Chris Till

Archive for the ‘santa cruz’ Category

1. To Burn or Not to Burn

In boulder colorado, cocaine, glen ellyn, glenbard west, marijuana, santa cruz, Sean Hayes, Stoner Noir on May 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm

            On May 13, 1985, newspapers reported that the US had sponsored a March car bombing in Lebanon.[i] In a failed attempt to assassinate a popular Lebanese civic and religious leader, the massive bomb devastated a crowded urban neighborhood, killing more than 80 people.

Isaiah

      “Let it burn,” Isaiah told himself, sitting on the bus watching a mansion in flames on the side of the road. “Rich bastards.”

      The Denver-to-Boulder bus had stopped on Highway 36 to let the red fire trucks pass. The mansion looked like it had been recently built and now its roof burned furiously. Isaiah had never seen the mansion before nor did he know the residents. All he needed to know was that it looked like some rich person’s mansion recently built over farmland.

      After a minute, the bus continued north. Looking back at the fire, Isaiah could see yellow-clad firemen begin to spray the fire with a water hose.

Boulder

      Isaiah stepped off the bus at the Boulder bus station in the early afternoon. 19 years old and thin as cardboard, the suspicion that something great had just ended gripped his empty stomach. What that something was, he did not know.

      With his long brown hair loosely tied back with a rubber band, he carried a small black backpack over his shoulder. Due to a prominent scar marking his left cheek, he presented two profiles to the world: fair on the right side and wounded on the left.

      Inhaling, the air smelled different than Illinois air: cleaner, but drier. As he walked towards the campus, a black and white magpie cavorted in the trees above him, seemingly following him. In the sun, its black tail feathers flashed iridescent green.

      “Brother bird, have you come to welcome me to Colorado?” Isaiah asked aloud.

Bobby

      “So when’s your friend getting to town?” Little Bobby asked Bobby, as they drank coffee in Little Bobby’s kitchen. On the table between them, two short lines of cocaine beckoned. Through the kitchen window, the white and grey tombstones of a cemetery contrasted with its green grass and trees.

      “Supposed to be this afternoon some time. Haven’t seen him since he was a kid,” Bobby replied.

      As a warm spring breeze blew in through the open kitchen window, both men sat shirtless at the table. Both clean cut and in their early 30s, Bobby had quick, intelligent eyes while Little Bobby cultivated a look of irreverent torpor.

      “Good for you,” said Little Bobby. “You know, I’m serious about being done driving empties back. It’s just not worth it for me.”

      “Me and his uncle used to be real good buddies back in high school.”

      “Real good buddies?” asked Little Bobby, looking at Bobby questioningly.

      “Not like that, but we tripped together a lot back then. Yeah… Three grand?” A vase of red tulips sat on the kitchen table between them.

      “God, I love tulips. Really, man, I just have a bad feeling about it.”

      “Four?”

      Little Bobby shook his head and sniffled. His nose was chronically runny.

      “So, does the kid know?”

      “Isaiah? No. Yeah, probably. Through his uncle, I guess. Maybe not. He’s a good kid. His mom died in some weird accident or something a couple years ago. His uncle, Zen, my old friend, used to be Ben, right? I told you about him, he’s like super spiritual, a guru-type… I mean, come on, man, what, five, six, seven, ten grand? What?”

      “Bobby, I’m just done. It don’t feel right. Not now. After the last time I got back from Florida, I threw the I Ching and it said ‘contract,’ as in ‘withdraw,’ ‘simplify’… like that.”

      “Maybe it meant ‘contract,’ like a business contract.”

      “Yeah, I knew you’d say that. I’m done driving: empties, full, anything, done. Find someone else. I’m just gonna work the bike shop and keep it simple.”

      “Bobby, you promised you wouldn’t flake out on me again,” said Bobby, exasperated. “I mean, how many times…”

      “Hey,” Little Bobby interrupted. “I gotta do what feels right, right? Last time I was in Florida, last month, it didn’t feel right. Like that one dick cop down there knows what’s going on and needs to make a bust just to make himself look good. You know?”

      Bobby quietly set his cup down, shaking his head and gazing across the cemetery. Out the window, a long-haired little girl wearing orange overalls and a bright green tank top wandered through the cemetery picking wild daisies.

Welcome to Boulder

      “Isaiah? Welcome to Boulder, man,” exclaimed Bobby, coming through the fence gate and striding across the back yard of his house.

      “Hey Bobby,” said Isaiah. “Thanks, man.”

      Both smiling widely, they shook hands and hugged awkwardly. Waiting for Bobby to get home, Isaiah had been fallen asleep on a cushioned lawn chair in Bobby’s backyard.

      “Haven’t seen you since, what, you were eight years old or something? How you doin’?”

      “Good. The Greyhound was all right. All night long though. Kinda tired but whatever.”

      “Well, come on inside. You got your own bedroom and…”  Bobby led Isaiah into his plain-looking ranch house. The interior resembled a new Holiday Inn hotel room.

      “Yeah, that room used to be the grow room for pot,” said Bobby, pointing to a simply furnished bedroom. “You can stay in there. And the garage, through there, used to be for growing mushrooms.”

      “Cool,” said Isaiah, dropping his backpack in the bedroom.

      “Yeah, that was a good time. It was like an indoor farm. So… you hungry? Tired? If you wanna take a nap…”
      “That’s cool, man. I’m alright. I’ll probably go to bed early, but… Actually, thirsty if…”

      “Tell you what, you just make yourself at home. There’s the kitchen. Help yourself. If you want, we can go for a drive up in the Mountains later on, maybe show you around town some.”

      Isaiah went to the kitchen and filled a water glass from the sink.  Bobby sat on a couch in the living room, dark because of the closed curtains.

      “Great. Yeah… I sure appreciate the hospitality,” said Isaiah, sitting in a living room easy chair. “My plan is to just get to California as quick as possible. I haven’t seen Uncle Zen in years and just totally am feeling the call to get out there.”

      “Yeah. Good for you. Family’s important. I got a letter from him a while back. He doesn’t use phones, right? Yeah. I guess he’s started his own church or something?”

      “Yeah, not a church, but like a spiritual group. He calls it the Inner Circle.”

      “Yeah right, I never really understood all that soul travel or Inner Circle stuff, but if he’s doing it, I respect it. He could have taken the easy way out, but he does it his way, even if it’s the hard way, right?”

      “Yeah,” replied Isaiah, shaking his head uncertainly.

      “He probably thinks I took the easy way out,” said Bobby, staring at the carpeted floor. “I guess our paths have kind of diverged, but maybe they’ll converge again.”

      Isaiah nodded and finished his water. The air conditioning kept the house quite cool and reinforced the hotel vibe.

The Rocky Mountains

Driving his black 1984 Jeep Wagoneer up Sunshine Canyon Road, Bobby pulled into a gravel turn-off with a panoramic view of the Great Plains.

“You can just about see Kansas from up here,” said Bobby, parking. “I like this spot. Gives me perspective.”

“Wow,” said Isaiah, looking all around as Bobby produced a thick already-rolled joint.

“Some indoor indica a buddy of mine grows,” said Bobby, handing the joint to Isaiah. “Three hundred bucks an ounce.”

“Damn, that’s expensive. It’s like a hundred or maybe ninety an ounce back in Glen Ellyn,” said Isaiah, smelling the joint and checking his pockets for a lighter.

“Yeah, well, it’s worth it. So, how’s old Glen Ellyn these days?”

“Same, probably. Land of wide lawns and narrow minds, like the old man said.”

“Hemingway, yeah,” said Bobby, handing Isaiah a lighter. “Yup, you know, back then, me and Benny were the only guys in the Glenbard West Class of ’71 to have pony tails? He was still Gentle Ben back then. Go ahead, take two hits, I don’t need much.”

“Yeah?”

“How often you hear from him?” As cars zipped by on Sunshine Canyon, the cloudless sky glowed a rich shade of blue. Isaiah pondered the word “azure” and passed the joint to Bobby.

“Just a couple times a year or something, but I still feel super-close to him. Even right now, like I’m digging being here, but I just wanna get out there to see him as soon as possible.”

