First you accept reality, then you beat it to death with a hammer -- Charlie Krafft
Charlie Krafft and Leila the Turkish Terror were the first at the ball. Marty Chamberlain had given the use of his small cabin in the field but he skipped the party – gone to see some babe up at Birdsview, he said. Charlie parked his Karma Ghia in the last not-yet-dried up mud whole on the farm. He had the knack for finding the lowest spot in any field. “Lovely Leila, come into my arms,” he said. He tipped his plaid Tam O’Shanter at a jaunty angle and tripped over a mullein weed, falling to his knees and, turning to the mullein with good speech, said, “Who called you a weed, sweet mullein? Your leaves are soft as a baby’s butt, your green is the color of cows softly mooing in the hours before dawn. Your pale yellow flowers sweeten the home of honey bees from near and far. I kneel to you as to an altar of forgiveness. “
“And Leila, “Charlie said, turning around and rising to his feet. “How are you? Do you like my Tam O’Shanter? Does plaid work for me?”
Leila turned slowly away from him to show him her back. She said, “I am in a frenzy of preparation for the ball. I have anointed my Levantine body with finest cinnamon-scented sesame oil. You perhaps may assist me with the small area of my lower back, which I could not reach. Please sprinkle the glitter upon me.”
The Bar-B-Q was ready for grilled oysters, king salmon steaks, skewered plum tomatoes and zucchini wedges. Platters of tidbits served with crackers and edible flowers covered the top of a trestle table. A large glass punch bowl with a special beverage served as a centerpiece.
“In Turkey we focus on death, but in the New World in America we have the Sun Dance of summer heat and people hope to live forever,” Leila said.
“It is like Sketches in Spain,” Charlie answered. “At the Butterfly Ball, you come as you are, in a state of truth so blinding that time is stopped dead. There are no lies told here tonight or the poets will wish they were dentists.”
A rising tide at 2 a.m., July 21, 1982 -- so Joy Helen Sykafoos reckoned by candle light in her cabin out on the Sand Spit. She peered at her pocket tide guide. It was not a strong tide, but it would ease the effort for rowing up to Fishtown.
Yes, it will be easy to get there. I will borrow Robert Sund’s boat, she thought. I remember what he said about rowing on the river.
Out on the river you know you are in the midst of a great creation. You see the old work and the new work side by side; the ancient migration routes of all the birds, and the slow building of silt and soil in the estuary; a small grassy island, for instance, that wasn’t there last year and that, in a few seasons, will grow new willow for the blackbirds and the beavers.
Joy went out to the dock, to Robert’s red skiff. “Robert called his boat by some Swedish name, the Viking Vendetta or something like that. He leaves it here on my dock, and goes off to town to drink beer for two weeks and then he expects me to keep it bailed out. Like I should do his handy-work and he would give me a poem in return. But I will borrow his boat tonight -- that old bastard.”
Joy began to row, going up Steamboat Slough, past Brown Lily Hill, around Bald Island where the current was strongest and she had to dig in the with oars to get around it, then past Shit Creek.
“I’m not going to look,” she said, but she did look, turning quickly to her left, to see Atclew’s barge tied up deep in the cattails at Shit Creek, lit by a small Coleman battery lantern hanging from a pole. No sign of Atclew himself. “God, I hope he doesn’t come.”
It was only a little further to the inlet by Black Dog Allen’s cabin – not quite all the way to Fishtown proper – but she snuck into this inlet, and it was hard to find on a moonless night. Then she poled with the oar up to the dike, scrambling to the shore with abundant blackberry scratches, and the admiration of pale pink wild roses with blossoms visible on a dim-starred night. They scratched her too, but she scrambled up the bank of the dike, with the painter in one hand, and her day pack -- loaded with “fruit juice”—slung over her shoulder, to stand on top of the dike, astride and barefooted, one foot on the land side, one foot on the river side. “You can see it plainly -- this land is on loan from the river. It is a fine place to grow Iris and tulips in the muck. I will go ambling across the field, and I don’t care if I ever get there.”
But Zappa was in a very different place at that late hour, at Crane’s Truck Stop & Café on the south side of Mount Vernon and hard by the concrete drone of Interstate Five. “It was the Grateful Dead, who sometimes said, you can’t just live on Cocaine and Reds…….Hey that rhymes….. I will not die, if I eat some pie.”
Zappa dug in to a four-inch-high wedge of lemon meringue pie. “It’s got lemons and that’s fruit, so this is good for me.”
Deetka, Zappa’s sometime girlfriend, had kicked him out, so Zappa could either sleep in the back of his van or sit up in a booth at Crane’s Truck Stop – drink coffee, eat pie, smoke Marlboros, play the juke box – time flies when you’re having fun at the only all-night bistro in the Skagit Valley.
“Or I could go to the Butterfly Ball. Joy Helen will be there.”
In Dodge Valley, the Asparagus Moonlight Brigade reached the old hillside quarry where the road turned sharply to the left. The towers of Fishtown rose directly across the field to the south, and there the North Fork of the Skagit River flowed.
“Robert, Fishtown doesn’t have any towers,” Jimmy said. “It’s just some old boards.”
“Jimmy, Fishtown is a finely crafted bamboo temple. I say towers because that is a Met-A-Phor.”
