A Heavenly Saline Whanging
I woke up to tiny specks of light all over my body and the far-away whirr of a flying saucer. I also couldn’t move my head.
The whirring got closer, followed by a muted bass-drum thump and the sound of a skier unbuckling his boots. And still, I couldn’t move my head. And the little freckles of light all over my body.
Then somebody put a key into my left ear, and turned it, and the heavens slid back. Now I could move my head, and there was God himself, wearing a silly upside-down smile and holding a bag full of bagels. And God shook the bagels and said:
“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!”
The revelation that God was, in fact, Frosted Glass Man brought reality crashing back down. And the reality was… I was still at Frosty’s campsite! And that warm chocolate-pudding sensation in my feminine parts was no plastic fantasy but the result of actual aerobic ministrations. I smiled sweetly and raised my lips for a good-morning kiss, only to be disappointed. FGM had already scampered off to the picnic table and begun laying out the goods. I cranked myself up on my elbows and squinted my eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of his ass. He was standing before a quartet of vivisected bagels, anointing them with cream cheese and thin slices of a pink substance marked with a faint, wood-like grain. Lox!
I pivoted around on my knees, coming close to ramming my head into the hatch. “Frosty?” I wheezed. “Did you go somewhere?”
“Sure,” said Frosty. “Velasco, little town about five miles north of here. Would you believe they have a Jewish deli, and the asphalt on the frontage road is as smooth as a sea lion’s butt. Which begs the question… does a sea lion have a butt? To which I say, I have no idea, but if he did, you can sure as hell bet it would be smooth.” He unleashed a laugh and continued. “Now put on your clothes and start eating before these things figure out we’re gentiles.”
I slipped into my corduroy overshirt, and found my tortoise-shell sunglasses dangling from a hole in the quilt. “You walked five miles?” I asked.
“No-no-no.” Frosty lifted up a big plastic boot lined with bright orange, bagel-looking things. “Blades!”
I stepped from the car – bare butt and all – and bent over in search of my jeans among the blankets. Frosty didn’t miss the opportunity to comment.
“Now there’s a Mona Lisa for any man’s morning.”
“You certainly got some good use out of it last night,” I mewed, slapping a buttock. I flapped out my jeans and took my good time sliding them on, as Frosty drizzled brown powder over two foam-covered beverages.
“You bladed five miles with cappuccinos?”
“Of course not – they’re lattes. And they come from Hal, a friendly park ranger who has in his possession an espresso machine. I bladed maybe a hundred feet with them, so please, no applause.”
“I’m still mighty impressed.”
Not that this should surprise you, but I found Frosty’s behavior during our ensuing kosher breakfast a little odd. The women out there will know what I’m talking about: the first time a man takes you to bed, the next morning there is very often a kind of caretaker instinct at work, as if in penetrating you he has, in fact, opened up a wound and is therefore responsible for your convalescence. Or, looking for the quickest avenue of escape.
The odd thing with Frosty was that he displayed neither of these. It was as if the acts of the night before had not occurred at all; he was just as verbose and friendly as ever, and certainly as given to flights of metaphor. It was actually kind of nice to treat sex as the natural, matter-of-fact impulse that it was, sort of liberating to not be treated like some kind of patient. But I did wish he would kiss me.
After an hour of brunch and lively conversation, Frosty directed me toward the camp showers and loaned me soap, shampoo and a towel. Upon my return, I found him all set for hiking; he handed me a Zip-Lock and jumped to his feet like a dog catching sight of a leash.
“Well,” I said, stalling. (Kiss me, dammit!) But then I thought, no, it wouldn’t be much good if I had to beg for it. Then I thought: Boy am I messed up. “Okay!” I exhaled. “Let’s go.”
It was actually sort of a pleasant afternoon, a light morning fog bleeding away in pockets of blue. A little more and it might be – God forbid – sunny. As we hit the trail along the clifftops, however, I noticed Frosty taking furtive glances at the water and mumbling disconsolately. Once we hit the sand, I could see why.
