Sabtu, 07 April 2012

AMONG THE REDWOODS by Peter Nolan Smith

The decrepit waterfront had been immortalized by two of John Steinbeck’s Great Depression novels. Overfishing of the sardines had wiped out the jobs and the doors along Ocean View Avenue had been nailed shut by their bankrupt owners. Without the revenue from the fishing fleet Monterey’s hotels and bars had been razed to provide parking for the tourist trade and the only sign of life on Cannery Row were two cats fighting over a mangled fish carcass, as I walked away the ghost of Cannery Row toward the Presideo. Two young soldiers guarded the entrance to the old fort. The Viet-Nam War was coming to a close and the hippie era had ended in the Haight. We nodded to each other in acknowledgement of the new era of peace.

1974 was not 1967.

I adjusted my sleeping and canvas bags on my shoulder and crossed the wooded peninsula in the direction of the sea.

Upon reaching the dunes of Del Monte Beach I watched the perfection of the tubed waves rising from the deep. A dozen surfers in wet suits rode the thick green swells like gods from Atlantis. California was Beach Boy country.

The broad slope of sand was dotted by sunbathers and young mothers surveilled their children in the shallows. I stuffed my leather jacket in the canvas bag and kicked off my heavy Fyre boots. A little over a week ago I had swam in the Atlantic and today I walked barefoot to the Pacific Ocean. My trip cross America ended with clear ripples eddying around my feet. The cold sand swirled over my toes. My arms stretched wide to catch the wind and the June sun tasted my skin. I fought the urge to strip off my clothes. Becoming one with the four elements was better saved for a more secluded spot down the coast and I retreated to the dunes.

Sitting on a charred log I brushed off the sand and tugged on my boots. My good friend AK and I had split in Lodi four days ago. The piano player was waiting for me down in Encinitas. At the speed I was traveling, San Diego was more than a month away. I picked up my bags and resumed my trek around the Monterey Peninsula.

Every winter until 1966 ABC Wide World Of Sports had aired the Bing Crosby Golf tournament at Pebble Beach and I stopped for a few minutes to observe a foursome of golfers approaching a tee. The first three landed their shots on the fairway. The last one sliced his drive right and the ball pocked a tree not far from me. The brightly-attired duffer shouted out an apology and I waved to indicate that he hadn’t come close.

17 Mile Drive wasn’t a good place to hitchhike and I trudged into Carmel a little past 1. A rustic Mexican cantina was selling tacos and I ate two at the bar. I could have easily put down a third. I paid the bill with the $20 that Maya had given me this morning and tipped the waitress a dollar. The dark-skinned girl couldn’t have been happier and wished, “Via con dios.”

“Muchos gracias.” That and ‘une otra cereza’ were the extant of my Spanish.

Reaching the Pacific Coast Highway I dropped my bags on the ground. The Frye boots had taken their toll on my feet. I was done with walking and stuck out my thumb. The shoulder offered little shade and the sun toasted my pale eastern skin. Most of the passing cars were big gas guzzlers from Detroit. The women behind the wheel fearfully avoided any eye contact and the men scowled a threat. Something bad was happening on this stretch of the coast and it wasn’t simply the recession.

I toyed with heading north to Santa Cruz and Maya. Returning to her house in the redwoods was not really an option. Boyfriends hated weekend lovers.

Ten minutes later a VW bug braked to a stop. The driver was a long-haired hippie. I threw my bags in the back and sat inside.

“Thanks for the ride.” The radio was tuned to a station playing Quicksilver’s SHADY GROVE.

“How long were you there?” The driver pushed red sunglasses back on his nose and then shifted through the gears to fourth.

“About an hour. People looked at me funny.” I stared out the window and the Pacific Coast Highway grew in legend with the passing of each curve.

“They have to be careful who they give a ride.” The VW cruised at 50. The van reeked of weed. Any stop by a cop was a ‘go straight to jail’ card. “You won’t read about it in the newspaper, but a killer is working the PCH. People go missing all the time.”

;“You don’t mean the Zodiac Killer?” This maniac had murdered at least five young people in Bay Area. The police had no leads.

“No, he stopped in 1970. This killer is targeting women. The police don’t tell anyone, because they don’t want us to panic.”

“Or hurt business.” Panic was a bad thing in a recession. “Aren’t you scared about picking up hitchhikers?”

“No, but I’m careful about who I pick up.” His sunglasses slid down his nose, as he glanced at me. “You look harmless, plus the biggest danger to you are thieves robbing hitchhikers.”

“A gang tried to rob me in Frisco. I was lucky to get away.” I said nothing about knocking out one of the gang. Violence wasn’t a good selling point to someone giving you a ride.

“San Francisco isn’t the City of Love anymore, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop the love.” The driver flashed me the ‘power to the people’ fist and turned up the radio. KSAN segued to the Airplane’s VOLUNTEERS we sang the chorus in harmony. The revolution was not over, then again neither were the days of helter skelter.

The hippie left Route 1 at a dirt road leading into the coastal highlands. He didn’t say where he was going and I didn’t ask.

The next ride was from a well-dressed man in a Chrysler Imperial. His dark suit was crisply pressed for business. Every fifteen seconds he glanced at my crotch. The wedding ring on his left finger didn’t mean much. He was cruising the PCH for adventure.

