Bob Sawatzki is the editor of Rough Draft, a Journal for Writers and for Readers. "Blurry Human Figures" is an excerpt from a book manuscript, Of Marriage & Single Life: A Novel In Parts With Pictures.
It's a beautiful night for hitchhiking. Loreli's big red pack looks okay. Some stuff in there isn't strictly necessary but it's her pack and her back. I'm all set except I have to take off my coat and shirt to put on this singlet embroidered with rows of tiny silver bells. Endowed with protective qualities, it always accompanies me on extended trips, such as this one beginning now.
Pretty soon we're out there walking down the quiet highway together side by side, the whole surface of the turning world spread around us under the moon and the stars. As Loreli turns her head to speak, her windblown hair becomes the writhing and hissing snakes of Medusa.
I don't run away and I don't strike back. Somewhere underneath I know it must be Loreli so I hold fast. Maybe it's only a mask or this could be a dream. I know I'm sleeping with Loreliit will be all right.
Ricky baby honey hmmmm? Wake up. Having a bad dreammmm? Come to mama.
Loreli is an Amazon and not only can talk like that, she can act like that, scooping up my inert form, rolling me over on top. Stretching out our arms like airplanes. Vee-ing out our legs till we are both fully extended, touching fingertips and toes. She isn't stronger than me, she is only my equal. My androgyne.
After a while I am inside and we are both working harder and harder, then softer and softer, but not to a climax. I won't come and she can't.
Penetration goes both ways, you know, she says. How penetrable are you?
I'll have to get back to you on that one. Okay?
Outside the covers it's a cold spring morning. Barefoot down the linoleum hallway to the bathroom, replete with creepy green Astroturf carpet. Yawning stretching gazing out the window at the bleakly budding ailanthus, standing spraddle-legged, emptying a long night's bladder, shivering ever so slightly in long underwear and Loreli's lavender turtleneck imagining a narrative tone:
Rick can't help wondering it is Easter again, remembering half a dozen Easter seasons, girls and women. Flowers, music, churchesit makes Rick think he might call home to say hello to Mom and Dad, which is outrageous because everyone who knows Rick knows Rick never calls.
That morning Loreli cracks an egg into boiling water and it reveals a double yolk. The next egg also has twin centers so we say that must be a sign of something. Through the double windows we watch the stillness of the Saturday morning schoolyard, the foothills and the white-topped Wasatch.
I have arrived at this scene after leaving my camp on the coast, hitchhiking across the desert to Zion in my best boots and jeans just to talk and walk with Loreli. I am ready to negotiate and I want to see if she is serious. Everyday we have been going trustwalking together, taking turns leading and following, pretending you're blind and your friend will be your eyes for you. After a good long walk opening your eyes to discover yourself, for example, in a natural hot springs.
So why don't we get out of here?, I say, neck deep in the simmering pool. We could live somewhere civilized like Seattle.
You've been here a week and you think you know it all. I like it here, Loreli says. My family is here. My friends. This is my life, she concludes, standing on tiptoes, spreading out steaming dripping arms to embrace the canyon walls, clouds, sky. This is what you get.
This is no place for a writer, I say, the thick lenses of my glasses fogging over with steam. Taking them off, I watch the whole world become an Impressionist painting.
You could stay till we do the San Juan, Ricky. We could do the San Juan River. Then go back to glorious Seattle. It's a seven day trip, oh man.
What's the San Juan?
You get on at Mexican Hat, I think. No, that's where the only road we go by is. It's way down there. It goes through Grand Gulch. It dumps into Lake Powell and that's where you get out. And I'll be Certified.
You'll be certainly certified . . .
A Certified Boatman. You have to crew on seven different river trips and this is my seventh and I can guide this summer.
I never did a river trip. Like with rubber rafts? Who do we have to go with?
Counting you, that makes nine of us.
I don't know about this, Loreli. I haven't camped out with that many people since the Boy Scouts.
* * *
It is Loreli's best friend, Bunny, and her husband, Buster, who organized the expedition. Buster and Bunny work for a non-profit organization that takes handicapped people on outdoor expeditions. Taking the deaf on river trips, the blind skiing, the mentally retarded camping out there in the real world. This pre-season trip is just for pleasure and also for Loreli, Bunny, Havasu and Mary Lou to earn certification as river guides.
