It started raining, which is not surprising. I forget the season I’m in, they’re interchangeable in this city. Cold summers, hot winters…whatever – it rains. Umbrellas pop up everywhere and though I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone blinded by umbrella spokes I’m dodging them angrily. Why the fuck don’t they just wear hoods, like I do? My jackets, my sweatshirts, all have hoods. Handy to hide in, too, should the need arise. If I see an enemy approaching I can pull my hood down tight over most of my head. Far as I can tell I have no enemies but you can’t be too cautious. I jam my hands into my jean pockets and charge head-first into the rain.

I spot a girl in the doorway of Beano’s Haircuts. I note her lanky good looks and frizzy hairdo, heavy with rainwater, hanging over her face. She sees me, too, and once again I reckon the months since I last felt the brush of a girl’s skin against my own hairy self. There’s a tingling behind my fly. Of course, it’s all very hopeless, but as I pass she grabs my arm and pulls me out of the rain. “Lissen, this guy’s following me. Pretend you’re with me a sec.”

“Who is it? Someone you know?”

“My boyfriend.”

Well, yes, of course. I’m glad to help. I’ll fuck her in the doorway if it does the trick. Or marry her. She jabbers a while, I guess to look like she knows me and then takes off down the street. I look around and there’s no one in sight that appears to care one way or another whether she lives or dies. Is she nuts? Probably. Why am I so attractive to lunatics? I muse upon this topic as I venture forth once more into the rain. I realize I’m hungry and should have had a bite with that coffee so I stop in the Laundromat for an old magazine to read while I gulp down a sandwich or something at the next diner I see. An old man rushes out of an invisible doorway in the back yelling, “Hey you dumb punk those are for customers.” I have a full and detailed defense ready but it would take too long to deliver so I rush out and walk fast across the street to Bernice’s Fast Lunch. Soaked by now I flop into the first booth with my wet, old Newsweek.

I scan the menu and wonder why it looks so familiar. Somewhere some printing outfit decided what choices I’d have at mealtime. It’s the same menu coast to coast. Why do I need to even look at it? It’ll be either a burger, a BLT, a clubhouse, or breaded veal cutlets, depending how flushed I feel, no matter whether I’m at Bernice’s in Vancouver or the Bongo Rest Stop in Northern Michigan. It’s always the same, just like the newspapers. Same news, different names. Still, I scan the choices. The waitress strolls by and slides beside me into the booth. What the hell’s going on? I look up and see it’s Her, the doorway damsel-in-distress.

A truck pulled over on the Michigan highway leading up to Mackinaw City, and Canada beyond. I climbed up and into the rider’s seat, slamming the door gratefully. “Thanks,” I said, throwing my pack into the bunk behind me. As he pulled back onto the asphalt the driver, a chubby man about fifty with stubble and a red shirt under his nylon windbreaker, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a card a bit bigger than a business card and handed it to me. It said, in fat handwritten letters, “I CANNOT SPEAK. PLEASE TALK TO ME.”

I stared straight ahead, through the smoke-filled air in the cab, through the bug-splattered windshield, into the dust-speckled atmosphere, at the onrushing ribbon of asphalt with its frenzy of yellow dashes speeding by, at the flight of trees, poles, and billboards disappearing beyond the peripheries of my view. I watched the future roll under our wheels and become my past. I heard the whine of wind and engine wail, grieving lost time. I was Jagannath rolling on, over the corpses of lost love, failed hopes, disappointment, and wasted chances; into an unfolding glorious future.

I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Tongue-tied, dumbstruck, mute. Speechless, voiceless, wordless. I ached to speak but couldn’t even find where to begin. Miles rolled beneath us in thundering silence. Tell a joke? My life story? Recite a poem? What? I suppose I could have told him about the previous night in the Nowhere Hotel, going to bed alone in the middle of nowhere and listening to We’ll Sing in the Sunshine booming up from the bar and the sounds of Americans getting drunk and happy and how I woke up in the morning and saw my arm lying on the bed and wondered why it looked like just an arm, nothing that belonged to me in any way except as a memory of an arm. The strangeness of it like a block of ice in my brain, following me out to the road where I stood for less than a minute till the first car to pass stopped for me.

She sits beside me in the booth, says “Hi”, as though we’re old pals, fucked in a doorway once, possibly were husband and wife. The waitress appears with poised pad and pencil.

“You wanna coffee?” I ask. She nods. “Two coffees and, um, a BLT.”

“You gonna have something to eat?” the waitress asks, looking at my secret wife.

“Just the coffee.”

