Spring Break, 1985 - Meeting
Yet another interruption, this one
concerning how Sorority and Nate first became acquainted, recounted,
Sorority would want it made clear, entirely from Nate's point of
view and in fact, included here in the form of a unexpurgated
letter-slash-short story which he wrote and sent to her and, in a
gesture he would later take as a compliment towards his first real
attempt at fiction, she kept in her backpack all these years. Nate
wrote it mired in the odd euphoric let down that followed their initial
meeting when he also happened to have a Spring Break
Confessional assignment due in his Intro to Fiction writing class.
He had worked at it relentlessly for virtually an entire weekend,
rushed by a Monday deadline and a sense that if some effort wasn't
made on his part and quickly, the whole implausible affair might
evanesce into vagary and be lost forever.
Nate would say that he hadn't initially intended the piece to serve
as correspondence but as he was making his way to class that Monday,
ears buzzing and glands torquing and tugging at one another due to
excesses of sour instant coffee and cheap Mexican beer, he happened
to trudge past a copy center where a sleep deprived whim caused him
to dart inside and have the thing Xeroxed. He then dug around in his
still beach flavored backpack until he uncovered Sorority's sandy,
crumpled address, bought a manila envelope, and mailed the whole
she-bang off to Seattle so it might be there to greet her when she
returned to school.
This all transpired roughly nine months prior to that fulcral New
Year's Eve before Nate knew anything about goliards and during a
spring break when he was supposed to be meeting his father up in
Colorado to go skiing but wound up on a secluded beach down in
Mexico instead. It is included here in hopes of shedding light on
Nate's mental state during that period of the murk previously
alluded to and as a way of preserving some of the thoughts and
feelings about that thing known as Love since Love is the thing
that, in one form or another, is the driving force behind any truly
compelling tale. It is included also because, after all that has
happened to our characters in the time since, it is unlikely that
either could make any sense of the subject currently.
By Nate Johanssen
Fiction 210 with Beth
The compulsion to climb a mountain
rolled with me off the beanbag chair that morning, so things had
already waxed a tad irregular. Perhaps the moon had slipped void of
course or a marauding band of nocturnal motivators had happened by
to impel me out of my lethargy and into the springtime air. Maybe it
was the spring itself full of orange blossoms, jasmine stars, and
baseball. You can love the spring around here if you notice it
before it picks up and heads North. Not that I'm totally unobservant or
preoccupied. I'm just serving time in the desert at present and in
the desert, spring can slink in and be gone as quickly as a coyote from
a hen coop.
As the coffee perked and the Krispees snapped, I knew suddenly that
my thirst for geological conquest would not be slaked by
clambering up a mere hillock, hogback, or dune. An attempt on a
legitimate mountain was needed and I decided on one called Wrightson.
I'd borrow a topographic map, kidnap a sleepy friend, drive fifty
miles South of town, and climb it. All 9453 feet of it. A challenging
goal to be sure, but, I think, not unrealistic. And a
mole hill next to the monstrous mound I ended up confronting. A
tumular tuft next to that Tetonic thing known as Love.
Can Love achieve thing status? Become its own entity? Show a
substance separate from the symbol and moniker that is the word? I'm
now saying yes. Yes, a thing. Perhaps an androgynous thing. An anthropomorphic
thing. Even an anachronistic thing at times. But a
thing none the less.
Consider Love's embodiment in a thing? In the spring? Over spring
break? On a perfect morning. Why not a cloudburst, a Hare Krishna at
the door, or soggy breakfast flakes? A bike tire to patch or just a
simple hangover? As I pedaled across a deserted campus hoping to
scare up a climbing partner, I couldn't have been more surprised.
It appeared in front of me entirely unannounced. Uninvited.
Unexpected. Unimpressed with my lethargy, and Ungiving of a damn. As
it is wont to do, it quickly unamorphed and took the form of a
moonstruck mop head mongrel which streaked out of a yard, nipped at
my heels, and altered my route. I veered into an alley to escape the
mutt and this alley led me past the home of a guy they call
Ricketts. I wouldn't have thought of him otherwise. And it was there
that a inspiration and realization occurred. It was there, that I
became briefly reacquainted with that thing known as Love.
Not that I'd pretend to know
exactly what Love is or care that much about nailing down a formal
definition. I knew it when I saw it and that is enough. I certainly
couldn't describe it. If you find yourself describing it you
probably don't know it. If you can define it you are definitely not
in it. Many great definers and describers have applied their talents
to the case of love but I'm suspicious of the great. Lovers they
I wonder if I could pick Love out of a police line-up if it stood
with say, Benevolence, Fellowship, Idolotry, Desire, and
Nymphomania. It might be the short one on the end, smirking,
confident, guilty as hell. No visible scars or tattoos. It would
goose Nymphomania when nobody looked, blame Desire and go Scott free. It would have very memorable eyes.
What I do know about Love is that it is no score in tennis. People
often profess to Love things like garlic, stock car races and old
westerns. They Love New York, polkas, best friend's spouses and God.
