Head In The Clouds

My stomach was all in butterflies.  I looked out the window:  we were deep inside a cloud, and all you could see was white.  You could tell how fast we were going by the shreds of cloud within the cloud, whipping by the window so fast they blew into sight and blew right back out again before you could get a good look at them.

Finally the huge machine started making groaning and scraping sounds, which I knew to be the beginnings of the lowering of the landing gear, which finished with a bump.  The craft itself was doing some bumping around, apparently due to some turbulence within the cloud as we got to the lower elevations.  All of the stuff within the plane started shuddering and shaking as if it would all be shaken to pieces.  I was very glad I had not had more wine.  I tried wrestled my fear to the ground.  It was a skill I had learned, that served me well in many situations.

I kept my eyes on the clouds outside, expecting them to clear at last as we descended, but the atmosphere out the window stayed pure white, even as the pilot threw the engines into reverse and the rear wheels touched down, bouncing once, and the plane was on the ground.  We were in a pea soup fog.

HaightThe plane taxied around, and I wondered how the pilot knew where he was going in that impenetrable sea of white.  At last the plane came to a halt, the lights went on, and the male attendant started talking over the intercom about Welcome to San Francisco, be careful to look around your seat to make sure you weren’t forgetting things, overhead luggage, and that the temperature outside was 48 degrees and raining.

48 degrees!  I had left the East Coast on a May morning in short sleeve weather, and had not thought to bring anything warm.  California is the place of sunshine, isn’t it?  It is in all the pictures.  You never see anything but sunshine in California pictures.  I did not know what to do.  I thought about it for a minute, and decided that I would go straight to Haight Ashbury and buy a cloak with a hood.  I had $35 left after paying for my ticket.  That should be enough to buy a warm cloak.

I had no luggage to get, so I asked the agent at the gate where I could get the bus to Haight Ashbury.  He looked at me strangely, and I hardened my gaze, looking him right in the eyes, and he gave me directions to the bus.  I went off in that direction, leaving him looking after my receding figure with that same strange look.

I found the bus stop OK.  I stood outside in the cold in the bus stop shelter with my teeth chattering for a good hour until somebody asked me which bus I was waiting for, and I told them Haight Ashbury.  Oh, they told me, that bus service has been suspended for today.  Haven’t you heard?  We’ve invaded Cambodia, and there’s a huge demonstration.  The whole City is in an uproar.  You can’t get anywhere on public transportation today.

Oh great.  I’ve come all the way across the country, pulled an enormous horror show, spent nearly all my money, and I can’t even get into the City.  What will I do now?  I went back into the airline terminal to get warm and think.

It didn’t take me much thinking, because there were not many choices.  I really wanted to see Haight Ashbury.  I didn’t really care about the rest of the City because Haight Ashbury was where the Hippy scene was, and that was what I was after.  It was what I was all about.

Problem was, I couldn’t get there.  I did not have money for both a cab and a cloak, and it was obvious that I would need some warmth and waterproofness, and soon, if I were not to become ill from exposure.  So a cab was out.  I could hitchhike, if I knew where I was going, which I did not;  and the fog was rather off-putting, since I could not even make out the overhead traffic signs above the road in front of the airport.  Even though I had taken the huge risk of getting on a cross-country flight without knowing exactly where I would go or what I would do, I did not want to put myself so directly in harm’s way right off the bat.

And I  really had not bargained for this cold rain and fog.  And if all of Haight Ashbury was one huge riot right now, how could I count on somebody with love and peace in their eyes coming up to me and inviting me to crash at their place, as I had envisioned in my fantasies?  Now that wasn’t likely to happen.

Breakfast At Jane’s

Runaway_seatedDina waited for Joe outside the coffee shop.  She felt too shy to go in by herself.  She spotted Joe’s car as he found a parking spot half a block away.  She felt a flood of relief, watching him saunter up the sidewalk grinning at her,

“Hi, little girl, how come you didn’t go in?”

“Um, I just, like, wanted to wait for you.”  She studied the cracks in the sidewalk.

“OK, whatever, come on in.  I’ll introduce you to Jane.  She always takes good care of my friends.” Joe lead the way into the coffee shop, ducking to avoid bumping his head against the low doorway.

“Hiya, Joe!  Whatcha bring me?” sang out a cheerful soul with a tie dye kechief  tied Indian style over her brow.  A box of Marlboros were rolled up in the left sleeve of her blue tee shirt.  A cigarette burned itself up in an ashtray.

