Come, hear Uncle John's band
Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, "Uncle John's Band," Workingman's Dead, 1970
Cedar and Annie repaired to home base after dinner to collect the supplies they might need for the evening trinkets to barter with, such as banknotes and pre-rolled joints; Zig-zags and fixings, in an air-tight tobacco tin, in case more were needed; and extra layers of clothing for that inevitable time when the moon was high, the blood sugar was low, the breeze was off the ocean and the mercury sank below sixty. Besides, the woolen shawl with the tasteful purple and green was absolutely de rigeur and the Levi jacket was tamed to a pride of pale blue glory. With an ankle bracelet here and a set of silver rings there, wooden beads and copper bangles, oh yes, they were set to strut.
"What do you wanna do about that acid?" asked Cedar. It was, if you wanted to be picky, his in that he had originally scored and paid for it, but their understanding was that all perishables were held in common and it evidently qualified.
"You got it?" she stalled.
He pulled out the little cotton bag of valuables that he kept hanging from his neck, tucked under his shirt. "Passport, travelers checks, large-denomination unmarked used bills, recreational drugs ... here we are ... all the essentials in one handy container." He struggled with the foil wrap and extracted a little wad of scotch tape, pressed into which were about three dozen microdots. "Probably shouldn't have kept it here. Oh well."
"We could trade it, I suppose," Annie offered tentatively.
"Eee. I dunno," prevaricated Cedar, who had strong feelings about the honesty required to live outside the law, "I feel bad enough about that shit we scored with it yesterday, day before, whenever."
"Well," she suggested practically, "Do you want to take some?"
"I don't think so."
"I might," she said. "Why don't I hang onto it?"
He tossed it over with a grin and she dropped it of course but stowed it away with her own vital papers and girded her loins for the journey.
A flashlight would have been useful, as they discovered within moments of departure. Of course, one small enough to fit discreetly in a pocket would have been about as helpful as a white cane, while a beacon of the Great White Hunter variety might raise disturbing thoughts among those they were likely to meet, many of whom would probably see it as flashing into red and blue and whining like a siren. Hup, two, three, four, shape up, fly right. Retinas would collapse, untold bits of stash would fly into the sand from suddenly paranoid fingertips, once-friendly heads would scatter from their path. No, forget it. There are times when the virtues of efficiency are much over-rated.
"Where's the moon?" Annie complained.
"It's coming," explained the scientist. "It's just behind the palms."
"Well, tell it to hurry up," quibbled the modern consumer.
"Alright, already." Cedar paused and turned to face approximately East, forefinger raised like Charlton Heston reminding the Almighty not to neglect his heavenly duties. "Oi, moon! Hands off cocks, hands on socks!"
"No, no, careful," remonstrated Annie, suddenly post-modern in her pre-patriarchal sensibility. "She'll get offended. There, there, nice moon, don't mind him. He's seen too many World War II movies."
"Legs off lovers, covers off beds."
Cedar thought it sounded like one of those lines Ronnie Reagan might have had in one his wartime B-grade features, 'Bedtime with Hellcats of the Navy,' perhaps.
"She's a good moon," continued Annie, wisely ignoring the distraction. "She just wants to make an entrance."
Cedar took this in, sensibly refrained from personal comments like 'You'd know, wouldn't you' and jumped to the nub of the matter:
"I thought you knew the way, or possibly vice versa."
"I didn't actually cross the river," Annie explained seriously, "But I saw the trail and Juanita remember you met her at Sigi's? talked about it. We're OK on the beach, to the end, then we follow the river back up to the ford at the end of the road. It's not high tide, is it?"
"No, it's going down. It was high before sunset. Come to think of it, so was I."
"Me too, a bit. So anyway, we go across the river..."
"And into the trees?"
"... and take the path to the left, towards the ocean. Hey, gimme a little space. Let me finish."
"OK. It's pretty easy. It looks like it just goes all the way. It's only the next beach, you know. I heard ten minutes."
"Lead on, McDuff."
"Look, she's coming."
The palms were edged with silver. The eastern stars were beginning to fade. The sky over the ocean looked blacker by the minute.
"See," he chortled. "It works."
"Damn straight. Told her to get her act together and look at her now. There she is, bang on schedule. I got her number."
"She'd have been there anyway."
"See. It's scientific. Cause and effect."
"Bullshit. There's a name for it. It's a fallacy."
"Post hoc, ergo propter hoc."
"Oh, sure. Who's that?"
"That's Latin, that is. After this means because of this, something like that."
"When it could be the other way round. Like, because the moon was about to rise, you raised your hand in the air."
"Or it could have nothing to do with it."
"Or maybe it just feels good to point at the palm tree."
"Maybe the palm tree controls us both, me and the moon."
"Now you're talking."
Ten minutes may have been the scheduled flight time for a world-class athlete in training. It might even have been a reasonable estimate for a moderately active grandmother with a couple of healthy puppies to walk. It was completely unrealistic for a pair of freaks suffering from self-inflicted handicaps.
For a start, their concept of temporal perception was not a little distorted. Serious dopers may live shorter lives in the perception of those aliens who control the surrounding culture; but they often live much longer ones within their own reality, operating as they do outside of the general consensus about clocks. This they share with poets and runners and lovers and others of genius. It doesn't do a lot for increasing GDP but then no one in an extra-temporal state really cares much about the opinions of those who are handcuffed by their wrist-watches. He that is without time among you, let him first blast the stoners.
