- American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
- Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
- Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
- Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
- Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
- Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
- Nonviolence by Jim Courter
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
- RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
- Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
- Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
- TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
- Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
- Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
- Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
- Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
- Patience by Ward Webb
- The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
- The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
- Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
- Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
- When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
- Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
- The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
- The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
- Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
- The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
- The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
- Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
- Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
- The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
- Someday Man by John Grochalski
- I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
- Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
- Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
- The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
- Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
- Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
- The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
- How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
- Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
- Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
- Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
- Invisible by Anjoli Roy
- One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
- Storyteller by Alan McCormick
- Idolatry by Robert Smith
- P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
- They Do! by Al Po
- Full TEX Archive
The Little Ganges
By Joshua Willey
They say these redwoods mark the southern extremity of the North American range. They are not as tall as those which populate the Avenue of the Giants, nor as fat as those which grow on Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, which Basho never reached as he traveled his narrow road in search of aesthetic revelation. There is an albino sequoia, growing without chlorophyll, out there, somewhere. But, these trees are full of owls who like to stay up late, which means they are still hooting when I wake in the morning.
I sleep in a loft which has no guardrail. If I fall, I fall. There is a skylight above stained by bay leaves. Beside the foam mat (ragged at the edges from the zealous teeth of rats) with the sleeping bag on top is a copy of 1000 Plateaus. This book has been here as long as I can remember but I've never seen anyone read it.
There's a Dutch oven, a cast iron pan, a spring box and a water tank. The coffee is cold brewed, Maxwell House usually but sometimes, Trader Joe's. This life is not without luxuries though: Imperial Valley strawberries soaked in Hennessey, Kern county corn on an open fire, artichokes straight from Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world, bags of oranges from Visalia. It's hot and dry. Dust coats the hood of the truck. Today I brought a Honda generator down a mile of steep canyon on a handcart and it pulled me through the arid dirt as if I were water skiing. By the time it was over with I had to jump into the ocean to clean off. A bunch of Chicano kids were surf casting for perch or carp or something. Two guys I know from demolition. They carried a woodstove hanging from a two by four across their shoulders two miles. That was something else.
There is a windup radio here, and a clear station, Central Coast Public, out of Santa Cruz, but there's a repeater up at Nepenthe (which was once owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth). Every night from eight to ten there's classical music (last night: Gustav Holst's The Planets and some Barber) and from ten to twelve, jazz. Once a week there is an opera show from midnight to three. I drip coffee during the first aria. They play mostly very old recordings which suits the little speakers and the shoddy reception. Last week it was Bellini's Norma, and I nearly cried, but was too awestruck; the fire crackling, fog shifting over the moon, surf pounding, and that voice, coming through the candlelight. It felt like a moment from Cao Xueqin or Shikibu.
It's a climate in which to write letters to God and then use them to kindle a blaze. I found an old notebook full of contacts from years ago. What are those people doing now? Are they doing what married people do? Are they raving mad somewhere? Are they dead? There are two kerosene lamps with Patrón bottle bases. There is a shower attached to an oak tree growing through the deck. Down a few switchbacks is the latrine. A wooden platform raised above a hole, which fills, but slowly, slowly. Atop the platform: a wooden frame with a green toilet seat on the lid of which is depicted a cartoon frog, tongue extended, catching a fly. Blackberries have grown thick around the facility and at certain times of day, if you rustle the bush, a hundred ladybugs glide off the branches and cover your hair as you shit.
South is Hearst's Versailles. North is Cone Peak, the highest elevation so close to the ocean this side of the Pacific Rim. To the east, the Hunter Liggett military reservation, you have to show your ID to get through, then stay on the indicated course for King City. In the distance are targets crouched in movie-set dwellings, one-sided. I've never seen so many wildflowers. To the west, supertankers are visible and occasionally, brave fishing boats, but it's rare. These are empty parts. The beach is deserted, like in that Don Henley music video. You know the one. "Out on the road today I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. Little voice inside my head saying don't look back you can never look back." There are a few jade hunters. One determined kid trying to ride the mushy breaks, but he's too far back on his board. He misses every one.
Cordwood consists of an old deck which rotted and fell over and was dragged down to the cabin and sawed up. The deck was built by a classics scholar in the sixties. It's a little strange, burning it now, so many memories. One time, I was fucking a one-legged lawyer up there, and I got an extreme pain in my hand, and I looked down and an albino rat had sunk its teeth into my flesh. I shit you not. Startled by the pain I started going at it harder and the lawyer started screaming (the intersection of pleasure and pain?), anyway I never got a rabies shot. It's no time to be sentimental, the whole place will be razed in less then a month, and I will be looking at a screen again, and the canyon won't miss me at all.
After the hottest, driest autumn in a decade, it rained two inches in two days. Even when the sun was out it rained. "The devil is beating his wife," Saint would say. Through the rays of light you could see the air was filled with water. At night the Pleiades shown clearly but precipitation still rattled the bay leaves. The Little Ganges filled with debris. The whole county eroded, hillsides flowing into the sea from the force of the fires, which burned so hot they left no roots to hold the slopes in place. All the places kids had made friendly with shovels and rakes, the pools and miniature beaches, were covered in dead tan oak branches, moss and poison oak stretching upward, reaching for the canopy. The Friends of the Redwoods came and whistled up the canyon.
