Om Pa Pa
I'm lingering over a tasteless breakfast at the Rockhead. It's a gorgeous day. No fog, only midget breakers. The Farallon Isles like a clump of hazy pyramids on the horizon.
I take a digestive walk on the beach, happy to have sand under my feet and a roof over my head—so what if it's the roof of a slaughterhouse? I look up at the ceiling of blue mystery and get the impression the earth isn't concave but convex, sun fixed in the middle with cyclopean intensity. Far overhead hangs the invisible orient. Strong planes can fly right across the hollow core, one eye track where it's never dark.
I walk towards the rubble of Daily City, piled on the distant cliffs like a necropolis. Just ahead, a chance assemblage of seaweed and garbage resembles a human remnant. My spine tingles, my heart beats faster, I stop in a long line of tracks recalling my Dad . . .
He had taken us on a seaside outing near the town of Reedsport, Oregon. Some friends had a little cabin there in a pine grove above the beach. My brother and I played on the windy dunes while our parents quietly celebrated a little reunion, not having seen each other for some time.
Bart, three years my senior, had obtained the head and torso of a handsome brown-eyed sailor. Skull smashed, clumps of hair missing, guts trailing from chewed-off rib cage, complete with the bony stump of one arm—a plastic shark attack victim chanced upon in a novelty shop. We displayed this wonder in seaweed near the trail head and waited in a hollow log for Mom and Dad to come down for an afternoon stroll.
It was Mom to make the find, bundled in John's red and black checked lumberjack coat against the blast of wind and sand. She approached slowly, clasping one hand to her mouth. Oh, no! Wrestled a strand of blond hair from her eyes with the other. Oh, God! And raced back to Dad who was skipping stones.
Dad closely inspected the victim while Mom watched from a safe distance. He took a long time picking with a stick, showing no emotion. Finally he stood up, sadly shaking his head, and Mom returned to the cabin, blond hair trailing in the wind like a surrender flag.
Whistling snatches of some popular tune, Dad extracted the fake from the seaweed and carried it over the dunes into the pine trees. Following cautiously we watched spellbound as he scooped the soft earth out from under ferns and gave the plastic corpse a Christian burial, rolling a stump over the grave for a headstone. Later that evening we overheard him tell Mom it was best no one including us boys knew about the find—probably just the remains of a capsized fisherman or drug dealer thrown out of a plane. It would needlessly disturb some poor widow to learn the grizzly details of her dreamboat's end. Some things were best left to the imagination. Dad was very thoughtful that way.
But we were unable to figure why he had so thoroughly followed through with our joke. He never alluded to it, nor did we, leaving the novelty in its shallow grave.
When the vacation was over he said mysteriously: "You boys have made your mother very happy."
There is so little I can remember of his few brief but colorful visits. Only three occasions, really. The first one stands out above the rest.
He arrived at Om Pa Pa dressed in the outfit of a Spanish gypsy. High-heeled boots, tight striped pants, red shirt, paisley vest, slim mustache, long black hair, floppy hat.
I was about three at the time, playing on the front porch in the cool shadow of the washing machine when he pulled up in an old station wagon painted with flowers.
I remember my mother standing on the front steps, her hand over her mouth the way it was when she found the corpse. There were big tears in her eyes and she was shaking all over like the washer on spin cycle. I put my tiny hand in her back pocket for support.
"Hot out here," commented the shyly smiling gypsy. "Can I come in?" Then she hugged him, hot sobs bubbling, and handed me, bound in her arms like a bouquet of dusty flowers, to my father, John Del Rio.
He looked me over carefully wearing a puzzled expression as if not sure I was quite real. His eyes like eclipses, darkly shining with bright little veins shooting out. At last he seemed to recognize me as his own, breaking into a howl of agonized joy like a pent up dog finally released.
Over his shoulder I saw my brother appear briefly from the trees. He froze in his tracks, staring as the gypsy covered me with kisses. His face darkened, closed like a fist. He stepped back, a finger to his lips, into the shade.
I was put back in the dust and the couple went in the house, leaving me to wonder what exactly a "father" could be.
I hadn't known one male parent any more than most people do one God. They mostly know a John Doe of nobody there, which passes for one God because he's invisible. I had so far been spared this intangible.
My mother had had many men living with her. She was gorgeous, a full-blown goddess, taking her pick. She wasn't very discriminating. She was democratic. I could hardly tell one from another. They were mere appendages to her glow, attaches to my omnipresent need, always going off again, vanishing like hallucinations.
A father I simply hadn't experienced outside the generic shuffle from knee to knee. Something like a strange animal or new machine, like Bigfoot or laser gun.
Of course I was only a small naked child playing with an even smaller naked doll, of which the genitals were curiously missing. What did I know?
I listened to the voice of this man called father going on and on in the kitchen. It was a rhythmic voice, at times soft-spoken, gentle, at others lively, theatrical, a voice with a lot of ups and downs, interrupted frequently by bursts of laughter, a voice that talked to itself, asked and answered its own questions, went from story to story like the chicken in the yard running hysterically after grasshoppers. There was hardly a peep from Mom, save for the occasional "Oh" and "Ah."
Finally I went in. They were sitting with the flies at the kitchen table drinking iced tea. He took me on his knee without interrupting a story he was telling Mom about a French lake full of blue champagne. I remember that very well.
He said he had thrown a party for his friends with the money earned from the sale of a statue of some poet he had made for the town square. He had filled the fountain with hundreds of bottles of champagne. Everybody had gone swimming in the bubbly, lime-green to chartreuse in color, like the waters of the Nile.
I remember his bearded kiss, nervous laughter, winy breath, heart beating under his shirt like a drunken wing. The way he drummed his fingers on the table during a lull in conversation, as if he couldn't stand the silence. He explained that he had been trained as a Moroccan trance dancer and the rhythm was forever trapped in his fingers.
He went on and on while Mom's face got sadder. She was smiling, but the sadness was apparent like something under a sheet. Whenever she did speak, she talked like one of the books that littered our shack. Books she would read aloud from as I was falling asleep. I didn't understand a word but enjoyed the music, her voice painting the silence with mysterious captions.
Soon bored I went out to play. When I came back in for supper he was gone.
I learned from Mom that he wasn't really a gypsy. He was dressed that way as an actor with a traveling theater, sort of living out his role in costume. Apparently he did have Spanish blood. Also Arab, French and Greek. All those ingredients mixed on the stage of time, exotic and beyond comprehension, appearing briefly at my door calling itself "father."
The second time I saw him was when he buried the corpse. His hair was greying and he was dressed modestly.
He told stories of his various professions: Pilot, architect, painter and revolutionary. His art was selling like hotcakes in Europe, but for some reason wasn't being taken seriously in the States. He had built the town square in San Jose de Something or Other. He'd fought against the fascists in Spain, been taken prisoner and escaped. He'd set three records for solo flights in newfangled planes, often in the company of famous people. I wanted to be just like him and a few years later got my wish.
My parents seemed powerfully in love, but there was a distance between them despite their obvious affection. They couldn't keep their hands off each other, yet they touched like secret aliens. Smothering one another with kisses, strangling on each other's antenna. Even I could see the frustrated way they did everything from eating dinner to doing the dishes. Pretension in every move. My mother pretending to listen to his rambling tales. He pretending to understand her spiritual anecdotes. Her words always carefully measured, exactly as if she were reading aloud. He always nervous, beyond reach like a book on the highest shelf. Both of them reaching for something not there. Something that might have been, if they had different lives.
By themselves they were relaxed, unaffected, sure of their dreams. Together they vibrated like caged animals, satisfied by sex alone.
Even if attached only by the genitals I don't know why they didn't stay together. Pride, I guess. Maybe fear. Or perhaps the terrible pain of knowing their dreams to have nothing to do with the world around them.
They both ran from themselves, unable to conceive of anything but the finish line, forgoing everything along the way. Their strange company, wild as it was, probably would have saved the family, if they had let go of their dreams.
What did I know? I cried with mother when he left. But my brother was glad, and Dad had places to go.
The third and last time I saw him I was maybe fourteen or fifteen. He was wearing a pinstriped business suit with a red tie. He said he was a salesman for some kind of big manufacturer of heavy machinery. There were boxes of pamphlets in his car with pictures of tractors. He said he had been given the titanic job of extending the company's sales from the plains states to the west coast. He complained of not being sufficiently compensated for his efforts and asked Mom for money. He didn't look well. His eyes had lost their shine and his grey hair was clipped short around the temples. He smelled of bourbon. He drank it mixed half and half with 7-Up and vomited blood in the backyard. There was no lovemaking, not even much talk. He offered to take us to Los Angeles with him, but Mom didn't go for it. She only laughed, shaking her head. They didn't fight, they never fought. They just drank and smoked pot. He left one morning very sad and tired-looking. She cried for days afterward. I had too many problems of my own by that time to take much notice. I never heard what happened to him, though Mom remarked later that she was sure he was dead.
Though I'm but the shadow of a man, still I had a cosmic mentor. That supernatural being in a yellow bug. Ted.
Envision a child's plastic toy, a hollow clown head with bubbly eyes, monstrous grin, ears of Buddha huge as cabbages. Now picture an obese torso seated cross-legged under a tent of greasy hair, rolling down a switchback mountain road into a preternatural valley. When the dust has cleared behold five hundred pounds of insatiable blubber plugged into the shell of a 1960s VW bug, clutch and brake manipulated by hand-held extension. That head, atop this body, was Ted.
He was automatic in speech as a braying mule, confident in elocution as a newborn babe. He seemed never to have encountered a barrier, nor to have missed any vision along the way. He was possessed of truly Rabelaisian wit, a smoothness of tongue to connect the two mouths of Janus, a freeway of speech in relation to the mind as a horse to a horseless carriage. He babbled nonstop; the traffic was never-ending. But don't get him mixed up with autocratic demons. He was much more complicated than that.
Born in the cranium of Kali, he slid down the Stations of the Cross, camped out in the Sefiroth of the Holy Kabbalah, preened like a genie in Old Testament palaces, took off on the carpet of Sufi wisdom, visited the holy lands of Tibet and Egypt, landing finally in Gnostic territory, whereupon he mastered the secret paths of Jesus, of scribes and architects on their way to the tombs of Pharaohs, lost in deep chthonian necropoli of Io, those shrines where the tongue first took flame, if ever there were a vowel or one to speak it.
