Thursday, August 28, 2014

Frosted Glass, Chapter Nineteen: Coyote on a Leash

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Nineteen
Coyote on a Leash


I could tell you that I didn’t intend to sleep with Frosty that night.  I’d be lying.  Let’s face it – I saw a weak, frustrated man, I drank with him, I told him stories about travelers suffocated by pear blossoms, I got naked.  I seduced about as well as anybody ever has.
Not to worry – my guilt was short-lived.  I woke up on the floor of my Mitsubishi, the gray light of overcast seeping in through the windows.  Thank God it wasn’t bright, because I had one helluva hangover.  I undid my origami body to a Catholic kneel and scanned the windows.  Not much doing at the Bel Canto.  No one at Gilda’s yet.  Good.  A note taped to my steering wheel.
You already know what was in that note.  Frosty was in love with Carlotta.  A round of blotto boinking with the old flame was not about to change it.  Frosty being Frosty, of course, he put it much more gracefully.
My mind had been sparking like a nuclear reactor since my boring lunch with George, but now I felt calm.  And focused.  I fired the engine and headed for the Waterfront.  Once there, I slipped into a homey little coffeehouse for a change of clothing, a splash of water on my face, two Extra-Strength Tylenol and a double cappuccino.
Thus fortified, I drove to the entrance of Knickerbocker State Park, paid my day-use fee, and then left the Mitsubishi in the parking lot and took the old trail.  As I neared Frosty’s campsite, I took a deer-trail through the bushes and ventured a peek, finding that Frosty and his car were both gone.
I raced back to the Mitsubishi and drove the narrow, looping road to the ranger’s cabin, finding that he, also, was gone.  I parked in the road near Frosty’s secret entrance and snuck into the backyard, bringing along my lug wrench.  The lock on the shed looked pretty sturdy, but I walked the perimeter and found the aluminum walls to be downright flimsy.  I discovered a seam at the back where I could insert the chisel end of the lug wrench and pop the sheeting right over the rivets.  After removing several along the bottom and a few up the seam, I took the corner with both hands and folded it back, creating a sort of tent-flap opening.  God! I thought.  I’m pretty good at this.
I quickly grabbed three white buckets marked B, W and G, and set them outside the shed.  Then I noticed two yellow buckets and one black, so I took those, too.  By the time I lugged all six down to the Mitsubishi, my muscles and joints were in full revolt.  Still, I managed to give the on-duty ranger a smile and a wave on the way out.
I was tempted to pull over in Depoe Bay and revisit the Spouting Horns – especially when I spotted an Internet cafĂ© just across the street.  But I was on a mission from Frosted Glass Woman, so any delays were out of the question.  I waited out a dozen stoplights down the long thoroughfare of Lincoln City, passing the Chinook Winds Indian Casino’s large billboard, boasting of Bobby Vinton.
A few miles north I saw a sign for Highway 18 to Portland, and decided it was time to escape the Pacific Ocean.  A few miles past Otis, zippering through thick deciduous forests knifed off at the roadside like boxwood hedges, it finally occurred to me to ask my newly placid mind where the hell it was taking me.
I suppose my dogleg could be explained by Hessie’s gravitational pull.  But I knew it wasn’t time to see her yet.  Just then the woods to my right disappeared to reveal a soaring, broad-shouldered mountain, and at its base, what looked like a Silicon Valley shopping mall.
It turned out to be another Indian gambling joint, Spirit Mountain Casino, crouching in a small sea of parking lots.  The casino was a pillow of terra cotta, wearing a headband of bright geometrics, like the patterns in Indian jewelry and the logos of high-tech corporations.  I found myself entirely charmed, and fished around the parking lots until I found a space. 
I wandered into the plush interior, relieved to know that not a single soul here gave an even-odds goddamn about my hovering spiritual predicaments.  I purchased a two-dollar ticket and looked for the simplest nickel slot I could find.  The winning candidate was a country and western number with payoffs for different cowboy combos: a double-x branding iron, a broncin’ buck, a white Stetson, snakeskin boots, etc.  My plan was to kill an hour or two making pathetic little five-cent bets, but in my weary state I misfired, pressing the “Bet 40” button and somehow failing to hit on any of eight possible lines.  Just like that, my two-dollar ticket was gone (Crazy Horse snickering in his grave).
Strolling through the surrounding slots, I noticed that almost everybody was tethered to their stations by little plastic curly-cords.  I was dying of curiosity, so I queried an old guy wearing a navy squadron cap.  He seemed pleased with the chance to explain something to a youngster.
“Coyote Cards,” he said.  “They give bonus credits – the more you play, the more you get.  The little wire is just so you don’t forget and leave it in a machine somewhere.”
I thanked him and moved on, thinking Cripes! (No, really - cripes.) You can’t put a coyote on a leash!
I moved on to the gift shop, where I saw a basket of used craps dice and playing cards that were drilled through the middle with small, clean circles.  A redheaded girl with braces asked if she could help.
“These are sacred, you know,” I answered.  “These are the tools of a wounded people, used in the service of their redemption.”
Oh God, I thought.  I have become a crazy person.
The girl, who must have been used to weird people in casinos, smiled and said, “Yes, you’re right.  I like that!”
Bless you and all your DNA, I thought.  May you have many boyfriends who are terrific in bed and always bring extra condoms.
“I’ll take two decks and four dice,” I said.  I was relieved to find that my thought balloons were not yet leaking into my speech balloons.
As she was handing me my change, Redhead Girl told me I could find other sacred items down the hall, where a gathering of native artisans were hawking their wares.  I checked it out, but found their jewelry, ceramics and moccasins to be ruthlessly predictable.  Exiting their meeting room, however, I found a grove of trees to my left.  Suspecting hallucinations, I ventured over to inspect.