“The Path of Opportunity!” cried Frosty. “Vamoosed! Splitsville!”
Splitsville, indeed. Two or three token pebbles along the first hundred yards. After that, nothing. By the time we reached the Bel Canto a half-hour later, Frosty was nearly lifeless, having captured but a single white chip after a mile of beach.
“I have never seen a ten-foot beach disappear like that!” he said. “This is very, very strange.”
I walked a hand up the back of his neck, the first affectionate gesture I had proffered all day. “Would you like to do something else instead? Maybe we could check out a bookstore, or I could take you out for lunch.”
His answer came in the form of another of his mile-wide Russian laughs. “No, no, no,” he said. “I am Frosted Glass Man. My job is to look for frosted glass – not necessarily to find it. But I have to at least look. If I didn’t, whatever would become of Frosted Glass Woman? How would she ever come back to life?”
I was beginning to see that more than half of Frosty’s metaphors failed to land at my mental LaGuardia. So I let this one go on to Dallas/Fort Worth, with hopes for a connecting flight later in the day. We kept on hiking, trudging, almost two miles of damp sand with nothing more than a single inch-long rhombus of green – until we arrived at Hotel Row, a stretch of clifftop lodges at the final turn toward Archer Bridge. I swear I could see Frosty’s ears perk up like a coyote’s, and the hair stand up on the back of his neck. He turned and dashed behind me, cupping his hands behind my ears like bandshells.
“Hear that, Madame Stravinsky? A sound like a thousand castanets dumped out the back of a pickup?”
I waited until the next wave swept back and, sure enough, exactly as described, a rich deposit of rocks clicking and shuffling under the breaker.
“Apparently,” said Frosty, “our little friends have gathered in the union hall to take a strike vote. And our pieces o’ glass – our quarry, you might say – they are participating as captive subcontractors.”
“Can’t we get them?”
“Oh, no-no. Ve-e-ery frustrating. The Fly-Fishing Method. Good for desperate measures, but you wouldn’t like it.”
“Well Frosty!” I complained. “What exactly else is on your agenda today? We have already figured out that the rest of this beach contains absolutely nothing, so why not? Come on, bay-bee, show me how it’s done!”
Frosty placed a thumb on one side of his forehead, his fingers on the other, and brought them together like the mouth of a sideways sock puppet, then let out a one-syllable bark of a laugh. “Ha! Madame Schubert, I will show you how this is done, but I warn you: inside of fifteen minutes, you will be cussing a streak bluer than B.B. King.”
“Oh, come on. I’m a grownup. I have extraordinary patience.”
“After ten minutes of this, Mahatma Gandhi himself would be sparring with the seagulls, shouting, ‘Come on, asshole! You want a piece of me?!’ However, talking is no good. I’ll show you. Take off your shoes and roll up those jeans as far as they will go.”
Oh, shut up and kiss me, I thought. But I dutifully followed his instructions. I planted my shoes and socks a safe distance away on dry sand, then returned to where Frosty stood ankle-deep in the water. I followed, getting a little choke on my intake valves as the North Pacific wrapped its icy tentacles around my tootsies.
“Shee... gosh, that’s cold! Whew!”
“That’s Oregon,” said Frosty. “Now, basically what you’re looking for is that five-second window when the magnanimous Pacific allows you a gander at her treasure chest. Sort of like... excuse the analogy, but sort of like watching women in loose dresses on a windy day. So once the waves settle down and you see your chance, you need to tail that receding line of water back in, then immediately settle on a five-foot span of rocks and look for that familiar flash of color. If you don’t spot something right away, then fuhgettaboutit – back away into safer territory and hold on to your Amtrak pass. If you do spot something, bend down right away and nab it, but keep an ear out for the next wave. If you hear it comin’ in, just grab the whole fistful of rocks around the glass and skip backward – otherwise you will get yourself a heavenly saline whanging. Once there, you can pan out your diggings and see if you got any goodies. Now, if we’re lucky, I’ll be able to demonstrate.”
