07 March, 2009
CHAPTER NINETEEN: THE PARTY AND WHAT FOLLOWS
copyright 2009 by Jim Nail
The first guests to arrive are the young ones. No one seems to know who they are- they’re just the young people who keep one ear to the ground for the approaching rumblings of a party. None of them brings a gift but many bring bottles of beer and wine and one man carries a beat-up Silvertone folk guitar without a case.
Doralina welcomes them as if they were old friends. She takes each one of them on a tour of the house, both inside and out, pointing out distinguishing features like the way the Austin Healy hubcap is modeled after the Rose Window at Chartres, and demonstrating how the full moon and the crescent Venus will be visible from the bed through the open chimney window. The young people are duly impressed and they set themselves to the task of gathering wood and building a large bonfire in the fire circle.
In the distance Wilbo sees what appears to be a man and a woman approaching, but the woman’s movements are stiff and brittle and the man has to help her along. It turns out to be Floyd Collins and his date, the lovely but edgy Amanda, punk-queen of the mannequins, patron saint of lunch meat.
“This is not my present,” he announces upon arrival, his voice breathless from the effort of his escort. “I just thought she’d like to come. Here. Amanda has your present.”
Amanda has her fingers wrapped around a long, rolled-up poster. Her grasp is not too good. A rubber band, stretched around her wrist, holds the poster in place.
Wilbo unrolls the poster. Mott the Hoople. All the Young Dudes.
“Well, what would you expect from Amanda?” Floyd explains. “Besides, it will be collector’s item. In ten years it’ll be worth a fortune.”
The next recognizable guests are the Moons, Levon Blue Lake and Opal. Levon’s gift is a glass salamander, actual size and correct in every detail except that you can see right through it and it’s flecked with speckles of gold. Shortly after arriving, Opal positions herself comfortably but properly on the sitting log, and Levon stands behind her, with one hand on her shoulder, smiling at everything. They assume this post for the duration of the party.
Mac arrives with things to eat. He’s closed down the Burger Shack early and unloaded the larder of bratwursts and corndogs and curly fries, all tossed into an oversized ice chest and hauled down to the beach with the help of his assistant, a Chinese boy named Ken. Ken quickly strikes up an acquaintance with Amanda, who represents for him everything he is not and wishes to be. He remains close by her side throughout the evening.
Many other people from the Dogfish arrive, people whose names he can’t remember or never knew but whose faces shine with a comfortable familiarity. They bring gifts like tablecloths, welcome mats, boxes of fancy pastels and stoneware serving bowls and leather-bound journals. Some who had no foreknowledge of the nature of Wilbo’s house, in particular its lack of electricity or running water, have brought gifts that are wholly inappropriate, things like electric coffee grinders and decorative incandescent lamps. These people hide in the shadows, feeling embarrassed and awkward but not wanting to lug their gifts all the way back up the beach with them. Doralina ferrets them out, takes the gifts and welcomes them back into the circle.
“Don’t worry,” she reassures them. “Everything will be used.”
The young man with the guitar starts to play. He sits on the hull of the overturned boat and starts plunking out some folk riffs and some twelve-bar blues. Phase One of the party has set in, the phase where most everybody has arrived and has a glass of something in hand, and short little volleys of conversation are ricocheting about. Topics come to the surface at various places in the crowd and get handed around without much development, like interesting artifacts from some third world country that nobody knows much about. Everyone is poised and waiting, ready to go with the flow of the event, but the event has not yet begun to flow.
This effect is accentuated by the setting. There are no walls. The beach, although small, is broader than a ballroom, and then there’s the ocean, the edge of the unknown, right there in plain sight, probably the largest object in the picture. It’s not quite dark and the fire is not yet full. Some people are out at the breakers with a Frisbee. A dog is chasing seagulls.
The name of Carl Rogers pops up here and there. There is some concern over his whereabouts. The last person to have seen him is Wilbo, that night that he came and drank the wine, search party number one. Speculations are conjured up. What if a sneaker wave got him on the way back to town? What if he’s been mugged? He likes to walk around late at night. Maybe he just walked down to the freeway and stuck out his thumb, like he did that one time before, just to see where he would wind up. He wound up in Ensenada and he came back with a knapsack of books about the Mexican Revolution. Has anyone been to his house? The subject of Carl Rogers begins to draw the crowd together. More and more people are talking about the same thing.
Suddenly there’s a shout from the fringes of the crowd, out at the shoreline, a woman’s voice.
“Hey, look! Look at the moon!”
