ON THE ROAD TO RENO or HIT THE ROAD, JACK!
In mid June, my life made an abrupt
180-degree turn and would never be the same again. Simma came back from the shop one day to say that a young
woman, Carol, had come by to look at the batik show there. She had fallen for one of my landscapes and
had asked if we could arrange a trade in payment for the piece which, she said,
reminded her of her native Kansas. I
was open to that and met her at the shop the next day. She was an attractive, slender, blond
woman, probably ten years younger than I was, who was an artist. She had just applied to join the Peace
Corps and was waiting for her assignment to come through. We made a deal in which she would paint the
windows of the shop with a bead design in exchange for the batik painting. It was a way for me to repay Simma a little
for all her support. Carol seemed
rather mysterious, elusive even evasive and I was definitely intrigued by
her. Besides, she was the first
attractive artist I'd met in years.
Two weeks later, she would be my wife.
I'd seen movies and read books about
runaway romances or about people who had gotten drunk and had woken up married
to a complete stranger. My own parents
had actually gotten married very precipitously, just five days after they had
met. But that had been during wartime
when strange things happened and were actually sanctioned during times of
emergency. To this day, I'm not quite
clear why Carol and I got married so suddenly.
We knew next to nothing about
one another. She came from Wichita,
had recently qualified as a schoolteacher and wanted to be a painter. Carol had a twin brother Bob and three
other younger brothers and, she disclosed, had been married before but had never
consummated that marriage. At the age
of thirteen, she had had an illegitimate son who had been placed for adoption
and whom she had never known. She
seemed to shy away from many of my personal questions but that only added to
her mystique. It made an affair with
her even more of a challenge. And I
was ripe to fall in love again after such a long period of celibacy and
frustrations. We'd actually only had a
few dates together and barely consummated our relationship before getting
married. I remember that we went to a
local Rainbow Gathering in the mountains nearby where a bunch of local hippies
were meeting to commune with nature and to get high and sing songs around the
fire together at night. Carol amazed
me by casually slipping into the circle and singing a beautiful blues song
accompanying herself on a borrowed guitar.
That night, we slept (or more accurately in my case, lay uncomfortably)
together on a hammock we strung up between two trees. Carol continued to dodge my queries into the details of her
life, not to intrigue and lead me on, though her evasions did have that effect
on me, but because she was terrified of intimacy, I later realized. But that was much later, unfortunately,
when the damage was already done. So I
pursued Carol for a week, terrified that she would vanish as fast as she had
appeared, afraid that she would go off into the Peace Corps and that I would
never see her again. She was actually
living with some guy she had picked up hitchhiking near here when she had
driven across country in her VW Bus en route to visit an old Wichita friend who
lived in Nevada City. But she didn't
seem to have an important relationship with this guy and it seemed like she was
just having a little fling before going off to Africa or wherever as a
teacher. So we saw each other a couple
of times and went dancing together which was a tremendously bonding experience
as we discovered that we were both music lovers and mad dancers. We were both vegetarians too, which really
helped in a world of heavy meat-eaters.
Then Carol vanished for a couple of days leaving me confused and
miserable. But she reappeared to help
work at Simma's outside bead stall at a Grass Valley street market which was
great fun. That day, unnoticed by her,
I watched her slipping through the crowds.
I had a flash of great insight and empathy for her as I saw her take the
role of unconnected observer and recognized that part of me too. I too was often the watcher at a party and
could identify with that solitary position intensely. I think that it was at that moment that I felt really close to
her and resolved not to lose her.
The following day, Carol announced
that her assignment had come through and that she was to go to the Caribbean
shortly. I was shocked. That night was Simma's fortieth birthday
and Carol came over to the land. We
slept together on a bed I'd constructed outside under the oak trees and finally
consummated our affair. The next
morning, in a rather euphoric daze, I went off to the "Kitchen" to
bake as usual. That same afternoon,
two weeks to the day after we met, we drove up to Reno, Nevada which was only
an hour and a half away and were married at the Starlite Chapel there. I suppose that we were both very carried away
by our passion and that we thought that getting married was a way to make sure
that we never lost one another.
