf Route 101- First Draft. 02/05/16
It was one of those still-Winter, cold light, late dawn mornings; only the ridges across the highway fully-lit, the snow level obvious, and obviously lower, an obviously-new dusting that will disappear from the dark branches by noon; the kind of morning where someone you don’t really know well, on the pump across from you, might just say, blowing out warmth into the chill; “Another day in Paradise, huh?”
Sure, but it’s winter, heating season, and just the fact that the daylight hours are so few means less work; less work, less money. But I’m putting some alcohol-free gas into the car my wife inherited, the nice car; the good car; the car we cannot afford to have any mechanical problems. There’s a ten cent discount for cash, so I went to the ATM, got the fast forty, went inside, made a deal to get fifteen of the higher octane fuel (in case my wife asked- the car needs the high test). The other fifteen would be the regular; the regular unleaded still seventy-five cents or so higher than the price for the alcohol-added regular; and that price, well…
“Great,” I said to the new guy at the counter (there have been a parade of people behind the counter since the store reopened, the only gas for fifteen miles in the three directions one can go, mountains blocking the west- and we’re not supposed to complain about the price), “I look for the cheapest gas I can get for my rig; but for my wife’s…”
He nodded, I nodded; he gave me my change; ten dollars. “For my gas… later… somewhere else,” I said. “You’re set,” he said. “Just give me a signal when you switch.”
The woman I seemed to be holding up from getting to the counter with my whining looked like she had forgotten something, but, as I started to fill the tank with the high octane fuel, she approached, holding a bank card in one hand. “Can you spare a dollar?” She made some vague motion toward her car, parked sideways away from the pumps.
“I only have the ten,” I said, the bill still in my hand. She said nothing. “Why is it always me?” She nodded.
“I’ll bring you back the change.”
I handed her the bill. “She doesn’t know,” I was thinking, “how poor I actually am.” She couldn’t know that I was waiting for one job to start, waiting for someone at some desk somewhere to get to the paperwork necessary to close the deal. I was hoping a check I’d written would take a day or two longer to get back; I was hoping, worrying, taking small jobs to fill in. Then I thought about faith, and how we’d always survived; and how we’re tested, and how…
“Shit!” I’d allowed twenty dollars and fourteen cents worth of the high-priced fuel to be pumped; and couldn’t quite figure out how to make the switch. The woman saw me waving, alerted the counter guy. He switched the pumps.
“I had to do it,” I told myself, preparing for what I’d tell my wife. “Maybe she was really…”
The woman came back out, handed me my change. A five and three ones. Eight dollars.
“Thank you so much,” she said.
“Sure,” I said, draining the last of the fuel into the tank.
“You’re an Angel,” she said as she fondled the Lotto ticket I’d just bought her. “Wish me luck.”

Illustration for “You’re a writer, too… Right?”

It’s fiction. I wrote the piece first. I added the illustrations to the short story (next post down), and because I just can’t not edit, change, clarify, hopefully improve whatever I write (or draw, but can’t once the drawings have been scanned), I made a few changes.

Image (28)Partway through the drawing I decided to add the coffee. I totally lost control after that.

 

Image (29)

Susceptible

“‘The music,’ he said, he always said, always said, ‘is in the words. Pause. The words, one, the words, one, two, the words. Pause. The music, one, is in, one two, the, one, two, three, words.’ He was right.”
“No. No. I’ll, uh, admit… he had the genius thing you and I didn’t… poor us; had to earn shit; but he was always… I’ll pause here, not to sound, um, musical or anything, always… susceptible. It’s why he got screwed up originally, why he became a Jesus Freak, it’s why he got back into drugs again. Enlightened. Geez. Like, because he could drop too much acid and still seem, uh, lucid, lucid to his drugged-out and, on drugs or not, dumb-ass friends. Geez. Assholes. White trash… He thought; on the drugs thing… God, man; I don’t know what he fuckin’ thought. He thought it was easy. He thought it was all good fun. He thought wrong.”
“You’re right. Susceptible. I always thought; always believed, maybe, he… he was… was he, maybe, ni-eve? Or maybe we were because we believed in the whole ‘work hard and you’ll succeed’ bullshit.”
“Oh. Oh; yeah; yes. Definitely. Us not him. Sure. Sure, but, man; we’re still alive, still struggling. Moreover… is ‘moreover’ the right word here?
“Probably. Moreover?”
“Moreover, what he was was, mostly, he was…susceptible.”
“Susceptible? (there’s a long pause here, during which my youngest brother and I look at each other, look at several surfboards leaned up against a wall in my garage) Yeah, sure. Susceptible.”
SUSCEPTIBLE
My brother, our brother; no, he wasn’t a musician, wasn’t a poet’, maybe; probably wasn’t more than a guy who wanted to form some kind of life that included surfing whenever it was good. I don’t have to argue with our other brother about this; he’s right. Sidney took the easy way out. Well, what he thought was easy. It worked for him; for a while. I still have the board Sid gave me; classic Surfboards Hawaii pintail; no longer the clean white with the fine pin stripe at the overlap, the dings from a couple of sessions at that reef break that really wasn’t a surf spot (but was never crowded) still not patched. Still, since I have this outlet, such as it is, before I go over the story (and it’s a story I’ve told, I’ve written, I’ve re-written); let me publish something my brother did write. Maybe it is poetry. Maybe it’s just words and pauses, that, if read out loud, as poetry should be read; and, say, try this- slur over the words, because, and my brother also believed this, even the actual words aren’t as important as the music- maybe it is music.
CAR CHASE
A car door will not stop a bullet;
A door and a femur will,
There is pain; the numbness, alleged, promised, that is a lie;
Another lie.
With every car that passes I feel, or hear;
No longer able to discern a difference;
The sound of a wave;
That first sound.
Oh, that’s it, that’s right;
The same bullet that only pierced the front windshield,
My car charging the roadblock, my head down,
Hoping the motor might stop a bullet or two;
That bullet (or those bullets) took out the back window;
Collapsed: diamond chunks not blown out crumbled.
And now, headed for the sea; whoosh;
I hear the sea, whoosh; I hear the sea.
Closer.
*Syd

