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The Boat


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The boat belonged to a friend of Peter's. I'll call him Peter, but honestly don't recall many names from this time. It was during a hazy period when I made friends fast, and now when I try and remember them, I get snatches of their faces, maybe the sound of a giddy voice, but I'm confused as to if I actually knew the faces in my memory, or instead maybe saw them on TV.

I was 19, and bumming my way up the Pacific Coast, after taking a Greyhound to Los Angeles, carrying eleven sheets of acid in my Army-surplus pack, meant to pay my way into a new life in that city with so many hills. I'd only seen San Francisco on television, but mistakenly believed it was permanently 1969 there, and everyone would welcome me with garlands and wet kisses and invite me to the nearest orgy. After getting some sort of job, I'd spend my free time writing poetry in Golden Gate Park, or listening to jazz in one of the smoke-filled clubs with a time portal back to 1953.

My great Uncle Banks lived in Oakland, who I'd never met. He was my backup plan. (I have to skip the entire PCH to get to the part about the boat.) I met a girl at a vegetarian restaurant. I'd ordered the cheapest thing on the menu--cold sesame noodles. I recall how they tasted, but I don't remember the girl's face. I do recall where she was from, Petaluma, which I thought sounded exotic. She shared a stale-smelling apartment with three roommates--one was Peter--when they came down from the LSD twelve or so hours later they began to wonder why I was still hanging around. Another day and they pointedly asked me to leave. I told them I was looking for a place to stay. Peter said he might know of something and to call him the next day. I arrived at my Uncle Banks house that afternoon, I think.

Banks invited me in, asked me if I wanted a drink. He said he had Tang, Ovaltine, Sanka, whatever I liked. He was my father's uncle, and retired from the Coast Guard. He told me how fond he'd been of my parents, how sad he was to hear the news of their accident, that my father had been a strong and handsome young man when Banks had known him, and that he'd been to my parents wedding. He said my mother was pretty just as he rose and left the room, and came back with a long, rectangular box. He said, "This is for you. Your Aunt Judy called to tell me you might stop by. She mailed this out here a few weeks back. It's a suit. It's to help you get a good job."

With that, Banks said it was good to see me, and to call on him again, but he had things to do around the house.

I didn't sleep that night. Most of that evening I walked around downtown San Francisco, chain smoking, donning the dark suit, popping in and out of hotels, trying to look like I belonged, walking the halls, listening for a party. I was stopped a few times, and asked why the hell I was wandering the halls. I'd smile and say I was invited to a party by a girl I'd just met. I never lucked up and found one that would have me, so I didn't sleep.

The next morning, early, I knocked on Peter's door instead of calling, and he told me he'd talked to his friend, and had a line on a place for me. He had the name of the place and how to get there on the back of an envelope, said he'd take me there for six hits. As we ventured there I thought maybe he was playing a cruel trick, that it didn't exist, Tangible Cove. How could a place named that be real? When we arrived, an hour later, I don't believe it was technically in San Francisco. But there, in the water, perhaps a hundred yards from the dock, was my new home, a small wooden houseboat, about the size of a minivan, half sunk in the murky water. It looked like it'd not traveled anywhere since Hiroshima. Peter said there was a hand-pump on board, and his friend Dan (who didn't actually own it but was supposed to be looking after it) said I could stay there if I pumped it out until the leak could be fixed. To get there and back from the dock, I had use of a small skiff, that itself leaked. I rowed out in my one suit, lugging my army pack, and started pumping water.

The next week, when I lied my way into a job, the cuffs of my suit pants were soaking wet.

 


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post #261
bio: john ball
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2/5/2009
13:38

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