Saturday, February 13, 2010

chapter 6

It was on Tuesday the 11th of August that Black Haired Diane went around to all the yurts and cabins to put out flyers about how that night, after midnight until around 5 AM, would be the best viewing of the Perseid meteors. The night before, Maureen had drunk much more than usual from her "giraffe" of wine, filled with her special mix of half cheap Port, half cheap Zinfandel, which those who indulge in wine, as I do not, anymore, since I cannot drink even a little without drinking way too much, are often fooled into thinking is some very exotic vintage, and she was loudly singing about how she ain't gonna work on Lori's farm no more until the wee hours. I cringed in Tiger Lily yurt, knowing that pressure to choose sides was building, and fearing that Maureen was not making any friends just then, but did nothing until I heard a loud crashing and some shouting, and dashed to Butterfly yurt, where apparently Maureen had fallen on the tricky steps, and driven shards from her broken wine-glass into her arm, so that afterwards she had to go to Paramount Imports to buy a silver chalice with a pentacle design for her evening wine. I was concerned not only by her injury but by her distress, for that evening it had gotten back to her that there were unkind rumors about a physical relationship between her and the Army of One, rumors she had certainly fed with her occasionally crude flirting with him, for she could scarcely conceal that she found this very handsome boy quite arousing, but all who knew them well knew that they only "brain fucked" as she put it, keeping quite strict boundaries between them, which would only relax much later, as that they would never flick the inevitable cigarettes into the ashtray at the same time, when they were driving in their car, well OK it was Maureen's car if you want to get technical about it, playing Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord, lest they brush hands, and Adam never ventured to Butterfly yurt in those days, not even to stand on the tricky steps, much less to trespass past the PRIVATE sign on the door, which even I in those days had not yet been given permission to go beyond.

However, not everyone quite understood their relationship, and of course John Horne had gotten off some of the most cutting barbs, although I never heard which line it was that set Maureen off. She told me she was just "doing drama" and that I should not be worried and should just go back to bed, which I did, but failed to sleep when there was quiet again, and failed to rise when there was loud noise again, from further away this time. It seems she had gone to Clifford's old cabin above the Back Forty, now always blocked from view by a van noxiously colored day-glo yellow like a Merry Pranksters bus, for it is occupied by the generally reclusive Little John, the former child prodigy who plays harmonica, sounding more like Bob Dylan than Bob Dylan does, who has a lot of fans in and around Lupin, although Lori torments him and threatens to put him in a mental hospital, and he has never told me his life story, which is surely one of the more fascinating ones in Lupin, for he has played with a longish list of big names like B. B. King, but he leaves long rambling messages on Maureen's phone on his Xanax days, and had taken in the Army of One, who always sets up his sound boards as he does for many other bands, as his confidant and pot-smoking buddy. And Wayne, who is what passes for "security" around here, tried to grab hold of her and she fell over, or something like that, for as with so much that I hear at Lupin, the details are fuzzy, but Issa was on the scene, and was ever after very wary of Maureen, and would not let Chef Phil sit in Oaktree Circle anymore with his inevitable hand-rolled cigarettes, chatting about Mediterranean cuisine, while Maureen asked him to "Peel me a grape!"

So in the morning, after I had promised Black Haired Diane to come to the upper hot tub that night to watch the Perseids with her and the twins, I wondered what state Maureen would be in, and she was grumpy and hung over with her arm bandaged up, but insisted she had to go feed Rowdy, whom Glyn loves very much but never feeds, and sat in her car, playing Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord, far more loudly than usual, until Wayne came up to her and she shouted, "You keep away from me!" Redhead Diane and Roy LNU and Chris Ann had come out to see what the commotion was all about, and Redhead Diane called 911 as Maureen roared off in her car, heading not to Glyn's cabin but down by the Nudome where she might have some peace, and Redhead Diane then called the office to tell them not to let her out. I, likewise, did not want her out on Route 17, driving angry and one-handed, and did not think the office would take Redhead Diane seriously, so I sprinted down there and told Faye, "Put the gate down! Now!" For the gate had not been working properly since May, despite all Harry's tinkering with it, and was usually just left up, but Faye got it down and was setting chairs in front of it when, sure enough, Maureen came driving up, much faster than 10 MPH PLEASE, until she saw what was happening and turned around to go back. And soon the sheriff's deputies arrived, but by then Maureen was calm and all charm, and of course had known the deputies for years, so that I would have suspected she had diapered them as babies, if I had not been told that in her days as housekeeper she had never liked children, because they made messes, and had been reluctant to take on the role of Grammy when Lori asked her, odd though that seems in retrospect. And she was joking about how unnecessary it was for the car to be beeping at her, telling her the door was open, when after all there was a big hole there, quite obvious to the eye, until the deputies pointed out that they did, of course, have some work they should be doing, and took off.

