There were mixed signals, in the weeks after the day of the Perseids, about which way things might develop. One night when Maureen was sleeping on the stage again, which not everyone approved of, someone threw a rock at her, gashing her head, and she suspected Wayne, and kept the rock in the basket which we use for knick-knacks, which at that time sat on the graywood bench, until my ritual sense told me the rock was not a good thing to have in the Circle, so I took it to lay on the threshold of the Blue House for a stumbling stone. And Lori was starting to make a special point of insisting that she was the "owner" of Lupin, which Maureen denied, and once when she told a member that she was the owner, Simone chimed in "Yes, Mommy's the owner!" so that if indeed the title was in the children's name, as I had heard, this seemed to be a secret from them. The girls were no longer allowed to enter the Circle and play in the box, though Brandon and Carlos still frequented it, and Maureen complained about being cut off from the children in her daily chats with Glyn, when she drove to Glyn's cabin, playing Moody Blues, In Short of the Lost Chord, and fed Rowdy, whom Glyn loves very much but never feeds, but Glyn would just ask why she couldn't get along with Lori. Will and Cindy would come up to bear the message from Lori, who seemed afraid to step into the Circle, that the glass table would have to go, or at the very least the rubbish needed to be cleared off the graywood bench, and once Cindy injured the dignity of her embassy by sitting down too heavily and breaking one of the bamboo chairs that were donated by Azim, my predecessor in Tiger Lily yurt and Corky's successor as bookkeeper, who had salvaged them from a restaurant.
So Jean put a spell of protection on the Circle, sprinkling purple amethysts, which Butch still sometimes turns up with his raking, and burning white sage, and I buried the pieces of tiger's eye and turquoise which I had been carrying around for decades of wandering, putting the tiger's eye under the log at the end of the wall that guarded one entrance to the Circle, intoning zakhar eth-ha-shabbat, that is, "Remember the sabbath," and naming that log the Pillar Jachin, and putting the turquoise under the heaviest rock at the head of the steps guarding the other entrance to the Circle, intoning w-zakhar eth-ha-rosh chodesh, that is, "And remember the new moon," and naming that rock the Pillar Boaz. Thus I rooted myself here forever, and swore to Maureen that I was determined never to move again, and that my spirit could not leave here even if my body were thrown out. One day she thanked me, beaming, telling me my e-mail must have gotten through to Lori, for Lori had sent a very friendly note asking Maureen to work out a "win-win" resolution of all outstanding disputes with her sometime attorney, who Lori said was now a judge in San Jose, Brad of Brad-and-Pauline, long-term members who were friends with both Lori and Maureen. I was hoping that these negotiations would be about a redivision of managerial responsibilities, giving Maureen more scope to refurbish the grounds, and about the proper care of the children.
But instead the talks were mostly about money, for Maureen divulged that not long after the day that will live in infamy, she had called in $43,000 in interest arrearages owed to her, a sum the Stouts could not possibly raise at once, raising the spectre of a foreclosure sale, although in fact Maureen would never want that outcome, preferring that the girls get their inheritance, and was simply "doing drama" to make Lori see some sense. Brad arranged that the Stouts should begin paying $800 twice monthly, a vast improvement over the spotty and varying checks Maureen had been receiving, and these the Stouts have since been as desperate never to miss as their larger checks to Clifford, for much the same reason. But the talks also ranged over the unusual variety of services Maureen had rendered the Stouts over the years, much of which Brad was shocked to hear about, and the absurdity therefore of Lori's occasional claims that Maureen ought to be paying rent, and other cases of rent claims when arguably the debt was quite the opposite direction. Maureen offered to cover for rent arrearages, if any, when there was final accounting in the cases of Little John, who paid his own band when they performed and drew crowds to Lupin, and had pulled broom Up Top until he got a nasty case of poison oak, and Rob-and-Jean, still owed a pile for Jean's months of professional work, and Butch-and-Corky, from whom they still got some work. And I promised Maureen to give the settlement agreement my legal-eagle eyes when Brad drafted it, but he never did, growing weary of his inability to get Lori to pin herself down.
