JIM IN BOLINAS: A Memoir of Jim Gustafson
The Deadhead couple were mostly silent from the moment I arrived. No intros, so I mentally named him Dim Bulb, because no light came from his eyes. I dubbed her Pudding Child, because of her round, vacant face. Even though the two were mute, they distracted me. I couldn't tell why, beyond a feeling that others there were waiting for something, too. Everyone at Creeley's house were All-Pros at dealing with Hippie beach debris on any Bolinas afternoon, so no one was uncomfortable with those lumps. But I was there for a purpose.
Then, when everyone else at the table was watching Bob slowly leaning over backwards in his chair to get the backup bottle of wine off the floor behind him, Dim Bulb grinned lazily and opened his mouth.
A rather large red tongue hung out. In the middle was a triple ought blue capsule.
Dim Bulb's mouth closed, his gaze lowering with pleasure as he swallowed; then he smiled, his pupils big as black pennies.
I turned to Gustafson. "You Judas jarhead."
Jim was rocking back and forth on a kitchen chair. He pretended that he hadn't heard me. His long-lashed eyelids lowered in a genteel disregard, as if something mildly déclassé had been said, one that only deserved a polite silence.
Gustafson could be so Scandinavian in that way, jah-sure ya betcha, as the family knives gleamed in their drawers.
"I trusted you."
Jim looked benignly at Pudding Child next to him. Above his head appeared a drive-in screen size fantasy of his shaggy bulk rooting among her tie-dyed scarves.
"You promised me this would not happen," I murmured, leaning closer to him. "You called me an hour ago. Said come on out. Everything is fine."
Jim bestowed one of his placid smiles on me. That pissed me off and made up my mind that Jim's little beach picnic with Sweet Pudding Child was never going to happen.
Across the table from us, Creeley raised up with the 1.5 liter of Almaden. He shook it, as if shaking this would bring back more white wine. Then he did it again, in exactly the same motion, and with exactly the same look.
Bob glanced over at Jim, sensing that perhaps he missed something. The wine? Conversation?
It was a late summer day, warm. The polished wood table was glowing in the afternoon sun. Out the kitchen windows were shiny green calla lily leaves.
Jim continued to rock gently in his chair, a little pleasant jiggle, jiggle, jiggle motion.
Soon Dim Bulb would be at the bottom of a very deep breaker. The fool was minutes away hurtling into the notorious Blue Tube Acid. This was manufactured in Hawaii expressly for armchair kamikaze surfers with a yen for hanging ten on big vicious waves, but who didn't like to get wet.
In Jim's face a confident, pleased expression as he regarded Pudding Child.
She was small-boned, obviously French extraction, most likely Canuck. From what little she said so far, her vocabulary was generated almost solely from Neil Young songs.
Jim continued to jiggle in the chair, imagining the wind in her tie-dyed skirt and scarves as he led Pudding Child down to the nude beach. He'd probably only fed her a quarter of a cap, took the rest himself.
I touched Jim's flannel shoulder, but he shrugged my hand off. "You treacherous pig wanker."
"What?" Bob asked, not wanting to miss anything. "What?"
"I said, Jim and I have to go see Kathy Acker," I patted Jim's hand. "Tonight. Isn't that right, Jim-bo? That was our deal, right?"
Bob rotated his gaze back to Jim. Jim dialed down his beach fantasy of Pudding Child and smiled.
"It's why he has the extra suitcases," Jim explained. "The hero grows a hump."
Jim slyly glanced over to see if Pudding Child had caught the operative word: hump.
Her eyes were big with lots of white. A brief electrical struggle ignited behind her huge pupils. She'd been greedy. Blue Tube had already rolled her brains away.
There was a knock. Bob twisted around in his chair.
One of the Language Poets, Hearn Chinian, stood at the French doors in his bleached jeans, blue cotton workshirt and beige desert boots. That was the uniform from his last good year, somewhere in his undergraduate days, when he was busy refining his act as the Thorazine of Theorists.
Bob hesitated. For a moment I hoped that Creeley would dismiss this as a hallucination. We all could go on just like we were, never look at the door again.
Once inside, Hearn didn't have any wine; he dispensed with any greetings or pleasantries; showed no interest in anything but the insect drone of his intellect. The moment he inserted himself at the table, he asked Bob a question about something Charles Olson once was supposed to have said. Then his mental tape recorder flipped on. Within only a few minutes his questions swept us all off into yet another grey hell of graduate seminars.
After a few replies, Bob's voice got more and more scratchy, more and more strained. He went to the wine glass for lubrication. Then again. Hearn interrupted his drinking with some pressing concerns about his next career move. He laid this plan out in some suitably casual assertions, which he obviously believed were subtle.