The marriage itself, which I have a
tape of, was an hilarious affair and my laughter (was it hysteria?) is clearly
audible on the tape. The whole
ceremony only lasted about ten minutes.
We picked up a marriage certificate across the road, paid our $20 and
were ushered into a little room. There
was a counter at one end, a lot of plastic flowers and a tape of "Here
comes the Bride" was playing.
Carol and I stood side by side holding hands, three feet away from and
eye to eye with the minister who intoned the marriage ceremony without quite
making contact with us. We suddenly
found ourselves man and wife. Rather
dazed, we staggered outside into the street where I gave my camera to a
passerby who snapped a photo of us for posterity. Carol looked like a runaway hippie chick and I looked like a
cocaine dealer hiding behind my dark shades.
We bought a picnic and sat in the nearby park to eat it and tried to
comprehend what we had just done. At
the time, I felt that I was experiencing a peak experience but in retrospect,
it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. In the end it was a tremendous lesson for me and ended my attraction
to those wild free-spirited women that I have always run after. But the consequences of my actions came
much later and for now I had a surprise marriage to deal with.
Back on the land, Simma and Jeffrey
were distinctly cool towards us and in moments of sanity, I could see that we
had behaved rather precipitously. But
the moon was deliriously full that night and, I realize now, had been growing
steadily the whole two weeks of our runaway romance. Was this all only a case of Full Moon Madness? Carol had planned to fly to Wichita the
following day to sort out her Peace Corps situation and I suppose I had vague
ideas of coming on her assignment with her or at least not losing her when she went
off. I drove her to Sacramento Airport
but she missed her plane. On the spur
of the moment, I decided, willingly I must confess, to drive across country
with her. So we crossed Nevada, Utah
and Colorado on a seventeen hundred mile, non-stop, thirty hour drive on what
was to be the first of three such crossings in the following weeks.
It was a wonderfully exciting ride
and whatever problems Carol and I would go on to have, we were never happier
together than when we were on the road.
It was then that two true itinerants could relax into the security of a
big powerful car, could enjoy the speed of the road rushing in front and behind
us with all that was important and necessary for the continuance of the moment
on board. Carol and I always traveled
well together. We got into Wichita
late the following night. I met her
parents briefly and enjoyed their shocked expressions when Carol introduced me
as their brand new son-in-law before we crashed out mindlessly on the pullout
bed down in the basement.
The next day we hung out at the
house a little and I met Carol's brothers, a strange mixture of apathetic and
dysfunctional mid-Western youth, I figured.
We decided to go onto Missouri where the annual Rainbow Gathering, the
Gathering of the Tribes was taking place in Salem. We had another long day's drive to get there. Rainbow Gatherings, whether national or
local, are uniquely American.
