Monday, May 27, 2002

DRIVING LESSONS


DRIVING LESSONS                                                              

West county back roads 45 minutes from anywhere gives you time to think.
Behind the wheel since I was 13, w/o a license, pedal to the metal, swinging my rear end
around curves with a permit for black ice & road rash, it goes with the territory.
I get some real writing done on back roads. A friend kept driving cross-country,
it was the only way she could write novels. Gas was cheaper than rent.
Busted by the CHP at 17, it was a matter of pride to see how far I could get w/o a license.

Before that, it was the horses I was addicted to at an early age.
Never did learn to ride a bike but my quarter horse, she was fast,
a Three Bars mare, from a long line of Preakness and Derby winners.
She was the fastest animal on four legs except maybe a cheetah,
not many cheetahs in west Marin, it’s a veldt thing.

Once I saw a servil in a dumpster—escaped from a wildlife preserve.
Poor thing was declawed and defanged, and surviving on garbage.
I thought I was having a flashback on account of being up so early.
But it was sitting on that garbage heap with tufted ears the size of a jackals’
like an Egyptian god greeting the dawn, thin and long as a journey.
That’s how I knew it wasn’t a bobcat mutating in the imagination.
For starters, it didn’t have spots. I’ve seen bobcats and mountain lions a plenty.
I kept looking around to see if I was on Candid Camera or Publisher’s Clearing House,
or something like that. Not likely living out in the sticks.

Big cats. One time I saw a lion drag a deer across old man Schivo’s meadow.
The doe outweighed me, with only a barb-wire fence and a walnut orchard between us. . .
And a black catamount used to patrol the ridge. Terrified, we thought it was a jaguar.
Just melanistic. Someone shot it, I guess. We watched a cougar drag cubs to a new den
on Mt. Barnabee. Never could get the binoculars to work, a big hairy eye in the middle.
The servil made Eye Witness News. Guess I was the last one to see it alive, poor thing.
Seems like I’m always catching the tail end of things, as if I was born stradding eras.

Coming home from grade school, we had the afternoon session
on account of Lagunitas School being so crowded and all—
There were no other little kids on my road, so the bus dropped me off on the highway
at the bottom of the hill. I had to walk that mile fast to make it home before dark
as it was mid-winter. Up the canyon, under the canopy of trees,
fallen trunks glowed with a ghostly phosphorescent in the leaf mold—
I told Billy Joe—he was in high school. I told him they were silver snakes or fairy paths.

Anyway, as I was saying, my horse was the fastest in the valley at the quarter-mile.
Fast as my math teacher, Archie Williams who shook Hitler’s hand at the Olympics.
We used to race along the old railroad bed that ran through Taylor Park
and slalom through ravines so fast, no one could catch us, not the ranchers,
or even a cheetah, not that there were cheetahs in west Marin.
Once a cougar leaped in front of Mr. Lindsey’s palomino, Lady, she did the splits
never having seen a lion before; it’s not exactly something you can train for.
Our ponies were Sherman tanks, no fire road or gate was safe from us.
I used to win armloads of blue ribbons and cheesy trophies on Gymkhana Day.
I always took the dollar race, the bill clamped nicely between thigh and horse.
I come from a long line of horse whisperers. It’s in the family. So’s wanderlust.
My great-grandfather had a brute of a red mare—red as Peig’s hair.
She (the horse) was sweet as could be to him and he did well by her at the races.
But she reared up and took a chunk out of my granny’s arm for no reason at all—
that’s why she’s so afraid of horses. But I’m getting off track.

My truck is older than most of the kids I go to school with.
I call it Blue Lazarus because it just keeps on truckin’.
The odometer is approaching the 300,000 mile marker,
most of those miles spent between Bolinas and Fort Bragg.
I’m thinking of throwing a party for it, now that it’s old enough to drink.
My uncle used to have us kids breathe into the breathalyzer lock
attached to his ignition so he could start the car.
A proper drunk knows all the back roads home.

When I was 18, my dad—he was an ex cop—looked me up to see how I turned out.
He let me drive his sports car and here I was, heel-toeing the gas & brake
double-clutching, double shifting the curves down Highway One.
He wanted to know who taught me to drive. Boyfriend? No.
Said, that’s the way he drove the race car. In the blood, I guess.
Remember when personalized license plates came in in the ‘70s? when Nixon got impeached?
I was driving over Waldo Grade and the car in front of me said “FCK NXN”
and so I decided to customize my mthers’s license plate. She had this old Rambler
that said 456 SEK; well, with a little paint, I modified the K into an X
and she got great mileage out of it—until the cops pullede her over and said it was stolen.
She said the cop who took down the plate, he shaking his head.
Couldn’t believe that one got by the censor board. I don’t think he wanted to bust her
but the car got impounded. She said it was junk anyway. She was pretty cool. You know, turned on?