A summary follows.
Apparently it had occurred to him that 1.) although Hearn's current poems were supported by decades of linguistic research, and while 2.) he had successfully led the shift to Lacanian paradigms in the Bay Area, perhaps 3.) it wasn't enough for a successful poetry career that, 4.) as a distinctive stylistic signature, Hearn's language was as lively as a dead fish under a snow tire.
Ever the old pro at seminar politics, once Creeley broke into Chinian's monologue, he declined to stop talking. Defending himself against all chance of any response, Creeley's clauses piled up and subdivided and snaked around syntactical U-turns.
Hard to tell if Bob were really thinking this hard--or was he simply enjoying Hearn's mental gyros as he skidded along behind Bob's sleigh-ride into semi-austistics.
Dim Bulb suddenly scraped his chair across the floor. Neither he nor the Blue Tube Acid had any idea what was going on; both he and the dope simply wanted to get a little closer to the calla lily plants outside. Once he leaned over and touched the glass with a hand, he seemed vaguely puzzled.
You just wait, I thought, if you think those leaves are running amuck, wait until Gustafson hijacks you down to the nude beach, parks you in front of the Pacific Ocean and subdivides you from your girlfriend.
When Dim Bulb had settled into a frozen posture, Jim's right hand moved sideways, dipping below the table. Pudding Child's head tilted slightly back. Both her hands went under the table.
"You brought these people here on purpose, didn't you?" I said to Jim.
"Did what?" Bob sounded suddenly hopeful there was life after Hearn Chinian. "What did Jim do?"
Jim turned toward me and smiled dreamily, a tic rippling his shoulder as his right hand went to work under the table.
"No. You're not. We're leaving. We have to get into the city, remember?" I took Jim's left hand and stood up. Jim involuntarily rose with me, a little giddy by the change in altitude.
Bob acted alarmed that his last sure source of fun was about to depart.
"You're going to San Francisco?" Hearn asked, standing up, too. "I need a ride." Chinian glanced over at Jim for a second. It disturbed him that Jim's right hand now had a silk scarf twisted around two fingers.
Dim Bulb held onto both sides of his chair and scooted nearer the window, leaning his head on the glass and peering at the shining green leaves. There seemed to be a slight wind outside, moving them.
Pudding Child looked from Bob to Dim Bulb, from Dim Bulb to Bob, and stood and took Bob by the hand and yanked on his arm until he stood.
"Yeah, right," Bob agreed. He looked at Pudding Child with admiration for her intuition that he had to leave. "I have to go to Smiley's, too." He removed his hand from her clutch and reached into his pants pocket and jiggled it, listening intently for the sound of car keys and/or spare change.
All us jerked around at the noise of the window opening. Dim Bulb was trying to burrow out, head first, but he wouldn't let go of the sides of his chair.
I waved at the neatly wrapped book on the dashboard of my 1963 3/4 ton Chevy truck. "There it is. I told you to hold Bob down until I got there. That was our deal, you saucer sucker."
Gustafson was humming a Neil Young song.
Looking for a heart of hmm-hmm.
Jim didn't seem to have any notion that he was traveling out of town. His mind was obviously still back with Pudding Child, their frolic at the nude beach, while her boyfriend Dim Bulb ate sand, etc. for musical accompaniment.
Hearn Chinian sat between us. Strapped in with the kiddy seat belt. Hearn hadn't said anything, but his nose wrinkled when he climbed into my brown pickup. When he found out I was working for a publisher, he probably imagined a slightly older Saab, four-door, clean but presentable, something as middle-class as a vehicular version of a box of Wheaties.
As we motored out to Highway 1, I was feeling more and more betrayed.
Over the phone Jim had guaranteed me that he'd keep Bob away from Smiley's bar.
He promised that they'd be sober and talking about literature when I arrived.
Our deal was that I'd deliver the advance copy of my latest book to Bob for a blurb, get the blurb written down, then whisk Jim back to San Francisco for Kathy Acker's reading that night. With Creeley on his back-up wine jug and with those companions, I might as well nail my new book inside his shower stall for him to read the next morning.
Evening was settling in over the Pacific Ocean. The sun's mauve and orange bruise on the horizon fertilized my fantasies of revenge. They subdivided and blossomed like bacteria in ditch water.
I stopped at the gas station in Stinson Beach and dawdled, sorting out the possibilities. Put the pump on automatic and bought myself a Coke for the caffeine and sugar, anything to flush out the stale adrenaline, bile and testosterone.
