Clues to the Meaningless


Joe the everyman at Bodega and Main St. on a starlit summer evening

We ran into Joe coming back from Safeway at 4:00 a.m. that Friday night, clutching our cargo of half-eaten extra-sour French bread and those non-lard Oreo cookies which I forget the name of right now. It'll come to me.

He was drunk in a very peaceful manner; he was walking home for the night after leaving the bar across the street. He looked barely 21 and still wore a high-school costume - jeans and a blue t-shirt of the high fashion style of the week.

Hydrox, that's what the cookies were. Henry's a vegetarian, so he evidently pictures cows screaming in pain when he eats oreos, and I'm not one to discourage him. Hydrox are fine, especially at 4 in the morning. With extra-sour French bread.

Joe followed us down main street for a block. We weren't concerned. He didn't look dangerous. He wasn't.

Then, approaching us, he asked mildly, "Are those oreos?"

"No," somebody said (I think it was Mark), "they're hydrox. We don't buy oreos because they have lard in them."

"Well, I like oreos," said Joe. He laughed briefly, quietly, to himself.

"Do you want a cookie?" Henry asked, generously.

"No, no really. I think I'm fine."

Joe followed along a few steps behind us for a while. Then he paused at the sewer duct and stared at it, framing his view with his hands. "Good job," he told it.

Perhaps Joe was a sewer-plate construction worker. I'll never know.

He continued along behind us for a moment, then asked, "Do you mind if I have a cookie?"

We smiled. "Sure, go right ahead." Henry extended the bag in offering.

Joe grimaced, and, apparently not wanting to get too close to us, quickly grabbed a cookie and ate it. I guess I can understand; here we three trenchcoated hippie punks are at 4:00 a.m., offering lard-free cookies to drunk strangers. I can see that some people might be taken aback by such a situation. I can't imagine why.

Joe swallowed the cookie; we all swallowed and hoped it wouldn't make him hurl. It didn't.

"This is good," said Joe, "but I still like oreos."

"Whatever works for you," I said.

"Yeah," he said, "oreos are good."

We continued back to the crazy house, where Mark was staying. That's not just my name for it: it is officially called 'The Crazy House' by all occupants past and present. A bunch of semi-homeless trenchcoated hippie punks sleep there and share the rent and move out whenever the rest of the trenchcoated hippie punks piss them off, or whenever they decide to tour the good ol' U.S.A. armed with nothing but a brown paper bag of pot and a mostly-functional volkswagen. Mark had only been there for a week or two. His volkswagen was yellow and parked out in front, but we'd wanted to walk so we could jump out of the post office window on our way downtown.

"What's your name?" Mark asked, breaking the silence that hung over the starlit August night. I was leaving in a week for college; I haven't been out in Sebastopol at night since.

"Joe," said Joe.

"Hi Joe," we said, smiled, and nodded.

"Hi," he said and continued walking, smiling and repeating something to himself. Maybe it was about oreos; I'm really not too sure. Then he suddenly realized he didn't know who we were. "What are your names?" he asked.

"I'm Mark," said Mark.

"I'm Henry," said Henry.

"Hi Henry," Joe repeated.

"Wes," I said.

"Henry, Mark, Wes."

"Yeah," I said.

"You're Henry?" he asked Mark.

"No_I'm Mark. He's Henry."

Joe considered this, turned to Henry. "You're Henry?"

"Right," said Henry.

We walked on for the next block. Joe had some more cookies. I offered him some extra-sour French bread, but he didn't want any. Then he turned off of Main Street, walked half a block away, turned and said to us, "See you."

"Bye, Joe," we said. "Hope you get home safely."

We went back to the crazy house, where José was drinking cheap red wine, eating homemade salsa, and talking about fucking his and Hari's boss. I went to sleep, dreaming of falling out the post office window.

Earlier that night we drove to Santa Rosa, over to Mandy's house, in my car. It wasn't a volkswagen. We were going to go to a café, but Mandy wanted to watch a late-night TV show and convince us that when she was 13 she ran up a four-hundred dollar phone bill for calling 976 numbers.

"I didn't realize how much money it was," she smiled.

She was lying, and didn't manage to convince us that she wasn't. That was alright.

After the TV show we went to "Café This", the newly-opened mecca of the I'm-so-cool-I-hang-out-in-cafés crowd. I couldn't parallel park; I kept running up onto the curb. I don't usually have trouble parallel parking. Oh well.

I had a cup of tea in the café. It was good. Mark and Henry and Mandy had coffee. Caffeine is caffeine. The bald, scarred guy who ran the place let Mark have a free refill even though he wasn't supposed to. I think he was a fire survivor. He made a good café manager, we agreed. Then Café This was that.

We drove Mandy home and decided to tour the yard sale we found two blocks away. No one was there (it was one o'clock at night), but we figured they wouldn't mind if we browsed. So I parked the car and we all piled out, and we were about to examine the available artifacts when a police car pulled up beside us.

"Hello, officer," Henry said. We all froze. He got out, club in hand. He was big, and we were cold, thin, trenchcoated hippie punks.

He looked us over. "What are you boys doing out here?" he asked.

I shivered. "We were, uh, looking at the garage sale," Henry told him.

"Garage sale's all closed up," said the cop.

"Yeah, I guess so," said Henry.

"Your car door's open," the cop said.

I looked back. "Mark, you didn't close the door," I said.

Mark grimaced. "Sorry."

"We'll get going now," I told the cop. "Sorry about this."

He snorted and reholstered his bat. We marched quickly back to the car and drove very legally for the next five minutes. A consensus was reached that it was getting a bit too late, and we really ought to get back to Sebastopol.

So we drove back to the crazy house, where José was drinking cheap red wine, eating homemade salsa, and talking about fucking his and Hari's boss. After a while he became restless, and wandered out across the vehicleless street.

"There's a party going on over there," said Hari.

"A party! Yeah!" said José.

We followed him; we didn't have anything better to do. The party was three Mexican couples dancing to "La Bamba" and other traditional anthems in the privacy of their own home. José stood peering in through the window. "Hey hot mama," he said to himself, "baby let me in!"

"It looks like they've all got partners, José," said Hari, slightly less inebriated and thoroughly non-Mexican.

José tried to attract the woman's attention by making sexual gestures with his hands and saying something in Spanish. "It's the word for fucking," he told me. I grimaced.

A car pulled up on the other side of the road.

"That looks like Gabe's car," said Mark, and it was.

"Gabe who?" I asked, following him across the street.

It was Gabe Natalini, the plague of my junior high days who had fortunately matured somewhat since. He was going to an all-weekend party somewhere in Santa Rosa. "It's somewhere near the airport," he said. He asked us if we wanted to come along. We declined.

We decided to go to Safeway to buy some hydrox and extra-sour French bread, and jump out the post office window.