People are forever killing, dying, overeating, day dreaming,
cursing, plotting, and scheming for Love. Einstein said that love is
space but he may have been mistaken. Love, after all, was not
A Love bird is a small parrot often kept as a pet in a cage, the
Love-lies-bleeding is a tropical plant bearing red flowers and the
Love-in-the-mist is an annual plant yielding European spice. A Love
seat is a style of chair, a Love lock, a style for hair, and Alfred
Henry Love once led the Universal Peace Union. A Love apple is of
course, a tomato.
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of Love and Eros, her son, is the
god. He is often mistaken for his Roman counterpart Cupid who is
usually naked and sometimes blind. He was said to be hunting for
hearts with a bow.
Puppy Love and Muskrat Love seem harmless and wonderful while
Unrequited Love and Self Love can be harmful and nasty. A select few
have been born, raised, married and buried in Love. Love, Oklahoma.
The fact that so many things are associated with and named after
Love does little to aid in an explanation of it. The word itself is
so over used that it has been rendered to mean almost nothing. The
feeling however, that seems to follow it around like a cigar cloud
is definitely something and that something isn't edible, pliable, or
permeable. It doesn't entertain, it isn't ubiquitous, and if it has
any business in New York, it commutes.
Some philosopher claimed that everyone has another half somewhere
and people aren't truly at ease, or in Love until they seek out or
come upon randomly, that particular other half. Does that mean that
love is luck? A song says that "That if you can't be with the
one you Love, Love the one you're with." A different extreme.
Love has been called a fervent fire and Love has been called crueler
than lust. It is said to result from blindness and is said to be
blind. Shakespeare said no stony limits could hold it in. Virgil
said it conquers all and the Bible calls it the fruit of the spirit.
Someone called Jerome K. Jerome compared it to the measles and said
we all have to go through it. It seems that Love was a formidable
fellow. Even in the olden days.
In spite of free-Love generations, word processors, government
funding, innumerable studies, and scientific leaps and bounds,
current day minstrels, romantics, and ersatz philosophers are faring
no better in attempts to articulate the true essence of Love.
Tom Robbins is forever trying. But the closest he can get is to call
Love the ultimate outlaw and suggest we sign on as an accomplice. Margaret Atwood notes that the Eskimos have fifty two words for snow
because it is important to them and that perhaps we should have as
many for Love. Neil Young has called it a rose but warned not to pick it.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. has written to Hell with Love and Hooray for
something else. A sculptor once attempted a three dimensional Love with a tilted E.
Buddy Holly called his bigger than a Cadillac and perhaps, in his
case, it was. The Grateful Dead harmonize that without it in a dream
the dream will never
come true and that Love gets you nowhere slow.
And what might I say? During spells when I wax romantic and chin
myself to the sophomoric philosophy bar, I can easily see Love as
some sort of river. It is always flowing and perpetually refeeding
itself as it meanders along. It sweats evaporation and drinks in
rain. It is part of the natural cycle of an evolving earth. The
gurgling part, the flooding part. There is nothing so peaceful and
pure, nothing so erosive and dangerous, and nothing so beautiful.
Can you ever step in the same river twice? Or are you always
stepping in the same river? That's it then. Love is a river. No, No
it isn't. Lets just say that definitions aren't necessary and Love,
like anything else, is what you make it. And be safe.
From whatever manner or angle you
choose to consider Love, people seem to encounter it in one of its
various forms, or at least think they do, with surprising
regularity. Whether manifested in helpless whining friends, jealous
foes, tear jerking commercials, or amorous copulators through the
muffle of unsound walls, it assails the senses at every turn. Steady
as she goes, stay on your toes, keep in your elbows. Watch yourself.
If the word of the pundits is to be relied upon at all, this thing
called Love seems to be something of a bad ass.
A healthy individual can probably expect to meet that one proverbial
'someone' and become whiney and jealous themselves about five
legitimate times. It seems like a respectable number. More than five
might suggest flighty or capricious tendencies, less could hint at
dourness, melancholia, and hormone deficiencies, so count on five if
you are normal. If you are counted among the strange, don't fret, for
chances are good that you are much better off.
Two of these five will slip completely through the fingers leaving
not a scent or a thorn. They might stagger off into the dark after
beach parties, marry a famous actor or nefarious crook, die in a
war, or simply disappear. You won't have known them very well and
you will be left with nothing but the emptiness of missed
opportunity and a strange queasy feeling that often follows a brush
with greatness or disaster. And you will always know, in the back of
your mind, that one of the five is gone and your chances just got
twenty percent slimmer.
Where will you meet the remaining three other halves.? When? While
strolling on Wall Street or hustling to the outhouse in a desolate
campground. At a cock fight, a card game, or a crisis center. At a
clam digger's banquet. Anywhere, unexpectedly. You will look your
worst, be short on time and have nary a dime. It will be a rainy Sunday
in the off-season, the day just before final exams, or immediately
after a three day bender. You won't smell or feel very good as
things blur around you and you'll wonder if you left the stove or
hose on. Each time will confront you with a chore. Assign you a
task. Give you an ultimatum. Know that it won't be easy. Things worth
experiencing rarely are.