The soup is mostly expired. The beans are decomposing. The rubber cement has congealed. A thousand mini moths lie dead on the windowsill. In fact, the entire place is succumbing to the constant pressure of gravity, felt more acutely now than in the past. That's all it takes, time, and pressure.
A long distance conversation echoes up canyon, but only one side is audible. "I know, it's amazing!" and, "I miss you too." The clerks at Loma Vista are listening to Too Short on a computer, music downloaded via bit torrent. Through the scratched plastic of newspaper vending machines one can follow the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe. At dawn I remember the honey-suckle escapades of elementary school in the sweet sunny south, how Danby would slam the wall ball with his two hands locked together in a giant fist and Astra stood on everyone's shoulders to reach the highest branch.
Most of the nails are so rusted they break before fulfilling their purpose. The pliers barely open. Candle wax leaves its stain on hand-milled slabs of redwood, and only a fraction of the chess set remains (a few pawns, a queen, the black knights, a rook) in the red and green coffee can.
The reclining chair was brought up here by an environmental lobbyist from the East Bay during the Carter administration, and after Obama's election it finally broke, and I fixed it in my own incompetent way, with old woodworking glue, galvanized nails, and duct tape. We set it out next to another chair of circus-stripe fabric and used a lilac log for a table, employing metamorphic rocks to level the surface. The fire pit is cold, but the wood stove has been burning for two days straight. The owls cast onto its front and side doors are piping hot. The dog is stretched in front of it. The windup radio is on the table, waiting. Somewhere all the elephant seals are sleeping, stinking, and already the pot growers have their egg carton flats of starts in their long wooden sheds, with the sap-covered skylights, and the bottles of cloning gel and the gloves with the fingertips cut off.
After the waves crash they pull back, overturning a million smooth stones which roar like thunder. Fog advances and retreats all day between the western horizon and the crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Ten waterfalls mark the path the Little Ganges carves toward the Pacific. Once, the range of redwoods spread from Mexico to Canada, but it has been shrinking for a thousand years. Still, great horned owls chant all the night through. Stellar's jays break the hot silence of high noon. The redwoods are mixed with oak, lilac, and bay. Rattlesnakes frequent the southern exposures, tarantulas the northern. The brightest color in the canyon is found covering the body of the banana slug. The forest is cloaked and revealed, shrouded and elucidated by the whim of the fog which in turn is subject to ocean storms and valley temperatures. When it is hot to the east moisture over the sea is pulled against the coast. Mountain lions walk along fallen trunks and lay out on flat rocks. Looking out across the gorge, a tree falls, and the stillness which follows its settling is the deepest of all. Sometimes the creek is so high is drowns out the surf. Sometimes it is too low to be noticed over the perpetual oscillation of the tides. Sometimes, both can be heard simultaneously. Crickets and mice populate the hills. Condors rise on the thermals. Across the spindrift, humpback whales. Elephant seals are usually smelled before they are heard. Fires clean out the undergrowth every few decades, but the redwoods remain. Kelp rots on the beach, covered in gnats. Sand dollars and jade jut up from the sand. Perch and rockfish jump in the pools.
The Hazards had settled in King City and been successful there in ranching but around the turn of the century the younger generation grew restless, and began traveling over the mountains; the last time (on this continent) they'd be able to go west. The Salinas Valley was so parched and dry that the fog and the ferns of Big Sur were a relief to them, and they homesteaded the canyon with an aim to log. Trouble was, there was then no coast highway, so they tried to pull the redwoods over the top with teams of mules. It was more trouble than it was worth, and in the end they only cut some ten trees before giving up and returning to perform on flat ground the work which was in their blood. But the land remained theirs in deed, and upon their deaths it was left to one of their daughters, who had seen it and admired its rugged beauty but had no use for it. So it sat up there as bulldozers built the highway and thirty miles south W.R. Hearst built his castle and thirty miles north Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth ran their bar. Esalen was opened by friends of Osho and rich people came from afar to hang naked upside down and have mud flung at them in the name total health. The daughter grew into a mother and then a grandmother, and she still lived in King City the day the young men with long hair and torn shirts and beards came to see about the purchase of a piece of property over on the coast.
Eli stopped and looked over his shoulder into the sterile darkness of the hallway. It was over he thought, everything was opened up wide; the future had arrived in all its blinding brightness. The sun hung in the center of the sky as he walked out into the parking lot, cockeyed and squinting at once, butterflies overflowing his stomach. "It's over." He moved his eyes across the façade of the building to see if any ears had heard. The only people were walking on the track a quarter mile away. The erratic hum of trucks drifted down from the highway. Two Stellar's jays worked diligently away at some misshapen box of trash next to the forest green dumpster. Eli ran his fingers over the diploma in his hand to reassure himself of its existence. "All that. All that, for this." He thought about Mister Marcuse, the deep creases beneath his eyes, the sound of chalk screeching on the board, sliding up to a girl on the freshly waxed floor of the gym, smoking, smoking in the bathroom, the music from the cars at three in the afternoon when the last classes let out and the students spread themselves gloriously across the peninsula. He got into his truck and sat in the insulated heat with his hands on the wheel, then he got out and pulled the seat forward and took out a metal first aid kit, opened it, put the diploma inside, replaced the kit and the seat and got back in the truck. Again he sat in the silent heat of June, his hands on the wheel. "Now what? I should go grub. Wonder where in the hell's Saint? What's that? It's a fly. There's a fly in here. It must be hot." He turned on the radio. "Patsy Cline. One of those honkey tonk angels anyway. Tammy Wynett." It was that singular heat which exists inside a vehicle parked in the sun. He turned over the ignition and put the truck in reverse, looking back at the school one last time, then he shifted into first, second, pulled out on the street, third, and a block away onto the highway, fourth, and overdrive. He drove south.