“I’m heading inland at Notley’s Landing. You should come see my cabin. It’s surrounded by redwoods, plus my wife could use the company, if you know what I mean.” Even straight America had succumbed to the siren call of the Sexual Revolution.

“I get the picture.” The driver looked too much like my father and I feared that his wife was a dead ringer for my mother. Swinging wasn’t my scene.

“Tough going from here to Big Sur. Not many cars and there’s a killer on the loose.”

“So I heard.” America was awash with murder from coast to coast. The violence of a decade-long war had come to the home front.

“I could drive you to San Simeon tomorrow.” He wasn’t giving up so easy and tapped his pocket. “I could make it worth your while.”

“No thanks.” I didn’t need his money that bad. “But if you see me tomorrow, I’ll be grateful for that ride.”

Ten minutes later he dropped me at Notley’s Landing. It wasn’t even a town and the banker hadn’t been kidding about the traffic on the PCH.

Salesmen and businessmen sped past me without braking. Grim cowboys glared from dented pick-ups and battered hippie vans rolled past one after the other. A killer was on the loose and paranoia swam in the drivers’ eyes. I walked several miles down the road. The scenery was worth the blisters on my feet.

I crossed the Bixby Creek Bridge. Arid pastures ended at sheer cliffs tumbling to a desolate beach below the concrete span. Waves thundered on the sand. I searched for a foot path. There was none and I stopped on the other side of the bridge, content to be part of the scenery for the rest of time.

Several minutes later a small truck loaded with hay stopped before a curve. The local farmer offered a short ride to Los Burros Road. His cheek was filled with tobacco chaw and rusty brown splotches stained his flannel shirt.

“Thanks for stopping. Everyone else seems to think I was a murderer.” I sat down in the passenger seat with my hands in sight.

“You don’t seem the type.” He examined me with a squint.

“Thanks, another driver said the same thing.” I didn’t feel the type either.

“But people have a right to be scared. Last year a madman killed a bunch of coeds up around Santa Cruz and scattered their remains in Big Sur. The cops arrested him, but then another maniac is killing men around LA. The cops haven’t got him yet.”

“Not to mention the remnants of the Manson Family.” Charlie and his girls had been sentenced to life. The rest of them were on the run. They were no angels.

“There are some fucked-up people out there, but while Big Sur has a lot of weirdos, none of them are dangerous, except to themselves.” The farmer spewed tobacco juice out the window.

“Sounds like you know the area pretty well.” I figured him for 60. He sounded local.

“My family has been here since the birth of dirt. Back in the 20s only two families had electricity. Ours wasn’t one of them. This road wouldn’t have been built if it wasn’t for the chain gangs. My mother told me about hearing them convicts thumping the road. Took them 25 years to complete it.”

“They did a good job.” The two-lane masterpiece hugged the bluffs above the Pacific.

“Like to see them try it now.” The farmer spit out the window to emphasis his disapproval. “All the damn fools know how to build are those freeways.”

“That’s why I traveled south this way.” Out my open window the sun paved a golden highway to the horizon. Somewhere to the west dawn was breaking in Asia.

“You made a good choice. I’ve been driving on this road since they finished it in 1937. I’ve seen hoboes, tramps, sailors, beatniks, poets, writers, artists, runaways, hippies. If this road could talk, no one would believe its story.”

“You ever pick up anyone famous?” Big Sur had been a refuge for writers and artists since the 30s.

“You mean like Henry Miller or Jack Kerouac?”

“Yes.” Kerouac had written BIG SUR at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin.

“They were too crazy for my tastes, but I saw them all at the Post Office. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton too when they filmed THE SANDPIPER. I got her autograph for my wife. Still plenty of artists hiding out here. Most of them don’t look like you think. Look mostly like anyone. You ever seen anyone famous?”

“I once shook hands with Robert Kennedy and I played basketball at a mental hospital against Albert DeSalvo.”

“The Boston Strangler. Bullshit.” The police had wrapped up the case after the ex-con had confessed to the murders under hypnosis.

“No, back in January of 1967 my school’s track team played at hospitals around Boston and DeSalvo was sitting in the stands of Bridgewater State Hospital.” I had forgotten about this incident. “He didn’t look like a killer.”

“Same as you. Did you get his autograph?”

“No, I didn’t go close to him.” He had been murdered in Walpole Prison by a member of the Winter Hill Gang.

“Probably better, that killing craze could be infectious.”

The farmer dropped me a mile south of Point Sur and I walked the rest of the way to Big Sur. The famous destination for writers and artists wasn’t a town. A simple wooden store served as a post office and grocery store office for the remote coastal region. A few cars were parked in the dirt lot. A bearded man in his 50s exited from the store and got into his Volvo. He drove by me pointing to the left, meaning he wasn’t going far.

Neither was I.

The setting sun was seeping through the gauntlet of redwood groves. The air was scented by the ancient pines and I was thinking about finding a safe place to camp for the night, when a red Ford pick-up skidded to a halt twenty feet from me.

Two long-haired men scrambled from the flatbed and fled into the woods, as if they were wanted by the police. I hadn’t seen a Highway patrol car the entire day. Their hurried departure unsettled me and I readied to join their bolt into the trees, as the battered pick-up inched up to me. Scraps and dents had recorded a history of accidents on the steel body and I expected a mass murderer was driving the wreck.

