Tales of the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve Part 2 (Summer Vacation)

The L-Shaped House

The L-Shaped House

Not yet to the age of emancipation from my father’s wallet, I went back home to Milwaukie about a week after finals completing my sophomore year at OCE. Fred and Varney resolved to remain in the L-Shaped house for the summer. Jacki offered to cut the rent in half, as Monmouth emptied of any potential tenants after June fifteenth anyway—better to make something from the immense space during those months than to have it sit empty. Besides we had been easier to work with than most of her renters.  I believe it fell to Fred to tell her that the rider lawnmower “quit working.”

Apparently now a retirement compound

Apparently now a retirement compound

Fred was our official Jacki emissary, as he had an inexplicable, winning charm with females of all ages—possibly because he radiated East Coast self-confidence, an earnest directness, uncommon to the region. Many males in town found his temperament too aggressive and felt threatened by him. But women didn’t sense Fred to be the least bit dangerous. They loved his engaging candor and sense of humor. He was harmless.

With Fred and Varney securely holding down the fort, Tom, Doug and I felt safe in returning to our respective homesteads in the outside world. The boys headed back to Bend—Doug back to Don the optometrist and loyal wife and mother Marilyn. Don and Marilyn generally frowned on Doug’s activities, whatever they were, as they frowned on their other four boys’ activities, and daughter Denise’s activities, and the activities of a large part of the population of the City of Bend.

Tom went home to Chuck and Evelyn and younger brother Chuck Junior, and the pale blue split-level over near Pilot Butte. I don’t remember what line of work Chuck was in, maybe something timber related. But he was a real square, upright guy—perhaps somewhat bewildered that his son and all the boy’s friends looked like damn hippies—but tolerant. I think the Schiffers were always a bit relieved that Chuck Junior had turned out all right.

No longer butter yellow, but still cheery

No longer butter yellow, but still cheery

Gypsy and I returned to my childhood home, the cheery, butter yellow, two-story abode on Firwood. And again the entire family was reunited: my parents, two brothers and sister. Gypsy added to the household animal population, which consisted of Yeller the canine patriarch, his young son Earl and their distant cousin the puffy, tufted orange incongruity that was known to be Wally. Wally was a cat of very insistent habits, several of which grew to be quite annoying, none of which I will enumerate here—sparing us all a needless ordeal.

Very much Wally-like

Very much Wally-like

Among his abundant peculiar behaviors—when outdoors in winter Wally liked to curl up under the hood of the cars in our driveway, especially if one had been recently driven. However that was not a prerequisite. He found such spaces to be adequate shelter from the elements under most conditions. It was dry and out of the wind. But he was still available, in case any of the other cats in the neighborhood wanted to conference with him. Even though he’d been fixed, he was a known playa.

Late for work one morning, my father dashed from the house to his prized Impala in an abrupt rush. He no sooner turned the engine over than orange fur began to fluffily float all over everywhere. Something of a home mechanic, Dad immediately recognized that to be quite an unusual condition for his car and shut it right off.

Eventually Wally wandered out from under the car, dazed, a bit close-cropped in places, but otherwise none the worse for wear. As cats go, he wasn’t particularly stupid, though it must be said that Wally did not learn from that incident, but continued with his practice—and thus was occasionally wounded in a similar fashion—never critically. He seemed to know enough to stay the hell away from the blades, belts and pulleys. So after a rude shearing he was always good to go—even though to see his fur flying around when trying to start the car was oftentimes quite a jarring experience for the operator.

Gypsy with neighborhood kid Matt

Gypsy with neighborhood kid Matt

Gypsy soon fell in with the pack and my family accepted her readily. She was a good dog and rarely barked. The same cannot be said of Yeller and Earl.

Earl-like. Don't be fooled.

Earl-like. Don’t be fooled.

Earl, especially, being a Golden Cock-a-Poo-Terr-Retriever, had quite a chip on his dewlap. It was because of his size, I think. Earl wasn’t nearly as sincere as, say, Rinnie. Earl didn’t much give a shit what you thought. Still, he wasn’t as indiscriminate as Wally. Wally lived on the edge.

Soon after my return, I reconnected yet again with Evie Neville—with whom I had an on-again, (mostly) off-again relationship. She had just graduated from high school and was anxious to strike out on her own, though in which direction and as to how such a thing would be accomplished had yet to suggest itself to her. Still she brimmed with ambitious confidence essential for a pretty young woman who thought maybe being a model might be fun.

She was tall and slender, with pale, dollar-green eyes and fine, long, light blond hair—so she certainly looked the part. By that point in the career of her life Evie had taken to wearing all black, all the time. Black, silk, long-sleeved blouse—or, for more informal occasions, a black leotard. Black silk maxi skirt and knee-high black leather boots. Her fashion ambulance bore no casual attires, nor a radiator of anything but cool. It was truly amazing that she had managed to achieve her own quite distinctive style among a sea of maroon and gold cheerleaders (such as herself). She played it both ways as no other girl could.



Most of three summers worth of chronicles involving Evie are in another of my “fictional” third person accounts of those real events. At some point I will probably link that up here. But it is a somewhat long read and would be a distraction to these particular stories. However, within those pages is the parable of the liberation of Jesus from the Humane Society pound on Columbia Boulevard in north Portland.

What’s not in there is how I eventually ended up with Jesus down at the L-Shaped house on the S-Curve the first week Jeff and I moved in that previous fall, nor how Evie absconded with him one night, about a month later, while I was away from the house—leaving no note of explanation.

If not for William’s account of the mysterious appearance of some shadowy woman all in black, evincing an air of confident certainty, coming to take Jesus (who apparently offered no resistance whatsoever, the bastard!) away, I might not have ever known what happened to him. I never found out where Evie took him—she couldn’t keep him at her family’s house, so who knows? She never once spoke of that dog again, nor would she allow me to bring him up in her presence. She would always awkwardly change the subject, sometimes ridiculously.

I’m not at all clear as to why I unfailingly let her off the hook for that sort of behavior—a desire for approval, I suppose. Maybe the sense of intrigue she brought to any occasion. Her skilled unavailability. But, one thing I will say for Evie: she was consistent. And so was I, for that matter. She always took advantage of me and I always let her.

Once I had finally settled in back at home it became readily evident that I needed to get out there and start earning some money. My dad reinforced that to be something of an imperative. I believe he’d had his heart set on my being clear of the nest once I graduated from high school. So I was already two years behind schedule, hence a substantial mote in his vision of freedom from the shackles of familial encumbrance. He had been a father for twenty years, nearly half his life, and I think he was growing weary of the day-to-day requirements of such a position. He didn’t get a lot of time to himself.

Not Evie. She wouldn't be caught dead in that get-up

Not Evie. She wouldn’t be caught dead in that get-up

So, off to work I went (half-heartedly). Perhaps thinking two half-hearts might make one fully operational component, Evie and I teamed up in our search for gainful employment. First stop: the fields of bountiful produce. We worked beans and raspberries. There wasn’t any bending over with those crops. Evie was concerned that her black wardrobe might be more easily soiled if she were forced to kneel in the dirt of a strawberry field.

Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill: Elixir to the Gods

Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill: Elixir to the Gods

After each morning of hard labor, we would purchase a pack of Kool menthol cigarettes and a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine as a reward for our efforts. It’s true. I had begun smoking and drinking—proof positive that marijuana is indeed a gateway drug. I never would have turned to alcohol and tobacco if I had been at all able to procure weed.

Though it was far inferior, smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol was the closest Evie and I could legally (well, neither of us was twenty-one, but Evie had fake ID and knew how to use it) come to reproducing the grass experience. I did grow a few plants in the flowerbeds in front of the house. However they yielded no material of real consequence. And I made a few trips down to Monmouth over the course of the summer and there picked up a lid when I could. But possession was sporadic, acquisition unreliable, at best.

Next stop: lights out

Next stop: lights out

It soon became too hot beneath the June day sun to be doing the field hand deal for very long. I nearly passed out one sweaty afternoon. Sitting in the car outside a Circle K where we bought it, Evie and I downed the better part of a bottle of Boone’s Farm, while chain smoking several menthol cigarettes. I thought I had sunstroke.

Part of the problem was that I had not learned how to properly smoke a cigarette (nor did I know how to properly consume alcohol in any moderation, for that matter) like most kids had in high school. Untrained in the art, I would suck down a major hit from one of those Kools like it was a joint, holding a lung full of smoke until my eyes rolled, lips went numb, and all became black and still.

We turned from berry and bean picking toward a professional career of sales—door-to-door—peddling some kind of discount coupon books of dubious value, whose participating merchants may or may not have been aware of their contributions to the promotion. The operation was being run by low wattage KUIK-AM, a radio station broadcasting out of Hillsboro, which supposedly lent an air of credibility to the campaign, although it was unclear as to why that might be.

1959 Hillman Minx

1959 Hillman Minx

In an effort to perhaps subtly encourage my permanent relocation, Dad had acquired a car from somewhere—I think from Uncle Norm (not really a relation, but so designated as part of a family custom). It was a 1959 Hillman Minx whose ability to run on a consistent basis far outweighed its boxy British plainness. It had that in spades. The only thing the Hillman really had going in its favor was that it was the precise vehicle that the Beatles used in the Bahamas chase scene in their film Help!. The one I had was two toned, white and salmon. As far as I know Ringo was never stashed in the trunk of that car. There was a dead cat back there once though.

Along these lines

Along these lines

The vehicle certainly did come in handy for transporting us to various locations at which to hawk our incredibly valuable bargain booklets, only ten dollars. Hundreds of dollars of savings. Buy one get one free at Tastee-Freeze. A free Rub-a-Dub carwash with oil change at Bernard’s Garage.  Free wash with a perm at Della’s For Hair.

