… was wonderful. At Munro’s Books I bought a book of translations from Sappho by Willis Barnstone. My favourite lines speak to me because of their (understanding + accepting) disdain: “What farm girl dolled up in a farm dress/ captivates your wits/ not knowing how to pull her rags down to her ankles?”
August 17, 2013:
As a young man, if I had to sum up my essence into a single quality, I would have said, “I hitch-hike.” *Nothing* meant more to me.
I was obsessed with the communications interaction hitching a ride provided: Standing on the roadside with my thumb out, I could assume that the very next person I saw would be (1) a stranger and (2) somebody who wanted to talk with me.* Situations in which both such things would be true simultaneously seemed otherwise rare in my experience. Conversations brought into being by these situations enthralled me. I doubt I could discern the lies from the truth, the earnestness from the BS, any better than I can decipher these things now. But I could always count on being surprised by the words I heard; I could always count on feeling grateful and lucky. Indeed, hitch-hiking made a virtue out of loneliness; receiving a ride seemed a holier blessing.
I was indeed aware that one could not make a good living out of hitchhiking. One could and did, however, scrape by. Drivers were by and large pretty generous. (One desperado spent his last dollar buying me a hamburger. And a lady from Florida once gave me a pillowcase filled with grapefruits.) Making a living *writing* about hitching was not an option; that genre had lived and died by the time I hit the road, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady having left us in 1969 and ’68, respectively.)
It hadn’t occurred to me, though, that I could aspire to becoming a “professor of hitchhiking.” That would have been the perfect job. (Curriculum: “We will study the styles, methods, and rhetorical forms of ‘the hitch'; the road and the law, throughout history and across cultures; etc.”) But that gig doesn’t exist, so far as I can tell. If it did, I would be doing the next best thing, though, teaching communications to wide-awake and sometimes way-out-there students where I do. But since that particular gig doesn’t seem to exist, I’m doing the best thing *period*, with what I have to offer.
*There were exceptions: You might run into people you knew on oft-travelled routes, and sometimes drivers’d pick you up so that you could take the wheel while they napped shotgun.
On Friday I had the honour of meeting a wonderful group of people, the British Columbia Health and Education Administrative Professionals (BC HEAP), giving a presentation on best correspondence practices in the current workplace. I treated the 150 or so attendees to a vivid hitch-hiking story – yet to be written up for basil.CA – so it’s appropriate for any new readers who attended that conference in Victoria to find another tale from the road below, even if the ending is more bittersweet than it was in the one they heard.
2 Nov. 05: The publicity surrounding that movie about Truman Capote made me remember an incident I hadn’t thought about in some time: the afternoon that man kicked me out of his van into a California desert because I wouldn’t have sex with him. It was summer 1979 and I was hitch-hiking around the United States for no reason except that in those days I loved and seemed to need hitch-hiking more than anything else. That day I was on my way to Oakland from Malibu. I was tired. Somewhere near Coalinga I was third in line in a group of people looking for a ride on the on-ramp, behind a family of three and a scruffy couple my age. A van pulled over. The driver inside waved the other people away and welcomed me in. The man was short and fat, and he was wearing a white sleeveless T-shirt and (I thought) a Speedo that was hidden beneath his enormous belly. The van was filled with wigs, costumes, and make-up. “I work in the movies,” he said, with a wet lisp. Off we went north on Highway 101. I asked his permission to take a catnap where I was sitting. (I always used to ask for permission to sleep, because often drivers picked you up in order to have a conversation: to stay awake, to get something off their chest, or to lie a little.) That would be fine, he said, and I passed out almost instantly, though I didn’t stay that way very long, because Truman Capote started fondling me, or trying to, and I woke up, and I saw that his belly wasn’t covering a Speedo bathing suit or anything else. (His excitement wasn’t pretty.) A few minutes later the famous writer pulled the van over to the side of this nearly empty highway and ordered me out. “I don’t have any water in my canteen,” I said. “I’d be grateful if you dropped me off at the next exit ramp or at a gas station instead of here, where there’s nothing.” Truman Capote said no way with a sound only that man could make. I told him that to be so rude to me he must have been “born in a barn.”
That was a funny old phrase I’d never used before but which came to my mind instantly, for some reason. I got to Oakland that night, found a friend, and had a beer in his back yard.
Holiday weekend, music with slumber, and one companion, next door.