On the portentious 13th, Lori insisted on having a meeting alone with Rob-and-Jean, despite urgings from multiple directions that some mediator like Brad, Maureen, or I ought to be present, but as it happened, Gina was present, for Lori insisted on her home turf of the office, and Gina did pour at least a little water on the inevitable fires. Lori said she never paid more than eight dollars an hour for anything, and never paid overtime in any case, and that Jean's time-sheet was contradicted by Lupin records, although she did not produce any such records, or come up with any sum as a counter-offer, preferring to change the subject away from money to her demand that Jean and Rob leave their site Up Top and move to the bottom of the Back Forty. She had asked this before, and Jean had always rejected that location, counter-offering to move to the Middle Terrace, above the Back Forty but below the Upper Terrace with the splendidly isolated yurt of Greg-and-Mike, who had been a couple for decades, by Josh's garden and Robert's trailer and Timmy the wood-pile guy, very handsome and nice but hetero, which is the story of my life, who we thought would be opening up a space there when he moved back to Georgia, though as it proved he left his trailer to Lupin and we hoped Adam would finally get it in place of the tent where he was still languishing. But Lori would not accept that, so Jean suggested another possible location, down in the cluster by the office where there was room by Roy-and-Diane's trailer, well OK it was Will's trailer if you want to get technical about it, but Lori would not accept that either, at least with some excuse this time, that it would be uncomfortably close to Cindy after the affair of the voodoo doll, to which Jean retorted that Lori could not discriminate against her on grounds of her religion.
No, the only place for them was at the bottom of the Back Forty, a place presently used as a major garbage dump, as the Burn Pile had been before they had, more or less, cleaned it up, and after a few times of going around in circles about the unacceptability to them of this place, and to Lori of any other place, Rob had had enough, called Lori "You fucking cunt!" and stormed out, never to live at Lupin again though he periodically came back for brief visits, preferring to sleep on the couch of Justin or of some young stoner kids of his acquaintance rather than to put up with Lori any longer. The conversation only grew weirder in his absence, as Lori mentioned me, describing me as Maureen's lover, and I do not know whether it was Maureen or I who got the greater amusement out of hearing about this, but when Jean laughingly asked "You really didn't know that Bob is gay?" Lori could only say, "You've got to be kidding me!" Then Jean suggested that the two of them should just get out of Lupin and go do some girl-stuff together like shopping, a task at which both of them have prodigious talents, but this olive branch was not taken up, and the entirely unsatisfactory encounter fizzled out with nothing whatsoever resolved. As with so much that I hear at Lupin, there are multiple versions, and the details are fuzzy, but this is the best reconstruction I can manage, for however devoutly I wished to be a fly on the wall for that meeting, it was not to be, and I sent Brad an urgent request to meet and see if litigation could be averted.
The 15th was Maureen's birthday, when she turned 67, again, a memorably pleasant evening, Johnny baking a sinfully chocolaty cake, Harry coming to the Circle, a rarity as he does not smoke anything, for a long chat full of reminiscence, and many others stopping by to pay their respects and have a slice of the cake. I wanted to get her all the rest of the first seven Moody Blues releases, not to slight their later stuff but I was determined she should have the ones from my college days, and asked advice where to shop from Turtle, who puzzled me by telling me I needed to go to Rasputin, for I thought Maureen and I were the only people in the world to call Gregory "Rasputin", and Paramount Imports is not really a shop for music anyway, but he explained that Rasputin's is a great music shop on Bascom Avenue, where I found Days of Future Passed, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, and A Question of Balance but failed to find Threshold of a Dream or Our Children's Children's Children, atoning for this incompleteness by peeling her a grape, if not very well. Jean also found a variety of beautiful music for her, and a useful flashlight which Maureen attached to an orangy frog Simone had once given her, so she would not hit anything in the dark again, along with some gorgeous clothes, and more clothes came from Lori, who whatever her faults undeniably has taste, and Lori also gave a check, not for the scheduled $800, but for the $3000 she had heard Maureen was in need of, though Lori made her sign a receipt for it, which I copied and added to the "nuclear weapons folder", specifying that it was for loan repayment and not in compensation for anything Maureen volunteered to do for Lupin, and adding that "rents", that is for Little John, Rob-and-Jean, and Butch-and-Corky, were still to be "neogated" [sic] with Brad. This garbled note is the closest that Lori and Maureen have ever come to a written agreement.