He wore only pink, red, violet, maroon, whatever, let us satisfy the dream of the rose, celebrate the splendor of Pan towering from his cherry-filled lap, blue flaming tip rising beyond overflowing navel, beyond elephantine tits, to kiss the sun and spit like the adoring cobra, to embrace both friend and enemy in a solar net of super-conducted Eros.
Ted, Uncle Ted, had started the commune, Om Pa Pa, after a long sojourn in India where his eye had opened like a lotus flower, though he owed nothing in particular to Hindu cosmology. He had merely found himself there—before growing too fat to move around.
At Om Pa Pa everything was permitted and nothing denied—but violence, any kind. Ted had nothing against literacy, but all books with the slightest hint of violence were forbidden. This left quite a bit out of my upbringing, as you can imagine.
Now it's true some thinkers associate sex with violence. Who can deny the biting, scratching, strangling, stabbing, shooting of the act? Death perhaps is likewise pleasurable. But let's not get carried away. It's a matter of repression, this violence—that one sees a prude committing mass murder. True violence, like true love, comes from common need. Plug up the tap and sooner or later it's going to explode. Let's just forget about it until it does.
Uncle Ted, by way of initiation, mandated that all his sons and daughters taste from both ends and all major orifices the golden rule, virile serpent with an apple in its mouth, a pink, an ivory, a blood red, a russet tomato flushed with August sunburn, poison vegetable of Native Americans, primeval fruit, antidote to innocence, port of horny adders in which Cleopatra slipped her love-stung hand, a bite common folk dread, but only the most talented avoid: That Tree of Knowledge—his prong. There wasn't a man, woman or fresh pubescent that didn't, for the most, go down, one way or another, in that quivering bug and come up tasting freedom: What other flavor has death?
Ted bridged the dual nature. Fathers quit eating their children. Mothers took the teeth out of their vaginas. Sons and daughters put down their castrating shears. The gods were at last disarmed and the goddesses quit buzzing at their looms. Voices could again be heard in Merlin's tower. The mad sociology of the human race was purged. The initiates all drank. We children of Om Pa Pa. Liberated from the ass, the mouth . . .
Far from the abstractions of Plato, the sun was a cask with Ted's cup in it. The shadows in the cave burned more brightly than ever, illuminating even the tight skulls and wineskins of the old lechers talking philosophy in the courtyard.
Far from ignorance.
The very tap of equality, of mind and spirit, which must first be exercised before the wedding can take place: That of Life and Death, as we've all considered.
Now I was the first child born on the commune, my mother not having arrived but a day earlier, round as the bottom of a delicious well. Homeless, nearly penniless, distraught by the recent flight of my father, she settled in the first friendly place she came to.
"Om Pa Pa," the woman said. It sounded friendly, the birds in the trees sounded friendly, the drops of spring rain sounded friendly, even the luminous grey clouds seemed friendly, no, were friendly. The sun of Om Pa Pa burned for her at the top of that muddy road lined by friendly oaks and pines as she followed the woman in the station wagon painted with flowers she had met at the Reedsport hospital.
"Come on up to Om Pa Pa and have your baby, angel. This hospital is for wingless birds."
She came indeed, but that night, after the council met and her welcome was officiously celebrated, she did not go through the same initiation as the others, there by the fire-lit circle in the loaded chariot—for as we all know a woman about to start labor isn't to be penetrated by man or god, and it is to her credit that she, by subtle tricks and ruses, avoided thereafter the remarkable baptism of Uncle Ted.
Uncle Ted had it writ on a big oak tree, the very one under which he is buried, that everybody was everybody else's property. So long as sympathetic sparks flew, one spirit could enter another spirit's temple delighting in the flame like liberated genies—something like that.
I grew up watching people copulate in the sun. All ages and sexes grappling in the grass. Man with woman, woman with woman, man with man, child with child, sometimes adult with child. Martha Sunflower used to suck her infant son at the swimming hole. What people did together for pleasure was nobody's secret. Sperm was common as honey. No mystery to the gaping cradle. These scenes neither disturbed nor titillated me. The grounds for voyeurism and sexual hang-ups lay fallow.
I grew tall with a dozen other kids roving over our thousand acres in the piny hills outside Eugene. There was a tributary of the Willamette River passing though the place complete with swimming hole and waterfall. There was a big A-framed central meeting hall where commune meetings, poetry readings, plays, concerts, and Thanksgiving dinners were held. The members occupied a bunch of crude huts, tepees and geodesic domes scattered over the little valley. Ted watching over everything from his volkswagen on the hillside under the oak tree.
We tended vast gardens. Every kind of climatically suited vegetable, fruit, spice and herb. We grew excellent pot and a little opium. We had all the usual farm animals. Chickens and pigs. Goats and a few cows, making all the dairy products ourselves. Everybody ate meat. Ted had no problem with that. He could dispatch five chickens and a pig at one sitting. He said all of God's creatures were food, only we had to ask the animal's permission before eating it. This could be a little tricky. You never knew if the hen really understood the question before you lopped off its head. Also sacrifices had to be made. The occasional goat or duck went off to Pan or Artemis. We practiced a little ritual cannibalism—nothing too heavy. When anybody on the commune died—luckily that was only Uncle Ted himself—we all had to eat a little piece of his enormous thigh. Not a big piece, just a little nibble, like the Catholic host. It wasn't bad. A little greasy. Something like chicken.
We celebrated all the holidays, pagan fashion. We practiced Egyptian sun worship. Christmas was celebrated on the twenty-first when the solar disc turns around again. Then there was the summer solstice, a really big party. We thanked every god and every animal, every saint and madman for our existence. Once we even got the Grateful Dead to play. Ken Kesey came over and we all thanked God for acid. Of course there was Halloween. That was celebrated in costume with a goat sacrifice to Pan, dancing around the fire under the moon and stars. Ted invented other holidays such as Holy Grail Day when the youngest boy on the commune had to climb the highest tree to snatch a piece of sun. Or Seed Day when all the males masturbated in the lettuce patch to assure a fertile harvest.
It was a rich life. I didn't have any complaints. But there were problems. Plenty of them.
I was born on March 21, 1965, on the Pisces/Aries cusp. When my mother first arrived at Om Pa Pa the night before my birth and our horoscopes were cast, the results were received with mixed feelings. Some elders such as George Swamptree said I was to be the new man linking the last sign with the first, a very good omen of things to come, perhaps even some kind of personal savior. To others, such as Grandma Hooper, I was to be the Anti-Christ, turning back from the highest sign of spiritual endeavor to the dizzy old goat of obstinate, egocentric Aries—tough on the outside, weak on the inside. Not a good boy.
Quite some fuss ensued at the meeting hall, me still drifting in secret womb juice. At first the majority didn't want to admit us as the wizardry of Grandma Hooper, the commune astrologer, was held in high esteem. But Mom was beautiful. Quite a few men fell in love with her gene pool at first sight and opinion was somehow shaped to fit me into the mold, whether or not I turned out anti-Christ or savior. Thus we were accepted with mixed blessings, as a unit, that is—Mom, my older brother, and me, squawking into the world at sunrise.
At first most of the skeptics were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. I wasn't particularly unusual-looking. The few pictures taken of me reveal a dark, greasy little kid. Big eyes, black mop of hair, an air of mystery about the mouth. I started talking almost immediately, but soon became silent and moody. I was always a little aside from the other kids, probably because of all the hoopla at my birth. Thus I became the village scapegoat.
Anything of a negative sort, either of that category attributed to natural disaster such as flooded garden, lost cow, failed crop, or of the manmade sort as when Luke Meckworth fell down in the compost pit on a pitchfork, or when Martha Sunflower gave birth to a dead fetus, I was somehow to blame, the way a stranger in a place where something bad has happened draws off the poison of the residents. What with the Indian brand of superstition rampant on the commune, cooked up with acid and Uncle Ted's practical mysticism, well, you can imagine the result, especially considering several members were nearly illiterate getting everything word of mouth. Books were generally frowned upon as being evil, leading one away from the simple path in the sunlight to the dark cave in the head.
Soon I began to live out the role, really believing I was responsible for certain events more than other people. I'd steal things, not because I wanted them, but because I was compelled by outside influences beyond my control. Possessions were taboo on Om Pa Pa, but every woman has her prize jewel, every man his favorite tool, every child a cherished toy, certainly everybody their pet stash. I exposed the hypocrisy of their value system. Like a clever suspension bridge, I was the vital link that had to be snapped to save the whole from collapse.
I didn't really enjoy the work. It was no fun being mobbed and beaten up by the other kids. No fun tied in a tree for three days while the other kids pelt you with shit and garbage. But I couldn't resist putting eggs down the various holes of the commune's tractor. I was genuinely inspired by God to dig a pit in the woods, cover it with branches, lure some kids into it and piss on them. It was written I was to fill Meg Tuttle's bed with horse manure. It was all expected of me, I had merely to co-operate with heaven.
The vying over mother fueled my antisocial behavior. It pained me to observe the lecherous scheming of the men, the spiteful jealousy of the other women. Bodies were supposed to be free on the commune, but everybody is not attracted to every other body—they teach you that in physics, perhaps that's what's wrong with physics—and the things that aren't attracted often get insanely jealous over the ones that are.
Uncle Ted would always intercede when there was a scrap at our shack: Raven Watershed rolling in the dust with Rabbit Stein, both in love with Mom. Angel Cranberry trying to strangle Mom at the swimming hole when she caught her making love to Guy Dreamdam. Just a whole lot of incidents like that.
Ted would hold a council and decide on some punishment. Make Watershed and Rabbit Stein senselessly move a giant pile of stones from one place to another. Make Cranberry do all our washing for several weeks. He always decided in our favor, sometimes rewarding us for our misery with some gift or other. Mom and I were a team that way.
Ted used me as a kind of rake to smooth out commune differences. He realized I was a valuable tool to draw off animosity, let people blow off steam. I had extra work to do for my transgressions but that was okay. Work was work. There was plenty of it around the commune. He only tied me in a tree that one time with the eggs.
