The two sat in camping chairs, their necks craned skyward as they searched for satellites. Mia spotted the first one, a steadily drifting pinprick of light miles high and free of the concept of a setting sun. It was probably doing a million things at once—measuring, relaying, spying—but to Mia, the satellite seemed placed in the sky to illustrate a mathematical perfection.
We found The Cave Man.
Shay was the one who brought him to our attention at around episode seven or eight. We were part of The Cave Man’s early audience, but not his first hits. Whoever they were, we doubted they had our intensity of devotion, watching the back episodes in one afternoon and then refreshing his channel every hour until one of us wrote a script to do the checking for us.
When I wasn’t at my cousin Caroline’s, I spent most of my time hanging out at Debb’s place. Debb and I used to go places all the time before she started seeing Michael and had Baby Mike and then got married. In junior high we mapped out our future: we were going to open up a cupcake shop together, we were going to learn instruments and start a band, we were going to travel to all the places that started with the letters of our names. We didn’t do any of that.
Dave’s wife took off in the rented RV, Dave’s youngest boy waving to him half-heartedly through the back window. If Dave had been behind the wheel on this leg of their Scandinavian excursion—instead of abandoned here at a gas station—he and Laurie would probably be leveling out the RV at a campground. The boys would be skipping rocks down at a lake, then returning in soaked shoes to whine about the other’s vicious competitiveness. Still, he’d have preferred that.
Dear Mr. Photographer,
Yes, Italy. Now, before you start cursing me, consider this: how many car thieves tell you where your car is, and do so in a hand-written letter? (Hold this page up to the light and you’ll see a watermark in the silhouette of a palace. Not our palace, but a nice touch, right?) No car thief would, of course, which is my roundabout way of saying I’m not really a car thief. True thieves don’t mail you back your keys, enclose a map, and fill up the tank for you. You’re welcome, by the way.
Kat hitched with a pizzeria manager heading home from Reno.
“Devon,” he said.
Her name was Katrina, but she no longer wanted the association of a hurricane. “I’m Kat,” she said.
Devon was too handsome to be a creep. His curly black hair hung weightless, like an astronaut’s in zero G. Green eyes, heavy lips. He shifted with his left hand, his right encased in an unsigned cast. He talked about his ideas as he drove: a honeycomb cast that allows your body to be scratched; egg cartons with clear tops so you’ll never forget to buy more; The Rhythm Wheel.
“It’s a confession booth,” Jill says.
I stare at the large cardboard box in my sister’s garage. A velvet curtain covers an opening in the box’s side. “I thought I’d go to the party as Visiting Brother,” I say.
“C’mon. I’ve spent all week on this costume. Try it on.”
I put down my airline-tagged backpack. Over the velvet curtain, Jill has written Confess Here, Sinner! with a glitter pen. The box is surprisingly heavy. You could build homes from cardboard like this. The inside is perfumed shade.
Blakey lost his wife to a fast-moving cancer named Dr. Kevn Foley. The doctor shared the news with Blakey on an Octoberfestless October afternoon in Blakey’s basement pool room where the doctor seemed completely at home expounding on his love for Blakey’s wife, only pausing when lining up, and usually making, a shot.
Pioneertown can be heartbreakingly lonesome. There’s no one thing that makes it so, nothing I can put a finger on. It’s more atmospheric in its workings. A kind of loneliness that makes me wish to be somewhere else, rather than discover its source.
For now, I’m drinking a decaf inside the Red Dog Saloon, here in Pioneertown, both built in the mid-40s for shooting Westerns. Dark clouds cake the sky, and though there’s blue in the distance, it’s too far away to do more than tease.
The loudest male orgasm on record took place in a motel room in Big Sur, California on a recent cold spring night. I was next door.
Big Sur, if you’ve never been, isn’t a town. It’s a valley of coastal redwoods, pine and oak, ferns, clover, grass and wildflowers. It’s a river, driftwood beaches, cliffs, surf, seals and green green sea. Highway 1, a tenuous tethering of San Francisco and Los Angeles, winds two lanes through Big Sur country.
“No, not Phillips,” Terje said. “I need a flathead screwdriver. One with a short handle.”
The salesman nodded, then disappeared down a narrow aisle. While waiting, Terje’s glance slid down a wall of paint cans, rummaged through the display of belt and circular sanders, and lingered in the thick sheen from a stack of linoleum flooring. He caught himself reading the prices and turned away, opening the front of his coat in the warm shop. The glasses rested on his nose with a reminding weight and began to steam. He felt fortunate he had to wear the prop for only a few hours and that his eyes were, otherwise, as sharp as he could imagine eyes to be.
You have turned pages for six other concert pianists before falling in love with Sergei, privately, in your insomniac heart. Watching his naked hands sweep music from the Steinway’s strings, you ignore that most pianists keep their fingers unadorned, and that deep down in Sergei’s pocket there may lie a soft ring of promise to another, much like the one worn by his manager.
Kidnapping. Out loud it seems more real. With the thoughts I have, I should be sitting rigid in a serious chair, or else running down a street shooting a gun at the sky. Yet what am I doing? Dabbing a bit of toothpaste drool that hangs from the corner of my lips. Checking the hair in my brush for split ends. I am tearing out my hair from the inside.
Bennett. You’re highlighting the day’s trip on a AAA map of Montana. Dog-eared tour books for the states between us and the Pacific are spread out on the motel bed. Home in Richmond, Virginia would be yards away on your map. Maybe outside the motel room, down the corridor, where the ice machine hums.
Cray had no need to pedal this direction of the Burkhart trail, which ran, without switchbacks, down along one side of the canyon. On this groove, Cray felt himself pulled at a clip that blurred everything wide of the trail: rock, air, and his thoughts. His fingers flinched over the brakes. Behind him, he could hear the clang of pebbles tumbling between the spokes of Murphy’s bike.
A guide and appreciation.