On He Rode: Chapter Four
This is NOT a Year of the Dog Contest entry.
This gunmetal Chevrolet was already old in 1963 when I willingly paid
too much for its low miles, perfect paint and glass, and total lack of
dents or dings — virtually a new car, though technologically
out-of-date, a plus in my view.
Across the Skokomish River and past the Skokomish Indian Reservation,
I glide south on Hwy. 101. In 8th-grade inter-school sports, we were
the paleface Raiders; they were the dusky Indians, the remnant
descendants of tribes living here before we Raiders barged in and
improved everything. It’s hard not to admire planes, trains,
automobiles, tall buildings, and personal electronic gadgets, but I
can’t quite believe the “primitive” civilization we supplanted was
inferior to ours. Theirs was perpetually self-sustaining and renewing;
ours seems bent on total annihilation. Tribal disputes vs. world war;
one-on-one vs. nuclear holocaust. What else can I say? Traditional
Hawaii? Superior for the same reasons. Then we came, with measles.
Guns. Nukes. Etcetera.
My car’s radio died of dampness under Whitey’s mossy-trunked maples.
So, who needs a radio? Behold, my Hohner key-of-C blues harpoon. Not
that I’m great shakes so far, but I’ll keep it close by, sure to be
inspired by open road resonances to compose my own haunting crossharp
etudes. Not overnight, mind you. Patience. Good things take time.
I stop in the lumbering town of Shelton to check out guitar manuals. A
nickel in the meter gives me a half-hour. No parking ticket today,
thanks. On my way back, I’m almost surprised to see how clean, crisp,
and new-looking my Chevy still is, the bumpers and grill gleaming
rust-free, the white sidewalls glowing haloes.
The interior too, the headliner unfaded and unstained, the dash
unscathed, the seats firm and clean, the steering wheel and floor
pedals like new. Body by Fisher from the days when it apparently meant
something. It’s good to slide behind the wheel and head south, a new
Dylan songbook beside me. Are we rollin’, Bob? Damn rights were
This new electric Dylan, this human compulsion to go new places and
make new things, where’s it come from? Are we all tapped-in to a
species-wide extra-sensory network that at supra-cosmic levels keeps
fueling the same frantic cravings for survival? Mutual and universal,
we hope? We trust? No bullying, right?
A friend, a man twenty heavy-burdened years older and balder than me,
holds that the simple secret to successful marriage is mutual trust.
Which is why he and his wife — and I and mine — no longer live
together. “The secret to any successful relationship?” I suggest.
We raise our stubbies of Primo Hawaiian beer, chug the warming dregs
in perfectly harmonious trust, and head to the reefer for fresh cold
ones. We’ve got it all worked out. Just trust.
Seriously though, isn’t trust like faith, and doesn’t that open things
up to wider possibilities? Faith? Trust? Are they the same? Aren’t
they? In God we trust. Do we? Then why do we mint money? And why do we
swill beer and blow weed? Weed. Evers. Asshole.
Heading south the fast way, I-5, I cross the mighty, muddy Columbia
and hug its south bank all the way to the coast, where I turn left
into a whole new country, a spectacularly understated natural
seascape. The fabled Oregon Coast. There it is.
There’s an order of business I’ve promised myself to conduct asap.
Pulling onto a flat, graveled promontory at the tip of which sits a
small, square frame building with a bright barber pole next to its
entrance, I park, get out, take a deep breath, and stride purposefully
forward. Imagine what an almost criminally irresponsible act I am
about to commit. Bordering on personal disfigurement, what will people
Exactly. What will people say about a young man’s not having enough
self-regard to at least try to appear normal through some artful
rearranging of a diminishing resource, a porous web of deception that
deceives exactly nobody? “You this guy’s big friend? Baldy?”
The barber’s a Pendleton-shirt-wearing old fart in his padded chair
gazing through a wide plate glass window at an unusually broad swath
of rugged coastline, cliffs and islands. “Haircut?” he offers.
“Haircut,” I affirm.
“You come to the right place.”
“Looks like. Just take it off.”
“Will do,” he says.
Taking his place in padded leather prominence facing southwest, I
picture this man’s life. Age, say 57, he’s retired from another line
of work, local realty maybe, considering his snug situation. Perhaps
the county? Drove truck, maybe? Doesn’t care to travel, just wants to
captain his own soul and see a long ways off. Keeps a little change in
his pocket. Hosts a bit of quiet conversation after work. Beer or two.
Mine’s an out-of-state license plate on an out-of-date vehicle; he
must wonder. But does he? Now I wonder: Why’s he being so careful and
taking so damned long? I wave my hand back and forth. “Just take it
off,” I repeat.
“A-all of it?” he says. “You mean b-bald? You sure?”
“Yep,” I say. “B-bald. Slicked-out.”
“Okay then,” he sighs. Bald? Insane.
Hair still grows thick in the classic sidewall horseshoe, my feeble
salute to contemporary fashion. That layer of quasi-pubic fur drops in
clots accompanying longer cranial gossamer floating off my shoulders
and lap on its way to the spotless linoleum. In two minutes max, he
takes it all off and spins me toward the mirror to face my blunder.
“This what you wanted?” A fucking blue-veined light bulb with ears?
“That’s what I hope to find out.”
“To each his own,” he mutters.
I tip a dollar for luck. Mine. Outside, the air blows fresher. My
left-hand pointer lightly fingers smooth-skinned cerebral
chromedomicile, so to speak: What? You think this looks good?