That was fiction. He’d left the back hatch open on his van, imagined the rest. He knew he was running. Or, more correctly, he felt like he’d been running, though he was really just hiding a darker reality behind his visible life with whatever screen** and story*** and as much sheen he could afford. For a while, it was all pretty damn shiny; surf trips, friends with names we might read in a magazine or hear on TV, vehicles that were so impractical, surfboards one should hang on a wall ridden and given as gifts. Secret gifts too good to give back. Or up.
*Changed, by Sid, from Sid, short for Sidney. Yeah; of course. **I’m thinking the facade of a house just west of 101. ***Fictions about background, actual income sources, actual investments, actual relatives; just about everything.
Oh, and I must now say this is fiction. Just a story. Don’t go looking for real life equivalents, for ‘based-on’s, though, yes, the ‘whoosh’ from Sidney’s piece (he only thought he was being chased, only imagined being shot); I did use that in a piece already posted, on the sounds of a rainy Seattle. I stole it; sure; but really, I remembered it, and I believed it to be true. Truth.

SUSCEPTIBLE-     Part One- The Devil and the Fear of Darkness
I couldn’t save Sidney. Roger couldn’t save him. By the time Roger called me about the desert airplane drop and the intercept of the small plane, and the attempted bust and the shootout and the escape, Sidney not among the bodies at the… he called it a ‘showdown,’ two guys in a four wheel drive at the junction on miles of dirt roads and the only highway back, two bodies and bags of recovered drugs when the showdown was over; when he realized the escaped member of the party, the guy the other guys tried to kill when they thought he had ratted them out; when he just knew that guy had to be Sidney, possibly wounded, but not at the scene…
“Hi, Laurie; Roger. How’s everything? You barbequing?”
“No. I know you think that’s what we suburbanites…”
“Is my brother around?”
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing.”
But it was something.
“Don’t fuck with me, Roger. What is it?” The pause here is probably twenty seconds. That’s a long telephone pause. Still pausing, waiting. “It’s Sidney. Sidney, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. So… yeah. Is Mikey around or not? I don’t have time to…”
“MIKEY!”

Years earlier, Sidney turned to Jesus when he decided his life had sunk low enough; about the time, he later told me, when he gave up sniffing glue, not so much because he could hear (or feel) his own brain cells popping, but because his partner-in-sniffing, both sharing the tube and the paper bags, had popped enough that Sidney could no longer understand him. “He was gone.” I should say ‘turned back to Jesus,’ since we all had enough of a religious upbringing to share the beJesus out of us, to convince us that we were probably, most likely, doomed. Because I like to wrap things up in some terse phrase, I began to claim that “we learned guilt and hypocrisy at an early age.” Because I was the oldest, I had to hide or deny (hypocrisy) my intense fear of the dark; because Sidney possibly learned more of the verses of the Bible, or paid more attention, he developed a fear of the actual Devil. Because Roger was much younger, and because our father died while he was younger, and because our mother met up with several (two, really) future step-fathers who couldn’t care less about religion (I was old enough they had little influence on me or my fears), Roger developed only a fear of failure. Intense, actually.
It was cool, in those days, to announce your love of the risen savior, the redeemer, the Lord; but the religion was mixed in with so many other notions that…I shouldn’t discuss religion, really; I had become free (by circumstance more than will) of the trappings and the niceties and the hypocrisy. The Jesus Freaks offered a simple message; as Jesus had; it just became more complicated when groups were formed, organization was needed.
Somewhere in this complexity, Sidney moved up, and, when other simple believers lost their enthusiasm and fell off, he moved on to other groups; cynics, paranoids, studious zealots who could find scripture to back up their own fears. And Sidney could study deeper, explain the subtleties in a seemingly-clear way. Groups became smaller; Sidney moved higher. And funds were needed. Money. The Devil Incarnate; in various incarnations; but real.
Now, it might be easy for you to compare what I just wrote about my brother did in impressing other druggies by merely being able to somewhat communicate. Fine, but, I, the brother with the fear of the dark, still think him a genius; and still feel the loose-but-real restraints of the morals I was taught, the things I believed; goodness and evil and redemption; I held to my fear of the dark; almost savored it. And, after all, my father told both of us how, back in the war, he had seen The Devil. In the Dark.