As it happened I met my first in high school and we stayed together
several years. She was my first girlfriend's best friend but I
returned her kiss anyway. Scandal of course ensued. Love and Scandal
know each other well. They often hang out together on street
She had her heart set on medical school and I hadn't determined
where my heart was headed but figured it was off down a road
somewhere that I couldn't bear to drag her onto with me. Someone
recently told me that she feels sorry for me now and is engaged to a
short guy who is not like me at all. I wish her well. When I met
her, she had a sick dog named Love.
And one has also slipped through my fingers. She was discovered shortly
after I finally got to know her and is a model now. She moved to New
York, they all do I guess. At least there I know she will be safe
from Love. I still refer to her has the girl of my dreams, my
paradigm of virtue. I happened to be sitting next to her in a movie
once and finally got up the nerve to chat with her when the
subtitles proved unreadable. I had watched her on campus for months
and had been known to miss classes in order to mull over schemes and
approaches. I never so much as laid a hand on her forearm and she
always remembered my name. It felt nice but made me nervous to hear
her say it. I heard from a friend she had gone. She was the girl of
his dreams as well and we sat drinking wine, embracing that
abandoned feeling and talking about what could have been, both
secretly relieved that the pressure to pursue her had been lifted.
And I met one last week. I'm not sure if she has slipped or not. It
was she who got me thinking and for that I am thankful. I am not
thankful for the hollowness I feel. The halfness now that she is
gone. She is far away. Courtship through the mail? It sounds more
romantic than it probably is. I have hope, maybe. I'm convinced that
it pays off to dream. Life being as it is, if you are not dreaming,
you can only have nightmares.
I stopped by the guy they call Ricketts apartment to see if he was
up for a hike. As it turns out he was, but I never asked him the
question. She was there, just sitting, curled up on the couch
peeling a grapefruit. Her radiant but nondescript eyes flashed and
introduced a smile that burst at me like a sun splash. Her head
cocked slightly, haughty but perhaps unsure. A graceful hand brushed
back her hair. Unintentionally coquettish. Relaxing. Putting me at
ease. Breathing vacation into the morning.
She was beautiful which can't do it alone but I felt awfully funny
right about then. Love? Perhaps not, but frivolous flitters, s spark near
the fuse, a patch of blue in the sky of late winter. The potential
pumped the air like a heartbeat, thick and then thin again.
Questions, questions to ask. Attraction. Curiosity. All that good
stuff. It felt like a long time. I sat down carefully on one of
Rickett's rickety kitchen chairs.
She smiled at me in a self conscious manner that made me wonder if
the feeling was mutual, if things would be easy this time. The
mystery of her feelings remains but I have noticed that she seems to
smile at everyone and make them warm.
She was wearing a black tee-shirt, had gone to high school with
Ricketts, and come down to Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon. I
normally don't like black but looked over at Ricketts with a new
found respect. She was currently attending the University of
Washington in Seattle while working various jobs to save money for
adventures. Her smile scintillated, her neck was immaculate, and she
snowboards in the winters. And her eyes, I've called them
nondescript but I didn't mean that exactly. I meant I couldn't describe
them and I can't. When I look in them I see dancing rainbows and grayish
hints of the stormy sea. And I'm sure they aren't brown.
Then she introduced herself as Sorority, the unplanned and only
child of two free spirit organic farmers who had chosen her name as
a deterrent to her ever joining one. I forgot all about Mt.
"That's interesting logic." I remember saying.
"There is nothing logical about my parents." Was the
Instead of the hike, I finagled my way onto a bike ride they had
been planning. We drove into the desert and set off on our mountain
bikes up a rocky trail towards some falls. Chiva Falls. In Spanish,
chiva can mean either female goat or small bus. Small Bus Falls
seemed more fitting as we had driven to the trailhead in Ricketts'
brown VW. It became known as the Rasta Pasta Bus in the days that
followed. Hey Now.
The boulders strewn about made for difficult riding. She was as good
a rider as I, which I expected. I was in the worst shape of the
three which I also expected. She enjoyed the scenery as Ricketts
enjoyed himself getting as far up the slick rock formations as he
could before having to jump off. I enjoyed her. She wore aqua bike
shorts and a loose top. Muscles swam and surfaced in the blushing
cream of her legs. She was sweating and her back looked strong. I
peeked at her breasts when she bent down to adjust a wheel and
looked away quickly as she caught me but couldn't help looking back
Small Bus Falls turned out to be a veritable oasis. Cool water from
the last melting snow up in the Rincon Mountains cascaded into a
pool. A gurgling stream. We climbed around and took some pictures. I
dunked my head under a sandstone spout and went wading thinking
about how to play my cards. I wasn't that confident with my hand and
the pot was growing rapidly. Too pat to open and too cool to bluff?