The amazing thing was the way Mom avoided his bug. She always had some excuse, though eventually she was forced into threatening to leave the commune if he insisted on sex. This cowed him. He really wanted us around and left her alone, to everybody's chagrin. Too many members had to endure repeated visits to that yellow bug on the hill, Ted wedged inside like an overweight turtle. They were envious of our special status and a lot of people did leave out of frustration. But there were always more coming. The place was too unique to let a little congress with the stinky behemoth get in the way.
I remember the laborious puttering of his yellow bug over the green hills. The running in attendance of a dozen brainwashed devotees. He ate in the bug, slept in the bug, communed with God in the bug, pissed and shat out of a hole in the floor of the bug, even bathed in the bug. Ted didn't like bathing too much, water clouded his vision. They'd just turn the hoses on him once a week and that would suffice.
I remember his overflowing benedictions upon anyone happened by. "Well, hello there, Sister Sunflower! How are you today? Stop by later and I'll give you a special unguent. May all the gods lesser and major bless you, bless you!"
"Stop by my palace, tonight, Ellen McCabe, I have a remedy for those bad dreams of yours!"
"Why, Mr. Watershed! I see that knee is heeling up quite nicely. Say your mantra a hundred times tonight and it will be completely well by morning!"
Ted was telepathic, operating in perpetual trance. He could tune in on your most intimate secrets. He could pull any switch he wanted, completely against your will. I saw many a trembling zombie impaled in that yellow bug.
It was only because of Mole that I escaped Ted's initiation.
Mole was an old guy second in charge after Ted. He taught me to blink my eyes whenever Ted got a fix on me. "Blinking throws him off," explained Mole. "Just blink and you'll save yourself a bad case of hemorrhoids in later life."
Boy, did I blink. As soon as Ted got a fix on me with those bottomless eyes I blinked like crazy. He'd shake his head and shudder, rocking the whole bug on its squeaking shocks. Then he'd sigh and mumble like a sleep talker, and drift into a wilder region of his trance, thereby allowing me to escape. Nobody else knew this trick besides Mom and me. I don't know why Mole didn't tell anybody else. I guess he had his reasons.
It was Mole that took over command after Ted died. One night puttering home in a downpour after a consul meeting the road shoulder collapsed under his wheel, dumping the bug sideways into the flowing ditch. He drowned before attendants could get a tractor with a hydraulic winch to lift him out.
We buried him on the hill, still inside the bug under a mountain of flowers, each of us sampling a bit of his hammy thigh roasted over a sacrificial fire. The rite had about it a sweet vengeance for all those who had endured his blessings.
Mom told me her life story several times, but it wasn't until recently I read between the lines.
Mary Anne Harper was a Libra with an Aquarius moon and Capricorn rising: Feeling embedded in mentality; innate conflict between fairy tale desire for wealth and dogged craving for higher things. Idealistic to the max. She could get people to do anything for her. But when it came time for to her give something in return she freaked out and ran: from school, from jobs, from friends, boyfriends, herself.
She had gotten a strong dose of mysticism from her Irish-Catholic father, a fisherman who wrote obscure books about theology and got them all rejected. He did have a personalized rejection slip from the Pope tacked in his study: "Very interesting, Mr. Harper. But not quite the views of the Vatican. We don't think it likely Jesus was ever in Cincinnati, especially during the 14th century. But we thank you for thinking of us and hope you will send us more of your work."
Her mother was interested in Celtic poetry and took long walks on the beach. She didn't give a damn about religion, but respected her husband's efforts to notify the Pope of God's movements.
The Harpers had migrated from New York when Mary was only three, following their settler stock ancestors in the covered wagons across a vast hostile frontier to "this whipped dog of a century," as her father was fond of putting it. There Mr. Harper had fallen naturally into the fishing business and was soon well enough off to devote full time to his writing.
Mary was the only child. Bright eyes, delicate nose, golden hair, delicious lips, great beauty in a small town with kooky but generous parents. A temptress at five. One of those children that melt adults. Dazzling like summer snow. A flower between drifts. Everybody wanted her in their lap. Nobody did anything except in their thoughts. She was privileged that way, perhaps just lucky, always deferred to because of her disarming looks. A certain saucy precociousness, more in the eyes than anything else. Very clear, sincere, dreamier than blue silk. A look of genuine purity that made the adults bleed.
She got parts in life without blinking. Automatically chief soprano in the Reedsport Choir. Girl Scout with the biggest box of candy. Cheer leader with the hottest pompon. Class President. Prom Queen. Homecoming Queen. Girl most likely to succeed. Wholesome, infinitely desirable, discreetly fuckable in select back seats. Only Howard White, star quarterback, and Pete Hosefield, exterminator's son, enough money in his family to eliminate all the insects in Reedsport for several days.
After high school she had the usual string of lovers, all exceptional. She wasn't into fluff. She soon learned about older men. She traveled to Europe with a wealthy dog food manufacturer. He was about forty, handsome, efficient as a rag. The child she had been followed him everywhere like a puppy. That didn't go over well in Europe. She lacked sophistication. She was after all a small town girl. The dog food guy had money, not class. He got drunk a lot, forgot her at inappropriate moments. Other men moved in, foreign ones, sneered at her American cuteness, her naive elocution, laughed at her open attempts to be herself. She didn't understand what they were talking about in the cafes. All those snarling Frenchmen. And the Italians with public erections. They cared no more for her special-ness than cave men.
She found out about competition. The foreign women hated her, their vicious eyes like bullet holes.
Nobody treated her like a pet. She got her ego slapped good. It stung like fire. She had never wanted to dominate others, at least obviously. She had demurred, good Christian she was, disbelieving of her own shadow. But now she got her beauty slapped. She got slapped by the beast.
She hated her reflection in a Barcelona hotel room, the eloquent Spaniard, the one that had picked her up after she had finally left the dog food manufacturer, now completely indifferent, snoring with his seed inside her.
She wanted to devastate the world. It was incredibly ugly! Beyond belief! Where should she start?
Then she looked at the sea and repented. After all, she was only twenty. What did she know? Her idealism saved her. It slid in on a breeze whispering strange things. She had better make some changes. There were important things to do. She retreated, carrying her libido like a dead fetus in a sack.
Back home grown up beauty was also ugly. All the clever trappings, devoid of mystique, now merely flesh for grabs. Aged, demonic, Seeing Eye maggots, all after her bod.
She retreated from beauty. She understood it was that which made her special, nothing in her inner self. A brief glimpse of her own insignificance froze the child who had melted adults. She began to run like a mouse, then an elephant. It felt like she weighed a thousand tons. She knocked people over. They were sympathetic. Ah!
Her subconscious came to her rescue like a big game hunter. If people insisted on taking her for granted, then she must ignore their gullibility. It was a sickness they had. She had to cure them of it. She would show them the way.
She got into sandals, jazz, frumpy clothes and a blase attitude. It worked. Men were all over her like driftwood. She threw them off. Sand fleas! Kissed a few women. It was like kissing herself. Sigh.
She was going to the University of California at Berkeley at the time. She was really learning about the world, not just stumbling around in it. Europe was a big shallow grave. She had only to skirt its perimeter. The foundations of humanity lay in Africa and India. She found that out in two paragraphs. Her religious upbringing came in handy. She read some Chinese and Hindu stuff to get away from her father. She read contemporary poetry to free herself of her mother's light verse and started writing her own stuff. She was really full. The egg of her Catholic upbringing cracked like petrified Latin. She was free to slough Western conventions. Unique for her magical tolerance of others, manipulating those in her orbit with subconscious grace. Beauty again!
But her stuff was rejected by the college literary magazine. Her professors laughed. They told her she had to learn to put two sentences together. Then take them apart—if she wanted to change the world. They gave her French and German authors to read. Europe again! More slaps from Frenchmen. She preferred the Beatniks. Her professors laughed. She contemplated suicide. Nietzsche and Dostoevski helped, but not the Frogs. She just couldn't grasp the Frogs.
She looked at herself in the mirror and saw someone else, a shadow behind the shower curtain. She flung it open and looked night in the face, framed in the window above a cake of pink soap. The black square was the most horrible thing she had ever seen.
Panic seized her. She got in a car and drove for hours. She had no idea where she was going. The lights of the coast came and went in curves. Galaxies parked on the horizon like bulldozers. She chanced to stop in a bar somewhere along the California coast. It might have been Santa Cruz or Carmel, she wasn't sure. There were a bunch of those Beatniks there. Incense, colored lights, a strange pungent smell like burning flowers, jazz, people dancing out of sync with one another, totally alone, somehow together.
A very attractive man who looked like an Indian gave her some flowers to smoke. They danced in the red light, her blood pumping in strange arteries. The flower accelerated her thoughts. They seemed to speak with external voices. She danced self-consciously in the stranger's arms, certain he could read her mind. She couldn't breathe. She excused herself and rushed to the head, unsteady on her feet.
Panting in the mirror she observed her face come apart and reassemble itself several times. It both terrified and amused her. Ghosts of dead relatives seemed to whisper in the stalls. They flushed and gurgled ancient secrets, all bequeathing her their power. She died and was reborn, her likeness taking on fresh radiance in the mirror.
She rushed back into the stranger's arms, giggling like a child. Now she was so light on her feet. She told him everything. He laughed sympathetically, kissed her lightly here and there. They smoked more flowers, drove to a beach. They smoked all night. She had never seen the stars so close, all seven billion of them, nor felt so much union with a man. He took his time with her, was in no hurry. Touched her finally like the moon.
At dawn, sun coming over the dashboard, they conceived my brother, Bart. She knew the moment as if a god had entered, his soft wings around her, all heaven waiting to get in.
They were married at noon: John and Mary Anne Harper-Del Rio.
I don't know why she kept us on the commune so long. I guess because she was afraid of the world. The men kept her busy. They came like cattle to a watering hole. Mostly young and attractive, drinking of her splendor, catching sight of their own reflections, dashing away, spooked. A case of mistaken identity.
Her biggest weakness was her attraction to such men as my father. She would have been better off staying with the dog food manufacturer.
It was her romantic idealism that got the best of her. The spiritual gab on which she sustained her belief system had absolutely nothing to do with what she really desired. It ate her inside out, replacing crop for scarecrows.
She could have been sitting on top of a pyramid of dog food reading her poems to God, but she selected a migrant farm worker: the only fact of his background actually verified upon a chance meeting in Safeway.