Loreli and I spend all day driving deep into southeastern Utah with her brother-in-law, Andy Panda, who has been invited along to document the river trip. Everyone crashes when we finally get there, parked across the road randomly wherever they are when their engines are killed. Some tents. A tree with a lean-to. Shadowy forms sprawled out across the silent landscape.
Andy Panda is up before sunrise with his Super-8 mounted on the tri-pod and his Nikon around his neck. Andy is a study in slow motion; balding, pink, plump, a graduate student in art departments across the west for who knows how long and now the jig is up. On this river trip Andy will complete that final requirement: making his own damn movie so that he might be released upon the world, Master of Fine Art. His bristling redorangeyblonde walrus mustache and his winking eyes, cornflower blue behind albino eyelashes; watching us. He is out of there. Andy is only passing through.
Andy's two ammo cans are flat black with bold letters stenciled in white, COPACETIC PRODUCTIONS. His masterpiece to be is a wildlife documentary of our seven day journey down the San Juan RiverLoreli and Bunny, Mary Lou and Havasu, Gorgeous George and Buster and Malcolm and me.
A small wandering tribe is waking up along the riverside. Everybody must first touch the water. Only after a while gradually erecting the apparatus of survival like the campstove and the crapper. Nobody's reading the morning paper, all the news is much more real than that. Like is it really going to rain or what?
Bunny is opening up ice chests and making cereals appear and strawberries, bananas, pineapples, pears, kiwi fruit and assorted nuts. Buster gets the campstove going, boiling water for coffee, tea and cocoa.
The California contingent of Gorgeous George, Mary Lou and Havasu, are rolling out from under the lean-to. Gorgeous George is bronzed muscled mustached smiling squinting jumping up to check out the gear with his buddy Buster. They lug the enormous empty bladder of the raft down to the water, attach the footpump, and take turns pumping.
Leaving the film running, Andy comes out from behind the camera to help get the boat frame down off the truck. Andy and Malcolm, Loreli and I each lift a corner of the rigid aluminum skeleton and carry it to the beach.
Nylon webbing and metal buckles secure the frame to the rubber floats. Colorful pieces of hoopi are used to lash the seabags and ammo cans and camping gear and a motley assortment of water bottles all around the frame. Gorgeous George and Buster knotting lots of little lengths, showing off sheepshanks.
It takes three to carry a canoe upside down over your head to the water. Immediately questions like, who is leading, become apparent. And when it's finally floating in the current it tends to drift away unless your line is fastened to this tree or that rock. The water is fucking cold. Splashing around out there in soggy sneakers and no socks. The canoes tied up side by side, we begin loading them with ice chests and the remaining equipment necessary for survival. Loreli and I get one canoe, Buster and Bunny command the other.
Mary Lou and Havasu carry Buster's kayak down to the beach. A rubber Ronald McDonald puppet head is duct-taped to the nose. Mary Lou has pigtails and freckles and has never driven one of these things before, although she did once attend a kayak class in the Weber College swimming pool. She knows how to get into it and how to get out of it and, theoretically, how to roll over.
Awesome, Mary Lou, says Havasu, a girl from Mill Valley with a permanent tan and long blonde hair and the torso of an aquatic marsupial. Yah-ta-Hay, as the Indians say.
Navaho Fry Bread . Available Here?, Mary Lou absently wonders, inspecting doubtfully the bashed and crashed hull of Buster's kayak.
No, it means: Today is a Good Day to Die.
Gorgeous George sets his kayak, busted, fiber-glassed and duct-taped, gently down onto the wet sand at the water's edge. He pulls on his wetsuit and over it his life preserver. He wades out a ways, getting his wetsuit wet, sitting floating in the river in round-mouthed hypothermic shock. Completely soaked, he leaps up dripping water onto the beach, inserts his torso into the circle at the center of his kayak, adjusts pads at his hips, stretches the elastic apron out around the lip. Gorgeous George wears the kayak like a natural genetic adaptation. He balances his paddle amid ship and, raising his vessel clear of the ground by performing a handstand, walks himself out into the water.