Nothing else could explained the hippies’ fearful flight.

The passenger window rolled down and a young girl with curly hair asked, “You have any weed?”

“This joint or two in my bag.” I glanced behind the truck.

The previous passengers had vanished into the forest.

There were no other vehicles on the road.

“Cool.” The massive driver wallowed behind the wheel like a walrus stuck between two rocks. Her dark hair shorn short like a Marine. I knew her type.

“We’re going to crash in the redwoods for the night. You want to join us?” The smaller girl’s olive complexion betrayed her Spanish blood. She was all skin and bones.

“It will be fun.” The masculine driver was about twenty pounds short of Mama Cass’ mass. Dykes liked heavy. They thought that the weight made them tough.

The old childhood rhyme. “Fat and skinny had a race.” echoed in my ears with ‘up and down the pillow case’ playing on a XXX drive-in screen in my head.

“Are you heading south?” A ride was a ride.

“All the way to San Diego.” The younger girl looked at my crotch and her brown eyes danced with mischief. “But tomorrow. Tonight we’re camping in the woods. That all right with you?”

“I guess so.” Hitchhiking in the dark with a killer on the loose was a bad idea.

“My name is Jill. My friend is Joey.” Her smile suggested an open invitation.

Both women were in loose denim overalls. Nothing else. No bras. No shoes. Their skin was bronzed without tan lines. They were obviously sun-worshippers.

“We can get some food at the store and a big jug of red.” Jill motioned for me to climb in back and I climbed into the flatbed. The two women were lesbians and probably lovers. As long as tonight was strictly weed and wine I was good with camping in the woods. There was safety in numbers.

We hit the Big Sur Outpost for provisions.

“Don’t worry about your stuff.” Joey stepped out of the truck. She was over six feet tall. The giant motioned for me to leave my bags in the truck. “This isn’t the Haight.”

“You sure?” My sleeping bag and canvas carry-all were the sum total of my worldly possessions.

“This is about getting back to Nature.” Joey pulled me away from the truck. The big woman was used to getting her way. “It’s cool. Trust us. Trust the world and Mother Gaia will shine on you.”

“If you insist.” I came from the East. Car thieves had ripped off my brother’s VW. He was lucky. It ran out of gas three blocks away his apartment in Chestnut Hill. This morning a gang had tried to rob me in Golden Gate Park. I had knocked out the toughest junkie with a rock hidden in my hand. There wasn’t another car in the lot. I pointed to a pay phone. “I’ll be a few seconds.”

“We won’t be long, so keep it short.” Joey guided her consort into the store. She was at least twice the size of Jill.

I emptied my pocket of quarters and took a piece of paper from my wallet. I dialed the number in Encinitas. The operator came on the line to demand $2.15 for three minutes. It was the price of an LP. I slotted the coins into the phone. A woman answered on the second ring and I asked for AK.

“Where are you?” my friend sounded high on weed. AK loved his reefer.

“Big Sur.” Lodi was about two-hundred miles from here.

“Big Sur? You haven’t made much progress.”

“It’s tough going.” Three days and nights with Maya had stalled my progress. Our bodies had locked time in chains. AK wouldn’t understand my sleeping with a Peggy Lipton lookalike. He was straight. “How about you?”

“I’m going to the beach every day. It’s great. My friend Vincent is coming on the weekend. He’s working as a dancer in Hollywood. Maybe he can get us jobs. Hop on a bus and get down here.”

“I’m trying, but tonight I’m camping with two women in the redwoods. Don’t get excited, they’re lesbians. The only reason they want me to camp with them is that I have two joints and they’re scared of a man cutting up women on the PCH.” I explained about the murderer. He hadn’t heard of the killer or the one slaughtering men in LA. The police were experts at keeping a lid on their investigations. “I should be down there tomorrow or maybe the day after that. Hitchhiking isn’t that easy on the PCH, but it is beautiful.”

“I have some good news. You remember Pam?”

“Who could forget her?” The blonde nursing co-ed had shared the driving across country with us. Everyone thought that she looked like Patti Hearst. My ex-girlfriend’s roommate had headed north to meet her boyfriend interning in Mendocino.

“She called to say that her boyfriend was seeing another nurse and there was no job, so she’s coming down to Encinitas next week.” AK had a thing for her.

The line was cut by an avalanche of quarters into the collection box and I slammed the receiver in its cradle. The call had lasted less than three minutes. AT&T was a monopoly. They could do anything they wanted to their customers. I went to the truck and got out my black leather coat. My mother had bought it for me.

I entered the store. The floor creaked under my boots. The interior smelled of dust and stale food. The canned food appeared safe and I grabbed tuna, beans, and peaches off the shelves. The two women picked out sagging vegetables, Uncle Ben’s rice, and two bottles of Zapple wine. It was sweet as cough syrup and I opted for a large jug of Gallo White. Big was good. I peeked out the front window. The pick-up was the only vehicle in the parking lot.

At the cash register Joey put her arm around the smaller girl to confirm their relationship. The teenage girl behind the counter ignored the gesture. Big Sur was a magnet for all kinds.

