We are in the last days of narrative fiction. Writers of novels will soon be joining epic poets in the ignored dustbin of literary history. Reading is being replaced by viewing, so the future belongs to the cameramen, film makers, and annimators of visual effects. Wordsmiths need not apply.
I, however, am a novelist by choice, temperament, and schooling. I have savored the genre from its crude picaresque origins; to the rising voices of Fielding, Smollett, and Defoe; through the rolling-in-high-gear of Dickens and Twain; continued with the twentieth century momentum of Hemingway, Barth, Gaddis, and Russo; and endured the disappointing tedium of Pincheon. Even so, not much matches the unexpected pleasure of independently discovering a well-crafted book such as Prince of Tides.
Yet, I am a realist. Observe any airport waiting room and you will find that fewer than ten percent of the people are reading books of any kind, and virtually all of those readers have grey hair. The young watch the TV monitors or are talking on cell phones. For those of us who write "literary novels," our audience is down to 10% of 10% of 10%. What is to be done?
I wear many hats. When I am not writing novels, I might be a book publisher, newspaper editor, sawmill operator, farmer, carpenter, beach bum, camera designer, or photographer. When I wear my camera engineering/photographer hat, I am way beyond the digital Nikon-Leica-Haselblad crowd. The cameras I build shoot extremely high-quality photographs of up to 200 megapixel resolution. This is something that the young we-never-read-books, we-only-look-at-stuff generation can appreciate.
This is a novel set in Big Sur. In order to seduce the visually-addicted young people to the written word, I have added a selection of my Big Sur photographs to the text. Once I use the art to lure the children in the door, I hope to get then to say, "Novels ... what a neat idea!"
Like Socrates, I aspire to the corruption of youth.
"A dollar an hour and all the coleslaw you could eat," was how Jake Jacobs described his year as a Maine farmer. In California it became an amusing tale, but that summer, when Jake was working twelve, fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, it was not so amusing a story.
It came about, as so many things did, by Jake following his nothing ventured, nothing gained dictum. When his Uncle Harry had his factory accident, it was Jake who went north to Maine to help. Harry would require six months of recovery and physical therapy before he could even think about working in the gardens.
Jake spent the summer as an organic truck gardener and, coleslaw notwithstanding, he did manage to clear a profit of over a thousand dollars. After the last harvest, Jake plowed and harrowed the garden to prepare it for the next season's crop, then he packed his VW bus and headed out. He had, however, a desire to see something other than vegetables. Marsha Brian facetiously suggested a sea cruise, but that was not a financially realistic idea. The sea, however, was an attractive option for an inland person like Jake, and he did spend a pleasant weekend at Acadia National Park--pleasant, that was, until a cold fog rolled in from the lobster-infested Atlantic. Jake concluded that a warmer sea was what was needed.
Among Harry's collection of books was a copy of the 1941 USDA Agricultural Yearbook. This particular volume was dedicated to the subject of climate, and it had statistical information on every county in the country. Where is the best climate accessible to a VW and twelve hundred dollars, Jake asked himself. With temperature, rainfall, hours of sunshine, and such information at his fingertips, he searched through the statistics and concluded that somewhere half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco was that spot. Jake had read Henry Miller's descriptions of Big Sur, but he was not a big Miller fan, and so discounted Miller's contention that Partington Ridge, Big Sur was as close to paradise as one could find in North America.
Later, after several weeks of living at various roadside pullouts on Highway One in Big Sur and at the Hearst Ranch beach, Jake had to concede that Miller was probably right. Miller, however, presumably had money in the bank, whereas Jake's finances were such that he could only live this kind of minimalist-cost beach living for a few more months. Sooner or later economic reality would impinge on this respite in paradise.
The road to Big Sur
Jake had been looking through the help wanted ads of the local newspapers, but opportunities were certainly a lot scarcer in California than they were in the East, and besides, most of the jobs were in SLO. (N1) True, San Luis Obispo was, in many ways, an attractive town (if you exclude the existence of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant,) but it was an urban environment, and Jake had come to appreciate the serenity of rural living. He was not looking forward to the frantic pace of town life. This caretaker position was, to his mind, at least worth looking into, so he went into Cambria, photocopied his resume at the Silent Partner photocopying shop, and mailed it out.
It was not long before a reply came to Jake by way of that great military leader, General Delivery.
I am in the process of building a house in the Big Sur area. At the present time construction is at a halt, and I want to have someone living on the property to prevent the theft of construction materials, keep tourists and vagrants out, and generally keep an eye on things. I work in Cambria mostly, and it is just too far away.
There is a small cabin on the site, and the facilities include running water (cold), a hot tub (wood fired), a barbecue pit, picnic table, and an old, but functional Servel gas refrigerator. Electric power, however, doesn't extend further north than the Pauling's place, so your electrical appliances/radio/etc. will not be usable.
I am in the midst of divorce proceedings and can offer no more than token wages at the moment. I hope to be able to change that once I get out of the clutches of the damn lawyers, but that is months away. Next year I'll have carpentry and landscaping work available, if all goes well. I am usually up at the property on Sundays. (See map on back of letter.) If the gate is closed but unlocked, I'm there. Drive up. Or you could try my Cambria apartment, but my hours there are very irregular.
Let's talk sometime,
Token wages? thought Jake. He consulted that great oracle, his bank account, and it said that more than token wages would be required in the not too distant future. Jake sent a polite "thanks, but no thanks" letter saying that, although he was presently living very economically in his VW on the beach near Piedras Blancas, he would need more than token wages. He thought that would be the end of that.
A few days later Jake was in his camper reading when he was startled by a knock on his door.
"Jake Jacobs?" a petit blonde lady inquired. She was not a Hollywood-type beauty--her features were all too sharp for that, nevertheless, she was quite attractive in her own right.
"Yes," he replied.
"Hi. I'm Martha Cuik, a friend of Bernie Vega. We'd like to invite you up to the Butterfly Ridge property," she said.
"Er ... I already wrote to Mr. Vega saying that I wasn't interested in the caretaker's job and ..."
"Yes, I know, but if you're not doing anything at the moment, then you could come up and talk to us. Bernie is driving down from San Francisco this afternoon, so if you show up anytime after two, you can talk to Bernie."
Northern Big Sur
"Well, perhaps just to talk."
"Fine, we'll see you later," she said, then departed as quickly as she came. ...