“Jimmy knows what you mean. He ain’t stupid,” Hitch declared.
“We’re going to the party anyway,” Jimmy said, looking to Marty’s cabin in the field, with Bald Island in the background.
Then Jimmy just stood there and looked at his hands, shiny with dirt. He looked at his long bony fingers with chewed fingernails. I wonder if Joy is coming, he thought. She’s kind of pretty. I could spend time with her if she didn’t get any ideas. I don’t like people telling me what to do … My brother is married, twice now, so he bugs me to grab a hold of something, get more solid, he says, go to ground, you’re not an eagle….. But I’ve seen the eagle up in the top of the cottonwood tree when I was living over on Fir Island. The cottonwood tree was in the back yard, not too far from the house, and the eagle perched up there – didn’t care if he saw us coming or going from the house – just perched up there in the winter time, being the king of all creation….Now I’m remembering and I want to tell Joy things like this…. I’ll tell Joy about the eagle, being noble and strong, like everyone was watching him. But then I thought it a little further. It’s cold and windy at the top of the tree. On Fir Island in the winter the wind comes whipping across Skagit Bay and blows all night and all day. If I was a bird I would perch lower down in the branches, get away from the edge, move in closer to the trunk, get a little shelter from the wind, but not the eagle -- he’s just up there on top where it’s cold and lonely, and the other thing is he doesn’t care about you or me or the price of beans. All he cares about is dinner. He’s looking for food, and he’s cruel. Nothing fair about it all. He watches the flocks of snow geese, looking for a bird with a crippled wing. No sport to it, no giving someone a fighting chance. Nope, that crippled bird is as good as dead. That’s what the eagle is looking for. And if the eagle doesn’t kill the bird, there’s a coyote watching too. Survival of the fittest. Eagle up in the cottonwood tree – you can’t eat the wind…..I wish I could say that to Joy….”
“Hitch, did you bring that eagle feather?” Jimmy suddenly asked.
“The eagle feather is sacred,” Hitch said.
“No it isn’t. Eagles are birds, that’s all.”
“So why they put eagles on a dollar bill?”
They all walked across the field and got to the party. Aurora Jellybean gave Charlie Krafft a meaningful glance. Charlie began doing his imitation of Rodney Dangerfield-as-Buddha. Leila wore four-inch heels and all the glitter. Hitch and Robert went straight for the punch bowl. Jimmy looked up and saw Joy coming.
“I’m glad to see you,” Jimmy said. Joy reached out and grabbed his hand for a light squeeze. “Let’s sit somewhere,” she said.
Jimmy began, “Sometimes I wish I was dead – no, I don’t mean that. I mean sometimes I wonder what’s keeping me alive. Do you ever listen to your heartbeat, like when you’re in bed and you can hear it beating? Why does it keep going? I can wave my hands around and jump up and down, but I can’t make my heart beat, it just goes by itself – so I couldn’t be in charge.”
Joy loved hearing this. She reached out and held his hand again. “This log over here, let’s sit. I’ll get you some punch.” She wanted to lean her head on his chest, but held back. “Jimmy, you’re heart beats from the time you are born until the moment you die. It’s destiny – a soul number, the number of heart beats God gave you -- you can’t change that.”
“Yeah right, when you’re number is up….”
“Then your heart stops and your soul flies away.”
“I don’t want to fly away. I like it here.”
“But it could happen anytime. Do you ever get a feeling like that?”
“Not me. All I know is my heart keeps beating, but I’m not in charge of keeping it wound up and running. Otherwise, I ain’t going anyplace.”
“You want to stay here, sure, you could go to ground….Talk to Cow Shit Michael. He’s got that woodworking shop in Sam Cram’s barn, him and Curt and Mike Parker. You could fit in over there.”
The wrong thing to say the second she said it. Scared him, she thought, he’s going to start looking at his shoes again.
But he looked her right in the eye and said, “I might do that some day. Cow Shit Michael ain’t such a bad guy, but we’re one a mission tonight – we’re going out to Fishtown later, to check out Keith Brown’s cabin – do you think Lisa’s out there someplace? I seen that woman on Atclew’s barge, but she’s gone now. I think that’s Lisa – what Keith has been trying to tell us.“
“Atclew and Solartron are two of the weirdest people I ever met. They’re hippie predators. I’ve seen it before. You remember the STP family down in Arizona,” Joy began.
“I never went there.”
“The STP Family -- they had Chipper, Bear and Filthy Fill – violent people, should be in prison or dead by now. And Jesse. You didn’t meet Jesse? He was a dwarf with a twisted spine. He wore leather pants and a crushed cowboy hat. Jesse was always drunk or hopped up on something, and he could hardly walk without a crutch for his twisted legs, but he would get raging drunk and start ragging on guys, like he wanted to fight, only they wouldn’t fight him because he was a dwarf, but Jesse would keep ragging on them until they came over to kick him, then he would pull out his knife quick as lightning and cut the dude up. That was Jesse’s game. Cut the guy up and cops would never touch him because it looked like self-defense…..Really bad dudes, the STP Family, hanging around hippie camps down by Nogales. We don’t have them here, but Atclew has his barge out there at Shit Creek and I know he’s bad.”
Jimmy halted, “Joy, there was something I wanted to tell you.”
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