The Silly Season
It was the time of year when the sidewalks of Garberville were crowded with pretty young women (and men I suppose) looking for work, the time when friendly woman from all over the world would smile with eye contact and you didn’t have to wonder what they really wanted: money.
I would never hire off the street preferring family, like my niece and her sisters-in-law, people I’d known for years, friends of friends, or women I’d met at the neighbor’s house trimming.
It was a mercenary gig, everyone was in it for the cash, but I felt more comfortable with friends who got me or accepted me even if they had to fly in from Texas or Mexico, which they sometimes did.
I wanted it to be like family or at least close to that. I told them, “If you work for me you have to like me, or at least pretend convincingly.”
So I never hired off the streets except this one time and wow was she a live one.
I was sitting at the front booth in Flavors coffee shop with Crazy Mati and her cute three-year-old drinking coffee one afternoon. A young woman walked by and smiled as she passed. Later she was sitting with an older woman who turned out to be her mother. I said hello, we talked for a minute or so, and they invited me to have a seat. The conversation turned to the local industry and I tried to hire them both. I had a trimmer but she was unreliable, sometimes leaving for the weekend and not coming back for weeks, so I was open to new recruits.
The mother, a ceramicist, was heading back up to Washington while the daughter, a tall beautiful woman of twenty-two was staying. She was between jobs and looking for work. The vetting process had begun: I was okay because I was hanging out with a woman and her small child. Tall Girl was okay because she was accompanied by her mother.
Tall Girl and I arranged to meet back at Flavors in an hour for a job interview and we went off to do our errands.
Back at the coffee shop we sat in the booth for a few minutes and then decided to take a walk around town. As we walked up Pine she took the crook of my arm in her hand and soon I put my arm around her and we bopped up the street together. We held hands as we walked and talked about her coming to work for me.
I was exhilarated walking arm in arm with this young beauty. “I like to dance,” I said. “Could we dance before work?”
“I’d love to,” she said.
She showed up the next morning for work, late of course, and talking or texting on her phone for a while after she parked. So now I had three trimmers and they all drove Fords.
I started thinking maybe this life wasn’t so bad after all: In the morning this sweet young woman comes to work but first we dance in my living room. I am all hands of course, woman-handling her, kissing her a bit, and generally living a dirty old man’s wet dream.
Yet after a few days I felt hesitant: what if this was extreme workplace sexual harassment? “When I pet you and run my hands over your belly as we dance does that make you feel weird or is it okay?” I asked.
“Darling,” she said, “it makes me purr like a kitty cat...”
She was a musician and one day we wrote a song together, her long legs intertwined around mine as we sat on the couch. Singing it a few minutes later, when we got to the part about petting her belly she came up to me in the kitchen and put it in front of me to glide my hand across. “I love to be petted,” she said
Later we were dancing and usually I touched her everywhere except her erogenous zones but his time I let my hand wander everywhere.
“Hey, whoa,” she said
“Oh, okay,” I said. “Just seeing what your boundaries are.”
We had some good times. She was a singer and I got her a gig with my friends’ band uptown at Cecil’s where she sung “Summertime.” She never really worked that much or was very good but that dancing before work was the best.
Once when she was sitting there trimming I came over and gave her a little kiss on the lips. “Oh!” she said. “A kiss on the job, what a lucky girl.” So I did it again.
Then I made her cry two days in a row, a bit of tears one day then all-out sobbing the next. She didn’t like how I was talking about her obese co-worker who had taken the afternoon off, as they had bonded the last couple days.
So there was this gorgeous young woman with long blond hair with pink highlighting, red-faced and teary-eyed, standing in the middle of the kitchen melting down as I sat there working. Finally I said, “Do you want a hug?”
“Yesss,” she whimpered and I held her a while. She looked up at me (pretty easy—she was nearly as tall) and her smile and joy returned shining through her tears as I kissed her and held her. Twenty-two must be hard, especially for a lovely trimmigrant.
Now she’s gone, they’re all gone, and they’re never coming back.
Hugh was born in New Jersey, grew up in Oklahoma, and lived in Alderpoint for many years. (I used to tease him that he was a three-time loser.) He couldn’t stand his parents but he was close to his brother and sisters.
In Oklahoma he worked at a box factory where he claimed to have put together a million cardboard boxes. I called him on that but the numbers checked out.
I first met Hugh at the hospice party at the community park. I was looking for a carpenter and Milton introduced us. “Here’s an honest man,” he said. And it was true, Hugh always rounded down on his hours. He was only available because he was recently busted for growing on his patron’s land.