An old Mexican guy had seen them together a couple times and asked how her husband was. He had worked with the Del Rio family in the vegetable fields of Salinas Valley. He spilled only a few beans, but to her it was a full bag.
All the lies, obscured until that moment in comfy fog, suddenly became clear in the mirror of her own guilt. She had chosen "him." There was a cross to bear!
But she simply couldn't believe in anything long enough to transform her burden into gold. The mirror always turned back to sand and water. Her cross didn't leave any drag marks or blood stains. Other people's were always much heavier than her own.
I don't know what sign Dad was, but he was a split nature like Mom. Probably a Virgo too close to Leo, a real fire eater. He was undeveloped emotionally, all instinct, incapable of love. My brother told me most of what I know about him. Mom was always reticent on the subject, probably because she knew so little herself.
Dad had worked for a dude ranch when my brother was small. I guess animals understood him better than people. But he had trouble keeping them alive.
One day he bought Bart a horse. It cost him his last dime. Bart was of course too young for a horse, but the gift was real. One of those weird, high-bred animals. Over-sensitive, restless in every situation. It hadn't been broken properly and was humiliated by little Bart riding it around in circles while Dad held the halter. The colt soon died from peevish exhaustion and Bart never forgave Dad.
He described the scene to me over and over: The dead animal in the barn, its tongue hanging out, pathetic pale eyes coated with flies. The image was branded into his soul like an equestrian tattoo.
And I believe Bart was a Sagittarius. He had the swagger and high-shooting personality of a centaur. But he was conservative by nature. Not at all the philosophical type. Even as a kid he didn't like the commune. He had somehow gotten a redneck attitude towards life, despite the heavy peace and love line. He went around in a cowboy outfit shooting wooden guns at people. He was really a little bastard. I think he had gone through the initiation of Uncle Ted. He wouldn't admit to it, but I think Ted had his way with him. He really hated Ted. I guess it was Mom that kept him from going off the deep end. He really loved her. He had her golden hair. Her blue eyes. He was the spitting image of her, as I was of Dad. Our genes were divided right down the center.
Bart was extremely jealous of Mom's suitors. And envious of me because she apparently loved me more than him. I had been sick for about a year with the usual batch of childhood diseases. He was envious of all the nursing I got. I would often get to sleep with Mom, but he was never allowed in bed with her after a certain age. He was too randy.
He generally sided with me against the other kids on the commune, probably just because he enjoyed playing the tough guy. He was always getting in trouble with Ted for fighting.
But one day he decided to take advantage of me at the swimming hole. We were playing horse and rider. He was on my shoulders in the water when I felt his boyhood hard against my neck. This didn't alarm me. Why should it? As I've said sex was no mystery on the commune. But nothing of that nature had as yet been pointed in my direction.
Now my brother was rubbing himself a bit too zealously against my nape. I playfully threw him off, but he dragged me from the water and forced me to my knees. Holding me by the hair he slapped the wet head of his cock in my face. I tried to pull away. He backhanded me. "Suck it, Wily!"
Tears in my eyes, I did as he said. I'd seen him serviced by a girl or two. But why me? I was his brother. He was supposed to protect me from this kind of thing.
The spongy head tasted like some bland aquatic vegetable. It smelled peppery and leaked sweetly. It wasn't bad actually. I sort of got into it. I felt he needed it for some reason. I even felt sorry for him about the horse and having to watch Mom screw all those hippies. You have to produce a lot of spit and use your tongue as a slide to get the rhythm going. He coached me on, jerking my head faster and faster. Pretty soon it started to choke me. He was shoving too vigorously. I wanted to get it over with but not in my mouth. I was holding onto his buttocks. When I felt them tighten and begin to shiver, I pulled away and the hot gobs went flying over my shoulder.
He finished himself on the rocks. "Thanks, punk." I remember his tight arrogant buttocks and crewcut towhead floating away into the trees.
The next time it happened in the shack. I awoke from a dream with him crouched over my shoulders. This time it was really a nightmare. I tried to push him away, but he meant business. I sucked in the darkness. He was really beside himself with lust. I tried to make him come quickly, but he was having some kind of trouble with his fantasy. Couldn't get the picture right or something. He moaned a few names. They all began with M. I realized he was trying to disguise the fact that his lust was for Mom. She'd just that evening been giggling and panting with somebody on the porch. I couldn't get away this time, he had me pinned like an insect. The starchy slime gushed down my throat. There didn't seem to be any end to it. Finally he rolled off me and was immediately asleep. Perhaps he was never awake. I wanted to think of it that way. I vomited sperm and bit my pillow, pretending it was his cock. I didn't want to hate him, he was my brother, about the only friend I had outside Mom.
He forced me several times, broke in my rear end once or twice. Luckily he didn't seem to like that as much. I sort of got used to it. It didn't make me mad anymore, provided he didn't come in my mouth. We had a sort of little agreement that way. But one day on my knees under a pine tree I lost control. It had dawned on me that there were plenty of others around for him to satisfy his needs. He was doing this to me for other reasons. He'd warned me about my teeth, to keep my mouth wide open like somebody in a dentist chair, incisors covered with my lips, gumming the head as he liked it, using my hand to trigger the shaft. But without anger or malice aforethought, I was sort of beyond it by this time, I bit his pearl knob just as he was beginning to shudder.
He howled and cuffed me against the pine. The wedding of blood and sperm must have been excruciating. I thought he would kill me, but he was in too much pain. Clutching his groin he hopped away into the brush, snarling and lashing the bushes.
I didn't see Bart again for three days. Mom asked about him and I said I didn't know. I crept around the commune, keeping to the woods myself. I was certain he would beat me to death, perhaps wreak vengeance on my own precious little member, yet to quiver into its own exploits.
I was seated behind a boulder at the swimming hole lost in a dream, the waterfall drowning out all sound, when suddenly his shadow fell across me. I sprang to my feet and tried to climb the cliff wall. I felt his hand on my shoulder. It wasn't the hand of an assassin. I turned and looked him in the eyes. He was calm, smiling sheepishly, a grown-up look about him I hadn't noticed before. Without saying anything he dropped his jeans and showed me the bruised red line of inflamed scabs ringing his glans. He said the pain had almost killed him. He'd spent the first night covered with river mud, his fiery cock swollen to the size of his wrist. He nursed it with moist loam. He didn't dare drink water because it would be like pissing lava. The swelling went down the second day, the third the pain subsided. I expected he would now rape me with his pocketknife, but unbelievably he hugged me like the brother he was and said: "Wily, I'm proud of you. You've made a man of me. What I was doing to you was no good. I'll never do it again."
He kept his word and that was the last time we spoke of the incident.
About a year after his rites of passage Bart disappeared. He just got up one morning and vanished down the road like he wasn't going anywhere but the store. He'd had a long talk with Mom the previous night. She never told me what it was about, nor where he had gone save that he had some problems to work out. She seemed relieved as if a big burden had been removed. It was no secret Bart hated the commune. He even said he wanted to kill Ted, although Ted was probably the best friend we had. The others would have gotten rid of us a lot earlier.
Bart wanted Mom's love more innocently than you might imagine. I don't think he would have laid a finger on her if actually given the opportunity. But the painful sightings of her impaled by one or another commune member must have shocked him to the core. He only wanted her in fantasy, as a kind of erotic compensation for the things he witnessed. In reality he wanted a conventional Mom like they have in the outside world. A television Mom.
Television was of course taboo on the commune. In fact Ted held a television shoot in the Halloween meadow once a year. But Bart had been sneaking over to some non-commune affiliated neighbor and watching stuff there. I went with him as much as I could. The kid he was watching with was definitely redneck. There was stuff about the Vietnam war on and both of them wanted to go kill gooks. I thought killing was only something you watch on TV. It hadn't dawned on me people really did this in the real world. I'd heard it was bad out there, but I didn't have any real experience to go on. The images of evil insects the TV made of these distant people was like science fiction. I wasn't into killing gooks. I loved the few glances of the Beverly Hillbillies and the Real McCoy's I got between news broadcasts. And the cartoons. These I could identity with. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were really my heros.
The war was Bart's undoing. He was only fifteen when he left, but he looked older. He probably faked his age and got over there and was killed. The army was desperate for anybody willing to get killed. I've always meant to go see if Bart Del Rio is on that big stone they have in Washington, but he would have most likely faked his name as well.
I think more than anything he could sense what was about to happen between Mom and me. After all he was a little psychic like the rest of the family, able to see things without knowing how.
Mom's problems had reached the boiling point that last year we were all together. Several guys were in love with her. Most of the women hated her. And I was playing mean tricks on everybody. So when Ted died and the members started wrangling for control, she got the courage up to make a move.
She had gotten an inheritance from her mother, a secret she kept closely guarded from the others. I don't think she even told Bart, just me. She felt guilty leaving this great experiment, but wanted to get her own act together and cool out from men.
And when we were settled into our new place, very soon and before my natural time, I became my mother's lover.
We had a big redwood hot tub in the backyard. It was a pain in the ass. Costly to heat up and stinking from bacterial scum if you didn't scrub it out at least once a week. But it was wonderful to soak in those steaming waters on a cold winter afternoon.
There had been no phobia about nudity on the commune, but Mom had always been comparatively modest. She had to be, men were so crazy for her. She'd shield her lovemaking as much as possible, usually going around in flowing drapery like a Greek goddess.
She depended on me more than ever during those post-commune days. She was really lonely and insecure. She doted on me hand and foot, cooking special things I liked and reading to me for hours from my favorite books. I was always invited to nuzzle with her in the cold nights. I didn't even have my own bed. She said we couldn't afford two beds. It was natural enough. I had as yet no sexual feelings. I was only ten and my body was still neutral territory, despite my brother's cruel machinations.
I didn't go to school. I had been taught on the commune by various teachers, mostly astrology and nature stuff. I got plenty of reading and writing, but I didn't pick it up very well until I was in my teens. Mom was my tutor at home. She read poetry and religious philosophy to me in bed. I'd doze in and out, my head pillowed on her lush stomach, her voice a rich effervescence behind the air. Even fast asleep I would hear her voice animating my dreams. I think it's where I got a subconscious love for words.
