By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Two hours. So it went. Marco was in that phase where every high expectation gives way to something grimmer, darker, older, but when he saw the standing grass flecked with mustard and the oaks drinking up the earth, when he saw the milling dogs, goats, chickens, the longhaired men so attuned to what they were doing they barely glanced up, and the women -- the women!-- he felt something being born inside him all over again. He leaned forward and watched it all unscroll, huts, tents, truck gardens and citrus trees, a geodesic dome -- or was that a yurt? Then the van came round a bend and the house leapt out at them from behind a screen of trees. It was there, and then it was gone. When it came into view again, Marco saw a two-story frame house with a sprawl of outbuildings, no different from what you'd see in Kansas or Missouri or any other place where farmers tilled the earth, except that somebody had painted the trim in Day-Glo orange and the rest a checkerboard pattern of green and pink so that the house wasn't a house anymore but a kind of billboard for the psychedelic revolution. The van lurched, dust rose up and killed the air, Norm grinning and flashing the peace sign all the while and a pair of yellow dogs loping along beside them, and then they were pulling into a rutted lot behind the house and Norm was shouting, "Home for the holidays, oh yes indeed!"
Holidays? What holidays? And Marco was wondering about that, about what holiday it might have been in the middle of May -- he
wasn't sure what the date was, but it couldn't have been later than maybe the fifteenth or sixteenth -- when Norm turned to him with a grin. "Just an expression, man -- and I want to be the very first to wish you a Merry Christmas! But really, every day's a holiday at Drop City, because the straight world is banned, absolutely and categorically, do not pass through these gates, Mr. Jones, dig?"
What could he do but smile and nod and lend a hand as his benefactor began to unload supplies from the back of the van, cans of ketchup, peanut butter, honey, sacks of bulgur wheat, sesame seeds, brown rice, raw almonds and rolled oats, tools, a rebuilt generator, a whole raft of bread -- "Barter, man, barter, broccoli for bread, cukes for bread, eggplant, and can you say rutabaga?" -- and two big brown-paper bags that must have had thirty record albums in them. And where was it all going? In the main house, four steps up onto the foot-worn back porch and into the kitchen, arms full, a homemade table, crude but honest, potted herbs in the window, shelves from ceiling to floor and institutional-sized cans of everything imaginable stacked up as if they were expecting a siege. And women, three of them: Merry, Maya and Verbie.
All three looked up when Marco followed Norm through the door and set his packages down on the table, smiling, yes, but he'd seen those smiles before -- at Morning Star, Olompali, the Magic Farm, Gorda Mountain -- and all but the last lingering residual flecks of brother- and sisterhood had been rinsed out of them. They were meant to be welcoming, these pale dry-lipped worried-over-the-porridge-blackened-into-the-bottom-of-the-pot brotherly-and-sisterly smiles, but how many had been welcomed already? He was new. A new cat. Another mouth to feed, and would he contribute, would he stay on and weed the garden, repair the roof and snake out the ä line from the plugged-up toilets to the half-dug septic field, would he be worth the investment of time and breath or would he just work his way through the women, smoke dope and drink cheap wine all day and then show up for meals with a plate in his hand? These were smiles with an edge, and they made him feel shy and unworthy.
He must have come up the steps six or seven times, arms laden with groceries, before anybody said anything to him. It was Merry, tall, dark-eyed, a sprig of baby's breath tucked behind one ear, who lifted her eyes and murmured, "Been on the road long?"
Norm wasn't there to answer for him -- he'd wandered off shouting into the next room, tearing at the shrink-wrap on one of the new record jackets, and he left a vacuum behind him. Maya and Verbie were in the corner by the sink, leaning into the mounds of green onions, peppers, zucchini and carrots they were dicing for the pot and talking in flat low voices, and Merry had slipped across the room on bare feet to lift things out of the grocery bags and find places for them on the shelves. She was right there, two feet from him, smelling of garlic and cilantro, her eyes chasing vaguely after the question. Marco shrugged. The correct answer, more or less, was two years. But he didn't say that. He just said, "I don't know. A while."