Hearn tried to talk to me, but I ignored him by going across the highway to the grocery store. There I took my time selecting, buying and eating a dark chocolate Dove bar out of sight of Hearn and Jim. Then I invested in a Jolt. Four hundred times the caffeine of regular soda. Jimbo would be getting dry mouth soon.
And soon enough Jim would twig to who was sitting next to him. Not Sweet Pudding Child giddy on a quarter cap of assid. No, Hearn, the one-man sucking chest wound. Not even three-quarters of a Blue Tube cap could shield Gustafson completely from that.
I wanted him to have the Hearn Chinian experience good and long and slow.
But when I returned, Hearn looked upset. "What's that smell?"
"What smell, Hearn?"
I strapped myself in and cracked open the Jolt.
Hearn Chinian looked stricken over my total denial. The seal on my gas tank wasn't tight. As usual, a dollop of gas had overflowed behind the seat. I rolled down my window to vent the fumes. Hearn looked over at Gustafson, as if to appeal to his common sense.
Jim was exploring his checked shirt pocket with his meaty fingers. Gustafson had recognized who was sitting next to him. I could tell by the way he worked his fingers into his flannel, frantic to get something chemical between him and Hearn the Black Hole of Derrida. He held up a tiny, crumpled joint.
I waited until he got his lighter out of his pants pocket and Hearn was clawing at his seat belt buckle for escape before I reached across Chinian and slapped the lighter out of Jim's left hand. I put the Jolt among Jim's fingers.
He looked at his right hand that held the joint and then the left with the red Jolt can.
In his eyes dismay and confusion.
Red equal fire? Red can on fire? Red can fire joint?
Slowly Jim's circuits cleared and reset. He took a drink.
"Somewhere in this room," Jim said evenly, leaning back and eyeing the top of the truck cab, "somewhere in this room, hands are shaking like telephones."
Suddenly paranoid, "Where are you taking me?"
After a twitch or two, "Why are we here?"
I let his appeals die in silence. I cranked over the big 235 horsepower straight six engine and started up the incline to the Coast highway, that rollercoaster of truck rides. "You know what we have to do. Don't deny that you do."
The evening quickly turned overcast and dark. Highway 1 was shadowy but almost completely free of traffic. As the truck got speed up, I talked deliberately about all my frustrations.
Never raised my voice.
Just a suicidal monotone.
I borrowed injustices from friends, lamented homeless, damaged cousins, rehashed treacheries and betrayals and backstabbings borrowed from recently read novels, inventing a world turned to shit and wet newspapers.
With each change of subject, I slammed into the next gear, up or down, it didn't matter. The yellow line meant nothing, I let the Chevy drift. I lurched around corners, letting go of the wheel from time to time to make a two-fisted point or to pound on the dashboard.
Hearn was even whiter than he was born.
Jim had the hand with the joint on the dashboard to keep him catapulting through the windshield. The seat belt hadn't been big enough for his bulk and he was having trouble maintaining his balance. His face was in darkness, but my monologue was getting to him, too. In silhouette his mouth was hanging open, the Jolt forgotten in his other hand, his breath coming hard and ragged.
I knew the road. Knew when I could see oncoming cars and when I couldn't. Knew the curves, the dips and tilts, so I let the truck sail out and jerked it back or powered into curves, randomly thrashing through the gears. There were sickening slides with last second saves, just before we careened over a cliff down into the ocean hundreds of feet below.
But, of course, with that tank of a truck I knew exactly how far to go.
The road was dry.
There was nothing chancy about it.
To the timid this little jaunt along the coast just felt like death over easy.
Somewhere on the Mt. Tamalpais grade, heading alongside Green Gulch--where I really did not horse around as much due to oncoming traffic--I glanced over. Hearn was so stiff with fear he was close to a coma, as expected, but I thought Jimbo would be dog sick.
His face was turned toward me and he was smiling. Grimly. But smiling. Enjoying it.
For a second, fury set in again.
After the North Sea this jaunt was a cakewalk for that DNA.
For his Swede genes car sickness was as likely as my Irish relatives turning Muslim.
Even when a jarhead's awash with Blue Tube Acid, Jolt and Chablis, trying to punish one is like trying to discipline a lump of cheese.
No wonder why my people fled in terror when his bunch showed up on our emerald green shores. They were immune to drug-induced nausea and dizzying, non-stop bullshit, two of my Irish forefather's most effective means of revenge.
"You know we're going to get one." Jim's voice was acid-juicy. There was way too much spit in his mouth and he couldn't remember how to get it out.
When I said nothing, he repeated his remark. Then, again, more doggedly: "You know we're going to get one."