We often soaked together in the afternoon when the electricity bill wasn't too high. She was usually loaded on grass. I naked and she in black bikini bottoms. One day she rose from the steam to cool off and the bottoms were missing. Her thighs pressed on the edge of the tub, blond vulva gaping like a pink albino eye. When I stood up to cool off my little member was reaching for the sky. She laughed and commented that I was becoming a man, stroking me playfully between the legs. The caress extended all the way back to the Garden of Eden. I swooned against her. Before I knew it I was inside her, an entry facilitated by the waters, my thickening blood root arching hungrily into paradise. She was slowly rocking me, kissing my face, crying a little, a starry teardrop rushing from my buried tip into her body which was now impossible to distinguish from my own.
I came out of the swoon in her arms. She was cradling me like a baby repeating a musical phrase, perhaps a prayer which for some reason eludes me.
We didn't discuss the occurrence. It wasn't the same as in that French movie where the Mom says afterward this ain't ever going to happen again, son.
I found myself between her legs a few nights later. I was half asleep and hardly knew what I was doing. It was a game, very pleasurable, but with an air of something infinitely sacred, elusive about it, more emotional than physical, particularly in darkness, like one of those complicated dreams meaningful while asleep, incomprehensible awake. We weren't as yet doing the violent, pumping adult thing. That came a bit later. At the time I was only managing a mostly dry ejaculation, but intense as the Real McCoy.
We played the game at odd intervals, in the tub and in bed. She was slowly instructing me in the sensual arts. We didn't really French kiss or have oral sex or anything like that. Just sort of toyed around. It was awhile before I began to see her like a man.
But when my body started changing and the sap came I had a burning passion for her. I would initiate the game more frequently and found myself being instructed in various techniques and positions. The dream was suddenly clear. We did Tantric stuff I'd seen her doing with Watershed. I grew fast and soon she was triumphing beneath me.
Still, it was as if she were just teaching me to do something like fold shirts or make the bed. The relationship of mother and child flowed naturally into the lover's cup. A logical extension of what humans did together for pleasure.
Down deep I was a little concerned for Mom's sanity, but who was I to pass up on a thing like this? I had no real understanding of how special our relationship was. I was still to get a taste of the real world.
I was unable to make a single friend. The kids down there in that little logging town between a river and a bay stayed away from me like something dead. I was a hippie and in the 70s that still wasn't cool in Coos Bay.
There was nothing cool about Coos Bay except the weather.
Lots of fog and rain in winter and baking heat in summer. The people that lived there were mostly crude mill workers. Slaughtering trees and animals was natural and healthful as wiping your ass and what I represented to them was a new kind of disease. I was soft as mud with eyes of deer shit. They wanted to stamp their heels in my face. I had to watch it.
Luckily they were soon more afraid of me than I was of them, just like on the commune. The old scapegoat thing had really sunk in. There was no way out of it for me by this time. They really found out I was bad news.
I tried to get to know the town like any kid would. It was a big exciting place compared to where I had been the first decade of my life. But since Mom didn't want me poisoned by school, I had no point of contact to establish relationships.
What I liked the most was the local pool hall with slot machines. I liked the Lucky Lady machine. I stabbed away at those silver balls and jumping gizmos amid flashing lights loaded on acid. I had been taking acid since I was seven or eight and was just learning to enjoy it.
A dead silence would fall over the place when I'd come in. I'd nod and say "Hi" indiscriminately and shuffle around the margins till I had made my way to Lucky Lady. There she was leering wickedly at me from the facade, all decked out in decadent yellow and black: "Go ahead and take a poke at reality, big boy." I'd put my quarter in and get started. That's all I really wanted of the world of Coos Bay. Lucky Lady.
But the redneck kids wouldn't let me have her very long, their eyes on me like knife points. "Sissy, queer, freak, hippie and girl" was all I heard. I'd leave before the nasty energy broke like a sewer.
I gave up any attempt to make friends. I had never been any good at friends. It was a neutral thing for me. I wasn't really lonely, just melancholy. I missed the commune. Not the people, but the place itself. It was all I knew.
I'd sit in the woods and cry for no reason. Everything I was seemed to go out of me and other things came in. I think the trees came into me, but that may just have been the acid. I learned a reverence for nature early on. And for animals, simply because I let them be. When others won't let you be you learn to let yourself be. Trees and animals naturally fill the void.
I gave up on Lucky Lady, but I still had to go into town on shopping trips for Mom. She didn't like to go out much, she was usually too stoned. I had a bicycle with a basket and would go down every few days for necessities. The big superette on the main drag was the cheapest place to shop, but also the most problematic. The clerks and bag boys would gawk at my ass-length hair, my bare feet and chest, the love beads around my neck. God and Satan had been respectively tattooed over my nipples, a little joke of Watershed who had been Mom's main suitor. I took to wearing shoes and shirt no matter how hot it was of a summer day, but Mom wouldn't let me cut my hair. She said hair was divine energy, a gift from Ra. It would be sacrilegious for me to cut it. I tried tying it up under a baseball cap I found in the ditch, but it didn't fool them. The clerks and baggers would sneer and wrinkle their noses because I was usually drenched in patchouli oil.
Outside the superette there would usually be a gang of boys. They were free with insults, throwing stuff at me and trying to trip me as I walked by. One day a big bastard shoved me down causing me to break a few jars. I had to go back in and buy new ones. When I came out my bike was gone. I couldn't find it. I set the groceries down and confronted the gang clustered on the concrete flower bed before the store. But I was leaking silent tears and couldn't look them in the eye. I looked to one side and said "Please give me my bike back."
"What are you, a girl or a boy?"
I opened my fly and showed them.
"Jesus Christ, fucking queer!"
They jumped up and came at me. I ran up the street. One of them tore my shirt off my back. I felt sure they'd cut my dick off. I got an ingenious idea.
I stopped in my tracks, did a little pirouette and collapsed in the street. Lying on my back I jerked crazily like I was being electrocuted. I made an eerie squealing noise. I rolled my eyes, chattered my teeth, drooled copiously. I'd forgotten what the disease was called, but remembered seeing a performance of it on the redneck kid's TV.
"Jesus Christ, he's an epileptic!"
"Call an ambulance!"
I kept it up for a minute or so until an adult came over and shoved a dirty stick in my mouth. Several of the boys were holding my limbs down. It was kind of tender. I'd bitten my tongue by accident and red froth was bubbling out. The act was so convincing I almost believed it myself.
An ambulance came along. Two guys in white examined me and then loaded me onto a stretcher. I acted dazed, secretly enjoying the whole thing. I'd never ridden in an ambulance. It was really exciting.
They drove me to the hospital and gave me some kind of sedative. I blacked out. When I woke Mom was there, her golden hair tied back with a coyote's ankle bone and mice vertebrae dangling from her ear.
Her green eyes were wet with tears. "Wily, Wily, Wily!"
"It's alright, Mom. I faked it."
She glanced around to make sure nobody was listening. I told her the whole story. She laughed herself silly, then lay down beside me and hugged me for a long time.
They let me go after giving me an examination and some medicine we threw away. That evening Mom and I agreed my epilepsy would be our little secret. If I wanted to be an epileptic, then it was okay with her. Somebody had to get the groceries.
The gimmick worked just fine in town, but we lived about five miles out of town on a hill. At the base of the hill was a logging mill and across from the mill was a clutch of houses set back in the trees where the mill workers lived with their families. The kids there were even worse than the ones in town. It's doubtful they had heard about my epilepsy. They had their own school and lived a separate existence. In any case, they weren't buying it. I had to go by the mill to get to town and these mill kids would often be hanging around by the road. They'd stone me as I rode by and chase after me on their own bikes, trying to knock me down. One day they succeeded. Before I could get to my feet they were on me. They punched me several times until I agreed to lay still. Then they cut my hair off with their pocket knives.
Bleeding and ragged I pushed my bike home, a bad dent in the fender. Mom was outraged. She cried for hours. When evening came and she was sufficiently loaded, we got in the VW bus and drove down to the mill. I didn't know what to expect. I wanted to let the whole thing ride. I was secretly glad to be rid of the hair, it was causing me so much trouble, but she insisted on having a word with these people. She really didn't understand what she was getting into.
We got out of the van in a cloud of dust and barking dogs. The kids were on the porches watching sourly. The women came out and looked us over. I don't know where the men were. Probably at the mill or off getting drunk somewhere. I could tell it was going to be nasty. These people had the lowest form of backwoods religion. Their god was one mean asshole. He didn't like anybody that wasn't white, but any-colored hippie in those days was worse than an Indian. We were drug fiends and sexual perverts. Mom was however an attractive fiend and pervert and these women looked worse than most men. Dumpy, crag-faced, slouched, emaciated and flabby all at once. They didn't like their bodies and for good reason. They had to swallow the fact that she was beautiful and they weren't. They were a bunch of narrow-minded, bigoted white trash and their only virtue was they knew how to put up with poverty.
It took Mom awhile to get used to the scene and get her tongue loose. She started off with one hand on my shoulder, tousling my mangled hair with the other.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but look what your sons have done to my son's hair. They've been throwing rocks at him and tearing his clothes ever since we moved here. There's no reason for it. He hasn't hurt anybody and I want it stopped."
The dusty twilight was disturbed only by crows and the snoring mill. I could feel Mom shaking. I put my arm around her butt and held on tight. She moved it up to her waist with her free hand. I didn't understand that boys didn't touch their mother's butts in public. Nobody had ever explained that to me. It wasn't the commune way. I guessed white trash touched their mother's butts only in private. Some of them had clearly noticed this along with the things in Mom's hair, her unshaved bare legs, the paisley dress roped with an Indian belt, the amulets at her neck, the god's eye tattooed on her forearm.
Finally a tall gaunt woman with the eyes of a dog came down the shack steps. "Then what the hell you let your kid run around looking like a girl for? I'd cut his hair too!"
The others crowed in agreement. Somebody farted. The boys laughed. The ice had broken.
Another voice piped from the porch. "You tell her, Emma. We don't want their kind around here. Go back to California or wherever the hell it is you come from. We're decent people. Not goddamn hippies!"
"She don't even dress right."
"She's a whore," added one of the boys.
"I reckon whatever she is God didn't make her. Devil did."
