Sunday, October 23, 2011

I heard a Beatlick in my head

Boom Boom

The day John Lee Hooker brought his blues hounds to play at the Bouquet Bar, I danced with dirty knees, tripped on acid, and Michael Shortleg caught a wild hare and moved to San Diego.

Early that morning high on hashish and buzzing on the last Nicaraguan coffee beans in town due to the actions of some Sandinistas, I walked to work.  The morning orange cream sickle clouds fanned across the sky with dots of black-red raspberries.

On top of my head sat a gray felt taxi-driver cap I bought when I played my oboe in Berchtesgaden, Austria.  A Hawaiian print bandanna tied loose around my neck to keep out the nippy air.  The brown wool shirt jacket my grandpa Lanus wore when he ranched kept my body temperature warm in the cool autumn.  I was buttoned down in a white shirt, and layered beneath hid my uniform, a solid green t-shirt with the logo of the Boise City Parks Department on the left breast. 

My baggy chinos I bought at St Vincent DePaul hung loose in the crotch which was perfect for riding the Lil’ Hustler lawn mower.  On my feet were my new purple high top tennis shoes.  I was on the schedule to mow the ball diamonds at Ann Morrison Park, but when I got to work, on this particular day, the division chief informed me that I would be working on the other side of the park helping dig an irrigation trench.

For eight hours that day, I scraped out river rock and other debris left over from the days when the land served as the dump for the young town of Boise.  I found a milk jar and an old Listerine jar complete with cork.  The knees on my pants wore thin in just one day’s work, and my new purple high tops now looked the same color as my gray felt cap.

How I looked didn’t matter to me when I went to happy hour after work.  I stopped at Pengilly’s first, and then I stumbled over to Tom Grainey’s.  I dodged old boyfriends, made new friends, and flirted with bartenders.  Everyone was buzzing about how John Lee Hooker was in town to play at the Bucket.  

I bought a chorizo sausage off the Basque food cart on the street corner and then headed to hear the blues from one of the living masters.  I knew the woman at the door collecting the cover charge at the Bouquet Bar.  She looked at my dirty knees and bandanna with the ranch coat, and her lips pursed together, her eyes narrowed and she shook her head in an ugly way.

“Do I look that bad?” 

“Yep!”  Her head continued to shake back and forth a horizontal fashion.  “Honey, you ARE the blues tonight, come on and don’t tell anyone I let you in for free.”

She stamped my hand, and I went inside.  The place was packed, and I could not find a spot at the bar, so I stood around a while.  One of the bartenders working had served me for years, over the crowd he handed me a deep glass with ice filled with Irish whiskey.   He yelled out over the clamor, “I’ll catch up with you later!”

I hadn’t planned on drinking whiskey that night, but I sipped it anyway.  My goal was to move toward the dance floor.   As I stepped sideways through the wall of people, I felt a hand on my back.  When I feel a hand on my back, I automatically stiffen, and the woman warrior comes out in me.  Athena takes her shield.  I was ready to punch someone when I turned to see who my space invader was.

The hand belonged to Jerry, a fellow I had wanted to have bawdy, tawdry, raucous sex with for three years.  We met in the theatre.  He and I were in different one act plays which played one night at the Special Events Center at Boise State University.  After dress rehearsal, we went to the Burger & Brew to unwind from the intensity of playing characters. 

After a couple three thirty-two ounce beers, this guy, Jerry, turns to me and says, “I am going to give you the only acting advice you will ever need.”

“Really?”  I asked him only because I wanted to have sex with him.
 “Who the fuck cares?”  He looked me straight in the eyes.  Eyeball to eyeball he stared me down.

I stirred up all the sexy apathy I had.  “I don’t care,” I said in a low batted eye tone of voice. 

“Exactly!” he yelled like he was making a case to a jury.

At this point, the fellow who was opposite me in the one act play enters the conversation by repeating, “Who the fuck cares?  That is perfect.  That is just what Jamie needs to hear, WHO the FUCK CARES!”