No, they were trees all right – genuine fake trees.  It was a dark hallway, twenty feet wide, twenty feet high, forty feet long, between the casino and the lodge.  A sign at the entrance read, Hall of Legends.  The trees were lined up at either side, their trunks disappearing into a black ceiling spotted with stars.  Behind the trees were realistic, woodsy murals, to the right a deepening forest, to the left a brook bordered by patches of snow.  The dirt in the center was made over like a campground, peppered with fir needles and carefully set tracks of deer, raccoon and coyote.  Hidden speakers played a soundtrack of crickets, breezes and coyote cries.
The only obvious man-made device was a light beam extending from the base of a cedar like some kind of security device.  I was willing to bet that something would happen if I tripped that light, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The thunder thundered.  The lightning lightninged.  Fortunately, the rain did not rain.  A stern-looking Indian appeared on the trunk of the cedar – broad forehead, proud tomahawk nose, granite cheekbones – and commanded my attention with roaring baritone syllables.
“Come! Hear the stories of my people.  Hear the legends that whisper in the land.  Listen for the sounds of spirits in the forest.”
The face faded away, and I noticed that the bark underneath was formed into smooth echoes of his features.  The crickety silence returned, then a second projector clicked on, conjuring a heavy-set native woman on the wall behind me.  She set herself squarely on her feet and addressed her hidden audience, speaking in spare, clean syllables, telling how it was that Coyote, The Trickster, deceived the Frog People into liberating their hoard of water so that all the creatures of the forest could use it freely.
My next visitor was a tall, broad-shouldered man who appeared over the brook, his features sharper, more aquiline than the cedar man.  He wore his hair in two long braids and held up his hands like a punter receiving a snap from center.  Speaking between them, he told of Coyote’s love of the moon, how one time the moon tricked Coyote into allowing himself to be lifted into the night sky.  The moon ignored Coyote’s pleas for release until he had traveled to the top of the heavens.  When he finally let him go, the impact of the fall sent Coyote’s blood flowing upon the land in a great river.  And that was why, ever since, the sons of Coyote would perch on the ridgelines and let out howls of anger and grief at the bright villain who murdered their father.
Just as the tall man was nearing the end of his story, poor Coyote dangling from the end of the crescent, two grandma types barged through the double doors from the lodge, chatting full-volume about someone’s fucking wedding in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  I nearly slapped them silly, but I figured I’d best not exhibit any further signs of insanity.  Curiosity eventually shushed them and drew them to a spot behind my shoulder.  “My,” said one.  “He’s quite handsome, isn’t he?”
I stayed for a couple more stories (How Coyote Created the Stars, Why Dogs Sniff Each Other), then wandered through the doors to the lodge, finding a long hallway painted the colors of autumn.  The walls hosted a gallery of framed landscapes engraved with the shapes of leaves; and the carpet held the familiar patterns of Navajo blankets.  At the end I found a lobby centered on an outcropping of boulders, a water fountain cutting between them to a pond littered with gamblers’ pennies.  Standing guard at the pond was a bronze Coyote, nose to the wind, eyes slanted, one paw lifted, ready for flight.  I placed a weary hand on his head, searching his keen metallic eyes for some sign, a lucky number, a hint of my direction.  Then I went to the desk to check in.

I had a beautiful room at the southwest corner, its windows facing a high, barren hill and, just over its western shoulder, the casino’s namesake mountain.  All right, I’m guessing, but it certainly looked like a Spirit Mountain, its peak rung about with clouds, dancing like ancestors at a pow-wow.
The furniture was made of bulky, rough-hewn wood, comforting and muscular.  The blankets and covers were a continuation of the Navajo patterns in the carpeting, and the walls carried three more of those warm landscapes with the leaf-shaped etchings.  All very homey, and if that didn’t work, there was a huge grandfather spirit of a television with all kinds of premiere movies (including a soft-porn channel, which the bellhop, a toothy redhead kid, seemed a bit too eager to point out).
Fending off a combination of paranoia and fatigue, I brought in the buckets one at a time, at random intervals (I didn’t want anyone thinking I was running a meth lab).  On a jaunt to the nearby town of Sheridan, I found a hardware store with lots of tile grout and a furniture store with several glass tabletops.
Over the course of the following days I dove into my work, taking time-outs for meals in Coyote’s Buffet, five-dollar slot sprees and visits to the Hall of Legends, where I lifted my eyes to my spirit fathers and mothers and learned their dozen stories by heart (including How Coyote Built Willamette Falls, which inspired the sculpture in the lobby).  And yeah, you’ve probably figured this out by now, but Coyote was exactly the guy I was in love with: the Trickster, the Man of Glass, transparent and evasive as ever.
My creative visions flew in all directions.  I began with the primary colors, exploring different patterns and groupings.  For the first of these, I got very precise, using blue painter’s tape to divide a circle of glass into three stripes, then taping it across the middle to give myself six sections.  I filled the center stripe with nothing but white.  I did the top left section all in green, then covered the section below in a rough checkerboard of green and white.  I did the same to the stripe on the right, only with brown instead of green.  The results were pleasingly symmetrical but not overly so, as the randomness of the material guaranteed a certain organic-ness.
For my next piece I spun a large green spiral, its emerald gyres cut off by the table’s square edges.  With this one, the thrill was all in the beginning; filling in the remaining spaces with a mottle of white and brown was much less exciting.  The effect of the whole, however, was quite satisfying, in a primitive, unified sort of way.
I jumped from this into something more evasive, marking off an oval table with cave-drawing figures – antelopes, sea lions, coyotes, poodles – then scattering the letters S-A-N-D-R-I-N-A among them.  I filled in the remaining spaces by complete chance, effectively turning my symbols into subliminal rebels.  A person could own this mosaic for years before discovering its menagerie, and I expected the letters would forever remain a mystery.
