CHEAP EATS Mountain Sam has many last names; I don't think I've ever seen the same one twice. My personal favorite, because it's the only one I can remember right now, is Two Bears.
I met Mountain Sam and his wife, Mountain Veronica, at an open mic in the Castro called Retool and Grind. I sang about Sonoma County and being a chicken farmer. I sang the one that gives directions to my shack, and they came up to me after and said, "We're neighbors!"
First I thought they meant they lived close to each other. "Good. That's great," I said, packing up my drum. Then it hit me.
"Windsor," Veronica said.
I'm not used to having neighbors. Mountain Sam offered to help me carry my drum to the truck, and by the time we got there we were all best friends. It's a half hour drive to Windsor from Occidental, but the roads are winding and wonderful. You see deer, foxes, wild turkey.... Sometimes they're even alive.
One of the first things me and Mountain Sam talked about was eating roadkill. He comes from Oklahoma and is part Indian. He reminds me of my uncles, who live in Ohio and aren't any Indian at all, but do hunt deer, of course. I love venison. For a while I started taking the curves a little faster at night, but then I realized that, given the size of my pickup truck, it was just as likely the deer would have me for dinner. Which would be a really ridiculous way to go, deer being vegetarians.
Veronica is from Arizona. She's beautiful, calls me honey, thinks she can eat more than me, and can. Her favorite food is KFC.
I can't tell you how happy I am to have friends in my own county. Their doctor is in Occidental. We meet at the Union Hotel for a beer. I need a chicken-sitter. Sam accidentally defrosts too much sausage. They have a hot tub. Cable TV. Netflix. Bags and bags of frozen hot wings in the freezer.
In the city: I introduce them to carne asada burritos at Cancun and cool free music at the Rite Spot. We sit on the grass in Dolores Park.
While I was away, Sam built me a catapult. Veronica wants to go shopping with me.
This is what I mean by question marks in thought balloons: you wake up on Memorial Day morning, and it's a beautiful, warm day outside. Everyone in the world, not just the chicken farmer, is thinking: barbecue.
Even the chickens are excited. They come running now as soon as they smell smoke, because they know what it means: the other white meat, pork. Their favorite food in the world. Mine too. We sit there on the log together and smell it happening.
You know me. I barbecue in the snow and the rain, early morning, late night, any day of the week. The last thing in the world I would expect to be doing on a sunny Memorial Day is not barbecuing.
However, Veronica had the day off from work, and Sam was in Virginia, and that was how I, the chicken farmer, wound up spending the meat of a barbecue holiday at the Windsor Wal-Mart.
The good news is I scored two cheap bras and some brake fluid!
Veronica got a dress, some pants and a shirt, a pair of shoes.... "Honey, is there anything else you need?" she said, while we were wandering (I hoped) toward the checkout.
I looked at the things in my hands. Bras, brake fluid ... "Nope. I'm all set," I said.
"Come on, honey, I want to buy you something," she said.
"Charcoal?" I suggested.
"No, honey," she said. "An outfit." She led me back into the clothes section. Which is like leading a horse to a parking garage or "a skeleton walks into a bar."
"Do you guys have a grill?" I asked, wildly and desperately scanning the racks of Nobo and White Stag for something, anything, that I would be caught dead in.
"Honey, we're going to Subway!" Veronica said.
Mountain Sam says something like I do about waking up wondering who he is any given day. It was five in the afternoon.
"Subway?" I asked.
"I'm hungry, honey!" Veronica said. "I already took a chicken out this morning," she said, "but we're sure going to need something to tide us over while it's on the spit, ain't we?"
It was like waking up in your own bed. My eyes stopped darting. I let her pick me out an outfit, and some day soon I will wear it proudly. *