Happily handicapped, then, by an inability to see why they should bother to estimate the duration of approximately two-thousandths of one percent of a year it was not that they couldn't, as Kesey once proved by surreptitiously taking his own pulse in the middle of an acid rush, thereby astounding a scientist with the accuracy of his own supposedly subjective estimate of the passage of one minute; rather it was that they didn't give a flying fuck but harshly hobbled by a couple of decades of brainwashing that insisted that they really [sic] ought to bother about it, they staggered off the end of the sand and skirted the last houses of the settlement, tiptoeing up by the interface between earth and water, near the indefinable merging of stream and ocean, creeping along the riverbank with glacial slowness, in the eyes of a Goan beholder not yet deeply involved in the evening's consumption of rakshi (call it moonshine or white lightning and you won't be far wrong; the alcoholic Europeans held sway there for long enough, surrounded by ganja-puffing Hindus and visited by Muslims with their exquisite sense of sin) but in no way surprised or even disappointed to observe that someone had the jump on him and he had better get going if he wanted to catch up and what else was a good Christian holiday for anyway; or with a prudent sense of caution, in the eyes of those whose thonged feet with their exposed toes were all too likely to encounter and indeed lose an argument with one of the inconvenient and downright unpredictable rocks that now seemed to be littering the landscape; and certainly with minds swirling and circling around these and other matters, vital and trivial, distracted by a mild lack of predictability in the sensory input impulse power, Mr Sulu, Scotty thinks the instruments may be unreliable but firmly committed to progress and the Admiral's instructions to explore the universe and record its mysteries, which reverberated in their skulls as they approached the asphalt of the highway south where it ended at the ford, the last familiar landmark before the dragon-infested wasteland of terra (more immediately, in point of mundane fact, aqua) incognita.
Cloaking each other in the courage of shame who? me? chicken? and grasping their trouserlegs firmly with both hands, they plunged into the icy torrent. Well ... they stepped into water. Knee-high, warm as the cooling air, and heading down and out to the ocean. Under such pleasant circumstances, fantasies of hardship, of Hannibal or Jungle Jim, became hard to maintain.
They almost strode the dozen yards to the opposite shore.
Fortified by this bracing success, they embarked upon the trail to the left. As the moon rose out of the trees, they could begin to rely on instinct to avert their stumbles, and to notice the monochromatic splendor of their surroundings. Mr Disney himself could not have sketched a more ideal model for a rocky path by the ocean. Each boulder had been placed with care, each tiny, salt-flecked shrub had passed the scrutiny of that amazing central casting that only exists in an animator's skull.
The overpowering acrylic light of noon would present a different image, but the subtle wash of the early moon turned every temporary panorama into a fantasy of serenity. Not servile and yielding like a down pillow that retreats and shapes itself to the human form, or a geisha coddling her john, each vista was filled with power, with the tensile, muscular beauty of a runner warming up for her race, abrasive enough to bite the soles of your feet if you failed to pay the proper respect, and calm with the certitude of permanence.
The shadows on the right grew darker; the white horses ambled on the top of the waves. The lights of Baga disappeared behind a tiny cliff. For an exquisite moment, they stood, wide-eyed innocents in thrall to the evening, holding hands in front of the rocks and the limitless sea.
The soundtrack was breathing and heartbeats, waves and wind, the occasional pebble scurrying out of the way. And then there appeared a distortion, a coloring to the undertones, faint at first, bobbling up and down around the threshold of earshot like a minor hallucination.
Could that be an electric guitar?
She looked at him for a quick reality check. No words were needed. He looked back. They hurried on another twenty yards, to the corner of another minor promontory, and stopped to listen.
That's a snare drum. Coming from around the next headland.
They savored the moment and tiptoed forward, as though intruding might make it disappear. No, it grew steadily stronger. The trail narrowed briefly and she took the lead, striding to the corner and stopping so suddenly he bumped into her and was about to object when he saw what had frozen her.
"It's a concert," she gasped.
"It's a whole fucking stage," he added unnecessarily.
"Maybe Klaus isn't so crazy after all."
"That's not the Who's stack." Oh fiddle-dee-facts, Bernstein, lighten up.
"But maybe it's part of it." There, there.
Another entire beach lay out in front of them, stretching for miles into the distance, pure and white in the moonlight, but neither of them paid much attention to it. For, at the near end, at the edge of the sand, there was a sound stage and a pair of stacks of amps and speakers, and a band bathed in electric lights playing rock 'n' roll to an audience of hundreds, surrounded by twinkling candles.
Cedar began to laugh. Dumbfounded, he giggled and jumped up and down and clapped his hands.
"It's true! " he exulted. "It's a stoned beach party."
"Frankie Avalon gets weird," tried Annie, who always felt she had missed out on something because she was a California kid who had never been to a beach party before she was a senior in high school; Turlock had always made her feel underprivileged.
"Right! And Annette Vermicelli."
"Funicello." They did, however, have TV in the Central Valley, and movie theaters too.
"Funicular, whatever. C'mon."
"It's a convention," suggested Annie.
"Say what?" laughed Cedar. "You mean like Republocrats and Demicans?"
"Yeah!" she laughed back. "Right. A bunch of people who all agree with each other getting together, that's a convention, right?"
"Weirdest bunch of politicians I ever saw," Cedar muttered darkly.
"My kind of politics," Annie insisted. "Let's go."