Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Painting Tacoma, Chapter Six: Ivy

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Nothing burns a hole in your pocket like a twenty-dollar bill with instructions on it. Shawn took a bath, missing two streaks of paint in his hair, then slipped on some Levi’s and a semi-clean shirt and headed downtown.
            Halfway down St. Helens he found himself in a crowd, outside a coffeehouse called Mocha Mountain. Next door was a dark room, tables and chairs packed around a modest stage. A clean-cut guitarist in a suede ballcap stood behind the mic, churning out a revved-up version of “All Along the Watchtower.”
            He was followed by a hepcat with a single-tuft goatee on the end of his chin. He paid appropriate compliments to the guitarist, then eyed a list of names and smiled.
            “Prepare yourself,” he said, “for the female tsunami of poetry... our own Ivy Listrom!”
            The woman who rose from the table next to Shawn’s didn’t take the stage so much as commandeer it. She was a collection of earth-mother curves that didn’t quite meet at the seams. Her face was hard to organize, too: a proud left-leaning nose, balanced by a golden stud above her right nostril; wheat-colored hair, braided back to highlight a broad, smooth forehead, lush, expressive lips and round, ice-blue eyes.
            She greets the applause with a wide, surprising smile. She dwindles it with a brief flurry of Hindu-like dance steps, then wipes it out by circling her hip and stomping the stage. She balls her fists and holds them to her face, then fans her fingers to either side and speaks, calmly, tasting each syllable as it goes.
            “The name is Tahoma,” she says. “Ta. Ho. Ma. Write that down. Some have forgotten it, which doesn’t please me as – much – as – it – might.”
            She takes a slow spin, her arms ghosting a spiral orbit, then looks at the audience as if she has just discovered them.
            “It was given to me by the people you call Native Americans. They really haven’t been around all that long – not in my kind of time – but I grew to like them. They didn’t ask for much. A few trout from my streams, a few sticks of wood for the fire. I gave them that sense of connection, the ice-music that played down their spines when they caught sight of my snow-white flanks. You could even say they feared me.”
            Big, satisfied CEO smile.
            “I like that.”
            Laughter. Ivy paces, reassessing the room.
            “Then came Vancouver. British explorer. They named an island after him. He sailed his little raft into the sound, took a look at my awesome crest and said, ‘My, what a lovely mountain. I shall name it after my friend Rainier, the rear admiral.’”
            Pause. Deadpan gaze.
            “Let me repeat that. Rear. Admiral. Rear.”
            Angry squint.
            “That really pissed me off.”
            A guy in the back shouts, “Yeah!”
            “The ones who came later... they tried to make amends. They named your little town after me. But they threw in a ‘c.’ Ta-kkhoma. What is that? Yiddish?
            “They had other bad habits. Cutting down my trees. Killing off the members of my tribe. Cluttering my waterfront with buildings and freeways. And what the fuck is that smell from the paper mills?”
            Pause. Thoughtful sigh. Slingshot cocking of the hips.
            “I’ve had enough. I’m done with you assholes. I’ve got a little... trick I do. It’s called a lahar. A lahar is a mudflow, one hundred mile-per-hour, twenty-five-foot-high mudflow, like a wall... of liquid... cement, caused by the eruption and subsequent collapse of a volcano.
            “And don’t think I won’t do it. You’ve heard of the Osceola Mudflow? I took two thousand feet off my own head for that one, and I only did it ‘cause the asteroid killed of the fucking dinosaurs and I was bored, man!”
            Pause. She folds her arms, businesslike.
            “So what does this mean to you? First off, you can kiss off all your river towns. Buckley? Buckled. Enumclaw? Clawed out. Puyallup. Pewed all up. Nothing left all the way to Takkhoma, and there at the front one of my courageous warriors, riding that twenty-five-foot wave in a dugout canoe, shouting ‘Ta-ho-ma! Ta-ho-ma! Ta-ho-ma!’”
            Ivy punches her syllables until the room shouts along: “Ta-ho-ma! Ta-ho-ma!” She lets it ride for twenty seconds, then cuts them off with the sweep of a hand. She lets the silence fester, then sneaks up on the mic.
            “Do not fuck... with the name... of a mountain.”
            Ivy accepted the applause then headed outside for a smoke. The next performer was a red-haired high-school girl who sat at the upright and played Rachmaninoff, but Shawn was too distracted to listen. He picked his way outside, where the hepcat emcee was engaging Ivy in debate.
            “But really, Ivy, why would a mountain care what you called it? Rainier exists in geological time. We’re nothing, man! Gnats! Little, tiny gnats.”
            Ivy laughed. “Jesus, Jud! It’s just for fun. It’s just... rhetorical! Lighten up.”
            Shawn butted his way in and extended a hand.
            “Hi, Ivy. I’m Shawn. That was great!”
            “Thanks,” said Ivy, with a practiced smile. She was used to compliments.
            “You know what it needs, though?”
            “No,” said Ivy, laughing. “What does it need?”
            “Drums,” said Shawn. “It needs drums.”

Photo by MJV

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