From his car seat, Isaiah kept looking all around, up into the craggy red mountains and out into the absolute flatness of the Plains. A red-tailed hawk arced effortlessly far overhead.

“So, you got a girlfriend back home or a, uh…” asked Bobby, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, I just broke up with this girl Maureen a month ago but…”

“Me, I didn’t even know who I was until I was 25.”

“Yeah?”

A black Jaguar pulled into the turn-off and parked at a distance behind Bobby’s Jeep. Isaiah turned around and looked at the car.

“Don’t worry about that guy, he’s probably just cruising,” said Bobby, passing the joint to Isaiah.

“What?” replied Isaiah.

“Cops can’t afford Jaguars anyway. So, how you doin’ for money?”

“Uh, well, I got like almost two hundred bucks. I was working making like restaurant bun toasters for the last couple weeks.”

“Hmmm. Well, there’s easier ways to make money, you know?”

Bobby looked Isaiah in the face then down his chest. Not noticing, Isaiah took a second hit on the joint and passed it back.

“Yeah, people back home told me to mail acid and Ecstasy back from California ’cause it’s cheap out west.”

“Not bad. They front you the cash?”

“No.”

“Yeah, well… You got that lighter?” Isaiah handed Bobby’s lighter back. In the rear view mirror, Isaiah could see the black Jaguar still parked behind them.

“We used to bring weed in on speedboats to the Florida coast. The main ship would be out in the ocean and we’d meet it and offload the bales into the speedboat. That was fun.”

“Damn, sounds like something out of Hollywood.”

“There’s money to be made out of Florida. But shipping weed is a drag. It’s big. It smells. And the profit margin for the size is not great.”

“Yeah?” said Isaiah, as Bobby handed the joint back.

“The CC, on the other hand, is tiny. And it doesn’t smell. Know what I mean? Anyway, enough of that. You wanna see my retirement home?”

“Sure, man. Like an old folks’ home?” Bobby pulled the Jeep back onto Sunshine Canyon and they drove higher up the Mountains. The black Jaguar did not move.

“Not exactly. Cash can be a real problem, you know? It’s bulky. You end up with shoe boxes of it in your car trunk and that’s not good. And it’s noticeable when a guy tries to buy a car or something with, like, fifteen thousand cash. So… when you find a deal where the seller is cool and will take cash…”

“That is one problem that I do not have,” said Isaiah, exhaling. “Yeah, well. Maybe some day, right?” They drove in silence for a while. The road dramatically curved ever higher. Bobby pulled off onto a private driveway on the right and headed around more curves.

“I just rent it for now. It’s too flashy for me, but it’s not in my name, which is a big plus. Once you start getting assets, that’s when the cops wanna bust you. But this is where I’m gonna retire. Like maybe in a few years. The tenants might be home and I don’t want to hassle them, so I’ll just show you the outside real quick.”

The driveway ended in front of a strange glass house. Nestled into the mountains on three sides, it looked like two large flattened glass domes joined on the edges. It had a panoramic eastern view of the Plains.    

“Damn, dude. You own this?”

“100% paid in full. No mortgage. They pay the rent to me. I told them I’m just the property manager for the guy who owns the place. Not bad, huh?”

“I never seen a house like this. It’s like all glass. Or half glass.”

“I love it. Can’t move in here until I don’t have any more stones to throw, though, you know? Supposedly, some gay porn movie got shot here in the 70s, I don’t know. But that is my retirement home.”

Bobby looked at Isaiah intently then pulled around in the driveway and headed back to Sunshine Canyon. Isaiah, thoroughly stoned, still held a quarter of the joint in his hand.

“Go ahead and chuck it,” said Bobby. “Or keep the rest for later if you want. Whatever, I got more.”

As they drove past the turn-off where they had first parked, the black Jaguar had vanished. When they got back into Boulder, Bobby stopped at a parking lot payphone on 28th Street to make some phone calls. As Isaiah waited in the Jeep, he saw a black Jaguar pass on the street. It looked identical to the Jaguar that had pulled in behind them in the Mountains.

      “Always do your business on payphones and always change your payphone,” advised Bobby, getting back in Jeep. “It looks funny if a well-off guy is always using the same payphone. Hey look, you hungry? I usually go over to my buddy Little Bobby’s place for dinner around seven. He’s a great chef. Or if you’re tired…”

      “Yeah, man. Well, actually, I think I might just hit it early tonight and get rested up for tomorrow. I’m gonna check the University ride board in the morning to see if there’s any rides heading to Cali.”

Bobby and Little Bobby

      The two men lay in bed at Little Bobby’s house watching the ten o’clock Channel 9 news. A number of Americans had been captured in Lebanon in the previous year. Little Bobby shifted restlessly on the bed, sniffling.

      “By the way, I seen one of your tenants and told her that their rent was going up,” said Little Bobby, voice somewhat groggy. The news showed black and white images of five Americans held by unknown captors in Lebanon.
      “Those Lebanese dudes are pissed,” said Bobby. “Can’t blame ’em really. What, it was just like two years ago that the US was bombing the hell out of the place for some far-from-clear reason. What are you talking about?”

      “You don’t charge enough for that place.”

      “Look man, they got a one-year lease. They’re good tenants.”

      “Lease shmease, you should get more for that place.”

      “Dude…” said Bobby, crossly.

      “Hey, it’s money in your pocket. I told the girl to add a hundred bucks a month to the rent.” Eyes a bit glazed, Little Bobby grabbed a medicine bottle off the bed stand and shook out two pills.

      “Man, you should talk to me before you do stuff like that.”

      “Well, you should tighten up your business affairs. Take care of number one a little more. Like this kid, Isaiah or whatever, you’ve known him for, what, one day, and you’re offering him a job?” said Little Bobby, swallowing the pills with a glass of water. “That’s real cautious, man.”

      “Hey, why do we need a new empties driver? Huh? Yeah, so… And I’ve known him since he was a kid. And I’ve known his uncle since I was a kid. It’s all right. Plus he’d be cheap. He’d do it for a thousand bucks, I bet. Anyway, I haven’t asked him. Yet.”

      “You gonna set him up?”

      “What?”

      “You know what I mean.”

      “No. I’m not. Come on, dude. I know this kid’s family. I wouldn’t do that.”

      “You once told me you’d feed your grandmother to the wolves to stay out of jail.”

      “I was just messing with you, bro,” Bobby said, putting his arm around Little Bobby. “I’m not really like that.”

      Little Bobby looked at Bobby doubtfully. On the news, President Reagan vowed to punish those responsible for capturing the Americans.

      “Uh huh,” Little Bobby said, raising his eyebrows. “Right.”

      “Anyway, that whole thing was just a theory. One of the Columbians told a story, something about feeding a lamb to the wolves every once keeps the wolves happy. Maybe that’s true in Columbia, but… Up here it’s different.”

      “Cause the kid would just tell the cops who he worked for.”

      “Exactly. Down there, like the drivers and underlings are afraid of the bosses, but…”

      “Yeah, you nark the kid off to that one dick Florida cop and he’d just roll on you.”

      “Unless…”

      “Unless what?”

      “Unless, theoretically that is, I had something on him,” said Bobby.

      “Bobby Machiavelli. That’s who you are.”

      “Shut up. You look cute tonight.”

      “Bobby Machiavelli changes the subject with flattery. Don’t stop, big boy.” As a Bill Cosby New Coke commercial came on, Little Bobby rolled on his side and snuggled up to Bobby, sleepily kissing his shoulder.

The Offer

      Late the next morning, after Isaiah checked the University ride board, he got two dollars worth of quarters and found a payphone on Broadway on University Hill. Filling the phone with seven quarters, he made the call that he’d been both dreading and looking forward to.

      “Hey Maureen, how you doin’?” he said in his best warm tone. A small raindrop landed squarely on the scar on his left cheek.

      “Isaiah? I thought you’d forgotten about me,” she replied. “I’m okay. Finally out of that boring mental hospital.”

      “Good. I’m glad. Look, I’m sorry I left like the day before you got out. I just… I didn’t know what to do.” A college girl who looked like a hippie Raquel Welch passed by on the sidewalk, smiling easily at Isaiah. He turned and watched her glide gracefully down the sidewalk.