We were to receive a dollar for every book we sold. Our leads were generated by people who for some reason actually called in to the radio station in response to advertisements for the coupon books. It was a well-run operation for being utterly fly-by-night and more than likely a scam. In most cases potential customers were at least anticipating our arrival. If our client was a male, woe to he, as we’d turn Evie loose on him and she would close the sale typically within five minutes. As I have attempted to illustrate thus far, she did not take kindly to being told no. And she was incredibly gifted at ensuring that the situation rarely arose.

We generally generated sales of twenty booklets or more per day between us, the twenty dollar commission from which was not much—less than we were hauling down out in the fields. But Evie and I found it far more preferable to drive around smoking cigarettes with the windows rolled down and the radio blasting than to be standing out in a field somewhere sweating under the hot sun.

Each home we visited served as a portal into another world. Some of those places seemed vaguely familiar, resembling our own. But others were as incongruously divergent as black holes and rainbows. One particularly colorful black hole was Reverend Tom Phillips. He lived up on the side of Mount Tabor around Northeast 60th and Burnside—considerably outside our territory.

Our crew chief was a greasy little weasel named Vince, whom, with his bleach-blond girlfriend Randi, managed five or six of us “teams” from out of a stodgy motel room on McLoughlan Boulevard at the north end of Milwaukie. Vince told us we’d be doing him a really big favor if we’d take care of the guy. He promised he’d make it up to us big time if we’d cover the call.



We knew that was probably a load of hooey. Vince’s reputation among fellow teammates was low and falling fast. Some had taken to calling him Ratso when he was out of earshot, for his striking resemblance to Dustin Hoffman’s character in Midnight Cowboy—which had won an Academy Award earlier in the year. Vince’s ability to scrounge and cajole seemed quite comparable as well.

Reverend Tom Phillips was a crusty old barnacle, with a fusty, slicked-down gray comb-over and misshapen wire-rimmed glasses. He lived in a decent looking brick duplex in a good neighborhood and answered our knock at his door aswoon with rapturous expectation. Wearing a dingy white undershirt and worn brown slacks, as a prospect for a sale, he looked pretty dismal. He eagerly invited us into his home, where we discovered (too) many florid tapestries and paintings of naked people Adam and Eving in paradises of golden suns and blondness. Old Tom eyed Evie hungrily, as if she were a glazed ham.

Heaven as according the Reverend Tom

Heaven as according the Reverend Tom

As to the denomination of Reverend Tom’s fervency, one would suspect Church of Soft Biblical Porn—Old Testament. For before we could even begin to deliver our sales pitch about the fantastic savings our coupon books could provide the Reverend Tom for all of his gustatory and car care requirements, he launched into a hare-brained hallucinatory depiction of his version of Heaven.

From what we could gather, as he was (a little too) effusive on the subject, there’s a lot of sex in heaven. Everyone runs around naked with big boners and bouncing boobs, and the sun shines all day, every day—that’s important. It appeared, from the Reverend Tom’s description anyhow, that Heaven was being operated by junior high school boys.

At some point it dawned on me that, among other things, the Reverend Tom was also probably a bit of a multimedia artist, and had himself created the abundant art by which we were surrounded. I don’t think he got out much. And my guess is that his church’s congregation numbered one.

You can call me Doc

You can call me Doc

Familiar with the procedure, I had received my own ordination from the Universal Life Church, and was hoping to come up with enough spare cash at some point to obtain a Doctor of Divinity degree. It was a popular thing to do at the time. I had the intention of becoming the next Reverend Doctor Billy Graham D.D., though I can’t remember why. But one would assume the good Reverend Tom was, first and foremost, attempting to use his home church as a tax dodge.



So, while Evie made a sincerely valiant attempt at enticing the Reverend Tom to purchase the damn ten dollar coupon book we had been sent there to sell him, the spry old guy was on his own mission to entice Evie to remove her clothes and pray with him there in the living room next to the coffee table. He didn’t know Evie nearly as well as I did—well enough to know that she had no desire to be the sort of model to shed her clothes. She wanted to put them on and prance around in them.

Just the same, that pitch must have worked well enough for the Reverend in the past that he felt comfortable making the attempt with her. The picture of some ancient dame kneeling naked with him next to that coffee table is a false memory I still cannot flush from my mind. However, the Reverend Tom’s proposal did manage to light Evie’s fuse, so we emerged post-haste from the church before she could blow up on him. Lord knows what that might have provoked! Well, I have a pretty good idea, but why go into that here?

Frustrated, Evie and I headed back to the motel. It was Friday afternoon and we were due to be paid our commission for two weeks of sales: over two hundred dollars. We walked through the door of the motel room office, and Vince was sitting on the edge of the one of the double beds, with his hand matter-of-factly extended in anticipation of the ten dollars he expected to receive for the sale he’d sent us out to secure.

lit-fuse-bombInstead Evie flung the coupon book at him with considerable force. It glanced off the bed and fell to the floor. Vince bent over to pick it up, mockingly complaining that “the help” needed to take better care of the merchandise. Unaware that Evie’s fuse had never been fully extinguished after our encounter with the Reverend Tom, she replied unambiguously that he could go fuck himself, and give us our money. Now, asshole!

Vinnie found something about her demand rather comical. Chuckling under his breath, he smirked arrogantly and sneered that Frank wasn’t “gonna make it over tonight,” and we’d have to “wait ‘til tomorrow to get paid.” Evie had plans for her portion of our commission, and for that matter, so did I—as she was going to buy a lid of grass with some of her money. I also had plans for my own share as well.

Vinnie pissed

Vinnie pissed

But I was a bit more conscious of an element of menace about Vinnie that Evie either didn’t perceive or didn’t give a shit about. So as I began to say, yeah okay, Vinnie: well, see ya’ tomorrow, Evie unleashed a fury of threats unheralded among any I had previously witnessed—and those had been monumentally torrential in nature. The threats she was making then and there had to do with calling the police in right away. She was prepared to report that Vinnie had raped her and that he and Randi were running a prostitution ring.

I stood stark stunned by the words I heard coming out of her mouth. They were so expertly delivered, that it did not seem to me as if it were the first time she was running through that particular script. While she raged at poor, helpless Vinnie, my mind was struggling to conceive of a situation where she might have used that piece of drama in the past, but I was at a loss. There was a lot I didn’t know about that girl. And it’s probably just as well.

Vinnie soon found it imperative to get a hold of Frank right away, in order to just shut that bitch up. So he called over to the radio station, where Frank was ostensibly conducting important broadcasting business of some sort (possibly mob-related), and pleaded with his boss to bring over two hundred and forty-eight dollars right away. Hearing the obvious desperation in his young charge’s voice, Frank said okay, he’d be over in half an hour.

Drs. Steve Hardy and Phil Hardy of General Hospital

Drs. Steve Hardy and Phil Brewer of General Hospital

Upon receipt of that assurance, Evie snapped on the TV that was sitting on the dresser at her side, and primly plopped down on the bed opposite, Vinnie. She directed an icy glare at him, while patting the space next to her and signaling with her head for me to join her. I wasn’t going to cross her either. Vinnie and I sat watching General Hospital petrified at the prospect of displeasing the girl any further.

Frank possibly

Frank possibly

Fortunately, for all involved Frank arrived just as Dark Shadows was coming on. Frank was a large, imposing figure. He had the voice and bearing of Orson Wells, but he looked more like Broderick Crawford, with a broad, round red face and thin hair combed straight back. Frank entered the motel room with a check in his hand, prepared to impart a stern lecture about common courtesy or whatever—of which Evie was having none.

She nudged me sharply with her elbow and in one motion unexpectedly lunged. Snatching the check from Frank’s fingers she sprinted past him out the door. I hadn’t even managed to stand up yet and I had the distinct impression that Frank and Vinnie meant to do me harm, or to at least advise me as to how my girlfriend should oughta learn to show a little more respect and all, and maybe this’ll help me remember to tell her. So, with a similar jolt, I busted past Frank and out the door.

It wasn’t yet five o’clock, so there was still time for us to cash the check. We never returned to our positions with KUIK radio, although I frequently referenced mine for many years on subsequent job applications. Once the station changed it’s call letters, after not more than a few years—I was free to pad the length and import of the job into something rather impressive on paper. It may have even helped me to later get hired by the Postal Service. Better hire him, he worked in radio.

By then it was late July and any summer jobs that might have been available earlier in the season were long gone. I had no intention whatsoever of heading back out to the fields to pick zucchinis in the August dog days deciding instead to lay low, and avoid at all costs interactions with my Dad. He was more than a reasonable chap, but I believe that after twenty years he was just generally sick of me. Sick of me sitting on his sofa, in his home, eating his food—playing guitar and singing shitty songs in front of the TV while he worked his butt off all day.

Communing just over there

Communing just over there

For my part, I only hoped to make it through the final month of the summer without tangling with him. I tried to be out of the house by the time he got home around four in the afternoon, staying away until ten or eleven when he would hit the hay. I would go visit friends, or take my guitar up into the wilds of Washington Park, to write songs or poems or letters while communing with nature. And of course, Evie and I got together regularly.

Early one warm evening, while the sun was still shining brightly, Evie and I decided to ride our bicycles from her house on Lake Road out Oatfield Road toward Gladstone. That was a fairly pastoral journey back then, as the area was not nearly so built up as now.  It was the perfect time of day to be riding—no traffic, and a cool breeze blew through the trees.

Mama Possum

We rode south on Oatfield past Evergreen Avenue near the house where my family lived when we first moved to Oregon. That was the place where I was attacked by a possum and experienced the beams of light when I was just a young child. We cycled slowly down the narrow road another mile, passing Ray and Jean’s old house where our clan had briefly stayed when we initially arrived from California.

Evie and I continued down Oatfield, leisurely pedaling for several more miles before we finally decided to head back. As we returned the way we had come, we passed an old man walking on the shoulder of the road along side the steep sheer embankment on our right. He had white hair, and wore a faded, blue cotton shirt and fraying gray work pants. Even from behind he seemed strangely familiar. As we cautiously steered around him, a vague shudder rippled over me when he paused and grimly glowered at us coasting by.