We sat on a rock by the stream and shared an orange and an apple. We
had been the only ones until three real type men arrived with ATV's
and guns. I admired their cooler of beer but wondered what they
might shoot. When they left, it was peaceful again and I claimed an
appetite and asked about dinner plans hoping to make an offer to
cook for them in exchange for having me along on the ride but they
had planned on pasta. Would I join them? I could bring the wine. To
Wine and Love. Such a fickle pair.
A shower, pasta as promised and more to drink. Contentment all
around. Another friend came over and we went out to have a beer. I
sat with Sorority in the far back of Rasta Pasta and let the curves
push me against her when it wasn't to obvious. I couldn't tell if
she was doing the same.
We ended up at a hangout and sat on the patio drinking pints of beer
and talking of travel. Europe. Europe seems like a smile. Sorority
had ventured there recently with her mother and remembered Greece.
She spoke vibrantly, glowing with memories and Guinness Stout. And
she listened. We all did. It struck me as odd at the time, an acquainting
group of four, listening as well as talking. Of course
the people I run with are appropriately lame. At least by
The attraction grew as I learned more about her. I rested my leg
against hers under the table feigning unawareness and interest is
something being said. She didn't move away but she didn't seem to particularly
notice either. She may have been a bit drunk.
They spoke of the trip they had planned for the next day, taking
Rasta Pasta south of the border on a four day beach bop. A few other
friends were going and they still needed to go shopping for
supplies. Sorority had to head back up to school the day they got
back. The night was winding down and time was running out. I was
supposed to meet my dad up in Telluride to go skiing the next day
which didn't sound that great all of a sudden and I said so.
"Can you be at my house by 7 a.m.?" Ricketts wanted to
I could. Was there room?
"We can always squeeze one more in. The drive is not that long
and once we make it there'll be a whole beach."
Sounds good. I'll be there.
"It'll cost you about 40 bucks."
The price of one day's lift ticket.
"You should go," Sorority said. "It could be
The Rasta Pasta bus stood loaded to
its air vent gills with sleeping bags, sailboards, coolers, mesquite
logs and other camping accoutrements. More stuff needed to be
stuffed in and we stood around waking up. I didn't look possible to accommodate
everything along with the six of us and I felt intrusive.
Sorority looked down from a balcony sipping Morning Thunder and
blinking at the rising sun. A light green shirt, cottony,
comfortable and becoming with a bearful of honey smile. Honey in
your morning tea.
"Four sixty two," announced Cinnamon Rose, a neighbor of
Ricketts who was coming along and appeared in her doorway holding a
calculator. "Four sixty two for meals plus we still have to buy
shrimp and beer when we get there. The figure sounded low but every
trip needs an accountant.
Rickett's sister Heika showed up and it surprised me to see her
because she was in my writing class and I had no idea that they were
related. She seemed to write pretty well when she wrote about stars
and backroads. Heika Heika all day I'd heard the guy next to me sing
one day in semi-lyrical wonder as he admired her from across the
circle. Hey Now.
"Who else is coming?" I asked Ricketts as we tried to cram
more stuff under the seats."
"Another friend of mine, this girl Monique."
"You sure you want me along?" I said noting the gender
logistics. "Just ol' Ricketts surrounded by all these women
down on some beach. Even you might have a chance."
"Don't worry about it. They're just friends anyway."
"Beaches do weird things to people," I said.
"Yeah? I guess but all I really want to do is go wind surfing.
There's Monique now."
Monique stepped out of a black Trans Am with tinted windows that
sped away leaving the air thick with dust and rubber. As she
approached the group she announced up front that she was someone who
went to Mexico all the time. She gave an ambiguous first impression
and stayed that way. Not unpleasant. Not intriguing. A polite
conundrum of rings, dark glasses and black clothes. Nothing you feel
any urgency to crack through. I've noticed lately that the
mysterious seem to remain so to avoid seeming boring. Or bored. To
meet her was to chat amicably, wonder a bit, and ask someone later
on what her story is. If you remember.
In retrospect, I'd have gladly traded Monique in for Captain Hodad
the fish god, Wally the drunken Canadian stumble bum, Morse and the
Morsian Dogma, or any of a number of other people I've kicked around
with from time to time. Come to think of it, for the sake of fiction
and gender parity, I'll indulge myself and do just that. Monique
probably won't even notice.
Who to take? Let's go with Morse and the Morsian Dogma. He's fresh
in my mind because I recently hunted for cans with him in the rain
of Easter Sunday. Cans instead of eggs. It was purifying as hell. We
netted seventy cans, or about 30 cents in aluminum and stopped by a
church to listen to the music. I can easily picture him South of the
border, pawing a hole in the sand to vomit in. He'll make the
perfect contrast to the thing known as Love. Yes, we'll kidnap him
at a gas station while Monique freshens up. Unless Monique reads
this and even then, I don't see a problem with it.