      “Well, your actions speak loud and clear.” Isaiah didn’t respond for some time.

      “Maureen, please, I’m really sorry. I still care about you a lot. It’s just… I made plans to go visit my Uncle Zen and I’ve just felt really pulled to…”

      “Isaiah, you don’t have to make excuses to me. We’re not boyfriend and girlfriend anymore, remember?”

      “No, I guess not.”

      “You guess not? You broke up with me last month then never visited me in the hospital. That’s not how you treat someone you ‘really care about.'”

      “I did visit you in the hospital, on the first day.”

      “Maybe, but not Mercy Center.”

      “Look, you made me promise to stay in touch with you and I am.”

      “Yes, you’re Mr. Isaiah Honesty,” said Maureen, bitingly. “Mr. True-to-His-Word. You love to brag about that.”

      “I’m not bragging, Maureen, I’m just… Anyway, look… I’m just glad you’re out. I do hope you’re feeling better. It’s just… Look, I felt like I was the reason you were so depressed and seeing me wouldn’t help you get any better. Plus I’ve been super depressed lately too so…”

      Another college girl passed. This one looked like a hippie Bo Derek, complete with cornrows in her hair. When Isaiah smiled at her, she frowned at him and quickened her pace.

      “You’re a free man. Anyway, I met this guy in the hospital, one of the nurses. He’s really cool. We’re supposed to go to the Dead show at Alpine Valley next month.”

      “Cool. Well… I just wanted to make sure you were back home safe and sound and to let you know where I’m at. I’m in Colorado and hoping to get to California any day soon.”

      “You know a girl disappeared on the Prairie Path the day before you split? Mary Lou Thorsen. It’s big news here. Cops are all over the Prairie Path.”

      “Mary Lou Thorsen? Damn. I knew her. I went to grade school with her. She was super shy.”

      “Yeah, the day before you left town, Isaiah? Like three days ago. Where were you?”

      “What? Come on, Maureen, gimme a break. That sucks. Mary Lou was a good girl. A little weird but… Hey, if the phone stops, it’s just ’cause I’m out of quarters.”

      “Oh, okay. Well, I’ve got to get dressed anyway. I just got out of the shower and am sitting here in a towel. Have a fun trip.”

      Click. She hung up.    

      Isaiah stood on the sidewalk with the phone in his hand and looked up at the grey sky. A black car drove slowly past. Startled, Isaiah recognized it as the same black Jaguar from the day before. After it passed, he realized it was a Datsun 280Z and felt foolish for being so paranoid.

      When he got back to Bobby’s house, Bobby was in the backyard, pulling the cloth cushions from the yard furniture. A slight drizzle fell.

      “Hey Bobby.”

      “Isaiah! Everything good?”

      “Yeah great, no rides on the ride board though. I guess I’ll just Greyhound it the rest of the way.”

      “Look man, c’mon inside. I got a proposal for you.”

      Inside, Bobby settled on the living room couch and pointed to the easy chair for Isaiah. Again, the curtains were closed.

      “Isaiah, I want to hire you.”

      “What?”

      “I need a driver that I can trust. I take it you’ve got a driver’s license?”

      “Heck yeah, I love to drive. Got no car, but…”

      “Good. It’s a pretty easy job. And safe. I need somebody to drive empties back to Florida.” 

“What?”

“Empty cars. We get full cars in from Florida. That’s the dangerous part. But the other half is driving the empty cars back to Miami. It pays a thousand bucks a car. Plus you get a plane ticket out of Miami to wherever you wanna go. For you, San Francisco. Takes you three days, maybe four. And there’s nothing illegal in the car. Clean as a brand-new jumping bean.”

      “Wow, man. Geez… Thousand bucks, huh?”

      “Yup, you could leave today.”

      “Damn, Bobby, it’s just… I’m super-set on getting out to California and seeing Uncle Zen like as soon as possible. I wrote him that I’d be out there right around now. I even had this weird dream last night that he was getting chased by the cops. I don’t know.”

      “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do, but… Look, it’s about 2100 miles to Miami. Two, three days driving. I give you five hundred bucks for gas, hotels, food, whatever. You fly out of Miami to San Fran, you’ll be there, what’s today, Tuesday? You’ll be in California early next week at the very latest with a thousand bucks cash burning a hole in your pocket.”

      “I don’t know man,” said Isaiah, getting up and walking to the fireplace. A shiny brass statue of the Buddha sat on the mantel. He rubbed the Buddha’s belly and thought of how much he disliked cocaine. It made people noisy and thoughtless and, now, here he was, contemplating working on the periphery of the cocaine trade. Turning around, he looked Bobby square in the eye.

      “Screw it. Hell yeah, I’ll do it. Yes. Fifteen hundred bucks including expenses and a ticket to San Fran out of Miami? And the car is empty?”

      “Yup, street legal as a registered full-blood beagle. When you wanna leave?”

      “Hell, I’d leave today if I could.”

      “Yeah? I hate to hurry you out of Boulder, but… If that’s what you want, great. The car’s in a garage on the Hill. I’ll get Little Bobby, you haven’t met him yet, right? I’ll get him to book the flight and you’ll be good to go.”

      “Yeah?”

      “Yup,” Bobby said, standing up and shaking Isaiah’s hand. “It’s good to stick with family and close friends for stuff like this. You know, people you can trust.”

The Magpie

      A black and white magpie, perhaps the same one that had followed Isaiah when he first arrived in Boulder the day before, sat perched on the very top branch of a silver maple in Bobby’s backyard. Still drying off from the morning’s drizzle, he flapped his wings to air them out.

      Puffing the black feathers on his breast, he chattered loudly and gazed southwest. On the very west edge of Boulder, the Rocky Mountains exploded from the Great Plains.

      Eyeing the Flat Irons, rock outcroppings resembling huge stone hand irons, the magpie enjoyed the fresh smell of the air. The morning’s drizzle had finally washed the smell of the previous day’s house fire from the air.

The Car

      Bobby and Isaiah walked in the front door of Little Bobby’s house. Bobby called his name but didn’t receive an answer. Still calling his name, they went through the kitchen into the garage. Little Bobby had the trunk open of a blue 1984 Toyota Camry and was messing with the spare tire.

      “Hey man,” said Little Bobby, slamming the car trunk quickly. “You must be Isaiah.”

      “Isaiah, this is Little Bobby,” said Bobby. Isaiah and Little Bobby shook hands. Little Bobby had a very soft handshake.

      “Hey man,” said Isaiah, backpack over his shoulder.

      “That’s the car,” said Bobby. “It runs great. Gets tuned up before every run.”

      “Florida plates,” said Isaiah, walking around the car.

      “I booked your flight,” said Little Bobby, sniffling. “Sunday night out of Miami International.”

      “Thanks man.”

      “That’s five days from now, just to give you plenty of time,” said Bobby. “There’s a McDonalds next to a Holiday Inn a couple miles from the airport. Just leave the car in the back of the McDonalds parking lot. The address and directions are in the glove box. Leave the keys in the glove box. That’s it.”

      “That’s it. Piece of cake,” said Isaiah. “Better than making bun toasters for $4.25 an hour.”

      “Moving on up,” sang Little Bobby, leading them back into the house. Bobby sat at the kitchen table counting out cash. Through the kitchen window, he glanced up and saw the long-haired little girl wandering in the cemetery again, now wearing purple pants and a sky blue t-shirt.

      “There’s a fifteen hundred bucks right there,” said Bobby, pointing to a small stack of currency on the table. Isaiah sat down at the table, while Little Bobby disappeared into another room.

      “If the car breaks down, just get it towed, get it fixed. Whatever. The emergency number is Little Bobby’s bike shop. Area code 303 2 B OR NOT. Get it? That’s the number. 303 2 B OR NOT. It’s funny, right? Just call when you get there. Otherwise, only call if it’s a total emergency and just be cool on the phone and give your call back number.”

      “Damn, it’s like all secret agent and stuff, huh? Love it.” On the far side of the cemetery, Isaiah could see a black car passing, but couldn’t tell what brand. His heart began to race.