We had ridden no farther than fifteen or twenty feet when I jammed on my brakes and turned to look at the old man. But he had vanished. I asked Evie if she had seen him. Yes. I asked her what became of him. She didn’t know. Maybe he took a path off the road. Not without climbing gear he didn’t. There was no way such an old man was going to scramble up the tall cleft of dirt next to which he was walking. Nor was it likely that he was capable of jumping from the pavement on the other side of the road, as the drop down from there was nearly vertical. No. He had simply disappeared.

Old man at the side of the road

The ride back was quiet, while I tried to recall where I had seen that old guy before. He looked very familiar, but no telling from where. He sort of looked like Carl Sandburg. The image of Carl Sandburg brought to mind the old man from childhood, whom I’d occasionally seen walking on Oatfield. The one who would evaporate into empty air whenever we drove past him in the family car.

ghost1Stopping abruptly at the recollection, I exclaimed to Evie my certainty that the old guy was a ghost! She felt it far more likely that he had simply rappelled forty feet up or down a precipitous cliff. That made more sense. For whatever reason, she seemed entirely unwilling to consider the idea that the old man wasn’t real—as we understand reality, anyway. It seemed to me that the realm of the supernatural would have been right up her alley. But she never wanted any part of it and that instance was no different. We made our way back to her house without saying another word.

In that final month before returning to school I made a couple of pilgrimages to Monmouth to convene with Fred and Varney at the hacienda, and to visit Jilly—who had stayed in town in an attempt to sort out her relationship issues (to which I was contributing). She had just moved from the house in the alley she had been sharing with Karen and Julie over to a place on Monmouth Avenue, on the other side of Main Street from the college.

Truth be told, her “place” consisted of a mammoth room on the second story of a big, old, pastel green house that had been a boarding house, most likely since its construction in 1883 by the Whitman family. Five young women shared the house. All of the bedrooms were upstairs, four on Jilly’s floor and one more in the spacious third story attic. They shared the kitchen, the cavernous living and dining rooms and several anterooms on the first floor, as well as a full basement.

wallpaper1Jilly’s room was decorated with the original eighty year-old wallpaper, white, aged-to-golden brown, extravagantly ornate with flowers and vines. It had begun to bubble up and peel in places, exposing vintage one-by-ten wallboard underneath. Since her landloard was planning on remodeling the premises at some point in the near future, Jilly was allowed to do what she pleased with the room. Her first order of business was to yank down all the wallpaper.

I turned up at Jilly’s one day to find her atop a stepladder carefully scribing a line with an Exacto knife along the edge between the wall and ceiling in her room. She was almost finished with her task, a perfect scroll of stale wallpaper trailing behind her, curling to the floor. The walls were bare. While the old wood slats lent the room a rustic look, her intention was to adorn them with a new covering. For her purposes she selected burlap, because it was inexpensive and apparently fit the potato famine motif she had in mind. She had several rolls of the stuff, four feet wide, leaning in the corner.

Wallgrade burlap

Wallgrade burlap

It was high quality burlap with a very dense thread count. It’s not clear what was meant to be done with the stuff if not to cover walls. Probably not the best material for sheets. And burlap clothing went out as a fashion statement at the end of the Great Depression. But Jilly was nothing if not original. She was doubtless well ahead of the interior decoration trend arc of the day with the concept of burlap wall covering. And it was cheap!

Because of my greater height and assumed expertise with a hammer, the task of fastening the burlap along the top border fell to me. I began with the inside walls, carefully affixing the fabric with carpet tacks. We painstakingly doubled the material at all the seams, so the resultant covering looked surprisingly good. I know I was surprised.

It took us about four hours to get around to the final, long outside wall on the south side of the room. I had been hearing a subtle, low hum while doing the west wall that for quite a while I attributed to nearby construction. It remained steady, though hardly audible. Nothing seemed to come of it.

Until I began hammering in the uppermost corner where the west and south walls converged. The hum began to grow louder, and the pitch rose a minor third. I glanced at Jilly with a puzzled look on my face, as a couple of bees began to crawl through the cracks between the planks. Heartlessly, I smacked them with the tack hammer and went about my business. But the hum kept growing louder.

Suddenly the burlap I had just tacked down began to bubble and bulge with a certain fury that did not bode well for the completion of my undertaking. Bees began crawling out from the unattached portion of burlap, spilling from all of the gaps between the boards, crawling across the ceiling, and flooding onto the floor. A cloud of angry bees began to gather and some were coming after Jilly and me. We ran screaming from the room, slamming the door behind us. Jilly retrieved a towel from one of her new roommates, using it to block the space beneath the door.

Angry honey

Angry living honey

We sat on the floor beside the entry to her room, bewildered and befuddled. The hum inside continued to grow in intensity. Cracking the door open slightly, we peered inside to see that a thick swarm had formed on the bare wall. They were terribly agitated—the wall swirling wildly, painted with angry living honey.

bees 3Seeing as neither of us were beekeepers, that was that for our workday. Jilly’s landlord was surprisingly understanding about the episode. Fortuitously he had a friend who happened to be an apiarist—who came over the next day and extricated the little bastards. No bees were harmed in the incident, but for those I squished with the hammer. Jilly had completed her project by the time I returned to Monmouth two weeks later to embark upon junior year. The walls looked very nice and her room smelled like a big stack of gunnysacks.

gunny sack



The Bible XIII

Three angels came back
From Sodom and Gomorrah:
Gave a bad report.








Tales From the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve Part 1

Picture 4

The L-Shaped House Today

The compound really was L-Shaped. The curve was maybe more accurately a variation of a Z, as the two sharp corners were at right angles. I believe we referred to it as the S-Curve because there was a yellow warning sign erected by the state up the road from us indicating just such a thing. I think it was the sign that designated the curve as being an S, rather than a Z. These concepts didn’t arise from out of nowhere. We didn’t arbitrarily make such grand proclamations.

Birds-eye View of the S-Curve

Birds-eye View of the S-Curve

And it may be true, too, that the corners weren’t exactly at a tight ninety degrees, but were maybe a bit soft at the shoulders and banked slightly, most likely serving as a means to buffer Chief Shellenbarger’s house from oncoming drunks leaving Monmouth and failing to negotiate that first turn in the road over to Independence—where they would be heading, no doubt to buy beer. Imagine our good fortune. We at the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve were availed of the protection of Independence Police Chief Harvey Shellenbarger, who lived just across the little side road on the east side of our property.

It would seem that our house, situated in Monmouth, Oregon, twenty miles from anything even remotely resembling civilization would not have required the amount of security we were afforded. For, living to the other side of us, on the west side of the house, was Monmouth Police Chief Ron Miller. Chief Miller had a small gentleman’s farm of a few acres behind his property and ours, where sheep grazed peacefully and the skies were not cloudy all day. We never spoke to either of those guys, that I know of, but kept a respectful distance—although at some point they must have become aware of our presence there.


Missourian Sight-seers

Monmouth was a dry town at the time. I think that finally got voted out about ten years ago. Monmouth not selling alcohol was the raison d’etre for the town of Independence. Actually, truth be told, Independence was out there first, when the wagon loads of sight-seers from Independence, Missouri first hit the valley back in the 1840s.

About ten years later a crazy religious faction (who could have seen that coming?) from the Independence party, headed by some guy with a chunk of property, broke off and moved the (then) considerable distance of a couple miles west to found a college and a town, or vice versa. They named it Monmouth—after someone’s hometown back in Illinois.

And, in order to form a more perfect anomaly in the region, the land for the college was deeded to the town with the wild-assed stipulation that no demon alcohol would ever slip the lips of some mid-19th century coed trying to bust out of his or her petticoats. I guess the deed was secured for a thousand years or something, because it took a city-wide vote to finally get booze (legally) into Monmouth—even though the law had never stopped anyone before anyway. I bet that when they legalized booze in Monmouth, the Independence City Council had to have an emergency budget meeting. Gnashing of teeth.

Tap Room Conviviality

Tap Room Conviviality

So, at that time, there was a near constant modern-day wagon train trekking to Roth’s Foodliner for beer and wine, or to the liquor store in downtown Indep for the hard stuff. The Cooler was the first available tavern, about a half a mile from the City Limits sign as you entered from Monmouth. But the Tap Room in downtown Independence was the preferred destination for most OCE students, prices being the key variable, one would suppose—that and perhaps the perpetual atmosphere of alcohol and hormone-fueled conviviality that forever foamed from their doors.

And, as these drunk minions eventually found their way back to their dorms and apartments, and classes the next day, the first structures they would encounter upon entry back into the City of Monmouth would be, from left to right: Chief Shellenbarger’s ugly, landlady green bastion, our white haven of sweet surrender, and Chief Miller’s stately sky-blue pleasure dome plumped upon a little artificial hill, sheep passively foraging about the grounds.

Prior to the arrival of Tom and Doug into the household, the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve was just an ordinary innocuous ‘50s ranch house of oversized proportions. The house itself was a massive drab white, rectangular structure, with a doublewide drive-through carport that adjoined a workshop area that was the size of a small Italian restaurant.

The Pioneer Family Living Out in the Workshop

The Pioneer Family Living Out in the Workshop

Our landlady, Jacki, lived in Salem and had a bunch of stuff stored out there from after the divorce, so we used the space for storage too, as much as was necessary given that there were, after all, college students living there with little more than a pot to piss in. Just the same, empty, that workshop could have comfortably housed one of those pioneer families from the 1840s. It was considerably bigger than the “apartment” Masa, Jeff and I had shared the year before.

Tom and Doug moved in the day after Fred showed them the room—about two hours after Jeff had cleared the nondescript remainder of his belongings from the space. Packing his 1968 Austin Healey Sprite convertible with that last load, Jeff lovingly encouraged his shiny precious red beauty in the driveway to a final, orgasmic wail. And in one effusive burst, he sped off in a spray of gravel with a hearty hi-yo go fuck yourself.

