I was grumpy on the way to Garberville. "Garberville sounds like a stupid name, anyway. What the hell does it even mean?" I groused.
"I'm just guessing, but maybe there was a person named Garber who was instrumental in establishing the town, and either he or a grateful populace appended the "ville" to his name in honor of his efforts when it came time to name the town," said my traveling companion.
Katie is, as are a preponderance of my close friends, an attractive and intelligent woman. My feeling is, all else being equal, why not have pretty girls as friends? They smell better, they get you in places you might otherwise be turned away from, and they occasionally get drunk and make bad choices that directly benefit me. Plus, I prefer the company and conversation of women. I feel freer to allow the, shall we say, idiosyncratic nature of my personality to assert itself, those aspects of my character which lead my male acquaintances to draw erroneous conclusions about my sanity and sexual orientation. This was less of a problem before I moved here and dwelt exclusively in college towns and urban centers, but Mendocino and environs seems to cultivate rather a blunt sort of man. Salt of the earth and all that, just a little less likely to quote Oscar Wilde or appreciate it when I do.
I grunted in grudging acquiescence and said, from under beetled brow, "Well, Garber is a stupid name. Sounds like someone who cuts fishes' hair."
"That's funny," Katie said, but she didn't laugh.
I was enlisted into accompanying her on this errand to Garberville to provide conversation, backup driver capability, and general male-type assistance (which I am quite able to muster if necessary, thank you). We were going to pick up a load of green from her sketchy backwoods cousins and transport it to Ukiah, where it would be transferred to another cousin who would then drive it to LA. The person and vehicle who normally made the trip to Ukiah had become known to local law enforcement, and it was correctly assumed that Katie's pretty face and unassuming vehicle (a five-year-old Accord) would have no problem getting through.
I had been promised compensation for my presence on the condition that I remain absolutely sober— hence my state of ill temper. "You need to keep your wits about you, such as they are," Katie had said. "What if something happens? I need you sharp and ready."
"Fine," I'd said. "Just don't expect me to scintillate too gaily."
This was my first time visiting Garberville, and as we made our approach into town I was surprised to find it a very charming little hamlet. We pulled into the parking lot of a crunchy-looking cafe. "I don't see Cheeto's truck," she said. "Let's go inside and get something to eat."
"Cheeto? What, red hair?"
"Nope. Stuck a cheeto up his nose and had to go to the ER and get it removed."
"Well, kids will stick shit up their noses."
"No, this just happened a couple of years ago. He did it on a bet—the sharp edges caused it to lodge in the soft tissue of his sinus cavity. If he'd used the baked variety, we might still be callin' him Stinkbug."
"Not too keen on the hygiene, huh?"
"No, he put a stinkbug up his nose when he was a kid. Not the sharpest hoe in the shed but he does know how to grow pot."
This Cheeto, nee Stinkbug, sounded like quite a character. I was looking forward to meeting him.
The inside of the cafe fulfilled the exterior's promise of anachronistic crunchiness. The earthy scent of patchouli mixed with the aroma of coffee and baked goods, and the waitress approaching us dressed in a tie-dyed skirt and batik headscarf had a big, welcoming smile on her face. My mood was improving slightly. There's something comforting about hippies, even though I've lived most of my life in direct opposition to their values and in fact have actively agitated against these gentle folk. I blame my upbringing. I was an actual hippie child in the actual Haight in the actual 60s, and frankly, I hated it then, but I'm much more tolerant toward them now. Your basic hippie comes standard with a number of features you're not likely to find on the tweaker model. He is open, generous, cheerful, loving, honest, and kind, while the tweaker is the exact opposite of all those things. So, it stands to reason that I, having been raised by the former tribe and adopted into the latter, would take a degree of comfort from their presence. If nothing else, it's a respite. Being around tweakers all the time is wearing; the constant chattering, bustling, hustling, and paranoid wariness taxes a fellow. Deep down I have the soul of a hippie. Fairly deep, granted, and covered in several layers of nacreous shielding, but there nonetheless. Don't tell anybody.