In the morning a tree down below abruptly split, one half lying across the road to the Nudome and the other standing precariously. What I called a "pickup basketball team" spontaneously assembled to take care of it, Ronnie and OG who often worked together, and Adam and Roy who sometimes worked together but not on this sort of thing, and John Horne who was seldom with any of those others, struggling to get our one and only chain saw working with parts from Robert, finally borrowing more saws from Sal's Canyon, although we can probably get them cheaper at Home Depot. Everybody was in a comradely state all day, and John Horne sat in the Circle, exhausted but cheery, in the evening to tell me fragments of his life story, although I suspect that a full version would take a really long time. For some reason he felt like justifying himself to me, saying that meth was not, whatever anybody said, a drug that he did, alcohol being more of a concern, although he was a sporadic binger rather than an everyday compulsive, and he was planning to spend a week with his ex-wife to force himself to stay sober a while. He complained that Tyler, who was still running around periodically putting up Stage-whichever Water Conservation signs, had it in for him, accusing him of sabotaging the water system when he had been the one fixing it, and accusing him of spreading stories about Tyler's sexuality, stories John Horne swore he had never even heard until Tyler threw them in his face. And he jested with a straight face that Lori was not going to pay for the tree work that day, since it was not in their job descriptions, which I misunderstood to be serious, until the Army of One explained next morning that this was an in-joke they had all shared, and that Lori was actually seeming more reasonable the past couple days, hinting that she might finally let him move into a place with walls and everything.
It seemed possible, then, that Lori was in a conciliatory mood, so that war between her and Jean might yet be averted, and as Brad still maintained silence, I decided to talk to her and Glyn directly, as they were walking back to the Blue House from the morning staff meeting in the Restaurant, just dodging the Circle of course. I asked simply, "Do you have anything to say to Jean?" and she responded that she would consider any filing by Jean as a "declaration of war", and it would be total war: "Don't you think that an Asian mother knows how to fight for her children?" At least she was acknowledging that the title was in the girls' name, since I had let her know I had read the "nuclear weapons folder" and was now aware, despite her occasional pretensions to be the sole proprietor, that she had only duties, as a trustee, to the place and not any rights to it, for she had never put any money in, and it had been Glyn's alone before she was even on the scene. She went on about how she had five attorneys, not just Brad, who would do anything for her pro bono, and had never lost a single case, in a tone which persuaded me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was lying, and that I should look up her litigation record if ever I was at the courthouse. In particular she boasted of winning a $2.3 million judgment against Ed, while I thought, but did not say, "Yeah, and how much of that have you collected? And who let Terrible Ed get into power in the first place?" I contented myself with saying that Jean's case could probably be settled for much less than she was demanding, but Lori replied, "She's going to the Back Forty and that's all she's getting, or she's out of here." I attempted to plod along in lawyerly fashion, that if she was only offering continued free rent in lieu of cash, it had better be as nice a site as possible to pay it down quicker, or maybe my rent from Tiger Lily could be assigned to Jean to give her money to move out, or payoff could be made in installments, since we all knew that finances were tight, and the mortgage in danger of default, to which Lori replied, very incensed, "Don't you think I have made sure that won't happen?"
"Well," I said, losing my temper as well, "I really wouldn't know. Your credibility with me is quite low after you lied to my face about the debt to Maureen." She weasel-worded that she had only meant that her own name was not on the loan documents, which was true since she had had nothing to do with Lupin until Glyn married her while she was pregnant, keeping the wedding secret for a while from some people like Maureen who were suspicious of Lori, all because the place needed heirs, not caring who the biological father might be, about which, as with so much that I hear at Lupin, there are multiple versions, the dentist whom she keeps seeing in San Francisco despite no evident work to her teeth being one favorite candidate, but few think it is Glyn, since the girls do not resemble him in any way, although on the other hand it is not unheard-of for children to take more strongly after one parent than the other, and if anybody's genes would dominate so thoroughly as to cover much visual trace of the other parent, it would be Lori's. Glyn, of course, immediately wanted to steer the discussion away from the past, interjecting for the first time, "That's all just technicality. We would never deny the debt to Maureen." I asked, trying to steer back to the topic, "Do you deny that you owe Jean?" But Lori demanded, "Why do you consider this any of your business? Nobody would involve themselves, the way you do, unless they were angling for a position here! Why did you even bring that damn thing to me?" I said that Jean had wanted a witness, since papers had a way of disappearing around here, adding, "Where's my lease, for example?" She said "That has nothing to do with this!" and changed the subject, asking, "Do you know Jean's sister? Do you know what Jean was arrested for this summer?" When I said I didn't even know Jean had a sister, or anything about any arrest story, she snorted and said, "Yeah, you're a real close friend to her, aren't you?" She told me I should learn more about the people I was hanging out with, and that Little John could tell me more about Maureen's misconduct, which was a direction she really shouldn't have gone, since whatever Little John's ups and downs with Maureen, his contempt for Lori is consistent.