He was mostly just the electrician and handyman at the time of the massive indoor grow but there was a property line discrepancy on some land he owned adjacent so he went down too. He could have gotten a little jail time but he chose a lot of probation instead because he didn’t want to leave his dog behind. Part of the deal was that Hugh could have no contact with his previous boss, hence he was free to work for me. I set him to work building a cabin in my back yard.
Hugh always gave a sucker an even break, taking on practically anyone, any hard luck case, to be a dope-growing partner. There was a judge out east of Alderpoint who had 1500 acres and during the eighties Hugh grew weed all over that land with a multitude of partners. The judge got a third, Hugh got a third, and his partners got a third. They grew up the plants in two gallon containers in a greenhouse, banged and shook all the dirt off the three-foot females, bundled fifty or so together, and hiked an hour or more out to a good spring in the middle of nowhere. The bare-root plants recovered and grew just fine.
This arrangement worked well for all until one of Hugh’s partners got greedy and badmouthed some lies about him to the judge. He was ousted off the 1500 acres, just shrugged it off, and grew somewhere else. He was an easy-going sort.
For all the hundreds of pounds of weed that Hugh grew over the years he ended up with nothing, just his little fixer up in Alderpoint, and a succession of old beater trucks. Hugh shared a lot with his girlfriends and friends and didn’t really care about money.
Hugh met his best friend Mike out in the hills and they worked on some weed scenes together before Mike got his job working for the county. One day Hugh was working on some project with Mike when he got a call from his girlfriend. She said she was leaving him. Later that day they got to Mike’s house and his girlfriend was packing and leaving him. That bond of both getting dumped on the same day solidified their friendship.
Hugh was completely without guile. Once he was hanging out in the bar at the Benbow Inn where Mike was the bartender. Another guy walked in, ordered a drink, and said, “You’re here a lot Hugh.”
“Yeah,” Hugh said, motioning to Mike, “because he gives me free drinks!” Mike came around the bar, grabbed Hugh by the scruff of his shirt, and said, “Shut the fuck up!” They had one other big falling out but were mostly best friends for decades.
Hugh could do it all: plumbing, carpentry, electrical, welding, mechanics, and his specialty: fence building. Once he said, “I work for all these guys and they can’t do anything! But they always have more money than me.”
Then we were sitting in the Woodrose and Hugh said in a normal voice, actually a little loud as he was slightly deaf, “What’s the most money you’ve ever had buried?” Shut the fuck up Hugh!
Hugh was a storyteller and it turned out I was also. After I’d known Hugh a couple years I said, “Hey Hugh, every time I tell you something or start a story you launch into your story about some guy you knew once who did some memorable thing back in Oklahoma or wherever. So tell me, how many guys were there?” Hugh thought for a moment and then said “Oh, about a hundred and fifty.”
Once Hugh was working under his truck and a guy dropped by with a pound to sell. “Just put it in the front seat of the car,” Hugh said. “He’ll will be by later.”
After awhile the buyer came by to check out the weed. “It’s on the front seat,” Hugh said. The guy took the pound, put the money on the seat, and left. Later a friend came by and asked how the weed had looked. “I don’t know,” Hugh said. “I never saw it!”
I thought Hugh might like some company so I introduced him to my crazy friend Mati who needed a place to live. I warned him about her but I guess he was up to the challenge.
After a few years he got tired of her yammering at him but he didn’t know what to do, how to get rid of her. Once she left, went back home to Montana or somewhere, and when he heard she was back in the area he locked all the doors when he left for work. He told me she had crawled back in through a window.
“Well, get her out!” I said.
“But she’s already back in,” he said, as if it were a fait accompli.
After the years of listening to him complain about how she wouldn’t leave I called Adult Protective Services to report elder abuse. “Has she been there awhile?” the outreach worked asked.
“Yeah, for like five years,” I said.
“And she has her belongings there?” he said.
“Oh, yeah, she’s got all her crap there. She uses his house like a storage container.” She was a hoarder who constantly collected old rags for her discordant art and fashion projects.
“Well if she’s been there for years and has her stuff there then she has to be legally evicted.”
I told Hugh he would have to evict her and her little girl if he wanted her out. He refused. “It would hurt her credit rating,” he said.
Hugh complained about her and wanted her gone. Other times he spoke affectionately and protectively about them, especially the kid, and it sounded like he liked them there. Finally I said, “Hugh, do you like them there or not?!” He hemmed and hawed but I finally pinned him down: he did like them there.
Hugh was very intelligent but kind of a throwback. I don’t think he was ever really a hippie although he had had long hair, a beard, smoked pot for years, and took LSD. He was not easy to label and kind of a redneck. He agreed with the death penalty and thought vicious murderers should fry. I told him I believed state-sponsored execution was worse than random murder.
