Politics. So much fun, right? Not so much, maybe. Confusing and scary, more like. But there I was making my first foray into the political wilderness since 1968 in my landslide victory in the presidential election of Miss Becker's third-grade class at Quail Hollow Elementary in Ben Lomand, California.
It was 2004 and I was doing my small part in aiding Matt Gonzalez's campaign against Gavin Gruesome. (I realize the man is not all gruesome, but you have to be reverently disparaging to your political opponent in a race and what else could I call him, Gavin Toothsome? More apt, maybe, but wouldn't win me any friends in the Gonzalez camp) by helping to flog some Albion art at a fundraiser. My factotum, Will Hawk, and I left Fort Bragg and about Oh-dark-15 and rolled into Boonville at about sun up on our way to San Francisco. It was my first experience of the town and I cruised slowly through taking it all in. "Charming little burg," I said to Will. "Maybe we should stop in here on the way back."
"Bad idea," Will said. "These people are hella weird and they don't like strangers."
"Come on, we're not that strange. I'm sure they're fine folk. Salt of the earth. Sons of the soil. Backbone of the country."
"No man, you don't even know. They have their own language and it's called Boondoggle or some shit. I think they're like, witches or something."
Will is a brave and loyal Batman but he is susceptible. Clearly someone had been filling his absorbent head with Boonvillian propaganda and I suspected some long-standing feud existed between the communities.
"Nonsense. Look. All the signs are in English."
"It's a secret language, dude. They only speak it to each other."
"Long as they speak English too, we'll be fine. It's settled. We'll stop at that place on the way back."
Will looked worriedly out the window at the Buckhorn and a Marge Simpsony grumble in his throat. "I hope we make it home alive," he said.
I ruffled his hair playfully. "Gotcha back, champ." The fundraiser was a grand time with plenty of free booze and several counterculture luminaries from San Francisco's revolutionary heyday in attendance. The drinks flowed, the art sold, and I met a pretty redhead in a polkadot dress who gave me her number. Things did go slightly awry later when I somehow found myself in the Tenderloin and further, and more mysteriously became arrested for crack possession. I'm pretty sure I was innocent, although I was pretty inebriated. The cops sort of agreed, letting me go after sobering up for a while and dropping the possession charge. Will pick me up at the police station at 6am and we were once again loose on the big city streets.
"So what?" I asked. "Back to Mendo? Breakfast? Score some crack? What do you want to do?"
"No crack," Will said. "Breakfast."
We found a Greek place and breakfasted on gyros and beer. Along about our third round I asked Will to tell me more about Boonville. "Man, I don't really know anything, but all I know is sometimes people go into the Anderson Valley and don't come out the other side," he said. "They don't show up in Santa Rosa and they don't come back to Fort Bragg. I don't know if they become Buckhorn burgers or grape fertilizer or end up in in a cider press or what — I just know they don't come home."
And you personally know someone this has happened to?"
"I hear things, all right? And I listen. You'll notice that I'm still alive, right? That's because I stay the hell out of Boonville."
"Flawless logic, Will. I'm still not convinced. We are stopping in Boonville and we're going to meet the locals and we're going to have an excellent time. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet, right?"
"Yeah, well, strangers are also people who chain you in basements and do experiments on you."
"Pshaw. Come on let's get out of here."
We jacked around in the Haight for a couple of hours, visited Amoeba Records and were back on the road by noon. When we hit the exit for Highway 128 Will pointed down the road, past our turn. "Dude, we got to get this burger stand up here. Best fries ever," he said.
"I'll get your damn fries, but we're still going to the Buckhorn," I answered.
They were in fact the best fries ever — so good that months and years to come I would jump on the flimsiest of excuses to travel to Santa Rosa in order to stop there. It should be a federal crime to do anything to a potato except what those frite geniuses were doing.
We pulled up at the Buckhorn at around two, just as a nice-looking couple was coming out the door. They waved and smiled at us as they passed. "See there, nice, normal folks," I said. "Nothing to worry about."
We went inside, sat down at the bar, and ordered a beer. We hadn't had more than a couple of sips when we were approach by two men. The one in the lead was a large, bearded fellow with a broad rimmed hat turned up in front, prospector style. He wore a leather vest over a flannel shirt and huge lumberjack boots. Next to him was a whippet-thin Hispanic gentleman with an oiled pompadour and a Clarke Gable mustache, nattily attired in a forest green turtleneck, sharply pressed khakis and pointy-toed Stacys. "How you boys doin'," the Beard said. I lifted my beer in his direction and nodded.
"My name is Banjo," he continued, "and this here is Mildred."
"My mother loved Joan Crawford very much," said Mildred in a sonorous Castilian accent.
"How do. I'm Catfish, and this here is Dangerhawk," I said, warming to the conversation. Will nodded guardedly.
"I'm what you might call the genius loci of this year establishment," Banjo said.
"The who?" I asked.
"Genius loci. Guardian, like tutelary spirit, watchdog. I watch out for undesirables, troublemakers, you know. Me and Mildred here, we keep things nice and copacetic. Where you boys from, anyhow?"