“Whoa, Jane, what kind of speed are you on today?” joked Joe.

“Don’t need no speed, Mr. Big Shot Social Worker Pot-head,” Jane chortled.  “I’m high on life.”

“Right on,” said Joe.  “Jane, I want you to meet my friend Dina.  She hails from the East Coast.  She’s doing some traveling.”

“Oh, taking a vacation, are we?” said Jane, knowingly, throwing Dina a wink.  Dina was not so sure she liked this whole scene.  But she was game to stay on board with it for a while, to see how it played out.

“Come on, Dina, let’s not waste any more time with yon rascally woman,”  Joe quipped, guiding Dina to a booth and easing his bulk into one side.  Dina slid in the other side.

Suddenly Jane was all professional, cruising up to their booth with a waitress pad and a tray.  She slid an ash tray onto their table and got herself a new page in her order book. “What’ll it be, guys?”

Joe had been perusing the menu while Dina closely examined a sugar packet.

“Well, Jane, I’m mighty hungry this morning.  Let’s have the Big Hungry Breakfast, eggs over easy, sausage, home fries, whole wheat toast–Dina, all the bread here is home made and super yummy–orange juice, and coffee.”

Jane scribbled the order into her book.  She looked up at Dina.

“And for you, miss?”

“She’ll have the same,” said Joe, before Dina could open her mouth.  She slumped back in the booth, half relieved and half ashamed.

Jane brought them each a steaming diner mug of coffee, and set the stainless steel pitcher of half-and-half on the table.

Pouring cream into his coffee, Joe began, “Dina, little girl, I know you want to be independent.”  Dina waited for him to go on.  She wasn’t sure where he was going with this.  Her head felt hollow, and everything sounded far away.  She stared at the table.

“OK, let me be straight up about this,” Joe said.  “You can’t stay on the streets.  They’ll chew you up and spit you out out there.  You had a taste of it last night.  Is that how you want it to be?”  Dina shook her head slowly.

“Well, what are your ideas?” Joe asked.  Dina stayed quiet, trying to shrink even smaller than she already was.

“Look, do you think your parents would send you some money so you could get an apartment?  It’s summer break, and there are hundeds of apartments open.  You could get one, or share one anyway, for fifty bucks a month, I bet.”

“Really?” Dina sat up straight.  “Do you think I could get my own apartment for fifty bucks?”

“Well, you’d probably have to have a roommate.  Why don’t we go down to the campus housing bullletin board after breakfast and have a look?  If we find anything, we can call up about it.  I can give you a reference.  Everybody knows me!”  He gave a deep belly laugh.  Dina’s tension evaporated and she found herself smiling.

Jane returned with a tray laden with breakfast.  The toothsome aromas nearly knocked Dina over.  She hadn’t realized how hungry she was.  The two of them set to work eating, and nothing was heard from either of them until the last of the egg was sopped up with the last of the toast.

Joe paid the check, and the two of them slid out of the booth and thanked Jane for the magnificent breakfast.  She beamed, and they trooped out into the California morning.

Chapter 5: So Close I Can Taste It

Dina couldn’t justify staying in the shower a minute longer, so she turned the water off and stepped out of the stall.  Steve was waiting for her with a towel in his hands.

“Let me dry you, Lady.” There was a note of wistfulness in his voice that caught at Dina’s heart and struck her cold with fear.  She walked shivering into his waiting arms and he wrapped her in the warm towel. He grabbed another one for her dripping hair, whch nearly reached her hips; and expertly wrapped it onto the top of her head, as if he had done this many times before.

Then slowly, tenderly, he dried every part of her: hands, the webs between her fingers, face, neck: every single part of her, as if she were a newborn baby.

She stood still and let him do it, unable to move or speak because of the catch in her chest and throat.  She thought she would die of love and pain.

After he’d dried each part, he kissed it, brushing it with his lips like the kiss of a bee gathering nectar.  She shuddered at these kisses, somehow familiar, as if she’d dreamed them long ago.  Slowly she slipped from the reality of it, as if from a cast-off garment, and pushed it far from her.  It wasn’t real.  She knew it wasn’t for her.  His love was not for her.  She wished in her agony that she could just relax and revel in this lovely dream; but something in her could not accept a gift meant for another.