“Hugh,” I said. “Someday they’ll look back at these days and say how barbaric capital punishment was.”
“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully.
Hugh loved food. When he came into my kitchen he always eyed the counter to see what was available, even a crumb or a crust didn’t escape his feral attention. (It was annoying when he reached into the cereal box for a handful.) When my friends were here from Mexico and cooking delicious food Hugh was served a dish as well. One day I said, “Hugh, whenever the girls make a nice meal you never say thanks or how good it was.”
“Huh?” he said, and after that he praised the meals effusively. I was heating up my boringly healthy bachelor food one day and I asked him if he wanted some.
“Oh, I guess,” he said.
“No, not ‘oh I guess,’” I said. “You gotta really want it or not!” He wanted it.
One of Hugh’s running themes was how self-important people could act, afraid “they” were after you, etc. It reminds me of those who cover up the camera on their computers, like really? You really thinking someone’s spying on you?
Hugh lost a lot of money over the years investing in art, guitars, vintage motorcycles and any other schemes his brother or friends talked him into. Hugh almost always said yes, yes to the adventure of it all.
He used to say the more nicknames you had the more well-liked you were. He had many: Hu-man, Hughster. Huey, Baby Huey, Hu, and Huge.
Hugh thought locals and people he knew spent too much time making money and not enough spending it. “If I had as much money as you all do I’d be having way more fun,” he said.
“What would you do Hugh, if you had a lot of money again?” I said
Hugh thought about it then said, “Get an old convertible and drive it down Main Street in Garberville with the top down.”
They found Hugh’s body a few miles down Murder Mountain, ten miles from his truck. He had done nothing wrong, it could have been his kindness that killed him, as he would pick up almost every hitchhiker. He took Mati in, gave her a place to live, helped support her, and so had a more interesting life in his last five years, although she might have been related to the cause of his demise.
I was the only one who knew Hugh was missing. We had a standing Scrabble date for 2pm (we played while I watched my sports talk show) and I thought it odd when he missed two days of the game he loved to play. I called around to his friends, here and in Ukiah where he sometimes went, and called his home but there was no answer. I had heard on the news that an unidentified body had been found near Alderpoint but his best friend Mike, who worked for the county, assured me that his sources had told him it wasn’t Hugh.
A couple days later I double-checked and got a description from the coroner.
It sounded like Hugh.
Steve and Anita
My father’s best friend and long-time office mate died the other day. Steve helped him out with rides to the airport, rides to the hospital. A couple summers ago I came back to Indiana to be with him during an operation and even though I was willing to get up early and drive he still had Steve come over at five in the morning to drive us both to the hospital--for all the major surgeries Steve was there. And now, ailing in his own aging he has out-lived Steve, who definitely lived for now, smoking cigarettes for years and a junk food junkie probably to the end.
Steve had a very nice send-off delivered by a funny rabbi across the way from the Unitarian church, the place overflowed with hundreds of Steve’s friends. One thing that was alluded to but not directly mentioned was that Steve, when he graded papers at IU-Ft Wayne, had a little stamp that said "Bullshit," at least one of my friends received that on a college paper or two. Another thing that Steve did was grade memos from the administration and send them back. Once an administrator quipped, "I’m having a good day, Steve gave me a C+."
The other day his ex-wife went out to the cemetery and found that D.O. McCombs had misspelled his name on the tombstone, Hollnader instead of Hollander! The story goes that her shock turned to anger and then laughter; my dad says that Steve would have gotten a kick out of that.
I also noticed in the New York Times that Anita Hoffman had died. She was the wife of the famous Yippie Abbie Hoffman and mother to their child America. When I was nineteen I worked in a day care center in Harlem and later drove taxi. When I landed at the Tiny House daycare in Greenwich Village America was one of the three-year-olds there.
During the time Abbie was on the run from a coke bust and living underground Anita recruited me to do some babysitting on the side at her apartment on Greenwich Street. She said she was going out to research a book project about the Guru Maharaji, who I had heard speak in San Francisco a couple years before, but I suspected she was secretly meeting with Abbie.
I snooped around the apartment and found a joint to smoke. America ended up sitting under the sink in the bathroom with his red fireman hat on as I taught him to say "Right on, Abbie!"
The next week Anita invited me over for a delicious chicken dinner, asked how things were in Mendocino, and said Abbie didn’t play by the rules. Some years after that I wondered if there could have been more than chicken dinner, but I was such an innocent feminist with zero moves that it never crossed my mind at the time.