      “Hey, you gotta be safe,” said Bobby. “The drug war is real. But what you’re doing is easy. And legal. It’s just driving an empty car ‘cross country.”

On the Road Again

    Isaiah drove the blue Camry south down Highway 36 to Denver in the early evening. The morning rain had cleared and once again the sky glowed crystal blue. Yet, his heart still raced and he couldn’t stop checking the rear view mirror.

      With the windows up and the air conditioner on, Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” played on the FM radio: “you’re motoring.” In the rear view mirror, he could see a black car about an eighth of a mile behind him. It seemed to be gaining on him. On the steering wheel, a single bead of sweat formed on the middle knuckle of his left hand. He wiped it off on his jeans.

      Isaiah exited onto Interstate 70 east. The black car exited too. He slowed down so the black car would pass him, but it slowed down too. Feeling paranoid again, he pulled off to lose the black car or at least see if it was a black Jaguar. East of downtown Denver, he exited on Havana Street south, watching his rear view mirror.

      The black car didn’t pull off. Relieved and looking for a place to turn around, Isaiah drove on.

      As he pulled into a Shell station to turn around, a black car pulled out of the gas station. It was a black Jaguar, heading back towards I-70. Then a Denver Police car sped by, also heading towards the interstate. Several beads of sweat formed on his left knuckles. Again, he wiped the sweat off on his jeans.

      Checking the rear view mirror, he pulled back onto the street, away from the Interstate. Havana Street led by Denver’s Stapleton Airport. Trying to stay cool, but feeling his heart racing, Isaiah rechecked the rear view mirror again and again. When the exit to the airport came, he sharply turned in without a turn signal and accelerated. He couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like a black car was a block behind him. His forehead misted with sweat.

Little Bobby’s Barbecue

      Back in Boulder, Bobby and Little Bobby sat at a picnic table on Little Bobby’s back deck, barbecuing steaks on the gas grill. It was that hour before dusk when the world sometimes slows down.

      “I told you, man, I’m not gonna burn a family friend, or any friend, for that matter,” said Bobby proudly, drinking a bottle of O’Douls non-alcoholic beer.

      “What are you talking about?” asked Little Bobby, getting up and turning the steaks on the grill.

      “Isaiah. Last night you said you thought I was gonna nark him off to those jackass Florida cops. I’m really not like that.”

      “Hold on, Bobby. Last night, in bed, you told me you had something on him, and you’d feed him to the wolves if, like, he was afraid enough of you. Remember? Like the Columbians, you said.”

      “Yeah, sure. I mean, maybe, theoretically, probably not, but anyway, that’s not the point. The point is…”

      “Bobby,” Little Bobby interrupted, jiggling the spatula in his hand. “I know I was buzzing last night, but you told me you’d… You told me you had something on him and that you were gonna double-cross him or whatever.” The steaks began to smoke.

      “What? I did not say that. You started calling me Bobby Machiavelli or whatever, but I didn’t actually say I was gonna whatever.”

      Little Bobby sat down across from Bobby. He looked him in the eye.

      “Woops,” said Little Bobby sheepishly raising his eyebrows.

      “‘Woops’ what?” The steaks began to burn.

      “Remember when you came into the garage this afternoon with the kid? I had the trunk up?”

      “You did not!”

      “Yes, I did.”

      “How much?”
      “A fat eight ball under the spare tire.”

      Bobby shook his head and drained the bottle. He crossed his arms and looked at Little Bobby accusingly.

      “If he gets busted, there’s no reason he would not nark me, and you, off. I got nothing on him. Tell me you haven’t called that dick cop in Florida.”

      “I haven’t.” The steaks smoked, but Little Bobby didn’t get up.

      “You swear?” Little Bobby got up and took the steaks off in a desultory fashion.

      “Now, I have to swear oaths to you? These steaks are ruined.” Little Bobby took the plate of burnt steaks into the kitchen. Bobby watched Little Bobby walk away then gazed somberly across the cemetery. The colorfully-dressed little girl was not there.

The Decision

     Isaiah parked the Camry in the long-term lot of Stapleton Airport. For several minutes, he waited to see if the black Jaguar had followed him. It hadn’t, but his heart still raced. The knuckles on both hands now sweat. Trying to calm down, he wiped his hands off on his jeans and wiped his forehead with his forearm.

      He pulled a t-shirt from his backpack and wiped the steering wheel, the rear view mirror, and the gear shift for prints. Leaving the parking ticket and keys in the glove box, he locked the car without using his fingers and left the car with his backpack over his shoulder. A shuttle bus took him to the airport.

      Dissolving into the crowd inside the airport calmed him some. Finding a payphone, he dropped in a quarter and dialed 2 B OR NOT. The phone rang twice, but he hung up before anyone answered.

      Spotting the United Airlines counter, he got into line and tried to calm himself. Two young men in turbans stood in front of him speaking an unintelligible language.

      “Welcome to United Airlines, how may I help you?” asked the United ticket agent. Isaiah couldn’t stop staring at the man’s walrus mustache.

      “Can I change a Miami to San Francisco ticket to a Denver to San Francisco ticket?”

      “One way?” The man typed into his keyboard.

      “Uh yeah.”

      “Seventy-five dollars, sir.” Because it covered his mouth, his walrus mustache seemed to move instead of his lips.

      “When’s the next flight?”

      “The next flight is… Actually, there’s a direct flight in an hour that arrives in San Francisco at 1:10 am, but it is fully booked. No… Yes, there are two aisle seats available.”

      “Yeah?” A hard-looking man about 35 in a black suit stood in the back of the United Airlines line. When Isaiah looked at him, he stared right back with a sour expression.

      “Sorry, yeah, I’ll take it. Definitely. Ummm…” Isaiah pulled a wad of twenties from his front pocket. “Hey, is there like a bank or currency exchange here and a, uh, post office?”

      Isaiah followed the ticket agent’s directions to the World Wide Money Exchange. For half a minute, he stood in front of the shop hesitating. Finally, he walked in and impatiently waited in line, watching the clock.

      “I need a money order for fifteen hundred, no, for fourteen hundred dollars,” he told the cashier, a plain girl his age.

      “Fourteen hundred dollars? Yes, sir,” she replied, eyeing his long hair suspiciously. Minutes later, Isaiah left, carrying the money order in his hand.

      At a convenience-type store, he bought a whole box of envelopes, stamps, and got two dollars worth of quarters. Sitting on a hard plastic chair in a gate area, he pulled his notebook from his backpack and composed a letter.

Bobby,

      Man, I’m really sorry. The car was giving me engine problems. I couldn’t find a mechanic so I just decided to leave it at the Denver airport. It’s parked in the long-term lot section 7A with the keys and parking ticket in the glove box. Here’s your money back and I’ll reimburse you for the ticket when I can.

Thanks for everything and sorry,

Isaiah

      He stared at the letter for a hard minute and almost gobbled it up. Finally, he stuffed it and the money order into an envelope. Addressing and stamping it, he dropped the letter in a dark blue mail box by the convenience store and threw out the rest of envelopes.

      At a payphone, he dropped seven quarters into the slot and dialed a number.

      “We’re not home so please leave a message,” said a girl’s voice on the answering machine.

      “Hey Maureen, it’s Isaiah. Um, that was a tough phone call this morning, but I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to hear your voice. I miss you. Okay? Okay.” He hung up and quickly walked to his gate.

      Out of the corner of his eye, Isaiah saw the hard-looking man in the black suit from the United Airlines ticket line waiting at a gate. The man ignored Isaiah. Isaiah avoided eye contact.

      When Isaiah found his gate, he found a chair facing away from the crowd and sat motionless and breathless waiting for his flight. Still nervous, he convinced himself that the man in the black suit from the United Airlines line was about to arrest him. Every time that a bead of sweat appeared on a knuckle, he wiped it off on his pants.

      Finally boarding the plane, a nun with a pretty face not much older than Isaiah sat in the window seat next to him on the airplane. He grinned at her and she returned an inscrutable look. Putting on his seat belt, his heart finally calmed down. Soon, the plane rolled down the runway and took off.

      “California, here I come,” he said to the nun. She didn’t reply. Isaiah put on his wire-frame mirror sunglasses and slouched back in his seat, relieved.