I climbed into the far back of Rasta Pasta with Morse and we headed
out of town on Ajo Way. Garlic Way in Spanish and with not a clove
or a scent anywhere. I have to wonder who does the naming around
here. I was talking about it once in a bar with a guy and we figured
out, with the help of a Spanish/English dictionary, that he lived on
the Avenue of the Hunting Barrel overlooking the Clean Clothes Wash.
Sagebrush and litter, Palo Verdes, Joshuas, Jackrabbits and the
Road. We crossed the border at Senoita, and picked up our visas. A
barefoot businessboy washed our windows while Morse went out
scouting for the best deal on tequila and beer. The kid demanded a
coke and I handed him a grapefruit soda. He didn't look very happy.
A bull horn advertised a bull fight as we piled back in Rasta. I
tied a bandanna around my head, slipped a gold dolphin earring into
my ear, gulped from the mescal bottle that Morse offered me, and
opened a cold stubby brew. I felt like a suburban pirate returning
to a bountiful sea.
The road narrowed, the shoulder disappeared and the smell abruptly
changed. I'm always amazed how the smell of something as vast and
independent as the Sonoran desert could be so effected by manmade boundaries. We careened past shacks of tin and crumbling adobe huts.
Some men played stickball in a dirt lot while a pile of trash and
tires burned in a nearby yard where a mangy dog slept in the shade,
tied to the door handle of a rusting, tireless car. I lulled off to
sleep and the heat pressed the essence of poverty into my dreams.
Next thing I know, we're at a beer warehouse in Puerto Penasco.
We buy four cases of cheap cervesa for five bucks apiece plus
deposit and head towards Sandy Beach. I brace for the crowds, sip a
brew, and ponder the back of Sorority's neck. Her kinky blond hair
is tucked beneath a straw hat which she holds on in the wind as she
looks dreamily towards the sea. She senses my eyes, breathes deeply,
and turns to smile. I follow her gaze out to sea. Dreamily. It is
all I can do not to lean forward and nibble her ear.
Morse to the rescue, or rather, his dogma.
"I'm starving," he says suddenly. "But I can't eat on
an empty stomach."
When people laugh he looks around puzzled, head lolling side to
"Morse," I say. "Do you ever get the feeling that
there are things going on that you don't know about?"
"No," says Morse after some thought. "Indeed, I find
that there is much less going on than I think there is."
He smiles, tilts back the pint of Mezcal and sticks his tongue in
the neck until the worm has wriggled onto its tip. He pops his
tongue back and the worm disappears down his throat.
"You're supposed to eat it with the last sip," I say.
"If you want to see a vision."
Morse rolls his eyes. I get the feeling he doesn't need to eat worms
to see visions. He says he wants to be a teleologist some day but
can't explain what it is. I hear him crunch the worm in his teeth as
we turn onto Sandy Beach.
Debouching from Rasta, I head straight for the drink. The water's
cold but refreshing. Happiness, I once wrote in my journal, is salt
water in your hair. I haven't dunked in the big drink in months and
my skin is achromatous with the graveyard pallor. I re-evaluate my
lifestyle, shake off, and look around. The place is the expected
ATV's wind up and down. I see trash, sunburns, Hitler youth, and
trinket vendors. I see trash, 4 by 4's, used condoms, and clam
shells. I look across Baja, inhaling the ocean breeze but can't hear
the surf over somebody's pounding music. Ricketts unloads and begins
to rig his windsurfer while the rest of us spread out towels and try
to read. I feel like I've just regained consciousness behind The
Baked Tourist, a Las Vegas bar. Morse and I quickly retreat towards
Rasta Pasta and sit drinking beer in it's shade.
Alternating longnecks and stubbies, we cut sweet little limas,
guzzle the beer and refill the holes in the rapidly melting ice with
warm bottles in a rotation system that quickly becomes too
complicated. Morse eventually wanders away and I stare out to sea,
spotting Ricketts on his board as he tacks across the bay leaving a
sputemy wake. There is movement by our towels and I watch as
Sorority gets up to help Heike rig up the other sail. Bikini clad
and thin with wild blonde hair blowing in their faces, they could be
sisters and I notice that I am not the only one watching them, As
Heike shoulders the board and heads for the breakers, Sorority
stretches and starts up the beach towards the bus.
"Having fun?" I say, trying not to stare.
"I'm just glad to be where it's warm. The weather has been
miserable up in Washington. This isn't quite like I expected
"Banana Republicans and Ugly Americans. Maybe we could walk
somewhere, away from all this?"
We walk and talk. She had a boyfriend. Painful breakup. She is
finally adjusting to being alone. Using the time to decide what to
do with her life. What about me.
Pretty much the same. Breakup but not that painful. Since then I've
sort of been on auto pilot. Just looking around.
"No. I don't know. For nothing really. I met an older
Australian woman that I liked a while ago, and there's this princess
in Denmark, at least she claims to be a princess, that I write to
sort of regularly. I don't seem to relate to the girls at school all
that well. They seem silly, frivolous, worried about the wrong
things. And I'm sure I don't come off as being all that cool either.