Comparable Ford Van

Comparable Ford Van

The two new roommates arrived presently in a boxy, nondescript pale-green Ford van. The first thing they loaded into the sizable room they were going to share was an enviable record collection. In an instant the ambience within the residence metamorphosed. There were officially four hippies living there­—or hippies by Monmouth standards, anyway. Free thinkers, with crazy notions. Possibly subversive. In a dry town. Four hippies and a tennis bum who was rarely around.

They were from Bend. Doug Sherman was a year older than Tom and I. He had spent his freshman and sophomore years attending Portland State University, working on a Geography major. But, instead of continuing with the program, he impulsively opted to join Tom in Monmouth to become a History teacher. Doug was of moderate height, slouchy, a little mushy. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and had a scraggly beard, with thin, dull brown, shoulder-length hair.

A transfer from Central Oregon Community College, Tom Schiffer was very handsome. He had a close-cropped full beard, with long thick, wavy brown hair that reached his collar. Sturdily slender, nearly six-feet tall—as with so many other guys in my circle, he too had been a wrestler in high school and, built such as he was, probably wrestled in the 170 lb. weight class. He had indelibly blue eyes and a model’s grin. And he happened to be a pretty nice guy, though clearly crafty-sly and quite intelligent.

Doug, of course, was immediately identifiable as a 99.9999 percentile proto-genius. He spoke. In. Biting. Clipped. Clenched. Phrases—which typically concluded with a sarcastic summation and a wry, rattling chuckle, more often than not expressing an ambiguous sense of hopeless futility couched within his dim worldview. His encyclopedic knowledge on practically any subject often came in handy. Valuable and entertaining. He was a footnote factory. A human reference book.

In an apparent attempt to ingratiate us with our neighbors—once they had settled in Tom and Doug conspired with Fred to launch a kegger of titanic proportions. Since I did not imbibe, I had no real skin in that game. However the twist came with Doug’s unique idea to charge three dollars for entry into the affair and maybe make a profit to be put toward rent and bills. For that I was more than willing to chip in fifteen bucks in order to secure a keg from the Cooler, reasonably sure I could make my money back. And anyway, I was just going to stay in my room, so what the hey, let the beer kegs roll!

Kegger: L-Shaped House Style

Kegger: L-Shaped House Style

And that’s precisely what happened. I stayed in my room as well-nigh one hundred people showed up to drink beer in our living room, dining room and kitchen, with the stereo set at volume: stun, and weed enough to keep the magic happening. And there was plenty of room for all of it. That’s how immense just that portion of the house was.

Lonnie Mayne with Frank Bonnema

Lonnie Mayne with Frank Bonnema

It was Saturday night and things were really rolling by nine or so, by which time I was safely ensconced in my bedroom with a quart of Royal Crown Cola and a bag of Doritos, preparing to watch Portland Wrestling on Channel 12. I had taken a liking to the new announcer Frank Bonnema whose cheeky sarcasm and knowing suspension of disbelief suited the inane behaviors of the participants. While pointlessly strumming my trusty 12-string guitar in time to the Hamm’s, the beer refreshing, commercial that preceded the commencement of the program, a rap came at my bedroom door.

I bade entre and in wafted a tall, spare woman in a long, pale blue, flower print dress. Wild, raven, witching hair flew about her face, a country sunny face, with frightened hurt brown eyes. She introduced herself as Mary, whom I surmised to be Tom’s girlfriend, Mary—whose description he had given me on several occasions and she fit.

Hesitantly, she asked if she could hang out with me. She had caught a ride from Bend with a friend earlier in the day to pay Tom a surprise visit at his new domicile. But she was the one dumbfounded by the chaos she encountered upon her arrival, and like a frightened doe sought refuge far away from the frenzied din.

Having always been sympathetic to the plight of miserable panicked creatures, I reluctantly acceded— despite the fact that her presence created an intrusion upon the personal space I so dogged guarded, and was disinclined to frivolously relinquish. But she seemed pretty desperate. So yeah, okay. Sure. C’mon in.

Mary sat down on Varney’s bed, which hadn’t been slept in for weeks, taking stock of the mostly empty room. Like all other aspects of the house, it was grandiosely spacious, with just our two single beds pushed distantly apart to opposing mucus green walls. A ridiculously massive closet lay at the far end of the facility, across a great, yawning canyon of gray-carpeted floor.

A small, sunflower yellow wooden table was situated beneath the window wall between us, upon which I had placed my enormous black, reel-to-reel tape recorder (with its own built-in amplifier and speakers). Next to it, Varney set his portable Philco stereo with turntable and detachable speakers. He had about fifty albums stacked on his side of the table. I had maybe double that many on my side.

As we took in the preliminary matches, Mary gave me a bit of her version of their back-story (I had heard Tom’s, of course). They had gone together in high school, but started to drift apart when they both began attending COCC. During winter term Tom unexpectedly elected to transfer to OCE and move in with Doug in Monmouth. I knew they were on again off again. According to Tom they were off again. But from what Mary was saying she was under the impression they were still on.

The Incorrigible Von Steigers

The Incorrigible Von Steigers

We watched the Von Steigers take on Tony Borne and Lonnie Mayne in a match for the Northwest Tag Team championship. The Borne and Mayne team won on a blatant disqualification: the Von Stigers seemingly incapable of containing their contempt for the rules of the sport. Meanwhile, Mary told me about her childhood spent in the desolate southeastern Oregon desert town of Burns—our conversation seeming as tawny gray and windblown as the days of her cheerless formative years.

That one being an unquestionable success, there were other keggers to follow, each better attended and more efficiently managed than its predecessor. It was a very tightly run operation, in which I participated in the preparation before and the renewal efforts after those events, but in the interval of their duration, I remained safely secreted in my room, secure from any unnecessary inane interaction. And for enduring that occasional imposition, our rent and bills were paid for the entire spring term. What’s more there were residuals, which were used to purchase large quantities of top-grade marijuana. So it was a very happy household, indeed.

With Varney AWOL and Fred spending the preponderance of his time at Campbell Hall making things, Tom, Doug and I pretty much had the hacienda to our selves—the Three Musketeers. We spent afternoons after class smoking weed, watching TV with the sound off, and turning each other on to our favorite albums.

sabathDoug was drawn to the harder, heavier or more primitive bands—MC 5, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, Sabbath and Vanilla Fudge, the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead. Tom was a Zep fan. He loved the Who, Cream, Hendrix, and the Doors. Beginning at the Beatles, I was more of a pop man myself, with a bent toward folk rock. I held Simon and Garfunkel in high esteem and had become quite enamored of the Moody Blues, and the likes of Nilsson, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Bee Gees, and especially Jethro Tull.

So, between the three of us and with what Fred and Varney had—there were well over five-hundred albums in the house, as well as a wide selection of 8-track and reel-to-reel tape recordings. Our rock and roll audio library was comparable in breadth and scope to that found at Alexandria, though there is little doubt that we had the superior selection of Rolling Stones albums.

In the interest of scientific inquiry and my never-ending quest to rediscover the Land of Cartoons, I devised an experiment undocumented in the annals of all recorded music. Quintuple Abbey Road. Others may have attempted to summit that illusory musical mountain in the past. But it was I who had the inspiration, the stamina, the dedication and the abundant free time to conceive and accomplish such a lofty goal.

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

You may well ask and I might be inclined to tell you: what the hell is quintuple Abbey Road? And just such a question would immediately set you apart from the typical American who walks through life unencumbered by such weighty concerns. The simple explanation is this: Quintuple Abbey Road is an inter-dimensional jaunt through the crack in time. Sure. That may sound simple enough. But just try it.

Obviously, five sources with the capability of reproducing sound will be required. And five identical recordings capable of being played on those apparatuses will be essential as well. In my case, I chose the Beatles’ Abbey Road, because I had a vinyl copy, as well as a reel-to-reel version. Doug, Varney and Fred had the album in the vinyl format as well. It was the only album in the house of which we had that many. We had four copies each of Bookends and In Search of the Lost Chord. But, for reasons unknown, five seemed to be the proper number and the Beatles’ Abbey Road seemed to be just the right recording to do the job. And thus it was so.

Inter-dimensional Speaker placement

Inter-dimensional Speaker Placement

Conceive if you will, the notion: sound sources in various locations within a structure simultaneously playing the same album. And you might logically reply: Well that’s not so difficult to do with speakers. Simply intersperse them around your site and voila! Ah, but what I was suggesting was not a single sound emanating from a single source via an array of speakers. I proposed multiple sounds operating from separate sources—invoking the fourth dimension: Time, and the fifth dimension: a perpendicular to that. A definitive audio hologram.

And so I set about accomplishing my task. I equipped each of my sources with their specific versions of Abbey Road. Then, beginning in our room with my reel-to-reel tape recorder as the control mode, I began the process by playing Side Two. “Here Comes the Sun” was the lead track. As George Harrison’s acoustic guitar began to chime through the speakers of the recorder, I set the needle down on Varney’s copy on his turntable. After some effort I synchronized the tracks so that they were essentially in unison. Then I sprinted into Tom and Doug’s room and got another version in sync there on Doug’s modular stereo.

Quintuple Abbey Road

Quintuple Abbey Road

By that time the three recordings had begun to fall out of synch slightly, at varying speeds, so jogging back into my room, I got the two versions coordinated there and dashed back to Doug’s stereo and got that matched up. Then on to Fred’s room to get a fourth copy started, before rushing back to the start to re-synchronize everything. It was like one of those stage acts where the acrobatic entertainer keeps plates spinning on poles.

Finally, with four Abbey Road’s emanating from what sounded like a quartet of separate dimensions, I sped to get my vinyl copy of the album started on Tom’s big stereo system in the living room. And, after another circuit of synchronizations, they were all more or less coordinated. The heavenly choir of “Because” radiated a thousand proclamations, resounding throughout the house. It was as if Abbey Road were beaming from all facets of the entire planet.