[i] “CIA Link to Fatal Car Bomb Reported,” Chicago Tribune, 5, May 13, 1985.

5. Water Music

In boulder creek, DMT, franz bardon, hermetics, LSD, marijuana, santa cruz, st. george hotel, Stoner Noir on April 19, 2010 at 5:59 pm

On June 14, 1985, two Lebanese men hijacked a TWA flight and forced the pilots to fly the plane to Lebanon.[i] 40 Americans were on board. The next day, the hijackers murdered an American Navy sailor on board, then threw his corpse onto the airport runway.[ii] Although it had no evidence, the U.S. suspected Libyan involvement.[iii]

The Clown 

Smoking a cigarette, the Clown walked down the crowded outdoor Pacific Garden Mall talking to himself. Looking over his shoulder, he checked the time on the Clock Tower at the top of the Mall. It was almost high noon.

“The Night Stalker? They have got get that guy,” the Clown said to himself out loud. “Raping and killing people in their own homes in the middle of the night? It’s just not right. Is it? No, it isn’t.”

Wearing a purple and gold velvet jester’s hat and the white and black face paint of a sad clown, he held a marching baton upright in one hand. The rest of his red, yellow, and blue clown costume was made from satin. He looked like a wealthy, sad, and mean clown.

“Go ahead and look at me. Laugh at me. I don’t care,” he said to no one in particular. He kept his mirthless eyes on each passing pedestrian, but most looked away uncomfortably. If someone tried to hold his gaze and smile at him, he returned a contemptuous frown. Why would a grown man dress as a clown and hang out most days on Santa Cruz’s leafy outdoor mall?

“To be invisible, that’s why,” he explained aloud. “Who wants a sad clown around?”

A red-haired child limped away from his mother. He stood in front of the Clown, stopping him on the sidewalk.

“Are you a clown?” the little boy asked in a tiny voice. The Clown grimaced blankly at him, saying nothing and exhaling cigarette smoke towards the boy. The boy’s mother pulled him away and scooted him along.

When the Clown reached the Taco Bell at the end of the Mall, he flicked his cigarette butt into the street and stood in front of the restaurant window. First, he looked at his own reflection in the glass with an expression of bored ambivalence. Then, he looked through the window at the workers behind the counter. In the back, sweeping the floor, Isaiah looked up and, for a moment, locked eyes with the Clown.

Rhion

That afternoon, pale blue-eyed Rhion lay reclined underneath the Soquel Avenue bridge watching the muddy San Lorenzo River slowly roll towards the ocean. Several hours earlier, he had ingested one hit of high-quality white blotter LSD.

In his hands, he held a pair of Tibetan brass hand bells that he chimed every minute or so. The sustained high-pitched tintinnabulation of the bells pleased him greatly. In his ears, the sound of the bells harmonically merged with the low hum of the river.

Gradually, he realized that some dark shape passed underwater in the river. He didn’t notice it until it had almost passed. On alert, he sat up. Perhaps not physical, the large shape, formless and dark, had been birthed in the Mountains and now slid inexorably towards the ocean. Rhion felt a chill but did not know the precise cause.

Soon, the dark underwater shape slid out of sight. Across the river in the park, Rhion watched a child try to get a kite aloft. Back and forth, the child ran, unsuccessfully trying to get the kite airborne on the windless blue sky afternoon.

Taco Bell

“One beef taco with no beef,” the Clown told the Taco Bell cashier in a monotone.

“Okay, so a veggie taco?” the cashier asked irritably, making brief eye contact with the Clown then looking away.

“One beef taco with no beef.”

“Right.” Skinny and scar-faced, Isaiah looked up from his mop and caught the Clown studying him. Isaiah ignored him and kept mopping.

Pushing his mop bucket along, Isaiah felt the remorseless eyes of the Clown on him. After the Clown paid the cashier, Isaiah looked up and inadvertently locked eyes with him again for a moment. Isaiah turned his back. To Isaiah, the Clown’s eyes seemed to judge and mock him.

“You know that creepy clown guy?” another Taco Bell worker quietly asked Isaiah.

“That’s a big ‘no,'” Isaiah said, still feeling the Clown’s eyes on him. The Clown’s presence cast a pall over the Taco Bell workers. They all silently went about their work, waiting for the Clown and his heavy vibes to depart. With a frown, the cashier bagged the Clown’s taco and started to hand the bag to him.

“Keep it,” said the Clown, spinning on his heels and walking out.

“That clown dude creeps me out,” the other Taco Bell worker said to Isaiah.

“My friend says he’s like a police informant or undercover agent or something,” Isaiah said warily.

“Around here, I wouldn’t be surprised.” Taking a deep breath, Isaiah resumed mopping the red tile floor.

Krishna Johnson’s Apartment

Rhion’s friend Krishna Johnson caught a three month sentence at the Santa Cruz County Jail on a cannabis charge. During his incarceration, he sublet his apartment to Rhion. For half the $180 rent, Rhion shared it with Isaiah. It was a small, windowless basement apartment in a house just over the Broadway Avenue bridge from the Pacific Garden Mall.  

Before Isaiah and Rhion moved in, the filthy apartment had apparently not been cleaned since sometime around the Gerald Ford presidency. When Isaiah cleaned the fridge, he found four half-empty ketchup bottles, three half-empty mustard bottles, two half-empty relish jars, and three empty hot dog bags. Ol’ Krishna likes him some hot dogs, Isaiah figured.

“So, what’d that Clown say to you?” Rhion asked, sitting on the sofa with Isaiah that night.

“He didn’t say anything. He just stared at me with like a mean look, like he was judging me,” Isaiah replied.

“I’d say stay away from him. He’s probably the one that nailed Zen.”

“Really?” On the wall, Isaiah stared at a tattered 1982 calendar featuring a picture of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of abundance, showering all with gold coins.

“They’re scared of Zen. The local police and three-letter agencies. Zen’s a powerful operator on the astral plane. Rare is the man who can leave his body at will and affect change.”

“Yeah? I know that’s what ANEEZA was into, like soul travel and all that, but it never worked for me.”

“The soul can leave a body and return just like a body can leave this apartment and return.” Rhion opened and closed his hand to symbolize the soul’s departure and return.

“Far out. Yeah, I remember when I first smoked pot, it felt like I left my body, but that was like the only time.”

“Now there’s a good idea,” Rhion said, perking up and pulling a plastic baggie from his pocket. Reaching under the sofa, he slid out some of his magazines. From among the old copies of Penthouse and Juggs, he grabbed the November 22, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone. Cleaning the weed on the back of the magazine, he started to roll a joint.

“It’s just trimmings, but it’s indica,” Rhion said, referring to the leafy cannabis. “Indica leaf is as good as sativa buds, in my humble opinion.”

“What a weird day,” said Isaiah. “Having that clown come into the restaurant really shook me up.”

“You read this article about the Satanist kid in here?” Rhion asked, referring to the magazine. “I guarantee that’s who that Night Stalker is down in L.A. Some dumb, violent kid amped up on Satan, not even knowing what he’s talking about.”

“Yeah? Some girl from my hometown disappeared without a trace last month,” said Isaiah, fidgeting as Rhion slowly rolled the joint.

“Satanists, man, that’s what I’d guess. Bunch of idiots, they are. Violent idiots. You got a lighter?” Isaiah pulled some matches from his pocket and gave them to Rhion.

“Used to be a Satanic cult up in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late sixties,” Rhion said, lighting the joint. “They built altars up there and sacrificed some people.”

“Yuck,” said Isaiah, taking the joint from Rhion.

“Most of ’em got busted. Supposedly, a few of ’em still live up in the Mountains. The dark forces are real.”

“Yeah? Sounds like bad news.” Isaiah coughed and handed the joint back to Rhion. Rhion leafed through the Rolling Stone until he reached the article called “Kids in the Dark.” Leaving the magazine open to the photograph of the trippy-looking teen murderer, he tossed the magazine on the floor.

“That’s just what it is. You know, back when I was a teenager, I used to lay up high on LSD all night long watching the UFOs come in over the Berkeley Hills,” said Rhion, hitting the thick joint.

“Yeah? I’ve never seen a UFO.”