Maybe the graveyard shift has left me too screwed up to deal with
the whole thing. I've been accused of having a bad attitude."
"Maybe it's not your attitude that's bad, you're just in a rut
or something. Or maybe an infatuation with foreign women. You should
"I know it."
"We're in a foreign country now."
"Well, perhaps you should mingle." We surveyed the scene
together before I replied.
"No, I don't think that's what I need. I can say one thing
though. I've recently had an awakening on the whole Love thing. I'm thinking that it's not what it appears."
"Meaning don't dilute the word. Don't readjust or compromise
the scale. Keep the standards up and that someone will appear. He's
a merry prankster but this Love guy has got to show himself.
"It's just that I always thought of Love as being so completely
"Oh, Well I just used 'he' in sort of the third person,
collective gender sense. No acceptable alternatives have been found
that do not impede the flow language which is to say...."
"That sounds Robbinesque to me."
"Tom Robbins. That argument is right out of the forward to
"Even Cowgirls Get the Blues". Besides you said "Guy".
"I meant figuratively. Like, that's a cute little guy there
"I don't like it."
"Hum. Well. At first sight do you think?"
"Can love occur at first sight?"
I took a deep breath and looked into her eyes.
"Maybe. I've sensed the potential. The awareness that it could
happen. That there is somebody out there for which you would
completely alter your plans. For it to come at first sight for two
people at once is the hard part. The chances for that are
"I don't know." she said. "Perhaps if it comes at all
it is when two see it together. We can talk more about it tonight by
the campfire. I Love campfires. Let's run. I always feel like
running when I'm on the beach.
"Me too," I say towards her sinewy back as she begins to
pull away in long, lopingly graceful strides. She is nearly as tall
as I and in much better shape. Beer sloshes around in my belly. The
things we'll do for........ The things we'll do. Hey Now.
After a mile of trashy beach goes by and it becomes apparent that
miles more lay ahead, she finally turns to run back towards Rasta
for some water. I tell her I want to explore a little further but
mainly I just want to stop running. I walk in the waves until my
heart stops pounding. I see a guy standing on a rock relieving
himself into the water. A noxious stench engulfs me and I look about
for its source and find it comes from a dead sea lion. Beached. A
broken, wooden spear sticking from its heart and teeming mounds of
bugs for eyes. A bagel has been left on it's head. Surreal. Sick.
Why the bagel? Did somebody actually survey the pathetic scene sans
bagel and decided it needed one. Did somebody eat breakfast sitting
on this decomposing animal and get called away suddenly
forgetting..... Suffice it to say that Sandy Beach is no place to
be. When I make my way back to the group I find that Ricketts
"I know of a beach up on the estuary that is always deserted. I
would have gone there but I thought you all would think it was
Boring? A deserted beach, Morse, plenty of beer and an outside
chance to find Love. I'm sure Love is denizen to deserted beaches
while places like Sandy Beach are under the thumb of his stepbrother
Lust. I've dealt with Lust before and, while sometimes quite
convincing he always proves, in the end, to be more than a little
bogus. I lobby intensily. It doesn't take much. The only objection
is from Monique.
"I wanna meet some other people." She says, somewhat
We consider this momentarily before I point out that she isn't even
on the trip. We decide to go. Hey Now.
We repack the car and search for Morse.
"Revel in my fortitude," he says when we finally locate
him stumbling among the surf shack shops.
"A guy dealt me this jar of Mescal worms. Just a plain jar of
em. I had to trade him my watch fob and Mike's Place hat. Was I
I assure him that he was but offer to kill off the jar with him
anyway as we go bouncing down a lonesome road, skirted by sagebrush
and dunes, We eventually turn and speed across a winding washboard
towards the sea. Rasta weaves and rocks in the stiff breeze.
Wait just a minute! A friend has stopped by, read some of this
account over my shoulder, and announced that her parents are
convinced that Love is Money. Money = Love. It can't be. If Love
equals money than I don't have any. If Love is Money then Donald
Trump is hoarding it ruthlessly while the masses need it
desperately. Trump takes the Love cup, three sets to Love. Rubbish.
Where did she go?
The beach is deserted as promised.
A beautiful, shallow bay. Craggy shrubs of subterranean tundra.
Extreme tides and gentle breezes. Peace. No cars, music, or used
condoms but plenty of clam shells. And plenty of clammy night which
is nearly upon us. When the sun goes down the drain in the Sonoran
desert the heat seeps right down after it like tepid water leaving
the tub. As the sun sets yielding to a sky of white zinfandel and cheddar, a flock, fifty pelicans strong, settles nearby. Morse jogs
towards them and they beat their wings, drag their feet and fly
lazily away. What a wonderful bird art thou Morse.
We get a driftwood fire going, wrap some potatoes and shrimp kabobs
in tin foil and throw them in the coals. Heike and I munch on
crackers and gurgle down stubbies while minding the fire. Ricketts
serves dinner on paper plates, seasoned with sand. Delicious. We
settle down to eat.
