The stars at night, are big and bright,
deep in the heart of Texas,
The prairie sky is wide and high,
deep in the heart of Texas.
— June Hershey & Don Swander,
“Deep In The Heart Of Texas,”1941
* * *
It’s hot in Boonville, so I put the top down and turn the stereo up and head west on Manchester Road towards the coast. I drive past AV High School, where I used to drag the baseball field during algebra class, where I tried to make potato vodka in chemistry, and where Bud Sloan “supervised” Dave Roderick and me during French (though Bud claimed to know Swahili better than the language of love). A survivalist with a small arsenal of weapons, Bud was so friendly and quirky that I forgave his ignorance of French, as well as his occasional requests to, “Come over here and tie me up.” Dave would reply, “Ah come on, Bud, jesus. Now we’re gonna have to go outside and hit some golf balls.” Bud would grin, “Surgical tubing doesn’t leave marks.” Who says we didn’t learn anything?
The high school safely in the rearview mirror, I pass the old graveyard overlooking Sam Adams’ place, and where my Uncle Ken also had a house. One summer a prowler-pervert was harassing the neighborhood ladies, prompting my Aunt Penny to buy a shotgun and take a self-defense class.
And here comes Mrs. Eubanks’ home, her grove of virgin redwoods still cathedral-like in their majesty, and the mini-hairpin where Danny Mandelbaum and Benna Kolinsky live, then the driveway of Aron Evans’ grandmother, who used to politely drop off copies of the Watchtower.
Climbing higher I glimpse through the trees the house across from the dump where we lived in for several years, and where the Owens clan is now. One afternoon back in ’75 or ’76 my dad and I were sitting in the living room when the front door began to nudge open. A shaggy human head poked through and paused, not expecting to see us. “Oh, sorry,” said the would-be burglar. “I had car trouble and, uh, can I borrow your telephone?” My dad pointed at the phone then disappeared in back. As the intruder pretended to call someone, my dad reappeared with a double-barreled Winchester and clicked two shells into the chamber, about six inches from the intruder, a local moron known for his stupendously moronic crimes. (A few years later the same guy stole my Uncle Ken’s 1957 Ford pick-up truck, only to be caught when it ran out of gas in front of the Redwood Drive-In.)
The best thing about that house was its tin roof, which made every downpour a musical experience. I used to think the rain was trying to tell me something, probably along the lines of S.O.S. The house was isolated, half a mile from the nearest neighbor, and walking home from the gym after basketball practice, suspicious of every shadow and nut-humping squirrel, I’d keep a wary eye out for Bicycle Man, whom the old timers will remember. Bicycle Man was a homeless, Rasputin-looking figure who pushed a rusted bicycle loaded up with tin pots, black plastic, and a sun-bleached calico blanket from Cloverdale to Navarro. One time we even saw him on Highway 101 down by Windsor. The rumor was that he was a Russian sailor who jumped ship, and that one of his main nests was a burned-out stump in Hendy Woods. Bicycle Man never hurt or bothered anyone, but at the time I believed (like Spinal Tap co-founder David St. Hubbins) virtually everything I read, and understood that demons and Sasquatches and time-traveling witches practicing arcane (but still effective) magic lurked behind every madrone and scrub oak.
Inhaling the clean air I pass Faulkner Park and little slits of dirt knifing off to people I used to know: the Burroughs, the Groves, the Gibsons, and Bob and Roxanne Hedges and their Bear Wallow Resort. Then near the little bridge on the Navarro River comes Rodger Tolman in his green truck hauling a load of timber. It’s fitting, as Rodger drove Jerry, Olie, G.P. Price and me countless times over this very stretch to basketball and baseball games in Manchester, Point Arena, Gualala, and the Air Force Base. Rodger showed us Devil’s Slide where the road levels out at the top, a little ways past the Hanes Ranch, and it was Rodger who taught us about barking spiders and how to follow-through on our free throws. Back up in the sunshine I feel a little shiver looking out at the mountains and the trees; the land has seen more than I ever will, and still it is patient, confident and kind.
Descending towards Highway 1, the air conditioner that is the Pacific starts to blow. I put on a hat and scarf and turn left towards Point Arena and milk cows trudging beneath Cypress trees. I’m trying to remember the name of that restaurant with those hamburgers and milkshakes when there it is: Giannini’s, just a few doors down from the theater.
This trip is turning out just fine.
The Arena Theater is a little jewel of a place with good popcorn and a friendly staff and a balcony where generations of local teenagers stole their first kiss. Community owned and operated, it’s been around for 80 years, and shows everything from first run Hollywood blockbusters, to Metropolitan Opera, and live music. It’s what every small town should have, along with a bookstore, a decent coffee place, and a local newspaper. Keep up the good work, fog-eaters.
There’s a good turnout for my strange little movie, and I’d like to thank the intrepid souls who showed up. Especially I’d like to thank folk music legend, Texas Jon, for inviting me in the first place. Texas is a singer-songwriter of no modest repute, who also produced albums by fellow stars like Guy Clark and Pete Seeger.
Texas, I’ve spent the last year schlepping the film from Liverpool to Amsterdam, from Bruges to Istanbul, and from Trivandrum City in India to the glittering emptiness of paparazzi flash bulbs in Cannes. But that’s nothing compared to driving to Point Arena from Boonville on a hot day in June. Nothing was more beautiful or as melodious as these dim green ridges fading into dusk and all the trees flowering with memories.
After the screening I head back east, moving on the back roads, by the rivers of my memory. Thank you for reminding me, Texas, that the door is always open and the path is free to walk… and home forever gentle on my mind.