With my artistic bravado mounting (and my flat pieces dwindling), I abandoned functionality for form, selecting a long, narrow rectangle for the crags, nuggets, corners and bottle-threads I had previously set aside.  The end-product carried two elements I adored: the added dimension of contour, and the unmistakable Bronx attitude of “Hey! Don’t put your glass down here.  I’m a fuckin’ piece of art, okay?” It also gave me an almost sexual thrill when I ran my hands over its Badlands surface.
Finally, after six days of frenetic creativity, I unloosed the yellow buckets.  The first contained nothing but pastels – clear pieces with the faintest hints of blue, green and purple.  The approach here seemed pretty obvious: simply place the pieces and let their subtle variations dance the rumba.  I chose a square tabletop framed in straw-colored wicker, giving it a nice Caribbean vibe.
The second yellow bucket surprised me, because it didn’t contain glass at all.  What it held were sea-worn fragments of brick and porcelain, likely gathered at Glass Beach.  This spoke to me of great artistic possibilities, so I set it aside and waited for some wild inspiration.
I had already recalled what lay in the black bucket, but the sight still lifted me out of my shoes: a whole U.S. Mint of the rare and lovely blue.  This demanded no ingenuity at all – the beauty being right there in the raw materials – but it did demand patience.  Being cobalt, the pieces were all rather tiny, and the smallest of my two remaining tabletops – a smoked circle with beveled edges – was still rather large.  The placement of the pieces alone took two days, and the grouting was sheer hell, necessitating dozens of passes with the sponge in order to fill in all those little nooks and crevices.  By the time I finished the buffing, my back was killing me, but the pain lessened immensely when I held the finished product to the sunlight.  It looked like the entire left eye of Frosted Glass Woman.
I rewarded myself with a long breakfast at the Legends Restaurant and a thorough reading of the Portland Oregonian.  I was drifting by the gift shop afterward when I saw the Redhead Girl, Sylvie, refilling the sales-basket with craps dice.  Red dice, white spots – Sh-boom! There was my inspiration.  I bought all the dice she had and headed back to my studio.
I taped off the back of my last tabletop – a grand Thanksgiving-dinner oval – dividing it into four neat sections.  At the center of each section I applied an ace from my deck of holy playing cards.  Over these I glued a ten-by-ten square of craps dice, paying no particular mind to their numbers.  Toward the center of the table, however, I used DNA groupings of dice to count out my home phone number, my high-school locker combination, my best-ever bowling score, and the exact date and address of my deflowering.
I marked off the circumference of the oval with an inch-wide band of porcelain, then a two-inch band of brick, then another band of porcelain.  I peppered the remaining surface with an even spray of red and white.  As you might have imagined, the end results were fabulous.  I celebrated by entering the Hall of Legends just in time for my favorite story, Coyote plummeting the cobalt sky to pour out his brick-red blood on the hard Earth.
And my time was up.  I drove to a drug store in Willamina and made my purchase.  For something so monumental, the device was alarmingly simple, sort of a magic wand with a tip of stiff, absorbent material like the filter on a cigarette.  All you do is squat over the toilet, hold the tip in your urine stream for five seconds, then watch the little windows – a small circle and a slightly larger square, cut into the white plastic handle.
Step 2 of the instructions tells you that a little blue line will appear across the circle to signify that the test is working.  Which it did.  Step 3 says that if a second blue line appears, this one across the square, that means that you’re pregnant.
Which it did.  And I was.  And it was time to go see Hessie.
 


Photo by MJV

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Frosted Glass, Chapter Eighteen: Girl Scout Epiphanies

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Eighteen

Girl Scout Epiphanies


On a map of the United States, the drive from San Jose to Hirshfield is a tall stork with excellent posture, its feet planted in the South Bay marshlands, its shoulders arching westward from Ashland, then due north to Corvallis, where it stretches seaward to dip its bill into the Pacific.  But the map is not where the traveler takes account of her journey.  This happens in the watercolor landscapes, the cognitive blinks of gas stations, rest stops, offramps, restaurants – and the wildfires going off in my brain.
The buzz gripped me early in the morning, an alchemy of acrylic paint, typewriter ribbon, and the varnish scraped from an old guitar.  The sun was barely tapping at the windows when I popped from sleep like a piece of toast, and just about ran in place during my shower.  Five minutes later, I was descending the driveway, carrying my mosaic wrapped in an old comforter.  I heard a step behind me and found my poor sister, bleary-eyed and quizzical, dragging forward for her farewell embrace.
“You’re really… sure about this?” she asked, fighting back yawns.
“Does it seem to you like I have any doubts, little sister?”
She gave me a kiss on the cheek, then turned and sleep-walked to her porch.
It was early enough that I got over 17 without much traffic.  After a hurried session of packing at my house, I raced into a tight but flowing Silicon Valley rush hour, settling into the vibration of distance passing beneath my feet (oh that sweet song of mileage).  It wasn’t long before I was greeted by my thought-attendant, pushing a silver cart of accusations.
“Today we’ll be driving at a height of three feet,” she said.  “May I remind you to please keep your seatbelt fastened at all times.  If you look to the right of the cabin, you’ll notice the six-month portion of your non-renewable life that you threw away on computerized illusions and a man who heals his deepest pains with power tools.  Should you find yourself unable to proceed directly to the Oregon Coast, a mask will descend from the overhead compartment with a fresh supply of cyanide gas.  Have a pleasant flight, and thank you again for flying Rodeo Butt airlines.”