... the subject of the conversation is trying to lure this innocent man into parking here and keeping an eye on things. And the way that I propose to do that is to introduce him to a batch of Hell's Bells," Bernie said.
"A.K.A. Stuffed Peppers a la Bernie. Salad and corn bread round out the menu listings ... except for potables, wine, brandy, beers of various kinds, and the some odd bottles of hard stuff in the cabinet, there's some scotch, I know, and then there are the effete beverages, tomato juice, water, and such."
"You were right, this Industrial Strength coffee is addicting," Jake said.
"Oh, the usual 'coffee, tea, but not me' always apply. They are the 'givens' as they say in mathematical circles," Bernie offhandedly said.
"I take it that Hell's Bells are not ordinary Julia Child type stuffed peppers?" Jake queried.
"They are large sweet peppers, both red and green, hollowed out and filled with leftover chili. Then a special sauce is poured over all of it, and the covered dish is placed in the oven to bake. It is a recipe I have developed by careful experimenting," Bernie said. "I have a batch in the truck's cooler. All they need is some heating up."
"Ah, is this one of those dishes we've heard about which should be served to unsuspecting New Englanders accompanied by a fifty gallon drum of ice water?"
"Oh, it's not that hot," Bernie protested.
"We'll keep water handy in case it is a little warmer than you're used to," Martha assured Jake.
"Thanks," Jake said. "That reminds me of the time that my Uncle Toby had the accident with the spice shelf. It had been a gift, the spice shelf was, and it was a good one. Uncle Toby hung it under the shelf beside the stove. It was too good, in fact, because it had a lot of fancy spices that were never used ... like cayenne. There is no native Maine recipe which calls for cayenne. No one there knows what to do with cayenne, so it just sits there on the spice shelf, if a Mainer happens to have it, which most don't. But Uncle Toby had a jar of it in the gift spice rack, and it being the Saturday morning of the first Saturday of the month, Uncle Toby was making the month's supply of beans. Now, I've got to stop and explain that the coming of the electric chest freezer forever changed the way Mainers cooked. Now they make a big batch of something, then stow away the excess in the freezer. Then they could dip into it, whatever it happened to be, they could dip into it whenever they wanted. So it came to pass that Uncle Toby would make baked beans once a month on the first Saturday of the month so he wouldn't have to worry about beans for the rest of the month. Whenever he wanted beans, before he went to work in the morning he would go down into the cellar and take a Tupperware container of beans out of the freezer. He'd set it on the kitchen counter to thaw. By the time that he'd get home from work, they'd be ready to be heated. They would use a little bit every few days as a side dish, or sometimes as an appetizer. Mainers are serious about their baked beans, but the trouble with Uncle Toby's baked beans is that they never came out exactly the same twice. There was always a little something different in each batch ... sometimes they were a lot different, like the time that Uncle Toby accidentally knocked the cayenne jar off the spice shelf and into the bean pot which he had placed on the stove prior to lighting the oven. The cover came off the jar. So there on the top of the stove was a huge pot of beans with a whole jar of cayenne pepper dumped on the top of it. Uncle Toby looked at the beans and shrugged his shoulders. ''Twill add a little color,' he said to himself. He fished the empty cayenne jar and its cover out of the pot and put the beans in the oven to bake. Come suppertime we all gathered in the kitchen to have a plate of beans, brownbread, and coleslaw ... with raisins if we were lucky. This was a sort of informal, rotating social gathering of the family. One month we were eating Uncle Toby's beans of the first Saturday, the next month he'd be at our house eating our beans. Now that was a large pot of beans that Uncle Toby made, but it was also a large jar of cayenne pepper in that spice rack. Let us just say that the Beans of November 1983 were memorable, to say the least," Jake concluded.
Martha laughed. "You've got an interesting family."
"Yes. Unfortunately my real relatives are not as interesting as my imaginary ones."
"Imaginary? You mean that you made all that up?"
"Sure. But it has verisimilitude. If I had an uncle like Toby who made beans, in Maine he could have made them just that way. Mainers are connoisseurs of baked beans ... it's like the French are about wine. Uncle Toby might ask Aunt Alice, 'Say, do we have any more of those March '83 beans. I think that they might go just right with this chicken,' and Aunt Alice would check her freezer log and might say, 'Yup, we've got three pints left.' Or a batch of beans might be served and someone might say, 'Say, you know, these beans are rather like that batch from September of '74. I remember them. That was the month that Smitty's little girl fell off her bicycle and broke her arm--those beans had that same tang of mustard.' You see, some Mainers use batches of beans to date things much the way Indians date things by the Moon."
"You're making all that up." Martha protested.
"Sure, but it could be true," Jake asserted. "Of course, not everyone makes variable baked bean batches. There is my grandmother, who makes exactly the same beans everytime, and they are always great."
"Ah, the secret New England baked bean recipe," Martha interjected.
"No, the recipe is not a secret. She tells it to anyone who asks. I heard her recite
it dozens of times ...
... Soak two or three cups of baking beans overnight in water. In the morning, drain the soak water and recover the beans with fresh water. Parboil them until the skins peal when blown over--this should take ten or fifteen minutes. Again drain the water. Pour the beans into the beanpot. Mix together a half a cup of packed brown sugar, three-quarters of a cup of dark molasses, one teaspoon of dry mustard, and two cups of boiling water. Pour this mix over the beans. If necessary, add more boiling water to cover the beans. Chop a large onion into half-inch cubes and put it over the beans. Chop four strips of bacon into one inch long pieces, and put this on top of the onions. For the next five or six hours, bake the beanpot in an oven set at three hundred and twenty-five degrees. Occasionally add boiling water to keep the beans covered. Serve with cornbread....
... What she doens't tell is what kind of baking beans should be used. Most people use Navy or pea beans, Grandma doesn't."
"I knew there had to be a secret," Martha said.
The secret to Grandma's baked beans
"She grows her own beans, and by October there was always a five gallon bucket of dried, shelled beans in the pantry. Some years there were more, but there was never less. Whenever someone from the family wandered away, Grandma always gave them a bag of beans, not to bake, but as planting stock. I've got a cup of bean seed in my van. That is the family secret of consistent-tasting baked beans."
"Well, my Hell's Bells also come out consistently," Bernie interjected.
"Consistently hot?" Jake queried.
"That you'll have to determine for yourself," Bernie said.
"Okay," Jake agreed.
Meals at Butterfly Ridge were leisurely affairs. Bernie prepared the meal while Martha looked through her week's accumulation of mail; both carried on a conversation with Jake who was not permitted to aid the cook.