She may not have intended for everyone to hear, but due to a coincidence of acoustics, everyone hears. Even the guitarist stops playing, and the crowd turns as one to look at the sky over the horizon.
It’s the new moon in the old moon’s arms. Engorged by the slant of the earth’s atmosphere it appears twice as large as it should, and its lowermost point is just piercing the grey line of clouds between the sky and the sea. It’s a normal sight, but a pretty one, made all the more pretty by the fact that attention has been called to it.
From various places in the crowd rise exclamations of the sort normally reserved for a display of fireworks. Then someone starts to applaud. It’s such an odd thing to do that it catches on. Someone else starts to applaud, then someone else. Suddenly the whole crowd turns as one and moves out, away from the fire, toward the beach, applauding the moon.
Across the face of the beach a girl, perhaps the very one who called the herald, leaps forward and starts doing cartwheels in the sand. The applause grows. Now it’s for the moon-girl combo, and some people start whistling and some people start cheering. The crowd, having established its collective identity, is rapidly growing very happy.
Then there’s another shout, just as loud as the first, a man this time.
“Hey! Who’s that?”
Again the crowd turns, this time toward the cliffs, and the cheers and whistles melt into a cacophony of inquisitive voices.
The silhouette of a man is approaching with a slow, studied effort. He’s walking with crutches and with each step he stops, checks his balance, and peers toward the crowd. He could be Christopher Columbus fresh off the Santa Maria, approaching a crowd of Indians who have never seen a white man before. His face is obscured but a strange trick of twilight causes his whole shadow to shimmer and shift through a spectrum of dark colors.
“It’s the Green Knight!” somebody cries.
The shadow man seems a bit nervous. He lifts one of his crutches high in the air and waves it over his head.
“Hello, everybody!’ he calls.
Wilbo recognizes him at once. “It’s Carl!” he cries and he starts running across the sand. His running is contagious. About a dozen people follow him including some people who have no idea who Carl Rogers is. Fueled by the warmth and goodwill of the moment, Wilbo delivers Carl an enormous bear hug and nearly knocks him off his feet.
“What have you done to yourself now, Carl?”
Carl looks down sheepishly. “Oh, I stepped off my porch. It’s just an ankle. Here, I brought you a present.”
He lifts up his massive arm and pulls out something wedged between his armpit and the butt end of his crutch. A dark green bottle. Almaden Tawny Port.
“Hide it,” he says, “For the right moment.”
This is the point where the party hits its stride and becomes a party. With Carl’s arrival and the approaching darkness, everyone moves back into the glow of the fire. More drinks appear and a few joints are passed around. The guitar player returns to his guitar, this time playing songs with words, singing in a gravelly second-generation Bob Dylan voice. Soon other people join in. He doesn’t sing any Bob Dylan songs, at least not at first. He sings songs by Neil Young and Cat Stevens and The Byrds until finally Floyd Collins edges in sideways through the crowd and taps him on the shoulder.
“You know any Rolling Stones?”
The guitarists nods and segues gracefully into a rendition of Ruby Tuesday. This works. Soon all the oldsters are interspersed with the youngsters, and everyone is singing the chorus together.
Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday Who could hang a name on you?
After that the suggestions come flying in from all walks of life, and amazingly, the guitarist knows them all. They launch into the Beatles catalog, singing Yesterday, and Michelle, and Yellow Submarine. They attempt All You Need is Love, but the weird rhythms overwhelm them and the song falls apart into a tangled mess of noise. Quickly recovering, they turn to Cream and take on White Room, belting out a rowdy rendition of Sunshine of Your Love, shouting loudly and only half-melodically to the ocean:
I’ve been waiting so long To be where I’m going….
Badge, however, suffers the same fate as All You Need is Love, tumbling into chaos by the second verse.
After that they turn to the folk songs, Puff the Magic Dragon, Man of Constant Sorrow, Blowin’ in the Wind- the first and only Dylan song of the evening.
Carl wants to sing, This Land is Your Land. This gets absolutely everybody singing on the chorus, and almost everyone on the verses. Carl tugs the guitarist on the sleeve.
“Let me sing the unknown verse,” he says.
Propped up on his crutches and booming his voice out over the hooting and the whistling, he sings
As I was walking that ribbon of highway I saw a sign that said No Trespassing, But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, That side’s the side for you and me.
During the last chorus Wilbo slips from the crowd into the house to fetch his concertina. As the song ends he approaches the guitarist, instrument in hand.
“Do you know any fiddle tunes?”
The guitarist nods slightly. “Name one.”
“How ‘bout Devil’s Dream? The key of A.”
“You start it.”
