ON HE RODE — Chapter Eleven
This is NOT a contest entry.
So I’m goin’ down the road feelin’ bad, Lord, goin’ down that road
really not knowin’ how I’m feelin’. I mean, look, who’m I kiddin’? Me?
Am I kiddin’ me? Or should that be, “Am I kiddin’ I?” That depends, I
guess, on whether the terminal pronoun is a direct object, in which
case it would be “me”, or a predicate nominative, making it “I”?
And, Kimo, which would you vote for? You wouldn’t vote? OK, Lani, how
about you? What difference, you ask, does it make? Well it shifts the
whole emphasis of the sentence, don’t you see? It affects its logic,
therefore its meaning. We might be miscommunicating — not really
telling each other, you know, what we think we mean.
OK, tell me the truth, Old Sport. Just who the hell do I think I am to
be telling kids whether to end a sentence with an “I” or a “me”? And
am I really planning to spend the next forty years of my life doing
Takes a ten-dollar shoe to fit my feet, Lord, a ten-dollar shoe back
in Whitey’s day at the Tillamook Burn was a hand-made cork-soled
leather boot going for well over a hundred bucks a pop in the days
when a hundred bucks was a month’s pay. To fit my feet in front of a
classroom full of lively, tan-skinned skeptics whose English is quite
different from the English I am charged with teaching them, I spend
about two dollars for the same flip-flops, rubber slippers, or “rubbah
sleepahs” everyone wears. To that extent, at least, I’ve gone native.
For most mainland haoles, a move to Hawaii is economically daunting.
Living expenses are high, good-paying jobs hard to come by.
Public school teaching gigs are an exception. Wages are decent and the
state provides affordable housing in gated communities of
well-maintained triplexes. Affordable? How about five dollars a month,
utilities (except phone) included? How about right on the beach? How
about summers off? How about goin’ down this road feelin’ well, not
bad exactly, but just sort of wonderin’ what the hell I’m doin’ here?
Do I really think I’ll run into Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady or any
of those “On the Road” beatniks and they’ll recognize me as one of
their own? That was over twenty years ago, just after The War. Yeah,
but like aren’t there legacy beats, you know, people who still live
it? Aren’t there?
The hippies, of course, though I’m not the world’s best fit. Anyway,
I’m headed toward the place where it could still be happening, at some
level, the city where I’m told residents don’t like to hear it called
“Frisco”? I don’t know why.
And on my way there I’m still hopeful of scoring some weed, to the
point where I pick up a gaggle of sweaty ‘tween-age male hitchhikers
on the off-chance. Bad idea. Loud, squirmy, and smelly as the young
pups they are, of course they’re into everything — “Hey, you got a bed
back here.” “Hey, cool, man. You live in here? Like, this is your
home, man.” “Look here. He’s got a whole case of motor oil!” “Hey,
man, you change your own oil? Cool!”
“That reminds me, guys. Where you want out?”
“Not here. We’re going up to . . .”
“Here, how about this driveway here? Room enough to hitch without
gettin’ run over?”
“Oh, uh. Yeah. Cool,” he murmurs. “Thanks for the ride,” he adds.
OK, so the truth is I’m nothing more than a high school English
teacher on summer vacation and as absolutely clueless about where I’m
headed and why I’m going there as you might ever have assumed your
most clueless-seeming high school English teacher to have been. That’s
me, Mr. Clueless and happy to be him. Or he.
Anyway, happy I am and happy I remain — happier still, as a matter of
fact, when, why not, what to my wondering eyes . . . a country girl
deluxe, tall, darkly blonde, stovepipe jeans, fleece-lined suede
jacket like Sylvia Fricker’s. And, like Sergeant Preston’s, a big
silver shepherd dog named King. Instead of semaphore European-style
thumbing, she keeps her fist down, like she’s cupping a cigarette, and
points her thumb downroad. Very discreet. I’m the only one who sees
it, the only one on the road.
Of course I stop. King gives me the most cursory of glances as he gets
in, goes to the back, and settles directly behind her, sitting at
attentive ease on my bed. His bed now. She says her name is Sigrid,
and I ask if she’s Swedish.
“No,” she says. My mother is. I’m American. Like you.” She smiles an
all-American smile. Nice voice. Perfect teeth.
“Where you headed?”
“South,” she says. “Like you.”
I tell her about the kids I picked up, then dispensed. I don’t tell
her I’m looking for weed, which can still be a serious legal problem
if you alert the wrong people. Shepherds are sometimes called police
dogs for a reason. I carry no marijuana, a fact I’d guess an alert
King registered first thing.
“Some of these kids are into drugs,” Sigrid says, “— growing, selling. Using.”
“Not those guys,”
“You never know,” she says. “Pull in here.”
We’re in a rustic setting, structures rough-hewn on purpose to fit the
nest of cedars, alders, and redwoods, intersected by burbling
fern-banked streams and dewy rivulets. Some fifteen or twenty
dark-timbered log cabins arrange themselves artfully, capturing the
natural aesthetic, even enhancing it. Can this be where she lives? Is
she inviting me into her mysteriously exotic life? Could I be that
But wait. What kind of place is this? There’s nobody home anywhere in
these cabins. If it’s a vacation spot, wouldn’t now be the time?
Summer? It doesn’t look like Sigrid lives here. What does she know
about it? “Ghost town?” I ask.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”