Now the situation was clear. Mom had been avoiding town without knowing why. We'd been on the commune too long. What the papers and TV said about hippies had been a distant noise. She didn't even think of herself as a hippie. In fact Ted had stated plainly that we weren't hippies. We were pioneers of a New Age. Hippies were a thing of the past. But these mill people didn't know it.
I thought she was going to try and reason with them, but anger got the best of her. "It's you people who were made by the devil. You murder trees and animals and each other. You have as much love in your hearts as stones. You . . ."
"Get the hell out of my yard!" crowed the leader. "You filthy little slut, before I cut your own hair!"
There was a chorus of approval. Mom and I backed towards the VW. Kids and dogs eddied around us. We jumped in and locked the doors. The kids ran after us pelting the van with stones.
Mom didn't speak much for a few days. Her pride was badly wounded. She mostly smoked, drifted around the house and sat in the hot tub.
At least we were up on the hill with no one around. We had some money. Our house was legal. We were safe enough. She talked for a long time to a Eugene friend on the phone. That comforted her. She didn't mind being alone so much. She figured she'd make friends eventually with sympathetic people. For now she told me to stay clear of the mill. She said these mill people were just ignorant. Soon attitudes like theirs would be a thing of the past. There was a New Age coming. She read her books and drove me into town for supplies where I had epilepsy.
Mom was forgiving. But I had nothing better to do than help these kids see the light.
I devised a plan. A few weeks after the haircutting incident I put it into action.
We had several kinds of acid around the house. We'd stocked up for the frontier. Mom fancied writing a book about the New Age and needed plenty of fuel. She agreed to get me a small Honda motorbike, as she couldn't fathom continuing to go into town herself, and I had to have something fast to get by the mill boys. I wasn't old enough to drive a bike legally, but it wasn't likely the cops would notice me. My hair was short now. Mom trimmed it up nice and even and I blended in with the rednecks pretty well as long as I didn't open my mouth. I'd drive past the mill at about fifty. I don't think they even knew I had a motorbike until it was too late.
I decided on Orange Sunshine. I left thirty hits soaking in water overnight. I got up early and drove into Coos Bay, just in time for the store to open. I bought a six-pack of Orange Crush along with some other things. On the way back I took an old logging road on the opposite side of the river from the main road. I stopped across from where there was a deep hole in the river with a little sand bar beneath an overgrown bank. The mill kids gathered there everyday to swim. I'd been down once or twice in the early morning before they arrived.
I carried the bag down the bank and upstream to a shallow place where I could skip across to the sand bar. I carefully opened the bottles with my pocket knife and drank a little out of each one. Then I funneled my acid solution into all six. I recapped them nice and tight, leaving one open with a few sips out of it on the sand. The others I put back in the bag to make it look good.
I had a delicious swim. It was a hot day and I knew the mill kids would be storming down anytime.
When I heard their voices approaching along the road, I tugged on my clothes and got ready to run. A few heads showed above the bushes. They froze like deer, howled like dogs. "The hippie kid's down here! Let's get him!"
I ran towards the shallows as if taken by surprise. I had plenty of lead. They chased me across the river, but by the time they crested the bank I had my bike in motion. They threw a few impotent stones and retreated. There was little doubt in my mind what they would do with the Orange Crush.
I went home and lay in the hammock reading one of Mom's novels. I didn't see why she liked them. Her life was nothing like what was in the books. They were about a world neither of us knew much about. The characters all had rich, happy lives with good endings.
Mom came out of the house naked and lay sunning herself on the wooden deck beside the hot tub. I looked at her and at the woman being embraced on the jacket cover. I thought Mom was prettier. But she was nothing like the woman in the book, who was strong-willed and successful and always got her way. I pictured Mom going into town and carving out a respectable niche for us. That seemed impossible. She was hopelessly interior, afraid, unable to carve out anything by herself. It had to be done for her. And the men she picked to do the carving weren't the tough guys that always got their way either.
She was glowing with oil in the sun. I got up and stood over her with an erection. She opened her eyes and laughed. "Wily, you're really becoming too much of a man!"
I knelt beside her. This didn't happen in the novels either. I was beginning to understand I had a unique situation. I then insisted on something new, holding her in place at the critical moment. It was incredibly good, but afterwards I felt terrible seeing the hurt look in her eyes. I had always been delicate about these things and it surprised her.
I waited a couple hours and drove downhill. I coasted my bike into the bushes and crept downstream along the road. No sound of shouts and laughter.
There were usually five boys about my own age in the gang. Two nearly identical towheads. A sandy-haired fat kid. A redhead and a blackhead. The fat kid was the leader.
I peered cautiously over the bank. There were only two of them down there. One was lying on his side fooling with something in the sand. The other was sitting cross-legged staring at the river. Both naked. Perhaps they hadn't drunk the Orange Crush.
There was a movement behind me. It was one of the towheads. He was struggling to say something, but no words were coming out. He screwed up his face and worked his lips pointing a finger at me.
"You . . ." is all he managed. He ended up just staring at his finger.
I took the towhead by the arm and led him down the bank. It was like leading a cow. He was naked and I didn't want to leave him standing on the road.
The redhead was staring at the river, an incredibly pained expression on his face. When he saw me he tried to get up, failed. Held his hands up in futility and returned his gaze to the river. The fat kid was sifting through the sand with one hand. He didn't even look up. He was picking ants from a hole and putting them in one of the empty Orange Crush bottles. He was having trouble keeping the ants in the bottle. "No, stay in there. Please go back. It's important . . ."
The other bottles were scattered on the sand, all empty. I'd got the mixture just about right. These three were rendered absolutely harmless, though I was a little worried about the missing kids. I was afraid they might be floating facedown in the river somewhere.
The towhead was handling it the best. I kind of liked him. He seemed more sensitive than the others. He was going along with the acid rather than fighting it.
Suddenly the fat kid made a choking noise. He got clumsily to his feet and took a few determined steps in my direction. For a moment his eyes glared with hatred, then faded out. He looked at me helplessly, clenching his fists. The effort seemed to exhaust him.
He looked down at his belly.
"I think you're pregnant," I repeated. "I think you're going to give birth to pigs or puppies or something."
He clutched his belly, made a mournful gurgling sound and turned back to the ant heap. The bottle had fallen over and the ants were escaping. He got to his knees muttering "No no no! Get back in there!"
The towhead was talking baby talk. "Gah boo gee glah bluk blook blook . . ."
"Blook blook," I replied.
He talked with his fingers, wriggling them in my face. I talked back with my pinky. "Blook, blook."
He laughed. He was really digging it.
I sat down by the river and patted the sand. The towhead sat down beside me. "The water's so great," he said, smiling. "It's so great."
"Yeah." I said. "What's your name?"
"Toby Snell. What's yours?"
"Wily Del Rio. Del Rio means river in Spanish."
His eyes dazzled. "Yeah! Really? Really!"
"Yeah. I'm the river. But I also get to be the pine trees and the birds and these water skippers and everything you see. I'm you too, understand? Fuck with me and you fuck yourself."
"Yeah, really?" repeated Toby, mouth open in a giant smile. I stood up. I had a point to make. "You other guys hear that? I'm the river. Don't fuck with me."
I really waxed poetic. I'd gotten that line of thought from Mom's books and other stuff I'd learned on the commune. It had never meant that much to be, but now it seemed handy. I figured these kids would be impressed, but only the towhead seemed to listen.
I left feeling both magnanimous and powerfully evil. I wasn't going to take shit any more. These guys would probably never know what had happened to them, but you don't take acid and forget. They'd be changed for sure.
On the way back up to the road I saw the other two crouched in the blackberry bushes. They were holding onto one another, completely motionless like statues, eyes blank with horror. Must have been getting a good dose of their religion. How should I know.
I figured they'd regroup and wander home around sundown, by that time merely dazed. Their parents would think they were just tired. I wasn't worried. Acid was just a word to them, something for fiends and perverts. Their god knew nothing about it.
The next day I gave them plenty of warning riding my bike right to the hole. Only the towhead was present. The others must have been too weirded out by the place. Their spirits trapped down there in the hollow logs with the water skippers.
The towhead was happy to see me. "Wily!"
"How you doing?"
"Come on. Let's take a walk."
We went upriver, wading through reeds and crossing sandbars. Coots and mud hens foraged in the shallows. A whooping crane took off squawking, wings ten feet wide.
Toby told me about his experience. He thought of it like some kind of Twilight Zone situation, but couldn't articulate it very well.
"I'd just gone for a swim and was sitting on the bank when all of a sudden I felt really good. There was a kind of bright flash in the bushes . . . I don't know how to say it . . . the bushes and trees were almost like windows with something else behind. The water was all different colors and there were all these faces going by. I kept hearing voices but nobody was talking. It was kind of scary. But then you showed up and everything was okay . . ."
It seemed the others couldn't get out of bed. The doctor was puzzled. Thought it might have been something in the water or just too much sun.
We took off our shorts and swam in a deep place flashing with rainbow trout. Dragon flies skimmed the surface and birds squabbled in the bushes. We dried off on the bank. I could tell Toby was going to be my friend. It made me feel really happy, what he said about me making everything all right. I looked at his tight muscles and curly blond hair. He had a light blond fuzz in the crotch, just starting. I stroked his back and thighs. He sighed and leaned against me. "You do this?" I said, taking his cock in my hand and working it up and down.
He stiffened shaking his head, then relaxed spreading his legs. His cock stood up, the end like a pink shell. I sucked him for a long time. Finally he arched his back and a thin trickle of clear young sperm oozed out. It must have been divine, the first time or something.
Luckily the junk I'd bought at random to go with the Orange Crush was still down at the hole. Now the jar of vaseline had a use. I rubbed some on my stiff cock. He watched in amusement. I got him to turn over and rubbed some on his rear. He started laughing. "Oh, no! You're not going to do that, are you?"
He had no intention of resisting. He was too opened up from the acid, everything fresh and new.
It didn't seem to hurt him. I was soon into the crotch, so tight I could hardly move, his tail bone against the sensitive part of my cock. I came almost immediately sending blissful tendrils into his rectum.
We continued meeting almost everyday at the river. The other boys recovered, but left us alone. They knew only that something unexplainable had occurred and that I was in some way to be respected for it. They must have thought Toby weird to hang around with me, but in lieu of what had happened to them it didn't seem that odd.
I'd become hornier than a ground squirrel. I couldn't keep my hands off Mom and the kid. I must have had sex five or six times a day. Toby was pretty randy himself.