This was all entirely unsatisfactory, and I worried that I had made things worse. I was glad of an opportunity to get "off the mountain", as we say, giving Jean and Zach-and-Portia and the Other Faye a ride to do laundry, for giving people rides is among the many services I provide here, and so I missed the night of the plates, about which, as with so much that I hear at Lupin, there are multiple versions. But Maureen was angered to learn that Adam's prospective move had, as with so many Lori Kay promises, never materialized, and barged in to the Restaurant while Glyn and Lori were having dinner, "doing drama" about the expose' she would help the magazine to write, broadcasting to Kitchen Mike and Redhead Diane and other abashed witnesses the juicier bits of what she could share, until Lori screamed and began throwing the wavy-square plates Chef John had bought, well OK Maureen had bought if you want to get technical about it, breaking several while Simone and Samara cringed underneath the table. I suggested afterward to Chef John that the next time she came in for dinner, he should serve her on a paper plate, but while he smiled at that, he doubted very much if Lori would see any humor in it. Redhead Diane asked me why Maureen would say such terrible things, especially in front of the children, and did not seem to take me seriously when I suggested that it was probably because they were all true. Kitchen Mike, of course, just hoped that there might be peace in our time.
But if I missed this encounter, at least I had an opportunity to speak to Jean, who told me more about her life story, how her psychotic sister had always tried to ruin her life, strangling her when they were children so that they had to be separated, Jean going with the father and the sister with the mother when that ill-matched couple divorced, Jean hardly seeing her mother anymore, raised mainly by the woman she called Second Mama, from the black church where she had sat on the ledge for weeks, drawn by the music, until the preacher asked her to come in. But as the mother slipped into Alzheimer's and more physical ailments, Jean was the main caretaker, the sister being useless as a housekeeper, until the calamitous day when Jean was driving back from a music gig and failed to beat the hurricane. Jean at first could only learn that the house was ruined, and not where her mother had been taken, which proved to be Seattle, of all places, and it was on a Red Cross flight out there that Jean had dictated a claim form for the house, which got the address wrong, and now the sister was having her charged with fraud, and was using a power of attorney to seize all of the mother's assets, and so on. The saga had been shared with Justin-and-Faye, but it did not appear, then or later, that Lori ever got much of the details. On our return, I drove Jean down to the end of the Back Forty, to see if we could even figure out where Lori was proposing to move their trailers, which seemed impossible since my little Toyota got stuck down there, and had to be rescued by OG, who told us his own tales of woe about Lori, and Jean proposed that we videotape a statement from OG, with a transcription, since Jean understands his speech perfectly well, but this never got done. And Roy was assigned to clear out a space for Rob-and-Jean down there, but as with other jobs that might raise disputes, somehow Roy never did get around to that.
The next morning was the day of the trees. I was the only one up and about, making my inevitable pot of coffee and lighting up my inevitable cigarette, when Enrique, the only one of the crew with good command of English, came in, although Glyn and Lori and the staff would be coming up for the meeting soon. I told Enrique he was expected, and that I would send Maureen to talk to him as soon as she was roused, and that it was OK, since I had seen Maureen show Glyn all that was to be done, to start bringing the trucks in, but he said he needed a car moved, which I recognized as Gina's, more usually parked down by the gargoyled bridge, so I had to knock on Unicorn yurt as well as Butterfly. As I was circulating back around, listening to the dissonant music of the heavy equipment, I apologized to Gina for having rousted her, and she told me Glyn was forbidding the oak to be cut because it was his favorite tree, so I sought out Glyn, where he was supervising the work on the pines, to give him a stern lecture about the parlous state of the oak and the urgency of its removal, but it turned out that, as with so much that I hear at Lupin, the details had gotten a little garbled in transmission. Glyn shook his head, saying that he was perfectly aware of everything I was telling him, and it wasn't about any sentimentality for the tree, but about the greater urgency of removing the split tree down by the Nudome, for the pickup basketball team had only removed the half lying over the road and left the other half standing precariously: "Somebody has got to set some priorities around here, and I'm going to do it!" This was all entirely satisfactory, so I nodded and went off, but it proved that there was a mutual misunderstanding: I was taking it for granted that he had cleared the change of plans with Maureen, while he was taking it for granted that telling me was as good as telling Maureen.
I did not get back to Maureen until I had stood around chatting with Clifford, who turned out to have planted the Monterey pines himself when he was a teenager, and was grateful to see them taken care of, hoping that the vine-choked one could survive, or even be left standing after it died, if possible, as long as the wisterias kept blooming. When I found Maureen, she was incensed to have had to learn indirectly through Enrique that Glyn was directing how her money should be spent, and had decided to tell Enrique that Glyn was within his rights, as the owner, to forbid the oak to be cut, but not to command the cutting of the split tree, with her money, so, instead of $1000 each for three trees, she would pay him $1500 each for the two trees and be done with it. Chris Ann asked me what all the excitement was about, and while I rarely shared much information with her, this time I gave her a detailed blow-by-blow, to raise the chances, as far as possible, that the story might circulate with some degree of accuracy. Glyn was last seen standing by the split tree, waiting for the trucks to come down, and looking puzzled as instead they just drove on out.