"Fort Bragg," I said.
Banjo and Mildred looked at one another. "Well, la di dah," Banjo said, pursing his mouth and making mincing gestures. They both raised their drinks and took exaggeratedly dainty sips, pinky extended. Banjo turned serious. He looked at me from under a darkened brow. "We don't much cotton to city folk around here," he growled. Mildred clicked his heels and smoothed his mustache elegantly. "No cotton," he said.
Will stiffened visibly and I stood, taking a gunfighter's stance in front of Banjo. "So tell me, to what exactly do you cotton, sir?" I asked.
"Ha! Ha! We's jest funnin' with you boys," Banjo said, clapping me on the shoulder. "Tell him, Mildred."
"It is a lot of fun," Mildred said, completely straightfaced.
"Well alright then. See, Will, I told you. Salt of the earth," I said.
"That's us," Banjo agreed.
"We salt the earth," chimed in Mildred.
Banjo looked at his companion. "Hey, buddy. You think we can trust these guys? They look cool, right? For city slickers, anyhow," he said.
Mildred eyed us critically, curling his lips lightly as he sucked at an eyetooth. "Yes, I think we trust them to a degree," he said.
"Right — to a degree. You boys like to smoke reefer?" Banjo said.
I allowed as we did enjoy the occasional puff and he said, "Well then. Please allow mah associate and I here to extend the hospitality of the Anderson Valley to you by blowing your perspective minds with the finest herb this fine County has to offer."
"A bold claim," I said. "We accept. Right, Dangerhawk?"
He looked skeptical but nodded and drained his beer.
We went outside and got into Banjo's truck, a big crewcab diesel with a bed full of farm implements. We drove for 10 minutes or so into the hinterlands and pulled up in front of a large-ish cabin. A pitbull patrolled the yard and there was a large bat or small dragon nailed up over the lintel at the front door.
"Easy, Ignatz," Banjo said as the dog leapt and cavorted around us. He opened the door and admitted us into a pleasant, rustically appointed room. We sat down on the couch and Banjo extracted a bud from a tea tin on the cable-spool coffee table.
"I call this brainbuster," he said. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
"Fire it up," I said. Banjo loaded up a tricky looking brass pipe and we passed it around. After we cushed it Banjo looked at me through half-mast eyes. "So whattaya think? Huh? Killer bud, right?"
"Well," I said. "I gotta be honest here, Banjo. I don't think you could get arrested for this stuff. What do you think, Will?"
"I wouldn't sell this to a Sacramento stockbroker," Will said. "Yeah, this might suffice for children or invalids, but I wouldn't go braggin' on it," I said.
"Blasphemer!" Banjo shouted after a sharp intake of breath. "How dare you besmirch the good game of my product?!"
"Now, now, calm down. I mean no offense," I said, placatingly. "I just mean we're used to something with a tad more oomph, if you know what I mean." I pulled a small baggie out of my shirt pocket and extracted a small nug. "Now this here I like to call Black Hole. It's so dank that light cannot escape its surface," I said. "Give this a try. In fact, I suggest putting it into a bong." I tossed him the bud and Banjo disassembled it and loaded a hit into a vintage four-foot Grafix. With a mighty pull, he dispatched the dense dank, loaded one for Mildred, and eased back into his chair. "A-a-a-a-a-hhh," he moaned. Mildred did his hit and within minutes he and Banjo were giggling at each other like Beavis and Butthead. "That's some damn good weed," Banjo said, turning to me.
"Ah hell, this is nothing. This is just the stuff we send down to the San Fernando Valley to sell to pornstars so they can come down from the Viagra," I said. "The real kind puts this stuff in the shade."
Banjo got serious all of a sudden and turned to his confrere. They gazed at one another for a few moments in silent stoned consultation and Banjo stood up. "I'm afraid we can't let you leave. If news of this got out…"
Mildred jumped up. "Nobody leaves!" He shouted and stomped hard on the floor with his right heel. A wicked looking blade popped out of the toe of his two-toned shoe.
"Look, a pterodactyl," I said, pointing out the window.
"Where?" they said, spinning around. Will and I casually walked out the door, stopping to pat Ignatz before we left. We could hear our would-be captors inside. "Where is it?" "There it is!" "That's an airplane, pendejo!" "You're a pendejo!"
We hitchhiked back to the Buckhorn where we enjoyed a delicious repast, prepared and served by consummate professionals. The conversation was lively and the atmosphere was convivial. The sun was sinking as we got back into the car.
"So, what do you think of Boonville?" Will asked.
"I found the Boonvillians to be a race of singular perspicacity and physical attractiveness, not to mention possessed of a collectively excellent sense of humor," I said.
"Agreed!" Will said. "Huzzah to Boonville and its denizens!"
"Huzzah, indeed," I said. "Now we must repair back to the teeming metropolis!"
"Excelsior!" Will shouted, thrusting his fist out the window. He turned to me. "Uh, dude?" he said.
"Don't stop in Philo."