Paul, my co-star knew me before I was married and moved to West Germany.  Here it was one year later, and I am back home and separated.  Paul saw the difference in me.  I seemed to worry about everyone and everything.  I worried what people thought, and I worried what I was now going to do with my life.  Paul was tired of hearing me vex about life.  For months, he wanted to say to me, “Who the fuck cares?”     

With the insistence from these two men, somehow, the tumblers clicked and fell into the right spot, and I knew that somewhere behind the f-word and the ninety-six ounces of Miller High Life beer, they were sharing with me ancient wisdom. 

I thought about my family, I thought about how I was still married to a man who was serving in the military.  I thought about what I was doing in my life, and it was in that moment I realized the answer to, “Who cares?” was the answer to the universe.  Also in that moment, I realized I didn’t have a clue to the answer.

Since that night of advice, I wanted to fuck Jerry.  We ran in some of the same circles.  We saw each other at parties, but he never seemed that interested in me. 

“We have a table with an extra chair, come on over.”   Jerry took my hand and pulled me through the crowded bar to a table with a couple of other fellows.  I didn’t know them, but Jerry introduced us.  Then he whispered in my ear that he didn’t really know these guys, they came and sat at his table.  Jerry confessed he was at the bar alone.

We smiled at each other, as if we knew the truth behind a lie.  Jerry had not let go of my hand when the drum beat hit.  John Lee Hooker’s first song started,

“Boom, boom, boom, boom. 
I’m gonna shoot you right down
Right off your feet,
Take you home with me
Put you in my house
Boom, boom, boom, boom….”

We both started singing the song with John Lee Hooker.  Jerry jerked me out on the dance floor and we never left.  A couple of times I thought about going back to my whiskey which was now watered down from melted ice, but we kept dancing.  At intermission, we both went to the bathroom.  We came out of the john at the same time.  The house lights were up, and Jerry fumbled with something in his pocket.  “Come outside for a moment.”

I followed him into the cool night air.  Jerry looked at my dirty knees from digging the irrigation ditch earlier in the day.  “What the hell happened to you?” he asked me.

“Work.”  I didn’t have to say much more, this was my second year working for the parks department.  All my friends knew I worked for the Boise City Park system. 

“Listen,” Jerry moved in close to me, “I’ve got a tab of acid.  I planned to do it alone tonight, but since you are here, why don’t you share it with me.  We’ll trip together.”

Jerry handed me a torn square of blotter and instructed me to swallow it with him.  I was walking, not driving.  The next day was Saturday, but I still had to go to work around 11:00 in the morning.  I smiled at Jerry and said, “Who the fuck cares?” 

We danced about twenty minutes more, and then the acid trip began.  Jerry suggested we leave while he could still drive.  His car was parked in the ally.  We danced off the floor and out the back door. 

We drove without talking toward the north end of town.  When he turned on Harrison Boulevard, I knew we were headed to Bogus Basin.  Jerry pulled the car into a wide turn-out off the road which led to the ski slope.  He positioned the car so we could see the lights which lit the city of trees.

In the blur of the waves of distortion from the acid, we didn’t talk, but kissed.  Our clothes came off.  My knees were dirty, but Jerry told me it looked sexy.  Our heads went below the dashboard and stayed there.  I put him in my mouth, he put me in his mouth, and we sucked in each others hallucinogenic auras.

When I lifted my head above the dash, the lights of Boise wa-wahed at me like a trombone with a toilet plunger at its bell, but Jerry assured me that the lights’ flicker was due to the hertz cycle.  He reminded me about the frequency of sixty hertz per second, but to me it seemed more like three hertz per second.  Time seemed to slow down that night as Jerry and I tried every position, every trick and every pose listed in the Kama Sutra that can be done in a car.

The early dawn light signaled an end to our night of exotic and hypnotic passion as we cycled to our own hertz frequency.  We woke up from the acid trip still having sex.  Not quite embarrassed, we went to relieve ourselves on separate sides of the car, and then put our clothes back on our pulsating bodies.