Gorgeous George drifts on the water, backwards, in a lazy spin, grinning, fastening his helmet at the chin. Taking up his paddle, stretching out rippling muscled arms, Gorgeous George seems a centaur floating. Leaning to port he drags a blade an instant, facile as a water strider, steering into the faster current.
Dragging the blade again hard, and leaning into it, Gorgeous George pivots the kayak in the middle of the San Juan River and faces upstream into the spring runoff. Clutching the paddle against his chest, Gorgeous George is leaning backward, folding back like a jackknife, taking a deep breath, rolling over. Gorgeous George pilots his kayak upside down upstream. Suddenly as a seal he rolls right again gasping for breath and laughing.
Everyone wakes up as if from a trance. Andy Panda, Malcolm, and Havasu start pushing and hauling the raft. Dragging on the sand at first it suddenly spins free and they're climbing on cheering.
Now Rick, you'll need this you know, says Bunny, handing me your standard issue orange kapok life preserver.
Actually I know how to swim, Bunny. I think I'll be all right.
Nobody says anything. Then Loreli says, You know you don't have to put it on right now Ricky, but you'll be glad you have it later. Or sooner. Just say thanks to the lady and let's go!
I push us out backwards into the current then hop into the front of the canoe and we are floating free. Loreli steers from her position at the stern, directing us toward the broad and easy mainstream. I'm leaning out over the bow trying to steer from the front. The combination of the two makes our canoe spin out of control.
Only stroke when I say, snaps Loreli, as we wait for the river to finish turning us around.
Buster and Bunny come sailing past laughing and singing:
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
Bunny is up front under her crash helmet and scarf and grannyglasses tied tight with a pair of purple Croakies. Buster wears his jester's cap, made of red felt, with silver bells attached to its three peaks. In the wake of their boat a thick yellow polypropylene cord floats along tied to a variety of sixpacks of beer skimming along just beneath the surface of the river.
We have to synchronize strokes, says Loreli. And you can't steer from the front. You know you really don't have to paddle at all, this is easy here. Save it for when we get to the rapids.
Downstream again, it seems to help if I don't help.
Here comes Gorgeous George, smoothly moving upstream to help Mary Lou, way back there, hugging the shore. Drawing alongside Mary Lou's kayak, Gorgeous George locks one strong forearm across the space between his hull and hers. Mary Lou reaches out to grasp his kayak, creating between each other one stable ship with twin pontoons. As the current takes them away they grin and spin.
Boats on the water floating out of the sere desert range passing through red rock canyons. Little rapids get bigger. Buster and Bunny forge ahead to scout the route. Gorgeous George and Mary Lou, paddling in tandem, move past everybody easily, slalom down the shoots to eddy out and wait below.
Up ahead the water divides into three channels and kinds of rapids. At the foot of the center passage a submerged rock creates a violent whirlpool. Buster and Bunny are heading for the channel on the right.
Loreli and I want to go that way too, but overshoot. The fast current in the middle of the river nearly sucks us down the center channel. We just get past it and end up drifting backwards into the rocky rapids on the other side.
Okay, we rotate at our positions. Loreli is the one steering from the front now, calling out strokes.
God you're a bossy bitch, I say, ignoring her commands, navigating by my own lights.
And you're a pompous prick, she snaps into the teeth of the spray and foam.
Nothing hits us but we might as well be shooting through nature's own wild wet pinball machine. Taking on water, spewed out traveling sideways, our canoe keeps getting heavier and slower. It's a long slow slog to the shore where we can take a break and bail out.
Gorgeous George comes to check us out, but we're okay, so back into the stream he charges. Up the rapid. A level at a time. Holding his own, this spawning salmon moving steadily upstream. At the top, as he's turning for the ride back down, all of a sudden Gorgeous George is upside down.
The kayak goes down the rapid upside down. It's upside down for a long time spinning randomly down the long slide bumping into things and past us. Finally, Gorgeous George bobs up, far from his kayak, on a sandbar and he crawls up onto it coughing and gasping for breath.
Mary Lou retrieves the errant kayak and everybody else pulls up onto the beach where we stand around watching George. Gorgeous George's face is blue as he hunches shivering with teeth chattering uncontrollably.
When they say Keep The Shiny Side Up, they mean trucks, Gorgeous, not kayaks, says Buster, helping his friend out of the wet suit and into something warm and wool.