Wilbo starts it, and yes, the guitarist is with him, quickly catching the rhythm and chasing down the chord changes. They play Devil’s Dream for as long as they can, and then without a break Wilbo calls out, “The Crippled Kingfisher, key of D!” and off they go, into The Crippled Kingfisher, followed by Soldier’s Joy, and Star of the County Down.
The partiers, no longer able to sing, take to dance. It starts out with just a couple of girls dancing hand in hand like lonely farm girls at the barn dance without a beau. But it isn’t long before practically everybody is moving in one way or another to the music. The crowd swells outward to make room for its own movements. All styles of dance are represented. There’s ballroom and hoedown, and Irish two-step and ballet and belly and Grateful Dead-style free-form, plus there’s jitterbug and country line dance and samba, and of course the twist, the Watusi and the Bristol stomp.
New sounds enter the mix. Propelled by the flow of the moment, not to mention the flow of alcohol, people have sidestepped their inhibitions and sacked the house for pots, pans, plates and spoons to use as percussion instruments. Variously tuned wineglasses tintinabulate about the crowd when struck with sticks and forks. Every now and then one of them breaks with the lovely cascading flourish of shattering glass. Someone is playing a harmonica. It’s a D harp, which only works on some of the tunes, but he continues to play it nonetheless.
Then there’s the sound of real drums from somewhere on the other side of the fire. Wilbo glances up. There’s a man there with a set of congas. The drums are painted with brightly colored African designs. The man is wailing away, throwing his head back, having the time of his life. He opens his eyes briefly, catches sight of Wilbo, and flashes a big loopy gap-toothed grin. It’s Jimmy from the lighthouse! And that woman, next to him, swaying with her eyes closed- that’s Toni, Claudia’s friend, or one-time friend. They’re all Jesus-freaks, Wilbo. All of them. Even Toni, she’s a Jesus freak.
Eventually they run out of fiddle tunes, or they just lose track of them, and the music evolves into an open jam, staying close to the key of G so the harmonica can fit in. This is when Opal starts to sing. She sits on the bench with her eyes wide open and she sings in a high, wordless voice that sounds like the wind in the pines, or the coyotes in the hills, or the song of the seal-people just after they shed their human skins. When she sings, the mood shifts from that of riot and revelry to something deeper, more thoughtful, almost like worship. The music slows and the dancing slows with it. The fire is low now, and the dancers cast long fire shadows on the sand. Some couples dance together, lovers entwined, oblivious to anything but the magnetism of their bodies. But most people dance alone, each one moving to a private music. Some spin like dervishes, arms extended. Some trail pieces of cloth, or even pieces of seaweed, floating out from their hands like banners. Others are weaving in and out of the crowd, deliberately, gently caressing people as they pass, while still others just stand in place, eyes clothes, and sway.
Amanda has one arm raised over the crowd like she’s passing a blessing. Ken sits cross-legged at her feet, his head slowly listing from side to side. Doralina has a bubble wand. She stands on a rock and produces a blanket of bubbles, barely visible in the darkness. It drifts down and settles on the crowd. Levon Blue Lake rests his hands on Opal as she sings. He runs his fingers down her long straight hair, caresses her shoulders, then returns to her hair, over and over. These things go on for a long time, and during them, no one speaks a word. There’s only the sound of the music, the rustling of bodies, and the crashing of waves. In the future, when the party is remembered and talked about in places like the Lighthouse and the Dogfish, many people will report that they heard something like the sound of a flute, in perfect tune with the music, coming from somewhere out beyond the breakers.
But even a moment frozen in time eventually gives way to the movement of time. One by one people come out of their trances and begin to converse in muffled tones. Someone checks his watch; the action is contagious. Other people start checking their watches. The dog barks. People start looking for their shoes, their jackets. Finally the event horizon is breached and the guitarist stops playing. Wilbo sets down his concertina. There is a scattering of applause. A few flashlights go on.
Out on the beach two girls are still dancing. These two have been pretty much connected the whole time, but now they dance apart, whirling and swooning in two big circles like the hands of a clock. Whenever they intersect they reach out to each other, clasp arms, unclasp and spin away. On their outermost orbits they are lost in the mist. When they draw near to the fire their happy singsong voices drift on the air.
The migration begins. Some people are sloppy and stumbling. Other people help the stumbling ones along. Some people are stiff and sleepy, others are loose and jangly and talkative. Almost everyone comes to give Wilbo a hug or a handshake or a punch in the arm or a Dutch rub. A line of flashlights, like fireflies, grows and moves along the trail up to the tunnel. Doralina, Floyd, Ken and Amanda leave together as a foursome. Floyd has had a bit to drink and Doralina holds him up. No one knows how Amanda feels, but mysteriously, she seems to be walking on her own, propped between Floyd and Ken, with Ken clinging to her hand.