She seemed so tall in the doorway but now appears to be about a foot shorter than me, thin and breastless with sharply featured face, huge eyes, and wet hair hanging down in random strands. I decide to fall in love with her.

As it turns out, I’m very good at falling in love but terrible at actually loving. And even worse at being in love with. When our coffees arrive she moves around to the opposite side of our booth. I ask her a series of questions, questions concerning her name, whether or not she ditched her stalker, where she’s from, etc. I try to make out her breasts, but fail. I consider her gray sweater and decide that the manner in which it is draped over her upper body has, somehow, concealed two lovely yearning papillae. I recall how misleading clothes can be, how Valerie, who seemed a bag of bones, revealed a body so glorious it haunted me for years when she got out of bed to get the phone as I talked to her in her room. Imagining my new friend is easy. I can see her skin, smell the fragrances arising from her miscellaneous regions, hear the pop of my pecker pulled from her pulsating pudendum, smell the cooling coffees beside our Epicurean mattress. Suddenly I grasp that the coffee I smell occupies the abandoned mug across the table. She never answered a single one of my questions. She fidgeted there a while and then was gone. Probably a junkie or just an ordinary maniac. I recognized at once that my life had reached yet another dead end.

Back home, Ross informed me that Jessie, (who was later to attend Woodstock and accidentally become an immortal, if anonymous, icon of our culture by having her picture wind up on the album cover, draped in a blanket, buried in the arms of a stranger) was despondent due to having just been dumped by her man, John. So Ross and Lissa were taking her camping for a few days up to Robert’s Creek. For the cure. “Why not join us?”

I had nothing to do. I’d just started a new business so the idea of skipping town appealed to me. I hated camping but what the hell? Within hours we were on the Horseshoe Bay bus, the Langdale Ferry, and soon trekking across the stony beach looking for a good spot to spend the night. Ross and Lissa babbled non-stop about every natural feature of the universe, pointing out certain birds, trees, etc., each of which they knew personally. They loved nature, it seems. I was more interested in every natural feature of Lissa, a tall and supremely gorgeous example of god’s handiwork. Ross, a shortish and witty guy, and arty in the bargain, I liked a lot but I’d have happily killed him to get into Lissa’s botanicals. Besides, he was too short for her. When she dumped him a few years later he became a scientologist. For now they chatted amiably while Jessie stared at rocks despondently and I made stupid jokes, since I knew nothing about nature.

Within minutes of settling into our campsite I discovered that I’d lost my cigarette papers so, after trying to roll a cigarette in some cardboard I found on the beach, I went immediately to sleep. First thing at dawn I walked back along the beach directly to where my pack of Export Aquafuge papers lay. I have always taken this as a sign that I have some kind of paranormal finding skill, despite the fact that I’ve lost enough Swiss Army knives in my life to defeat the Iraqis. I enjoyed my metaphysical cigarette while waiting for my companions to find me. For the next few hours we roamed the beach, after our breakfast of ranch-style coffee and some crap out of cans. The talk continued in the same vein as the night before until Jessie turned on me:

“Why the fuck don’t you shut yer damn mouth? Yer a goddam idiot,” she explained. I instantly forgot every word I’d said. I had no idea what set her off. I could understand she’d be in a lousy mood but what was this all about? Generally, I think, we were all having a mediocre time only I hadn’t been aware of it since it’s about what I expected, anyway. Camping! I kept my mouth shut while Ross tried to calm her down. Lissa was hunting for some kind of intertidal lifeform down a ways from us. I sat down on a log.

“Maybe we oughta just go home,” Ross suggested. Jessie agreed and they called to Lissa. I sat on the log. “I’m just gonna stay here.”

Now and then this strange thing would come over me. Out of nowhere I’d be seized with a certain kind of idea. It went something like this: What the hell am I doing?

Not just me, this may happen to others. Once Judy and I were crossing the Burrard Bridge at night. A line of street lights spans the bridge along the pedestrian walkway. As we passed under each one our shadows grew longer and longer till, halfway to the next light, they began to fade. Under the new light our long shadows appeared again, to repeat the cycle so that as we walked these shadows stretched before us and faded and emerged anew to stretch and fade, again and again and again, like a crazed cartoon movie of ghostly pistons. The wind came howling down False Creek causing the shadows of our windblown hair to appear like nightmare Medusas. Judy had apparently been studying this sight. “Look at that! What the hell are we?” The next time I saw her she’d gotten a Jean Seberg-style boy’s hairdo.

It happened to me a couple a times. A year before the Bridge Epiphany I got up one day with the bizarre notion that I needed to clean up my act. Get straight. I shortened my hair by a foot or two, picked up some kind of sport jacket at the Sally Ann, and went down to Canada Manpower to get a job.