One day we were down at our favorite place at the river. I was standing in the shallows and he was on his knees. A girl appeared on the bank with a basket in her hand. She was so absorbed in her berry picking that she didn't notice us until a few feet away. She gave a silent gasp, dropping the basket. Toby had his back turned and didn't know she was there. I let him go on with it. She was too shocked to move. When Toby pulled away I looked her directly in the eyes at orgasm. The visual contact made me delirious. She grabbed the basket and ran.
The next day a police car came sliding into the yard. I was sitting on the front porch. Mom was in the back yard. The cop got out and looked me over.
"Your Mom home, kid?"
"I'll get her."
I kind of had an idea what this was about.
Mom came around the house wrapped in a towel. "Got to talk to you, Mrs. Del Rio. Can we go inside?"
"We can go around back."
They were there a long time. I heard some noises I didn't like but let it be. When the cop reappeared he gave me a dirty look and drove away.
Mom was sobbing. The towel was dirty and the ground around her was roughed up. I sat down and put my arm around her.
"Wily, Wily, Wily! What are we going to do? The world out there just isn't like the commune. We can't act like it is. I had to do something awful to keep that man from taking you away. If you're ever caught doing things like that with other boys again they'll put you in jail. They'll put us both in jail. It's a terrible sick world. You can't be like you naturally are. I don't know why it has to be that way. Evil people got in control somewhere along the line. They make us all live a tired, frightened existence so they can have power. They've been doing it for thousands of years. We have to be careful, honey. We have to pretend like we're like them . . . for now. But there's a New Age coming . . ."
Now she was off. I realized she had to talk about the New Age to feel better. I listened for hours. She made me promise to stay away from Toby. "Otherwise we'll have to move away."
I didn't think moving away was such a bad idea, but I'd gotten tired of Toby. I'd found out I liked girls better. Those eyes were still on me, exhilarating as dawn.
Toby tried several times to see me. I told him to stay away, that we had been found out and the heat was on. He stood in front of my house crying on the last occasion. It was really dangerous. I pushed him down and pissed on him. He jumped up, punched me in the face, and ran away howling like a wounded puppy. I saw him again only from a distance. His eyes were hurt but I think he understood. We never spoke again.
I met the Bradford girl down at one of my places by the river. She was the same girl who'd reported us. Cole Bradford. She came down the bank and stood beside me. I wasn't mad at her. It wasn't vengeance I wanted.
I looked at her meaningfully, my brows raised.
"That thing you were doing with Toby Snell is sick."
"What's sick about it?"
"Putting your thing in his mouth and all that."
"Because boys aren't supposed to do that to each other," she said passionately. She had that wide open look in her eyes that had thrilled me so much. Pretty green eyes, set a little too close together. I figured she was about fifteen from her build.
I stood up, naked. "Are girls and boys supposed to do it?"
She smiled at me, feasting her eyes.
"You ever do it?"
She shook her head, still smiling like a fool.
I knew what to do. I sat down and patted the sand beside me, just like I'd done with Toby on acid.
She walked away. I didn't look after her. In a few minutes she came back and sat down.
I stroked her hair. She touched my hand. It was like the first time anybody had touched me. Her flesh was hot and sticky. It was hard to get in and a little bloody. I'm not going to describe the whole thing in detail.
I liked her well enough from the start. My heart fluttered different from the way it did with Mom. With Toby. I couldn't stop looking her in the eyes. Her tears excited me more than semen. We were really in love.
But I felt guilty about Mom. We had to keep our relationship a secret, not only because we weren't supposed to be having sex, but because Mom might be jealous.
Cole felt guilty about ratting to the police. She kept apologizing, breaking into tears. I pretended to be mad at her, in order to see her cry some more. Those close-set melting eyes really turned me on.
But we had to be careful. We had to be real secretive, more even than Toby and me. I was already a pariah. I didn't want to go to jail.
It wasn't long before Cole started complaining of cramps and nausea and her parents figured it out. She stopped showing up at our meeting place. I kept watch on her house. There was nobody around. The place stayed empty for days. Finally her parents returned without her. I rooted through their roadside mailbox on a regular basis. One day I found a letter from her. I opened it with a razor blade. She was in some kind of boarding school in Eugene. I resealed the letter and put it back in the box. I also found a doctor's bill for an abortion. For a few weeks I had fantasies of going to Eugene and rescuing her. But I soon forgot the plan. My life was too hot. I was better off without her.
About the time Dad showed up I was getting real tired of our lonely little life on the hill. Though the community was warming up to hippies, Mom still didn't have any friends. Once in awhile somebody from the commune would show up for a visit and they might go away somewhere for a few days. But she never brought strange men home. She didn't go out anywhere to meet any. They were all from the past. Raven Watershed and that commune crowd. Just old flames, burned to ashes. One of them must have started her drinking. She'd never drank before, deploring it in my father. But now she got heavily into wine. The combination of wine and pot made her terribly sloppy and even more despondent. She'd mope around the house all day, pestering me for attention when she couldn't write. I was bored sick with her talk. A lot of undigested philosophical stuff mostly of a Hindu sort, throw in a little Carl Jung and flying saucers, Black Elk and the Great Goddess. She was trying to write a book, but never seemed to get beyond the first chapter. I'd throw her bottles away but she'd get more. Age was coming in her face. She was not yet forty, but life had defeated her. Eaten her inside out and thrown away the pit. If she'd had strength enough to believe in herself I think it would have saved her. Winners are always believers, no matter how faithful. She would have managed to slam her weight around and publish her drivel. Why not? Thousands of others with no more talent than she got printed, especially if they looked like her. She was too isolated and idealistic. She wanted everything to come to her from the fairy godmother. Initiating anything on her own constituted a breach of contract with her "gift," whatever that was. She depended on others to give her strength and there was nobody but me. She held onto me like an increasingly lifelike doll. I filled several bills at once. I plugged her void at both ends. But I didn't like sleeping with her anymore. The innocence was gone. It had become the ugly grasping adult thing, though I was barely fifteen. I wanted to get out and find some real girlfriends. Like her I was too isolated, but she still wouldn't let me go to school. I did manage to bribe her into getting me a TV set. She had to, I was getting so sick with boredom. I'd watch day and night while she drank. God, I really learned about the world. Daytime and late night networks were playing a lot of reruns from the 60s: "The Man From Uncle," "I Dream of Jeannie," "The Untouchables," "Bonanza," "Rawhide," "Wagon Train," "Combat," "The Twilight Zone," "The Rifleman," "Petticoat Junction," "The Adam's Family," "The Munsters," "The Monkeys," "The Avengers"—on and on. Prime time it was mostly cop shows. I watched until my eyes were vacant flying saucers. I couldn't stop marveling at this TV world, so different from my own, and so varied. Here you have all these cute eccentric monsters running around on one side of the street and Chuck Conners pumping lead into hundreds of bad guys on the other. I really liked the Rifleman's boy. I identified with him, even though his was the exact reverse of my world. I had only Mom, he had only Dad. I thought his Dad was real tender with him. I was sure they had sex, but the TV wouldn't admit it. They'd be arrested. Luke killed all those guys just for Mark. I was so envious. I thought all these people really existed somewhere and the television just followed them around. I wanted to get out there and meet them, maybe become one myself. Find out all about what Mark and the Rifleman did when they weren't on TV. I knew if I stayed there much longer with Mom something bad would happen. She was also taking pills and had nearly overdosed a few times in the hot tub. She was terrified I'd leave her. I'd sit on the porch looking up at the stars dazed after twelve hours of TV and feel hopeless inside, completely washed up. I just couldn't bring myself to leave her. Dad's sudden arrival clarified things. He'd managed to get our address from a commune member. They drank together a few days. He was in worse shape than she. She refused to go away with him. I think she would have, if he weren't so messed up. After all he was selling farm equipment now, hardly the New Age thing. But I heard her telling him about another of the commune members who had broken into the movie business in Los Angeles. She was invited to come and be one of the editors, provided of course she invest her own money in the deal. Maybe write a film script about our life on the commune. I didn't think there was much in it, but it was an option for her. She didn't have many others. She made some vague plan to meet Dad down there some time or other. She kept talking to me about it after Dad's departure. I encouraged her, wanting to go myself and meet the Hillbillies. Then Bob Rosefield came for a visit.
Bob Rosefield had been one of the original commune members, but he had disagreed with Uncle Ted's sexual practices and dropped out early on. I remembered him only vaguely as one of Mom's suitors. Now I really liked him. He was a big level-headed guy with a love for music. He ran a carpet cleaning business down in Redding, California.
He picked up on what was going on between Mom and me real quick. It was kind of obvious, there being only one bed in the house.
Mom had a real reverence for Bob and somehow he talked her into letting me come down to Redding with him for a few weeks. She was reluctant, but the L.A. thing had caught fire in her imagination and she had something else to think about for a change. She was making a lot of phone calls, not drinking as much and getting some writing done.
I think she maybe understood that was the end of things for us. It was probably an out for her too. Who knows how long we'd have gone on in that house without Bob Rosefield.
I was soon cleaning carpets for Bob. There were plenty of flat identical tract houses with filthy beige carpets for us to spruce up. I liked pushing the soap machine around the rooms seeing what kind of lives people had. I half expected to find the Beverly Hillbillies living in one place and the Rifleman in the other. But Redding lives were nothing like on TV.
Bob worked sometimes in a band and taught me how to play the blues. I'd learned to play a little rock music on Mom's guitar, but I'd never associated the rhythms and chord changes with the blues, the initial music of black slaves. I'd always been really down myself and understood the sadness as my own.
I started out on the bass. Bob played guitar and a buddy of his played the drums. Pretty soon I was picking up the guitar as well, switching on and off with Bob on the lead parts. He said I had talent. I was learning fast and spending all the money I made cleaning carpets on records and musical equipment. I got myself a vintage Gibson, the only thing I've managed to hold onto all these years.
One night we were drinking beer and watching TV and I asked Bob where the Bunkers really lived and did they behave like that when the TV wasn't watching them.
Bob frowned. "You're serious, aren't you?"
I looked blank.
"Wily, the world's a big place with lots of different kinds of people in it, but TV doesn't have much to do with any of them."