On OG's birthday, as Jean was making sure that Chef John knew what kind of cake OG would like, and I was remarking "Just another beautiful day in paradise!" to John Horne for it was particularly pleasant, with the Bonny Doon fire finally out and the smoky haze all gone, which had been a sadly missed opportunity, Jean pointed out, for us to offer free campsites to the refugees and win back some good will from the Bonny Doon crowd, many of them former Lupinites who had fled the Terrible Ed regime, a strange man came to the Circle to talk to Maureen. He proved to be a psychologist from the sheriff's department, Adult Protective Services division, who had come at Lori's request to see if Maureen was crazy and in need of locking up. I tried hard not to eavesdrop, but it seemed to be a pleasant chat, which Maureen told me afterwards ended up as a discussion about Belgian beer, and the psychologist had not the slightest doubt that Maureen was sane, being rather more concerned about the strange man hovering in the background, naked of course, with the inevitable cigarette. So I was already perturbed even before I learned that OG did not show up when his friends were gathered in the Restaurant, brooding alone in his trailer instead, for Lori had fired him, on his birthday, because his truck was in need of a spark plug and he had failed to haul the garbage, as he had been doing using his own truck for a long time, never getting any gas money from Lupin let alone anything for repairs. I was literally shaking with rage, and all Maureen's efforts to reassure me that all would be well failed to stem the quivering in my hands, for we were not really communicating, Maureen taking it for granted that I was upset about the treatment of her, while I was taking it for granted that she had heard about OG, which she would not until the next day, when she said she absolutely would not stand for it, and a vague arrangement was made that OG would work on weekdays but was fired on weekends.
Seeing my anger, Jean took me up to the pool to say some things which, as with so much that I hear at Lupin, must go with me to my grave, and as I came back down the steps, the light abruptly went out, which is something I do to lights sometimes when I am in a black mood. Jean had decided to make a voodoo doll, and asked if I knew where she might find some Spanish moss, and while I thought "You can probably get it cheaper at Home Depot," that was a private joke that she was not in on, so what I said was "Moss Landing, of course" although I suspected (correctly) that this little coastal town was named rather for a Somebody-or-other Moss, but she went down there anyway, and found, in the boondocky woods a little inland, a house with a yellow door that told her it was the place she was seeking. She knocked on the door and said simply, "I need some of what you have on your shelf," to the woman who proved to be, of course, another Katrina refugee from New Orleans, who heard out Jean's tale and gladly supplied Spanish moss and some special root, not a mandrake, whose name I forget, and cloth from a bridal gown that had been worn although the marriage never happened, and other stuff well charged with grigri. I assumed, as I am sure everyone else including Lori assumed, that the doll represented Lori, but Jean told me it was the dark side of Cindy, and that the spell was not to harm her but to banish her darkness and turn her to the light, for Jean said she would only do white magic regardless of whatever it was that Lori practiced, although if I had to make a guess, for I know only that Lori calls herself a Wiccan and inquire no further as to what kind, it would be that Wicca had only been a youthful affectation and that Lori has practiced no form of spirituality whatsoever in many years. I asked why Cindy, for though I knew that the Goodess had annoyed some musician friends of Rob, she seemed rather peripheral in the present conflict, and Jean explained that Lori could not be assaulted frontally, but first needed to be isolated, and Cindy was one of her few remaining firm allies.
White magic or no, the look of the finished doll, and the feel of the ritual, piercing it with seven colored pins, the last with Jean's blood on it going in at midnight of the new moon, made me glad that I was on Jean's good side. Jean's way is not my way, but it was very generous of her to show me how it was all done. The doll sat in the crotch between the Grandmother and Grandfather trunks, and that night as I paced about the Circle so late that it was early, the old tree pelted me with a prodigious shower of acorns, such as I had never seen before, and I thought it was only our tree doing this, but as the season progressed all the oaks around began to do the same, and I would learn that all over North America, that fall was the biggest acorn drop in a half-century, and that nobody knows what makes the oaks decide which years which years will be heavy and which light. A rumor went around that Maureen was practicing witchcraft in the Circle, a curious misattribution since Jean had made a special point of letting it be public knowledge she was the maker of the doll, sitting in the swingy chair while she sewed it together and telling all inquisitive passers-by that she was making a voodoo doll, and quite unfair as well, since Maureen in fact disapproved of such a thing being in our Circle, and refrained from removing it only because she was loath to touch it. The most ritualistic things I have ever seen Maureen do, aside from dealing Tarot once in a while, were to seal the Brandon-proof bin that held our long wooden matches and lamp-oil and other things, which I had trouble with and Maureen could never open at all but Brandon could probably have gotten into in a flash if he had wanted, with candle wax as a test to see if we had late-night trespassers in the Circle, and to cut up the sign Veny had hung on the gate, saying WELCOME on one side, which was fine, and GOODBYE on the other, which Maureen thought very bad feng shui, as if urging visitors never to return, into little pieces, keeping them in our knick-knack basket, with the pine-cones Samara had gathered and the artificial flowers and the miscellaneous items left behind in the Circle by guests.