I obviously needed a little distraction.  I flipped on the radio, hoping for some station that I couldn’t usually get.  At the apex of the Benicia Bridge, over the wide, calm mouth of the Sacramento, I found a jazz station from Modesto, kicking into a session of Rat Pack favorites.  Dino, Sammy and Frank provided the exact brand of chutzpah I needed to face down the sins of Hirshfield.  They sang me to Redding, where the sky was blueing.  I stopped at a too-modern gas station and was greeted by a thick wall of heat.  I suppose I had been wussed-up by my air conditioning, but the temporary sauna made my skin go all a-tingle.  Once I climbed back in and revved up to the standard mile-per-minute, the temperature shift brought on a whole new bevy of thoughts.
Most of the thoughts centered on a clear-eyed rundown of my own bad behavior.  What, in short, could I possibly have been thinking? This brought me back to the Perfection Point Excess Syndrome.  Had I, in fact, been hoping that Frosty would fail in his courtship? Was I just a little disappointed when his alarmingly sane parents showed up to nail my heart to his dartboard? Frosty was clearly going nowhere that didn’t have sand or waves, and true love meant giving up my addiction for Silicon Valley’s self-aggrandizing mythologies.
Failing to find a fatal negative in Frosty, then, I had been well-prepared for an alternate positive.  Then along came handsome, successful McNeal and his intriguing packages of photocyberadventure.  Whoosh! There goes the Silicon Girl, right into the trap of her own making.
That got me through the green spiderlegs of Lake Shasta and around the queen mountain herself, cruising the high plateau to Weed, where the thought occurred to me, Why would you call your town “Weed”? Why not just call it “Shithole” or “Stinkwad”?
Just about then I was coursing through Yreka and heard a radio spot for a bakery.  Yreka bakery – my favorite palindrome.  Fueled by wordplay, I slanted up the desert-dry Siskiyous and down the green Oregon luge run to Ashland, where I could feel those Panosys-generated Shakespearean theaters off in the foothills.  Just beyond Medford, the sun laying its thumb atop the hilltop indent of the freeway, I scanned the dial and picked up a high school baseball game.  A high school baseball game! And then I saw a billboard proclaiming that the Pope was the antichrist.  And then one team beat the other on a suicide squeeze, and I stopped for gas in Grant’s Pass.
It was getting well into night, but I was determined to let my body go as far as it would take me.  This plan lasted as far as the Seven Feathers Indian Casino in Canyonville, where I avenged Custer by extracting three bucks from the nickel slots.  Even this, however, could not save me from a growing drowsiness, so I checked into a rest stop at Myrtle Creek.  I curled up on a futon in the back of my Mitsubishi and ventured quickly into Dreamland.
I woke to the chatter of children, from the camper next-door.  My eyes fuzzed into focus on the sycamore leaves parasoling my window, turning a pleasant yellow-brown with the early autumn.
After splashing my face in the ladies’ room and applying talc and deodorant to strategic locales, I dove back into the freeway, but was soon distracted by a little town just off the road.  On my way out of a log-cabin general store, I spotted a smoke shop and ventured in, retrieving a pack of cigarettes with a Native American theme: no additives, grown under the philosophies of one-ness, approved by the Great Spirit.  Cruel people, these Indians, pretending to be killed off by the white man only to instigate the greatest self-inflicted genocide of all time.  I laughed at my little joke, lit one up and watched the white effluent as it scuttled across my windshield.  Onward.
The next chain of thought struck me on the west end of Corvallis, as I loaded my chambers for the final run over the coastal mountains.  It was about my childhood, a subject that doesn’t come up much because it was, well, unremarkably pleasant.
We all run inventories on our personal skills and traits, and many of us can say that we are a Mom’s child or a Dad’s child.  Not me.  I am an absolute dichotomy, a woman sectioned off by two equal streams.
My mom was a born-and-bred bleeding heart with an irrepressibly creative mind and a life-long love affair with color and spark.  She was always writing little rhyming poems for us, leading our Girl Scout troops through one ingenious crafts project after another, doodling whimsical creatures while she talked on the phone.  I was rifling through her files one time, looking for an old National Geographic, when I discovered a novel she had started: first chapter, last chapter, nothing in between.  Her sewing room was piled with baskets of buttons, zippers, thread, patterns, stacks of magazines full of never-accomplished projects.  She also loved buying kitschy two-dollar shoes at the thrift store and then bragging about them – pride being nothing compared to good bargain-hunting.
Her capacity for empathy was so great that I feared it would kill her off.  She would sit and watch the evenings news, and every time they reported the standard accident, killing, or house-fire, she would wince and cry “Oh my!” like each one had happened to a dear friend.
”Mom!” I complained.  “You can’t take that much responsibility for the whole world!”
She also translated that empathy into action.  She had a deep compassion for adolescents, and once Meg and I hit college, she took a job at a center for troubled teens.  Former gang-bangers, children of wife-beaters, crack addicts, and even murderers.  One of the counselors was killed by a kid with a kitchen knife, but even then, she wouldn’t think of leaving.  She kept working there, and she kept crocheting blankets for all her friends, and she kept adding baubles to a gypsy dress that she wore to work every Halloween.
Dad, on the other hand, was discipline personified, a former Air Force mechanic.  He would fix your bike for you, but not unless you stayed there with him and observed each slow, careful step.  That way, the next time, maybe you could fix it yourself.  Sitting in one place for such a long time was sheer hell, but over the years we began to notice that the things Dad fixed, stayed fixed.
Dad also had a thing about instruction books.  He considered the use of a newly purchased appliance not a right but a privilege, one that you earned only by reading the instructions front to back.  Dad didn’t want simply to open cans with his new can opener, he wanted to understand how the can opener opened cans, why it opened cans.  He wanted to be the Zen master of can openers.
He assembled sentences in the same manner, pausing between subject and predicate like a pedestrian stopping at the island of an intersection, in order to attach the most precise ending possible.  To hyper teenage children, waiting for Dad to finish a sentence was the cruelest form of torture.  And it was always a bad idea to try and supply the ending yourself, lest you catch the wrong end of that dark military stare.  One day, when he was doing it every other sentence, I started counting off the pauses in my head: one Mississippi, two Mississippi...  Seven seconds.  If you don’t think that’s a long time, try it out on your friends and see if they don’t interrupt you. 