“They’d just come in waves, one after another, coming in low over the hills. You want some? Acid? Five bucks a hit, four for you. It’s real good stuff. The last of the batch that Zen got busted with.”

“I didn’t know you had some of that stuff left. Yeah, definitely.”

“You know, with the UFOs, some of them are here to help us. They’re our space brothers, like Zen says. Other ones, though, are some pretty rough characters, in league with the dark forces. They do awful things to people.”

“Yeah?” Isaiah took a hit and held it. He noticed that when Rhion made a particularly trippy point, his already tiny pupils narrowed even more.

“My eyes?” Rhion said, noticing Isaiah’s gaze. “I told you what happened, right? I used stare at the sun when I got back from the jungle. Meditating. Trying to see beyond this world. Messed up my pupils.”

“Hmmm,” said Isaiah, passing the joint. The smoke sat on the ceiling of the small apartment, gathering like a hazy cloud. Isaiah looked at the photograph of the teen murderer in the Rolling Stone on the floor. Wild-eyed, the kid looked like he was tripping, but reminded Isaiah of some of his burnout friends back home in Illinois.

“It’s weird. The things that happen to us that’re beyond our control. That affect us permanently. Like, for example, your mom dying or whatever when you were a kid. Or Zen getting busted. Or…”

“Or what?”

“Like you know what happened to me, when I was like ten? Like I was raped by a priest. A youth priest back home. That probably had a big effect on me.”

“Dang. That sucks, man. Hey, I’m really sorry to hear that. Did he get like charged with a crime?”

“No. I didn’t do anything about it. I heard he died since then. But like, it was something totally beyond my control. That affected me. Totally random. Anyway, yeah. This leaf is all right, huh?”
      “Yeah it is.” Isaiah looked down at the Rolling Stone again. A headline in the article identified the teen murderer as “the Acid King.”

“You know the reason they want Zen so bad is that he knows the chemist?”

“The acid chemist?” Isaiah asked.

“Yup, I have no idea who the chemist is. I do know Zen doesn’t make much money off the doses, he just kind of holds them for the chemist.” Due to a curious air pattern in the apartment, the cloud of smoke shaped itself into a loose spiral on the ceiling.

“Wow.”

“That smoke looks like a galaxy, huh? So, I got like half a sheet left of the good stuff.”

“For sure. I just want like one, though. For later.”

“You should take it up in the Mountains, man, up in the redwoods. You can have a really peaceful nature trip up there.” Rhion blew towards the smoke, dispelling the spiral.

“Cool… So, where you think Zen’s at now?” Isaiah asked, taking the joint back from Rhion.

“I surely do not know. Somewhere safe. I doubt he’d leave California. I wouldn’t be surprised if he…” Rhion cut himself off.

“What? Surprised if he what?”

“Nothing. Pretty good smoke, huh?” Rhion took an enormous hit from the joint.

“Come on, man. You know where he’s at?” Rhion held in his hit and finally exhaled, filling the room with smoke.

“The Inner Circle is protecting him with a cloak of safety. You ever read The Lesser Key of Solomon? A very rare book. Elemental magic. There are various elemental energies and protective genies that can be conjured with certain sigils and emblems. You know what I mean?”

“Uh, not really, you mentioned it before, but, like, what were you saying before, about Zen?”

“Zen is a powerful magician, Isaiah. Still young, but he’s all positive. To be honest with you, he’s the head honcho of the Inner Circle.”

“Right, I figured that, but you were saying you wouldn’t be surprised if something.”

“Well, yeah, I don’t know where he is. Somewhere safe, but I just wouldn’t be surprised if he, uh…” Rhion trailed off.

“What man?” Isaiah said sharply. “Come on.”

Looking around suspiciously, Isaiah moved to the edge of the sofa. Getting up, he turned on the water in the sink to cloak his voice and whispered to Isaiah.

“Well, he sure likes to go to the hot tubs at Esalen down in Big Sur on Sunday nights. That’s when they open it to the public. I wouldn’t be surprised if he…”

“Really? What’s today? Friday? Let’s go down there Sunday night.”

“Ah. It’d probably just be a wild goose chase. I’m not going.” Turning the water off, Rhion slumped back down in the sofa with the joint in his hand.

“Well, maybe I should go?”

“Might not be safe,” said Rhion. “Sounds like that clown is on your trail.”

White Blotter LSD

Isaiah ate the acid at Krishna’s apartment late on the morning of June 15, 1985 then walked to the bus station. On the way there, he could distinctly feel the heat from the sidewalk radiate up from his feet up his legs. As he arrived at the bus station, the 35 bus to the Mountains arrived. Feeling utterly normal, he got on the bus.

Reminiscing about chatting with the beautiful sunshine-tressed Naja Aneezman, he felt a pang of loneliness and horniness. Passing the spot where he and Rhion had gotten off the bus to look for Zen weeks earlier, he remained stone-faced and felt nothing.

When the bus stopped in Boulder Creek, he got off and walked to a phone booth. Downtown Boulder Creek looked like an old-fashioned downtown from 1920s, with a quaint Main Street full of shops and shaded by towering redwood trees. The air smelled like country air.

As Isaiah leafed through a phone book chained to the pay phone, he began to feel slightly strange. Under “Aneezman,” he found an entry for “Gloria Aneezman.” Must be Naja’s Mom, he figured. Pulling a quarter from his pocket, he stared at the portrait of George Washington on it. A great number of tiny scratches covered the quarter. Why had someone purposefully defaced George Washington’s face? Or perhaps it was just ordinary use. George Washington looked like he had a pony tail. The year on the quarter was 1965, the year he was born. The Beatles made some music that year. Isaiah liked the Beatles.

Isaiah didn’t want to talk to Gloria Aneezman, but rather what he hoped would be her daughter, Naja. Still holding the quarter while standing at the payphone, he felt good. When a man stands at a payphone, he is conducting business. Isaiah’s business was personal in nature. The phone had a rotary dial with numbers inside the finger holes. Isaiah lightly touched the very center of the dial with his index finger. Feeling pleasantly indecisive, he walked away from the payphone, sliding the scratched-up quarter in his pocket.

Keeping his eyes to himself, Isaiah made his way down the street to the creek. The best thing of all would be to be alone. A shadow in him felt that the eyes of others might not like what they saw in his eyes that day. He needed to be free from such judgment. The creek looked safe to him. Like a kid carelessly cutting through back yards, Isaiah walked off the sidewalk and down the embankment along the bridge. Looking under the bridge, he understood why Rhion hung out under bridges. It’s safe under bridges, a world away from the prying eyes of the masses.

Tumbling over rocks, the water ran clear, so clear it seemed almost invisible. Well, not invisible, but its signature was primarily wetness, not solidity.

The shaded atmosphere under the bridge felt nice and cool. Squatting, Isaiah held his palm just above the flowing water and could feel its coolness radiating up to his skin and into his hand.

Down by the creek, Isaiah could see no buildings or creations of man besides the bridge. Beyond the shade beneath the bridge, Isaiah could see the creek bend around a corner up into the Mountains. Because of the low water level, a path way of dry river stones edged the creek. Leaving his turquoise flip flops under the bridge, he stood up and walked along the river stones.

He tried to walk as quietly as he could, such that the main sound was the tumbling of the creek, not his walking. To his ears, aspects of the tumbling sounded like the ringing of tiny stone bells.

Suddenly, he realized he did not feel like smoking pot. Nor was he thirsty. Or hungry. He needed nothing because he had it all.

At the creek bend, tall redwood trees framed both sides of the creek. Isaiah sat on the dry river stones and listened to the water. It seemed to be singing. Not singing, exactly, but chattering with melodic gibberish, understandable only by river people. The longer he sat, the more he felt like a river person. Soon, the creek sounded like water music, a complex symphony. A symphony entirely improvised, without chorus or reprise. Isaiah bent his ear towards the creek and concentrated.

Recalling his DMT experiences, elves entered his mind and he looked around. Just as quickly, he realized that no elves lived in this part of the forest. Why? He did not know.

Isaiah felt himself a pioneer. A pioneer fried on LSD, the Liberating Sacrament of Divinity.

