By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Illustration by Geoff Grahn|
THE ROADSIDE WAS SILKEN WITH FERNS, WILDflowers, slick wet grass that jutted up sharply to catch the belly of the fog, and he was standing there in his interrupted jeans with his thumb out. He was wearing a faded denim jacket, a T-shirt he hadn't washed in a week and a pair of hand-tooled red-and-black cowboy boots he'd got in Mexicali for probably a fifth of what he'd have paid in San Francisco, but they weren't holding up too well. The heels had worn unevenly for one thing, and to compound matters, the uppers had been wet through so many times the color was leached out of them. Up under his pantlegs, the boots were still new, but what you could see of them looked something like the rawhide twists they sold in a basket at the pet shop. His guitar was another story. It had never had a case, not that he could recall, anyway, so he'd wrapped it in a black plastic garbage bag for protection. Now, as he stood there, thumb extended, it was propped up against his leg like some lurid fungus that had sprung up out of the earth when nobody was looking.
It wasn't raining, not exactly, but the trees were catching the mist, and he'd tied his hair back with a red bandanna to keep the dripping ends of it out of his face. He had a knife in a six-inch sheath strapped to his belt, but it was for nonviolent purposes only, for stripping manzanita twigs of bark or gutting trout before wrapping them in tinfoil and roasting them over a bed of hot coals. There was water in his bota bag instead of wine (he'd learned that lesson the hard way, in the Sonoran Desert), and the Army surplus rucksack on his back contained a sleeping bag, a ground cloth, a few basic utensils and a damp copy of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Just that morning he'd reread the opening pages -- George and Lennie sitting by a driftwood fire in a world that promised everything and gave up nothing -- while he made coffee and heated up a can of stew over his own campfire, and the dawn came through the trees in a slow gray seep. Marco was thinking about that, about how Lennie kept up his refrain An' live off the fatta the lan'despite all the sad dead weight of the evidence to the contrary, as the first of a procession of cars materialized out of the fog and shushed on past him as if he didn't exist.
He didn't mind. He was in no hurry. He wasn't so much running as drifting, anonymous as the morning, and yes, he'd had trouble with the law on a count of misdemeanor possession, dropped out of college, quit his job and then quit another one and another after that, and yes, he'd received the cold hard incontrovertible black-and-white draft notice in the gray sheet-metal mailbox out front of his parents' house in Connecticut, but that was two years ago now. In the interim -- and here he thought of his favorite Steinbeck book of all, Tortilla Flat-- he'd been trying to make things work on a different level, living simple, dropping down where the mood took him. Everybody talked about getting back to the earth, as if that were a virtue in itself. He knew what the earth was -- he slept on it, hiked over its ridges and through the glare of the alkali flats, felt it like a monumental set of lungs breathing in and out when he woke beneath the trees in the still of the morning. That was something, and for now it was the best he could do. As for the cars: he hadn't been able to connect the night before either, and he'd found this place -- this loop of the road hemmed in by white-bark eucalyptus that smelled of damp and menthol and every living possibility -- and he bedded down by a creek so he could waken to the sound of water instead of traffic.
When the cars had passed it was preternaturally still, no sound but for birdcall and the whisper of the dripping trees. He waited a moment, listening for traffic, then slung the guitar over his shoulder and started walking up the road in the direction of Olema and Point Reyes. He got into the rhythm of his walking, feeling it in his calves and thighs like a kind of power, a man walking along the side of the road and he could walk forever, walk across the continent and back again and his face telling every passing car that he didn't give a damn whether they stopped for him or not. Twenty-five or thirty vehicles must have passed by and the sun had climbed up out of the fields to burn off the fog by the time a VW van finally stopped for him. It was practically new, the van, white above, burnt orange below, but as Marco came hustling up the shoulder he saw the peace sign crudely slashed on the side panel in a smear of white paint and knew he was home.
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