It really bugs me the way people drive in this city, they’re always lost
head up their ass in a nicotine cloud, brain dead, or worse—on their cell phones,
always picking their noses and generally wasting time lollygagging.
I’m stuck half-way between gears like a buggery turd, lugging it.
All this open road going to waste and they’re guarding their lanes
like jealous dogs worrying a bone, not about to let anyone else take up the slack.
One time I crammed the gear shift to get around some cow hogging the road,
and it just came off in my hand. I was in third gear, a steep grade ahead,
I’m holding the stick shift like a cattle prod, wondering what the fuck to do next,
and the whanker ahead of me, oblivious to the world, was prospecting
his nostrils like he just struck a rich vein in the Sierra Madre.

People tell me to slow down. Stress kills. They equate it with speed.
I consider it a dance. Following some whank stresses me out.
I grew up on roads with dangerous curves, it was a matter of pride
to see how fast we could take Dead Man’s Curve or White’s Hill.
Fast women in loose cars, we out-raced the cops on Lucas Valley Road
trimming curves like a seamstress shortening the distance between two points.

It comes down to this: some are born to burn up the miles, living
in the fast lane, others hug the slow lane, afraid of commitment.
Like the man I’m currently involved with, or not involved with,
depending on who’s asking. He’s so afraid of love, he straddles
the white shoulder line as if his sanity depended upon it.

I once had a boyfriend who spent a lot of time on the road
and I kept finding these dirty rolled up socks in the van.
I couldn’t figure out why they were falling out of the laundry basket
and then he finally spilled the truth, he was whacking off on the road.
Should’ve seen the writing on the wall: when sex goes, it’s a matter of time.
Bases loaded and the fat lady singing. Only I couldn’t make out the words.
Hey, you got a license for that thing? That I was the one with the seven-year-itch
is beside the point. Back when we were dharma bumming it on the road,
I used to come down on him on those long empty highways.
It was a matter of pride to see how far we could go.

My neighbor George, this cat, he really was a dharma bum.
I can’t remember his name in the book. Something like Jep,
but that was Gary Snyder’s literary name. You know, Kerouac?
Anyway he and Janis, yes, THAT Janis, were in the back seat balling.
What a word, that really dates me, doesn’t it? He was just in it for the drugs.
When we used to walk home from school she’d be waking up—
Big Brother and the Holding Company took over Barbano’s summer camp
after old man Barbano shot himself. I saw them take him away.
Seems he couldn’t bear to live after his daughter was murdered.
It was in all the magazines and newspapers. But we were the last to know.

Janis was burning the candle pretty hot at both ends by then
and she’d get up around 4 PM and crank up the amps.
We’d hear her crooning to herself between sips of Southern Comfort.
Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. . .
My best friend was a groupie and we used to score from the musicians.
But my horse would throw a tizzy every time we rode past Jefferson Starship’s place.
They had this toy twin prop biplane in the oak tree that spun like a hornet.
You know, the one on the album cover? Rock musicians moved to the valley en masse.
We were outside civilization—the suburbs and the city were far away.

One day my little cousin wandered into Jerry Garcia’s house on Resaca Ave.
to play doctor, and she took all the pills in the medicine cabinet.
God only knows what was in his cabinet. He sure as hell didn’t.
We had to get her stomach pumped. Jerry never really left the valley.
He died trying to kick the habit at the Gregg’s old summer camp.
Linda Gregg became a poet, her old man challenged Jack Gilbert’s manhood
and handed him a chainsaw; Jack climbed the Doug fir, the tree snapped his back.
She drove that wheelchair of his as far away as she could from that valley.

Sweet old Bob, you know, the guy who had a thing for his socks?
Yeah him & my cat! He used to drag me to all these Beat readings in the City.
I heard this cat Gary Snyder’s poem about my valley and said: I can do that!
I didn’t know I was in for a life sentence. I took up writing, but the SOB
said I needed a poetic license, then wondered why I ran off with the poet
who said some pretty fast words in my slow lane. It was an easy conquest:
four on the floor, we tailgated on soft shoulders and dangerous curves.
I yielded to oncoming traffic. I let him look under my hood, but the poet
got cold feet at the bridge. Here I was, knocked up, and no place to go. . .
So I slept in the back seat of a VW bug in Safeway parking lots—made me feel safe.
The words, they just kept coming down the line. I never thought to look back.


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