The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Friday, June 10, 2011

An American Boy

Thursday, June 10, 1982

I've been remodeling a bathroom all week.  Today my saber saw breaks down, a shower rail collapses, and the toilet water supply won't fit for love or money.  Then while I'm carrying a heavy sheet of 3/4 plywood, the owner's dog suddenly runs up without bark or growl and bites my blue jeans.  Punctures the skin of my leg.

"Sorry," the owner says.  "He's spooked by plywood."


"He's a rescue dog."

As if that explains it.  Meanwhile it's High School Graduation Night for the owner's teenage son, and the house is filling with proud grandparents and in-laws while the son stands tall and awkward in a suit and tie which he clearly is not in the habit of wearing.

So now I'm driving home, wincing with each push of the clutch, feeling slightly sorry for myself, my sore leg, my small problems when I pick up a hitchhiker on our mountain road.  He has a backpack, a beard, and he has the breath of a brewery.

"I can take you as far as La Honda," I say.

"That's where I want to go," he says.  "I'm going back home."  He laughs.  "I was installing solar panels in Laytonville when a lot of heavy shit came down on me."

"That's too bad."

"I'm over it.  I'm going home." 

There's a code in what he's just told me.  Laytonville in those days was a hub of marijuana farming in northern California.  Solar panels were in great demand among folks growing illegal substance off the grid.  Tales of guns, outlaws, lawmen, "heavy shit" and high times were rampant.  You might hear similar stories about La Honda in the Sixties, though with different players, different substances.

The hitchhiker tells me where he grew up, which street, which house.  I tell him it's just a hundred yards from where I've been building my house. 

"So welcome to La Honda," he says, cackling.  "And the cocaine dealer across the street from you - with all those old Volvos - did your realtor tell you about him when you bought the place?"

"No.  But the dealer's gone now.  So are the Volvos."

"And did she - your realtor was a woman, right?  They all are, right?"  He cackles again.  "Did she tell you about Limey Kay?"

Limey lives up the street from me.  He's a bricklayer with a fondness for guns and alcohol.  "No.  I met him on my own."

The hitchhiker giggles - little hiccup burps.  "I bet you did.  Women are the realtors because they make all the money.  It's the men who get laid off.  I'm laid off.  My wife just kept on going.  Until I lost her."  He laughs, closing his eyes for a moment.  "And does Bobby Black still live in the house below you?"


"With four kids in a two room cabin?"

"Five kids, now."

The hitchhiker slaps the dashboard and laughs.  "And does Bobby still go off chasing UFO's?"

"I don't know."

"Me and him, we used to chase UFO's together."

"Did you catch any?"

"No."  Giggling.  "But Bobby, he still believes.  When we were about twelve, we used to hide in the bushes behind Ken Kesey's house and throw stones at him.  The Hells Angels used to chase us through the woods.  They can ride, but they can't run.  We knew all the hideouts."

"Sounds like you've always had a taste for adventure."

"I'm an American boy.  That's all.  Girls, they want to settle down.  I just lost my wife."

"I'm sorry you split up."

"She was killed in a car accident.  I'm coming home."

"I'm sorry.  I thought --"

"I know, I know.  Don't worry.  I'm over it."

"Maybe you're not."

"Okay, I'm not.  Who cares?"

I stop in front of the Post Office.  The hitchhiker gets out and grabs his backpack.  He staggers.  He's drunk as a skunk. 

I say, "Welcome back to La Honda."

"I'm home," he says.

And he's totally adrift.

No comments:

Post a Comment