I offered them a $10 and looked out the door. We might have been the only four people on Earth. My bags were safe.

“We don’t need your money.” Joey waved her hand at the crumpled bill. She was the pants of the couple.

“I’ll pay for my own.” The bill came to less than $10. The way things were going I could stay in California for entire summer.

The three of us exited from the store, The girls walked barefoot across the pebbly lot with the grace of ballerinas crossing a polished wooden stage. Their soles had to be tough as leather. I climbed back into the back of the truck and Joey unscrewed the Zapple to drink from the bottle. Jill took the next tug and her face shone with an imp’s delight. She was no lady.

The young girl handed me the Zapple. The wine was sweeter than I remembered it.

“We going far?” I wiped my mouth and returned the bottle to Jill. The sun had dropped lower between the redwoods and the ancient forest donned a fairy tale cloak of moss.

“I know a place.” Joey signaled Jill to get in the truck and she drove short distance to the south. The outpost disappeared behind a wall of trees and the pickup veered off the PCH onto a logging road. Whatever they had planned for the evening was better executed beyond prying eyes.

The F-150 sped down the dirt trail and the tires lost contact with ground several times. I was rocked from side to side and banged on the roof for her to slow down before I was thrown from the truck. The two of them laughed with a wickedness emboldened by the V8. The truck lifted into the air and crashed onto the rough road. Jill screamed out a warning too late and the chassis ground to a halt.

The sudden stop threw me against the cab.

The fat driver cursed behind the wheel, as the dented Ford F-150 rocked back and forth without success. The pick-up wasn’t going anywhere and I jumped out to look underneath the truck. I got to my feet and went to the passenger side.

“You’re stuck on the stump.” It was about two feet wide.

“Stuck?” Joey shut off the engine and got out of the truck. Driving fast wasn’t funny anymore. Jill got out on my side. The smaller woman knew to keep her distance from her brutish lover.

“Damn.” Joey slammed her thick palm against the steel.

“It’s not that bad. I didn’t see anything broken and don’t smell any fuel or oil. You have a jack?” She had been lucky not to shattered the transmission.

“Yes.” The heavy-set driver surveyed the situation on her knees and stood up, brushing the pine needles off her overalls. “Why?”

“We jack up the rear of the truck and once it clears the stump, we push it forward.”

“Then what?” Women were distrustful of men on the best of circumstances. Dykes even more so.

“If the truck isn’t fucked up, then we camp out for the night. Same as before.”

Joey lifted a rusty jack from behind the seat. I positioned it under the rear bumper and pumped the lever until the chassis cleared the stump by a good six inches.

“Is this going to work?” Joey bent over to examine the damageJoey.

“We could go back to the outpost and see if there was a tow truck around Big Sur. They could haul us off the stump in two minutes.” I had stranded my brother’s VW on Horseneck Beach at low tide. By the time the tow truck reached me, the waves were lapping at rear tires. The tow truck freed the Bug with ease. “It’s not like we’re in a hurry.”

“We might as well give this a try. This truck takes a good beating.” Joey was not interested in having another man around Jill. “Which way are we pushing it?”

“Away from the transmission, so to the right. You ready?” I placed my hands on the back of the pick-up.

“On the count of three. One-two-three.” Joey shoved at the same time as me and the truck lurched to the right and fell six inches to clang on the stump. There was a new dent in the body, but the chassis had cleared the stump. Jill clapped her hands and kissed her smiling lover on the lips, then danced across the pine grove to peck my cheek.

“Thanks.”

“Glad it worked out.” My face burned red with embarrassment.

“Let me get the truck off this road.” Joey wasn’t exhibiting any signs of jealousy and pointed to a circle of redwoods. “That will be home for tonight. Start gathering wood.”

The porcine dyke drove the truck to the trees and unloaded camping gear. Jill gathered kindling and I picked up dried wood for the fire. A red glow was fading from the chinks in the forest to the West. The sun was setting in the Pacific and darkness was creeping over Big Sur.

The kindling took to fire and Jill spun around the flames like a Sufi mystic. The overalls fell to her belly. Her breasts were capped by puffy nipples. Joey’s noticed my staring. “Pretty?”

“More beautiful than pretty.” I was describing the redwoods more than her breasts. The king pines in Maine were half their size.

“She’s a free spirit.” Joey chopped the wood with a small ax. She was good at it. A overalls strap fell off her shoulder. Her sagging breast was almost as big as my head. “We both are.”

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I pulled out the joint that Maya had given me this morning. I lit it from the ember at the end of kindling. The first puff filled my lungs with smoke destined to bliss my mind. I passed it to Jill, still dancing to the music in her head.

“This is the real freedom. Away from the cities. Away from the roads. Away from TV and churches and hang-ups.” Joey cleaved the ax into the nearest redwood and undid the other strap. Her eyes sparkled with a missionary zeal. “Free as nature. Jill and I live on the beaches and in the woods. We have no house. Only the truck and us.”

The big woman made their voyage sound like the TV show ROUTE 66, where two men drove a Corvette around America, except Joey and Jill weren’t men and the Ford pick-up truck wasn’t a Vette.

“Jack Kerouac said, “Live, travel, adventure, and don’t be sorry.” He had put us all on this road.