Then Maureen felt exhausted, and lay down in her sleeping bag on the stage under Grandmother/Grandfather oak, where she had taken up the habit of sleeping on nights when Butterfly yurt was overhot despite the open dome, and I sat watching over her, at first unable to do anything but rock back and forth sobbing lightly, and fended off all the people who wanted to talk to her but had to settle for talking to me, about half-baked rumors, like Chris Ann with her version of the previous night's events, although she does not live on the grounds and had not been around for any of it, and Roy LNU telling me that Lori had said Maureen had gone off her antipsychotic medication, although Maureen had told me the only meds she had been on were for blood pressure, which made her fat and puffy so that she got rid of the stuff, back in June. The only ones I let pass were Samara, who wanted to show Grammaureen a picture she had drawn, and Simone, who also wanted to be of comfort, an incident that Glyn saw and allowed, which I much doubt that Lori would have, and after that Maureen put on her earphones to listen to Madame Butterfly and the Warsaw Concerto, and she spoke little, but said that she wanted to stay out on the stage that night to watch the meteors, although her eyes were already getting droopy again and it was clear to me she would not make it. So I tossed out the bubble lights by the stage, and she said, "How nice of you to make a lion to protect me!" For the lights had fallen, quite unintentionally on my part although she seemed to think it was me being artistic, in the shape of one of The Cats, the famous pair of statues which guard the old estate, on Route 17 just above the city, of a poet who had to wait until his eighties to marry the love of his life, until his wife who wouldn't give him a divorce finally died, or maybe it was her husband: as with so much else that I hear at Lupin, the details are fuzzy. I paced the grounds late at night, as had become my habit since the night, early in my stay, when I had followed the sound of bongo drums to their source, and found not only the drummer but also a potter working, in an area of the grounds I had not known existed, and was so lost I wandered aimlessly all over, and enjoyed it. I saw Black Haired Diane leading Simone and Samara, who had special dispensation to stay up with their sleeping bags, but though they waved and said Hi, I was too deep in thought to answer, and I never did see a single shooting star that night, for Simone later explained to me that they did not really get started until "very, very, very late", so late that it was early, as we used to say.

Next day, Maureen wanted to talk. She was not concerned only, or even primarily, about Adam getting attacked for being her ally, though this did distress her, but was deeply hurt at losing touch with the girls, and worried about the effect it was having on them as well. She told how they always used to come to Butterfly yurt late at night, unbeknownst to their parents, if anything was bothering them, but now they were far too afraid of being caught, and would not usually even give her eye-contact, though Samara would sometimes furtively use the sign-language Lori had taught them when they were little, and once sat on the steps, then scooched down one step further as if to ask how far from the Circle was far enough. She showed me the picture Samara had drawn of the newborn squirrel, so pink and hairless it took a while even to identify it as a squirrel, who had fallen out of the nest in June, when I was off with the conquistadores claiming Yosemite for Spain, so that Samara had to wrap him in cotton, and feed him with an eye-dropper, and name him "George Lupin Stout" or "The Little Man", nursing him for days until he finally died and was given a moving funeral, and told how she had once found Samara in Butterfly yurt surrounded by skunks, many of whom Samara had named, although to most people, myself included, skunks are too uniform in appearance to distinguish one from another, even if we don't recoil from them too immediately to get a good look, but there they were, all pointing their rumps at Samara as she brushed them sleek (but you must know, the Lupin skunks are too human-adapted to be much of a danger, except to dogs who might need one dose of education, and the only person I have ever known to be skunked here was John Horne, and that was only because he was drunk and carrying a TV set, and stepped on one of their tails because he was not seeing where he was going). And she told how Simone had demanded that Olympic champion Ping Pongers be brought in to play her, since she could handily whip anyone at Lupin, until Glyn gave her a game, for she had only really wanted her dad, like any seemingly hard-shelled child with a bottomless need for attention and affection.