All of us in the Circle became afflicted with love-sickness. Jean and Rob were having a terrible time, Rob feeling resentful that Jean could seldom spare more than a pittance for him, to feed the escalating "medical" marijuana habit with which he staved off the growing stress from their impoverished and uncertain tenancy at Lupin, for his and Adam's project to help Red Gloves John set up a nice big greenhouse in the Canyon fell through when Sal put his foot down, and he had begun to lash out at Jean about her weight, which she was in fact successfully bringing back down, or whatever other weapon was handy. As The Ears, I endured many half-weepy or full-on-weepy sessions with Jean wondering if their marriage was doomed, for her feelings for Rob were obviously still strong, sessions usually on the phone since Maureen would not put up with hearing any more of it in the Circle, and a couple talks from Rob's side, whose description of the relationship of course seemed to be talking about a different couple altogether. I was gripped by a crush on Sam, whom I was the only person in the world to call "Big White Sambo", Rachel's tall and fair-haired brother, in his broad-brimmed hat to spare his light and freckly face from the sun, a tireless player with children and climber of trees, ever joking with a broad grin, at that time the only person in the world besides Maureen whom Vanna would allow to stroke her, and he reminded me of pictures of McCool, the aptly-named pilot of the shuttle Columbia. He was way too young for me, and almost certainly hetero in any case, which is the story of my life, so I would tell Maureen about the love of my life, also hetero and often creeped out by my affection, and she would tell of her happy marriage and of her unhappy marriage and of their tragic ends, stories which, as with so much else that I hear at Lupin, must go with me to my grave.
And Gregory, the dashing Gypsy at Paramount Imports who looks just like Rasputin, and had had his eye on Maureen for years, so that she was the only person in the world who called him "The Watcher", finally got up the nerve to hold her hands and give her a hug, and while their relationship never got any more physical than that, despite all Jean's and my hopes, for Maureen's sake, that it might, he became a wonderful friend for her. Maureen was the only person in the world to call Paramount Imports "The Palace", and would drive off to The Palace, playing Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord, returning with gorgeous dresses and novel varieties of incense and exotic music, Gypsy singers or belly-dancing accompaniment or the like, which Gregory, whom Maureen is the only person in the world to call "My Prince", had picked out for her, giving her outrageous discounts, and while she was there, they would joke in a quirky style which Erica, Dara's sister, never got. Barry, the gentle giant of an artist who worked the front of The Palace and had built the 800-foot, or however big it is, whale in the Googleplex, offered to let Maureen bring Samara and Simone along for a tour of his studio, which of course Lori forbade, a sadly missed opportunity. Instead of writing poems about Adam, of which my favorite was "Today you gave me two purples..." about the time he gave her a purple lighter, and a purple pen which she considered too sacred to use, until the day months later when the Army of One was on some mission or another to Butterfly yurt, and needed something to write with, so she gave the purple pen back, now she would write jokey notes in the old sketch-pad about how she was riding her rescued ponies to The Palace. For her relationship with Adam grew much less tense now that she had Gregory, and when she set out a hexagonal table and a set of four wheels and asked him to "Put wheels on it," as soon as he discovered the mismatch between the number of legs and the number of wheels he teased her mercilessly, and when she said they would just have to go to Ace Hardware for more wheels, he told her, "We can probably get them cheaper at Home Depot."
When I told her I did not even know where Paramount Imports was, she was determined to make me go there, so one day she told me her Paramount lighter was guaranteed to last forever, but it wasn't working anymore, and would I be kind enough to take it in and get it fixed? I fell for it, assuming it was only a question of getting it refueled, and she handed me a lighter all broken in pieces, so I took it in, and as it would not be right just to relay the joke and not give them some business, I bought a pack of clove cigarettes, which had not been a habit of mine, but I was warned the state would soon be outlawing them, out of some nanny-state think-of-the-children pseudo-concern. Cloves quickly became a new habit for me, the stores getting around the new law by repackaging them as clove "cigars", and I wondered whether I was violating the Lupin rule against cigars, for I generally kept to the letter of the law about smoking, once taking a cigar Jimbo had given me up past Lupin Overlook over the property line, where it says "Trail Ends" although the trail keeps winding up the mountain to where Maureen claims that one can see, on a clear day, Monterey Bay one way and the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge the other, except that masses of poison oak now block it, which I undertook to cut someday if a partner would come along, using a pair of machetes Maureen bought for the purpose, except she warned that we really needed to clear it with the neighboring property owners first, and much of the land proved to belong to Open Space Coalition, who had had their eye on Lupin for some time, with a view to demolishing every structure and booting us all out, so that it would not do to remind them again about our existence.