Frosty waited three circuits, then spotted a backwash strong enough to kill off the incoming breaker. He tangoed in, hands behind his back like a curious British bobby. His eyes flashed over a brief stretch of rockpile, detecting nothing at first. But then he struck, quick as a rattlesnake, and backed away with his prey as the following wave bubbled over his calves. He stood in the Path of Opportunity sorting through his wet handful for a small amber lightning bolt.
“Walla Walla!” he said, then aimed the bolt in the direction of the water. “Next dance?”
“My pleasure,” I said. But given his great tabloid warnings, I was a bit hesitant. I waited several go-rounds before so much as lifting a toe. When I did, however, I was rewarded with a half-circle of green. I took my motions straight from my guru, grabbing the whole handful in a pulling scoop and quickly retreating. Once the water caught up with me, however, it splattered me to mid-thigh, painting my baby-blue jeans in sprays of indigo. I stood there bubbling and stuttering like an overheated crockpot, Frosty’s hoarse laughter scraping in my ears.
“Oh, I... God... darn it! Shoot! Gol-lee!”
Frosty came to console me, hands together in a plea for forgiveness. “Oh! Sandy! I am so sorry. My fault. I forgot to tell you. When a roller speeds in like that, you have to lift one foot, like a stork. If you let the wave hit both legs at once, it climbs right up like it’s hitting a brick wall. I’m so sorry.”
Being a good sport, Frosty charged into the very next breaker, lifting one foot behind him. Watching the water strike his shin and stream past, I got the idea.
I was determined to win this little game, so I pocketed my green half-circle and braved my way back in – only to discover my next obstacle. Four times in succession I spotted different pieces of glass – white, white, brown and white – but I spotted each of them a second too late, and had to stand there helplessly as the water came and buried them in the rocks. At least I stayed dry, there on my one stork foot, but by number four the frustration of near-discovery was getting too much for me.
Convinced that the ocean was hiding its finer glasswares further in, I decided to wait for wider openings and venture into the belly of the beast. My instincts seemed correct; a five-minute wait for two extra steps brought me the divine vision of a quarter-size blue. When I went in for the attack, however, a double-crested breaker rolled in and took my cobalt baby from sight, only inches from my fingertips. Now I was being fucked with.
“Son-of-a bitch! Give me a fuckin’ break here!”
Once the structural integrity of the dam had been compromised, the curse words tumbled over the spillway like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s Syndrome. I had lost my bet, and, I am sure, sent Frosty into a fresh round of titters. But now I didn’t care. I wanted my fair share of glass.
My deliverance came with the reappearance of the quarter-size blue. This time, I left nothing to chance, jumping in like a linebacker going for a fumble, thunder echoing in my ears, then pogoing backward on my single stork-leg like a young Martha Graham.
What I failed to anticipate, however, was a curious tidal phenomenon which one might describe as a cross-wash. This occurs when one breaker overtakes another and strikes it at an odd angle, creating a forceful wavelet that shoots down the beach sideways. I was just lowering my stork-leg and going for the translucent treasure in my palm when the aforementioned cross-wash struck me across the knees and sent me flying. And, what’s more, sent the beloved blue right back into the drink. The next image was Frosted Glass Man, extending metaphorical balms in my direction.
“The Pacific is a jealous one,” he said, fighting back spurts of laughter. “She won’t let go of Frosted Glass Woman without a fight.”
Frosty extended a hand – and I didn’t miss my opportunity. With the power of a Brunnhilde I yanked him earthward, just in time for the next breaker to stamp all over his pretty-ass button-down shirt. He rolled over and over in the water, half-laughing, half-pissed. The next time his stomach came to twelve o’clock high I pinned him to the rocky sand and scoured out his mouth with the most Gallic of French kisses.
When I came up for air I spotted something pinballing down in the backwash. I burst into the waves like an otter going for a pickled herring, then came back to Frosty, lying on his back, convulsed with laughter. I tucked the quarter-size blue into his shirt pocket, slapped him twice across the chest, declared us even and headed up the beach in the direction of dry sand.