Damn I wish I had that on film, says Andy Panda. Can you do that again?
Then it's time for lunch. Pots of hot homemade frozen chicken noodle soup, boxes of crackers from Scandinavian countries, lox, bagels, lutkefisk and cheese. Beer und schnapps.
Funny how you eddy out, I say to no one in particular. I mean at the bottom of every rapid, the way it pulls you out onto the side.
Demonstrating the principle of flowing forms, says Buster. It's all in the book. Getting up off the ammo can which he has been using as a seat, snapping the hasp, swinging open the heavy metal lid, Buster pulls out a paperback book called Sensitive Chaos: The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water and Air by Theodor Schwenk.
Everything flows in waves, explains Buster. The galaxies cartwheeling through the heavens reveal the same spiral shapes as the river eddy and the chambered nautilus. The vortex of a sandstorm is created by the same few simple laws of physics that make the clouds spin round the turning earth and the electrons of an atom revolve about their nucleus. It's motion suspended in time that creates these shapes all around us.
Amen, Brother Buster! Says Gorgeous George, beginning to recover.
Safety break, says Havasu, opening her ammo can and getting out her marijuana and pipe of carved soapstone. The pipe goes round as the clouds spin across the gray sky. The grain of the soapstone pipe occurs in waves. Whorls of sand on the beach match the whorls of my fingertips.
Are we there yet? Says Buster. I want my kayak back, Mary Lou.
Buster is first out on the water. Followed closely by the new canoe crew of Loreli, Mary Lou and Havasu.
We're the wool boat! Says Mary Lou, her squinty little eyes grinning beneath a pirate's bandana.
The steel wool boat! Says Loreli, stripping down to red satin leotard and tights.
Yah-ta Hay! Whoops Havasu.
Gorgeous George and Bunny are dragging the raft out into the current. Andy Panda, on the beach, behind his camera, directs.
Okay, Rick and Malcolm! You guys go next. Act natural. I'm not even here.
I'm wearing my life preserver now and, oh boy, I get to drive. Malcom's from Wisconsin and says he is used to rivers mostly of the flat variety. Malcolm is a dapper little tailor, everything he wears is handmade and everything matches. Malcolm sews caps in Salt Lake City and vests and pants and moccasins and whatever else he hopes will sell.
The beer drag is tied behind the raft now. We maneuver alongside, pick up six and pass on by. Andy Panda's on his knees in the front of the raft, camera mounted up high on the bow like a machine gun nest.
Woolites ahead, starboard side, says Malcolm.
Good eye, mate. Give yourself an extra ration of grog.
We synchronize strokes and soon catch the ladies' boat. We share our beer. The Woolites are friendly but maintain their distance. Loreli, seated at the center of things, responds to us in sign language. Right hand vertical, fingers flat on the chin; moving the right hand down and pointing at someone means: THANK . YOU.
It stays gray and cold all day so we make camp early. The California crew cooks chili rellenos, tacos and beans. From their ammo cans, Andy Panda and Buster retrieve bottles of tequila and vodka. From the depths of her sea bag, Havasu pulls out her sleeping bag, unraveling it to display a ghetto blaster and a fistful of tapes.
Now, Loreli is dancing, revealing her true mute self. Portents are what her body speaks, spinning out her camp skirt around the fire. Music is her element. Dance is her language. Loreli Lee's a gypsy woman, black tresses flying, finger cymbals clashing silver sparks against the night. Circling round the fire, crouching low, grounded, barefoot on the beach. Loreli dances with anyone who dares to dance with her. She dances a little with Buster then a lot with Gorgeous George as Andy Panda is getting good camera angles, setting out stereo microphones. Loreli dances with the Woolites, kicking in a chorus line all together.
Yah-ta Hay! They all say.
What's that supposed to mean, Andy Panda wonders, Show Your Tits?
Loreli and I don't dance. We can't even put up a tent together when the dancing is done and our small tribe is bedding down for the night by the river at the center of the world.
Put it up your own fucking self then, she says, I don't need it. Clutching her unfurled pink and lavender sleeping bag to her chest, lugging her seabag over her shoulder, she storms out into the wild.