Feasting complete and a chilly sunburn night. A Hornito's Green
bottle is making the rounds and the conversation threatens to get
interesting. My unfamiliarity with the cast of characters renders
any discussion particularly refreshing as I recall countless so
called vacations where all that goes on is a rehashing of the problems
everyone is supposedly vacationing from. Here, with Heike
Heike all day giving astronomy lessons, Morse roasting Mescal worms
on flaming skewers, Cinnamon Rose humming Cinnamon Girl and Ricketts
ejaculating strange noises of contentment, I can recline in the sand
drinking it all in, listening as Sorority sings plucking on a
borrowed guitar, and stare into the dark, milky sky.
"Counting stars by firelight.
All are dim but one is bright.
The spiral light of Venus rising first and shining best.
Oh, from the Northwest corner of a brand new crescent moon.
As crickets and cicada sing,
a rare and different tune
Waxing romantic and a turtle wax at that.
The night blackens and grows colder still. Soon, Morse's Dogma is
forced to spout without him as he passes out in a heap. After
tossing a blanket over his sleeping form, Heike Heike all day disappears
into the night. Even the whispers of Ricketts and
Cinnamon Rose finally fade.
It's now or never, bluff or show, sleep or stay, and just me and
her. The Morsian Dogma blows away in the chilling wind and we huddle
together against it with our feet all but resting in the embers. The
others are strewn about in slumber and that first date, kiss on the
front porch, sexual energy, nervous tension thing is so heavy in the
air that I'm surprised the fire isn't extinguished.
Tension. Nerves. Silence. We sit there.
Potential. Long distance relationships. Future plans and we sit
Expectations. Hormones. Alcohol. We still sit there.
While the storyteller speaks
a door within the fire creaks
suddenly flies open
and Love is standing there
Eye's alight with glowing care
All that fancy paints as fair
Love throws back its head and laughs that amorphous laugh.
She seems unaware.
An avatar and Love takes the form of a Terrapin, particular species
unclear. It crawls out of the fire and up on a log.
I just stare.
She asks me what the trouble is and I gesture with my head. She
snuggles closer but gazes about blankly.
I finally point and she regards me strangely.
I address Turtle Love and it grins noncommittally and shrugs.
She gapes at me suspiciously before edging still closer.
Love. And we sit there.
An eternity passes before she claims stiffness and asks that I
massage her back. Everything is blurry. Goose bumps, wetness, and
snow angels in the sand. A sleeping bag, starlight and a lonesome
howl from a ghostly Mexican Grey. Sudorific scents and soporific
surf. Unconsumation. Strange fulfillment. And finally sleep.
Love waits until body chemistry oxidizes all my excuses before
sliding off the log to wake me. I lay motionless, my body formed
against hers, fading between stages of consciousness. Hours seem to
pass as Ursa Major chases Leo across the sky and into the sea. Only
when the blowhole of dawn begins to spray at the horizon, do I sense
Love's impatience and turn my head to meet its gaze. She stirs as I
move and Love's presence becomes more intense. It mesmerizes me with
it's blazing eyes.
Locked into its inner soul, I stare achingly into the night and
sense its body changing shape. A snow leopard, a porpoise, a cherry
pie. Steinbeck, a pony, a skull and lightning bolt. A brown and
white dog with a winking blue eye that breaks my concentration. I
see that it is a turtle again. A sea turtle wearing my dolphin
earring and bandanna. Its beaky expression seems concerned as it
slowly turns to go. I gesture frantically, questioning. A sad smile
shines in the Mexican night and Love shrugs its shimmering shell.
Shrugs and drags slowly down the beach. There isn't a splash as Love
plunges into the sea.
I grope at my ear and find that my earring is gone. I try to stand
and she rolls over. My bandanna has disappeared from the bush where
it had hung to dry. I sit down and put my hand on her shoulder as
the stars begin to fade. I try to focus on something but everything has begun to spin into the crescent moon.
Back from Mexico, I feel better
than I have in the years since I started to feel. Though she is but
a memory, at least I know that she is out there somewhere. And I
think I can understand that thing known as Love a little better.
Perhaps I'm not in it, but I know where it lives, where it thrives,
and where it comes from. It isn't a river but where all rivers flow.
It isn't space but it may be everything else. Mine is a turtle and
everyone's is different. Everyone has their own private Love.
Having seen mine leaves me feeling full of life again. I feel like
quitting my job and running in the sun. Like hiking and cooking in
my wok. I feel like attending class, traveling, and brewing beer. I
notice the sunsets, listen to my old tapes and reread the good stuff
on my shelves. And I feed my pet turtles much more regularly.
And I've started to remember things. Good things. Fun things. I
dream. I feel like writing, creating. I haven't felt creative since
enrolling in a creative writing class. But I'm writing now. The
music is up, the windows are open, and beer runs keep playing the
rent money. I hoist a quart at my desk and type out a toast.
To my parents, travel and mountain bikes. To Sorority from the North
and all that she implies. To Salmon Rushdie and the guy they call
Ricketts. To my first writing teacher and the girl of my dreams.