Carl lingers by the fire, leaning on his crutches. Wilbo sits on the log, stirring the ashes of the fire with a stick. Neither of them speaks for a long time. Wilbo’s arms are sore from playing so much concertina, but he’s feeling content and alert. He’s wondering if Carl wants something and he’s waiting for the right words to ask for it, like maybe he wants open up that bottle of Tawny Port. This is when it dawns on him that he hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol, not by any discipline of choice- it’s just the way it fell out. It hadn’t even occurred to him until now, and even now he wonders if it’s true. In his arms and in his head he feels the pleasant glow that lingers after a night of sensible drinking. But no, if he were drinking, he would remember it. He would remember the taste.
Finally Carl speaks. “Well, I guess I’d better be getting along home. It’s a long way to lug this tired old bag of bones.”
“You could spend the night here if you want, Carl.” Wilbo suggests.
“Naah, I miss my own bed. Besides, there’s some pills there I’m supposed to take.”
Suddenly they are not alone. Out of the mist like dream figures, the two dancing girls have materialized in the dim glow of the fire. They could just as well be mermaids. They are both very young and very pretty. They hold hands.
“Whoa!” says Carl, “You scared me.”
The girls giggle awkwardly. “We come in peace,” one of them offers, then the other says, “Peace and love.”
A few waves break. Nobody speaks. Then Wilbo gets an idea.
“Well then, maybe you girls can perform an act of love for us,” he says. The moment the words are out of his mouth he realizes they are fraught with implications, none of which he intends. Quickly he explains himself. “My good friend Carl, here. He has a long walk ahead of him before he can sleep in his own bed, and as you can see he is old and infirm. Perhaps you girls would oblige in providing him with a safe escort.”
The girls drop hands. They study Carl, up and down.
“He doesn’t look so old and infirm,” one of them says.
At that moment a log in the fire turns and throws up a shower of sparks, casting an orange glow on Carl’s face, providing the distinct illusion that he is blushing.
“Well, I uh, well…you know…” he stammers. “Well, it’s just an ankle.”
One of the girls pulls away from the other and takes Carl’s arm. “Well of course we’ll walk you home,” she says. “You shouldn’t let that mean man say those things about you. Don’t believe a word he says.” There is a lilt of mischief in her voice. The other girl comes forward and takes Carl’s other arm.
“But maybe we won’t go straight home.”
Carl gives Wilbo a helpless look. “Wait a minute, Wilbo, I don’t know about this. Maybe this isn’t a good idea.”
Wilbo bites back his laughter. “Well, of course it’s a good idea, Carl. What are you worried about? You know, if I were in your shoes…”
“Well, you’re not in his shoes, man.” says one of the girls. “Sorry. You stay here by yourself. We’re taking Carl home with us. Come on ,Carl, let’s get away from this place.”
Gently but firmly they begin tugging him by the arms, away from the fire.
“See you, Carl. Thanks for coming. Thanks for the present. Thanks for everything, Carl.”
“See you, Wilbo!” “See you, Wilbo!” cry the girls as they disappear into the mist. Then Wilbo hears one of them say, “Hey, Carl, have you read any good books lately?” There’s a pause, then Carl’s voice.
“Well… Well, there’s one book that everyone should read. It’s called The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer. Hoffer. He was a longshoreman, like me. I used to be a longshoreman, but then I got in an accident. Hoffer. When he was a little kid he went blind, all of a sudden, with no reason. And then like a miracle, he got his eyes back. When he got his eyes back he made a vow that he would read every book that was ever written. Of course maybe that was a bit hyperbolic, but Hoffer, he says…”
Wilbo never gets to hear what Hoffer says. Carl’s voice is swallowed up in the sound of the waves and the wind and a flock of noisy seagulls that happen to pass over at that moment. But he’s heard what Hoffer says. On many occasions, actually.
He sits on the log for awhile, enjoying the silence and the way it fills with the echoes of voices, voices singing and laughing and shouting:
Don’t worry, Everything will be used..
Hey, look! Look at the moon!
It’s the Green Knight!
Let me sing the unknown verse.
It’s not exactly pondering he’s doing. His energy is too high and jangling for anything as steady and studied as pondering. He wonders how he will ever get to sleep. It must be very late.
Then he remembers his ritual. Yes! Of course. The four directions. Some things from the old school must carry over into the new.
