ON HE RODE — Chapter Twenty

“Propinquity” is a word I learned in a junior college sociology class.

It means something like proximity or physical closeness. Sociologists

say that propinquity is the strongest factor determining human

pairings. If my ex and I had not gone to the same high school, we

would be unlikely lovers, spouses, parents, and exes. Propinquity

could lead directly to clueless 19-year-old newlyweds turning into

clueless divorced 25-year-old parents of clueless children for whom

abandonment feels just around the corner, a daily possibility.

So it was during that period of fumbling cluelessness that I indulged

my fondness for cherry old cars by spending about fifty bucks more

than I should have at a time when I was hauling in $1.75 an hour,

mostly on weekends. My rationalization — my dream, actually — was that

it was exactly the right car for a family of four, and if I kept it

cherry it could only gain in value. Where else you gonna get a 1951

fastback Chevy that good? It was not the green 3.8 Jag of more

youthful fantasies, but I was learning to negotiate and to compromise.

Grim reality and necessity . . . but who wants to go there?

I’m here on this Big Sur cliffside, doing my best to towel away the

poison oak toxins. Maybe my heavy sweating opened my pores and

expelled the bad oak karma in a rush of bodily salinity? Maybe my

heavy sweating opened my pores, making them especially receptive to


Slipping into a clean but worse-for-wear Haleiwa Strained Poi

tee-shirt, I leave my car doors open to the air for a few minutes

before climbing behind the wheel, turning the key, and setting her

rolling. When we reach about 20, I pop the clutch in second and she

lurches into action while the road that’s been clear behind us is

suddenly full of in-a-hurry campers and station wagons. Gradually

nursing her back to almost-health, I find a place to pull over and let

the angry horde pass by. Shouted comments abound, and I don’t hear a

single thank-you.

It would be nice to have a radio that worked. Safeway stores sell

replacement radio tubes. You just take the suspicious-looking tubes

out and test them on their machine and replace the bad ones. Shoulda

done it before I left home. You know, Hood Canal. Where if I had any

sense I would turn around and head for. And pray that I made it. No,

I’ve got another idea for prayer, but I’ve got to go over it a few

times to be sure. As my good friend Mr. Baker from Tennessee used to

say, “Mighty powerful.” We’ll see.

Meantime, “propinquity” ain’t nothin but a good man feeling bad. What

the hell does that mean? Better ask an English teacher. But I AM an

English teacher. Oh yeah, I sorta forgot. Is this really the way

English teachers spend summer vacations? Don’t they go to Europe? Or

Hawaii? With their families? Or friends?

Friends? This California coastline is leading me away from the

familiar without offering suitable replacements. No Kesey, Kerouac, or

Cassidy on the horizon and only L.A. ahead. Who do I know in L.A.? Do

I want to drive this car in that traffic? Don’t I want win open spaces

— Arizona? Texas? The West I’d told Whitey I wanted to go to when he

asked me where I thought I was? The West of desert sunsets and songs

about desert sunsets. Guitars. Horses. Cattle. You know, West!

To get there, I’d head east, through wine country and deserts and

mountains and some pretty rugged terrain. Wouldn’t this be a good time

to at least get my oil changed? Remember, I’m packing a full case of

SHELL X-100. And maybe a tuneup would be a good idea as well — points

and plugs? Installed by professionals? Wouldn’t that be prudent?

Of course it would be prudent, but what would it prove? What would be

the point? We know that if we take care of business one step at a

time, we eliminate risk and increase our chances of success. But

where’s the adventure, the fun, the serendipity, the magic, the chance

for unforeseen riches and splendor? Or total, fatal ruin? High drama,

when you think of it that way, the way I’m thinking of it. No oil

change. No tuneup. I’m good to go. I will put my trust in the Lord.

Ha, ha, ha. Fooled you.

No, I mean really. I’ve been thinking about it. My life, especially my

adulthood. So-called. Actually, this goes back a ways to a time when

my life really was going well and it looked like I was the kind of guy

who’d sail on though, picking up jobs, women, cars, money, women,

admiration, envy, and women. Let’s just say that my teen years were

pivotal. So successful was I during those golden years that anything

less than perpetual stardom seemed unthinkable.

Some people are like that. Destiny’s children. I’d known some from my

school — the guy who became first-string running back at Udub, the

girl who was first runner-up Miss America. And there was me, all-star

everything and obviously heading for the Big Time.

Uncanny. Everything I did — even the most outrageously stupid things —

turned out well. It was like I had some secret power flowing through

me, some sacred power that would not allow anything I did to turn out

bad. Ever. There was in fact a power flowing through me, I knew very

well what it was, and I took great pains to keep it hidden. I was, in

truth, a closet Christian. Shh.

Even my choice of girl friends was influenced by my faith. She, too,

was Christian, she whispered, and just between us we had many deeply

liturgical discussions, often in bed or in the back seat of a car. She

never got pregnant, an absolute miracle. Propinquity. Amen.

Talk story

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