Eli's father was a prominent doctor, a peninsula man all his life with connections in the community. Eli had barely started high school when the old man, cruising down the coast with his nineteen-year-old girlfriend and a bottle of Wild Turkey, wrapped his Cadillac around a redwood tree. The girl walked away with nothing more than a little hitch in her step. The old man was buried in a family plot downtown, one of the last plots to be sold down there, before the space was all used up. In fact, even the old man's grave was eventually moved to make way for the flow of development. Nobody put up much of a fuss. He left Eli a considerable sum of money, to be collected upon the boy's graduation from high school. Of course he had hoped his son would come to study medicine, and he tried, in his way, to infect his child with some of the enlightenment he felt his profession had brought upon him, both materially, in the form of the big house and the cars and the booze and girlfriends, and spiritually. Eli did not cry at the death, but he imagined his father's last instant as one of ease. A man who saves so many lives can better afford to lose his own. Eli pulled his Ford up to the stand-alone garage in back of his family's home and turned off the motor. Before he had got out his sister was upon him.
"Goddammit Eli where the fuck have you been?"
"I went down to Gilead. Some friends."
"What kind of friends do you have in Gilead?"
"Saint's down there; some other people."
"I suppose you all go and kneel at the knee of that writer lives down there. What's his name? Thane."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Her hair was long and constantly falling across her face so that she was constantly in the process of pushing it back, either with her pale hands or with a motion of her neck. To the casual observer, one seeing her for the first or second time, the habit endowed her with a certain grace, even eroticism, but to her brother, who had been watching her for over a decade, it looked like the product of some systemic problem, neural, muscular, skeletal. He moved past her and up three flights of stairs. She followed and watched him as he began stuffing objects into two different containers, one a giant canvas duffle in which he put soft things, clothes, blankets, the other a wooden army trunk in which he put hard things, tools, mason jars full of various drugs, bullets.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm getting some things together."
"I can see that, what for?"
"What's it to you? Shouldn't you be with what's his face, the oilman or whatever he calls himself?"
"Eli…" She took his arm. He stopped his movement and looked at her, really looked, for the first time since he arrived. She touched his face. "Eli, it doesn't have to be like this. I know it's hard to see now but; you can have it both ways."
"I don't want it anyway though, you don't understand, it's nothing this, I just got to go."
"Will you come back?"
"Of course I'll come back. Everyone always comes back."
"The blood means Eli; one thing papa should've taught you it's that."
He wasn't thinking about the future. He drove down to the south coast and walked up the canyon. Right away he knew he would build a tree house. He started with whatever was laying around, oak logs and some rope. The first day he worked on it it wasn't ready by nightfall and he slept in the back of the truck. He got a few pallets from the rail yards in Salinas and hauled them up. The first night he slept in it he had the strangest dreams. Next he built up little walls and finally tapped a little spring, ran a little hose, so he had fresh water. Hap was working on his PhD dissertation in a little trailer by the highway, but he'd come up and see him in the mornings and they'd eat a little granola and drink a little Earl Grey Eli made over a little fire contained in a Dutch oven, and eat mushrooms. They walked to the top of the ridge, 180 degrees of ocean, and peel an orange, taking in the wildflowers, feeling the heat of the valley battle the cool of the sea for control of the crest, and then they felt that lightness in the stomach, that tingle in the fingertips, and start downward, swinging on bay branches. All day they took showers in every waterfall, discovering entire kingdoms in the ferns, balancing on logs bridging the gaps, smelling flowers, the dirt, each other.
When at last they reached the ocean the sun was sinking into it, steam rising up, the sky mauve and magenta. When the beach had darkened completely they lit a fire of driftwood and came to exist in that small circle of illumination outside of which, all was theory (the intense focus and introspection following the exuberance of the psychedelic experience), until the light of the stars. They laughed frantically and howled at the moon and pawed the earth and took off their clothes and dove into the water which looked black as oil in the star-lit night, then they built the fire up into a blaze and danced around naked, leaning close over it, bringing sweat to the epidermal surface; hot as a sauna. Eventually others would come around. Saint, two girls from Vermont (Dasha and Ruby). They all went to Nepenthe and drank Tequila and shook it and Saint fell down on the dance floor and pissed himself. There were huge condors around the place. Saint was so drunk they had to take him out in their arms and drive his rig back down the coast and dump him in the back to sleep it off, parked at a bend in the road below the canyon.
