ON HE RODE — Chapter Eleven

So I’m goin’ down the road feelin’ bad, Lord, goin’ down that road

really not knowin’ how I’m feelin’. I mean, look, who’m I kiddin’? Me?

Am I kiddin’ me? Or should that be, “Am I kiddin’ I?” That depends, I

guess, on whether the terminal pronoun is a direct object, in which

case it would be “me”, or a predicate nominative, making it “I”?

And, Kimo, which would you vote for? You wouldn’t vote? OK, Lani, how

about you? What difference, you ask, does it make? Well it shifts the

whole emphasis of the sentence, don’t you see? It affects its logic,

therefore its meaning. We might be miscommunicating — not really

telling each other, you know, what we think we mean.

OK, tell me the truth, Old Sport. Just who the hell do I think I am to

be telling kids whether to end a sentence with an “I” or a “me”? And

am I really planning to spend the next forty years of my life doing


Takes a ten-dollar shoe to fit my feet, Lord, a ten-dollar shoe back

in Whitey’s day at the Tillamook Burn was a hand-made cork-soled

leather boot going for well over a hundred bucks a pop in the days

when a hundred bucks was a month’s pay. To fit my feet in front of a

classroom full of lively, tan-skinned skeptics whose English is quite

different from the English I am charged with teaching them, I spend

about two dollars for the same flip-flops, rubber slippers, or “rubbah

sleepahs” everyone wears. To that extent, at least, I’ve gone native.

For most mainland haoles, a move to Hawaii is economically daunting.

Living expenses are high, good-paying jobs hard to come by.

Public school teaching gigs are an exception. Wages are decent and the

state provides affordable housing in gated communities of

well-maintained triplexes. Affordable? How about five dollars a month,

utilities (except phone) included? How about right on the beach? How

about summers off? How about goin’ down this road feelin’ well, not

bad exactly, but just sort of wonderin’ what the hell I’m doin’ here?

Do I really think I’ll run into Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady or any

of those “On the Road” beatniks and they’ll recognize me as one of

their own? That was over twenty years ago, just after The War. Yeah,

but like aren’t there legacy beats, you know, people who still live

it? Aren’t there?

The hippies, of course, though I’m not the world’s best fit. Anyway,

I’m headed toward the place where it could still be happening, at some

level, the city where I’m told residents don’t like to hear it called

“Frisco”? I don’t know why.

And on my way there I’m still hopeful of scoring some weed, to the

point where I pick up a gaggle of sweaty ‘tween-age male hitchhikers

on the off-chance. Bad idea. Loud, squirmy, and smelly as the young

pups they are, of course they’re into everything — “Hey, you got a bed

back here.” “Hey, cool, man. You live in here? Like, this is your

home, man.” “Look here. He’s got a whole case of motor oil!” “Hey,

man, you change your own oil? Cool!”

“That reminds me, guys. Where you want out?”

“Not here. We’re going up to . . .”

“Here, how about this driveway here? Room enough to hitch without

gettin’ run over?”

“Oh, uh. Yeah. Cool,” he murmurs. “Thanks for the ride,” he adds.

“My pleasure.”

OK, so the truth is I’m nothing more than a high school English

teacher on summer vacation and as absolutely clueless about where I’m

headed and why I’m going there as you might ever have assumed your

most clueless-seeming high school English teacher to have been. That’s

me, Mr. Clueless and happy to be him. Or he.

Anyway, happy I am and happy I remain — happier still, as a matter of

fact, when, why not, what to my wondering eyes . . . a country girl

deluxe, tall, darkly blonde, stovepipe jeans, fleece-lined suede

jacket like Sylvia Fricker’s. And, like Sergeant Preston’s, a big

silver shepherd dog named King. Instead of semaphore European-style

thumbing, she keeps her fist down, like she’s cupping a cigarette, and

points her thumb downroad. Very discreet. I’m the only one who sees

it, the only one on the road.

Of course I stop. King gives me the most cursory of glances as he gets

in, goes to the back, and settles directly behind her, sitting at

attentive ease on my bed. His bed now. She says her name is Sigrid,

and I ask if she’s Swedish.

“No,” she says. My mother is. I’m American. Like you.” She smiles an

all-American smile. Nice voice. Perfect teeth.

“Where you headed?”

“South,” she says. “Like you.”

I tell her about the kids I picked up, then dispensed. I don’t tell

her I’m looking for weed, which can still be a serious legal problem

if you alert the wrong people. Shepherds are sometimes called police

dogs for a reason. I carry no marijuana, a fact I’d guess an alert

King registered first thing.

“Some of these kids are into drugs,” Sigrid says, “— growing, selling. Using.”

“Not those guys,”

“You never know,” she says. “Pull in here.”

We’re in a rustic setting, structures rough-hewn on purpose to fit the

nest of cedars, alders, and redwoods, intersected by burbling

fern-banked streams and dewy rivulets. Some fifteen or twenty

dark-timbered log cabins arrange themselves artfully, capturing the

natural aesthetic, even enhancing it. Can this be where she lives? Is

she inviting me into her mysteriously exotic life? Could I be that


But wait. What kind of place is this? There’s nobody home anywhere in

these cabins. If it’s a vacation spot, wouldn’t now be the time?

Summer? It doesn’t look like Sigrid lives here. What does she know

about it? “Ghost town?” I ask.

“Do you believe in ghosts?”


Talk story

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