Debra and John and I lie on the blanket spread out between Stanyan Street and Needle Lake, where John sells his femora jewelry.
I hear good old-fashioned, electric San Francisco feedback pouring out of a tiny amp down the hill. Our new friend who calls himself Sketch, a self-described potaholic decked out in the classic seventies denim uniform, is doing the hippy flail down by the guitar player and his old lady who are older but still stunningly beautiful people. The guitar player backs a grinding riff with a mean reggae/blues howl:
"Minstrel beware o’ Vanity Fair Poet don’cha heed siren o’ the sea"
This turns out to be the guy’s only lyric but he bites down on the vocal really well and noodles the fuzzy sound in luscious tones.
Then I see this faded poncho with hair gone the color of an old mop come bobbing up the hill, and he stops by our femora coven. His name is James or Jamie or something like that and we instantly recognize each other as equals beneath what’s left of the sun. We desire conversation because we see that shine in each other so clearly, but attempting verbal conversation becomes utterly useless. He can’t seem to make out the words to explain the distance he’s traveled to reach here, and I don’t seem to be able to shape them into something comprehensible. Looking into his steel gray eyes however, the answer comes so clear.
Baja? I think.
I don’t know, he thinks back. Is that far?
I see a thousand miles in his pupils; I see Cabo and hundreds of handouts on hundreds of warm nights on warm beaches and not so warm nights beneath a levee or a broken bus stop or whatever holds up till someone comes to run you off. He doesn’t do acid anymore. He doesn’t need to, he’s tripping all the time now; life next to the ocean will do that to a wanderer. Can he see the coyotes I once cavorted with in the Mojave? The shades and wraiths haunting the Valley of Fire?
Oh yes. His smile sees it all, clearly and right through me.
Deb and John watch the whole time; they hear our conversation as “yeah, ‘cause you know man, it’s just all like, all so totally fuckin’ is what it is gonna be, you know man.” And really, our conversation doesn’t even sound that good. They laugh at us. Yet all I hear is a beckoning echo in his steely gaze.
You could do it to you know. It’s all just one big beach between here and Chile, and the Incan ruins...you could go. You’re smart enough, you’re strong enough to start out on that journey right now and leave these sorry bitches behind right now. Isn’t that what you really want? Isn’t that all any of us who end up on this frontier want?
Visions of Macchu Picchu and the Nazca lines fade from my view into the wrinkles on James or Jamie’s face. The sun is low and gold-orange through the Eucalyptus and Oak trees. Now I’m looking at a malnourished man, an old man not much older than me, and a smoky voice. James or Jamie has hooked up a freebie from Deb’s pack of American Spirits and asks if I know where to get something to eat.
Also by Paul Corman Roberts
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