I begged off to take a shower in the Rosenkavalier Suite, then checked in with Jeremy and Stinger at the registration desk just so they knew I was still around. Stinger was taking a late-afternoon snake-nap in the outgoing-mail basket, resting his sleek white head atop a pile of postcards, but Jeremy seemed downright looney-tune – at least, for Jeremy. He seemed very excited to tell me the Carmen Suite was once again available, and crestfallen when I told him I didn’t need it. (I imagine he’d gotten word about my dalliance, and that my response effectively confirmed it.)
I left the Bel Canto feeling flattered that Jeremy would even care, and took a long, lazy stroll down Knickerbocker Beach, carrying nothing but a bottle of magnolia-scented massage oil. It was, in fact, the very last item I’d purchased for George, and it would certainly be a pleasure to use it on somebody else.
By the time I got to Frosty’s campsite, I was feeling pretty worn down by the day’s antics, and fortunate to have left the hotel when I did; those lush green groves were getting mighty dark. I found him perched at the picnic table, next to a boisterous campfire, hunched over a quartet of white plastic buckets.
“Kum-bay-yah,” I said. Frosty smiled, neglecting to rise and kiss me as a gentleman might, but at least he patted the spot next to him on the bench. I sat down and nibbled on his ear.
“Dividing the congregation,” he said. He took a handful of glass from a Zip-Lock in his lap and began doling out the pieces in suits of white, green, brown and... white.
“Why two buckets of white?” I asked.
“Pastels. Like that pale blue you found the other day. Plus the occasional oddball.” He lifted a clear-looking white that had a cross-hatch of wire going through it. “Some kind of security window. Pretty nifty.”
I gave the piece a once-over then handed it back. “So what’s for dinner, Jean-Claude?” I was looking to be serviced in one way or another, and I was genuinely famished.
“Wienie roast,” he said. “As soon as the fire burns down to coals.”
“Ah,” said I. “So you only keep up the gourmet shtick for the first date.”
He reached across the table and handed me a plastic-wrapped package. “Bratwurst, kielbasa and linguica. And, of course, a little sauerkraut, some Cole slaw, potatoes au gratin and, if you’re a good girl, a very special dessert.”
I was chagrinned but nonetheless pleased. I went for the bratwurst. Frosty took the linguica. We talked at each other with smelly breath, sipping glasses of grappa as the grease of gurgling pig-parts lullabyed our stomachs. After a while he reached into the hutch and extracted a bag of marshmallows.
“Even better,” he said. “S’mores. Adult s’mores.” He planted two white puffs on my roasting rod and set me to work. Once my sugar-bombs were nicely tanned, Frosty handed me the rest of my supplies. I laid my melting subjects out on a graham-cracker bed, then planted a square of chocolate in the middle of each, feeling my salivary glands well up as the corners melted into limp, gooey blobs. I wondered all the while what the heck “adult s’mores” could be.
I added the graham-cracker cap, patted it down, then balanced the whole between my thumb and fingers as I put it in my mouth. I was met with a sudden spray of liquid. I held a hand to my mouth to try and contain it.
Frosty answered my puzzled expression with two words: “Grand Marnier.”
“Oh my gawd!” I said. The liquor, the chocolate and the stringy marshmallow remains were lava-flowing all over my mouth. I swiped my index finger across my lips and licked it clean. “Fucking incredible!”
We took a half-hour sating ourselves and cleaning up our faces, after which we downed two more glasses of grappa, staring into the fire’s orange eyes. A question was approaching from somewhere, hovering in the woodsmoke, and it turned out to be Frosty’s.
“So this guy – your senior gone off to college. Nice guy?”
“Oh, yeah. Sure. George was, is, great. Exactly the kind of guy an intelligent woman should marry. Someone you’re comfortable with, someone you really enjoy being with. Stable. Consistent. I mean, he’s always going to be the same, easy-going George, whether it’s sunny, 2 p.m. on a beach in Fiji or raining, 2 a.m. fixing your clogged toilet. He wasn’t going to tunnel under the earth one day and come back out as a giant purple gopher. And that’s what I was looking for.”
