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.
“The Krishna Temple is something like, three blocks down Haight and another four blocks up. They’ll feed you, y’know, up to a certain time. I think you still have a couple hours or so.”
He gets that wry knowing look that comes so easy to those with premature crow’s feet.
“Yeah, wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done some chanting. I can get off on it sometimes too, but at the end of the second day they start wantin’ you to hang around y’know?”
Yeah, I do know. That’s always the price isn't it? There’s always the introductory offer. There are a thousand ways to turn Bohemian in this town, each with the same market value as the entrance to any monastery of your choosing. Entire lives are bound in tightly wound strategies; entire histories are displayed in tightly wound stances. You have a stance now that projects the exact same thing in ways that some of us can see and others of us cannot.
Wait; did I just say all that out loud?
Now he laughs at me. “I think that’s a plan man. Thanks, that helps out a lot.” I can tell he is sincere. And off he goes for the rest of this existence.
Debra and John stare at me; stupid acid grins pasted to their glazed mugs.
John starts pealing out guffaws. “Dude, you’re a fuckin’ freak!”
“I told you he was the real deal,” Deb chides. I have no choice but to grin back at them sheepishly and tell them I think I have ESP.
* previously published in "Connotation Press Magazine"
by Maureen Lougen
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