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Less Than or Equal To Another Vacation

Illustration by Bill Smith

Needed to relax — nights spent tending bar at Igby’s Comedy Cabaret in West L.A. were giving me nightmares of washing glasses and listening to Dick Gautier do dick jokes — so I drove up through Arizona and Utah and halfway across Colorado, got a cup of coffee and a sandwich in a Boulder bookstore, leafed through a new printing of Howl until someone interrupted to tell me that Allen Ginsberg was going to be performing just up the road at the Naropa Institute in a few hours, so in honor of the coincidence I finished the sandwich and coffee, bought Howl, drove to Naropa, listened to Ginsberg, talked with Ginsberg, accepted a lift back to my car (not from Ginsberg), slept in a bag on the porch at a friend’s house, arose with the sun, downed a huge breakfast at a Western-motif diner, hit the road to Salt Lake City, checked into a crappy motor hotel at twilight, chased down some good red wine with bread, cheese, apples and a Bob Goldthwait HBO special until unconscious, awoke moments later, at 4:30 a.m., dressed and checked out and gassed up and westbounded on the interstate by 5, plowed through a thick storm of locusts at the western reaches of the Great Salt Lake — torrents of juicy bugs bursting fast and thick against the windshield or shredded to goop through the grille, drowning the 1986 four-door Honda Spittoon in a roaring pummel of chewing-tobacco saliva for six solid minutes — but somehow made it across the border and into a Nevada Naugahyde booth to wolf down a plate of ham and eggs in one of those slot-machine/ breakfast-all-day towns that dot the state like ashtrays in a no-smoking bar, then I hosed down and gassed up and drove very, very fast across northern Nevada, the same Flintstones background rushing past over and over and over, disappearing, finally, around Reno, then up again and twisting down into the pine forests of NoCal, down and across and through the High Sierras and on into Berkeley, to Oakland, to Rock Ridge, to the Rock Ridge Café on College Avenue, where I called friends Keith Lee and Timm from the pay phone by the restrooms but neither was home, so I ate and poked around the bookstore next door and then headed on over to Timm’s just off 41st Street, walked with Timm down to Uncle Gaylord’s on Piedmont Avenue for the lasagna special, then next door for a mocha at Peet’s just before they closed and back up the hill to Timm’s, where we stayed up late drawing each other drawing each other and drinking good red wine, then to sleep to wake up to stock backpacks to bring to Marin County, to the peak of Mount Tamalpais, where we spent a good eight hours hiking around the mountainside, discussing in depth matters of no great significance, eventually running, full-speed, westward up the dark side of a glen through waist-high grass and cresting into a brilliant, thick . . . (Plumb Design Visual Thesaurus — the world’s most beautiful thesaurus) . . . pyrite sunset, where we reflected on Timm’s impending marriage while watching the stark silhouettes of what appeared to be a genuinely happy family of five walking hand in hand along Mount Tam’s westernmost ridge, then retracing our sprints alone in the dusk’s full moon, driving back across the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge and home, at last, to Timm’s, to sleep, to stay up late drawing again and drinking wine again, sleeping on the floor again to wake up in the afternoon and head up to Berkeley to meet Keith in his lab, walk around campus for a couple of hours, then, around 4:30, down to Café Intermezzo on Telegraph, where the radio played pre-game for the World Series that was just about to start across the bay at Candlestick Park, until the room rumbled softly and the girl in front of me turned around and said “I’m from Colorado! That was my first earthquake!” and then the room got serious, jumped a few feet in the air and landed hard and jumped again, up and down and all over town and a few screamed as we headed out into the street, waiting for the windows to burst along Telegraph, watching the surreality of towering steel light posts bending like fishing poles in two or three directions at once, and then it got quiet until something exploded — a chemical factory — maybe a quarter-mile away so we went back inside and listened to the radio announcing that a chunk of the Bay Bridge had collapsed, that the Marina District was thrashed and burning, that the Nimitz interchange in Oakland had just collapsed, too, flattening untold dozens or hundreds of victims and there was nothing Keith or I could do about it, so we finished our soup and bread at the café and walked up to Keith’s apartment on Durant just south of College to watch unfiltered news late into the night — “Caution: You are about to watch unedited footage which may contain disturbing images” of people dying — then back down to Timm’s, where the power was out, ate the food that was going bad in Timm’s refrigerator, drank even more wine, slept, woke up, photographed the collapsed overpass with Keith (he’s a photographer), drove down the 5 back to my unrelaxable life in South California, to a saved message on the answering machine indicating that a woman named Kathleen had called and offered me a job as a houseboy and postproduction assistant to a famous Hollywood motion-picture director for 5 bucks an hour, 24 cents a mile, which I accepted, and moved across town to the Westside to be closer to the famous Hollywood motion-picture director’s Bel Air estate, the site of two fireplaces, one of which — the one in the living room — I was to keep flamed and roaring all day so that anytime the famous Hollywood motion-picture director (who had many, many problems, too many to even begin to account for here, plus this just isn’t that sort of a column) decided to walk past it, he could be filled with rustic, toasty thoughts, even though outside it was well into the 80s, and it was with just these sorts of thoughts in mind that one early morning —when I was faced with either tormenting the tyrant’s bliss by spilling, loudly, the logs I’d stacked and was carrying from the pile beneath his bedroom window to the other side of the estate to split them with sledge and wedge by 8:40 in order to create full-blown rustic toastiness for when the famous Hollywood motion-picture director made his descent at 9, or staring into the face of the black widow that appeared atop the topmost log, just a short hop from my face — I opted to take my chances with the quiet staredown, because, while I wasn’t entirely certain it was a black widow, I was entirely certain that if I spilled the logs below his bedroom window, the famous Hollywood motion-picture director would fire me, whereas if the black widow got upset and gave me a little kiss, I’d still have time to get the living-room fireplace roaring before the widow’s venom rose from within, leaving me with something less than or equal to another vacation.

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