Unseasonably warm breezes carry the humid effects of the Pacific El Nino across Mexico and from the Gulf up the Mississippi and Ohio valleys to our niche in the southern Indiana hills. The bank thermometer in Verona claimed 64F at about 2 in the afternoon when I stopped into the hardware store for some clothespins and nails.
Much like Rossi's Hardware in Boonville, this store has been in the hands of the same family for generations. In fact all the generations still work there, taking turns at the helm, and the Lutheran ladies my mother's age actually grew up in the farmhouse where I now call home. They know more about this farm than I do, and always inquire how things are going. "Weather like this, you're probably ready to be out there planting something.
"I didn't reply that the ground was still thawing out under a slippery surface, figuring she already knew as much. Rather, I shrugged and paid for the nails and clothespins, not looking her in the eyes. "No, it's more like spring cleaning."
No joke about the spring cleaning. I would be embarrassed if this earnest Lutheran lady stopped by to see the farm where she'd grown up prior to the fall of civilization, when people still had some idea what to do with their time. After relaxing for a month in the hills of Mendocino County, CA, I dreaded returning to the farm in Indiana, the inevitable scattered recycling littering the yard like Easter eggs for a pastoral hunt. I guess my 18 year-old son, in charge of the place in my absence, elected to sell or barter off the four goats after they set up residence on the tables in our shop, knocking most of the tools, etc., to the concrete floor. No doubt the pigs and dogs helped marginally civilized teenagers disperse beer cans and other refuse along with shotgun shells and perforated pots and pans. Hollywood has done numerous flicks on the zombie apocalypse theme, but who needs to go to theaters? Just check out rural America after several decades of crank now in the third generation, plus all the Horses and Pharmies the king's men can distribute. The give a fuck level has gone down the drain. Last year Indiana ranked #1 among all the states in meth lab busts, edging out Missouri for the title, and most of those operations are centered in the hillier southern half of our state.
"I never want to go back Indiana," Jetta would say as we gazed out the windows at the lush madrones, redwoods, live oaks, the emerald forests of Anderson Valley in their rainy season glory. She echoed the sentiments of both my X's as we rode the Greyhound from the shelter on South State in Ukiah to the Oakland station. "People are nicer out [in California]."
"Aw, they're just nicer to your face," I said. "There's good folk everywhere. I got no better friends than Rusty." Rusty had dropped us off at the bus depot in Indy, and was waiting for the call to come pick us up.
Nobody was going to console Jetta, though, because her idol, David Bowie, had just passed on. Before she and I ever hooked up, we spent a winter afternoon together in her apartment while my truck got its bleeding brake lines fixed at a shop behind the McDonalds where she worked the Drive-Thru. Jetta just happened to be home so I watched David Bowie's early live concert footage and her 2 year-old son while she ran to the liquor store for cigarettes and a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. We got to know each other, viewing nearly every video Bowie made up through the glam rock stuff. I'd never been into David Bowie except for that song about the astronaut who gets lost in space. "Not really into that genre, but you know my girlfriends always encouraged me to get more feminine," I said as we watched Bowie dance in drag. "Come to think of it, though, best time I ever had was wearing a red dress to this New Year's sushi party in Boonville. I put on a blue wig and carried a white purse, was gonna go as a PBR slut but changed my mind and became Heather the Humboldt Honey. Go like the Energizer Bunny. Steal your weed and trim your money."
Of course Jetta played David Bowie's brilliant video on our smart phone as the Greyhound bus bounced down 101 past Hopland, and she eyed the water bottles in the bag between my legs that had been mixed half and half, a fifth of vodka diluted with equal H2O in each. I hoped the provisions would last all the way to Missouri, at least. "Vodka, por favor?" she asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Come on! We're in the back seat. Nobody cares!"
"Let's wait 'til we're headed East."