When it begins to rain in the middle of the night I smile to myself, knowing she'll be back. But she does not come back. All the rest of the night I'm wondering in who's tent is Loreli sleeping.
A mug of coffee is what Andy Panda hands me in the morning, then splashes in a dash of peppermint schnapps. We hold our mugs with both hands for warmth and watch the gray scale of the developing day.
Mary Lou and Gorgeous George appear next, rolling out from under the blue ripstop nylon canopy suspended between two tamarisks and a cottonwood tree. Mugs of appropriate fluids are distributed. Malcolm crawls out from under his single shelter, one of those little low things with croquet hoops that fit inside a fanny pack.
Everybody stands around watching the clouds and the blue chasms between the clouds suffuse with light, illuminated as if from within. Then we say it's day.
A hand appears from inside the dome tent rolling back the rain flap and out step Havasu and Buster. After a moment, Bunny in her jammies and big down booties steps out with an enigmatic smile pushing the glasses up on the bridge of her nose. She will have a cup of chamomile.
We're breaking camp when Loreli finally comes in like a parade, banners streaming. She's been up there on the ridge watching us. When Malcolm asks her to ride in his canoe she says, Okay.
I'm on the raft with Andy Panda. Havasu and Mary Lou have the Woolite boat. If Andy is the Captain and Havasu is Ginger and Mary Lou is Mary Ann, then I must be Gilligan. If Buster and Bunny are Thurston Howell the Third and his wife, and Malcolm is the Professor, then who is Loreli? I'm thinking she must be from some other story, maybe Beauty and the Beast.
What about Gorgeous George? He's more like John Wayne, riding herd on our flotilla in his kayak. Buster's also out there in his kayak today, the two of them flitting like dragonflies where they will cross the water while Buster continues at unpredictable intervals an ongoing dissertation on where in the world we could possibly be.
That is Jurassic. Definitely, says Buster, gesturing with his beer can, surveying the red rock canyon walls. See this new color, this purple-red is Navaho Sandstone, he continues, emitting a profound burp as punctuation. Now we're entering the Pre-Cambrian upthrust. Formed sixteen bazillion years before what is popularly known as the Christian Era.
The sun comes out and layers of clothes come off. Fat and thin and brown and blonde naked people are jumping into the water whenever it feels good but never for too long. Your scrotum freezes so you can't even pee.
It must be lunch break. Some people go for a hike while others just want to lay on the sand in the sun. That's their whole purpose in life at this time. I'm thinking now's my chance to try out a kayak. Gorgeous George's is the best and it fits like a glove. I'm floating light as a leaf on the water all alone. With the least touch of the paddle I have complete control in any direction. It's so simplewhat a brilliant concept is the kayak.
I go with the flow, downstream awhile then I eddy out and stroke back upstream along the shoreline above the camp to the rapids. Steady now in the middle of the river I approach the frothing foot of the rapid. Maintaining my balance within the sensitive chaos I can pull myself up the falls.
Funny, it's an unexpected calm place in the fury that throws me off balance. Even as the kayak rolls I'm bailing out, thinking, what an incredibly stupid way to die. They're going to have to drag my dead body with them all the rest of the way down the river until they reach civilization and hate me for ruining their vacation.
I erupt upside down ripping the elastic bib of the kayak out with me, thinking I should grab my glasses, choosing instead to use both hands to push away from the damn thing, away from anything that restricts free movement. You will never be more alive. I'm tumbled over and up to the surface roar, remembering to keep my feet together pointed downstream going down the rapids on my ass.
Blurry human figures on the beach stand and wave and run. Up ahead, the kayak eddies out without me and they're wading out to fetch me.
You were doing so great, Ricky, says Mary Lou, the first to reach me.
We were watching, says Gorgeous George, helping Mary Lou pull me up out of the water, walking me to shore. You were doing great and then you lost it.
You look funny, says Mary Lou. Where's your glasses?
It all happens so fast I'm more embarrassed than seriously shaken. I climb back up onto the raft with the Captain and the tribe heads downriver again, ever curious to discover what lies around the next bend.