I lit a righteous celebratory doobie and strolled the grounds in a state of profound awe. The vortex of sound indistinctly shaded and shifted and faceted with every step. Time itself slowly unspun through the course of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” creating a gaping rip in the fabric of the universe. And, as the various recordings ever so slightly fell out of sequence with one another, massive clouds of sound were slung into the silent void—the sun casting strands of molten plasma into the depths of space. In other words—Cartoons realized!

Dali Pancake

Dali Pancake

It was in that precise moment of matchless rapture that Tom and Doug happened to walk through the front door after a hard day of classes. Except for me, the house appeared empty. Yet the mayhem and bedlam were biblical in proportion—Abbey Road brimming and spilling deluge all over everywhere. The Jericho horn of Joshua pealed thick sonic syrup, which dripped upon the Dali-esque pancakes of all humanity. The boys headed straight for the communal weed basket. Gold-old-old-en-en-en slum-um-um-bers-bers-ers….

After great deliberation I subsequently determined that quintuple Abbey Road was the maximum number achievable in our world. I became convinced that sextuple Abbey Road would cause universal consciousness to collapse in upon itself, becoming a black hole of excessively heavy musical gravity. In addition, there was a new deterrent.  A prohibition had been enacted by the household preventing me from conducting further experiments in the realm of multiple source sound generation. So I sought my kicks elsewhere.

Beyond my own arcane weirdness, that sort of behavior was indicative of a communal penchant for the peculiar that would play itself out in many manifold and myriad ways in the days and months to come. My experiment only served as inauguration to the festivities. Our appreciation for the absurd was boundless, and we never ceased to find new and unique ways to express it. In fact that became our mission in life.

We started slowly. It was a natural progression. We didn’t force things. As a result of the regularly occurring keggers, the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve quickly began to acquire something of a reputation. In a town of seven thousand inhabitants, that wasn’t so hard to do. Especially when approximately eight percent of that population had been to a kegger down at that very L-Shaped House on the S-Curve.

As the impossibly perfect spring unfolded, we determined that we wanted to take the party outdoors for some fun in the sun. Because we had been severely neglecting the maintenance of the extensive grounds, the grass had soon grown to two-feet high beneath the hot daily sun. Even though Jacki had provided us with a rider lawnmower, none among us was much interested in taking the thing out for a spin to knock down some lawn.

So, rather than to tamp down a clearing in our fields, we decided instead to conduct informal afternoon parties on the roof of the house. It was a very wide roof, of course, capable of accommodating twenty or thirty people up there comfortably. We typically shot for a three to one ratio between women and men whom we invited up, with the intent of lending an air of exclusivity to the affairs. Hence, given those parameters, there was always an abundance of scantily clad young women frolicking about the property, a condition to which there were never any objections lodged.

Roof Party Here

Roof Party Here

To enhance the surroundings, we hauled Varney’s stereo speakers up there. With my tape deck hooked up to his system, I’d put extended reel-to-reel tapes on to play all afternoon. And we’d sit up there, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes—but no weed (we weren’t that brazen)—listening to tunes and waving at friends as they drove by in their cars, honking their horns.

Sadly, in early May, Doug thought he detected a bow in the roof, as if a huge load of snow had weighed down upon it for an extended period. After due consideration, we deemed that it would be improper for us, as mere tenants after all, to destroy Jacki’s roof (further) and we were forced to discontinue the roof parties, after throwing maybe only ten or twelve of them. We would have to search for other things to destroy.

That opportunity fell to us a few weeks later, when Jacki asked us to please knock down the grass. She was receiving complaints from the city. So the household, en masse, circled the rider mower with a sense of wonder and fear. None of us were particularly mechanically inclined. Just getting the damn thing started proved to be a challenge. But between the five us, we roommates managed to get it running.

mowerWe alternated at first. Tom captained the maiden voyage, navigating the perimeter of the property with great difficulty. The mower kept clogging with grass and stalling. In the end we ended up setting the blade as high as it would go, with the new plan of making two passes. We determined that in the long run it would save time and it did. The rest of us followed with our own opportunities to operate the machine. After a couple of circuits each, we became rather matter-of-fact about the process, performing occasionally reckless maneuvers in order to impress the others, or ourselves. Somebody.

zamboni2Once the first course was run, the grass was still eight inches high, but manageable at that point, so we prepared for the second tour. Confident that we had the process well under control, and to stave off boredom, we began to devise various gymnastics to perform atop the machine as it mowed the remainder of the lawn. Varney was the first, striking an awkward pose. With one foot planted upon the seat and one hand guiding the steering wheel, Varney hoisted a leg behind himself, and an arm pointing straight ahead, most resembling an ungainly ice skater riding a small Zamboni.

So the horse was out of the barn at that point and the game of one-upsmanship was by then fully engaged. Teams were formed, each creating an ever more farcical spectacle. The coda came with all five of us clustered on top of the poor tin beast. It did its best to bear up under the weight of a half ton, but as we made the final turn, it stopped abruptly, belching a big black cumulus cloud. It wouldn’t restart. Actually we couldn’t even get the motor to turn. It was obviously seized. Uh-oh. Jacki…

hay 3Well, we didn’t tell her about it right away—if we told her at all. But in an effort to ameliorate in advance any effects of our delinquency (if it were to become revealed), the five of us scrupulously raked the yard, gathering the grass into a great six-foot tall heap of clippings right in front of the house, clearly visible to cars making the turn on the S-Curve. When finished, we took turns making flying leaps into the mound. When all was said and done, we reconvened the haystack into a perfect pile.

As a gesture of good faith, I crafted a sign out of a section of wood and a two-by-four. Upon it, with letters ten inches high in bright, day-glo colors I wrote “Free Grass,” and posted it at the top of Mount Lawn. As far as I recall, there were no repercussions with that, other than the Monmouth fire chief coming down from town a month later to tell us we had a fire-hazard on our hands. I think we ended up spreading that straw in the rhododendron beds.

There was a real fire in the neighborhood one day, at a house down Davis Street, the little lane that extended south from Chief Shellenbarger’s house. Jilly Bing was visiting, maybe waiting for Fred. We were still just becoming acquainted at that time—his friend then, in my mind. We were both being hesitant and shy and eccentric. She was sitting on the kitchen counter vacantly staring off into the ether, when suddenly a couple fire trucks went roaring down the tiny road, bells and whistles lit up officiously.

fire1A house located near the very back of our property was aflame and sustaining moderate damage. From the patio we could see a half-dozen heavily protected firemen, drenched with sweat, laboring under the hot sun, as they trudged fire hoses from the trucks in the direction of the fierce blaze. They were making every effort to quell the persistent fire before it could spread over to Chief Miller’s grazing fields behind us.

quikAs she witnessed the swelter of their toil, a pang of compassion suddenly befell Jilly. She sprung to action with the aim of rewarding the fearless firemen. Quickly searching the cupboards, she set about the enactment of her plan. We had to make hot chocolate for them—as according to some tradition I had yet to ever hear about. But, I was not about to question Jilly’s motives when she was undertaking such a selfless cause, I directed her to Fred’s big can of Nestle’s Quik. He loved chocolate milk.

nesbitts1She grabbed the can and ran to the refrigerator in search of milk. Nothing. All we had was one can of evaporated milk, and the remnants of enough powdered milk to shake out about a cup of the stuff. Unless she pulled a loaves and fishes style enhancement of the milk supply the firemen’s hot chocolate was going to be pretty damn watery. Fortuitously, to her way of thinking anyway, someone had stashed a couple 28-ounce bottles of Nesbitt’s orange soda in the refrigerator.

Without hesitation, she snapped up the Nesbitt’s and scurried over to the stove. She filled Fred’s big stockpot with the soda, the milk products, cocoa and a quart of water, heating it to a simmer. Noticing a bag of marshmallows on one of the shelves, she snatched those up and threw a handful of them into the pot to enrich the flavor and texture, as she lovingly stirred the ingredients. Meanwhile I scrounged up every coffee mug and cup we had in the house, grabbing my fake-antique Coca-Cola serving tray somewhere along the way.

cocoa2In an expression of genuine gratitude toward the firemen for their heroic efforts in the face of indeterminable odds and empyrean danger, Jilly very carefully set out eight cups of boiling cocoa, placing marshmallows in each full cup. It was as artistic as it was touching.

By the time she had all that together, the men had put the fire out and appeared to be in the wrap-up stages of their operations. As they were gathering up hoses just next to our driveway, Jilly, with great caution, very earnestly carried the tray of hot chocolate out to the profusely perspiring firefighters. Honestly, they looked at her like she was crazy or high, but I knew her well enough to know she was neither. She was uncommonly special.

And she was pretty. So the guys were more inclined to humor her and cut her a little slack—even if she was pretty weird. One of the braver among the firefighters took a sip of the concoction and fiercely spit it right out, asking what the hell was in that shit anyway. Jilly nonchalantly riffed through the list of ingredients, the orange soda in particular stuck out. Yeah, that’s probably what it was. Orange soda.



All the activity brought Rinnie out to see what the commotion was about. Rinnie lived under the neighbor’s disabled Plymouth station wagon at the house directly across the lane. He was a strange looking little dog—a longhaired German shepherd trapped in a Dachsund’s body. Because he clearly had received no attention other than to be fed periodically, and smelled of axel grease, and probably because he was keenly aware of his unfortunate circumstance in the scheme of all things, Rinnie was slightly anti-social.

He got overly excited in crowds and considered any living entity other than himself to be a crowd. I was the one to christen him Rinnie, after Rin Tin Tin (I don’t know what his real name was, or if he even had one), in hopes of elevating his desperately low self-esteem. It seemed he had internalized several critical issues from puppyhood regarding his stature in the world, issues which had manifest themselves in adulthood as a bad habit of acting out in a negative manner, barking and growling. Lashing out and such.

But he responded well enough to the name Rinnie. I let him come in the house occasionally and he always behaved himself like a little gentleman. He loved government-issue American cheese cubes and crusts from Fred’s home-baked bread. For the most part, he seemed to mean well, despite himself.