"FINE!" She gazed out the window, tears streaming down her cheeks, squeezing my left hand. At the Oakland Station we bought tickets and discovered we weren't going East any time soon, but South, through Fresno & the Valley to L.A. Waiting for the bus, gazing at the clock and watching the luggage while Jetta smoked outside with some bald dude from Pittsburgh, I decided it was about time to try that vodka/water combo. The whole scene came to life. A black girl made a commotion of depositing her luggage on the chair to the left of my banjo, all the while lecturing somebody on her cell phone. Some old white hippie dude kept giving me the eye from across the aisle. The school clock hands seem to revolve more quickly as I tried some of the humus dip mixed with ganja olive oil that Jetta had prepared, washing it down with that organic vodka. I decided I liked watching luggage at the Oakland bus station and forgot about Jetta and the bald dude from Pittsburgh, almost disappointed when they returned and it was time to board the southbound. By then it was too late to stop the party, as it turned out this guy had a bottle of straight vodka and passed it across the seat to Jetta while the sun set. About an hour from LA I happened to glance to my right and notice that Jetta had removed all her clothes and was climbing the seat to the delight of the bald guy from Pittsburgh. "Yo we're not rock stars. This ain't our tour bus," I said.
She managed to get dressed and composed enough to get off at the LA station where I resolved to abstain from the happy juice, as I knew we'd be speaking to the authorities eventually. Lamenting Bowie's passing, obsessing on that final video, she hit the plastic water bottle and barely boarded the eastbound for Phoenix where she pretty much refused to sit down and sang the David Bowie tune, "five years," until the bus stopped, the lights came on, and two county sheriffs walked down the aisle, escorting her offstage. They indicated that I should accompany the party. Once the bus had returned on the eastward journey, the deputies locked us both in the back seats of separate vehicles and searched our scant luggage, the banjo and case.
"You seem pretty sober," they finally told me.
"Well yeah I was hoping the vodka would get me to Indiana!"
The officers drove us about what seemed like an hour to the Greyhound station in Riverside, dropped us off about 4 a.m. & told us to wait 'til it opened at 9. I was glad then that we'd gone south instead of east, due to the temperature being warm enough that I could pace back and forth, pausing to smoke joints with homeless dudes who consoled Jetta about David Bowie.
When the station finally opened, the guy at the counter looked incredulously at the tickets I presented. "How the fuck you get here?"
I shrugged. "Uh we got off the bus somewhere, and didn't make it back on. Ended up here."
He shook his head. "Okay, it's gonna be $148 get you both to Phoenix, tell them you don't know what happened."
I reached in my pocket and counted out six twenties.
"Sorry, man," he said. "I need $148."
Outside, a Pakistani taxi driver was smoking a cigarette with Jetta, offering her bottled water. I left them alone, temporarily, taking a walk around the neighborhood, considering the option of busking in front a local natural foods grocery. Then I remembered I still had a bank card, though no money left, and thought about calling my Indiana buddy, Rusty, who was going to pick us up when we arrived. Sure enough, he happened to be in the town of Verona as it was after noon there, and stopped by the bank where the Lutheran ladies deposited a hundred bucks in my account. Grateful not to be homeless in LA, we rode across the desert, through Phoenix to Amarillo, Texas before heading north across the western Oklahoma plains where I sat cold sober, sweating, and aching beside a huge dude thinking we HAD vodka. Some old tweaker lady offered me her son's spray on deodorant in Amarillo, but this Mexican dude with a lazy eye and some dank weed across the aisle brandished his stick of deodorant near Tulsa.
"I got some already."
"It ain't workin, bro."
You don't see a forest from LA to southwest Missouri, and I've never been so glad to be back in Indiana, even though our somewhat wild flock of 100 or so chickens moved into the shop and deposited chicken litter on the chaotically scattered tools, recycling, and other random byproducts of what passes for civilization in America these days. I used the nails from the hardware store to build roosts and ladders in their actual coop, hoping to move them in where they belong. The clothespins are going to keep my laundry from falling in chicken shit when the wind blows, as they've eaten all the grass in the backyard.