“And Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” so here we are.” Joey pulled Jill onto her lap and took the joint. The two of them kissed without inhibition. I felt like a third wheel. I knew gay men in Boston. They were my friends. Lesbians existed in a parallel universe separate from us. My only knowledge of their behavior was based on dirty books and I was jealous of their ability to sustain an endless chain of orgasms.

Jill glanced at me and ordered, “Take off those boots, we’re not going anywhere fast.”

“Sure.” I hadn’t meant to stare.

“You never seen lesbians before?” Joey’s question was edged with confrontation.

“Not really. When I was a boy, my father took me to a restaurant in Boston.” I pulled off my boots. My feet were free of the thick leather. The pine needles were soft under my soles. “Durgin Park has been operating since the 1800s. The waitress staff is all-women and by women I mean retired Navy nurses. Their hair was cut short and they took no lip from the customers. They were real nice to pretty women and after we left I asked about those waitresses. He said they were lesbians.”

He had actually said ‘dykes’.

“And that’s it?” Joey cupped Jill’s small breast. The small teenager squirmed on the bigger woman’s lap. Her nipple was getting hard.

“Pretty much. I hung out at a gay bar in Boston. The 1270 was all men. The Saint was for women, but they didn’t like men to show their face. Thought they were looking for sex.”

“Men are dog-minded, that is only capable of one thought at one time.” Joey passed the joint. She had smoked it to a roach. “I suppose the only lesbians you ever saw were in stroke books.”

“Yes.” The joint had two more puffs in it. “The Combat Zone in Boston offered books covering a wife range of sexuality.”

“Which ones did you like the best?” Jill’s face was painted red from the fire. The flames dancing in her Latin eyes were asking for the truth

“My favorite was THE ITCH by Steven Hammer. There was homosexuality, orgies, lesbianism, sadism, everything. I must have read it hundreds of times.”

“I know the feeling.” Joey threw another log on the fire. “I frayed THE THIRD SEX by Artemis Smith and couldn’t keep my hands of THE BASHFUL LESBIAN.”

“You were my introduction to lesbians. Joey picked me up hitchhiking a year ago. I was running away from a touchy stepfather in Texas. I bet you’d both like to read that book.” Jill slipped off Joey’s lap and pulled a blackened frying pan and greasy cooking utensils from a bag. She pulled up her straps and poured water into a pot. “I don’t know about you, but all this talk about reading has got me hungry. Here’s a knife, you chop up the vegetables. Joey will read us her poetry.”

The kitchen knife was long and sharp. I diced onions, chopped carrots, and sliced potatoes, as the big woman half-recited poems about the Greek island of Lesbos, worlds without men, and tribadism with young girls. Once the water came to a boil, Jill plopped the vegetables into the pot.

Smoke from the fire of redwood branches curled up the columns of ancient trees. A starry evening completed the roof of evergreen. We drank the wine from the jug and set up a comfortable seating area with our sleeping bags. The flames cast sly shadows on the girls’ faces.

Jill strained off the water and spiced the vegetables in the pot, adding soy sauce at the end. We ate off bent aluminum plates with wooden spoons. The truck was blocked from my sight and I said to the girls, “This could be 1900.”
“Back then they called what we have a ‘Boston Marriage. Two women together. Emily Dickerson had one. When the other woman broke it off, she secluded herself for years.” Joey shut her eyes and then said, “A solemn thing – it was – I said , A Woman – White – to be – And wear – Her blameless mystery.”

“You missed a line.” I had studied Dickerson in high school.

“No, I dropped it on purpose.” Joey opened her eyes. “I have a thing about God.”

“She thinks He’s a She. Like maybe a transvestite.” Jill pointed to my bare calves. “You wouldn’t be such a bad-looking tranny. Of course you’d have to shave your legs.”

“The rest of me isn’t so hairy.” I opened my shirt. My chest was hairless.

An owl hooted overhead.

They pretended to be scared and wrestled me to the ground. Joey pulled off my shirt and Jill stripped off my jeans. I was naked and within a second they were too, but instead of kissing me the two women embraced each other with a fervor I had only seen on the silver screen at porno theaters in Boston’s Combat Zone.

“Fuck me now.” Jill begged with a bedeviled voice. I finished within the smaller girl in less than a minute. Flaccidity was not acceptable in their presence and they devoted their attention to getting me hard again.

Joey squatted on my groin. She thrust down with the force of a Sumo wrestler. My bones cracked under her weight. Jill took pictures.

If I wasn’t with one of them, then the two women were at each other like cats mad for milk. Their tongues were loud on each other’s flesh. The second I recovered, they would enlist me back into service. Between breaks they huffed a white powder. It wasn’t cocaine. Crystal meth was fueling their lust and they were getting wild on speed. They didn’t offer me any. They wanted their captive to be hard.

Joey needed wine to calm her nerves and drove off to the outpost at sunset. I fell asleep so exhausted that I didn’t feel Jill shaving my body. It was night, when she shook me awake and held out silk lingerie.

“Dress in these. Joey likes to see men in them.”

I didn’t put up much of a fight. The silk bra and cut-out panties were surprisingly soft on my skin and it turned Jill on. Joey said that my face had Neanderthal features. They called me Bam-Bam.

Joey shot Jill and me with her camera.

