CHEAP EATS I don't even know the name of this river. Three, four, maybe more years in a row we've been coming here, and the women bring magazines. My brother and Wayway and Jolly Boy go fishing and don't catch fish. I sit on the rocks with a pen and don't catch poetry.
At the bottom of the river, on a slimy rock, sits a barrel-shaped bug with four black legs sticking out of its head, an off-center orange dot, and I swear barnacles ...
Nature is so punk! Here's a duck with a Mohawk, and eight cute little ducklings, then the next day seven. Then six ... The river speaks for itself, no fish, no poetry, all rocks and swirl, and yesterday a young woman from the campground wandered downriver to us, on something and full of questions. Where are you from? Are you white? Do you have kids with you? Who here don't you like?
Dogs lick toads to hallucinate. Cats like catnip. Nature uses. Our "innocents" high on s'mores and we in our various states of adult intoxication decide, sitting around the fire, that the young upriver woman is a serial killer. This distracts us temporarily from the very real fear of bears, who have been knocking over our bear boxes, breaking into cars, and sniffing our tents in the middle of the night.
If the campfire is town square, or San Francisco, then I pitched my tent in Sonoma County, in a dense, dark cluster of pine trees. Why? I'm lonely enough. Do I still need distance? Seclusion? I'm not brave. I have nothing to hide, even less to prove.
But when I get up to pee the stars comfort the fuck out of me. And when I curl back into my warm, soft wrappings, I am surer than ever that I am dead. The adamant meat eater's comeuppance: to play the juicy part of a bear's burrito. I lie awake and breathless, listening to pine cones decompose, and seriously consider just sitting outside until morning. On a rock. With a pen.
The river speaks for itself, but Taqueria San Jose needs me. One tiny shrimp taco has 10 times as many shrimps on it as Papalote's. But the salsa's not great.
But no line. In fact, no one at all. A newspaper clipping on a post says San Jose's are the best tacos in the world. I wouldn't know, but I can tell you it's my new favorite taquería.
My companions barely touched their food.
The Maze, just back from New York and St. Louis, couldn't believe that his chicken was chicken. Anyway, it wasn't the way he'd wanted it. And his friend from work didn't seem too thrilled with her quesadilla. I tried to interest them in tasting my tiny taco, or side-order ceviche, but they weren't biting. I think they were put off by the place's unpopularity.
I don't know why I love empty restaurants. Maybe it's the same impulse that makes me pitch my tent where no one else is. And maybe it will be the death of me, by mauling, exposure, broken heart, food poisoning, serial-killing camper chick ... One thing: I won't die of starvation.
The Maze, who might, asks as many questions as our campfire killer. Although, admittedly, his make more sense. I'd wanted to hear about his adventures in New York and St. Lulu, but mostly we talked about the usual: ethics, spirituality, chickens. I'd missed the tangling tree roots of his forehead and tried to keep him perplexed with my goofball philosophies.
At the bar I mostly talked to her. We had the same favorite restaurant in New Hampshire! I didn't know if they were on a date or what, but she left first, and he walked her out, then came back and walked me home. Not that he meant to; we just couldn't stop talking. He had a million questions and it was a beautiful night. I don't think he knew if he was on a date either.
Something had happened between them, and he seemed wracked with amazement and uncertainty. "How do you know ...," he asked, rhetorically, and before he could finish the question I said, "You don't."
My stomach growled.