And to Edward Abbey Goddammit. I had Desert Solitaire in my
backpack when he died over that spring break and I never got to take
his class. I saw him recently at an Earth First rally and he hadn't
looked ready to go. He was a gem in his contradiction but I knew
what he was up to. He was a humanist after all, he'd rather shoot a
man than a snake. Said that this country's highways are so offensive
that it's a person's duty to throw beer cans on them. Is he finally
at peace? Hell no. Nobody who could ever write worth a damn could
write in peace. Drinking to you and what killed you with that which
probably did you in. Raise hell up there if it gets to comfortable.
Off of me cat! It's not suppertime. It's time to write. What is this
mess anyway? A story. A scene. A poem. A journal entry? If it's a
story then the bastards will look for an epiphany, foreshadowing,
and a main character. Could it be Love? I feel like writing a
I sit with visions of her. The first impression on paper so far
away. I can't let her slip. Or can I? Word choice is crucial. I
shove away from my desk, crush beer cans and bounce them down the
hall. I can't sit anymore. I don't understand Love at all. I want to
hide somewhere. Hide in the willows and watch her run. Pick her up
and carry her into a mountain stream. Throw her a Frisbee. Massage
her back. I want to convince her that it is safe to hop a train.
Love in an abandoned freight car. Northbound.
But she is already North, I am in the desert, and Love is in the
sea. If I would have thought about it I probably should have known
that. A toast then and a drink to the sea.
As the unprecedented spell of ebullience
that Nate evidently felt at the conclusion of spring break
that year gradually wore off and he soon resuccumbed to the mediocrity and
murk that had been becoming his life until he dared to hope for a
fleeting moment that Sorority, Love, Fiction, and Traveling, or some
combination thereof, might lift him out of it. He sunk into a period of
wonder as to what, if anything, there was in the world for him to
genuinely care about. Like a zoo animal, born in captivity and
allowed a weekend furlough on the Serenghetti, only to be rudely
tossed back into his cage, he had begun to feel mentally lost and
dangerously confined. Like most things caged or lost, he began to
pace more desperately than ever along the only path that was
familiar, all the while knowing that ultimately, he must break
completely away in order to survive.
But a month or two passed in this fashion and nothing was changing
other than Beth, Nate's fiction writing teacher said that he showed
promise and Banana's reminded her of something she might have
written when she was much younger. As each day went by, the entire
encounter seemed more like a dream and just as he was ready to lower
himself completely back down into his rut, a letter arrived from the
North. Nate has saved it and is able to include it here.
Your submission had left me a bit incredulous, I must say. I had no
idea you harbored such epistolary, or I guess I should say literary,
ambitions, or for that matter, that you aspired to much of anything
at all. What else lies dormant beneath a surface seemingly so
insouciant and composed?
From a workshopper's point of view I especially like the way your
story bites its own tail, or perhaps, covers it own ass, would be a
more accurate assessment. The English majoring side of me can't even
find a way to get at it. Very self contained and impregnable but I
suppose that would be congruous with your personality, wouldn't it.
I really enjoyed some of your metafictional inclusions such as the
Morsian Dogma and the whole Love, anthropomorphism theme with the
turtle. You clearly have an active imagination and an amazing
ability to generate something out of nothing, not to mention an eye
for catching details and ironies lost on the rest of us or that
wouldn't even have existed otherwise.
Like all writers that are any good, you borrow extensively from your
brethren in the arts which is not so bad in itself, but you might
work a little harder to disguise it. I always feel that if a reader
starts recognizing too many purloined phrases, they might began to
suspect unoriginality throughout the piece.
For example, the Vertigoing thing might seem like a Fortunate
Johannsen original to most people but you know Tom Robbins is my
favorite author and is also from my home town and I wasn't about to
miss that Jitterbug Perfume reference. Remember that I called you on
that lame argument you were making about gender pronouns when we
were talking by the bus.
And the blowhole of dawn thing is pure piracy from Robbins as well
except he can't bitch because he stole it from Homer.
Anyway, since I'm sure this is the first and last time I will
inspire a fictional character, I won't get too comfortable
co-starring in a lead role with Love but will only admit that I have
been smiling since I returned home and found your anonymous envelope
in with the rest of my rather desultory mail. Sorry it took me so
long to respond but I had to let it sit on the back burner and percolate
for a while as I got caught up in school and decided what
to do. (I have changed majors again and am pursuing Writing also),
all of which brings me to the final part of my letter.
Since you left me to guess at any underlying, or perhaps blatantly obvious meanings which I might or might not want to derive from your
"story". I will let that go for now and say only that if I
were to look at the whole thing "non-fictionally" I would
have no idea what to make of it except to say that you definitely have an interesting way of
Perhaps we shall meet again some day to discuss it. What do you
WHAT DO YOU REALLY THINK?
I'd be interested in knowing.
Until then, Onward and Upward.
Thus began a correspondence. A good
deal of river water had passed under the bridge before Nate saw