And now, with Dutch Emy gone back home, they were under the care of such hard characters as Veny, who marched them around like little soldiers, and Brandy, a meth-head who had been to prison when she foolishly tried to pass counterfeit money for Ricky, Lori's other half-brother, who then blew up a cabin, burning it to the foundation, in a meth-manufacture experiment gone awry, and was sent back to San Quentin for something else entirely. But most of the time they were under the care of Uncle Wayne, whom they would say they loved because he tickled them so much, and I asked in some apprehension whether this might be a euphemism for molestation, but Maureen said no, no, no, there was no sign of that, at least, though the tickles seemed more in the nature of torture-tickles than amusement-tickles. But this was not what disturbed her most: one day in the spring, she and others heard the sound of gunshots from Sal's Canyon, where it seems Wayne had taken the girls, and Ronnie and Brandon, to show off his shooting skills, and told Samara that if she ever said anything about him having a gun, which with his record he ought not to have had, he would never take her to McDonald's again and would never let her visit Grammy's grave when she was dead and gone, and Samara had held this dreadful secret for days before asking Maureen what she should do. As with so much else that I hear at Lupin, the details are fuzzy, for I heard other versions of the story: Samara had found Wayne's gun in the attic of the Blue House, and asked around quietly what she should do about it; or, Wayne shot a deer in Sal's Canyon and Ronnie was called in to butcher the animal, fairly certain of course that the kill was illegal but what the hey, the critter was dead already, and sure enough then the blame was pointed at him; or, someone heard Wayne threaten that if ever he learned who was talking about him having a gun, two would go down to the Back Forty and only one would come back, which was chilling because the hearer knew that it was Samara; or, Wayne had pistol-whipped Samara, which, as with so much else that I hear at Lupin, sounded over-the-top dubious. All I knew was that sometimes late at night, I would hear distant gunshots coming from Up Top, target practice I suppose, that may have been intended to be secret, but I have lived in Detroit for many years and would know that sound anywhere from no matter how far away, and once when I visited Rob-and-Jean at their trailer site Up Top, I found a pile of bullet casings, and Jean told me that the area, which was still littered with a lot of trash, used to be called the Burn Pile, and it might well have been considered a good sport, in its days as a garbage heap, to go there and shoot rats.

The unburdening lightened her mood, and she and Adam smoked some pot companionably, laughing and joking, and I partook, which I have rarely done in the years since I quit drinking, so that in the days to come I began to worry about having done so, and to pine for my copy of the Big Book, lost in the Detroit apartment fire, until Maureen offered me the one she had, a first edition all yellowed and scribbled in, with the cover missing, that she had salvaged from the meeting which had met at Lupin for decades, the very first Women's Meeting in California, until Lori put a stop to it, but I had to tell her that it was too sacred, and ought to be sent to Akron. Just a few puffs got me really stoned, wowing about the glowing colors in the sunset sky, but then very pensive, for I had been the opposite of unburdened. Lupin was starting to remind me of law-school days, when the questions on every exam took the form of a convoluted story followed by some version of, "Spot the liability issues, and suggest ways to manage them." Up to this time, odd though it seems in retrospect, I had been strictly The Ears, and had never repeated anything that I heard, but now I wondered whether I had some responsibility to speak up. If Wayne had a gun illegally, he could be blackmailed, which was very bad as he not only worked security but also handled the cash from the Restaurant, where there were disquieting rumors of money going missing, and Harry was accused, for I had learned that he had been moved from the office to managing the Restaurant when I asked him why I had not received a copy of my lease, and now learned that he was benched from the Restaurant as well, but as with so much that I hear at Lupin, I was dubious, for Harry had an outside income, and just did not seem the type to be a sneak thief in any case, and he would go on to produce a detailed accounting of every penny he had taken in and passed on, and when he had cleared himself, the whole question of where the money went was simply forgotten about. And if instead there was no truth to the stories about Wayne's gun, still it was Lori's business to know that such tales were now part of Lupin folklore.