Having heard rumors about inferno-flavored chili, Jake thought that he might be in serious gastronomic trouble here, and he was relieved to find that, while certainly anything but bland, Hell's Bells were not as hellish as he feared they might be. He complimented the chef.
"You have not yet tasted my macho cowboy version of chili, however," Bernie said. "I have a Chicano friend in New Mexico, and I had him collect the hottest chili peppers he could find. He dried, then sent me a five pound box of the hottest vegetables in the Southwest. I then invited my macho cowboy 'you-can't-make-it- too-hot-for-me' friend to come up for a mess of chili. Bear in mind that this cowboy starts his day with a wake-up dose of a spoonful of cayenne pepper--that's even before his morning cup of coffee, which is twice as strong as even Martha's strongest brew. I will have to confess that I don't eat Macho Cowboy Chili undiluted. But C.J., he gets a good forkful down on that first bite. He grimaced a lot, but it went down. He drank a lot of beer, then went on to a second forkful. More grimacing, more beer. Then I told him he didn't have to eat any more of the chili if it wasn't up to his standards. He just jammed his fork into the bowl and got a third forkful. For a fleeting moment, I thought that he was going to ram it, fork and all, down my throat--justifiable assault to any jury in the West. But he ate that one too. After he got it down, he stropped and thought for a minute, then he said, 'you know, I've been thinking that this here chili would be a great base for a barbecue sauce ... and it just happened that my brothers butchered a steer a little while ago, and we were thinking of bar-be-queing a piece of him tomorrow. Why don't I take back a jar of this here chili, and you can come up to the ranch and see how my idea works out.' Here was a case of being hoisted on my own petard, and of course there was no honorable way I could refuse his invitation. So I went. And C.J. served the beef all covered with the bar-b-que sauce made from my super hot Macho Cowboy Chili. C.J. gave me the bottom piece, of course, the one with the thickest sauce. So I held this piece of meat down on my plate with the fork and cut off a goodly sized chunk. I thought to myself, if I'm going to be shot for a cattle thief, I might as well enjoy the beef, so I dipped that piece of meat into the sauce in my plate and swirled it around so that it was good and covered. C. J. stood beside me and winked at his brothers. Then, with a wry smile, I stuffed the whole dripping, red mass into my mouth. And ... and ... and it was good! C.J. added a lot of finely chipped onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and other ingredients, one of which he claimed was cooking sherry, but I suspect was pure grain alcohol ... well, perhaps brandy. Well, in any case, they toned down the chili and made it into a great bar-b-que sauce. 'This is one brave hombre,' C.J. said, slapping me on the back. I just smiled, said 'thanks,' and cut off another chunk of beef. I made a good impression on the cowboys, but I'm not as brave as they all thought. I had asked myself: would a cowboy ruin good beef by putting super hot chili on it? Would the pope start raping nuns? Would the Archbishop of Canterbury start to act in nude theaters? Not likely. So I figured that C.J. would find a way to moderate the chili, and he did so superbly. It still had a lot of tang, but it didn't have the raw heat of my chili. I gambled on the idea that the cowboys would not ruin good meat, and I was right.... If I had been wrong, that first forkful would have cooked me!"
As so often happens, eventually the conversation got back to fishing, this time by way of agriculture.
"One of the advantages of living here is Martha's forest," Bernie said.
"Yes, as I think I may have mentioned, we follow the Indian custom of putting a fish--minus the fillets, of course--a fish under each important tree such as the ceoanothis or bay. Since Martha has such an ambitious planting schedule, the caretaker position includes the requirement to fish to supply those carcasses."
"A job with an obligation to fish?" asked Jake.
"This is news to me. I'm all ears," Martha said.
"A recently added benefit," Bernie explained. "We want to keep our employees contented, least one of their disgruntled number report us to some muckraker who'd expose our nefarious exploitation of our underpaid employees."
"Sounds like a good idea," Martha confirmed.
"And furthermore, to demonstrate solidarity between labor and management, I intend to participate in these fishing sessions as much as ... business will permit," Bernie said.
Even in rough seas, Big Sur residents know places to find fish
"Ah, the plot thickens," said Martha. Martha, always quick to spot skullduggery, threw a curve into this straight line of logic by saying, "It's true, you haven't been fishing much in these past few months. You should get out more. The fresh air would do you good."
"It looks to me like you're obligated to go fishing, Bernie," Jake commented.
"It does look like I'm getting an obligation to ..." Bernie left unsaid exactly what he was getting obligated to do, but he broke into a smile. "Then you'll stay on here?"
"All right," Jake agreed, "on the temporary terms we talked about, without any real obligations on either side ... except to fish."
"Agreed!" Bernie said.
"Welcome to Butterfly Ridge," Martha said with a big smile.
"We can play musical cars when Martha and I leave. Then you can park your van in behind the shrubbery, and it will be invisible from the highway," Bernie said.
Later, after the repast of Hell's Bells was finished, the conversation again got back to fishing. That dialogue continued for a minute or two, then Martha interjected, "I think I came in on this reel, so I'm going down the hill."
"Was it fishing again?" Bernie asked.
Martha laughed. "You men! Eventually all your conversations get down to fishing."
"That's what you liberated women don't understand. If you're going to be equal to men, you're going to have to start fishing!"
Martha just laughed. "I'm taking the truck since it's blocking the car."
"You're taking my fishing truck?" Bernie asked with mock incredulity.
"Better watch out, Bernie," Jake said, "equality might start breaking out where you least expect it."
"Good night, Jake, and again welcome," Martha said and walked out the door.
Bernie shrugged his shoulders and drained the last of his beer. "Speaking of fishing, Vermilion fishes the coast right down here occasionally, so if you want to have a chance to catch something, you'll have to try either up or down the coast," Bernie suggested.
"It's fished out here?"
"No, not really. There are still quite a few fish," Bernie admitted, "but you'd be getting Vermilion's dregs. There's plenty of coast. There are some nice spots this side of Jade Cove. Someone told me that they caught perch at the mouth of Mill Creek, but that is, of course, just a fishing rumor which may or may not be true. Hell! Half the fun of fishing is finding them, so you might as well do your own exploring." Bernie took one last toke of his roach. "I suppose that I better go down the hill also, least that woman have a valid excuse for accusing me of talking fishing all night." ...