Eli was a total pussy hound. He prayed off the highway. The north end of the beach was nude, and he met more girls there than he could count, and brought them back to his tree house. Sometimes they'd fuck him right there on the sand, or else on the warm, flat rocks. Sometimes this catalyzed others to couple up, and the partners were passed around, double-teams, a veritable orgy. The scene exposed a rift in the community. Eli, open-minded as he thought himself to be, in tune with the collective subconscious karma, couldn't stand being around homosexuality. He didn't believe a white person could successfully marry and raise a family with a Chicano. He didn't respect women in the way he did men (he doubted their sense of time and particularly, of space). With men, sex was impossible, with women, it was necessary. Then, he met Astra.
Around the same time he ran into Thane, and told him about this canyon for sale above Sand Dollar beach in Pacific Valley. He'd already talked to Saint and Hap about the prospect of trying to buy the piece, but they needed a fourth to get enough money together. So they went up to see Thane. Thane knew every pot grower in the state of California. He had curly red hair and wild green eyes. Eli had gone to high school with him and knew he was always in the market for anything "on the edge," or a place where he could, as he put it, "cultivate his conduct." They had to go up to San Francisco to see him. He lived in a little room up around Bernal Heights. He said he spent at least thirty minutes everyday just zoning at the view. "There's no limit to how much you can do when you do nothing," he said. Eli rolled his eyes and thought, "slowpoke."
"Smoke a bowl? I've got black hash from the Kullu Valley. It's not that blonde shit, it's dark."
"Light it up" Hap said, studying Thane's bookcase. He had an apparent obsession with old wisdom of the Orient. The Bhagavad Gita, Daodejing, The Conference of the Birds, and The Lotus Sutra were all in attendance.
"You dig San Francisco?" Thane asked Hap.
"I used to come here in high school to sneak into jazz shows. One time I came to see Eric Dolphy and got carded and I pull out this fake, and bouncer looks at me, looks at the ID, looks at me again, and says "take a hike Mac." Luckily he gave me the ID back." Thane lit the bowl and they passed it around fast enough to keep it burning. Then Thane put on a CAN record and they danced around the room a little in a twisted circle, until at last Eli said, "you gotta come look at this piece man, it'll blow yer mind, again."
"OK," Thane said, turning off the stereo and picking up an Oakland Athletics jacket, "lets go." He hiked around the property for a day, found a dream spot to build a cabin, and agreed to go meet with the widow. They all took Saint's Studebaker. over Nacimiento Road, through the Hunter Legit military reserve, into King City, and found her house. She was old and had no use or desire for a rugged canyon on the coast. She liked reading Horace and Alexander Pope and Whitman in the shade. She sold them the property.
Within a month each partner had picked a particular home site and given it a specific name which integrated it into the mythology of the Little Ganges, which they had named the creek flowing through the bottom of the canyon. Eli's house came to be called the Orchard, as it was situated on a relatively flat spot where, mysteriously, four apple trees grew. They produced only the bitterest fruit, but as such trees were virtually unknown in those parts, they ate and even enjoyed their tartness. Hap's house they called Owl Ravine, because it sat on a nose protruding from the side of one of the steepest tributary canyons, a deep, dark place with some of the tallest redwoods in Pacific Valley and undoubtedly the most owls. Thane's house sat atop Snake Rock, and was the highest of them all. It got it's name before he'd even chosen it, but he and Eli had sat there all afternoon, smoking hash and starring at the ocean, when suddenly Than looked down and there was an albino snake with little red eyes lying calmly between them. And when they started in surprise, the snake didn't slither away but only shifted, affectionately, as if it was sad to part with its compatriots. The view from Snake Rock was staggering; nearly 180 degrees of ocean. Saint's house was architecturally the most interesting. He bought a giant redwood wine barrel from a junkyard in Pasa Robles and hauled it on a flatbed to the end of the road. He then rolled it (with the help of about ten men) twenty yards up the creek to a pad he'd prepared. He put a pointed roof on the tank, and covered it with windows, and on each side he added a room. Because his place was at the bottom of the canyon, it didn't see much sun, as it was perpetually in the shadows of the tall trees. They called it the Tank House.
The early days were wild. They had parking lot bonfires. They learned each other's histories. Saint was the class clown. He never shut up about how he crushed bullies all over the state. "See, bullies don't really want to fight, that's the whole point, if they were warriors they wouldn't fuck with the little kids." So in all his days of bully crushing he never had to actually throw a single blow, the titans fell by the grace of his glare. The very notion of his physicality was of constant inspiration to him. So in the air, or in the water, where the laws of this physicality were altered, he was able to rededicate himself daily anew to the pursuance of the art. Swimming, diving. The possibility of failure, neigh, the certainty of failure, the inevitability of it sent shivers down his spine. The football coach convinced him to join the team but upon the assertion that he could no longer ski he quit.
The job, because there had to be a job, was at JC Penny's in the Deep South. In the stockroom Saint spent years holding a soft brown clipboard, his hands knowing emphatically the difference in texture between a box and a steel frame. The pre-florescence of the lights, at night (the job was only at night) constantly reformulated his conception of tomorrow. It was silent in the store at night, empty save for the myriad heartless objects which collected without end, like the mail, coming and going regardless of the state of the union. The navy was something different. In the engine room, objects were charged with insane significance, willful, volatile in a way the many dolls and drapes and Dapper Dan cans could never be. They were all at sea, months would pass. Through Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Mumbai, Alexandria, Istanbul, Tangier, Osaka. They were a year in Osaka. Saint learned some of the catlike speech, collected small scraps of cloth he found in the cracks between the sidewalks. A few of them went often to see a certain Ma Thumb, who smelled like a new car and had around her at all times a varied collection of her "daughters" who were, to say the least, friendly with the sailors.
