EIGHT AND ONE HALF-HOURS later after barely escaping the high desert of southeastern California, I emerge from the Central Valley and onto the upper deck of the Oakland Bay Bridge. I am near migration’s end, yet I don’t get the fabled view of the Queen city of the Pacific, the Oz of the west that so many other writers have described upon their arrival. Instead, there is a steady drizzle that distorts the lights on the jumbled mass of skyscrapers barely hinted at in the distance. The Corolla is assaulted by cleaner, crisper rain than it knew in its Mojave existence. I know my destination is somewhere within this apocalypse of hulking, mist strewn monoliths.. My brave, plucky vessel, once prepared to die, now smothers us, my possessions and me, in warmth and dryness.
I take the first exit that comes my way, winding my hatchback in a circuit until we are delivered onto a familiar sounding avenue:
This is the wondrous alien nightmare the evening news sang of in my youth. A landscape belonging to pedigree uniforms by day, and the trolls I was warned about as a child by night. Every edifice, every brick, is packed snug against the next disproportionate spectacle, cast in the sickly, orange streetlight pall.
Just sounding out the name is simultaneously beautiful and horrible. Is this how Native Americans originally thought of missions? The only thing keeping night at bay, keeping it from swallowing my worldly possessions and me is D’s phone number, which I can barely make out in the light of my dashboard. The only working lifeline I can find is cradled in what looks like a broken eggshell. I see no one, yet feel all of no one’s eyes upon me.
I arrive and double-park outside the Nitecap bar, where Diana meets me in her trademark black hippie dress and baubles. Ray offers to stand guard (on her suggestion no doubt) while D and I haul all my stuff upstairs. “His back is bad,” she tells me upstairs, not sounding all that convinced.
We finish unloading the Corolla and Ray rides shotgun to help me figure out which streets are one way…and before we’ve even made one loop, we find the perfect spot a mere block down Hyde St…beginners luck Diana will tell me. When we return, Ray then needs to leave to find a parking space for his truck, and D has asked him to buy some champagne. Then she sidles up to me and asks if I want some speed.
“You know I came here to try and get away from that kind of shit. Why, won’t Ray do it with you?” And I immediately regret the poison in my voice. I know what is coming; a month ago self-righteousness felt delicious, now it feels like a cheap shot.
She begins spilling, because talking is something we once did really well, and she hasn’t really spoken coherently in my direction since dumping me.
“He’s been out looking for work exactly twice, so he claimed. He’s still supposed to show up for the window washing thing with the temp agency, but he probably won’t go.” There is pent rage in her frame; she has no patience for a co-dependent. “Too many rats in the fast lane he whines; society is madness. I mean it is, but do you see it holding me back?”
I subtly punch a new button. “D? How much is rent and when is it due?”
“And that’s another fucking thing! He’s made no offer to pay rent, never has enough money for dinner. He’s starting to creep me out because he isn’t eating anyway. He fasts. Constantly fasting and burning incense,” she tells me, “which is cool, but not all the time. He burns that powdered incense, the kind that you can lay out like a line. He even jokes about it; ‘Hey what would you do if I just snorted this line.’ But that’s what he does all day while I’m at Goodman’s, except for maybe going through all my shit.”
“He’s mirroring you D, but with his favorite dysfunction as opposed to yours. See, I’ve been through this with him.”
“It’s like he really is a junkie, but it’s for this bullshit he’s always spouting about not being concerned with material needs.”
“Oh gee, didn’t I include that in the Ray maintenance guide back in Vegas?” She winces and looks away. Jesus, I can’t stop myself from hurting her with words, but she won’t ever stop making the drama about herself either. I thought, maybe, just maybe there was still a chance for us, but I can see she hasn’t changed, and I...have I changed? I don’t think I love her anymore.
“I know he gets high from the fasting” she continues, “but he doesn’t do it right. I can see his ribs when he takes his shirt off; it’s gross. We stopped having sex a week and half ago. He’s always telling me I should join him in the fast if I want to ‘really fly high.’ Goddamn, I wish he would just go out with me once in a while, just for one drink, but that means spending money on something impure. He’ll hang out at the Psychic Eye until they ask him to buy something or leave, and then he spends money because he’d rather stay. You’d think he could at least ask them for a job.
“He never goes anyway without my copy of the Gita. He suddenly got serious about Krishna when I was just finishing the book. What the hell was I thinking?”
“If I could have told you, if I could explained it would you have listened anyway?”
“Maybe if you had kissed me when I got off the plane. Maybe if you had asked me to marry you and take me up to Humboldt or something.” Now I’m stunned.
“You’re kidding me?”
“Not totally. It’s all I can imagine that would have prevented that weekend from going down the way it did. It’s like we were both hexed, but I don’t think it was Ray; I mean he had some part in it all, he made some conscious decisions of his own when he saw what was happening to us.
“Our lives were changing. I think I did what I did because it was the only way you would be convinced to move out here.” I feel the old resentment, but I can’t deny her words. No, she’s absolutely right. What was I thinking? Soul mate of this little club girl from Vegas back in the day? She is more than that. She is my own Santa Ana wind.
“Miggy, I’m leaving. May first. I’m going to hit the road for Alaska with this guy John I met down on the Haight; traveler from West Virginia, and I know he’s going at least as far as Vancouver, and there’s a chance he might come all the way up with me. He’s dealing tabs right now. You should drop one with me, it is incredible shit...”
“Sorry, shit. Sorry. I’ve been reading Dharma bums and I love it. The night I met him down at the park he quoted to me from it. He is so delicious; I’ve had a vision that he’s going to be the father of my first girl.” I can’t help giggling. She is still so starry eyed despite her hard luck life.
“I’ve also had a vision that you’re going to be the one to inherit the studio. Ray’s not going to stay in San Francisco.
by William Taylor Jr