“You wanted someone who wouldn’t become a giant purple gopher.”
“Is that so much to ask?”
“Yeah. Anthropomorphism is a terrible disease. So what’s he do for a living?”
“Ah… a stable musician. Now there’s an oxymoron.”
“He played cello with the San Jose Symphony, and he had a nice half-time professorship at Santa Clara University. About as stable as they come. And he would’ve been a great father.”
“Which is why you picked him.”
“Sure,” I said. “Is that a bad thing?”
“Pretty smart… if it works out.”
I selected a triangle from the white bucket and rapped clave beats against the tabletop. “That’s the problem, I guess. I was quite happy – almost relieved – to give up a little... passion in my life. Passion has this nasty habit of leaving me looking like a chewed-up adult s’more. I was ready to be a mother, and his stability was more important to me than how often he could float my boat.”
Frosty rubbed an earlobe, mulling this over. “I’m just guessing here, but... George didn’t agree, did he?”
(Ouch.) “Bingo!” I said. “I’m so-o-o stupid. I should have figured it out a long time ago. Like when he didn’t propose to me after three years, even though I made it obvious that I wanted him to. But no, I stretched it out because life was so damned comfortable, because George and I had rubbed each other down into fuzzy, soft, pillow-people. Because we liked having sex the same number of times a week and we loved Italian restaurants that use lots of garlic and hanging out at jazz festivals and taking drives up the coast.
“It was last month when he gave me the news. Very typically, he was kind enough to wait till a couple of weeks after our fifth anniversary. He made me a home cappuccino and delivered his announcement in a calm, considerate manner, as if we were discussing my taxes or the advantages of a cable modem. But the gist was, he had finally given up on the idea of settling for a woman who was... settling for him. He wanted chemistry; he wanted passion.”
“I’m sorry,” said Frosty. “I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, no,” I said. “You’re about the only person I’ve been able to tell. Besides, I’m glad to be past the uncontrollable weeping phase and on to the cursing and swearing phase. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t mind a change of subject. So uh… what’s your story?”
“Ah, well…” he said. He paced to the fire to warm his hands. He had been so calm during dinner, but I could tell his mischievous side was about to return.
“I know what you’re expecting,” he said. “Some revelatory confession in the mid-century realistic vein of Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams. How else would a guy end up sleeping in a hatchback on the Oregon Coast? World’s youngest Vietnam vet? Paranoid schizophrenic? Or maybe, when he was twelve, he jumped over a dirt ramp on his bicycle and didn’t see his six-week-old Labrador pup playing in the landing area and WHAM! Vivisection!”
Frosty paused for a moment, grossed out by his own vision, then ambled to the other side of the table.
“Well, no. And just to further distance ourselves from that notion – and because I prefer myths to reality – I’ll tell this one in third person. Let’s call our hero... Feisty. Feisty Brassman.”
I let out a sea-lion bark of a laugh – “Ort!” – then quickly covered my mouth, making a little show of pretended shame. Frosty ignored me.
“Feisty Brassman grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona, exposed on a daily basis to the vagaries of Grand Canyon tourists but otherwise relatively unharmed. His Dad could have been more affectionate, his Mom less protective. He couldn’t hit a baseball worth crap. He could’ve had better-looking girlfriends. He felt like a total freak during high school, but by college he understood that everybody else felt like freaks, too.
“Feisty had the good fortune of having a father who designed aircraft. But it wasn’t the aircraft he was fascinated with, it was the computers his father used to design the aircraft, computers he brought home for his quirky son to tinker with. Feisty eventually saw the shape of his future, and, after four years of computer science at Arizona State, he moved to Silicon Valley, where being good with computers is a highly rewarded trait.
“Feisty really enjoyed his work, saw himself as a bounty hunter in a cyber frontier, a made-up territory of electronic impulses where the ones fought the zeroes for domination. He rode that range for ten years, and wrangled up quite a passel of stock options. Being a bachelor, he applied his generous salary to all the latest sporting goods, the coolest video games, the sleekest audio and video equipment. After five years, he bought a nice old Victorian in Los Gatos, a couple blocks from the downtown strip.