... After a late and leisurely breakfast with Martha, Bernie, and the Booths, Jake completed his usual town trip activities--grocery shopping at the Cookie Crock, a hole-in-the-wall grocery store on the eastern end of Main Street, doing a load of laundry, checking the mail, and getting the VW's gas tank filled. He was returning to Butterfly Ridge with the VW filled with paper sacks of groceries and soggy pillow cases of damp laundry. The latter was to be dried on a clothesline strung between the cabin and a tree because Jake was both too impatient to wait for the ultra slow driers at the laundromat and because he liked the freshness of air-dried sheets. He was proceeding northward in the usual fashion: behind a string of cars caused by a slow-moving, inconsiderately-driven Winnebago. Strange cardboard signs began to appear on the edge of the road. "Ahead," the first one read, then a tenth mile ahead, "3 Miles," next "Art Show," and finally, "On Left." There was a mile without signs, then:
"Caution - Turning Traffic"
Just ahead was a large turnout on the ocean side of the highway. This particular pullout was a sort of highway oxbow: it was a large C-shaped flat area with a conical section of hill between it and the pavement. It had entrances on both ends. There weren't many cars in the pullout, and the Winnebago gave no indication that it was going to become courteous and let the string of cars pass, so Jake pulled into the roadside art show. In addition to the three tourist-filled cars parked along the oceanside edge of the pullout there was a battered pickup truck camper tucked in along the side of the hill. A rope with its ends staked to the hillside was string out on either side of the truck. A variety of canvases were hung along this cordage. Additional paintings were hung on the walls of the camper. The entire assemblage was not visible from the paved part of the highway. The artist himself had an easel set up behind the truck. The paintbox was on the ground beside the easel. A work-in-progress rested on the horizontal bar of the easel. He was not pursuing his craft at that moment, however, but was sprawled out on a plastic lounge chair and acting as a barkeep, dispensing wine into paper cups lined up on the rear bumper of the truck.
The artist was a diminutive, sixtyish gentleman with tousled white hair and beard haloing his rotund face. His crowsfeet seemed to make his squinting blue eyes sparkle behind his steel framed glasses. Paint splattered jeans and work shirt, a straw cowboy hat, and desert boots comprised an otherwise nondescript outfit, except for the belt buckle which was an intricate forging of steel and brass, abstractedly suggesting a starfish.
"Welcome to the Big Sur Irregular, Heavy Root-eater's Gallery," he called out as Jake got out of his van. "Tour the show, have a glass of wine, try the cheese and crackers," the painter effervesced.
"I'm not exactly in the market for works of art," Jake confessed.
"No matter. It's cheep wine, government surplus cheese and Thrifty's crackers (N9) ... and besides, the show is already a great success. I sold two paintings today," the painter said. "It's good wine for jug wine, so have a glass."
"Thanks." Jake accepted the offering, but restated his position as a non-art-buyer.
"Who knows, tomorrow you may find a suitcase full of cocaine on the side of the road and decide to become a patron of the arts."
The show consisted of several dozen canvases, all the same size and all variations of two quite different themes. The first was the female body, but for that there was a great deal of variety. Some paintings were of cartoon-like characters, some veered off into Picassoesque fracterings and distortions, and some were realistic portraits. One was even in the photo- realist style. This last one was of the upper torso of a large bosomed woman holding, in garishly fingernailed hands, two enormous honeydew melons below her breasts. Landscapes were the second subject, and these were mostly pastels.
Ragged Point foglift
Each piece was tagged "$1,000,000 or B.O."
Jake inquired about the pricing policy.
"There is a bill before the legislature--it may have been signed into law by now ... or maybe it was killed--this law would require artists and galleries to set prices for every piece of art they offer to the public. It's part of somebody's idea of consumer protection. Apparently haggling is considered to be immoral in some quarters. Well, I would be happy to accept one million dollars in exchange for one of my paintings. I will also consider offering a discount ... a good deal to the right customer," he said.
"And you've sold two million-dollar paintings along side the road today?"
"Yes, but I had to discount them quite heavily," the painter admitted.
"Galleries must love dealing with you," Jake commented.
"I used to have gallery shows, but after totaling up all the expenses for supplies, framing, opening night champaign, and such ... and after the galleries took their cut, then I'd be just about making minimum wage. So now I do everything myself and keep the whole pie."
Just then the CB in the camper truck crackled to life. "Bear coming down the slide, milepost ten, bear coming down the slide," it said.
"Oops," the painter said, springing to life. "Time to close the gallery."
"Highway Patrol, a nice enough lady, but I ain't got no business license, I ain't got no permit, and I don't collect no tax. She's up at Gorda and probably coming this way."
The painter tossed the canvas, the easel, the paintbox, the lawn chair, and the wine jug onto the floor of the camper. He then hustled along the line, grabbing paintings and tucking them under his arm as he went. At the end of the line he pulled out the wooden stake. The painter tossed the paintings onto the camper's bed. This process was rapidly repeated with the line of paintings strung from the front of the truck. These million-dollar paintings were added to the pile. He pulled the canvases off the walls of the camper and added them to the pile. Finally, he grabbed the rope and pulled its ends in, not bothering to detach it from the truck. The tangled mess, stakes and all, was dumped into a plastic milk crate bolted to the rear bumper. He jumped into his truck and shouted, "Hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to come again, anytime I'm in your neighborhood," to Jake as the starter noisily cranked the engine. The truck came to life with a roar and a billowing of blue exhaust smoke. The painter immediately jammed it into gear and spun off towards the asphalt, going north.
Jake was left standing there with a plastic cup of wine in one hand and a Thrifty's cracker with government surplus cheese in the other. He had no desire to tangle with California Bears, so he got back into his van and followed the painter's path, but at a more leisurely pace.
The Winnebagoes had thinned out, and Jake proceeded northward without hindrance. After a couple of miles he noticed a cruiser coming towards him in the other lane. He gave Officer Blondie a friendly wave of the hand as the black and white Chevy Suburban went past.
A few miles further, Jake spotted the painter and his camper parked in a pull out on the east side of the highway. He gave the artist a thumbs up gesture as he went past. It was reciprocated with a salute with a plastic wine glass.
Late that afternoon, Bernie stopped at Butterfly Ridge on the return leg of a quick trip up to the South Coast Gallery, and Jake described the roadside art incident.