Literally thousands of so-called hippies, Native Americans, itinerants,
students and community dwellers, not to mention drug dealers, musicians,
entertainers and healers of all kinds descend on a remote piece of rural land
in a different state each year to commune, camp out and party for a week. Great care is always taken to ensure that
the land is left in better shape than it was before the Gathering took
This Rainbow Gathering was probably
pretty typical as they went. It took
place in a remote spot, we had to park the faithful station wagon miles away
from the actual site and then walk in with all our food and bedding. There was a seemingly endless stream of
young and not so young folk coming up and down the path that lead on down to
the gathering site which was in some fields down by a river. As we walked on down we passed little
encampments, booths selling everything under the sun, little theaters and
musicians jamming in the sun. Someone
had even somehow carried a big piano down there and was playing Erik Satie
pieces for no-one in particular. It
was pretty interesting but Carol and I were not having such a great time. She was an increasingly evasive young
woman, warm and fun in one instant, tense and blatantly secretive in the
next. She resented my attempts to get
to know her better and was obviously acutely uncomfortable with some of my
questions. It was frustrating to run
up against these barriers so quickly for, typically, I was eager and impatient
to get to understand what made her who she was. We had had several intense arguments already when she accused me
of being too nosy which left me baffled and confused. Perhaps I was going too fast but I was in love with this woman,
was even married to her and was committed to making the relationship work. I knew that without better communication,
we would be doomed. We looked for some
friends of Carol's from Wichita, located them eventually and set up camp with
them. Like almost everyone there, we
got into the spirit of the occasion, took our clothes of and went
exploring. As long as we kept busy,
it seemed to me that we could avoid friction between us and stay away from
these confrontations that always seemed to lead to anger and dead ends. I ran into Fantuzzi whom I'd last seen at
Studio 45 in New York. He was still
playing bad guitar, flashing his million-dollar smile and chasing beautiful women
but he didn't remember my name. There
was a big council meeting going on which we sat in on for awhile. Everyone sat around an enormous piece of
rock crystal and was discussing the plight of the Hopi Indians and the uranium
found on their sacred Big Mountain. It
was a heated discussion but extremely structured and mostly polite. We wandered on down to the river and took
part in a sweat in an Indian style lodge made of branches bent around to
provide a frame which was then covered with blankets. Porous rocks were heated up for hours in a wood fire and then
carried into the sweat lodge on shovels and placed in a little pit in the
center of the space. We crawled on our
hands and knees into the space and sat there naked around the hot rocks, tightly
squashed against one another in the darkness.
Some people got very noisy in there and sang and chanted and even
shouted. The heat was intense and
sweat poured out of every pore in my body.
Soon it was hard to tell where my skin ended and my neighbour's began.
The sweat finally ended with a mad group massage by the river and then we all
jumped in to cool off.
The sweat was probably the best part
of the Missouri Rainbow Gathering for me, for by the following day, the whole
experience was wearing a bit thin.
Carol was scattered and uncommunicative and vanished for much of the day
and I got weary of being asked, repeatedly it seemed, if I had any acid,
man? What was it about my appearance
that made me look like I might be a drug dealer?
By the next day, the Gathering was
winding down and Carol and I were getting on very badly. She seemed to be getting more and more
secretive and defensive and I knew that if we didn't get some help soon that we
wouldn't survive as a couple. After we
had packed up our camp and climbed back out to the car, I persuaded her that we
should go to visit my old friend, Kristin, for some counseling. She was living in very rural Pocahontas
County, West Virginia on the land that Patch and his Gesundheit Institute had
recently bought as the site for his planned model health community. Land was incredibly cheap in rural West
Virginia and Gesundheit had managed to raise money to buy some three hundred
and fifty acres of land with a wooden shack on it. It was situated just outside Hillsboro, which itself was thirty
miles north of Lewisburg, West Virginia.
Kristin was part of the advance party, so to speak, and had been living
there for the past year. She was
trying to get the community started while Patch worked at raising money for the
project. Carol didn't much like the
idea for I'm sure that counseling from an old girlfriend of mine must have
sounded terribly threatening, but agreed to come with me in the end. We made another long dash across country
and arrived in deepest West Virginia at four the next morning. Kristin met us and we crashed in a tiny
little room above the living room in the funky little house that served as
Gesundheit South's Headquarters.
Our first day there went well. Kristin gave us an assortment of little
jobs to do in the morning for this project was very much a work camp during the
summer. Then Carol and I went off to
explore the land, followed the river up to its source in the hill above and
discovered the incredible waterfall up there.
I remember vividly that we climbed behind the sheet of falling water,
took our clothes off and covered ourselves from head to toe with the fine white
mud we found back there. It was like a
primal marriage ritual of some kind, putting civilization behind us for a time
and rediscovering some previous, much older connection between ourselves and
this new world. Or maybe we were still
operating out of the spirit of the Rainbow Gathering we had just come
from. At any rate it seemed to work
for us for we felt much closer to one another. Then we climbed up into the big apple tree where there was a
wooden platform and slept all afternoon.