I ordered coffee and a bagel from the earth-mother waitress just as the bell over the door tinkled.
This had to be Cheeto. Long-haired and extravagantly mustachioed, the cat entering the cafe sported a wide-brimmed leather hat, denim vest sans shirt, ripped-up blue jeans and engineer boots. A knife the size of a small sword adorned his hip. He nodded to some of the locals and headed toward our table. "What's up, cuz?" he said, giving Katie a hug. "Who's this?" as he gestured in my direction.
"This is my friend Flynn," Katie said.
Cheeto cocked his head and peered at me challengingly. "What's up, home-boy?" he asked, and we bumped fists. "What's your deal?"
"Ah, you know, just along for the ride."
"You a cop?"
"Jesus Christ, Cheeto, cool it," Katie said. "He's not a freakin' cop, he's my friend and he's keeping me company. Lighten up. I'm going to the bathroom, play nice."
"So," Cheeto said when Katie was gone. "You doin' her?"
He actually used a much cruder verb that, while a cherished and well-worn part of my vocabulary, I don't like to use in that context.
"No, we're friends. Like I said, just along for the ride. And I was promised fifty bucks. "
"If she gets busted, I promise you I will beat nine different colors of hell outta your skinny ass."
I considered pointing out that, as an essentially uninvolved party and operating in a purely ornamental capacity, any possible interaction with the authorities could hardly be my fault, but I sensed Cheeto's capacity for reasoned debate might accord with his tolerance for shirtings, i.e., low.
"No worries, bra," I said instead. "Smooth sailing all the way. Red skies at night. Green grass and high tides." I was babbling.
"Whatthefuckever, dude, but I'm holding you personally responsible."
Great. I thought I'd spend a pleasant day on the road talking to a pretty girl, get home with enough for a forty-sack and a sixer of Newcastle, and now I'm embroiled in a death-contract with this rusticated thug and liable for multiple felony charges. I never think things through.
Katie came out of the bathroom and sat back down. We got our orders and she and Cheeto caught each other up on family business. "How's your momma?" Katie asked.
"Fit as a fiddle, gettin' paroled in March. Pop's got a restraining order against her so one of 'em's gonna have to stay out back with the hogs for awhile."
"Alright. What say we go load up? I'd like to get back to Mendo before dark."
We took our leave of the cafe and followed Cheeto down a dirt road outside of town. He pulled over a few miles down the road alongside an old cistern and handed down a large cardboard box. "Twenty-five ellbees," he said. "Keep that shit safe and call me as soon as you get to Ukiah. Tell Buster to bring me back every goddamn penny or I'll cave in his worthless skull. And you, remember what I told you," he said to me.
"Got it," I said. I loaded the weed into the trunk and covered it with an old blanket. "Pleasure meeting you, Cheeto," I said, holding out my hand to shake. He took my hand and gave me that same snakey glare. "Alright then."
Katie and I hit the road and within twenty were bombing down the 101 Mendoward at a good clip.
"When we get to Ukiah, I'm gonna have a beer, and I'm going to smoke a joint, and I'm going to do a fatass line, and maybe I'm even going to have a shot of whiskey," I said.
"And you deserve it, big fella," Katie said, patting me on the leg. "I hope Cheeto didn't give you the blues too much."
"Nah, he's alright. Just don't get pulled over, because apparently I have been saddled with the responsibility for the ultimate success or failure of this operation."
"Oh, bullshit. Don't listen to that idiot, he's just establishing dominance like a dog. You'll like Buster, he's from a more refined branch of the family."
We made it to Ukiah without incident, transferred the weed to Buster, and I, as promised, was flying high as we hit the 20 on the way back to Fort Bragg. "That Garberville." I said wistfully. "What a magical place. I think maybe I'd like to retire there. Old Mr. Garber, whoever he was — no doubt a man of vision and complexity. Probably had a real solid worldview, good sense of theology and geometry. A man'd be lucky to live in a town like that, don't you think?"