“What’s the matter, Lady?” Steve looked up, concerned.  “You’re crying again.  Come.  Come here to me.” And he gathered her in.  She sobbed on his shoulder, pouring snot on the soft white towel.  “It’s OK, Lady, you just cry.  You’ve been through a lot, I know.”  This made her cry harder.

Steve took her hand and led her out of the bathroom, wrapped in a dry towel.  “Breakfast is almost ready,” he said brightly, changing the subject.  “How do you like your eggs?”

Dina got herself together and sniffled through a wan smile, “Over medium, please.”  Steve grinned broadly and said, “Coming right up!  How about pouring us some coffee?  I take mine black and sweet: three sugars.”

“Holy mackerel!” cried Dina.  “I’m surprised you have a tooth left in your head!”  Then she felt stupid, because he actually did have quite a few gaps in his mouth.  He grinned, showing a couple of those gaps and sticking his tongue out.  He turned his back to her and flipped the eggs.

She brought the steaming mugs of coffee out to the dining room and saw the table, set with fine silver plate and English bone china.  Bacon heaped a serving dish, and Steve brought out a hot plate full of hash brown potatos in one hand and Dina’s eggs in the other.  He returned to the kitchen and retrieved a dish piled with toast and his own eggs.  He pulled his chair up to the table, spreading the damask napkin in his lap.

“Dig in,” he said, “let’s not be formal around here.”

Dina needed no urging: she helped herself to some of everything and as soon as Steve had done the same, she pitched into her breakfast as if it was the last food on earth.

After the initial frenzied breakfasting had died down to grazing on the remains and sipping the second cup of coffee, Steve cleared his throat. “Uh, Dina.”

She snapped on guard, her senses suddenly laser-sharp. “What is it?” she whispered.

“Um, Dina, like, my old lady’s coming back.  You remember I told you she was home on summer vacation?”  Dina nodded slowly.  Everything felt suddenly hollow and distant.

“OK, well, it’s like, she decided to come back early.  Like, today.  She’ll be back this afternoon.”  He flushed deeply, which accentuated the pockmarks on his face, making them look , Dina thought, even more like the craters of the moon.

“Yeah, OK, I understand.” Dina shifted her gaze to the fine china plate in front of her.  “I’ll get my stuff and go.”  She stood up, pushing her chair in carefully.  She struggled to keep her breathing slow and even, her face a blank mask.

Her thoughts were racing. Yes: this is why we made love on the floor and not in their bed.  I’m nothing to him.  I’m just a summer fling with an underage chick, a thrill.  It was all a joke.  And I’m the sucker.

“Please, Lady, don’t take it so hard.”  Steve stood up from the table, rattling the china, bumping into the chairs trying to reach her.  But she had her bags packed, and was at the door, silent and already gone.



Chapter Four: Horror Show



Jesse lived in a little house in Swansea with a couple of other guys.


“Staging a horror show, eh?” asked one of them sympathetically.  “Far out.” He had heard about my plan and Jesse’s complicity.  None of them knew why I was leaving, but they all went by the Freak Code of Conduct:  just be cool and take care of each other, that’s all.  Don’t ask questions.  If somebody wants you to know something they’ll tell you up front.  Otherwise, don’t go poking into other people’s business.


That night we all slept in Jesse’s van, crammed together on the floor.  I cried all night.  Jesse tried and tried to get me to talk to him, to tell him all about it, but I wouldn’t.  I wanted him to take me like the other boy had, just for comfort, and told him so in broken language, but he recoiled from that in horror, so I just cried in his arms all night until it came time for me to go into the airport and get on the 6 o’clock plane from Boston to San Francisco.


When the time came, I marched right into the airport and found my boarding area.  I gave the gate attendant my ticket and she tore off the front copy and gave me the rest.


“This flight is overbooked,” she told me.  “Would you mind being seated in First Class instead of Coach?  It’s the only seat we have open.  Otherwise you’ll have to stand by for the next flight.”


Somehow, being seated in First Class did not sound like a bad deal.  I had heard about flying standby, and I knew that could be a bummer.  So I volunteered to go First Class, what the heck.  The gate attendant crossed something out on my ticket and wrote something in instead.


I climbed the steps up to the airplane and handed my ticket to the stewardess, who was dressed in a smart white and blue uniform with a miniskirt and high heels.  She looked maybe eighteen to me.  She smiled at me and ushered me to the left, to the very front of the plane.  I had the seat in the first row on the right hand side just behind the cockpit.  I could see the pilot but not the copilot because there was a partition right in front of me.  This turned out to be the bathroom, which was very convenient.