“I can sell them in LA for good money. You’ll be famous.”

I could do without such fame, but was in no position to refuse their demands.

For two days I was their rented mule. We linked in daisy chains of three. They worked my flesh to the bone and recalled the two hippies fleeing the pick-up truck.

They had good reason.

These two women were sexual predators. The redwood grove had become our stalag. I was Charlotte Rampling in THE NIGHT PORTER. Joey was Dirk Bogarde. Jill was from ILSA OF THE SS SHE WOLVES. Their nails tore at my flesh. My skin bore teethmarks. Blood stained my sleeping bag. These women liked it rough.

They wouldn’t stop until I was dead.

Joey spoke of a world without men.

“If me and my friends ruled the world, we’d make all men dress like you. They’d learn what it’s like to be a woman. We’d make you slaves. Jill, show him how we treat slaves.”

It wasn’t nice and that evening the two of them edged over the border on sane speech and behavior. Jill sharpened the kitchen knife with a stone. The young Latina could have passed for a Charlie Manson inductee and mentioned the words ‘manslaughter of men more than twice, as Joey chopped wood with a crazy-eyed frenzy reminding me of Lizzie Borden and the forty whacks that she gave her parents.

Most of that day the big woman spouted anti-male hatred direct from the SCUM Manifesto. Joey repeated a mantra about how a chicken runs without its head. Her ax shone in the firelight. Jill knife gleamed in the flickering flames. I stopped sleeping with both eyes shut.

On the third night they crashed out of their speed binge and lay on the sleeping bags dead to the world. I stripped off the lingerie and rummaged through their bags for the film that Joey had shot of us. I stripped the roll out of the camera as well. Any evidence of my stay in the redwoods burned with a sizzle in the fire.

Grabbing my bags I darted from redwood to redwood. The thick trunks were good for hiding from any potential lesbian posse. I dressed quickly and then ran naked through the trees with my bags over my shoulders. I remained in the forest for several miles not wanting to risk the PCH. A little before the dawn I stepped from the redwoods. There wasn’t a car or truck on the coastal highway.

A farmer picked me up around sunrise. He was transporting avocados to the Farmers Market in LA.

“Whew, smells like you been rutting with hogs.” He rolled down the window.

“Something like that.” I sniffed at my skin. I was a little ripe. “You didn’t see a beat-up pick-up truck back near the outpost.”

“No. Someone you know.” The farmer was having second thoughts about picking me up.

“Just two friends. I was waiting for them, but they never showed up.” I looked back at the highway. It was empty.

“People get lost easy along Big Sur. You know there’s a murderer working the PCH.” The farmer glanced at the rearview mirror. He wasn’t buying my story.

“I’ve been warned about him and another down in LA.” There were probably several other killers on the prowl. I settled into the seat. It was a nice ride on the PCH.

The highways leading into LA were hell. Cars raced for better positions. The drivers cut off each other with demo derby rudeness. The farmer stayed in the righthand lane at 55.

“I hate coming down here.” He gripped the steering wheel with both hands.

“I can see why.” The city was a shock after a week on the road. The suburbs streaked up the hillsides and shopping malls clustered around each exit from the freeway. The faces of the drivers were scary and I reflected on the story I had heard about a murderer preying on men in LA. He could be in one of the passing cars.

“Are you going to hitchhike here?”

“No, I’m taking a bus.” LA was a maze of highways gobbling up the orange groves. The clover leafs were designed for speed. Police patrolled the freeways and I had heard that they arrested and fined hitchhikers for breaking the taboo of walking in a city built for cars, plus I hadn’t escaped from Joey and Jill to be killed by a man man.

“The station is little out of my way, but I’m too Christian to drop you off on the highway.”

“Thanks.” There were good believers and this driver was one of them.

The farmer dropped me downtown at 6th Street and Los Angeles a little after two. I bought a ticket south and ate lunch at the Thrifty Drugstore counter, and then called AK from a payphone.

“I’ll be there around 6.” The schedule said 5:30, but the bus made all local stops in mythical beach towns south of Los Angeles.

“Call me from Encinitas and I’ll pick you up.”

I boarded the bus and sat in the middle. The back was filled a rough crowd of crackers. They had nothing good to say about blacks, Mexicans, and hippies. I ignored their taunts and stared out the window at the passing beach communities whose names had been lifted from Beach Boy songs.

Last year I had spent a week in Seal Beach. The ocean was dotted by oil platforms. I spotted the bar at which I had drunk with my friend, Nick.

South of there the Huntington Pier jetted into the waves. I recognized it from the surf contests on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Newport Beach was a prosperous seaside suburb. The forests surrounding Laguna Beach reminded me of Big Sur. I didn’t see any swallows in Capistrano and the bus route detoured inland from Nixon’s Pacific refuge. The driver joined traffic on I-5 through the vast Marine base of Camp Pendleton. A big island floated off the coast. The driver stopped for a break in Carlsbad, giving a chance to call AK.

“I’m almost in Encinitas. Maybe another thirty minutes.”

“I’ll be waiting.” His was the only familiar voice this side of Boston and I was looking forward to seeing the pianist.

The bus pulled into Encinitas a little before sunset. The sky was golden over the PCH. AK was waiting at the Greyhound station. We shook hands and stood apart to examine each other.