That night, the counseling session with Kristin went well and I began to
think that I hadn't made such a serious error of judgment. We stayed around for a few more days and did
more sessions with Kristin and got to know the local countryside a little. It was exceptionally beautiful land around
Hillsboro, very untamed and unspoiled for there was almost no local work to be
found, no real industry and a steadily dwindling population. In the past decade, young people had come
from all over the States to buy cheap land and to drop out and live the simple self-sufficient
life there. I could easily see myself
doing the same or at least spending summers there and winters in California.
So we drove back to Wichita where we
stayed with friends of Carol's and got on fairly well. Carol periodically showed her spiky side
and could be quite cruel when she wanted to.
I realized that she came from a classically dysfunctional family where
communication was at best polite and where no one really shared any real
intimacies or affection. Her father
even pretended to be deaf in order to stay out of contact and trouble with his
wife. One brother, Alan, lived down in
the basement of his parents' house and was protected by them all from the rest
of the world. Carol, for all her
problems and shortcomings, was the best one of the bunch.
We stayed in Wichita for another
week and met a lot of Carol's old friends whom I mostly liked a lot. I learned a few more things about my new
wife. Her terrible driving record
caused us a lot of trouble for we couldn't find any company to give her car
insurance. But for the most part she remained an enigma to me, an incredibly
private person who caused me a lot of frustration and often made me very
angry. But that didn't stop me from
We had another incredibly enjoyable
drive back West with a stopover in Denver at Gary's, Carol's brother's,
house. Going through Utah, we ran into
a spectacular storm and drove through a Martian landscape of mesa mountains,
desert in all directions and a navy blue supercharged sky. We got back to Grass Valley three weeks
after we left having spent a very nontraditional honeymoon mostly on the
road. Simma and Jeffrey were
distinctly unfriendly and didnít seem very happy to see us again. But I tried to tune that all out and focus
on my new relationship which unfortunately seemed to be deteriorating daily as
soon as we settled back into life in Grass Valley. I had work to get back into and jobs to be done while Carol was
obviously ill at ease and would go off in her old VW bus a lot of the
time. She didn't seem to be very happy
about living in Grass Valley though it was hard to get a straight answer out of
her. It looked as if her Peace Corps
assignment might not work out. We
moved out to our bed under the oak trees which I loved and went through our
usual dawn struggle with the old rooster who would climb into the tree above
our heads and start to crow around five in the morning. Actually I even started to keep a box of
rocks by the bed to hurl at him when he started and got pretty good at doing that
without getting out of the bed. And
so July 1985 ended on a Full Moon just as it had started with a Full Moon,
which made it what they called a Blue Moon.
It was a month that I wasn't likely to forget in a hurry.
Sweet Joy and Floyd threw a surprise
wedding party for us one night which I found very moving. Every guest stood up and had a little
recitation or story or affirmation for us, which I found quite charming. I realized that they were the only people
who had actually celebrated our marriage.
I enjoyed the evening but on the way home in the car, Carol told me that
she had hated the evening and had found the celebration embarrassing. I realized with a shock that I had
absolutely no idea what was going on in her head or knew what made her
tick. And yet underneath the conflict
and the poor communication and behind the barrier that stood between us, I
intuitively knew that she loved me as much as she was able to. She had as much riding on the marriage as I
did. She really needed me deep down
for I might be her last chance for a satisfying heterosexual relationship and
perhaps a family and the stability that that could bring. July passed into August and our love
affair ran like a hot and cold water tap without ever making any real progress. I continued to feel committed but wasn't
sure any more what or who my commitment was to. Then, on a Monday morning when I was off doing my usual bake at
the Kitchen, a month to the day that we had returned to Grass Valley, Carol
loaded all her possessions into the VW bus, took all the money out of our joint
bank account in Combie village and vanished.