This caution also came through in his politics.  Dad was one of those irritating Republicans who insisted on backing up his opinions with logic and reason.  He had a great sense of humor about it, too.  One day, he spotted my mother and me outside the polling place and declared, “Well! That cancels out my vote.”
One last thing.  My mom’s handwriting was the most beautiful cursive you have ever seen; if you planted it in your garden, it would sprout graceful little violets the color of ink.  My dad’s cursive was indecipherable, so he wrote instead in sharply drawn block letters.  You could use their edges to shave your legs.
In high school, I possessed a great degree of playfulness.  I sang in the chorus, performed in a couple of musicals, and hung around after school with the ceramics teacher, Mrs. Koepcke, who taught me how to make calm-looking, strangely anthropomorphic birds.  Mrs. Koepcke said that I was genuinely talented, that I should consider art school – but I was also good in science, math and English.  Once I hit college, my father’s river grew strong in the rain of impending adulthood, leading me to my MBA at Wharton.
I have been happy and successful in my father’s river; navigating its currents has made me a strong and sharp-minded woman.  But sometimes I long for my teenage self, sculptor of wise-looking bluebirds.  Now, given the chance to stand on a sandbar and gaze leftward toward my heart, I was astonished to find my mother’s river still there, fed by tributaries of fancy and whim, awaiting my return.
One primary attraction to motherhood is the chance to revisit our own childhoods, to rediscover the joys and adventure of play.  We tell ourselves that we are doing this only to cultivate our children’s minds, but isn’t it nice to play again? Isn’t it nice to have fun?  I think of that silly game of follow-the-leader with Maisey and Tanner.  I felt my mother’s artfulness just then, pumping through my limbs, lessening the pull of gravity.
Sailing through the little green towns of Highway 20 – Burnt Woods, Eddyville, Chitwood – following the straight-edge walls of evergreen sheared away by loggers, I realized that part of my decision had already been made.  Whether or not I shared my life with a man named Frosty, his bottle-shards had worked their way under my skin, leading me to a couple of hearty resolutions.  First, to swim in my mother’s river, and second, to stop waiting for the appearance of children before I allowed myself to play.  I rounded a bend in the road to find Archer Memorial Bridge, hunching its concrete shoulders over the rivermouth.  I held my breath and drove on.  I wanted this man so much it made my muscles ache.

Driving up the waterfront to 101, I contemplated the various strategies running through my head and realized I couldn’t have any.  Showing up at the campsite after six months was bad enough; showing up with a prepared speech would be obnoxious.  I deserved only to present myself and take whatever abuse I had coming.
I descended Third Street in the mandarin-orange twilight of a surprisingly clear day.  If I was looking for signs, that was pleasant enough.  No way I wanted any notice from the folks at the Bel Canto (I had forgone postcards to Hessie, as well), so I parked my Mitsubishi at the farthest corner of the Knickerbocker Beach parking lot.  I took a back-alley route along the mom-and-pop motels, and then descended a cobblestone path to the state park’s southernmost trail.  This climbed back to the wide grass field along the path to Frosty’s.
The failing afterglow lit up the well-worn path like a sidewalk, but once I crossed the footbridge, the lush forest was pitch dark.  I stumbled into a clump of ferns, and realized I had to slow down and feel for the packed dirt beneath my soles.
The evening wind coursed in from the ocean, rustling the leaves above me, and I found my head rumbling with thoughts.  I tried to recall the last time the force of sheer anxiety had made my heart beat so fast.  I had to go all the way back to fourth grade, when I read a piece of scripture at my church.  The problem was, Pastor Price booked my reading right after the sermon, and that sermon went on forever! He had this way of fading off into what sounded like conclusions, then taking great Old Testament pauses (much like my dad’s) before launching yet another tangent.  About the fifth time he did this, I was ready to proclaim myself an atheist.
But all this pain did teach me something.  Every time the pastor headed into a windup, I could feel my heart accelerate, my mouth dry, and my breathing become shallow.  The more familiar these sensations became, the more I could control them, and lessen their effect.
This served me well in my career.  I eventually became the best speaker in the company, and was often called on for crucial presentations.  I drew on this power as I neared the campsite, and saw firelight seeping through the trees.  I measured the quickening of my pulse, the twitching in my limbs, the fireworks in my nerve endings, and gave myself an important final command: you don’t want to surprise a grizzly bear in the wild, so you’d best enter talking.  I swung around the madrone tree at the end of the path, proclaiming as I went.
“Wonderful weather you’re having.  I’d always heard Oregon was more of a rainy…”
What I saw by the dull orange light was a fleshy spider atop the picnic table, eight limbs, two faces.  The one facing me, marked by a small, vee-shaped goatee, was Frosty’s.  The other, turning in surprise from a pedestal of two cheeks and a long, curving question mark of spine, was Carlotta’s.
The shock reduced me to animal instincts – fight or flight – and I flew.  I squeaked out a few random vowels and sprinted back down the trail.  The foliage rushed by on either side, lashing me with sharp fingers.  I heard the thump of my shoes on the footbridge, then dashed into the field without stopping to find the trail.  This cost me soon enough, as I struck a log and went sprawling, landing on my right knee.  The pain only served to spur me on; I bounced up, found the path to the clifftop, then scampered down the stone walkway to the beach.
I leapt to the sand, just missing an outgoing roller, then sped past Mocha Rock in search of refuge.  In the faint light I spotted what looked like a hovering seagull - then it morphed into a flag, tied to a pole atop a high mound.  On closer inspection, the flag became a ragged T-shirt, knotted to a piece of driftwood.  Behind the mound lay a deep trench – probably dug out by some kids.