“It took you a long time to get down here.” AK had been at Dorothy’s place for over a week. My friend was going California and this decision agreed with him. His skin was deeply tanned from the sun and beads circled his neck. It was good to see a familiar face.

“Hitchhiking on the PCH was harder than I thought,” I mentioned nothing about my stay in Santa Cruz with Maya. Our brief affair was no one’s business, but mine. I changed the subject. “What’s the beach like?”

“Like nothing else you have ever seen before.” AK was not prone to exaggeration. He grabbed my sleeping bag and threw it inside a brand-new Volvo.

“What’s this?” I sat in the passenger seat. The car smelled of very low mileage.

“Dorothy’s car.” His friend was living off a well-funded trust.

“She’s okay with my crashing here?” She was a complete stranger.

“I told her you were a poet. She loves artists.” AK got in the car and we drove over to Dorothy’s place. She lived on the other side of the Interstate.

We shared stories about our week apart, as Suburbia petered out in the stretch of flower fields. The bright sun accented the colored petals with an afternoon glow of amber. AK turned down a dirt road through a flower farm and parked before to a single-story dwelling shaded a thick copse of eucalyptus trees.

“This is it.” AK opened the door and I grabbed my bag from the back of the car.

A pale brunette was sitting on the front porch. Long braided hair traipsed down her shoulders and a plain peasant dress covered her thin body. She rose from the chair and greeted me with a hug.

“Welcome to Encinitas.” Dorothy smelled of fresh rain.

“Thanks for having me.” I put my bag on the porch.

The western horizon was tinted by a low halo of copper. Owls hooted in the tree. Spirit’s NATURE’S WAY by Spirit played on the stereo. Another woman exited from the bungalow with a bottle of wine. She was wearing the same dress as the last time I saw her.

“Pam.” I was slightly surprised to see the attractive nursing student, who had shared the driving on our trip cross country. AK’s smile said it all. The two of them were a thing. “I heard you were coming here, but didn’t expect to see you so soon.”

“I flew from San Francisco.” She poured the wine into four glasses.

“Planes are certainly faster than hitchhiking.” I refrained from commenting about her failed rendezvous with her boyfriend. The blonde had traveled three thousand miles to be with the intern only to find out her beau was with another nurse. I kissed her on the cheek and she backed up a step.

“Do I smell dirty?” I hadn’t bathed since Big Sur.

“A little gamey.” The blonde from DC pulled AK close to her. They made a good-looking couple.

“The perfume of the road.” I lowered my face and caught a whiff of my body.

“You want to wash up?” Dorothy pointed to the house.

“I think it would be a good idea.” Soap hadn’t touched my body in over two weeks.

I followed the slender hostess inside the house. Low pillows were scattered about the living room. Books were stacked against one wall and LPs climbed to the ceiling on another. A large painting of the coast dominated the third wall.

“Nice painting.” I had see that view a dozen times this afternoon. “Is it yours.”

“Yes.” She gazed at the painting, as if it wasn’t hers anymore.

“It’s good.” I spent a lot of time in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “I’m no expert, but I can almost smell the sea.”

“It’s only a mile to the west.” Jasmine incense burned in the corner.

“There are two bedrooms. Mine and the guest room. You can sleep on the floor here or on the porch.” Dorothy pushed open the door to the bathroom.

“Porch sounds good to me.” It would give me a little privacy.

“You have anything to wash?”

“Almost everything.” I had been living in these clothes for two weeks. Nothing was clean. I stripped off my jeans and tee-shirt. Dorothy ignored my nakedness and I handed her everything from my bag. They smelled like the grave.

“Jack Kerouac never wrote IN ON THE ROAD about how he smelled and now I know why. There’s a robe on the door. It should be your size. These will be ready tomorrow.” Dorothy turned her back and I shut the door.

My shower lasted for a good ten minutes. I washed off the dust of the PCH. Steam fogged the tiny bathroom, as I scrubbed my skin red with a face cloth. I shampooed my hair twice. The water streamed from my head in grey rivulets. I hadn’t been this clean since leaving Boston.

I exited from the bathroom in the white cotton robe. I grabbed ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE from the shelf. AK, Pam, and Dorothy were on the porch. The last light of the day hugged the horizon. AK handed me glass of white wine.

“Here’s to cleanliness.”

“It’s next to goodliness.” We clinked glasses and I sat down on the couch.

A soft breeze twinkled the wind chimes. I sniffed at the air.

“It’s jasmine.” Dorothy pointed to the darkness. “This flower farm borders the San Diego Botanical Gardens. It used to be some rich woman’s estate, but she gave the land to the city, so we get to smell the flowers.”

“Nice.” A better description would have been pleasant and we passed a delightful evening smoking pot, eating a vegetarian dinner, and spinning records on a Thorens turntable backed by a Pilot Amp and AR speakers. I recounted my trip down the coast and AK interrupted my tale, “What about the two women in Big Sur?”

“That’s another story.” I had nothing to hide, even though Pam was best friend’s with my ex-girlfriend. Jackie wasn’t leaving her boyfriend for me, so I told them about the redwoods, Jill and Joey, the knife, the ax, the sex, and my escape.

Both women laughed at the wrong parts.

