Next, the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was given power to scorch the people with fire. And the people were scorched by intense heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues; yet they did not repent and give Him glory.
— Revelations 16:8-9
Sometimes I stare into space/Tears all over my face/I can't explain it, don't understand it/I ain’t never felt like this before…
– “Heatwave,” Martha and the Vandellas
When I think of Mendocino I think of twisting up the serpentine highway from Navarro-By-The-Sea towards Navarro Ridge Road, and careless souls tumbling over the perilous cliffs. I think of when Olie lived on the ridge, and how he returned from Alaska one summer to find his prized mare had kicked the kind lady caretaking his horses, breaking her jaw and arm.
When I think of Mendocino I think of Dennis Lanz, Jerry Philbrick and jagged chalked lines on clumpy football fields. (And who remembers 49er linebacker Dan Bunz wearing a Philbrick Logging cap in the jubilant locker room after beating the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI?)
When I think of Mendocino I think of elegant troubadour-poet Bill Bradd, who guest lectured in Ms. Pickens’ English class. The last time I saw Bill he had several three-ring binders full of abstract numbers and theorems: his own system of handicapping football games; what is poetry anyway but a supreme gamble? Bill, if you’re on the fifty-yard-line somewhere, I hope you’re doubling down.
When I think of Mendocino I think of the old blowhole south of Albion Nation, and how silver plumes of untamed Pacific rumbled and bucked through the craggy bluff, a cosmic warning that future debts to Nature can never go unpaid.
When I think of Mendocino I think of fiery Coach Jim Mastin, the Cardinals’ long-time coach, and a friend of my dad and Uncle Ken’s. Jim’s son Davey played basketball against us, and I think of his Mendo teammates Mike Pollard, Zach Chouteau, Bruce Robinson, Adam Beak and Rob Sears. I think of the bandbox gym and the sound of buses idling in the parking lot and stepping through the doors into the yellow light and the smell of the dusty rafters and the cramped locker rooms a flight down and the door leading out to the football field below and how it all seemed more important than anything, I mean, just listen to the cheerleaders.
When I think of Mendocino I think of Main Street, Dick’s Place, Patterson’s (now with two Candlestick seats) and the Seagull and Mendosa’s Market. I think of the Mendocino Hotel where my dad had a coffee with Herb Feinstein while outside a barefoot harmonica player slept on a pile of gunnysacks. I think of stopping for RC Colas with my Uncle Ken at Little River Store after walking Glass Beach and the fishing boats in Noyo Harbor and the wooden water towers bleached by the salt air of time. I think of abalone divers peeling off their wetsuits in the Van Damme parking lot and log trucks steaming around the bend to Georgia-Pacific in Fort Bragg or Masonite in Ukiah or the mill in old Philo.
When I think of Mendocino I think of Captain Fathom and the Marvelous Miss Mellon and a guy named Banjo Bob who liked to take his shoes off wherever he sat down. I think of teepees and incense and firewood and Chevy trucks with Charley Pride and the Sir Douglas Quintet on the eight-track.
When I think of Mendocino I think of riding in Uncle Jerry’s old yellow VW bug with Gene and Gary Waggoner to softball tournaments in the gray and shivering in the bleachers, hoping for the ten-run rule.
When I think of Mendocino I think of Victorian-roofed B&Bs, small rocky islands freckling the gray water, and the Heritage House where they filmed a movie with the guy from M.A.S.H, and the next right turn was Frog Pond Road where Jeff Miller’s parents lived. I think of Coach Jim Miller and his big brown Bronco and the suspension bridges and vista look outs looking out but never in. I think of the Ledford House where Mrs. Mastin was the owner/chef and how to this Boonville kid it might as well been Maxim’s in Paris or even the Sun King’s Versailles.
When I think of Mendocino I think of trying to hold onto fragments of a long-ago life, and Eric June and Jerry Tolman and Ronnie Penrose and Jeff Burroughs, of Brian Roberts and Richie Wellington and Aron Evans and G.P. Price grabbing rebounds like they were the last ice cream cones on earth. I think of counting mile markers up and back, the trees and the rocks and the ribbon of river emptying into the Pacific and here we are again, angling up to the dream-vision of the little white town on the cliffs, and the wooden houses and the promise of some ephemeral eternal fleeting glory we knew for sure was hiding in the whistles and thumps of balls and helmets and bats and the squeak of shoes cutting off the baseline while the smell of stale popcorn mixed with sweat and damp Pendletons and muddy boots and the thin perfume of bubble gum lip gloss which was all the rage until it wasn’t.
When I think of Mendocino I think of fog and cypress trees half-hidden by mist and a cold wind that blows hard and not so hard but never stopping until Comptche. When I think of Mendocino I think of many things, but never hot, baking, or suffocating.
While growing up I’d never, not once, been on the coast when it was warm. Want to know why a land war in Russia isn’t a good idea? Try playing centerfield in Point Arena on an April Tuesday. True, it would be nice up playing little league games at the old Air Force radar station on the ridge above Gualala, but that’s several miles inland and out of the fog bank. There were rumors of 70-degree days in Manchester, of temperate afternoons on Little Lake Road, but people claim to see bigfoot on Greenwood Ridge too.
But now I’m thinking that everything I thought I knew was wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time. “Heatwave” comes on the radio and I roll down the windows and am blasted by 95-degrees of Texas fastball weather, the kind of high hard one that makes you duck and mutter. Maybe Martha and the Vandellas were singing about a Motown lothario combing his hair in the carnival lights. Or maybe, like me, Martha was stuck on the wrong side of Elk, crawling north on Highway One behind two Winnebagos and a jacked-up ice cream truck with gun racks where the waffle cones should be.
As the needle hovers around thirteen MPH, the RVs ignore one shoulder oasis, then another. Mongol camels laden with silk and golden skulls moved faster through blinding Gobi desert sandstorms. Tapping the gas into the next stunted straight stretch, I calculate the odds of a successful pass, double yellow lines be damned. But a blind turn lurks at the end of the illusion, and as desperate for freedom and sanity as I am, I can’t let naïve optimism destroy what’s left of my dwindling supply of reason. In an act of frustrated defiance, I roll down the windows and crank the AC: heat, cold, heat, cold. It’s a trick Olie taught me when we worked at Hendy Woods years ago, and had access to the ranger vehicles. Immature? Check. Pointless and wasteful? Check, check. Schizophrenic? Well, now that you mention it, doctor…
When I get to Big River to walk the trail the sun has opened up with both barrels. It’s hot in the parking lot and hotter the farther upriver I go. It’s hot at the quarry. It’s hot in the shade of the oak and redwoods. It’s hot every step of the way and hotter every step back. It’s hot when I try to regroup by parking outside of the Ford House in Mendocino and hot when I sit on a bench near the bookstore and little art shops and tourists clutching cameras.
At eight p.m. I’m still sitting on the bench and it’s 77 degrees. It’s magic. It’s Mendocino. And somewhere Coach Mastin is yelling, “Get off yer candy Boonville ass, Anderson. It’s a trial by fire and no one walks out the same as they walked in.” The very thought makes me hotfoot it back to the car and roll down the windows and crank the AC.