Vietnam was deeply green, despite all the death, and it was not good death, the death was visceral, without ideology, it was an animal death, and all along he had assumed it would be different for humans but it was just the same, without respect for anything beyond complete spatial temporal immediacy. There he saw his buddies dying, and it didn't diminish the value of it, the value of the day, in fact by the revelation of it's ephemerality, by the precariousness of the circulatory system, it brought it to greater heights, as each day threatened to be, and eventually became, the last. His first wife was a southern belle who, as many humans have and do, confused fact with fancy. So Saint started going to the local VA resource center, to group meetings, even a private shrink. All they wanted to do was medicate him, generally, but his resistance was adamant. He preferred self-medication or none at all. After a couple years he found himself in a position to criticize other vets, like telling them to "chill the fuck out," at which point another in the group said, "buddy, if your so goddamned chilled out what the fuck are you doing here?" And he had to admit, the vet was right. So he walked out and hasn't had any contact with social services or the medical infrastructure since. Not even unemployment. Not even a tooth cleaning.
In the flattest state in the union he worked as a general contractor and cultivated his conduct via disciplines such as fishing, complex widdling, metallurgy, and twenties Hollywood culture (accessed entirely through religiously fevered trips to the Amis Public Library every afternoon. The smell of the place alone was enough to transport him back to that Zeroville, where James Cagney, and Mae West, and the two incendiary Erics (Rohmer and Von Stroheim) spent the days falling asleep and the nights waking up only to disappear into that dark space, those fissures which scatter willy-nilly across American cities in the early AM.
The yard was full of rare flowers, willed out of the community, wordlessly, indiscriminately. People came with seeds, with starts, or else with advice, with fertilizer recipes scrawled on Denny's napkins, with explications of subtle and less than legal processes by which particulars of the flowery flesh could be refined to render mind altering substances. He watched The Birdman of Alcatraz and he lived one winter with a junky who constantly lost everything. When he wasn't working he would drive an ancient Econoline to a new lake, and watch the birds, jump into the waters, and after, lie down in the light.
"The ocean infiltrates everything, even if you cannot sense it, just being near, just knowing it's there, just the fact that it is there, even you don't know. The sea, the ocean, the largest ocean on Earth which is decidedly the kindest planet as far as well can tell at present. To be with the ocean is to be with God."
"To be with you is to be with God."
"Thane, how long have we been here?"
"Who's this we? I've been here all my life, in my way."
"In your way. It's your way or the highway. All I'm saying is that how are you ever going to be here in some sort of equilibrium when you are paralyzed by the simple existence of the sea. Your so fucking sensitive."
"I'm an old-fashioned man Eli, wait till you see Thane these days, there is sensitivity. He can look at a rock, at one rock, all day. And by that I don't mean nine to five I mean fucking dawn till dusk, one rock. Says he has never been bored in his lifetime."
"So when do I get to see this yogi?"
"He's coming, next week, to look at that land we're going to see."
"He has money?"
"Some. He's a carpenter now; more than me."
"Fucking prodigy to have more money than you."
"I'm still plotting you know. It's early. It's still the twentieth century."
The camp is simple. The two big American trucks backed up to each other with space enough in between for a fire, just beyond the high tide line; the fishing poles and the bag of beans. The bible and the work boots hanging from the tailgate. In the impossible clarity of the mornings Eli moves to the saltwater without fully opening his eyes; dives in. Those first moments are foggy and strange, he feels the weight of the past, the threat of the future, it is the present moment which is obscured and far away, but when he emerges from the surf, eyes open and stinging slightly, everything has disappeared save that which is directly in front of him. And he smiles.
Hap finished his doctorate and was forced to chose between his girlfriend, a leather worker (who would buy important Jazz records the day they came out and have them waiting on his turntable with a joint and a highball glass beside, and cook him dinner as he sat in the mustard colored chair with headphones on), and the wide world. He chose the later, and went into the employment of the Ford Foundation, which flew him promptly to Cairo to do agricultural research in presage of potential investment in the Egyptian hydroelectric and eolian infrastructure. When he arrived he was greeted by Qalhataka, his assigned servant. He had a little room in Zamalek and was flown back to New York every month to present his research and conference on the future. He always asked Qalhataka if there was anything he could bring back, and all the Nubian ever wanted was Camel Nakeds. It seemed strange, to bring Camels to Cairo. "Why Mister Hap never smoke Camel?" Qalhataka would ask. "Qalhataka smoke every day, very healthy, very calm." Eventually he was transferred to Izmir, and then Beirut. He went on a few dates in Lebanon, with sisters of friends he met professionally, or at pick up basketball, but a date meant walking around with the brother twenty paces behind. One time some locals picked him up to take him to a concert and they went to a beautiful little town in the mountains and there was Joan Baez. When his contract ran out he went to India, and then to Nepal, where he was alone for longer than he'd ever been. He spent the nights in Sherpa huts. He fixed people's motorcycles. But he thought of Eli, of the Little Ganges. They had met up on Nacimiento Road.