Looking to his left, a dead bird decayed on the river stones. The tiny white avian skeleton still held a few black feathers. The beak and the skull seamlessly joined such that the beak dominated the skull. Feeling the gravity of death, he looked away and thought of his mother. How many years had it been? Three? Four? It had happened in early spring, whatever year it was.

“What’s the matter with me?” he wondered aloud. The two women I’ve loved both try to kill themselves. At least Maureen survived it. I must be drawn to suicidal women. Or they’re drawn to me. And now Zen, the only real family I’ve got, has disappeared.

Now, even the woods seemed dark and tawdry. Second-hand imitation woods. The water in the creek seemed mechanical, like hydraulic fluid from a science experiment gone bad. I’m having a bad trip, he thought to himself.

Then, with grim determination, he began to try to consciously divorce his mind from thoughts of his mother’s suicide. Who knows if it was really suicide? She left no note so nobody really knew what had happened to her. Don’t look at the bird, he told himself. Listen to the water music.

With a single tear running down his left cheek and curling along his scar, he stood up and slowly walked barefoot up the creek. At that moment, life seemed very heavy. Full of death and sad endings.

In the next moment, six words came to his mind with sudden clarity: I AM TRIPPING MY BALLS OFF. Maybe this is the one-way trip, he thought, the trip that ends in the mental hospital. Come on, man. Hold it together. Be cool. Everything’s all right. The river is singing to me. Water music. My world is a good place.

A small breeze reached his back, gently moved across his right arm, then turned around and touched his face. That sweet little breeze felt just like a tender caress. Through the trees along the creek, he could just see a car pass on a street, possibly Highway Nine, maybe fifty feet away. A lone figure walked next to the street, a woman with long sunshine blonde hair. Could it be Naja Aneezman, the girl on the bus?

Isaiah’s heart jumped and he wiped the acid tears from his cheeks. Tempted to chase the woman down, the acid coursed through his mind as he glimpsed her hair sway.

That girl on the bus, Naja, sure was nice. And pretty. Isaiah sat down on the river stones again. It was gonna be all right.

Rhion at Work

Long straw blonde hair loose on his shoulders, Rhion fried up two burger patties on the grill of the Saturn Café then carefully laid two slices of cheese on each. It was after midnight and the restaurant was closed. Two hours a night, he cleaned the restaurant alone: mopping the floor, scrubbing the grills, and cleaning the bathroom. Working two hours a night seemed a bit much to him, but he could live fairly handsomely on twelve bucks and two cheeseburgers a night.

Tall windows ringed the restaurant. Though he could not be seen from the street when he worked in the kitchen, when he cleaned the dining area, he could be easily seen from the busy street in front of the Café. That, he did not like. Anyone could be watching. Anyone could just park their car across Mission Street and watch him mop the dining area. It was a bad feeling.

Humming a song to himself, he thought about Zen. He knew in his heart that Zen was safe and that, one day, he’d be free again. Everyone in the Inner Circle prayed for him and that must be a powerful ring of protection. Although, he reflected, not quite powerful enough to have prevented Zen’s room from getting busted in the first place.

Hitch Hiking South

From north to south, Highway One ran along the entire coast of California. In places, the highway cut inland but often it ran within sight of the ocean. In Santa Cruz, the highway ran a mile or two inland.

Late on that Sunday morning, Isaiah started walking down Soquel Avenue through the prosperous neighborhoods of east Santa Cruz. The neighborhoods looked both pretty and ugly at the same time. At the end of every block, he methodically stopped and looked back for the Clown or anyone following him. He also tried to keep track of passing cars to make sure one wasn’t tracking him. 

Finally, he stood at the on-ramp to Highway One with his thumb out, feeling invisible, heading to the hot tubs at Esalen. After a miserable hour of waiting, a slight man in a blue car stopped. On the drive to Watsonville, the slight man recited to Isaiah the history of early 20th Century dance crazes. He grew particularly excited about “the Cake Walk,” trying to explain what the dance looked like. Apparently, Cake Walk dancers lifted their arms to shoulder level and did an exaggerated tip-toe movement to the music. Isaiah thought the slight man might pull over and demonstrate.

Later, an older Vietnamese man picked Isaiah up. Nguyen talked about how very beautiful Vietnam is, with many flowering fruit trees, and how much he missed it.  He had fought in the South Vietnamese Army and escaped to Thailand after the U.S. defeat in 1975.  Eventually, he made it to America and worked in an electronics plant in San Jose.

“War was very bad thing,” Nguyen said simply. “Too many people die.”

Nguyen had the day off and was heading down the coast to see the famous Hearst Castle. Once they got past Monterey, the road mostly hugged the coast. On one side, a cliff led down to the ocean. On the other side, a forested mountain rose. The mountains, mostly national forest or state park, looked quite dry because of a summer long draught.

Mostly, Nguyen and Isaiah rode in silence. Approaching Big Sur, Isaiah decided to just ride with Nguyen down to the Hearst Castle and get dropped off on the way back.

Past Esalen and a thousand and one twists and turns of Highway One later, they arrived at the Castle. It looked exactly like a vast fairy tale castle from a Walt Disney movie: tall turrets capped by steeply pitched conical roofs and surrounded by mountains. Unfortunately, it was also after five o’clock and closed for the day.  Nguyen and Isaiah sat in his car in the parking lot and looked at it, marveling.

Reaching into a back seat cooler, Nguyen produced two “banh mi” Vietnamese sandwiches, essentially pickles and beef on a croissant. With the car parked facing the Castle, each ate their sandwich in silence.

On the way back north in the early evening, Nguyen dropped Isaiah off at the gates of Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Surrounded entirely by undeveloped national forest, Esalen was right off Highway One, between the highway and the ocean. While the dry Big Sur Mountains rose steeply across the two-lane highway, Esalen occupied a gentle slope right on the ocean. Isaiah could see a handful of Japanese-looking buildings nestled among the landscaped grounds fifty yards from the highway.

Isaiah knew Esalen was a world famous healing and educational center.  Renowned alternative psychologists and spiritual teachers gave seminars there. Unconfirmed rumor had it that Charlie Manson himself visited there the day before his friends committed those grisly murders back in the summer of 1969.

The gate across the driveway was shut. A small sign announced that the hot tubs were open to the public from 10 pm to midnight on Sunday nights for a ten dollar fee.

From his pocket, Isaiah pulled four one dollar bills and the same quarter as the day before. Looking at the quarter, he could no longer see all the tiny scratches that had amazed him the day before.

Maybe Esalen would take $4.25 for his admission fee? He shuffled indecisively around the driveway entrance. Though very little traffic passed on Highway One, a bright red Porsche with mirror windows sped by with a hum.

Sticking his hands deep in his pants pockets, Isaiah considered abandoning his quest and just hitch hiking back to Santa Cruz. He felt a fool for not checking how much the hot tubs cost before letting Nguyen drive away.

Not a soul was visible. A dense thicket of blackberry bushes grew to the left of the driveway and protected Esalen’s southern border. With the knowledge that anything worth having is worth working for, Isaiah decided to try to sneak in.

Taking a deep breath, he got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the blackberry thicket, heading down the gravelly incline. Only by crawling slowly and trying to painstakingly untangle the brambles could Isaiah hope to avoid being mercilessly scratched up by the infinite number of blackberry thorns. Because of that, Isaiah made only gradual progress. Out of his sight, the sun disappeared past the ocean.

Despite his care, after what seemed to be an hour, slight scratches covered his face and arms. It was dark and he found himself in the middle of a particularly infernal and thorny thicket. Stopping, he decided to turn around. He lay on his stomach and rested his head on his forearms in resignation.

After five minutes, he changed his mind again and decided to resume the arduous crawl towards Esalen. Unfortunately, a great quantity of poison oak vines grew among the blackberry bushes, a fact that would remain unknown to him until the next day.  After a miserable hour in that dense and thorny thicket, Isaiah could finally see what seemed to be the hot tub building. 

Several dim lights lit the outside of the Japanese-looking building. Seeing nobody around, Isaiah emerged from the thicket and dusted himself off.