“Feisty was at Candlestick Park the day the ‘89 earthquake sapped all the glory from the Bay Bridge World Series. There was a natural upside to the disaster – the pulling-together of hundreds of thousands of people against the darker forces of nature – but after a year of this, about the time that people began once again to trust the ground to stay put, Feisty began to notice some unsettling trends.
“He began to notice, in short, that every time he and his techie cohorts invented something, it would come back to eat them. They invented the pager; it turned them into little poochies on long electronic leashes. They invented the cellular phone, and opened themselves up to random interruptions, wherever they were, any time of day or night. It also ruined the sanctity of public places, where oftentimes half the people there were not actually there at all, but hooked up to someone else, some where else.
“And then came email, a beautiful instant messaging conduit quickly clogged with pestering advertisements and self-appointed town criers who found they could deliver dirty jokes and philosophical pap to thousands at the press of a button.
“The quantity that each of these Frankensteins fed on was the same substance they professed to save: time. With each passing year of the dying millenium, their weeks and days became increasingly fragmented by these interruptions, fissured like old rocks and cracked into pieces. The resulting internal dissonance cried for expression, and the mode for that expression became, oddly enough, a much older and more established piece of technology: the automobile.
“At a time when everything else could be delivered thousands of miles in the blink of an eye, the physically stodgy hauling of flesh from one onramp to the next seemed increasingly irritating. Add to this the ever-tightening traffic of a booming high-tech economy, and the roadways of Silicon Valley began to look like a war zone, a tragedy of manners.
“Feisty began to notice an edginess in the cars around him, found them whizzing by like nervous dragonflies as he cruised a mere ten miles over the speed limit. Many drivers would decline to pass at all, choosing instead to pull in on his rear bumper and force him ahead with the wall of air streaming off their grilles.
“Red lights on left-turn lanes became exercises in metaphysical thinking. I am but one link in this train of cars. If I have remained in this turn lane for one go-round of the stoplights, am I not entitled to pass through the intersection with the rest of this single unified body of drivers? And any time he wanted to exit the freeway, he had to check over his shoulder to make sure someone wasn’t using the offramp as an impromptu passing lane. After all, that’s open asphalt, baby, and it’s screaming for speedy habitation. If I were to make the mistake of letting you in ahead of me that’s one more fucking obstacle between myself and a punctual arrival, and my time is expensive, pal, and I have none of it left, and I have to work 60 hours a week now to make the world move faster, so get out of my way because I’ve got to get to the next place so I can leave there and get to the place after that and then back to the office to check my email because God forbid I should be out of touch for one fucking minute because SOMETHING IMPORTANT MIGHT HAPPEN, AND I MIGHT MISS IT!”
Frosty slapped the last four words against the tabletop. Then he saw what he was doing, and chuckled to himself.
“Forgive old Feisty, Mona Lisa. He’s a little passionate about this. So, back to the story. The more he noticed these symptoms of mass lunacy, the more Feisty felt like a visitor from Alpha Centauri. Further, when he mentioned these things to his colleagues, the reaction was disturbingly consistent. First they would laugh, and then they would spout their own recent transgression – in a prideful tone, as if aggressive, irrational driving were a badge of honor, a part of fighting the good fight.
“Even this seemed tolerable – but then came the Sport Utility Vehicle. The SUV. As though rocky streams had sprouted across Interstate 280, as though the turnoff onto Montague Expressway had been transformed into a wheel-rutted dirt road. But Feisty could see what was going on. Flush with cheap gas from the Persian Gulf War, Silicon Valley’s high-tech rich were now free to conduct their road wars from the elevated, air-conditioned cockpits of luxury tanks – alpha-male vehicles with hairy chests, big balls and room enough to carry small militias.