"Fuckin' Thane, he's so sensitive. He'll sit and stare at one rock all day without moving a muscle or getting bored. Or else he sniffs that glue he's using to patch his hut and convinces himself Eudora is a beauty."
"He does tend his plants well."
"Fuck. He's so fucking sensitive he loves em like children. Oh I swear that Irish knows every goddamn grower in California."
Eli rides his Husquavarna 500 down to the Pacific Valley Station to pick up the mail and there in the box is a brown stained manila envelope with a postmark in some Hindi script. He pulls it out cautiously and finds it dripping with oil. One smell and he identifies it as Hashish; a bottle of oil which has broken open on the long sea crossing journey from India to California. By the time Eli arrives back at his cabin at the Orchard, he has smoked a quarter of the envelope and is too high to close the windows in defense against the swiftly attacking fog bank. On his back, looking up at oak beams he cut and milled himself, he sees all the perfect euphoric Big Sur days piling up on top of him and leaving him alone, but when he sleeps, the bliss is heavy, and he wakes up full of joy. Eli went to Fiji on a lark when he had some money saved from installing water systems at a big resort in Big Sur. The first time he flew into Suva he felt a lightness in his feet, a tingling in his fingertips. He bought an old motorcycle and went to Lautoka, Sugar City the locals called it, and then to Nadi. After a week he left Viti Levu for Vanua Levu, where he found Savusavu, and knew right away he would settle there. The next year he came back and bought land, and a boat, and would sail out to Nawi Island. He tapped springs and built little huts and rented them out to foreigners, upper class Indians and Japanese and Australians mostly. He even found a little work as a mechanic at the big copra mill on the edge of town. He cultivated a taste for sea cucumbers, smelled the santalum, sat beneath the palm roof and listened to the rain, which after the New Year, seemed never to end. For a decade he spent the winter months there. In Bainimarama's coup his property rights were threatened, and then he never felt secure there again, and the heat and rain had worn him out. So he sold, and went back to living in Big Sur year round.
Thane had a heart attack and it became harder for him to live by the Little Ganges. He began spending more and more time with his mother in San Jose, in a little house on Quiet Street with a fiber optic cable and flat screen television. He integrated himself into a complex online community. His beard grew long. "I haven't shaved since 1968," he told people.
When she first came to this country she met many good people, people who came to her room late in the evening after work with a bag of apples and sat on her chair as she lay in bed and told her about some of the magic they had encountered in that day, in that city, in that life. They had distinct conversations which can only anticipate sleep, looking out the window at the wet asphalt, the blur of passing cars, with Hap disembarking the last bus of the night, crossing the street and stopping into the convenience store run by the family from Karachi and she saw him pacing in front of that store and smoking before hearing his footsteps heavy on the particle board stairs and then the weight of his body sinking into slumber on the next bed in the next room. Those nights she slept with the little clock radio on and though the things she knew by name were mostly very far away she didn't yearn for them but rather cherished the emptiness, the blank slate which was her new home. Who populated all these buildings? Who had designed and constructed them all in the beginning? And where had they all gone? Often in the morning, if she woke early enough, she would ride her bicycle through the street and there was no one. There was no one at all.
Shell woke at noon. She lay on her back and stared up at the dark knots in the tongue and groove ceiling, at the paw prints, where a cat had walked on the boards when they lay in the open, still wet with stain. The candles had bled wax on the floor the night before. The woodstove still held some heat. It was the day the weather was meant to change. According to the meteorologists, it would turn cold, fog up, and rain two inches before Christmas next week. It had been warm and dry so long that the creek had disappeared completely in some places, gone underground. You couldn't hear the waterfalls. There were no owls at night, the full moon shone bright and steady and cold on the redwoods. An Indian had come up to sell them some fish and he said the longer the rain took in starting, the longer it would take in stopping. When it rains it pours. He had a pistol, and knife, and a pound of marijuana, and planned to take his ride through the Hunter Legit military reserve the next day. Shell warned him the cadets would demand personal identification, proof of insurance, and possibly search his vehicle and his person, this probability made more likely by the unfortunate (under the circumstances) color of his skin. He mumbled something about Obama and went away. They never saw him again. Shell rose and lit the propane stove and made Yuban coffee, and cut and ate her last grapefruit as she laced her boots up from toe to knee. If the water table was to remain so low she would have to tap another spring, already they would forego the holy showers, saving the water for the plants and for their own mouths. She put a gun, a knife, a sweater, and a piece of bread in a backpack and began walking up canyon, unconcerned about stumbling through the myriad tangles of poison oak to which, after all those years, she'd become immune, never fearful of the tarantulas, rattlesnakes, or even the dens of mountain lions. In places the going was so steep she had to swing on branches to progress. From a trail higher up on the south side she had pinned down the location of a seep, easily identified, even from a great distance, by the concentration of ferns and other thirsty plants. It was land-marked as well by one of the largest redwoods in the watershed, but as Shell reached the tree, and put her hands against it, she realized they couldn't build a spring box here, no matter if it endangered the success of the harvest. The place was too holy, and the scent of cat so strong it made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Sunlight filtered through the canopy and fell in zebra stripes on the forest floor so she felt she was in a cathedral with blinds on the windows instead of stained glass, or else in a scene from The Tale of Genji. She found the seep and sure enough it was ample. She climbed the high rocks above it and found a smooth flat place in full sunlight. She took of her shirt and felt the heat radiating into her back from where it had been absorbed into the rock and into her breast from the sky. She ate the bread and then began to whittle a small piece of oak into the shape of a fox. When she was young her father had gone to Budapest and returned with a stuffed fox the color of a fire engine. She finished the fox and with the remaining wood whittled a knife, modeled on the one she held in her hand. She put the fox and the knives in the bag and put her shirt back on and smelled the singular scent of spring water, wild cats, and behind these, the ocean. The sun was already low.
