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Marco Drops In 

New fiction by T.C. Boyle

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Page 3 of 5

"So like my parents?" (This by way of prelude, though Marco hadn't said a word about anybody's parents -- they'd been talking nothing, talking good shit and groovy and the like, the radio hissing static as Norm manipulated the dial with his battered blunt fingers.) "Like my mother that gave me suck and my old dirt-blasted redneck cowboy of a father? They died. Bought the farm. Head-on collision with a truck full of Grade A fryers coming out of Petaluma on Route 116, and that might sound funny, the irony and all like that, but it isn't, because the old turd-dropper was blind drunk and my mother deserved better than that, but anyway, the son and heir gets the rancho in the hills -- that's me, yours truly -- and he's thinking he's feeling some kind of discomfort over this whole trip of ownership of the land, because nobody owns the land and he's thinking like Timothy Leary, Let's mutate, man, and so I come up with the concept of Voluntary Primitivism, and let me spell it out for you, man, LATWIDNO, Land Access to Which Is Denied No One, dig? You want to come to Drop City, you want to turn on, tune in, drop out and just live there on the land doing your own thing, whether that's milking the goats or working the kitchen or the garden or doing repairs or skewering mule deer or just staring at the sky in all your contentment -- and I don't care who you are -- you are welcome, hello, everybody --"

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?"

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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.

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