As to my Djarums, Maureen pointed out that Lupin is, of course, cloving-optional. But not everyone thought I was properly obedient to the rules, which according to the version in my lease, at least as far as I could recall since I had not been given a copy of the lease, only specified certain areas as non-smoking, that is, the yurts and other buildings, and the pool and hot tub enclosures, and the entirety of the nature-trails system, but in the view of others only designated certain areas for smoking, the rest of the property being non-smoking by default. The most tireless of the self-appointed smoking police, against others as well though they viewed me as the worst offender, were Chris Ann and Redhead Diane, who was the first person in the world, though not the last, to call me "Smoking Bob", a nickname she did not intend as a compliment, but which I rather liked. I always defied Redhead Diane when she protested my habit of walking the long way around from Tiger Lily yurt to Oaktree Circle, down Little Village road and up through the parking lot, so I could have my inevitable cigarette, which I would refrain from if I took the shortcut across the gargoyled redwood bridge and up the steps, a path that was trail-like, for I was determined that any change in the terms I had agreed to should come through proper notice from the management, and no matter what authority Redhead Diane seemed to have in the Restaurant, she had no title and no clear role. But I acceded when Dara asked me, rather more nicely, to refrain from smoking on the road for the next few days, as the Naturists were coming and some of them might object, and she added that she was asking all the staffers the same, apparently having come to think of me as if one of the staff, since I had been busily picking up trash and helping to move furniture for the event, earning a rare "Thank you" from Lori, rather than in the category of the tenants who generally kept to themselves.
The next morning, I came to the Circle to find Claudia, pronounced as a New Englander would say "cloudier" since she is German, eating with her family, with the ashtrays moved to the circular ledge around the oak, Maureen afterwards telling me that when Claudia said, "We don't want ashtrays on our breakfast table," she had thought too late of the Trappenwitz retort, "We don't want breakfasts on our ashtray table," but it was just as well, for it turned out that Claudia was not an anti-smoking invader, and indeed would be very pleasant company for the whole Naturist weekend, apologizing unnecessarily when I started wiping the table after their breakfast, if not very well, and saying she would do it. I told her it was my job to clean the smoking Circle, so she said, "You are the Smoker in Chief, then?" I replied, "No, Maureen is the Smoker in Chief, I am merely the Deputy Smoker..." -- "...for when Maureen is not available," she completed, and I knew we would be friends. She was part of a "happily married triple" as the Lee Marvin character put it in Paint Your Wagon, the husband from California being the one she was legally married to, and the husband from Montana the biological father of little Alexander, or maybe it was the other way around, I could never even keep their names straight. Seeing Alexander running side by side with Brandon, Maureen abruptly remembered him from a brief visit the year before, when he and Brandon had been like identical twins, though now they no longer looked so much alike, having lost some baby fat to show their distinctive faces, and with Alexander in a severe bowl cut and Brandon's hair every which way. Though Alexander was only three, he had been in the Bay to Breakers race five times, in the womb at negative age, in a stroller at ages zero and one, and actually walking at least a bit of it at ages two and three.
So the Naturist gathering was a welcome break, with so many more people, naked of course, than we had seen at once all summer, an infusion of positive energy after all the recent angst. Some complained at the meeting that they couldn't get Faye's massages, and the occupants of Massage yurt apologized for being responsible for that, and I confessed that it was my tenancy in Tiger Lily which had bumped them there. There were some interesting presentations, such as the lawyer talking about public nudity, who had a story about how Elysium, our sister club to the south, had gotten in trouble from neighbors claiming they were exposed to public view, although the neighbors had had to specially poke a hole in their attic to make a window from which to peek, and charge admission for a peek, and he turned out to have read one of my most unpublishable writings, a short story about getting arrested for driving naked, which had circulated in samizdat as far as his eyes. Black Haired Diane urged me to hear Glyn's talk on The History of Lupin Lodge, but Maureen told me to give it a miss, since Glyn knew the names of all the founders yet did not show any understanding of who those people really were and what they had done, so I urged that Maureen should write an account of The True History of Lupin Lodge. "Oh no, I am not any kind of a writer," she lied, "I will have to leave that up to you, Professor-- oh wait, that's right, you don't know anything about it!"