Works of fiction and poetry by friends of Bamboo Ridge Press.

ON HE RODE — Chapter Sixteen

Published by JIM HARSTAD | Saturday, August 31, 2019 6:06 PM

1000 words for August

“My dad’s better’n your dad.”

“My dad’s stronger.”

“My dad can pick up a bag of cement.”

“My dad can pick up a bag of cement with one hand.”

“Can he run with it? Like my dad?”

“Like your mom, you mean.”

“Your mom has a mustache. My dad’s taller than your dad.”

“My dad can play guitar.”

“Air guitar. How much beer can your dad drink?”

“Twice as much as yours. Whiskey too. Four Roses.”

“My dad smokes Camels. Two packs a day.”

“My dad used to smoke three packs of Luckies. But he quit. It gave him the flu.”

“Quit? Your dad doesn’t smoke? What kind of dad doesn’t smoke?”

“I smoke sometimes.”

“What do you smoke?”

“It doesn’t have to be cigarettes.”

“What then? Hollowed-out corn cobs?”

“It doesn’t have to be tobacco. Indians used to smoke a lot of
different things.”

“See where it got ‘em? Shoulda stayed with Raleigh 903’s.”

“My aunt used to smoke Raleighs. Collected coupons she traded in for luggage.”

“World traveller?”

“In her head. She raised four kids. Uncle worked in the shipyard.”

“Then they travelled?”

“Then she got lung cancer and died.”

“No shit?”

“Shit you not.”

The Raleighs, no doubt. It stood to reason. They were able to offer
quality luggage as reward for smoking their brand by cutting corners,
using inferior, less-costly, cancer-causing tobacco in the manufacture
of their crappy product. Not premium quality. I don’t know any Camel
smoker with lung cancer. Or Luckies or Chesterfield. Bit wheezy,
maybe. But no Big C that I’ve heard of. Hmm, whatever happened to my
aunt’s luggage?

Back to the present, this summer of 1968, almost exactly ten years
after my grandparents awarded me my big suitcase for high school
graduation, ten years of almost constant use, its presence should
comfort in the way trusted friends and acquaintances can comfort.
Large, square, and ridiculously roomy, it represents possibility,
enabling opportunity, an almost irresistible force pointing me in
directions I would not otherwise choose to go. Should not go?

Hey, old friend, howyadoin back there with the spare tire? Still
holding things in place? What say you to yonder flower children? Would
such company help change the complexion of the day from vague and
neutral to bright and cheerful? Is that what flower children do, show
the world a better way? A better way to do what? Avoid the draft? What
if they held a war and no one came?

“Hey, how far you going? Downtown? Me too. Hop in.”

Light patchouli fragrance, she slides bra-less next to me, and he
follows, closes the door, shakes my hand. Clean white tee-shirts and
bluejeans, they can’t be more than 17 or 18, blond of hair, spare of
limb, civilization’s discontents have left no marks or scars — yet.
Smiling, holding hands, it’s painful to observe their wholesome
cheerfulness, their perfect alignment with the good things of this
Earth. How does one achieve such harmony? By wishing? Praying?
Chanting Om? By just being . . . good, whatever that is? Can you be so
good that only good things happen in your life? No, I seriously doubt
it. But isn’t it pretty to think so?

“Have a nice day!” she chirps as they slide out the door onto the busy
sidewalk near the Haight. The sunny smiley face at the middle of her
tee-shirt is framed and animated by frisky young breasts that I will
never, ever smell or taste or touch. Or even see again. The world has
suddenly become unaccommodating. Did I once belong here? Somewhere?
Will I again? Ever?

Working my way gradually toward Sausalito, I park near the waterfront
and head for the NO-NAME BAR, where I pass the bartender’s scrutiny
and am served a cold bottle of the house specialty, Anchor Steam Beer,
with what must be described as quizzical silence. Who am I? What
nuthatch did I fall clear of? What looney bin? Do I predicate the
future. What is this world coming to? “Enjoy your beer,” he says. He’s
several years younger than me, sandy hair, unlined forehead. No
special messages of any kind here. Enjoy your beer. What you see is
what you get.

I get myself a small table near the open-to-the-sky fern-covered back
wall to enjoy my beer. It is dawning on me that my low-key approach to
acquiring weed is not working and that, really, I shouldn’t want it to
work. I have not smoked for several days, the longest I’ve gone
weed-free in a lot of months, and I’m starting to like it. It feels
like unexplored territory, maybe a good thing to add to the mix of new
experiences. At least for now. Of course when I actually run into
Kerouac and the guys and they actually pass the device, who am I to
say no?

I say yes to another cold Anchor Steam, and as soon as I start sipping
I’m joined by the neighborhood bag lady and her fat brown dog. She
sits at a table near enough to make conversation a possibility I
immediately negate by moving to a table close to the pisser, where I
pretend to be heading the whole time. Taking a long look at myself in
the mirror, am I a better match for the bag lady than I will admit,
given my somewhat indeterminate life stage. How close to old? To dead?
How many guys any age have the balls to embrace and exude this
reassuring aura of masculine maturity, much appreciated by
frizzy-haired women who escort fat dogs to fashionable watering holes
on warm summer afternoons? Only me? I gulp my beer and head for the
sun-bright street. “Have a nice day,” I tell the bartender on the way
out. “Good luck,” I think I hear him say.

Poking around the docks until late afternoon, I head back up the
street where I hope my car is still parked.


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