That was good enough for me.  I jumped in, landing with the side of my face against the cool, damp sand.  It was a soothing sensation, but I knew it wouldn’t last.  I rolled sideways to rest my back against the slope and found my old friend Ursa Major poking his snout into a bank of low clouds.  I ducked my little-girl head, waiting for the sermon to end, but it was just me and the Pacific, out there rumbling around, and that really was what I had seen up there, Frosty and Carlotta, naked on a tabletop.  My grief and shock were too bundled up in my own stupidity to allow me to cry about it.  What gave me the right to make plans, anyway, to read palms, to plot my horoscopes – to assume that the outside world gave one half of a shit about my Girl Scout epiphanies?
My self-loathing demanded physical expression, so I flung myself against the sand.  I discovered it’s very difficult to hurt yourself on sand, so I settled for hard language, cussing blue streaks as I threw my fists against the bottom of the trench.
“Fuck you, you fucking MORON, Sandy! You fucking IDIOT! What were you thinking, you stupid piece of shit? You drop in after six months without so much as a postcard and everyone’s supposed to kneel in your path and lay down fucking gardenias? God DAMN you, Sandy! God DAMN you…”
In flinging my limbs about, I began to notice the damage I had incurred during my flight, scratches on my face and hands, a big gash on my right knee, maybe even a broken toe where I had tripped over the log.  I delighted in my wounds, I wanted more of them, more pain to bite at me and let me know I was still alive.
But maybe that was the problem.  I was alive.  The ocean called to me, ready to wear away the rough spots, make me smooth and beautiful, wash me into the path of some kindly beachcomber.  I crept to the top of the bunker to gauge the ocean’s intentions, and found half of Whalespout Rock missing.
“No!” I cried.  “No!” to the Big Bear, crooking his head around the fog bank.  Can’t I have just one fucking thing? Can’t one fucking thing stay the same?”
“Would you like to hear a story?” said the Bear.  I slumped into the trench to find Frosty looking down at me.  I might have crawled out and sprinted down the beach, but my limbs were useless now.  Real or mythological, Frosted Glass Man was here, and I would just have to listen.
He settled on the back of the trench, dangling his feet over the edge, rubbing his goatee.
“A thousand generations after Sandrina Fingertip gave birth to the human race, there remained only one who remembered her story.  This one man wandered the beach every day, hoping to reassemble the pieces of Frosted Glass Woman and bring back the glassling race.  One day, he was returning from his harvest when he saw a beautiful glass statue of a woman perched on Mocha Rock.  As he came closer, however, he realized it was a woman with ordinary skin and flesh – but one who bore the same features as the image of Frosted Glass Woman he had kept in his mind.
“The woman saw divinity in him, as well.  She joined him in his daily journeys, and at the end of the day they would sit on Mocha Rock and tell each other stories.  Now, as anyone can tell you, all things that pass from one lover to another leave a residue in the air.  So, every evening when the man and woman talked, the grains of their words drifted out from Mocha Rock and settled at a spot a hundred yards out to sea.  After many months, the lovers found that their words had risen from the sea in the form of two great rocks.  The ocean would rumble between these rocks and shoot out silvered breaths, much like the spout of a whale.
“One day, the woman left to see her family.  She promised the man that, while she was gone, she would send her words to him, and he could read them to the ocean, and that way their beautiful rocks would continue to grow.  But the woman did not send her words.  After a time, her story rock began to weaken and crumble, until one day a storm came and swept the rock completely away.
“The sight of his rock standing alone in the ocean brought the man great pain, and his tears fell into the ocean.  They drifted to an island just past the horizon where the spirit of Frosted Glass Woman resides, in the form of a brightly colored tropical bird.  Frosted Glass Woman recognized them as the tears of her only remaining follower, and she breathed her spirit into them, changing them into spheres of glass.  She dipped her feathers into the ocean and used them to paint the spheres in extraordinary colors, then placed them back in the water and returned them to their source.
“When the man began to find his transformed tears along the shoreline, they brought him much comfort.  He vowed that, should he find fifty of these small planets, he would release his memory of the woman and send his grief drifting into the ocean, never to return.  Two months later, when he did, indeed, discover the fiftieth orb – an eye-shaped spot of indigo surrounded by rings of green and white – he kept his vow.”
At the end of Frosty’s story, the ache in my muscles drifted out to sea, as well, and I took my first full breath in days.  I wiped my hands down the sides of my face and found him there, a clear-eyed statue of glass, gazing at the remaining half of Whalespout Rock.
“So that strange vibration we heard…”
“Yes,” he said.  “The old rock was giving way all the time.  Would you like to come to the campsite and warm up? You look a little roughed up.  We’d better clean up those scratches.”
I wasn’t sure how to phrase the next question, so I reduced it to a word.  “Carlotta?”
Frosty let out a little burst of laughter.  “That’s… a very interesting story.  I’ll tell you later, but don’t worry – she’s not up there.  Here…”
            He extended his hand to help me out of the ditch.  I allowed myself a minute of shelter in the hollow of his shoulder, and then we started slowly up the cliff.

After dabbing my wounds with disinfectant and bandaging my knee, Frosty stoked the fire and heated up some mulled wine.  He handed me a mug and wrapped me in a blanket, the combination of which had me feeling immensely warm and better.  Frosty fell unbidden into the story of him and Carlotta.
“Do you recall your tale of the moon’s creation?” he asked.  “When Earth and Orpheus collided?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“The same theory holds that, before the collision, this proto-Earth was covered completely in water, populated solely by aquatic creatures.  One of the consequences of the meeting with Orpheus was the creation of land masses, which enabled the Earth to foster the growth of reptiles, mammals, plants, birds and humans.”
            He perched on the picnic table and placed his feet on the bench.