These were the shortest days of the year. She walked back to the cabin and cooked a can of baked beans with maple syrup which she ate while reading last month's Harper's Index. As the fog came she built up a fire and sat in front of it, winding the short wave radio and looking for news. At dark she thought she heard a motor. At first it sounded like a dirt bike, then a chainsaw or a generator, but she realized it must be a jet or a tanker. She scanned first the sky and then the horizon for mechanical and mobile light, finding nothing but silence and stillness, the motor was gone, leaving only the small echo of radio waves, the crackle of burning lilac, and the everlasting rumble of the surf hitting the beach and rolling back, overturning a million small stones in its wake.
She knows that at home the winter never ends. Rain falls and puddles between the bunchgrass, freezing overnight so that when people step into the cold concise morning they mind their feet so as not to slip. Her father is out there. Her father who never wanted her or her mother, who kept pigeons and dogs and disappeared into the mountains without a word as they ate all their leather goods and sold themselves. That quiet corner of the universe in which she was born, so little and lonely, near the end of the cold war. The mountains were so disorganized, the drainages insane, rivers flowing every direction and logging roads winding vertically up into the grey. Kids are always getting wet and dirty out there, even walking to the supermarket they pick flowers or jump in puddles, and flocks of geese which fly overhead shit on their shoulders and they shadow box, dance, and fall down. Everyone knows everyone, it's that which made her to feel so alone and run away, though looking out at the twinkling lights of the big city or listening to the perpetual roar of its respiratory and circulatory systems she feels much the same. The skyscrapers could've been mountains, the houses trees, roads rivers, cars animals, and the people were still hunting and gathering, still trying to get fat, stay warm, pass on their genes. Smoking butts at depots, or fishing with her brother, cutting hair all day or drinking all night, she looks out at the wind moving in the trees sees there something at once sinister and sublime. A stillness, an entropy. It keeps her up every night though since she can remember they stayed up as long as they possibly could, not for any reason, nor as an act of biological defiance. Maybe, she thinks, it is because her people find consciousness so fragile, they are afraid if they let it go dormant, even for the slightest moment, they may never be able to recover it at all.
Eventually she took to adopting abused mammals, mammals facing lethal injection, facing the gas chamber. The first ran away after an early snow came. It headed south she figured, four paws pounding the pavement of the coast highway, bowl in mouth. The image came to her at night, and she took comfort in it, sitting in front of late night free cable, watching old fights on ESPN Classic, watching Joe Lewis, or else sitting in various suburban public libraries until close looking at giant picture books of old film stills: Natalie Wood, Louise Brooks, Bergman, Garbo. The second animal she named Shelby and it was petrified of her and managed to hide behind appliances every time she entered the apartment. The rest of the time it sat on the window ledge and sang war songs to the birds which frequented the sequoia and eucalyptus trees lining the street. She even had a few stuffed animals which she regarded as fully animate, though there was no evidence in support of this. She had Shrek, and Alf, and a camel which had written under one hoof: "Ship of the Desert." When she gave everything up, Shelby went to live at a center for battered women, and she calls from time to time to check in on her. She's meant to be doing very well, and no longer hides behind appliances.
Everyday Hap sits there, in his tree house. He watches Thane take load after load of concrete up the steep side of the canyon on the back of his Yamaha 125; dark brown bags stacked three at a time on the rack. Sometimes it looks as though Thane will spill over backwards, so great is the grade and heavy the load, strung on the back of the bike. Thane is building his cabin up there, and he is mixing a concrete foundation, through which he aims to run a grid of copper wire to be attached to the highly conductive legs of his antique, oversized Caleigh-Lemay woodstove (bought at a two acre sale in Pescadero), and on top of which he places his thick Persian rug from the Seeks in San Jose, so in the winter time, when the fog is heavy on his scene he can light the fire and drink his tea and pace barefoot around the room.
Eli was this wild kid who had always lived in California. He had a little platform up in the redwood trees above Pacific Valley where he slept. There was a spring up the canyon and a rock box and some hose leading to a little faucet and basin on the platform, and he had a cook stove to make tea, and a little granola, and at the right time of year, grapefruits. You'd go and see him early in the morning, before the sun had even cleared the crest of the coast range, and he had an entire routine planned out. First the tea, then a little granola, then the citrus, and finally, a fistful of psilocybin mushrooms. In an hour you're swinging down the canyon like Tarzan on the flexible limbs of bays, oaks, and lilacs. When you hit the creek you start taking showers in the waterfalls, and you continue until you reach the ocean.