"I once had a client who moved to L.A.," Bernie said, "and this client subsequently hooked up with a posh, upscale gallery in Beverly Hills. This gallery owner would always rent a booth at the L.A. Art Expo--that October extravaganza--and then feature one or two of the artists in his stable. One year, my friend was chosen to be the artist to be 'expo...sed.' This is, of course, great for the artist, but it also ment that the artist had to do great deal of preparatory work. Framing and preparing the paintings to be exhibited so that they showed in the most favorable light, doing the publicity. Preparing the artists' statement, and a lot of other things, little and large, had to be done. My friend was never at the peak of health, but he plunged in and did all the expo work. However, during the second day of the show, he collapsed--overwork, the long hours, and some virus combined to bring him down. So there was the gallery owner, promoting an artist who wasn't there. One of the main attractions of the Expo for the public is the chance to rub elbows with a bunch of real artists, to talk with them, and to listen to the arguments that the artists invariably have among themselves--all of which tends to promote the sale of works of art. But no artist, no sales. So for the gallery owner, fifty percent of zero is zero. What to do? The gallery owner started a rumor that the artist at booth 1014 dropped dead right there while signing a print. Dead artists are worth ten times the live variety, and the rumor brought around the morbidly curious. The audience of the Expo was constantly shifting and changing, so the gallery owner had to keep going out and reseeding the rumor mill. By the end of the second day the story was that the artist had accosted an art critic for the LA. Times who had once panned the artist's work and the artist beat the writer to a bloody pulp, then, in one version, had a heart attack. Another version had it that the artist committed suicide at Booth 1014 ... see it for yourself, Booth 1014, hurry, hurry, hurry ... committed suicide after climbing to the top of the booth and shouted a diatribe against all critics. However, a few hours before the closing of the show, the artist bestirred himself from his sickbed and returned. Lazarus returns! 'You're supposed to be dead,' they said to him. Now there was real confusion because the artist's friends acquaintances all assumed that, at the least, he was among the deceased. Eventually he figured out what happened. He was furious. The realities of American contract law and his own gentle personality, to say nothing of his weakened condition, prevented him from doing anything rash right there on the floor of the Expo, but he never again had any dealings with that gallery. The gallery owner was generally shunned by the serious members of the artists' community, and his business suffered considerably from this attempted cheap trick. The artist himself vowed to never again sell his work in any way except by dealing directly with the customers personally. No one would ever get a slice of his pie, even if he had to starve, he vowed. And that is how William Allen Donna came to die at the L.A. Art Expo. Did you notice that he signed his paintings with a sketch of a flower, a belladonna flower? The roadside artistic bandit you met was Belladonna, a.k.a. Bill A. Donna, a.k.a. William Allen Donna." ...
... A couple of days later, Martha showed up with another batch of plants, and thereafter she would show up with more plants every three or four days. The planters began to fill up with greenery.
After a week and a half, Bernie returned, accompanied by the usual batch of plant filled cups from the famous, unnamed international hamburger monger. This time he had a fancy magnifying glass with him.
"Well, Holmes, what do you make of this elementary evidence?" Jake asked in a very proper British accent.
"Queen Victoria may not approve, but we are going to examine our little green friends' genitals," Bernie said with a smile.
"It's probably time to start sexing the plants so we can weed out the males."
Once they got to the plot, Bernie explained the procedure for sexing the plants. "Very often, when the plants are between six and twelve inches tall, they will develop a single, tiny flower, and that flower will tell us the sex of the plant. These undeveloped flowers are hidden in the top whorl of leaves, or near them. We'll have to search amid the foliage to find the flowers, then we'll have to determine their sex. The male is sort of football shaped and had what looks to be overlapping green pedals--sepals actually. The female flower lacks the overlapping sepals and had two tiny hairs protruding from it." Bernie drew enlarged sketches of the two types of flowers on the back of an envelope. "At the early stages the female flower looks rather like the male flower, so you've got to be careful not to make a mistake and inadvertently pull out a female plant. Once a plant is definitely identified as being female, we'll mark it with a strip of camouflage cloth tied loosely around the base. Male plants we'll cut down. The ones with indeterminate flowers we'll mark with a piece of paper, then check it again in a few days. If we miss that initial flowering, we may have to wait months before we can determine the plant's sex, and all that time the unsexed plants will be taking up space and nutrients that should be going to the female plants. Now let's see what we can find."
Although the process seemed to be simple and straight forward in theory, Jake found that, in practice, it wasn't easy to make sex determinations, even with the aid of Bernie's fancy magnifying glass. Each individual plant had to be carefully examined, and on that first afternoon they determined that five plants were definitely female, two were definitely male, two had flowers whose sex was not yet obvious, and the rest had not yet developed any sexual indicators. Bernie, however, was satisfied with their progress.
Even after Bernie's careful coaching, Jake was able to identify only the blatantly female plants. He couldn't differentiate between the male plants and the indeterminately flowered ones.
"All it takes is a bit of practice," Bernie assured him.
With more than a hundred plants already in the plot, Jake would get plenty of practice before the season would be over.
Bernie said that he would return the following week, but Jake would have to check the undevelopedly flowered plants every few days for evidence of sex. Jake, however, was not confident of his ability to accurately make the determination.
"What if this single-flower stage passes, and I don't figure out what sex the plant is?" he asked. "Doesn't that mean that we've got to let the plant sit for months?"
"Not necessarily. We need only a couple of female plants per planter. As long as we get those plants, and as long as they are vigorous, then we can chop down all the others. In fact, if weather conditions are favorable, we could end up with two thirds or three quarters or more of the plants being female. We'll have to chop down some of the female plants anyway, so that we don't stunt the ones we want to keep. The thing is to make sure that you don't get any male plants. Sinsemilla--no seeds, that's what we're growing." ...
... Bernie and Mrs. McCormick were in the study where a small space over the fireplace existed amid the male clutter: a desk piled with hunting magazines, boxes of steelhead flies, a set of brass block planes, and various pipe-smoker's paraphernalia; a gun cabinet housing both expensive collectors items and utilitarian armaments which gathered an additional patina of dents and dings each year from being battered about in pickup trucks, duck blinds, and hunting cabins--the guns being welled oiled in return for their service; a large color television set with a VCR and a collection of cassettes of football highlights form the previous year's playoffs.
Bernie was studying the mantled space and had not noticed Jake's extended absence. Bernie was smiling because he knew the perfect filler for that space. "What I'll do is loan you a piece that I think is appropriate for the spot," Bernie said to Mrs. McCormick. "Hang it for a month and if you don't like it, I'll take it back. If you want it, it'll be yours for ... twelve hundred dollars."