I was in total shock and couldn't
remember being so totally miserable or wretched. I felt numb and weepy as my life fell apart all around me. I saw her face in all I did and would sit
on the doorstep of the chicken shack and stare down the road in case she would
suddenly return. It was an awful period
in my life. The shock and the numbness
wore off after a couple of days leaving me with the pain of my loss and a
terrible emptiness which nothing could fill.
I was right in the middle of a large acrylic portrait of Carol lying
full length on the floor of the Dome.
What had started off as a portrait of our love, somehow became the
portrait of a bitch goddess. On the
fourth day, I received a money order for $200, which Carol had sent from Salt
Lake City and I guessed that she was heading East via Denver back to Wichita. And in fact, after a week, she called from
Wichita to say that she was going to fly back to California, then called again
to say that she couldn't, leaving me freshly devastated. I couldn't help but notice that although
the first week had been agony, I was merely very unhappy by now and that my
feelings had began to heal themselves quite quickly. Had I never heard from Carol again, I would probably have
recovered in a couple of months. As it
was, I got stirred up again and our affair was to last for another two more
painful years. Grief was beginning to
turn to anger and I had little patience with Carol and the strange long
distance calls that she had started to make.
Her father John sent me a very nice apologetic letter which I replied to
At the start of September after a
barrage of conflicting telephone calls, I packed up the Chevy again and left
Grass Valley for Kansas. I got there in
two days of crazed driving with only a speeding ticket as I entered Kansas to
slow me down. The cop who gave me the
ticket was super-friendly and wanted to talk to me all about England and the
Queen. He didn't seem to find this at
all at odds with the $50 fine he had given me. I got into Wichita late at night in a euphoria of sleep
deprivation and excitement but couldn't locate Carol and crashed out in the car
instead. We had a totally joyous and
romantic reunion the following morning and moved into her VW bus with its
camper top to live for the time being.
Every night we would drive out into the countryside outside the city to
camp out in some idyllic leafy lane.
One morning we woke up to see a large pack of wild dogs hunting together
out in the woods which quite amazed me.
I seemed like we had turned a corner at last and things were gradually
getting better in our marriage. Her
parents were very friendly towards me finally and we often used to go over to
their house to eat and watch TV and hang out there with the family at
night. And we often used to go out
late to a gay disco in Wichita that was invariably dead during the week so that
we would have the dance floor completely to ourselves and could jump around
there for hours. We either camped out
or slept at Carol's friend Cindy's house which was by a lovely pond so that we
could swim through the heavy heat of the late summer. During the day we would set up our outside studio and were both
painting with acrylics or painting jewelry for Cindy who had a stand at the
well-known Winfield Bluegrass Festival that was held nearby every year.
Cindy employed us to work at her
stall for the three days of the Festival which was the top Bluegrass Festival
in all America. It turned out to be a
uniquely wonderful American experience.
It rained hard every day and soon the Festival site had become a field
of mud. But we stayed in the VW, heard
some wonderful music and had a really good time. I remember that the New Grass Revival Band was really exciting
and I learnt how to square dance with a bunch of real old timers.
By this time I was practically broke
and was horrified and filled with new dread when both Carol and her mother
turned on me. Her mother even went so
far as ask me angrily what I had to offer her daughter at this point, with no
money. The unfairness of the situation
really struck home. I had left my home
that I had worked so hard to put together to run off after my new bride and had
just heard from Simma that she didn't want me to come back with Carol whom she
fundamentally distrusted. Then to be
put down for being unable to support Carol in the state to which she was
accustomed, was mortifying. It was
definitely time to move on again.
Meanwhile Carol had discovered that marrying me had disqualified her
from doing her Peace Corps assignment which only took single volunteers. Although she tried using this as a club to
hit me with, deep down we both knew that she was secretly relieved that she
wasn't going off to the Caribbean. As
things turned out, I was actually doing her a big favour.