Monday, March 16, 2020

Ristle-tee Rostle-tee - An Excerpt from Calif.


I’d spent a lot of time sleeping in the van and never felt squeamish or afraid. Golden Gate Park was filled with hippies and Bohemians, and so I parked the V-dub by the Japanese Tea Garden and tucked myself in. Yet as cheerful and colorful as San Francisco was by day, it was that much more frightening at night. People wandering about, others tripping; an old man peeing on a tree and living in a box. (Who was the free spirit and who was the vagrant?) I heard shots and a siren; someone was in trouble.

It wasn’t the pretty ideal we’d all seen in Life magazine, so I took the keys from the glove box and figured I’d get out of there. I headed over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County and got back on the coastal road along Point Reyes. The moon was out and shimmering on the water.

It was balmy and still as I got to Bodega Bay. I pulled into a parking lot in the marina. It was the town where Hitchcock filmed The Birds. Across the way was the diner where the woman told Tippi Hedren that the bird attacks were her fault, like she was evil.

I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and awoke in the morning to a jolt. You couldn’t really see anything shake, but you could see the ripple in the windows, and the gas station attendant was walking as if he were intoxicated, as if the ground was coming out from beneath him. It was an earthquake. You’d think growing up in California you’d be used to them. You never get used to the them. Seconds later, it was over.

I dressed and made myself presentable, stuck my toothbrush in my pocket and went into the diner. The restrooms were right there in front. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, combed my hair and when I came out, the buzz was still about the tremor. “I’d say 5.3,” a man said. A woman replied, “The big one’s coming.” I sat at the counter and without asking, the waitress brought me coffee.

The diner looked like nothing had changed since the birds were all in a tizzy. The big picture windows looked out onto the bay and the fisheries, but across the inlet there wasn’t a little farm where Mitch lived with his mother and sister. Instead there was an abandoned cannery.
 
I had my breakfast and bought a couple postcards. I sent one to my mother and one to Lori Upton addressed to her parents, although I think she was in Europe. She was, after all, the girl who gave me my kidney, the one that works, as opposed to the one my father gave me, that didn’t. On a dozen levels, I was still in love with her. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read Miles From Nowhere, an incredible work of typing, coming soon from Random House. For now, suffice it to say that I keep in touch. People who make that kind of sacrifice deserve a post card every once in a while. It was a photo of the diner. She really liked The Birds; it was one of her favorite films.
I hoped to find the old schoolhouse, and it wasn’t hard. It was just a mile up from the marina; you could see its cupola in the distance. It was abandoned and boarded up. The steps to the front door were missing. I parked by the monkey bars where the crows assembled on the playground, and suddenly, I heard the song:

The butter came out a grizzle-y-grey.
Ristle-tee, rostle-tee, now, now, now!
The cheese took legs and ran away!
Ristle-tee, rostle-tee, hey donny dostle-tee, knickety-knackety, retro-quo-quality, willoby-wallaby, now, now, now!

I got my journal and tried to jot down the words as the tune ran over in my head. I could picture the birds congregating on the jungle gym. The sky was gray with pockets of blue; the bay was filled with shadows. I was thinking about Lori Upton in Venice or in Luxembourg. I could see her standing with a pigeon on her shoulder at Trafalgar Square. I wondered if she could see me sitting here like Tippi Hendren.
I asked my wife to wash the floor.

Ristle-tee, rostle-tee, now, now, now!
She gave me my hat and she showed me the door!
Ristle-tee, rostle-tee, hey donny dostle-tee, knickety-knackety, retro-quo-quality, willoby-wallaby, Now, now, now!

I got back in the van and drove down the hill; the birds were chasing the children from the schoolyard. Back on the highway, I was tortured by the lyrics. “She cooked the [blank] in her Daddy’s old shoe.” What did she cook? I almost ran off the road; knickity-knackity, now, now, now. I drove until I got to Eureka.

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