So there we were, Jilly and Rinnie and me, standing with the firemen who were holding coffee cups full of some gawdawful substance they wanted to dump on the ground, but were too polite to do right in front of the pretty little lady. But as the inevitable lull ensued, the fireman who had spit out his chocolate unceremoniously dropped his cup on the tray Jilly had cradled in her arms and hied the other fellas: time to head on back to the station.

Heading Back

Heading Back

Seeing that as their opportune sanction, the others respectfully bent over and emptied their mugs on the ground, as subtly as possible, returning their cups to the tray. One of the guys put his hand on Jilly’s shoulder and thanked her little too soulfully, in my opinion. But, eventually, off they went and peace was restored to the valley.

Only a few weeks after that, Jilly who didn’t drive, effortlessly convinced me to borrow Fred’s big Dodge truck so we could rescue her cousin, who was stranded in Lincoln City where she had been abandoned by Rainbow Bob—not the first time he had pulled a stunt of that nature. He was kind of a rat. I wrote a fictional (though true) account of that event and and it’s linked here. It was at that time into which my beloved dog Gypsy entered the picture, there to remain for the next fifteen years.

After the adventure to the coast to save her cousin, Jilly and I bonded and became much closer, spending nearly every day together until the end of June. Several afternoons a week, I would join her as she babysat for a favored instructor, Ram Dosa and his wife Bridget. Professor Dosa was of Indian origin. He had a dark complexion, with very blue features and a sparse black beard. A Hindu, he wore a turban, his forehead thumbed with a white ashpaste smudge.

Liv Ullmann

Liv Ullmann

Bridget was a beautiful blonde Swedish woman, tall and slender, with glacier blue eyes—a dead ringer for the actress Liv Ullmann. She was a teacher’s assistant in the Ed. Department at the college. They were wonderful people. In their mid-thirties. They had one child, a delightful young boy, age four, named Christian. Christian was the most beautiful little boy who ever lived.

His skin was the color of coffee cream, hair honey brown, with a radiant array of golden streaks. His eyes were unbearably limpid blue, wonder wide lagoons that peered out with an air of naïve wisdom that was oftentimes quite unnerving.

With both of his parents at work most days, a sitter was required for little Christian. Jilly had met Bridget in an Ed. class somewhere along the line and they hit it off instantly—undoubtedly because they were both very much alike in their bearing and demeanor. Jilly could have passed for Bridget’s younger sister.

Jilly was selected among only a few other students to be allowed to stay with Christian for five hours or more, while his parents were gone for the day. I knew Ram Dosa well from an Anthropolgy course I was taking from him that year. He was a wise, deeply spiritual man with incredible insights into mankind and the cultures of men around the world.

clouds1Eventually, once his parents had become comfortable with my presence in their son’s midst, I was permitted to babysit Christian a few times. Typically we didn’t do much, staying around the family house, reading books, watching Sesame Street. Or we would sit in his play area in the back yard and confer on matters. When outside, our sessions were more creative. We would identify shapes in clouds, or try to hear what that butterfly over there said.

There were protracted discussions on a host of topics. I regaled the lad with various tales of my feats as a youngster. Seeking to impress him I related to Christian my matchless childhood ability to identify any of our neighbors’ cars simply by hearing the sound of one passing in front of our house. He told me that Jerry’s car made a sound. I gathered that Jerry was a neighbor, but I was uncertain as to whether he was a child or an adult. I inquired further. He replied definitively: “Bunker-tia quink. That’s the sound Jerry’s car makes.”

I could hear that car’s suspension in my mind’s ear. Worn shocks and struts, no doubt. When I was a kid, it never occurred to me to phoneticize the sounds I heard. I just identified our neighbor’s individual cars and found a certain reassurance in those reverberations. On one of the other occasions I stayed with him, I heard the very sound Christian had described. Shushing him, I raised a finger in the air, whispering conspiratorily: Jerry’s car! His eye’s widened and he put his hands up in glee. Yeah, Jerry’s car!

The afternoon before the last day of classes, Jilly appeared at our door, sobbing uncontrollably. Leading her into the living room, I sat her down on one of the couches; wrapping my arms around her in an unsuccessful attempt at consolation. Trying to draw from her the cause of her distress, I kept massaging her shoulder and asking her what had happened.

Brokenhearted, she groaned emphatically. “He’s dead. He died. He died this morning. There was an accident.” Then she burst into tears again. That didn’t sound good at all. I thought maybe Buzz had gotten in a wreck. He drove back and forth between Corvallis and Salem a lot. Shit.

I tried my best to comfort her, but she was moving toward a state of catalepsy. Making every attempt to maintain my own composure in an unaccustomed position of frazzled counsel, I basically had not the slightest idea what to do. But little by little Jilly relaxed. I asked her as gently as possible, who died? She began to sob again, bawling “Ram Dosa. He was in a crash. In Woodburn. He saved Christian’s life.”

strawberriesRam Dosa had taken his son with him over to Woodburn that morning to pick a few crates of fresh strawberries, hoping to surprise Bridget, who loved the fruit with abiding ardor. On their way home, around noon, as they were headed south from Woodburn on Highway 99, an oncoming car suddenly lost control and headed straight for them. Christian’s father’s final deed was to thrust himself in front of his son, who sat in the passenger’s seat beside him—sparing the boy’s life as he sacrificed his own.









The Bible XII

Tower of Babel
Was meant to reach to heaven.
But plans got confused.








Prologue to Tales From the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve

It’s already been five years since Gary called to tell me his brother had died. Doug had just graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Accounting only a few weeks earlier. He had even lined up a job! Doug going to school was nothing unusual. He was more or less a professional student. Getting a full-time job was not a goal I ever knew him to have in mind, nor to pursue at all unless financially challenged to the point of desperation.

He had almost twelve hundred hours of college credits to his name in over thirty subjects, with many degrees, I don’t think anybody knew how many, certainly not Doug. But, by the time one of those degrees was finally acquired, he’d instantly lose interest in the subject as a possible vocation—and just head on back to school. He had degrees in pretty much every field other than Medicine, and that was only because he wasn’t interested in Medicine. He didn’t care for bodily functions. So, it wasn’t that he lacked ambition. It’s just that nothing ever stuck.

AlCan Highway

AlCan Highway

I’d recently been back in touch with him after about five or six years. It was just sort of that way with us. In the thirty-five years we knew each other, he was always heading off on some sort of expedition. Doug and Linda took that old, gray pick-up truck with the little cabin built in the bed all the way up the AlCan Highway to Juneau and back. Several times. As a couple, the two of them were socially ADD. A mutual wanderlust was the chief feature in their relationship.

I met Doug and Tom in college at OCE in Monmouth, in the spring of my sophomore year. Fred brought them in. My high school buddy Jeff Penny and I had been living in the spacious 50’s-style ranch house since the fall. When we moved in, a couple of Viet Nam vet/students were living there, whom, in retrospect, most definitely had acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You walked very lightly around them. They both wore army field jackets and appeared to still be at war. One was William. The other was Robert, I think, I’m not sure I ever actually spoke to him. It was a big house.

When Robert left in winter term, we got Steve Varney in to take his room. Varney was a regular guy, more on Jeff’s wavelength than mine, but cool. As he was a member of the school tennis team, I do not recall him dressed in anything but tennis whites. He dedicated himself to living the gym rat lifestyle to its greatest potential. Because of this, he was one of my clients.

I had a little business on the side writing papers for jocks. It was lucrative and fairly easy—as neither my clients nor their teachers had particularly high expectations for these guys, given their performances in class. For my part, I would briefly interview my clients in order to get some idea of how their minds worked, if at all, and to see if they knew anything about the topic at hand, which was rarely the case. Steve was one of my four regular accounts.

Hallowed Butler Hall

Hallowed Butler Hall

Dave Dingle and Jimmy Price were dorm roommates of mine from freshman year at Butler Hall, football players, good athletes, but scholastically challenged. They were difficult to write for, because their language skill levels were so elementary and typically they knew nothing about their class subjects, because they rarely attended. I also wrote papers for Masa Misake, but he was problematic in a different way, as English was his second language.

He was Japanese, from Gresham. His family owned a bean and berry farm. A wrestler, he wasn’t very tall, but amazingly compact. Solid. Dense. We took a swimming class together and it was quickly discovered that he was unable to float. He’d try to swim the regular Australian crawl, madly flailing, stroking and kicking, yet still slowly sink to the bottom of the pool.

Masa was a card shark and I was a naïve tool. Therefore he won every poker hand we ever played and I owed him a lot of money. So I ended up writing all his papers for free. After first term in Butler, he and I moved to an apartment off-campus for winter term of my freshman year. In the spring, Jeff escaped the dorm regimen as well, and the three of us moved into a tiny apartment in a converted old house just a couple blocks away from the campus. It was just two rooms, a “kitchen/living room,” area and a bedroom, in which we had wedged three beds, with only enough room to navigate between them and three small sets of drawers against the back wall.

Masa was the individual responsible for getting Jeff and I stoned for the first time. For my part, I had never smoked or drunk anything in my life. In high school I was a three-sport jock with bloodstream as clean as a silver thaw. Jeff had been our high school band drum major and was far more likely to mess around with mind-altering substances than I. He had fondness for blackberry brandy and Crooks cigars.

Red Moroccan Hash

Moroccan Red Hash

One day we dispatched Masa on a mission to procure for us some substance by which we might attain this “stoned” state he had been relentlessly proselytizing. Not exactly an expert on the subject himself, despite his bluster to the contrary, he bought two grams of Moroccan red hash with the understanding such a quantity would be more than enough for the three of us to get royally wasted.

So, that night we made a pipe out of foil and a toilet paper roll and smoked both grams consecutively. I determined that I didn’t really notice any effects whatsoever and decided to hit the hay. While lying in bed I felt my arms and legs detach from my body, spin around the room and reattach. But otherwise nothing out of the ordinary to report and I fell asleep.