“In his already-sensitive state, Feisty saw this invasion as an open declaration of war, a perception that found its proof in a statistic: in fatal head-on collisions between SUVs and automobiles, 80 percent of the fatalities were the people in the cars. But he noticed the smaller things, as well. The headlights that seared into the rear view mirror of his low-slung sports car. Pulling out of a driveway with one of those monsters parked on the curb, obliterating the view of oncoming traffic.
“But mostly, it was the attitude. So far removed from the road, the SUV driver often had no clue the havoc they were causing to those below, had no idea what those massive grilles looked like filling up the rear windows of compacts as their powerful, polluting engines pulled up on their bumpers.
“Feisty began to see the SUV as the final farewell to civilized courtesies, and saw his enemies everywhere. It took him two hours to calm himself down after the morning commute. And now when he brought it up to his co-workers, they would stare at him coldly, wondering when it was, exactly, that Feisty would get with the program. If you don’t like it, they said, why don’t you get one yourself? And so he stopped bringing it up at all, and things got even worse.
“There was one morning, late in the spring. Feisty had just waited an extra five seconds for the caboose of the left-turn train to clear the intersection. He was on Interstate 85, heading south. A brown Jeep Cherokee passed him while he was still in the merge lane, shot into the lane to his left, missing his rear bumper by inches. Feisty was headed to a meeting at the IBM plant in Coyote Valley, the very southern tip of San Jose near the farmlands of San Martin. After easing into the center lane he fixed his gaze on the Diablo Range east of the city, soaring muscular mountains, layers of late-spring green and early-summer blond across his windshield. At the top stood Mount Hamilton, the clean white cap of Lick Observatory. Feisty thought of the drive he had once taken down the other side, long stretches of meandering streams and chaparral, gloriously vacant spaces so close to the packed-in city.
“The mountains disappeared when he came up behind a navy-blue GMC Suburban: big double door, muscular chrome bumper at eye level, a license plate BG MAMA with a ‘49ers frame. He looked to pull right but found a Ford Explorer there, a wide expanse of hunter-green metal and tinted windows closing off his view. Checking his rear-view mirror, Feisty found it filled up with a black Toyota 4Runner, a line of chromium ribs all the way down his horizon, headlights flashing at the moving roadblock.
“Feisty was beginning to lose his breath now, and looking to his last remaining exit, his left-side mirror, found a blood-red Nissan Pathfinder zipping up in the diamond lane. His heart was racing, then he was pounding on his horn, then he slammed his foot to the gas and shot into the diamond lane with inches to spare, rocketing off toward the green-blond mountains, the lights of the Pathfinder flashing at his back like shotgun shells.
“After that, he kept going, over the mountains, across the Central Valley, over the Sierras, kept going until he ran out of gas ten miles from Ely, Nevada and pulled to a stop in front of a sign reading “Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America.” He removed one of the panels from his T-top, lifted himself onto the roof his car, and sat there for hours, marveling at the vast desert. Halfway through the night a drizzle descended on the sagebrush, sending clouds of sweet spice rolling into his nostrils. A half hour later, a coyote came padding up to his car door, long ears erect with curiosity, peeing on his rear tire before bursting into the brush after some small creature.
“For Feisty, that night told him everything he needed to know, everything he’d been suspecting for years. When morning came, he hitchhiked into Ely, fetched some gas and took off on a purposeful wandering – up 95 through Elko, north past the Snake River into the Blue Mountains; up along the great buck-brown wheatfields of eastern Oregon, all the way west along the Columbia River; then south on 101 until he ended up in Hirshfield. There he began his time drain therapy by finding the simplest, most satisfying occupation he could think of – the pursuit and harvest of frosted glass. He liquified most of his assets – condo, time-share in Bear Valley, computer equipment, high-tech stock – and has been busily and peacefully occupied ever since.”
Frosty slapped a hand to his thigh. “And that is the story of Feisty Brassman. Any questions?”
I had about a million and 23, but I had a feeling Frosty would rather leave the story in its mythic state. I reached into my jacket for my special bottle. “Frosty, how do you feel about magnolias?”
Photo by MJV