One first stripped in the building then walked out to the outdoor tubs. The tubs themselves were dramatically perched on a deck maybe thirty feet above the Pacific Ocean. The dozen or two folks present maintained a quiet calmness, creating a meditative experience.

Isaiah stripped naked and blended in. Though he felt shy, he stole quick expectant glances at everyone present, looking for Zen.

“ZEN!” he called. No response.

Sitting in a steamy tub with half a dozen naked strangers, he noticed Joni Mitchell herself climbing buck naked into the tub with him. Looking her up and down, he focused on her remarkably high and firm breasts.

Sitting up straight, he raised his eyes and realized she was a teenager. Not Joni Mitchell, but only a teenage girl with a 1970 Joni Mitchell haircut. After her, a perfect specimen of blonde California beach stud got in. The cleft on his chin cut so deeply that it looked like an extra chin.

“He hasn’t killed anyone in a couple weeks. Who knows? Maybe he killed himself,” the beach stud consoled her.

“It’s so scary. We should move out of Los Angeles,” she said breathlessly, with a worried expression.

“Baby, the Night Stalker is not gonna get you, I promise,” he said sincerely. Despite his looks, Isaiah thought the guy actually seemed nice, not smarmy. The beach stud put his arm around the Joni Mitchell girl and hugged her.

“There’s no way you can actually promise that. Anyway, let’s not talk about it,” she said, nuzzling his neck. Feeling overheated, Isaiah sat up on the edge of the hot tub to cool off and looked out at the ocean.

“ZEN!” he called again loudly. Several hot tubbers looked up at him irritably. He walked around the deck, peering into the steamy tubs, looking for Zen.

Abruptly, a face appeared out of the steam. Looking about 50, with short hair and a skinny frame, the naked man stood in front of Isaiah.

“Looking for someone?” the man asked in a low voice. Isaiah froze and stared at the man.
      “Uhhh…” Isaiah stammered. The man looked like the Clown without makeup. On the man’s left cheek, a small streak of white paint revealed itself. Face paint? With a look neither friendly nor unfriendly, the man just kept staring at Isaiah expectantly as Isaiah stared fixedly at the blotch of white paint.

“Not much of a talker, huh?” Noticing that Isaiah stared at his cheek, the man touched his own cheek. “Still got paint on me? Hey, in my business, it happens.”

“Hey, look… I… Uh…” said Isaiah, backing away and trying to figure out how the Clown had followed him.

Rhion and the Window

After cleaning up the Saturn Café that night, Rhion found himself walking slowly home down side streets. Well after midnight, it was a warm summer night, with the quiet punctuated only by the sound of cars in the distance. Though the street lights kept the moonless city from falling into utter darkness, most of the residences were dark. Except for one. In the middle of the block, this bungalow was between streetlights and set back from the street.

Without a pause, Rhion ambled off the sidewalk and into the side yard. As if he lived there, he walked straight towards a window at groundlevel on the darkest side of the house. Mostly obscured by bushes, lights shone from the basement window. Rhion got on his knees and crawled into the bushes, positioning himself directly in front of the window but a few feet back.

The window had no curtain. In a small and tidy bedroom behind the window, a woman with long brown hair stood with her back to Rhion, brushing her hair in the mirror. She wore only a white bath towel, which set off her bronze tan.

Rhion suppressed a grin and settled into his hideout. He felt like a rabbit hunter with his prey cornered. Only he didn’t plan to kill this rabbit or even harm the rabbit.

The woman finished brushing her hair and dropped the towel on the bed. Her tan covered her whole body except for her snow white bottom and a white strip across her back where her bikini top fit. Beach girl, Rhion thought. With her back still facing Rhion, she picked up a pair of panties and a t-shirt from the top of a dresser.

With an expression of cool appraisal on his face, Rhion feasted on the site of her bare backside, which she quickly covered with sky blue panties. Just as she lifted her arms to pull on the t-shirt, she turned to face Rhion. She looked like a college girl. Though she appeared to be staring directly at him, she could not see his face at all in the dark. For the briefest of moments, the t-shirt covered her face and her bare and white pendulous breasts thrust towards Rhion. In the next moment, she pulled the big UCSC t-shirt on and turned the light off.

The whole strip show lasted maybe three minutes. Rhion congratulated himself on his wonderful sense of timing. “How do I do it?” he asked himself. God is on my side, he answered himself, that’s how.

Isaiah at Esalen

As the stars slowly slipped one by one into the Pacific Ocean, steam relentlessly rose from the hot tubs. Isaiah, naked, could hear the lapping of the ocean waves below him. Above him, the forested Big Sur Mountains rose. In front of him, the naked man stood, nicking at the white paint on his cheek with his fingernail.

“Look, man, I don’t know why you’re following me but I wish you would just leave me alone,” Isaiah stammered angrily to the man. “I never did anything to you.”

“Brother, brother,” the man said gently. “Calm down. This is a healing place.”

“I know who you are, you’re that bad clown that’s been, uh, following me…” Isaiah trailed off, now feeling unsure. The man raised his eyebrows and snorted, still nicking at the white paint on his cheek.

“Brother, I been called worse, but bad clown? Look, I’m just a house painter. I’ve been painting the meditation room here all day. I saw you here and just thought you looked a bit lost.” Finally, the man got his fingernail under the bit of paint and flicked it off.

“House painter?” Isaiah said, realizing his mistake. “Right. Hey man, sorry. I thought… I saw that white paint on your cheek and… Look, sorry.”

Embarrassed, Isaiah stepped away from the man. He walked back along the hot tubs, peering into the steam for Zen’s face. Of course Zen’s not here, he thought to himself. Of course. It’s another fool’s errand, courtesy of crazy Rhion, who probably just wanted the apartment to himself for the night. A deep sadness began to settle in, breaking new ground.

Settling into a hot tub, Isaiah ignored the others and gazed up into the dark sky. Through the steam, he concentrated on the blackness between the California stars.

Anti-Pageant Former Model Will Parade in Meat to Protest Miss California ‘Cattle Show’

San Jose Mercury, June 24, 1985

                While 40 poised, young women parade on a light-studded runway at the Miss California Scholarship Pageant in Santa Cruz tonight, Ann Simonton will strut around the outside of the auditorium wearing skirt steak.

            Simonton plans her own anti-pageant fashion show as a satirical jab at the event she says degrades women by displaying their bodies as pieces of meat. As organizer of the “Myth California” protest that has become an annual ritual in Santa Cruz,

      “Judge meat, not women!” shouted a woman, wearing a tiara and a bathing suit made of meat. Over her meat bathing suit, the woman wore a banner identifying herself as “Miss Behavin’.” She stood outside the Santa Cruz auditorium, jostling with about a 1000 other protesters and dozens of grim police officers. Inside, the Miss California beauty pageant, a Santa Cruz tradition for 50 years, commenced. Outside, the Myth California anti-pageant commenced.

      Still chanting “judge meat, not women,” other protesters wore tiaras and banners emblazoned “Miss Ogyny,” “Miss Guided,” and “Miss Shapen.”  One carried a sign reading “Women are not cows.” Another carried a sign reading “Vegetarian against pornography.”

      As the other protesters cheered, Miss Behavin’ broke through the police line with a zip lock baggie of women’s blood. As a past victim of sexual assault, she had collected her own blood and the blood of other sexual assault victims. As police officers charged her, she poured the contents of the baggie on the sidewalk in front of the auditorium.

      “Over the blood of raped women!” she shouted, as police seized her roughly and handcuffed her. With the blood and her arrest, the protesters surged towards the auditorium. The police line held them back.

      Isaiah stood at the edge of the crowd watching and itching his ears. He still had a residual poison oak rash from his misadventure crawling through the bushes outside of Esalen. For some reason, the rash particularly affected the outsides of his ears.

      As police arrested another woman and dragged her away, he thought of Rhion’s Penthouse and Juggs magazines under the sofa and his own fondness for erotic photos of the fairer sex. He wondered what a real man would do in a situation like this then turned around and walked home.


[i] Woodward, supra at 408-409.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id. at 409. US relations with Libya had been tense since at least August 19, 1981 when the US shot down two Libyan Air Force jets over the Mediterranean. Id. at 167. That incident was the first overt US military action since the Vietnam War.