The following fall term, sophomore year, Masa decided to move in with his girlfriend. Jeff and I moved in with William and Robert in that expansive ranch house on the east edge of town by the boundary between Monmouth and Independence city limits. Jeff knew Steve Varney from their mutual interest in pursuing their preferences for fine armcandy. And somewhere along the line Masa had introduced him to me as another potential patron in my burgeoning enterprise as a pedagogic ghostwriter. So, when Robert shipped out that winter, bringing in Varney was not an issue at all.

B+Impoverished, it was imperative that my little writing venture thrived and it did just that through the winter. I was averaging five or six clients per week. I charged twenty-five dollars for up to a 500-word essay and guaranteed a C grade or better, or a full refund. For most of the guys (oddly, never any women) that was easy money for me, because, as I said, expectations were low all around. I never had to pay a refund.

I developed styles for each of my regulars. Dave was sort of the dumb guy who always missed a major point or two, but got the basics. Jimmy liked to dig in, but he had a short attention span. Varney was easy, because he was just a laid back guy. I always pretended to be sleepy when I wrote his compositions, sort of distracted. But Masa was the one to require a lot of work—until I developed a “voice” for him.

In fact, I mastered his actual voice. I learned to write as he spoke. Masa expressed himself in short, curt phrases, often very sarcastic, even mean at times, frequently missing articles or fouling up prepositions. Spare with words, he sometimes used them incorrectly, or in an odd, inadvertent way. Few adjectives, or other modifiers. He often got his tenses fouled up and omitted pronouns. He articulated ideas very directly, as if his world was continuously under complete control. Though perhaps not necessarily accurate with an assertion, he was never less than entirely persuasive in saying so.bacon

For one English Lit 101 class I had him naively argue that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. It was that other man. That Bacon guy. He write Hamlet. People say friends egg him on. He figure why not, career already toasted. There was other stupid stuff like that, but his professor gave him an A on that one for the attempt at levity, I guess—considering it came from someone not so familiar with the English language. That’s the only way that one ever would have flown. I also had a good working knowledge of the instructor audiences for whom I was writing. Consequently, my pieces were always tailored with a high degree of specificity.toast

The crowning achievement within my writing concern came at the end of winter term. I wrote five papers for the same World Literature 101 class. That was less complicated than it may sound, as, armed with my extensive palette of low styles and muffled voices, I was able to cobble together a quintet of viewpoints—that mixed and matched and argued with one another in fresh, exciting new ways, which I fairly well knew our target academic recipient had surely yet to witness within the field of multiple counterfeit submissions in a single course. The ruse worked.

As lucrative as it was, I had to abandon that line of work when an unfortunate side effect became apparent. My own grades had begun to suffer. Because my high school cumulative GPA had been an astoundingly abysmal 1.7, I was only able to get into college at all because I had the third highest SAT score in my senior class. Yes, it’s true. I may have lacked focus in high school. I entered college on academic probation.

It became a point of pride for me to prove to myself, or whoever, that I could be a good student. My freshman year I took over twenty hours per term, all 200 level courses or higher. At the end of my first year in college I had a cumulative 3.7 GPA.

And my sophomore year had been just as successful until that winter term, when things began to slide a bit. I only had a 3.2 GPA for twenty-two hours taken. I got a B in Geology. And my Drama class with Professor Hanson had not gone well. He seemed not to see things my way. I had opinions. I was nearly twenty years old, after all. And I’d written a couple plays in high school. No big deal.

Other changes befell the household near the end of that winter term. William elected to bivouac elsewhere and decamped in early March. Thus we were again thrust into the unwelcomed position of seeking a new lodger. But, fortuitously, that dilemma was more easily solved than we could have foreseen.

Because his efforts in college primarily consisted of avoiding all things scholastic (as well as the military draft) if at all possible, Varney took a lot of fluff classes that didn’t require much work, but which, coincidentally, also almost always had a very high female-to-male ratio. Most of them were art classes. It was in one of those art classes that Jeff first met Varney. And it was in another of those art classes in which Varney met Fred. However, against all odds, Fred happened to be a real artist. He wasn’t just taking art classes to lay low and score with the chicks, although he wasn’t necessarily opposed to that.

In casually befriending the impish fellow, it came to Varney’s attention that Fred was himself in the midst of seeking new quarters. Having recently vacated intolerable conditions, he was sleeping on a friend’s couch—his welcome veering dangerously close to running out altogether. Never one to miss an opportunity, Varney invited Fred over to check out our luxury lifestyle at the edge of town.

overallsFred Harmon was a well-known anomaly around Monmouth. Built like a buffalo, he was short, with a stubby, stout-set frame. Bedecked in his uniform of a dirty t-shirt, clay-smeared Oshkosh bib overalls, wire-rimmed glasses, long stringy, copper brown hair, and bushy beard, the role of town eccentric suited him almost too well, too comfortably. His whereabouts were always known. His incessant, booming, demented chortle could be heard for blocks in all directions. A character of mottled reputation to be sure.

Seeking in vain some impossible reconciliation with a militantly military father retired to the Oregon coast, Fred migrated west from Kennebunkport, Maine via an extended detour to Silver Spring, Maryland. He had been there trying to rekindle the fire of Marie, a former flame. He was not entirely unsuccessful in that endeavor. But the siren call of attempting to mend familial rifts beckoned him westward. Ultimately to no avail.

Stranded in Cannon Beach with no further destination in mind, Fred was lured to Monmouth, Oregon because there happened to be a college there. And he had once lived near Monmouth, Maine. Kismet. While courting Marie, he had been attending school at the University of Maryland in College Park, so his credits were easily transferred.

Campbell Hall Remodel, Oct. 12, 1962

Campbell Hall Remodel, Oct. 12, 1962

In no time Fred became the intolerably voluble resident wheelmaster in the pottery department in the basement of Campbell Hall—even though he had no prior experience in the craft. Soon his fame spilled out of the art department and washed across the campus. Rumors spread of an irrepressibly ebullient, raving elfin creature covered in mud, running around town getting into deep philosophical dialogues with students and instructors alike about Kierkegaard, Rosenweig, Buber; arguments regarding Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, or raging debates concerning raku pottery and the efficacy of low fire glaze components.



It did not take him long to begin sounding like an expert, and, renowned for sometimes spending twenty hours a day down there among the mixers and mills and tubs of pugged clay, he soon became one. So Fred came with a certain cache that preceded him in some quarters—always persuasively credible. With his heavy Northeastern accent and the overtly demonstrative manner by which he expressed himself, it was often impossible to overcome Fred’s insistent authority. He was nearly larger than life.

Varney brought him out to the house to inspect the expansive estate. Satisfied and not a little desperate, Fred quickly arrived at terms with the three of us. By our fairly conservative reckoning he seemed a tad radical, but on the whole harmless. He moved in the next day, which was the Ides of March, 1970. He took William’s old room, the converted den that adjoined the spacious living room on the east side of the house.

Four years my senior, Fred quickly came to represent for me the elder sibling I never had. He freely dispensed his wisdom about the essence of life or pretty much anything that was on his mind, effusively gesticulating—always in buoyant motion. Fred at rest was a very rare state indeed. Our discussions about art and philosophy were monumental, rivaling those between the great minds of the ages (if they just so happened to be attending a small college in Monmouth, Oregon: Socrates meet Fred Nietzsche. Okay fellas, let’s rap).

Fred’s sly east coast savvy and unabashed freight train of erudition never failed to leave a lasting impression upon all who crossed his tracks. Even if he knew absolutely nothing about a subject, he could effortlessly convince you he was an expert—never as an act of deviousness, but more as a sincere expression of his formidable confidence in himself. If Fred didn’t know, there probably wasn’t an answer.

loafThe household was transformed by his arrival. In a matter of a week or so, what had previously seemed to be an army barracks became a site suitable for another Woodstock gathering. Fred coached Varney and me (Jeff did not wish to participate in any mutual food combines) through the process of signing up for the Government Food Surplus Program, where we could get two-pound blocks of American cheese, flour, evaporated milk, “luncheon loaf” and other basic supplies.

From these meager provisions Fred would consistently concoct delectable dishes, predominantly consisting of flour and cheese in an incredible variety of mixtures and combinations. He made his own noodles and we ate American cheese fettuccine. He baked bread. The house always reeked of the stuff. We had grilled cheese sandwiches on home-baked bread. Scrambled powdered eggs and toast. Powdered egg omelets with luncheon loaf and American cheese. French toast. We ate like kings for nothing—which was just as well. I was broke.

And it was Fred who introduced marijuana into the routine within our humble abode. As with everything else, he was an authority on the subject. He knew all the strains: your Acapulco Golds, your Panama Reds, your Michoacan, and Oaxacan, Columbian, Jamaican, Thai, Maui Wowie, Hindu Kush. As for me, I’d only had that one indifferent experience with a large quantity of hashish. I took his word for it.

cartoon3Summoning Jeff and me into his room one afternoon, soon after he had moved in, the odd little man revealed in hushed, conspiratorial tones the secret—of something very magical in his possession. With a dramatic flourish, he produced a baggy containing two fingers of some kind of grass that appeared to have a sort of rainbow-like brown and green color.  Thrusting it before us, he excitedly proclaimed, “Cartoon grass!”

yosemite2That sounded interesting to me. I liked cartoons. Fred produced a corncob pipe and a handful of wooden matches. Jamming a wad of weed into the bowl, he struck a matchstick and puffed heartily before handing the pipe to me. As directed, I inhaled deeply and held the sweet smoke into my lungs. After the first hit, I was pretty sure I didn’t feel much of anything. After the second, I didn’t know who I was, where I was, or what the hell I was doing standing next to Yosemite Sam and Pepé Le Pew.

pepe_le_pew-stonedPepé and I jumped and danced around like two young men stoned for the first time in their lives, while Yosemite Sam stood by puffing on his pipe and cackling maniacally at our theatrics. Pepé began to hop in the doorway between the dusky afternoon light in Sam’s room and the dark and cavernous living room, chanting “It’s day, it’s night. It’s night, it’s day.” Curious to understand Pepé’s experience, I did the same. And we did that for god knows how long. It seemed like years. Many, many days and nights. It could have been thirty seconds. Who’s to say?