Mrs. McCormick was noncommittal.
Bernie sought to sweeten the pot. "Except for the pool space, I'll loan you the items that I think are appropriate for your spaces--you mentioned artwork for some of the cabins--and I can give you a package discount of ten percent."
"A month's loan with no obligations?"
"No obligations and a ten percent discount on anything you buy," Bernie confirmed.
Mrs. McCormick nodded her head in acknowledgement. This was not the way that art sales were normally conducted, of course, but Bernie Vega's success came from not using the the usual methods. They then adjourned to a nearby couch to examine the portfolio and art catalogs to find something for the pool area. Mrs. McCormick went through the cataloged artwork slowly, occasionally pausing for a longer view of one image or another, but nothing seized her imagination. Then she opened Dick Merrimack's portfolio. The first image was that of an otter gliding down the face of an about-to-break wave. It was one of Merrimack's most successful images--one that was carried around the world in the form of post cards mailed from various Central Coast post offices. Posters bearing that image were available at most tourist trap enterprises along the coast, but the original print was not for sale. Merrimack had long had this image in his mind, but it took him six months of intense otter-watching to capture it on film. He kept the original for himself. It was his retirement fund, he said.
Seascapes mostly followed, and Mrs. McCormick found several that were to her liking, but none were large enough to fill the space above the pool; Merrimack's largest prints were twenty- four by thirty. Mrs. McCormick continued through the loose leaf book, then suddenly stopped. In her lap a was an image of waterfall descending down a rocky, forested chasm into a large pool. A pensive-looking woman sat on a rock on the right side. The view was something which would have been prized by the Hudson River School. Mrs. McCormick read the notes below the proof: "One of one, 24" X 36" image size, 32" X 44" mat."
Salmon Creek Falls
"Too small, too small," she muttered, then an idea struck her, "Could we have Mr. Merrimack make a larger print, a huge one, five or six feet across?"
Bernie had to explain that Merrimack destroyed the negative once he made a satisfactory print. Merrimack's work was one-of-a-kind photography.
"If only we could fill the whole wall with this, wouldn't that be marvelous?" Mrs. McCormick said with genuine enthusiasm.
Bernie glanced at the wall in question. "Maybe a five foot by seven foot image with a twelve inch mat all around?" he inquired.
Mrs. McCormick glanced at the portfolio, then at the wall, letting her imagination make the transposition. "Yes, yes," she said softly.
"It might be possible. Expensive, but possible," Bernie said.
"But if the negative has been destroyed?"
"It couldn't be a photographic print. You'd have to buy the original print, then use that to make an enlargement. There is a company in L.A. that can do that with computers, scanners, and specialized printers. The printer uses a spray of colored pigmented inks to reproduce the image that the computer scans and records as data. It is rather similar to a photograph in a magazine--National Geographic, for example. If you look at those images under a magnifying glass, you'll see that they are composed of tiny colored dots. The process is called giclee. The L.A. machine is amazingly accurate and true to the original, but it would be quite expensive for something of the size that you would need."
"How expensive is expensive?"
"Perhaps two thousand dollars, maybe ten thousand, I don't know. I haven't done anything of this kind before, I just know that the equipment exists. You'd also need the photographer's permission to copy the work, but I think that could be arranged if you bought the original print."
"Twelve hundred dollars for the original print, thousands for the print enlargement, something on the order of as much as ten thousand dollars?"
"That's not an unreasonable guess for a giclee of that size," Bernie confessed.
Mrs. McCormick glanced at the wall. "Do it." There was the briefest moment of stunned silence, then Bernie nonchalantly said, "Okay, that takes care of this building, what about the cabins?"
As they traipsed off to view the cabins, Mrs. McCormick explained that, although each one was different, each had a stone fireplace with a wood beam mantle over which she wanted to hang an appropriate piece of art.
"I should warn you," Mrs. McCormick said, "the cabins were built by Elmer Snow."
"Ah, that could make art selections complicated," Bernie said.
Elmer Snow was one of a handful of eccentric, self-taught carpenters who gave California its architectural reputation for weirdness, at least to people in places like, say, Portland, Maine.
The first cabin, however, looked quite normal ... at first glance. Juan Hunter's cabin was a redwood sided cube of about twenty feet on a side. It was set in a small clearing above the main house. What one didn't first notice was the fact that it had an inverted and irregular hip roof. There was a steel column inside which appeared to hold up this structure, but it was in fact the collection tube for the funnel roof. Rainwater was collected from the roof and subsequently diverted through the building to a nearby water tank. The cabin had been constructed during a drought year, and what appeared to be California eccentricity was actually a utilitarian feature. Except for the roof, the building was conventional. The front door was offset from the center and flanked by a square window on one side and a rectangular window on the other side. The smaller window illuminated the kitchen/dining room area, while the larger one lit what would have been the living room area had the building not been occupied by a working scientist. A large and amply cluttered table stood before the window. This table held a microscope, dissecting scope, a variety of test tube racks, sample jars, and miscellaneous equipment. What space was not occupied by these objects was given over to a paper blizzard consisting of notebooks, newspapers, magazines, and scraps of ephemeral textural effluvia. This chaos continued around the corner and filled chairs, piled up boxes, and all available floor space. There was a Macintosh computer in the room, but it was buried under the paper. In the alcove to the left of the fireplace was the bedroom. This was an oasis of order in a desert of chaos. The fireplace itself was made of conventional rubble masonry and features a hand-hewn beam mantle. It had not been used for some time and a wad of discarded paper awaited a match there.
"A somber spot, don't you think?" Mrs. McCormick gestures at the blank space above the fireplace.
"Hmmm." Bernie pondered. ...
... Gradually the beach began to fill up with people. There seemed to be some sort of metamorphosical shift at sunset, and the arrivals thereafter sported exotic costumes. One lady wore a light leotard of mermaid scales which left her naked from the naval northward. Someone of unknown sex clanked down the beach in a suit of armor. One tall man wore a huge pumpkin on his head, and from the orange globe tendrils of bull kelp emerged from all sides; it was a sort of vegetative octopus monster. There were, of course, the expected group of pointy-eared Vulcans, but they were upstaged by the alien fellow with the Jacob's ladder helmet and the bands of neon-lit tubing running around his chest. Whatever he used for a power pack was subtle because it wasn't in evidence. Harem girls seemed to compete for the scantiness of costume, however only one of these was near the genuine article: Barbara Booth wore zils (brass finger cymbals) on her fingers and could ripple her flesh to whatever rhythm her fingers clattered.