I sat around the waitingroom picturing the new life upon which I was embarking. Fine digs, clothes, cars, travel, etc. As a serious member of Society I’d command respect and my noble thoughts would be honoured, transforming not only myself but the entire world. And about time, too!

They gave me a pencil and some kind of form and sent me into a booth with both. They took the completed form and I waited some more, picturing me and Judy throwing fabulous dinner parties in our sky-high penthouse. I’d be explaining my world-peace theories to Lester Pearson after persuading him to get dope legalized. Charles Mingus’d borrow money from me. Doormen will call me “sir”.

A crewcut guy named Frank called my name and I followed him to his cubicle. I sat there twiddling my thumbs as he stared, glassy-eyed, at the sheet I’d just scribbled on. I thought the fluorescent lights and file-folder dust might make me puke.

“Hmmmm. Says here your last job was Hartford Insurance in San Francisco?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Was he gonna say something about Wallace Stevens? I didn’t think so.

“So… you lived in San Francisco?”

“Yeah, that’s right. For a while.”

“Hmmmm. Innaresting. Seen on TV and magazines, there’s a lotta hippies there.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“They use marijuana, don’t they? The hippies? I heard they use marijuana.”

“Well, yeah, I think they might.”

“You smoke marijuana? I mean you ever try it? Must be a lotta marijuana in San Francisco.”

“Well, uh, yeah, I tried it once.”

“Really, eh? Hmmmm. So……uh…..could you get me some?”

Every week I kept my appointment with Canada Manpower. I’d bring Frank a pay-envelope filed with drugs and he’d hand me a sawbuck and a stack of index cards with various jobs described on them, none of which seemed to bear a relationship to any reality I knew of. The only job the Canadian government ever got me was dope peddler!

I stared at the stony beach, the surf, the general mess of a natural landscape strewn with the immeasurable garbage of humankind’s stupid endeavors: lost logs, broken glass, old paint. It resembled beauty, in a way, and for the first time I saw it as my own peaceful place. A place I could just look at, without disturbance, with no design.

Once again, in my life, I was free to follow any inclination, go any way, without worry or plan. I had no money or friends or anything at all here on the beach at the far western edge of the land. I breathed the marine air with its smells of intertidal life, clams, seaweed, and salt. It was rich and thrilling and only years later would it become an aroma to transport me back in time to an almost forgotten world that once I’d inhabited. For now it was only the smell of serenity. I sat awhile, then got up and walked back to the highway. For just a moment I wavered and looked south, back towards Vancouver. I stood by a gas station at the intersection of roads. A man, about sixty, in jeans and checkered shirt and obviously an Indian, walked up to me.

“Beautiful day!”

“It’s a beautiful day,” I agreed. It must have been about ten or eleven A.M. by now. Hot, bright, clean and clear.

“Go North,” he said. That’s all he said.

I was a little disoriented. He pointed North and walked away. That was it. That was our entire conversation. I stood where I was, on the Eastern side of Highway 101, and stuck my thumb out at the first passing car. The green Chevy pulled over into a cloud of dust and I climbed in.

Earlier that spring bill bissett showed up and had announced the new world. He’d joined some friends up the coast to start a commune at Galley Bay and urged us to go back there with him. Dick and Catherine took Beorn and the two pups I’d named, Abie and Max, and followed bill to paradise. I declined. Now I thought to find them. I knew, vaguely, that it was North, up along the coast somewhere. So all I had to do was follow the coastline North and I’d run into them. This was the first example of my complete ignorance of life on the planet that we refer to as “Earth”.

A city boy, having grown up near-poor among the flats of Clark Street, I’d been smug with my own hipness. In the backwater logging town of Vancouver I was supremely assured of my place on a superior plane of being. I knew it all and what I didn’t know I could pick up quickly in a smoky bar on the lower Main, as required. I knew who the authors were of Howl, The Dharma Bums, Moby Dick; who played drums in the Jazz Messengers and where and when that mysterious tenorman, Lester Young, showed up to cut the Father, Coleman Hawkins, at an all-night jam. (The Cherry Blossom, Kansas City, July, 1934.) Street smart, with it, I could leave the East with four dollars in my pocket and arrive in the West with six, without skipping a meal. I knew the ropes, could get money, drugs, whatever; walk the streets at night unharmed; go anywhere and do anything and never work. I was really, really smart.