After a while, I wandered off to my room where I wrote copious quantities of unintelligible poetry—the written equivalent of speaking in tongues. Writing in tongues. Is that a thing? All these years later, I can still remember two short phrases I wrote. One was “Proverdale highway,” apparently not any particular road to somewhere. The other was “chopus klotmos,” which certainly bore a darker, Lovecraftian aspect. I had no idea where that came from, nor what it could possibly mean.

As a result, however, I found it imperative that I retrace my steps as soon as possible—the following afternoon, in fact—in order to attempt a comprehensive inquiry into the whole matter. So once again I entered the land of incoherent cartoons, finding no answers, only more questions still. But, on the up side, I was inspired to retreat to my room to write a bunch of cool songs in a brand new style, which seemed to be reason enough to continue with further investigation the day after that. And the day after that. Etc.


Khartoum: Idealized

Being a young man of estimable erudition, Fred perceived that I had become a seeker of a higher plane and sought to provide me with the necessary guidance to move forward in my quest. He also provided me with pot, as I hadn’t the slightest idea how to get a hold of the stuff. But I was committed to deeper exploration of cartoon grass. That was up until Fred informed me that it was Khartoum grass. From Khartoum. In Africa. Over by Egypt. Khartoum. Oh.

Conversely, Jeff had found the entire night/day encounter somewhat discorporative. I think it frightened him to lose control of his world. He chose not to actively participate in any further experiments in the field, though when offered a pipe or a joint he never failed to take a few grandiose puffs, expelling most of the smoke before it ever reached his lungs, prior to rambling back into that other world I had left behind. Our paths diverged from there.

Under Fred’s tutelage, I began to change, while Jeff, not so much or perhaps in a more predictable way that I couldn’t understand. It’s true that for his part, my high school friend had become preoccupied with sports cars and all related accessories. Increasingly, his car obsession served as preamble to his compulsion for females. In that regard, Jeff had indeed changed a great deal.

In high school, he was a nerd like me. Maybe even a bigger one. But, upon entering college, Jeff seemed to physically metamorphose into another person. He let his black hair grow out from a flat-top into modest, Valiantesque nobility. He grew a beard, which he kept fastidiously trimmed. That beard gave his face unanticipated proportion. His prominent nose was offered balance and perspective. He was suddenly handsome. He hardly knew what to do with himself, though he figured it out pretty quickly.

sprite3And all things became a validation of Jeff’s manhood. His room, his clothes, his car: everything became ritualized. Every morning at precisely 8:30, dressed in his jaunty brown tweed coat and matching driving cap, dashing scarf, Foster Grant sunglasses, and expensive goatskin driving gloves, he would fire up his red Austin-Healey Sprite, pumping the gas pedal methodically, revving the engine into eruptive orgasmic bursts.

Sears Exec

Sears Exec

Finally, motor reaching suitable lubricity and properly warmed to precise running temperature, he would race from the driveway in front of the house, scattering gravel like seed into the lawn. The guy was twenty years old fer Christ’s sake! He acted like a forty-five year old divorced Sears executive from Syracuse.

All day, every day, an endless parade of females passed through the door to his bedroom. Tall ones, short ones. Blondes, brunettes, gingers. Cute ones, ugly ones. Smart, stupid. Pudgy, slender. Jeff seemed to have no precise parameters when it came to women. They were all mere conquests for him. They served no other purpose. He had a few girlfriends along the way. But none of them ever distinguished themselves from the other four or five girls tramping into his room every day—notches on some phallic gun in his mind. Jeff became a vain, effete, lothario whom I began to dislike very much.

As for Varney, he wasn’t around that much. He’d settled in with a girlfriend named Dorothy—a short woman with a compassionate demeanor that led one to conclude she would likely become a nurse. A very pleasant person. Dorothy shared an apartment with another coed, but she had her own room, and her roommate was very quiet and reclusive, which apparently Varney found more conducive to his lifestyle of kicking back than our place where there were young women coming and going at all times of the day, clouds of pot smoke and aromatic plumes of fresh-baked bread vapor wafting through the premises, some album or another (or more than one) blasting from one of the five music sources, emanating from different parts of the house simultaneously in cacophony. There was also the factor that since I had stopped writing his papers for him, he was forced to actually study from time to time, although I’m pretty sure Dorothy did most of his written assignments for him.


Fred: Age-Progressed

Meanwhile, Fred had his own coterie of pulchritudinous young women dropping in, enamored of his dazzling creative vision, forthright self-assurance and gnome-like physical appeal. That combination worked surprisingly well for Fred, although it must be said that he did not actively pursue exacting goals and rewards on Jeff’s scale. Instead, he seemed to genuinely like the young women that came by and to enjoy sharing his enthusiasm for almost any available subject. He also had an equal number of cool male friends—which Jeff did not.

I felt shy and somewhat awkward around most women at school, and had enough problems trying to forget the one woman in my life, back home in Milwaukie. I mostly stayed in my room, writing and recording songs, writing poetry or otherwise keeping to myself. Though there were only three guys actively living at that house, there always seemed to be a crowd around.

The spring unfolding in the Willamette Valley that year was magical. It was sunny and warm nearly everyday. Idyllic. The rolling hills of the countryside are a thousand shades of green at that time of year and the incessant sunshine gave the world a verdant incandescence that was thoroughly intoxicating, especially for a twenty-year-old college student eager to do practically anything besides school work.

Think of this in olive green

Think of this in olive green

It wasn’t a month after he’d moved in, early April, I had just been out to the mailbox to see if the check from my Mom had arrived. As I dejectedly walked back up the long drive way Fred rolled up to the hacienda in his gigantic, military olive-green Dodge Town Wagon panel truck. Out from the passenger side dropped a pretty young woman, with beautiful blue eyes who was dressed similarly to Fred. Well, she was wearing bib overalls. That was it. No shirt. Barefoot. Her hair was wet, as if she had just gotten out of the shower.

She had cradled in her arms a tiny white, fuzzy little dog. It was like a badly distorted albino Chihuahua nightmare, possibly the ugliest little dog I had ever seen. It shivered in fear of god only knows what, everything I suppose. It wasn’t the temperature: it was eighty degrees outside.  In his blunt, abrupt fashion, Fred introduced us.

“Jilly, this is Steve. Steve this is Jilly.” Gesturing with his hand toward the miserable little dog, he beamed proudly. “And this…is Chopus.” In an instant, I sprinted away from the two of them and stayed in my room until they left.

A reasonable facsimile of Chopus

A reasonable facsimile of Chopus

It turns out Fred was quite taken with my invented etymology and told his pottery class chum, Jilly Bing, of the crazy guy he was living with who smoked a bit of weed and started creating his own language. For whatever reason, she was attracted to the syllables Chopus, and when her roommate Karen came home from class with the ugly little dog she had seen dawdling forlornly around the campus for the past few days, Julie immediately designated Chopus to be the tiny stranger’s name—thus securing its destiny as the most misbegotten creature on the face of the planet. And Chopus was his name-o.

arcane weirdness

Arcane Weirdness

But in our brief encounter I did find Jilly’s arcane weirdness quite charming—I have always found arcane weirdness appealing, because of my own I would suppose. So a couple days later I tracked down her student mailbox number, 799, and left her a note apologizing for my arcane weirdness. Apology accepted, we reconvened at some point shortly thereafter, beginning an adventure that lasted the rest of the spring. We saw each other nearly every day.

She had graduated from high school in Salem the same year as I, after spending most of her life shuttling back and forth between her mother in Ventura and her father in Salem. Graduation just happened to fall during the year she was living with her dad.

There was a boyfriend, from high school, Buzz, who was going to college in Corvallis. Jilly shared with me her incredible ambivalence over their relationship. They did not see each other very often. She had another boyfriend Craig, who was attending Cal at Berkeley, but they hadn’t seen each other in almost two years. Still, she spoke of him often, as if they still had some sort of active relationship.

She probably used these other guys as a protective shield to prevent others from coming too near. I know that approach worked reasonably well on me. I was too naïve not to be completely threatened by these unseen names who weighed so heavily upon her psyche. But, because they weren’t around, I wasn’t so intimidated as to discontinue our innocently happy vernal gambol.

mothersAll the peace and love in the air began to rankle Jeff, who had no use whatsoever for the hippie chicks Fred was attracting. Their presence impeded his presentation, and made difficult the manufacture of a proper milieu for seduction—especially with the Mothers of Invention blaring from a stereo and a bunch of people getting high in the kitchen.

But there were other matters for concern. For one thing, Fred was not at all reluctant to confront some of Jeff’s more obvious Freudian issues. Nor did he feel any compunction about “borrowing” some of Jeff’s food or booze, if the situation necessitated such action. When confronted, he never failed to generously offer fresh bread in return.

So, April wasn’t nearly half over when Jeff came forward to inform Fred and me—and Varney (by proxy, I’m sure)­—that he would be abandoning our living situation for better accommodations. Um, tomorrow! Given such short notice, there was only one thing to do: send Fred out to find another roommate.

Jeff was still packing stuff away in his room, the following afternoon, when Fred wheeled into the driveway, transporting with him two scraggly passengers. Both of them had beards and long hair, and vaguely resembled Fred and me, in the non-conformist style of the day. I figured they were friends of Fred’s and paid no attention. But once the three of them were through the front door, he motioned for them to follow him and they moved directly down the hall toward Jeff’s room.

star trek 3They stood in the entry talking, as if Jeff weren’t there boxing up items right in front of them. After a couple of minutes the trio came out to the living room where I was watching the afternoon broadcast of Star Trek on Channel 12. They sat down on a couch and a nearby chair, and Fred introduced us. Jamming a thumb in their direction he said, “Steve, this is Tom and Doug. They’re going to be moving in as soon as Jeff gets his shit out of here.”

And in that moment the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve was born.




The Bible XI

Jonah got swallowed
By a gigantic sturgeon,
Which didn’t sit well.