Days pass. Sometimes we stop to hike like at the Goosenecks where the river winds in entrenched meanders, a thousand feet lower than the surface of the earth. Erosion causes the river to slice through the rock, revealing succeeding epochs of sandstone, shale and limestone, piled up like a layer cake. Andy Panda, Loreli and I climb the strata from 300 million B.C. up to the present moment, lugging the camera equipment, portaging across the saddle of an oxbow, setting up great shots of the boats below like specks of flotsam.
The nights are cold but clear, we don't use the tent at all. Loreli and I zip our bags together for warmth. We sleep away from the others, but she will not go so far as to make love. We talk about the past and the future and about the others.
So whom did you sleep with that first night?
What does it matter who I slept with?
With whom I slept.
With whom I slept is something you may never find out, she sniffs. I'm still waiting to hear how penetrable you are. You never got back to me on that one.
It's a good question for anybody, Loreli. That's a real poser. When I figure out the answer you'll be the first to know. I've got your address. I'll send a card.
You know, I was going to sleep alone. But it started raining and I went to Bunny and Buster's tent. It stopped raining and I went back out but it started again so I tried Gorgeous George's shelter. But there wasn't room in either place and anyway, they were all fucking.
During the day, Loreli and I travel separately, tactfully avoiding confrontations. Without my glasses, bright blurred impressions of primary colors are what I see; it's a water color world. Silence mostly is what I hear and river sounds, voices and song. Somewhere in the middle of a canyon in almost still water, Gorgeous George, God's own choirboy, is singing in clear tenor voice:
By the waters of Babylon
We lay down and wept
For thee, Zion.
Thee Zion .
It is early on another day when I discover Loreli sitting on a boulder overlooking the river facing the rising sun. Her legs stretched out wide, she arches her back as far as possible then folds slowly forward stretching her arms out palms up in supplication, bowing almost flat.
What do you call that, is what I say.
It's the Greeting to the Sun.
Greetings to the sun. And how's the sun today?
The sun today is feeling pretty good, especially to the blisters on these palms, the tendons in these wrists and the muscles at the back of the neck.
My fingers walking up her spine.
Ooooooh Can you massage there?
I'm glad your shoulders are narrower than mine, I say, thinking how well Loreli handles the raft, my big blunt fingers working into her muscles, encompassing delicate bones almost bird-like in comparison. It's important to me.
Once upon an afternoon I'm in George's gorgeous kayak, learning to read the river by the Braille method, steering by the seat of my pants. I let Loreli lead down the rapids and we eddy out together, kayaks floating side by side.
Pretty slick, Rick, says Loreli. And how's the river trip so far for you?
Holding your right hand vertical, chest high, thumb pointing toward your body, fingers stretching out like a cock's comb, rotating downwards at the wrist means: FINE.
The day before the final day, our troupe pulls over to the steep and rocky banks just above Government Falls, a Class IV rapid at high water. First, Buster tries to calculate how many million cubic feet of water is going over this falls today, then he says: One good thing about high water is there's fewer rocks. Not that you can see, anyway.
Bunny elects to portage. Andy Panda goes with Bunny, sets up the camera for her on an overlook at the at the bottom of the falls on the other side of the river, then hikes back up to the top.
Mary Lou and Gorgeous George go over first in kayaks, Mary Lou wiping out near the bottom, completing the rollover, recovering nicely.
Then it's Buster's turn, up in the captain's seat at the center of the raft, hauling on the oars, with Havasu assisting as required pushing off the rocks; falling, bumping, ponderously rotating three hundred sixty degrees, he pilots the craft picture perfect down the falls.
Now it's our turn, Malcolm and I ferociously stroking into the tongue, thinking our best chance is to gain enough momentum to keep ahead of the current. I continue madly stroking even when I'm only stroking air as I'm knocked to the bottom of the boat and the prow is flying. There's a wall of water at the bottom of the falls which almost swamps us but we plunge through and eddy out where we can bail.
Loreli's been waiting in the other canoe for Andy Panda to climb back up the falls. They start out too slowly, get turned sideways halfway down the falls and at the point where the water divides, the aluminum canoe gets wrapped around a rock. It folds in half like a beer can. Everything not tied down is lost. Loreli and Andy stay with the ship, clambering out onto the enormous boulder around which their canoe is wrapped. They hug and shake hands and wave at the camera.