Soon the plane started up its engine.  I had been on a plane once before, in fact it had been almost exactly a year before, when my dad decided it was time for a family vacation.  We had been on family vacations when I was a young child, but those were always by car.  And they always involved traveling to visit relatives, which was usually pleasant especially when it was the ones who lived in Florida and took me to see alligators and parrots.


So when my dad decided that we should go to an island in the Caribbean, it was an exciting idea, or would have been if it were not for the fact that I would be cooped up with my mother and her inevitable temper tantrums.  But I was not given the choice whether or not to go, so I went.  We flew on a jet from Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I saw the biggest cockroach I have ever seen, before or since.  It was in the bathroom of the airport, in the stall where I was going pee.  I did not scream.


Then we took a propeller plane from San Juan to the island, and that plane seemed to barely skim the Caribbean waves.  You could see the white caps on the startlingly blue water.  I thought I saw sharks.


The stewardess brought us Mateus Rose wine, and I forgot about sharks and everything.  I got good and tipsy and before I sobered up we were there. 


It turned out to be a desert island.  Very boring, nothing whatsoever to do or see.  You could look out over the ocean and see the neighboring island, which was a lush jungle.  I wanted to be on that one, but of course that was not possible.  So I just tagged around with my parents, because they would not let me go anywhere by myself.


They had rented a golf cart, and that was how we got around the island.  We went to the market in the only town and got soggy rolls and cold cuts.  It was disgusting. 


The beaches were beautiful.  They were pristine white sand with nobody on them.  We were staying in a nice bungalow right on the beach. 


About the third or fourth day we were there I broke out in a rash from head to toe and a fever.  My head ached something fierce.  My whole body itched like fire.  My father found out who the doctor was on the island, and he came to the house.


“Sun poisoning,” he pronounced.  What to do for it?  Benadryl is all, he said.  So my parents got me some Benadryl.  It didn’t do squat.  I was going berserk.


The person who owned the bungalow came to see how we were doing.  I was miserably sacked out in a hammock in the shade.  “I know something that will make you feel better,”  he proclaimed.  He mixed me a Planter’s Punch:  dark rum, light rum, and orange juice.


I spent the rest of the two-week vacation in that hammock, smashed on Benadryl and Planter’s Punches and wishing I was dead, or at least somewhere out of the sun.


Finally the day came when we could go home.  They packed me up and we puttered back over the Caribbean waves in the propeller plane,  This time I did not care about waves or sharks or anything, because I was still smashed on Benadryl and Planter’s Punch.


We ran into a small problem in San Juan when we went to board our flight back to Boston.  It had to do with my rash.  They sent me to the Health Department, where they declared me infectious, they didn’t know with what.  I had a big old scar on my left arm where I had had my smallpox vaccination, so they were pretty sure it wasn’t that.  Measles was the next thing on their list.  They wouldn’t take our word for it when we described how I nearly died of measles when I was eight, had a 106 degree temperature and had to stay in a darkened room for two weeks.  And that I had had German Measles twice, but they wouldn’t believe that either.


They drew my blood, and we had to stay in a rickety old hotel room with cockroaches almost as big as the one I had seen in the airport bathroom, until they got the results back that I did not have any infectious disease, which I could have told them and in fact had.


For years after that I broke out in the same horrible rash every time I went out in the sun in the summertime.  It definitely killed any aspirations of getting a tan.


The fall after that, when I was about turning sixteen, my mother got it into her head that the reason I was getting these rashes must be that I was taking birth control pills.  Never mind the fact that I was a virgin and in fact did not yet have a clear idea yet of how the sex act was done.  Once she got something into her head it was in there permanently.  Now in addition to the rest of her abusive vocabulary was “whore,” “slut,” and the like. 


What that did, really, was to pave the way to my eventual downfall.  What was the point of trying so hard to stay sexually pure, if I was going to be called these awful names anyway?  I did not go out and try to find someone to have sex with.  The only people I knew who “did it” were disgusting louts that I wouldn’t have anything to do with anyway.  But I told myself that if the right person came along, I would be open to the idea.


As it turned out, the right person did not come along.  The wrong person came along, and I was not a willing participant.  But it happened to me anyway, and there was no going back.  All there was, was this jet plane that I had boarded, and I was going to San Francisco, first class.  Far fucking out.