I was really dumb. My world was a string of big cities with empty spaces between. I’d pass by towns by the sides of highways and wonder: do people live here? And, if so, why? There’s nothing here! To me, country life was exile. I was beginning, now, to find myself strange in a stranger land. But the scope of my ignorance had not yet begun to dawn on me. I could read “North” on a roadsign. I could stand on the proper side of the highway and point my thumb in the direction of my future, facing my past, squinting into the ozone, fearless and free.

My first ride took me about ten miles up the road. Behind the wheel of the green Chev a man about fifty with decent, suburban looks hardly spoke at all after pointing out the pallor of my shorts-clad legs. I realized then and there that something had been lacking, so far, in my imperfect life. What it was I did not yet know, but I knew that henceforth my legs would be as tanned as they could be, if that’s what it took to join the natural creatures of the Earth.

A couple of short rides later a young man, of the academic type, with his father beside him, picked me up and got me to the next ferry at Earl’s Cove. I sat silently in the back seat while up front some kind of family drama was being played out. Seems the younger man, obviously yet another in the long series of draft-dodging, tortilla-chip eaters that were filling up the country, was vainly trying to win the old man over to the new age of peace and communes. The old guy loved the kid, was giving him a chance to make good, but was buying none of it. I was glad to get off at the ferry terminal which consisted of a ramp at the end of the road. The crossing from there was a voyage through Empyrean Isles, a spectral passage through a dreamscape that almost had me believing in some sort of God. Still waters, looming slopes shrouded in Douglas Fir floating by, eagle-eyed Eagles, no sound but gentle water laps against the hull and the hum of diesels underfoot. The Laurentians, as I knew them, with their babbling Jews and French chip-vendors and tombolas in the summer night, was never like this. Surely I was the first white man, or at least the first Semite, to venture upon this pristine landscape.

I was learning the geography as I went along. By the time we docked at Saltery Bay I knew I had to get to Powell River, the next town. I waited dockside as the cars erupted out of the front of the boat. My old pals, pop and son, pulled over once again, so I could catch up on their conflict, I suppose. Their struggle was still unresolved when they dumped me only another ten miles closer to my destination. By now night was creeping up. The warm summer air, filled with a strange, repugnant odour, drifted over everything with spooky shadows. I stood in the same spot a couple of hours when two hooligans screeched up to me in an old heap. Death by wilderness or death by thugs, it didn’t matter. I hopped in. They drove me around a while so I could experience coastal hooliganism close up. They turned out to be pretty sweet kids in the end. One lived with his parents, who were away for a couple of days, so we went back to his bungalow in Powell River where we smoked dope, drank beer, and I told them lies about big city life. I spent the night there and the next morning they drove me to Lund, literally the end of the road. They knew about Galley Bay. Seems it got famous in these parts as the hippie commune. After a couple more beers at the Lund Hotel they left me to wander around the marina looking for a ride up to Galley Bay.

Hardly a town, Lund consisted mainly of the hotel and pub, scattered buildings, some ramshackle sheds and a government wharf. And boats. Lots of boats. Big boats. Small boats. Skiffs, tugs the size of a hotel, sailboats, cruisers, kayaks, rafts, dinghies. You name it. Wealthy Americans keep yachts here and, come summer, they’d bring their families and/or parties of business associates and harlots and go out on the blessed sea to drink, fuck, and watch TV. Some here also made their livings on the sea. Fishermen, beachcombers, and the like. The marine smells were becoming very familiar and refreshing to me. The horrible smells of yesterday turned out to be the emanations from the pulp mills near Powell River.

Finally I got my ride. About an hour later, standing on the boat deck, we sailed round the point into Galley Bay. If I die and go to heaven my arrival there will be second to this. Never in this life did I behold such a paradisiacal vision as arose before my eyes, sliding towards the rickety wharf. Heaven’s sun lit the universe, serene waters rolled beneath our bow, an ovine lamentation resonated up towards the sky from some unknown place deep in the forest, and as we sidled up against the gentle bobbing of the ancient wharf, naked kiddies scampered down to welcome me. The tide was so low that the swaybacked ramp from wharf to land, about a hundred feet long, rose at about a sixty degree angle. The kids were sprinting up and down the thing as I clutched the nearly rotten rail, pulling myself up, scared half to death that I’d plunge to my briny grave, that awesome sight burned before my eyes for eternity.

A raggedy path ran beside some woods towards a huge clearing in the middle of which stood the House, circled on three sides by a wide, covered porch. Off a ways beyond the house four or five sheep grazed, a ewe with its lambs. (This ewe was the source of the baritone wail I heard earlier.) Scattered here and there, singly and in small groups, idling and working, talking and singing, or lying silently in the sun, were the residents of the commune, about thirty in number, a few of them familiar, and almost all naked.

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