He got up and turned off the set. "You've never been to school, have you?"
I shook my head and stared at the label of the beer can, rather hurt by what he had said about TV.
"Why don't you check out high school? You might like it, just for social reasons. Most of what they teach you is bullshit, but you'll find out all you need to know about television there."
It wasn't much problem getting me enrolled. Bob qualified himself as my stepfather. He explained that I was a smart kid and had skipped a grade and should move quickly through. I had been living back east and didn't have any of my school records with me, but that I should be enrolled as a senior. He could get the records if they really needed them.
I started on a September morning, not knowing what to expect. I'd never set foot in a school before and here I was a senior. I wasn't even sixteen yet.
I was reading and writing well by this time, had learned quite a bit about history from Mom, a little science, a lot of poetry, but I just didn't get how the world went together. It seemed like the parts of several different puzzles mixed up in one box.
The other kids were at first curious, then hostile. They were more subtle than the kids of Coos Bay, being older and more sophisticated, but it was clear they didn't like me from the start.
The guys seemed to be divided into three basic groups. The first group was heavily into sports and cars. I didn't know anything about cars, but I'd of course seen football and baseball on TV. It never held my attention for more than a few minutes. I didn't understand what was so exciting about a bunch of guys fighting over a ball in a big stadium. I knew there were some kind of rules, but it just never interested me long enough to find out what they were.
The first day in P.E. I got my chance. Everybody was trying out for the school team, as several members of last year's team had been seriously injured in a bus crash enroute to a game. They gave us clumsy numbered uniforms, spiked shoes, and helmets that tanked up with sweat in the hot sun. We divided up into teams and started fighting over the ball. I basically understood you were supposed to keep it from the other guys. I fumbled around for maybe five minutes, acting like I knew what was going on. I got hit hard a few times. They yelled at me for doing the wrong things. Soon the guys on the other side were all gunning for me, snorting and leering like sweaty pigs through their face guards. They loved to get in these big pileups. Suddenly I got the ball. It just flew into my arms, I don't even know where it came from. They charged and I panicked. I didn't want to be crushed under tons of mad swine. I didn't think it made any difference which way you went so long as you kept the ball. I got the idea that I would really impress them, outdo the pros. I ran right off the grass. There were some girls jumping up and down with feathery pink things and I grabbed a couple of these and kept going. Now they were really mad, screaming like they were going to kill me. It was just like in Coos Bay, but I didn't think epilepsy would work. I ran under the grandstands and into the trees away from the school. I ran for about a mile until I was sure there was no one following. Then I waited with the ball and pink feathery things. I thought I had devised an ingenious game of hide and seek and everybody would be impressed. I was really triumphant. But nobody came looking for me. I brought the ball and uniform back the next day and the coach was furious. He said if I pulled any smart ass thing like that again I'd be kicked out for good. I definitely didn't make the team.
I had to do fifty pushups and run around the football field ten times for punishment. Also I got three demerits, which meant I had to spend extra hours sitting in study hall. That's where I got in trouble with the second group, the guys that looked and dressed like hippies, although hippies had officially been dead for years. A couple of them started whispering to me in study hall. They'd heard about what I'd done in P.E. and thought it was funny. They didn't like football players, called them jocks.
They asked me if I wanted to smoke a joint with them after class. Now I was on familiar territory. In fact I had one in my pocket. So when the bell rang I was first out the door. I stood in the hall and lit up, waiting for my new friends. They came out and I held out the joint. "What the fuck are you doing!" one of them said, leaping away from me. "You want to get us all put in jail, you asshole!"
"He must be a fucking narc, let's get outta here!"
I'd taken their words "after class" a little too literally. Pot was practically legal in California back there in the late 70s and I thought maybe in high school it was okay because we were just students.
Now the long-haired guys didn't like me either.
The third group were mostly the ones that did well in school. They really thought I was something from another planet. They'd laugh every time I opened my mouth. Luckily I wasn't around them much because I was in the dumber classes.
I heard one of them say in study hall that I was retarded. I looked this up in the dictionary and felt pretty bad.
I liked the girls of all three groups. But none of the ones I shot for liked me. I was too direct. I'd notice them looking at me like they were interested, but when I'd make a move they'd get spooky.
There was a blond who sat across from me in English class. I caught her looking at me a few times. When I saw another guy pass her a note, I passed her one too: "I want to fuck you."
She turned red and didn't look at me anymore. The next day she was sitting on the far side of the room.
I found out from Bob you were supposed to work up to these things, take girls out and stuff. You weren't supposed to just move directly ahead.
There was to be a prom. I understood it was some kind of dance and the guys were asking the girls they liked to go. I waited on the front steps for this pretty brunette to get out of class. I didn't know her name but I'd caught her eye once or twice. She walked in a sexy way and gave out delicious smiles. I hadn't yet learned to distinguish between an act and the real thing.
I grinned and patted the cement when she came out, just like I had with Cole at the river. She looked at me like I was crazy and walked away. I trotted after her. "Hey, wanna go to the prom?"
"Do I know you?!"
"I'm Wily. Wanna go to the prom?"
"Get lost, creep!"
I was soon hopelessly frustrated. I just didn't know how to talk to them. I even missed my casual relationship with Mom.
The boys were a different story. I could tell immediately the ones that were interested in me. There wasn't any way they could hide the fact. It was either there or it wasn't, no act.
I had several contacts, mostly just sucking each other off. I didn't particularly like any of them, all the time imagining some girl. The guys were just substitutes. If you close your eyes it could be anybody down there.
They were usually ashamed of what they did. They'd kind of fall apart at the seams. At least there was no danger of them falling in love with me like Toby. They'd run away immediately after our little meeting, afraid we'd be found out.
One day a teacher caught me spying through a window of the girl's gym. I just wanted to see what they did in there, it was so shut away and secret from everything else. I was kicked out of school for a week.
They told my "parent" of course. Bob laughed and said I better watch it. If I wanted a girlfriend I'd just have to learn how to act better.
Now I was a pervert, a retard, a homo and a narc all in a few short weeks. Nobody at all would have anything to do with me.
The teachers were mystified. They could see I was bright, but they didn't understand why I had such big gaps in my knowledge. I would ask questions in science class like "Why can't people make love like animals?" Or in history "Did Abe Lincoln take acid?" Or in senior seminar "Why don't we watch the Beverly Hillbillies instead of Nazis putting people in ovens?"
They thought at first I was being sarcastic. When they realized I was being genuine, the school psychologist administered a test in which I had to look at pictures and say the first thing that came to mind. Also they asked me a lot of frank questions, which I responded to truthfully except in matters pertaining directly to my personal history. I'd supposedly spent most of my life in Florida. Bob had coached me on this being from there himself.
The psychologist decided I was a deviant personality, not crazy exactly. They kept an eye on me.
It seemed to me everybody in the school was secretly crazy, masking an underlying violence. It seemed like they all wanted to kill each other. The feeling in the wind-blown halls of banging lockers was exactly like what I figured a prison would be like. They even talked like prisoners, every other word a curse directed against somebody else. It was like they were killing one another in a game of pretend. But I was still looking for the reality of television.
Somehow I managed to pass the first semester with a C or D average. The tougher stuff came the second half and I wasn't paying any attention by then. I'd only bother to show up once or twice a week for classes and they were on the verge of kicking me out for good.
I started playing with Bob and a drummer on a professional basis. We played some parties and fairground gigs and a few bars that overlooked the fact I was underage. That's when I started picking up girls. Usually older ones, way out of high school. The girls in high school were too repressed. You had to say and do all the right things for months on end before you could get intimate with them, if at all. I didn't know how to push their buttons, but the older ones pushed mine. They were clear about what they wanted, just like the queers. They treated me like a pet and I went along with it. I had decided friends and girlfriends were too much trouble.
One weekend I hitched down to San Francisco having heard so much about the place on TV. It sounded more like the commune than any place I'd ever been. There was something called gay freedom. There were riots on a regular basis on the college campuses over freedom of this or that and there was a new kind of music there called punk rock. A preacher from there had recently committed suicide with all his followers down in Central America and the Mayor had just been murdered by one of his staff. People were marching in the streets and burning cars and punks dressed like skeletons with colored spikes in their hair did a kind of dancing where they beat each other up. It sounded like TV.
I was in North Beach, the old Italian part of town, when Clint Eastwood came running out of a restaurant with a gun in his hand. I recognized him immediately and was certain he was about to do some killing. I had been pushing my way through a crowd and hadn't noticed the lights and cameras trailing hoses from big vans. The whole city seemed like a crowd to me.
I threw myself on the ground. At that moment somebody yelled "Cut" and Clint walked back in the restaurant trailing his pistol dejectedly. "Get that guy off the set!"
"What's happening?" I asked someone.
"They're making a movie. What the hell do you think?"
An old black guy in a wild outfit had wandered across the set and they were directing him away. I followed him into a cafe and asked why he had spoiled the Clint Eastwood movie.
The old guy was kind of shaky. "Buy me a beer," he said.
"I'm not old enough, you buy it." I handed him two dollars.
He bought the beer and we sat down. He sipped, flashed a toothless smile, and began reciting a poem. It went on and on and was one of the best poems I'd ever heard. He said it was "The Wasteland" by T. S. Eliot. Than he recited "The Kingfishers" by Charles Olson. I hadn't heard of either of these poets and was quite impressed.
I asked him if he was a poet and he recited a fantastic poem called "Would You Wear my Eyes?" He said his name was Bob Kaufman.
I gave him money for a six-pack of beer and we sat all afternoon on the steps of a church drinking and talking about poetry. That evening I ended up at a big reading. It was a benefit for some event or cause or other. I talked to a lot of the poets. They were open and friendly with me despite my age and naivete. They could almost have been from the commune, in terms of the things they believed in. I liked their stuff a lot better than the kinds of things Mom read: Kahlil Gibran and Sri Aurobindo, religious poets like that.
I loved San Francisco and decided I wanted to go to college there where some of these poets were teaching. It seemed like the logical thing to do. I even found out where I could get some grant money. I'd blown off high school. It was clear I was going to fail. But I needed a diploma to go to college.
I went to see the principal, the one man who could help me. He was an old alcoholic closet case, I could tell by the way he looked at me. He said I would just have to try again next year.
I got down on my knees and the rest is history.