Jerry drove us to his house, and we slept on the floor between packed boxes because of his impending move.    He was still asleep when I woke startled.  I had two hours to get to work, and Jerry lived across town from me.  I figured it would take an hour to walk home.  I looked at the still dirty knees on my pants, put on my gray hat, tied the bandanna around my neck, put the ratty brown Woolrich jacket on and started the trek back to my apartment.

I snuck out the front door with a self-satisfied satiation.  I could smell the cloying musk of co-mingling on me.  After digging an irrigation trench the day before, a night of dancing and drinking, and hours of non-stop sexual activity, I really needed a shower.  I had no idea what my hair looked like, but I knew what it smelled like.  I smiled as I reflected on how three years of lusting had been fully atoned.  I felt complete.

As I walked from the bench to the north end of Boise, cars slowed as they passed me.  The vehicles, one by one, had windows open, and people were trying to hand me money.  The first few times this happened, I looked angry and indignant at the folks in the passenger seat or the driver’s side as they tried to hand me twenty dollar bills.  I wondered aloud to God if I really looked that tragic.

I don’t know why I didn’t take the money, probably pride and arrogance.  But, over and over, folks in cars and trucks pulled off to hand me their ones, fives, tens and twenties.  I had never encountered anything like this.  I crossed the Boise River at Ninth Street, and people continued to stop and look at me with money in their hands.

I was almost home when a neighbor pulled up in his car.  The passenger window was open, and he called out to me, “Hey Jamie, I didn’t know you were part of the Vo-Tech department at Boise State, here’s your donation.”  He tried to hand me a fifty dollar bill.

“What is this anyway?”  I innocently asked.

“The Fall Fundraiser for the college.”  He then looked at me closer.  “You aren’t dressed up are you?”

“Of course I am not dressed up…you call this dressed up?”  I shrugged my shoulders, pointed to my dirty knees and purple gray high top tennis shoes.

“Jamie, you are not dressed up like a hobo for the Fall Fundraiser.  You know the college kids dress up like hobos and have cans for donations.  They hang out on the street corners for people to give them their money.  You are not participating in that….are you?”  Now my neighbor looked concerned for my welfare instead of eagerly handing me a fifty dollar bill.

“I worked yesterday, and didn’t make it home.  Um, I need to get home so I can clean up to get back to work at the park.”  I tried not to look too chagrined, and so did my neighbor as he rolled up his car window and sped off to look for a real hobo to take his money.

As I walked down the red painted concrete stairs to my basement apartment at 1400 ½ Washington Street, I couldn’t tell if my head swirled from people thinking I was dressed as a costumed hobo, or lack of sleep, or too much sex, or maybe I was still hallucinating from the acid.

Stuck between the screen door and jamb was a white piece of paper.  I didn’t know if I was sober enough to read the print.  I unfolded the note and held my breath.  The weight of the paper felt ominous. 

I caught a wild hare.
Moved to San Diego. 
I will call you later.
Michael Shortleg.” 

It felt like a steel-toed work boot kicked deep in my belly when I read the words.  Michael Shortleg was the last best friend I had left in Boise, and now without warning, he was gone.

My best friends started leaving Boise over several months prior.  First was Sherry my buddy who was always up for a road trip.  We planned to write a book together about one-hundred-one ways to take a road trip.  She and I had road tripped to all the hot springs we knew of in western Idaho.  We traded utensils for hotel stays.  Once, the rim of my car broke on the way to McCall.  We flagged down a guy in a truck who happened to work at the service station in Cascade.  He opened the shop for us.  It was around 2:00am, and he found a rim for my car in the junk pile in back of the garage. 

Petra was the next friend to move, Sherry had introduced her to me.  Petra was a great kayaker, and I would drive the shuttle vehicle for her when she paddled the South Fork of the Payette River.  Petra met a guy, and now they were gone on the road camping in her Volkswagen Van.