Inside the house he lights the lamp, and for a moment his senses reel. Everything has changed. Nothing is the same. The bed, the dresser, the cupboard, the windows- nothing is where it used to be. Even the walls are different walls. The effect is both disorienting and exhilarating, and does nothing to subdue his high, strong spirits.
He takes off all his clothes and folds each item, even the socks. In the old school he used to lay these on the trellis at the foot of his bed. Now the trellis has gone, he’s not even sure where, and a new order must be established. It’s too much to think about. He drops his armload of folded clothing onto the floor and steps outside naked into the crisp night air.
At the water’s edge he stops when he feels the damp sand under his bare feet. The night is dark and moonless and fog obscures the stars. He can’t see the waves but he can hear them. What is visible is one blinking ship on the horizon, and a faint blue glow in the western sky. Just below the glow a dark band of clouds rolls slowly over the water.
He faces the west. Inhaling, he raises his arms high above his head. Exhaling, he begins to lower them, as is his practice. But then something happens. It’s as if his arms, in their descent, catch an updraft, turn inward and then begin to spiral back up, over his head. There are currents in the air, all around him. They direct the movements of his arms, his hands, his fingers. He finds them irresistible. His hands rotate on his wrists and his fingers wave like the tentacles of anemones. The movement streams like water, or like something stronger than water, down his arms and into his body. He begins to dance.
At first it’s just a gentle sway from side to side, a naked man on the beach with his arms above his head, swaying gently from side to side. He takes a step- it’s a graceful one. Every movement he makes is imbued with a grace that seems to come from somewhere outside, or very deep within. The step leads to another step and the steps, one after another, lead to a slow whirl. The whirl leads to a swoon. With his arms outstretched like eagle’s wings he whirls and swoons. Unconfined by walls or by crowded streets he fills the beach with his movements. He whirls out to where the waves splash onto his feet and he whirls in to where the dry sand clings to his salty steps. He makes noises with his voice, half singing, half shouting. He dips and glides and skims over the rocks and the seaweed and the contours of the beach. He can feel all his pent-up energy funneling into his movements. It’s movement itself, free from any thought or purpose. Its Kinko Syncho Quinto for solo artist. It’s Coltrane on the saxophone. It’s Hendrix on the guitar. It’s what would happen if the wind could blow without any obstructions, or the river could flow without a bank, or if ideas could course through the brain without having to pass through synapses.
Eventually though, his body weight gets the best of him. A clumsiness of foot leads to a passing thought- something like well, that was clumsy, and this thought breaks the flow which leads to more clumsy moves, which lead to more thoughts, culminating in one massive clumsiness, a sort of forward staggering that nearly hurls him to his knees. When he gets his balance he realizes how winded he is, and how hard his heart is pounding. These things were happening all along but they were masked by the dance. Standing still he feels the momentum of the spin continuing in his head, in fact, the whole beach seems to be spinning around him. Perhaps I should sit, he thinks, and he sits abruptly in the sand.
The spin continues for a while but seated securely on the beach he can handle it. Like Dylan’s Rainy Day Woman, he’s got no place to fall. He feels no remorse. He enjoys the spin and the way it gradually slows. He enjoys watching his breath grow calm and his heartbeat steady. He enjoys his tiredness and the approaching possibility of sleep. He enjoys everything there is to enjoy about the moment and his place in it. He’s thinking, maybe this should become a new ritual.
After awhile he gets up and starts back for the house.
From a distance he can see the embers of the fire still glowing. They offer him a directional beacon in the dark. In the sand outside the house a few artifacts of the party are strewn. Wineglasses, some broken; some beer cans, some wrapping paper blown up against the bushes; something he doesn’t recognize or remember- a child’s rag doll lying across the bench.
Then he sees the shoes. Claudia’s shoes, the little red sandals, placed neatly, side by side, in front of the door. When he sees them, his heart resumes its pounding. But of course her shoes are here. He brought them here himself on that night, when they parted so badly. Last night. He doesn’t remember placing them by the door, but someone else could have done it. Doralina, maybe. Then he sees something else. Through the multi-colored cellophane of the Rose Window, a pale light is glowing.
I left the lamp burning. Strange I would leave the lamp burning.
A trembling in his arms and legs propels him to the house where he throws open the door.
Claudia rises from the bed. She is wearing the same black lace dress she was wearing the last time he saw her, but this time she has nothing on underneath. When she sees him standing there, naked in the doorway, and when she sees the immediate effect her presence has on his anatomy, she pulls the dress up over her head and tosses it to the floor. Without a word their bodies fold together into the union they have been craving since the day they met.