“You, Sandy, are my Orpheus, the catalyst for my evolution.  Before you arrived – let’s face it – there was a reason I was consorting solely with tourist ladies.  They all had imminent expiration dates.”
“That was pretty obvious,” I said.
“I thought it might be.  Until you came along.  For the first time in years, I was faced with the idea of working on something deeper.  It was scary – but good.  I guess what I’m getting at is that, even though you broke my heart, you left me with new Orphean terra firma to work with.  Even, maybe, with a local girl, someone who wasn’t going anywhere.
“The details were all your fault, too.  Week after week, I would hike to the Bel Canto for that elusive California postcard.  The third time it failed to arrive, I decided to console myself with a hearty breakfast at Gilda’s.  I knew Carlotta from before, of course – that big bonfire when my folks were here.  Over my weekly therapy breakfasts we began to talk, and flirt.  Later, once I found net float number fifty, we began to date.  Despite her anxieties regarding the ghost of Sandy Lowiltry – the messiah who would rise again – she and I have traveled to great ocean depths.”
 “Oh God,” I said.  “Meaning tonight’s interruption was Carlotta’s worst nightmare.”
“Sorry to say – yeah,” said Frosty.  “But it shouldn’t matter.  It’s awfully frustrating when a woman refuses to trust your affections.  I told her many times that it wouldn’t matter if you came back.  So here you are, and it still doesn’t matter.”
I studied the spices floating in my wine, feeling a little stabbed in the heart.  “You love her a lot, don’t you?”
Frosty gave me a purposeful look.  “Yes.  I do.”
“Well, that’s too bad,” I said, then shot back a look of my own. “I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
“That’s all right.” He hopped down to poke at the fire and refill my wine.  “So.  How’d you like to tell me your story?”

I didn’t relish confessing my sins of self-delusion, but I think it was good for Frosty to hear the list of remarkable events it took to keep me away.  It was a long story, and in the course of telling it we drank two small pots of mulled wine.  After that, Frosty pulled out some wicked homemade plum brandy.  Apparently, neither one of us wanted to be sober anytime soon.  Lord knows, we had our justifications.  Mine was a punishment more harsh and sudden than even I deserved.  As for Frosty, my reappearance had caused a flaming row between him and Carlotta, leaving him feeling generally persecuted by the fickle psyches of the female gender.
“What I am being punished for,” he said, flouncing one of my Chippewa cigarettes like a gay actor, “is my innate desirability – or rather, my innate repellent-ness, depending on how you look at it.  Now, Sandra Lowiltry – SHE finds me so fucking irresistible that she pitches boyfriend, family and fancy-shmancy job on the off-chance that I might take her back.”
I raised my glass to interject, but was driven back by Frosty’s big Hungarian laugh (it changed nationality by the hour). 
“HAH-hah-hah-hah! On the other hand, were she really, truly, even half-assed fond of the boy, perhaps she would not have waited six goddamn months to ditch the yuppie schmuck and get her fine white ass back to Oregon! Why, it must have been one of those – what do you call them? – epiphanies?”
He took on an expression of indigestive reverence and lifted his palms to heaven.
“But, well,” I stammered.  “It sort of was, Frosty.”
“Of COURSE it was! Each and every member of the female species is required to have an epiphany regarding his holiness Frosted Glass Man.  I didn’t ask for the job, but yes indeedy there it is.  If you are a forty-year-old, good-lookin’, spiritually deprived turista lady you are required by the federal tax code to report to Hirshfield with your Technicolor homophonic Freudian slide projector and find that Frosty!”
He was working up a good gospel rant now.  He waggled a finger and went right on.
“But epiphanies don’t last, young lady.  They are the mayflies of the metaphorical Scala Naturae, present on this earth only long enough to fuck and die – the same fate as my darling lube-job flings.  They screw, they talk all night about their feelings, and then they disappear.  Touch the magic penis and be healed, I say! And take home some lovely glass souvenirs.”
            He wandered over to the fire, and then turned to me.
“I had a neat little convenience-store arrangement.  And then you came along.  I was like… the best goddamn singles hitter in the world – look for that outside pitch, slap it into left field, steal second, wait for one of the big guys to drive you in.  You’re the best, man, because you know what you do well, and by damn, you do it!
            “But then, one day, our singles hitter – let’s call him Frosty Gwynn – he’s got two strikes on him, leading off the bottom of the tenth, and he reaches inside just to foul off an inside pitch, but somehow he drops the bat-head on it and that sucker flies over the right-field fence, just inside the foul pole.  Lo and behold, what manner of magic is this? The fans roar, the teammates jump around like Rockettes, the sportscasters burst forth in adjectives – and you, Frosty Gwynn, are a big fat fucking hero!
“Or so you think.  Because now, the evil drug of hubristamine has entered your system, and you start looking for that inside pitch every time you come to the plate.  And the pitchers don’t earn all those millions for nothing, pal.  They see what you’re doing, so they slide them sliders off the outside corner – and you take a lot of lonely walks back to the dugout.  And hey, guess what? You are no longer the best goddamn singles hitter in the National League, buddy boy, you are… you are…”
He jumped to the top of the picnic table, sending a wineglass smashing to the bench.
“You are the most mediocre power slugger wannabe in God’s creation!”
Frosty jumped back down, fished in his cabinet for a replacement glass and filled it up with brandy.  He sat next to me, took a big swig, and let out a happy breath.
“Any questions?”
“Well, maybe,” I said.  “Why are you so fixated on the idea that your relationship with Carlotta is now a failure?”
“Because… because…” Frosty knelt on the ground at my feet, wearing a manic, Shakespearean-jester expression.  “Because every time Carlotta and I get naked, she can see a tattoo on my left butt-cheek that says, ‘Property of Sandra Lowiltry.’ She has this completely worthless streak of sisterly devotion.”
He stood and circled the fire, working his way back to a rant.