My best male friend left town, and moved to Sun Valley.  He was my drinking buddy.  We caroused the local bar scene on our bicycles.  Now he had a Harley, and rode into Boise every now and again.  I missed him.

After Petra left town, I started hanging out with her neighbor, The Bear.  One day, I stopped by to visit with some beer, and The Bear had all his clothes boxed up.  He feigned sadness as he told me the water company he worked for was sending him to San Diego.  His face broke out in a smile which showed all his crooked teeth when he said, “The beach!”

Michael Shortleg was the next one to leave.  The problem was that I loved him.  I didn’t just lose a friend to the call of the road; he was the one person who understood me.  We understood each other.  He loved the desert like I loved the desert.  He hated people just like I hated people.  He loved to drive lonely dirt roads like the one I grew up on, and he was the river guide who took me down the Bruneau Canyon. 

Michael Shortleg had a wall size geothermal map of the United States.  When I first saw it, he started to explain the map to me.  I started laughing and told him my name was on the map.  My finger directly pointed to Givens’ Hot Springs where my family settled on the south route of the Oregon Trail.  Then I traced my finger east, along the Snake River and found an unnamed well.  I explained to him that was on our family ranch.

He and I plotted our courses to discover new hot springs.  We found obscure soaks in the wilds of the Owyhee Mountains, on all the forks of the Boise River, out of the town of Hailey, and on the road to Challis.  This was one of my greatest joys in life, getting in the car to discover hot water. 

There was this one hot water source close to the Salton Sea in California.  It looked so promising.  On the map, it looked as though the flow of source was constant fifteen gallons a minute.  The temperature looked to be one-hundred-five to seven degrees.  Michael Shortleg wanted to go to Bagdad, Arizona and lead goat trips into the desert.  We talked about driving to look for this hot water source on our way to Bagdad.   But, now Michael Shortleg was on this journey without me. 

I was still pouting when I got in the tub.  The news of my best friend’s sudden departure took some of the pleasure away from my long awaited shower.  I was late for work anyway, and I didn’t have time to linger.  I didn’t have enough time to scrub my dirty knees. 

I hurried and pulled another green parks department t-shirt over my head.  I put on my best blue jeans, and a fitted suede blazer.  I did my best not to look like a hobo, real or fake.  I got on my bicycle and pedaled hard to work.

On Saturdays, my job at the parks meant moving picnic tables under shelters for birthday parties and family reunions.  I had to check the bathrooms and change out the toilet paper.  That day, I got to the first shelter just in time when the family who rented it showed up to decorate the park structure. 

One of the men took me by the hand and showed me how one of the toilets had a beer bottle stuck in it with a whole lot of poop on top.  The toilet was plugged, and I didn’t feel like playing roto-rooter.  I was still woozy from the night before and wrung out of stamina, instead, I made a sign and put it on the stall, “Out of Order.”

The day finished out, and I went under cover for a couple of days.  I didn’t talk to anybody.  I didn’t answer the phone or the door.  I slept off the acid, the sex, the hobo attire.  But mostly, I felt despair at the thought of living in Boise without my friends.

After a couple days off from work, I didn’t feel any better.  I got to the park and found out that I was in trouble for not fixing the clogged commode.  The family who had rented the park shelter for their parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary complained about my apathetic behavior.  The men’s restroom only had one toilet, and I didn’t fix it.  They were not happy about my sign.

Three bosses were in the office when I arrived.  They called me in and showed me the yellow legal paper with “Out of Order” written in blue ink.  I lied and told them I had never seen it before.  They showed me the legal pad and pen from the park truck I drove that Saturday.  I still lied to them and denied hanging the sign.

There was an opening for a full time position at the park, and I wanted to apply for the job since I was only a seasonal employee.  I had a good chance because I was a female, and the city was pushing for the hiring of more females to avoid discrimination law suits.  But, now that I had sinned, the bosses let me know my application would no longer be accepted.