Jim smiled and brought his left hand up with a flash and whacked the Jolt can into the dashboard, sending foam spraying across the windshield.
Beside me Hearn jerked out of his paralysis.
I turned on the windshield wipers, even though the Jolt was on the inside.
Upon seeing very little windshield left clear of the foam, Hearn began weeping, but without making any noises.
"It's going to be a big one." Jim's voice was barely a whisper. "Gotta be a big one."
"How do you know? How can you be sure?"
"I can feel it."
I let off the gas, put the truck in neutral and turned Jim's way as if I were going to argue with him. We were on a steep incline. The truck lost momentum fast. It rapidly approached that sickening feeling when its three-quarters of a ton started rolling backwards out of control.
I noticed with satisfaction that Hearn was clutching his kiddie seat belt with both hands. His eyes looked drained of tears now, his face a mask of terror.
I goosed the truck and we roared up over a rise and down into a curve. Jim was grinding the Jolt can into the dashboard, mashing it under his big ham hand until it tore apart, the jagged edges scarring the paint.
"Oh it's coming," Jim moaned. "Gonna be one. Tonight!"
"It's coming! Drive!" Jim screamed. "Harder!"
"Will we miss it!" I floored the Chevy and the truck lurched into the curve, aimed straight for a ditch.
"No!" Jim warned. "It's in the bush! Waiting. Don't go after it."
The truck slid wildly to the right as I spun the wheel. "Head-on?" I screamed. "Is that best?"
"No, no, no! It's coming from the side, from the side."
"We can't get away from something coming from the side, you fishbag! What did you do?"
Jim laughed hopelessly. "I swear; there was no arrangement." He let the mangled Jolt can drop. "I just smeared it across its face. Noooooo," Jim moaned. "I was serious. God, what made me do it? Why? Why?"
"How big?" I whipsawed the truck back and forth across the road, as if dodging phantoms. "How big?"
Jim didn't answer, he was shuddering and moaning too much.
"Will it die? WILL. IT. DIE?"
"I . . .don't. . .know."
"If we hit it: WILL. IT. DIE?"
"I . . .don't. . .know," Jim cried. "I . . .don't. . .know."
As we rounded a curve at the top of a rise, the road suddenly plunged down into a dark fog. I hit the high beams for a slight dipping curve ahead. I double-clutched, whanged it into fourth, leaning over so my arms were braced against the wheel, and that's when the thing came out of the brush.
As the truck swung into the curve the thing hit the right front fender, Gustafson howled, the thing flashed off to the side, and there was a sound of gravel fading behind us.
I slowed, downshifting to third, then to second, not looking back or in the rear view mirror. Then up to third, down into fourth, then neutral, let off the gas, and we coasted. There was only the sound of our breathing.
It had been brown.
We drove on in silence, until we got near the Green Gulch farm entrance for the Zen Center.
"Let me off here." Hearn sounded as if his throat was sandpapered. "I have a friend here."
I downshifted and started the turn into the drive.
"No! Not down there! Don't drive down there!" Hearn yelled, his kiddie seat buckle already sprung. "Here. Here. I'll walk. Walk!"
I braked to a stop and put the truck in neutral. "Hearn, I don't have an emergency brake," I said, "and I don't dare shut off this engine to let you out, it might not start again, and we'd be stuck here in the dark. Let Hearn out your side, will you, Jimbo?"
Gustafson got out. Hearn slid across the seat in two crippled motions, as if his legs had been shotgunned out from under him. He started down the drive; in the high beams I could see that he was weeping again and walking bowlegged.
There'd be some laundry duty in the Zen Center tonight.
Jim climbed into the truck. We pulled out onto the coast highway and motored along through the eucalyptus and redwood groves.
After a few minutes of silence, Jim cranked down the window, letting in the foggy air. The window handle came off in his hand and he threw it out the window into my truck bed.
The wind felt good. Cold, freezing in fact, the Jolt foam was turning icy on the windshield, but good. Bracing.
He bent over and felt around on the floor. Then went down with both hands, his big shoulders wedged under the dash, his shaggy head jammed against the glove compartment, as he searched with both hands. Finally he came up with his cigarette lighter.
Gustafson looked at his right hand and saw the scraggy joint was still wedged between his last two fingers. A little damp with Jolt spill, but what the hey. Not trusting the cold blast of fog, he checked the window to see if the glass was still down and hawked a lung muffin out. Lit the joint, took a few hefty tokes, and passed what was left to me.
He exhaled for a long moment, coughed, and spit another lung sponge out the window.
Then: "So--think Kathy will be expecting us?"