Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Jay and the Americans Interlude

1977. I heard from Gaia.  At 18, she'd developed a Topanga sensibility, a fondness for earth and sky, an aversion to red meat, that led to following the Dead in her boyfriend’s old Corvair.  Gaia was a Deadhead poster child. 

"Sign here, please."
They set up shop at concerts and collected signatures for marijuana reform.  It was so intrinsically Gaia that it wasn’t funny.  She’d been a contrarian from square one.   She said, “Gravy is so much better than ketchup on French fries that it’s not worth talking about.”  It was one of the first quotations I collected in my journal.  It was Gaia to a T; she always had a cause.  When we were closest, it was gravy.

She’d send me propaganda and pictures in the mail, and I lived a hippie lifestyle vicariously through her posts.  We were in a really good space and recognized that people’s lives were squiggly lines with parallel junctures, however brief.  I wasn’t a math person, still, I appreciated constants so much more than variables. 

She said we should meet them.  She wasn’t asking, she was telling.  Constants can do that.  Grateful Dead.  San Berdoo.  Swing Auditorium.  I didn’t want to ask at first, but it seemed the perfect opportunity to prove my dedication to Paige.  She was “fine” with it, she said, and we drove out Route 66 through Cucamonga.

The Inland Empire was oranges and despair.  Immigrants came and left again.  Mormons didn’t give it a chance.  Missionaries came and failed, but stayed anyway.  The railroads failed, the steel mills failed, but with each new wave, a few more remained.  We drove in and out of beautiful orange groves and abandoned industry.



Gaia and her boyfriend were set up at a card table in front of the auditorium, a mission-style adobe building painted yellow.  It wasn’t a great accomplishment to get Deadheads to sign a marijuana reform petition, but Gaia did it with fervor and dedication.  Didn’t hurt she looked cute as a button in a sari-style mini dress and leather zories.  She had a rose tattoo above her ankle and every guy swooned over the look.  Somehow she’d woo the girls as well.  “Sign here, please.”

Paige punched me in the arm.  “I knew she’d be cute.”  I didn’t respond.  “Are you in love with her?”  I didn’t know how to reply.  If I denied it, I’d be lying.  I was in love with her – for the moment, for the day; parallel lines and all.  “It’s all right,” she said.
 
They played “Terrapin Station” and “Sugar Mag” and “Ripple,” and I had to go to the bathroom.  They played “Box of Rain.”

From a smoke-filled corridor, she came.  “Hi.”

“Hi.”

“And it’s just a box of rain, I don’t know who put it there.”

“You been all right?”

“You?”

“Believe it if you need it, or leave it if you dare.”

“He seems nice.”

“So does she.”

“But it’s just a box of rain or a ribbon for your hair.”

“Your mom and dad all right?”

“They don’t approve.  They love me anyway.”

“Some things don’t change.”

“Such a long, long time to be gone.”

So much left unsaid. 

“Guess we ought to get back.”

“And a short time to be there.”

“I guess.”

It was a chilly desert night of a million stars.  At the car, I held Paige in my arms.  I can’t explain her smile.  A little askew.  The way home was banter, the way it was between friends.  On a corner by the Santa Fe train terminal, another beautiful old mission-style building, there was a man standing beneath a streetlamp. 

She said, “The man with the gabardine suit is a spy.”

I said, “Be careful, his bowtie is really a camera.”  It was funny.  It was a good night.  We still had a buzz on.  Paige had come a long way from “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” to Simon and Garfunkel, but if I had to put a mark on it, a place in which it all began to waiver and flux, when our lines began to diverge, this was it.  It was as if I had made her, shaped her, turned her into what I wanted her to be, and now that she was what she was, she didn’t need me anymore.  That imperceptible shake of her head said it all.
I said, “I’m sorry.”

She smiled.  “For what?”

“For everything.”  We drove a long way in silence, then she slipped in an 8-track.  It was the Grateful Dead.



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