The crowd milled about in the quadrant formed by the band, the bud table, the beer coolers, and the cooking fires. Slowly the majority migrated towards the fires where Martha, Pablo, and their assistants were producing aromatic enticements of a gastronomic nature.
Jake made himself useful by helping to set up the buffet tables near the cooking area. While doing this, Jake noticed the mermaid was dancing alone at the edge of the surf. Slowly the ocean claimed some of her lower scales, but she didn't notice this shedding as she swayed in syncopation to the beat of the wet drum. Dick Merrimack took several shots of her with the small, discrete camera he carried. The camera was loaded with high-speed black and white film, and he knew that the mermaid, Dee Dee Blakley, did not mind being photographed. His professional dedication soon succumbed to the sea-creature's enticements, however, and he joined her in her surf-lapped gavot. A short while later they were joined by Matt Baxter and Terry McDougal, and it was Matt and the mermaid who danced together.
As the crowd swelled, so did the variety of foods. Although pot luck offerings were not required, they continued to pile up on the buffet table. Perhaps these items were from Garrison Keillor fans who couldn't quite bring themselves to bring a tuna hot dish. Bowls of salads, platters of hors d' oeuvres, pansful of various Mexican-styled dishes, and a variety of deserts appeared. These were minor attractions, however. The main events were the fish and the pig. Jake, assisted by Barbara Booth, stacked piles of picnic supplies onto the table. While they were in the middle of doing this, the music stopped, there was a moment of silence, than there was a tremendous drum roll. A tall, thin woman with red hair stood at the microphone. She was dressed in a pure white gown and carried a magic wand in her hand. Jake was struck with a bolt of deja vu. Transfixed, he stared at the woman. He had the strong feeling that they were somehow friends, yet he knew she was a stranger. He did not recognize her, he did not know her, and yet ... and yet ...
"Good evening, friends, I have two announcements to make. First, Mark Baxter, cowboy extrodinaire, will demonstrate his one-handed rolling technique at the bud table. Secondly, Martha Cuik and Pablo Evans will soon be ready to serve up their vittles. Courtesy of the Hearst Corporation, we have barbecued pork ..." The speaker was interrupted by applause, laughter, and general approbation. "And for the seafood lovers among us, there are a variety of fish caught by a variety of fishermen. So let's have Matt roll us a fat one and then we'll get something to eat." These announcements were met with raucous approval.
Jake, however, did not join in with that approbation. "I know that voice," he muttered. "I've heard that voice somewhere."
It began to coalesce when Barbara Booth nudged him. "That Veronica, she's some woman ain't she? I heard that in the 70's she used her mary jane money to pay for a Psychology PhD at Stanford. Smart move, hugh? But, hey, if you've never seen Mark roll a joint with one hand, you've missed something of a wonder in the dexterity department. Let's go watch him."
As they watched Mark turn a palm-full of marijuana and a piece of cigarette paper into a finished product, Jake noticed that beside the microphone stand Bernie was engaged in what appeared to be an intense conversation with the red-haired woman. Jake only half listened to Mark explain that he had learned his trick from an ambidextrous fellow from Humboldt County who rolled joints with both hands. It had been the Humboldt fellow's bar trick: he'd roll for anyone who would provide the mak'ins, but for each demonstration, he'd keep one of the joints. By evening's end, he'd have pockets full of joints. The double-handed fellow ended up with more marijuana at the end of the season than some people who grew it.
"Ah, no long-handled shovel work, no rat patrols, no endless hours of manicuring, no not for Wild Jack Dice. Not him. People gave him marijuana, and all he had to do was roll it. He could do it for hours, and there'd always be someone who'd be fascinated by his dexterity. They kept feeding Wild Jack a steady supply," Mark explained. "Hell, I shoved a quarter of a pound at him myself one evening. Fascinating. I watched his fingers roll joint after joint. Wild Jack thought that he had a pigeon, but I memorized his fingers. Of course, I just watched his right hand, so I can only duplicate the feat with one hand."
When Jake turned his attention from Mark to the microphone area, Bernie and the red-haired woman were nowhere to be seen. By now, however, there was a general movement towards the food, and Jake too succumbed to the enticing aromas emanating from the cooking area. While standing in line for a paper plate, Jake received a joint from the person before him; he took a toke and passed to the person behind. It turned out to be Bernie.
"Thanks," Bernie said as he took his toke and passes the joint down the line. "Say, have you seen Matt? Is he okay?"
"I saw him dancing with a mermaid in the surf. He sure seemed rattled by that biker fellow."
"Yeah, a bit of Viet Nam flashback. Guns, Biker Bill sure carries a big one, doesn't he? It set Matt off for a second, but not bad. After Viet Nam he was really messed up. Paranoid, the whole trip. Matt didn't trust anyone, had a hair-trigger, and got into a lot of fights. He had a paranoid's collection of guns himself. He almost went over the edge and was going to shoot up Cambria. He's a lot better now, a lot calmer, but I've still got his Uzi hidden away where he can't find it."
"Ah," Jake said.
Another joint came down the line, but this time Jake declined, sending it on to Bernie, who indulged. He, Jake, was already quite high. They were getting to the head of the line where they discovered that the paper plates turned out to be more like paper platters. This was appropriate because there was a large variety of foods to be sampled. The various cooks encouraged people to try samples of their offerings. There was even one lady who preaching the virtues of salad vegetables. It was Sharon, Charlie McGivney's jade-carving former consort. Whether because of hunger or exhortation is not known, but everyone ended up with platters piled high with enticing food.
Jake found himself sitting on a log with the Booth family.
"Daddy's on a nostalgia kick," Barbara said. "He was at these sort of things in the 60's and now he's having a second childhood."
"Pay no attention to this raving daughter. She's obviously suffering from marijuana psychosis," Dr. Booth countered, slipping each word past the lit reefer between his lips. Bernie joined them, then Dick Merrimack sat on the end of the log. Somehow he ended up balancing a mermaid on one knee and a platter of food on the other, and it looked like he was having a hard time deciding which was more delectable.
The band played on, but their energy level had been ratcheted down a few notches. This was mainly due to the fact that several of the members were playing with one hand and eating with the other.
Attention to the food was becoming all-pervasive, and eventually even the cooks were able to join the foray. Martha and Pablo were embroiled in an intense discussion of the virtues of mushrooms--Martha staking out the position that their effect was mostly textural and Pablo arguing for the importance of their subtle flavors--all while splurging on each other's cooking with gusto.