A plan is formed during a hasty tribal conference. Lots of lines are tied together and fixed to trees along the shore. The wrapped canoe is off-loaded, pulled back and gradually lowered to the bottom of the falls. The canoe is a total loss. We tie it with a line behind the raft and carry on.
When we get to Lake Powell the party is over. We row for hours across the flat water to the take-out point, load everything back onto the trucks and return to civilization.
A few weeks later, Loreli and I go to Andy Panda's house to see the film. There is a keg of beer in the kitchen, loud music and lots of people dancing. A not un-typical post-production wrap party. Loreli and I come as the Fun Police, wearing badges and carrying water pistols. Are you having fun yet?, we interrogate anybody who isn't having as much fun as we are. If they don't have the right answer they get it right in the face.
Andy Panda is wearing a black beret, sipping champagne and passing out pre-rolled tiny tight little joints. Andy says he still has to add music to the film and voice-over narration, but the primary editing is done. As soon as he hands in the completed film to his faculty advisor, Andy Panda is out of here. The Gulf of Mexico is the general direction in which he is headed to crew on somebody's yacht and make a movie of that.
Gorgeous George says that he and Havasu are leaving in the morning for California. They have to get back in time for a trip on the Stanislaus River. Like Buster and Bunny, they have jobs with a company that takes handicapped people on outdoor expeditions.
And I might go back to school, says Havasu. In the fall when classes start.
What college do you go to?, I shout over the music.
Mill Valley High, she says. Or I could get my GED.
So after that, are you going to college?
Like, why?, she asks, with a wondering look, chewing her gum.
Loreli, meanwhile, is dancing her ass off, both by herself and with others. Loreli dances past me in the kitchen where I am stationed hard by the beer keg.
Are you having fun yet?, she shouts, brandishing her pistol.
I guess I'm going out a while, I say.
Outside, Kar Kwik is happening in total party hearty Saturday night frenzy. I walk through the car crazed streets as if through a scene by Hieronymous Bosch. Anybody can see it is time for moving on. Cooling off in the night air, I return to Andy Panda's party, and discover Loreli dancing close and slow to Gorgeous George.
I get another drink and finally it is time to show the movie. It begins with a close-up of Andy Panda's hand scrawling in charcoal on a white wall:
Blurry Human Figures of No Political Significance
There's a wild soundtrackthe sounds of water running on a continuous loop. The opening scene reveals a small wandering tribe waking up by the riverside. Your basic documentary production of how the people live and pass the time. You see the natives putting their boats out onto the water and the point of view of the camera moves with them.
The passing scene is like a dream, shoreline greens in front of abruptly red canyon walls streaming past fast and slow as Andy Panda accelerates the pace or slows it down. Great cerulean swaths fill the screen, nothing but illimitable sky and passing clouds filmed by Andy Panda lying on his back in the boat floating down the river.
You can hear the rising pitch and din of approaching rapids and then the crashing falls. It's a wonder and a revelation to watch yourself going over the falls. Your character stripped bare by your approach to the falls and how you react to what happens on the way down.
Andy Panda freeze-frames the highlights and slo-mo's the rest. When you get to the bottom, Andy reverses the film and sends you backwards up the falls again then down again over and over.
are some of the audience responses you hear amid the laughter, running commentary and critique of style. Ultimately, we get to Government Falls. Malcolm and I in our canoe begin our approach to the falls paddling madly.
Here come the men! Says the voice of Buster. Gorgeous George guffaws.
When the film is over there's more music, drinking and dancing. Over-heated healthy young adult humans are stripping off layers of clothing.
Are you having fun yet?, Loreli says, backing me up against the wall, grinding her pelvis in rhythm with the music against my own.
I think it's time to go home.
Go ahead, she says, you know where I live. Taking her pistol out of its holster, she shoots me right between the eyes and says There's lots of other guys who want to dance.
Gorgeous George, barefoot, shirtless and shit-faced drunk just then comes dancing past. Loreli takes his hand, gives him a spin and sends him dancing over to me, this lopsided grin on his face and he can't stop laughing.
So I stop him. I pop him right in the face with my fist and down he goes.
I get the hell out of there, around the corner to Loreli's apartment. I let myself in, roll up my sleeping bag, stuff my gear into my backpack, and head out back to the relative safety and security of the open road.