“What’s so funny?” I had drunk most of the wine.

“All men want a nymphomaniac. You find two and what do you do?” Dorothy had a nice smile with crooked teeth. Her face shone with a welcome kindness. “You run away.”

“I didn’t run away at first, but Joey and Jill got scary and I don’t scare easy.”

“You really think that they were trying to kill you?” Pam was more beautiful here than in Boston. Ending that relationship with the intern had freed her soul.

“In that forest yes, but sitting on this porch, maybe I was just being paranoid.” Big Sur was hundreds of miles to the north. “But they were heading this way.”

“And they’re hunting for you?” AK was amused by my fear.

“Stranger things have happened.” Millions of people lived in San Diego. Joey and Jill were only two of them. “But not tonight.”

“And on that positive not, I’m going to bed.” Dorothy stood up and stretched her body. “I have an art lesson in the morning.”

Dorothy retreated inside the house. Pam joined the exodus.

I shivered thinking about Joey coming after me, but I was safe in this house. Dorothy went to sleep at 10. She had an art lesson in the morning. AK had the guest room and I was sleeping on the porch. I spread my sleeping bag on the floor and took off my clothes in the moonlight.

“You were kidding about those women.” AK was shocked by the signs of their abuse.

“It was life or death.” I sat on the floor and told him about the killers roaming the highways. “It’s not a fairy tale out there, but we’re safe here. What about you? Looks like things are going good.”

“I’m a lucky man.” AK had fallen in love with the co-ed. The blonde nursing student was no Jill and certainly no Joey. “I see you in the morning. We can go for a swim.”

“There’s a naked beach down the coast.” AK entered the bungalow.

“Sounds good to me.” I checked the lock on the door. It seemed secure. I pushed a chair against it. I wasn’t taking any chance and I fell asleep within minutes of reading the opening line of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

The next morning AK drove Dorothy to her art class. The fog hovered over the PCH. It was too cool to open the windows.

“How you sleep?” Dorothy had traded the peasant dress for paint-splattered work clothes.

“Like the dead.” Joey and Jill had run me ragged in the redwoods. “I’m looking forward to lying on the beach.”

“Be careful with the sun. Too much is not good for you.” A long-sleeved shirt covered Dorothy’s arms and a scarf was wrapped around her head. Southern California was a hard place to avoid the sun.

“I have to play catch-up.” AK’s Jewish blood gave him a head start in any tanning contest. I stood little chance of getting that bronze.

We dropped Dorothy and Pam at a ramshackle house. A bearded older man stood at the door. Eddie was her teacher. Today Pam was her model. We promised to be back by lunch and AK headed south to Black’s Beach.

AK parked the Volvo below the bluff and walked down the narrow beach. Nude sunbathers were scattered on the sand. AK and I dropped out towels and I pulled off my clothes. AK was shy about baring all to the elements. The men nearest us were eying his body. They were into men.

“Pretend you’re with me.” I examined my scraps from my this morning’s dash through the woods. None of them were permanent.

“I am with you.” He held the towel over his privates.

“No, act like I’m your boyfriend.” The sun was bright. Waves were curling up from the depths.

“You want me to act gay?” AK was 100% straight. “I don’t know how.”

“Me neither.” I laughed and pointed to the sea. The waves were crashing on the beach. Both of us loved the surf. I raced him to the water. He was faster than me, but I was a stronger swimmer. We stayed in the ocean for over an hour.

“Let’s take a walk.” AK surveyed the beach.

“You want to stare at the naked girls.”

“It’s not a crime.” There were more men than women and most of them were gay. AK spotted two women sitting under the cliff.

“Let’s go talk to them.”

“Them.” I squinted in the glare and caught my breath. It was Joey and Jill. I dropped my head and jumped into the ocean. I swam with the current and came ashore some two hundred feet from them.

“What’s wrong?” AK caught up with me.

“It was them. The two women from Big Sur.”

“I don’t know why you ran away.” He glanced over his shoulder. “They look harmless.”

“That’s because you didn’t spend three days with them sucking the life out of me.” There was such a thing as too much sex.

“How bad could it be?” AK looked over his shoulder. A huddle of naked men had surrounded Joey and Jill.

“If I had stayed another day, they’d be nothing left of me.” The two women were checking me out like I was a piece of meat. They probably didn’t remember my face, so I cupped my hands over my privates and waddled away to safety.

AK followed my lead.

We must have looked strange to the women and their admirers. Later that evening AK related the encounter to Dorothy and Pam.

They didn’t laugh this time.

“I know that most men will say that I was crazy to running away.”

“Not me, because women are scared of men most of the time. Now you know what we feel like every day of our lives.” Dorothy read my mind like it was a comic book.

“Is that how it feels?” I hadn’t thought of it that way.

“Men want sex and women want love. They are not one in the same.” Dorothy had a story that she didn’t want to tell and I poured her another glass of wine. Her hand was steady.

“That I know now.” I looked over to Pam. She was leaning on AK. Her face said that she was safe. We all were in this house.

The three of them went inside to their rooms.

“Sweet dreams.” Dorothy meant every word. “Thanks.” I lay my head down on the sleeping bag. Stars were shining on the horizon. I was happy to be in California, even if 1974 was seven years after the Summer of Love. It all felt good to me.

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