Several frustrating days seemed to foreshadow impending doom. My camera had been malfunctioning, my stove wouldn’t hold a flame, and, 2 days earlier, 2 sets of sections of my tentpole had fused together so tightly that even 45 minutes of sore-inducing tugging couldn’t pry them apart. I had become enraged by the unexpected setback and had smashed a piece of driftwood against the lean-to with all of my might while cussing at the crashing sea.
I carried the broken pole into Point Arena and loosened and lubricated it with the assistance of the local garage. But, hours later, after setting up the tent in a shrouded grove of pines on the blufftop, I heard the pole snap. When I turned my attention to dinner, I realized that the stove had become clogged. I spent two hours fiddling with the stove and trying to avoid thinking about the tent pole before I finally made my dinner. I ate silently.
I gerrymandered a makeshift solution and slept soundly under a starry sky. It was similarly beautiful the next morning, so I only barely felt a wave of submission when the pole section snapped through as I tore down my camp. Gualala was the next town south, and I knew my chances of finding an outdoors store on this part of the coast were slim. Without a tent, I knew I’d need to manifest an offer of a place to stay that night. I walked along the highway towards town with unfounded confidence, expecting a miracle.
But by late day, my luck seemed to have run out. I had visited every store in Gualala and explained my situation only to suffer as one person after another looked me in the eye and told me they didn’t know of anywhere I could stay. Even the motels were no help, priced appropriately for the Saturday night of a long weekend. I tried the baptist church and the Lions Club and was similarly rebuffed. Exasperated, I accepted an offer from Joel, the local bookstore owner slash radio jockey, for a ride back to Point Arena, where I knew that I could find a cheap motel. I’d have to catch an early bus to travel three hours to Santa Rosa, the nearest city with an outdoor store that could do the repair, but that was a problem for tomorrow.
A band was playing that night in Point Arena and I felt as if I could benefit from some distraction. I paid $10 to enter a mid-century movie theater and sat in the third row as a handful of local kids grooved to a three piece ska/punk band wearing overalls without shirts underneath. Their encore ended with a medley that moved seemlessly from the Inspector Gadget theme song into Bob Marley.
By the time the main act came on, I was starting to have some fun. They were a three piece called Tornado Rider, up from the city; their lead singer – dressed only in a Peter Pan fedora and pink and black striped stretch pants – rasped a poetic, barely intelligible stream of consciousness into the crowd while he bowed his sticker-strewn electric cello. He was a wonderful showman and the crowd devoured his energy from the small dance floor in the pit area between the theatre seating and the stage. I got up and danced alone on the fringes of the crowd.
Out the fire door, I spoke with a girl recently returned from Hawai’i about a hot springs near to Santa Rosa. Inside, I admired a beautiful long-haired dancer as she gyrated to the music. We flirted heavily, and I asked her to come back to my room at the motel. She smiled and said she would, when the show was done. I told her the room number and returned on my own.
A fight had broken out in the parking lot of the motel. In the room above mine, a long-term resident screamed threats at various women outside. The door slammed, and then, moments later, reopened with vigor. It was obvious he was high on something, probably meth. I closed my eyes and sat crosslegged in the room below, searching for an unachievable moment of peace and trying to temper my excitement with realism.
By 1:30, my hopes seemed dashed. But at 5 to 2, I heard a knock at my door. I opened it with expectation, but when I leaned in to kiss her, she turned her head away. I put my shirt on in confusion. We talked while facing each other crosslegged on the bed, and after some time, she turned me around and began massaging my back. Although it was unsolicited, it was exactly what I needed. The noise above had been quieted. There was no further contact. She bid me goodbye. Alone, I slept deeply.