I drive straight down your lonesome middle the other day and almost don’t recognize where I am. There are a lot of fancy city cars parked all over town and fancy city people taking pictures of trees and their plastic honeys holding up souvenir wine glasses etched with various corporate logos symbolizing (to themselves) the chaste and cultivated tasting room experience. Ha! Where were you all twenty years ago? Stealing shots of crème de menthe from daddy’s liquor cabinet and beating off to The Love Boat, that’s where! Myself, I toil beneath the self-delusion of being loyal to the end, and thus prefer my vintage draughts from the old-time barrels of Jed Steele, Navarro Vineyards, and Roederer Estate — hypocritical, sure, but there are occasions when only the fermented grape will do, just ask Caesar. And yes, I know that Roederer is a colonialist enterprise, but I’d rather my overlords speak French than the proto-guttural howlings of Bush/Cheney, which sound like homicidal Swedes being examined by proctologists with extra thumbs.
Suddenly thirsty, I put on an extra pair of underwear and continued my homecoming tour. There are U-Hauls for rent where Jeff and Carolyn Short’s gas station used to be and a Taco Truck anchored near the fire station. In the Fairgrounds parking lot is an imposing row of perhaps twenty handicapped parking spaces, all empty; a weirdly post-modern vision of the bitterly paternalistic totalitarian state. Soon parking spaces will be arranged by the severity of one’s handicap: the Limbless and the Lame at the top, followed in descending order by the Severely Depressed, the Moderately Forlorn, the Legally Blind, A.W.O.L. Marines, Teenage Mothers Under Fifteen, Teenage Grandmothers, Unpublished Poets, Sequined Cowboys, Lear Jets, Viagra Addicts, Druids, Republicans and, finally, Millionaire Iranian Refugees Working For The C.I.A. A thousand years from now Martian historians will marvel at how important the car was to the American Empire, before it ceased to exist in 2012, a victim to the U.S.C. Marching Band Army bankrolled by Rupert Murdoch, ESPN and Hilton Hotels.
The high school is there, same as it ever was, though smaller and somehow more pathetic. The geodesic domes where I spent two years of eighth grade have given birth to a few FEMA trailers and a splattering of death-gray shrubbery reminiscent of Barbara Bush’s, um, bush. Did victims of Hurricane Katrina get sent to Boonville on some kind of slave labor program?
Outside the holy hardwood temple of the gym, a concrete barricade has been put up around part of the Senior Circle, the oval of lawn where privileged upperclassmen were traditionally allowed to park. Is the cement wall there to make available more pavement to pedestrians? Is it part of Homeland Security’s defense against suicide bombers blowing up intramural dodge ball?
Why do most schools look like medium-security prisons? Though to be fair, Boonville Prep looks like Versailles compared to Ukiah High, where I spent my freshman year, and which has no windows looking out at all. In fact, during my sentence on Low Gap Road the administration tried to pipe low-decibel muzak into classrooms as a form of crowd control, ignoring the likelihood that the deep-fried grease washed down by soda all the students were living on made us impervious to saxophone tributes to freeway onramps. The muzak experiment was short-lived, as a few of the more evolved parents demanded Ukiah refrain from any newfangled forms of mental abuse, when we still had the tried and true methods of cheerleading squads, pep rallies, and the football team.
Looking at the Senior Circle reminds me painfully of how status is achieved relative to the automobile, or, in my case during school, the lack thereof. I got to borrow one of my parents’ perpetually taxed junkers on weekends, but for school it was usually Olie in his brakeless Mercury or Jerry Tolman in his stepside Mazda pick-up that had “The Sundowner” etched in paint tastefully small somewhere on the body because, you know, cars have feelings, too.
Back downtown, there’s a new gourmet market that sells fancy sandwiches and organic jams next door to the Buckhorn Brewery, which is now called the Highpockety Ox. The name is Boontling for something to do with either cheapskates or big spenders, but to me recalls the great kids book, “Highpockets,” by John R. Tunis. Highpockets was the nickname of a ballplayer named Cecil McDade, a rookie outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the story begins with our hero in Beantown playing against the Boston Braves, the smokestacks along the Charles River puffing behind the outfield stands, and the clackety-clack of spikes on the tunnel floor as the players walked from dim anonymity onto the emerald grass shining with light and promise. My uncle Ken played in the Milwaukee Braves organization, before the franchise moved to Atlanta in search of more fans and money. My father Bruce himself kicked around the minors for the Cincinnati Reds, so I learned early on that, “it’s hotter than hell in Texas” — though both times I was there that felt like a gross understatement.
Now a little shiver because I miss those summer nights holding a book and with the door open, reading about Highpockets and the Kid from Tomkinsville and Treasure Island, reading about the big world outside of Boonville, somewhere far away, and the symphony of frogs and crickets a fine imitation of the chattering grandstands and Manhattan streets and streetcars full of pretty girls rolling forever rolling around the bend.
I end up in Boontberry looking for a bag of dried organic cherries, because the actors in this movie I’m involved with used them instead of chewing tobacco; I think it was Burt behind the register, but I was too shy to introduce myself. I remember when Burt and Steve McKay opened the store years and years ago, back in the Reagan Administration. Steve was my science teacher in high school, on the first day of school, and his first year, he said that he didn’t have any running water in his fledging homestead, so had bathed in Anderson Creek that morning before class.
With dusk falling I go into the Lodge to pay tribute to the local legends, and it is like a home movie gone wild. In a haphazard row is a host of familiar faces: Olie Erickson, Danny Pardini leaning against the pool table next to my brother, Ben, Cliff Knight, the star middle linebacker and all-around tough guy of my old Panther football team, Larry Carr, Mike Brendlin, Kevin Lee, and finally Vince Ballew, who besides being another old local face also played the character Gas Mask in Pighunt. It was old times, it was new times. I almost fell over from shock and glee, especially since I was just at the Ox, where I had run into Wyant Boys, Derek and Bryan.
Someone tells me that Mosswood Café, a few doors down from Glad’s coffee shop, flies in gourmet bread semi-frozen from a spiffy bakery in Los Angeles. Is that a secret? Can it be true?
At dinner at the Hotel, the friend I am with says that his brother learned in high school in Montana how to inseminate cows with an instrument that looks like a grenade launcher, though not as warm. I reply that Boonville had a flight program where you could get a pilot’s license. He didn’t believe me. I said, “This is Boonville, pal. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”