And there were other issues, such as Brandon's unsatisfactory home by the front gate, for I had nearly run him over when he escaped Bubba's grasp and dashed out into the driveaway, and others told of similar close calls, besides which, Fairmont trailer was a sty, for Bubba was no kind of housekeeper, and I learned it had been condemned by the county for its various dubious attachments, and ordered to be demolished, so long ago that the red tags had turned pink in the rain, and fallen off, and gotten lost in the mud. Adam too needed a better home than the tent, up on the slope above the Amberwood and Sparrow's Nest and Fish Flag houses, halfway to Rob-and-Jean's, to which he obviously could not bring his kids, which would have to be done before school started or they would have to stay with his mom for the year, and I was planning to give him a ride up to Oregon to get his things out of storage, and visit my sister in Portland and take Jimbo to see a friend up that way, but this too would have to be done before school started, and Maureen had Hidden Oak cabin in mind for him, but others thought this would be line-jumping when some had been without proper housing for far longer. Then there was the harrassment of Butch and Corky, who lived in the Route 50 cabin, out Little Village road almost to Glyn's cabin, across from the Czech Flag and Madrone cabins, and were being ordered to move to a worse spot or start coughing up a large rent, for while Butch still worked with his rake, well OK it was Maureen's rake if you want to get technical about it, on the continual leaves and debris, and was the only staffer to be habitually naked, if you don't count Harry's habit of wearing a shirt and no pants or John Horne's occasional removal of his little hot pants with the flame design, whenever there were women about who might be prospects, Corky had been fired as bookkeeper, not least because she questioned the irregularities about the various withholdings which ought to have been remitted to this and that government agency. I had just met Will, who was supposedly going to be the new general manager, and is the only person in the world who calls me "The Bobster", and warned him, when the topic of people who might have to be evicted came up, that ousting Butch and Corky would be inviting a tar pit of legal trouble.

I was pacing the grounds wondering whether to approach Lori about all this, when a brilliant and hot fireball lit up the sky, seemingly aimed straight at me, so that I wondered whether we might have a meteorite, maybe one striking the Community Kitchen or some other structure in urgent need of demolition, or maybe one we could sell to a museum for enough money to fix some of those structures, and a little later saw two shooting stars at once, perhaps from one rock that had broken in pieces, and would see three more good ones that night. The omens seemed right, so I wrote up a note discussing all those matters, and the ongoing quarrels with the former and present chefs of the Restaurant, which is a whole other saga, and of course the quarrel with Maureen, and on the portentious 13th, as a pall of smoke began to filter down from the Bonny Doon fire over the mountains, I walked up to the Blue House to hand it to Lori, thus beginning our nonrespondence, for I cannot call it "correspondence" when that term implies two-sided communication. Lori would not take the note, telling me to drop it off at the office or, better yet, to send her an e-mail, which she preferred, and I did both, leaving the note in her mailbox and then composing an e-mail expressing sympathy for the difficult position of being drafted into managing such a quirky lot of troubled people, emphasizing that of course she was under no obligation to take my advice, and mentioning the little presents I would give Simone and Samara for their eighth birthday that Sunday, all in an effort to soften the blow that I was, unmistakably, telling her she was screwing up a lot of things. The Boony Doon fire sent us a swarm of bats fleeing the smoke, one of whom fluttered around Tiger Lily yurt, apparently having entered through the open dome which it could not find again, so I just left the door open a while and gave up on trying to herd with the rake, as Maureen was glad to hear when I told her about it, fearing I might have injured the innocent beastie, and though Turtle pointed out that this might merely give entry to another bat, I suspected (correctly) that "as long as the mean ambient density is less than one bat per yurtful, the integer must settle down to zero at some point." My e-mail didn't get an answer, but that weekend I overheard Butch saying that miraculously the quarrel with Lori was over, which of course wouldn't last long, but at the time he said, "I went to bed and just said, Lord, I can't handle this, I turn it over to You, and I felt an angel lifting me up and protecting me." I said to myself, "Whoa, have I been drafted into the Angel Army now? I thought I was 4-F for that kind of service!" And if any of you youngsters asks what "4-F" means, I'll hit you with my cane.

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