After an hour, the food platter piles began to deminish and the band began to crank up. The fish was mostly gone, the pig was reduced to bones, and the desert courses were dwindling rapidly. The bud smorgasbord was well-sampled, but the beer supply requirements had perhaps ... perhaps been over estimated. An ample stockpile remained.
"We chilled all this stuff," Mark Baxter said, "and it would be a shame to let it fall victim to entropy." Unlike Bernie, Mark was an advocate of ice-cold beer. He took a pair of platters, piled them full with cans, and handed one to Jake.
"You circulate north, and I'll circulate south. I'm sure that we'll find thirsty people," he instructed.
By now the party had broken up into knots of milling people, some talking, some dancing. Jake took his platter full of beer cans and bottles and approached the first group of people.
"Beer?" Jake asked.
"Thanks, Jake ... and as I was saying, it started as a nightmare. There I was lying flat on my back, lashed spread-eagle at the bottom of a cage. The cage was made of some sort of long metallic strips, encircling a diameter of something like a dozen feet. It looked to be twenty or thirty feet tall. There was a solid band at the top holding the slats together. Although they, the slats, were thin, I had the feeling that I couldn't bend them apart, or even move them. They had the look of absolute rigidity. It was a moot point, however, because my wrists and ankles were bound to the soft, elastic floor beneath me. This floor seemed to be attached to each slat, but not at the bottom. It seemed to be suspended. It's stretchability was such that I could raise my arms up to a forty-five degree angle. Any movement made the floor ripple. Beyond the cage I could see nothing but smooth white sand extending to an unknowingly distant horizon where began an intensely blue sky. It was hot, almost uncomfortably hot, and overhead was a yellow sun of twice the size to which I was accustom.
"It was then that I knew that I was a prisoner on a strange planet. I didn't know if I had been on the loosing side, or if I was a prisoner of war. I didn't know who the enemy was. I didn't know why we were enemies. I didn't know my rank, or what I did in this war. I only knew that I was a prisoner, and that I was in the hands of something exotically evil. I knew nothing about this exotic evil. I knew nothing about my situation, except for these feelings that I had. That, plus the sensations of the rippling membrane to which I was attached was all I had for an indeterminetedly long time.
"Then I got the feeling that I was about to be tortured, but no one or anything could be seen in any direction. Perhaps I was already being tortured. Who knows what passes for torture to the alien mind?
"Then I saw the first one slowly drifting down from above, and I knew that the true torture was about to begin. The agonizingly slow descent of the torture object and the feeling of the floor membrane told me that I was on a world with an extremely low gravity. I floated on the membrane in anticipation, unable to move except for the restricted distances I mentioned. I was attached by the wrists and ankles, but by what means, I could not say. I waited as the object descended, slowly descended into the open-topped cage. It impacted a yard beyond my feet and upset the tension of the membrane. I was pitched forward to an inclining position, then drawn back deeply into the membrane. The low gravity made this all occur at a dilatory pace. Or perhaps the atmosphere had the viscosity of crystalline molasses. In any case, I lugubriously watched the object float to the top of the cage, then flutter downward again. I knew, now that I had seen it up close, that it was the perfect instrument of torture.
"In my youth there had been a cartoon strip which featured a creature called a 'Smoo' or something like that. The 'Smoo' was an armless and vaguely human form. There was nothing vague, however, about the object descending from the sky. It was not only armless, but legless and headless as well. Only roundness was at those locations. In every other way it was a very voluptuous female torso. It floated down towards me, an enormous bosom, an amplitude of derriere, a filament of waist. It grazed my leg with its hotness as it caromed off the membrane, setting off sensational tremors. It reascended to only a slightly less high altitude and yo-yoed at me again. I was bound at the wrist and ankle and could do nothing. This time it flipped upsidedown, driving its torrid cleavage deeply into my face. Its firm lushness enveloped me for an insufficient period. Only the high viscosity of the collision and the elasticity of my bounding media kept me from injury, but then, the object was not to injure me, but to torture me. By the time that I realized this, the object was arising for another attack. It was then that I noticed that there were other feminine forms descending down towards me. They were all at different altitudes. Even at those distances, I could see that they were all subtly different in shape and shading. They were a fascinating rain, and I watched until the first form again descended, this time butting me in the mouth with its soft crevasse. Before the arrival of the next object, I would twice more be buffeted by this first unhandable instrument of torture, each time with less force and increased contact.
"The second feminine form repeated the process, but this time in disharmonious syncopation with the gyrations of the first. The undulating chaos increased with the arrival of the third and then the forth form. I began to lose tack of everything except my collisions with these exquisitely hot, soft feminine forms. Helplessly bound at the wrists and ankles, I could do nothing but endure the bouncing of the ascending and descending instruments of torture.
"Entropy, even in this viscous situation, worked its will, and slowly the membrane's surface began to fill with these bumping forms. I, bound at the wrists and ankles, could do nothing except accept this constantly perturbing jostling. They were all around me with their incessant undulations. After an agonizingly long period of time, I became buried in writhing feminine forms. I would have confessed to the most heinous of crimes, betrayed any cause, done anything to be free, to not be bound by wrist and ankle, but nothing was asked of me. The torture continued.
"Then the absolute worst, most dreaded thing happened ..."
"Well?" someone asked.
"Oh, I woke up."
There was a universal chorus of groans.
"Max, you're awful"
"That's the most sexist story I've ever heard," Mary Booth complained, "a story completely without redeeming qualities."
"On the contrary," Max said, taking another beer from Jake's tray, "the nightmare did have a very positive consequence. I immediately called an acquaintance on the East Coast who is in the business of manufacturing automobile seats-- molded foam seats--and reserved time at his factory. Soon Max Shell Enterprises will be delivering Femllows, the most provocative pillow you could ever desire. I'm trying to get Dee Dee Blakley to model for the design. Femllows will come with sensuous silk-like spandex pillow cases."
"Max, you're awful," Mary repeated. "That's even more sexist than your nightmare."
"Quite to the contrary, we'll also be marketing Menllows, the greatest hunk of pillow in the world. It'll come in 'firm' and 'extra hard' for you ladies' sleeping pleasure."
Femllow design used as a garden fertility sculpture.
Jake took his platter of beer and moved on to the next knot of people. "Beer? Beer, anyone?"
"Yeah. I'll have one of those."
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