On He Rode: Chapter Four

This gunmetal Chevrolet was already old in 1963 when I willingly paid

too much for its low miles, perfect paint and glass, and total lack of

dents or dings — virtually a new car, though technologically

out-of-date, a plus in my view.

Across the Skokomish River and past the Skokomish Indian Reservation,

I glide south on Hwy. 101. In 8th-grade inter-school sports, we were

the paleface Raiders; they were the dusky Indians, the remnant

descendants of tribes living here before we Raiders barged in and

improved everything. It’s hard not to admire planes, trains,

automobiles, tall buildings, and personal electronic gadgets, but I

can’t quite believe the “primitive” civilization we supplanted was

inferior to ours. Theirs was perpetually self-sustaining and renewing;

ours seems bent on total annihilation. Tribal disputes vs. world war;

one-on-one vs. nuclear holocaust. What else can I say? Traditional

Hawaii? Superior for the same reasons. Then we came, with measles.

Guns. Nukes. Etcetera.

My car’s radio died of dampness under Whitey’s mossy-trunked maples.

So, who needs a radio? Behold, my Hohner key-of-C blues harpoon. Not

that I’m great shakes so far, but I’ll keep it close by, sure to be

inspired by open road resonances to compose my own haunting crossharp

etudes. Not overnight, mind you. Patience. Good things take time.

I stop in the lumbering town of Shelton to check out guitar manuals. A

nickel in the meter gives me a half-hour. No parking ticket today,

thanks. On my way back, I’m almost surprised to see how clean, crisp,

and new-looking my Chevy still is, the bumpers and grill gleaming

rust-free, the white sidewalls glowing haloes.

The interior too, the headliner unfaded and unstained, the dash

unscathed, the seats firm and clean, the steering wheel and floor

pedals like new. Body by Fisher from the days when it apparently meant

something. It’s good to slide behind the wheel and head south, a new

Dylan songbook beside me. Are we rollin’, Bob? Damn rights were


This new electric Dylan, this human compulsion to go new places and

make new things, where’s it come from? Are we all tapped-in to a

species-wide extra-sensory network that at supra-cosmic levels keeps

fueling the same frantic cravings for survival? Mutual and universal,

we hope? We trust? No bullying, right?

A friend, a man twenty heavy-burdened years older and balder than me,

holds that the simple secret to successful marriage is mutual trust.

Which is why he and his wife — and I and mine — no longer live

together. “The secret to any successful relationship?” I suggest.

We raise our stubbies of Primo Hawaiian beer, chug the warming dregs

in perfectly harmonious trust, and head to the reefer for fresh cold

ones. We’ve got it all worked out. Just trust.

Seriously though, isn’t trust like faith, and doesn’t that open things

up to wider possibilities? Faith? Trust? Are they the same? Aren’t

they? In God we trust. Do we? Then why do we mint money? And why do we

swill beer and blow weed? Weed. Evers. Asshole.

Heading south the fast way, I-5, I cross the mighty, muddy Columbia

and hug its south bank all the way to the coast, where I turn left

into a whole new country, a spectacularly understated natural

seascape. The fabled Oregon Coast. There it is.

There’s an order of business I’ve promised myself to conduct asap.

Pulling onto a flat, graveled promontory at the tip of which sits a

small, square frame building with a bright barber pole next to its

entrance, I park, get out, take a deep breath, and stride purposefully

forward. Imagine what an almost criminally irresponsible act I am

about to commit. Bordering on personal disfigurement, what will people


Exactly. What will people say about a young man’s not having enough

self-regard to at least try to appear normal through some artful

rearranging of a diminishing resource, a porous web of deception that

deceives exactly nobody? “You this guy’s big friend? Baldy?”

The barber’s a Pendleton-shirt-wearing old fart in his padded chair

gazing through a wide plate glass window at an unusually broad swath

of rugged coastline, cliffs and islands. “Haircut?” he offers.

“Haircut,” I affirm.

“You come to the right place.”

“Looks like. Just take it off.”

“Will do,” he says.

Taking his place in padded leather prominence facing southwest, I

picture this man’s life. Age, say 57, he’s retired from another line

of work, local realty maybe, considering his snug situation. Perhaps

the county? Drove truck, maybe? Doesn’t care to travel, just wants to

captain his own soul and see a long ways off. Keeps a little change in

his pocket. Hosts a bit of quiet conversation after work. Beer or two.

Good life.

Mine’s an out-of-state license plate on an out-of-date vehicle; he

must wonder. But does he? Now I wonder: Why’s he being so careful and

taking so damned long? I wave my hand back and forth. “Just take it

off,” I repeat.

“A-all of it?” he says. “You mean b-bald? You sure?”

“Yep,” I say. “B-bald. Slicked-out.”

“Okay then,” he sighs. Bald? Insane.

Hair still grows thick in the classic sidewall horseshoe, my feeble

salute to contemporary fashion. That layer of quasi-pubic fur drops in

clots accompanying longer cranial gossamer floating off my shoulders

and lap on its way to the spotless linoleum. In two minutes max, he

takes it all off and spins me toward the mirror to face my blunder.

“This what you wanted?” A fucking blue-veined light bulb with ears?

“That’s it.”


“That’s what I hope to find out.”

“To each his own,” he mutters.

I tip a dollar for luck. Mine. Outside, the air blows fresher. My

left-hand pointer lightly fingers smooth-skinned cerebral

chromedomicile, so to speak: What? You think this looks good?

Talk story

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