The beach is a labyrinth of entrancing patterns laid by minerals in the sand, of seaweed creatures and colonies of energetic gulls, arguing with themselves, friendly and grumpy at once, singing. Eli leans against a barnacle coated rock and smiles. "I have a good feeling about this rock," he says, and launches into a brief history of a woman he knew who untied her bikini bottoms and fucked his brains out on that very rock. When the sun sinks into the ocean it hisses and steams, and you can see the silhouettes of oil tankers in international waters, the fishing boats just beyond the shelf, and the coals from the cigarettes of kids from Tijuana surf casting for carp and walleye. Eli was married just out of high school, a shotgun wedding. They named their son Dagby. He was working at an auto shop and came home one day to find his wife had spent thousands of dollars on a living room furniture set; white suede, on credit of course. About the same time a couple of his friends, Saint and Thane, showed up from down on the peninsula and gave him a few tabs of purple tree acid, his first taste of the psychedelic era. That was the end of that. He was gone by the end of the week. Those first years on the coast he operated always under the radar, never leaving a paper trail, never going on the record. Of course that wasn't hard, in those days. With the encroaching darkness the canyon turns a deeper green, the flies yield to moths, the jays to owls, and the roar of the surf is challenged by that of the crickets. As the magenta on the horizon fades and one's surroundings are drawn up close against them, a magic transformation occurs. The mushrooms are long gone; all that remains is the candlelight.
Every morning a giant Seller's Jay lands on the railing and sings until given some caloric morsel. The fog shifts constantly, burying the trees. I choke my dirt bike, kick it, and we're off, down empty trails, to an empty highway along the empty ocean. A fungus, which traveled to these parts from Japan on Rhododendrons has attacked and killed most of the tan oaks between San Francisco and San Simeon, and while it is sad to see the giants fall, it makes work plentiful, so when we go on the weekends to Los Angeles our pockets are bulging, and we buy drugs and giant incomprehensible books and parts for the car Shell is building; the one and only, Galaxie 500. She spends the brightest hours of everyday beneath that metal machine, and comes to the dinner table with streaks of grease across her face singing "see the pyramids across the Nile." I climb trees and tie ropes around high limbs and strap myself against the trunk and cut cut cut. At night I light up all the kerosene lanterns and play with the words, or fight with them as the case may be. More and more it becomes difficult to tell the difference. Six people here in Pacific Valley have all read one copy of Tree of Smoke and now it rests in tatters atop Finnegan's Wake, 1000 Plateaus, and The Master and Margarita. Hardest thing is, as we have no electricity we have little opportunity to take in recorded music, verily one of this American life's greatest pleasures. Shell has a deep cycle marine battery which she charges on her weekly trips to Castro to see some human "who might be the one" (though this golden prospect doesn't keep her from crawling into half the beds in Big Sur at her leisured whim), and we hook a short wave radio up to it and can get the BBC and, occasionally, music from Japan.
Some of us had taken to smoking pipes in the evening, in front of the fire. The motorcycles would be lined up out back, on the deck a tarantula passed curiously by, and inside there we were, cloaked in smoke like the house was in fog more often than not that October. The hang gliders had started a fire, not on purpose, through negligence. They had to pay the suppression costs. As retardant drop followed retardant drop and the evacuees streamed out of the canyon in their pick-up trucks the hang gliders filed for bankruptcy. We had a short wave radio next to the fire, and a CB with which we talked to the Harlans, the Phiphers, the Millers, and the Hearsts about the fire. Later, we rode our motorcycles up the coast ridge road to have a look. It was beautiful, everyone agreed. A one-legged lawyer brought suit against the hang gliders. I recalled putting me penis inside her on a remote mountainside only to be promptly bitten by an enormous albino rat on the fleshy part of my hand. The lawyer had laughed and laughed, with me going at it harder and the rat biting deeper and her laughing louder. A deer had its head stuck deep into my tangle of grapevines and was eating all my grapes so I went out to find something to throw at it, but all I found was a hatchet and a tape measure, so I extended the tape measure and poked the deer in its anus. It hasn't been back since then.
I remember all the nights of her professional life. How, in the mirror, she combed her hair with the radio on playing Sun Ra and the city lights all spread out around her. "There are cigarettes in the fridge," she said, as if this was some consolation. I could only stare at her, open-mouthed, shirtless and broke. "You don't need this," I'd say. "What does need have to do with anything, in this country" she'd respond, and walk out the door. Those nights I always took a bath and sometimes I got high and cleaned her little place with a fine-toothed comb. When she came back it was dawn and she would run her fingers through my hair and say, "his penis is twice the size of yours and he runs a very successful hedge fund downtown, and his eyes," she swoons, "his eyes don't lie, like yours." Then we would laugh, and smoke her cold cigarettes and I would tell her about some novel, and when the fog lifted off the bay and the first rays of light crossed the concrete and steel, we would sleep, my chest against her back and my hand on her hip. At noon I got on my bicycle and went to work and she lay in bed, drinking Foldger's, reading Proust, waiting for me to come back.
© Joshua Willey 2011