I got on my Lil’ Hustler lawn mower and cut the grass by the ball diamonds in Ann Morrison Park.  Still numb from my weekend, the thought of being in trouble at work didn’t faze me.  I knew my ambition of being a full time park employee was over.  I started singing to divert my attention as I mowed the outfields.

“It ain't the meat it's the motion
that makes your momma wanna rock
It ain't the meat it's the motion
It's the movement that gives it a sock
It ain’t the meat it’s the motion…
Sock it to me baby….
Makes this momma want to blow her top…”

It was my best Maria Maldaur impression I could muster for my mood.  I mowed around the backstops of the ball diamonds.  That’s when I heard myself declare, “I’m leaving town.”  When I went into lunch at noon, still in trouble with the bosses, I offered myself to be one of the first laid off at the end of the season because I was moving. 

I started giving away all my possessions.  The Dodge Charger I drove, which was my grandma’s car, was replaced with a small Mazda GLC my brother dumped on the ranch.  I paired down all I owned to fit in the small hatchback.  I bought a sleek blue boom box with cassette to cassette recording capability and strapped it into the passenger seat with the seat belt.  I called it Cecil. 

There was a feeling of freedom I had which was hard for people to understand.  My social life had become incestuous with the dating of brothers.  I was indiscriminate with whom I slept with, my indiscretions were piling up.  I wanted to change my life, and somehow leaving town and driving off into the unknown seemed to be the easiest way to achieve the goal. 

I planned out my trip, sort of.  Michael Shortleg kept telling me about this desert in southern California.  Part of the name meant sheep in Spanish.  Michael Shortleg suggested if we didn’t do goat trips out of Bagdad, maybe we could do sheep sacrifices in the Anza-Borrego Desert.  I wanted to go there.
When I left Boise, my first stop was to see my male friend who moved to Sun Valley.  I went with a purpose.  Thinking that I was off on a walk about, never to return, I figured I would never see him again.  I wanted to tell him how much his friendship meant to me.  I wanted him to know that he set the bar for compatibility.  The fellow in Sun Valley didn’t understand me like Michael Shortleg, but he did make me laugh like no other. 

Since preparing for my journey into the sunset, for my happy trail, I started telling people that I love them; this included my friends, parents and grandparents.  Everyone whom I really loved and appreciated was told.  The idea of living an authentic life appealed to me, why not let those I loved know how much I appreciated their influence in my life.

When I got to Sun Valley, I told my drinking buddy that I loved him, and he freaked.  He didn’t know what to do or how to respond.  The words unnerved him so much, that he left with his brother early the next morning which was my scheduled departure.  I always assumed he left so he didn’t have to say, “I love you,” back to me.  Devastated that I ruined our friendship, I left humiliated and promised myself never to do that again, to never tell a man that I loved him.

I stopped in Provo, Utah to visit another buddy.  His girlfriend didn’t appreciate me being there, so I left early.  I got on Interstate 15 and headed south.  Five hours later, I passed through the desert birth canal called the Virgin River Gorge.  I was rebirthing my soul as I passed through the red rock, as the highway transitioned in elevation.  By the time I hit the Mojave Desert, I was a new woman.

I burned temple grade incense in my car, and the day turned into a full moon night.  The temperature warmed and all my windows were open.  I took off my shirt and drove topless in the dark.  The dashboard lit up the outline of my breasts and caught the attention of truckers.  Reflected in lunar halo stood the Joshua trees I‘d read about.  Their arm-like shadows leaned across the desert night landscape like the ghosts of Christmas Past.

I stopped in Escondido and called Michael Shortleg.  He lived in Spring Valley with The Bear and The Bear’s girlfriend who moved from Boise.  We were all excited about a visit.  When I got to their house, The Bear said I smelled like a Grateful Dead concert. 

We partied all night, singing songs and throwing our empty beer cans against the wall.  Michael Shortleg told me I could sleep with him, but he didn’t want to have sex with me.  Before we went to bed, he put on a new album he bought earlier that day.  I knew the first tune.  It was John Lee Hooker singing,
“Boom, boom, boom, boom….”