“I mean, excuse me, Sandy, but as a card-carrying member of the female gender, perhaps you could tell me: don’t I get a little credit for getting my ass dumped by thee? I am definitely the victim here, but Carlotta still sees me as the strong one, the guru.  That’s why she told me, that if you ever returned, she and I would be instantly splitsville.  Because you, to use the high school phrase, still had ‘dibs’ on me.
“Can you understand the complete untenability of my position? I am simultaneously too desirable AND too undesirable, too faithful and yet somehow too unfaithful, to be considered for a long-term relationship.  I am the puppy who is praised for peeing on the carpet, punished for shitting in the back yard, and so here I am, going through life with my teeth bared and my tail wagging.  In short, I’VE GOT COGNITIVE DISSONANCE UP THE YIN-YANG!”
Frosty pulled a pratfall and ended up flat on his back, his head next to my feet.
“Could you pass my brandy?” he asked.  I did so, and took a solid belt from mine before asking the next question.
“So Frosty.  Are you still in love with me?”
Frosty wagged a finger at me.
“Ohno! You cannot rent that video here, young lady.  I don’t ping-pong around between romances like you women.”
“Frosty, may I remind you that, at this very moment, your face is in an excellent position for stomping? Seriously, give me a real answer.  I promise I’m not going to play games with it.  I’m just… trying to figure something out.”
Frosty tried to take a sideways sip of brandy, with little success.
“Yes,” he replied.  “I retain my affections for you.  I’m not going to do a damn thing about them, but yet, the feelings are still there.”
“A buzz in the stomach?”
“An over-awareness of one’s own breathing.  Yes.”
I gazed at the coals in the firepit, pulsing like the buttons on a rocket-ship.
“In that case,” I said.  “I would like to give a rebuttal… to your assumptions… about our assumptions… about you.”
“Hah!” said Frosty.  “Good luck!”
I positioned my tennis shoes at either side of Frosty’s head.  “It’s time to go for a walk, honey-bunny.  And for God’s sake, bring some more booze.”

It was an odd sensation, treading our much-traveled beach, stomping down ridges of sand that we ourselves may have kicked up months before.  I felt like I had been tossed into a tumbler, had my skin scraped all over but managed to come out all right, as I sidled along in my loose, nicked-up limbs.  The night was cold, a clear sky punctuated by a pie-crust of day-old moon.  The walk was warming me up, though, along with Frosty’s fifth of vodka, and the flow of wild honesty that had become our lingua franca.  I took a bracing slug of booze as we passed the ruins of Whalespout Rock.
“Pah!” I gasped.  “Ooh boy, that hurts good.  I always knew that bitch Carlotta had her eyes on you.  You can’t trust a woman.”
“Tell me about it,” said Frosty, and I didn’t even care to take it personally.  (I think, in fact, that I was turning into a guy.)
“Yeah, those Cyd Charisse legs, cute pixie-bob hair, that wide-ass bedroom smile – lotsa artillery, and she certainly was foisting it on you at the bonfire.”
“Carlotta had her eyes on me long before I met you,” said Frosty.  “She used to watch me from the break room upstairs at Gilda’s.  Had all kinds of fantasy profiles worked up.  The world’s youngest retired America’s Cup yachtsman.  A burned-out rock star, recovering from the break-up of his band.  A once-famous poet who has renounced academia, declared himself the founder of a new ‘Star Wars’ branch of Zen Buddhism, and retreated to the Oregon coast in order to get more in touch with ‘the force.’”
“That’s just silly!” I declared.
“Not much sillier than goddesses with skins from Coca-Cola bottles.”
“Yeah, okay.  So get us back to Carlotta.  Was she not flirting with you at the bonfire?”
“She was flirting, but without intention.  She was extremely loyal to you.”
“Very admirable.”
“And practical.  One does not begin strong relationships by stealing one’s lover away from someone else.  There’s always the lurking sensation that the same fate will be returned upon oneself.  Very smart girl, Carlotta.  And yes, Cyd Charisse legs.  Thank you for that painful reminder.”
I responded by handing over the vodka with a coy smile.  Frosty took a mighty pull.  You could tell he was sincerely torn up about Carlotta.  But God, how I still wanted him.  I was much less wise than she.
“There’s a certain extremism about Carlotta, though,” said Frosty.  His steps were growing sloppier, kicking out sprays of sand as he walked.  “You ever pay a compliment to someone only to have them dismiss it? ‘Oh no, it was nothing.’”
“Sure.”
“Seems okay, but when you think about it… it’s a bit insulting.  Taken to the extreme, that person is basically saying, ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about.  I sucked and we both know it!’”
“Exactly.”
“Bingo!” said Frosty.  He flicked the words off his fingertips and over the Bel Canto, which was now looming on our left.  “It’s even worse when you tell someone you love them, and they refuse to believe you.  After a few dozen occurrences, it gets downright irritating, and then, when the old girlfriend shows up, she goes chickenshit and disappears.  You gotta wonder how often that kind of thing is going to happen, how many times life is going to throw you a curve ball.  And where will your life partner be just when you need her most?  I’m tellin’ ya, it rips me up inside.  No matter how much I want her, Carlotta and I may not make it.”
I believed him, because his words were ripping me up inside.  I was relieved when we arrived at the Knickerbocker parking lot.  Frosty settled with his back to the seawall, the same wall that had held those balancing rock sculptures the week before I left.  I unlocked the tailgate of my Mitsubishi and handed Frosty the blue-green net float.  He studied it like a gypsy searching a crystal ball.
“Evidently,” I said, “one of your teardrops was heading for Disneyland.”
I sat down beside him, aware by the near-emptiness of our vodka bottle that we both must be very drunk.  I smiled with stupid amusement, slapped Frosty on the knee, and started my story.



Photo by MJV