Those were the summer days of very high and very low tides and of very long days and very short nights. You found yourself using the word “very” a lot. Once past the springy solstice on Mystery Island the change of tides can be as much as 19 feet. The water flows in and flows out four times a day. The sun drags its long way, rolling along the Western horizon until almost ten at night. We’d built a little greenhouse and all the gardens were pulsing. Sweetpeas and real peas, corn and beans and rasberries. Very very.
Oona and I decided we’d camp out as the Firesign Theatre played a date at the Golden State Theater in Monterey, the theater owned by Warren Dewey, the same person from whose studio in Los Angeles we’d broadcast our XM radio show called “Fools in Space.” Warren’s a (very) nice man who’d offered us a rental deal for his beautifully restored theater that made us more money per man than we’d ever seen in any show in our endless history and this meant that dollar worries were way less than usual. And the big blonde and I therefore decided to take the tent-trailer down to California and spend a week at the Marina Dunes RV park in nearby Marina, at the bottom of the Bay of Monterey, where the sand has piled up over several thousand millennia into dunes now protected by careful stewards. The RV park is right in the middle of the dunes. It was to be the first RV park we’d ever stayed in, given the fact that for some thirty-five years of tent camping we’d had no need of plugging a plug into much of anything at all.
(The tent-trailer is a pop-up made by Coleman under their Fleetwood moniker and we bought it two years ago. It travels nicely, barely showing up behind our suburban which boasts two Yakima carriers on top. We had the usual five dogs with us: three cattle dogs and the two Chihuahua mixes who have lately come to rule our lives.)
The Monterey Peninsula was the beach for me growing up inland in Fresno, in the flat old San Joaquin Valley of Central California. When I was a teenager, my parents spent two summer weeks or so of a couple of years or so renting a bungalow in the little town of Carmel, where the picturesque cottages are set among the twisted black shore trees and the Big Sur stretches south. When I was a kid, in the Fifties, this was the world of everything desirable to me; it was literary in the sense that John Steinbeck and Gary Snyder were literary. I was from Fresno and therefore William Saroyan was the writer I most knew and was most mystified by. It was always hard for me to understand how someone who could write might be from a town that seemed to me to be as familiar as the Fresno Bee, as mundane as well, as mundane as my mundane self, struggling with little poems and littler stories and my paper route. Carmel and Big Sur were the wild coast, the cliffs dropping to the surging water surface of the Pacific, the fogs set up on the hills like hats, the weather always sweater weather, the nights solid and black and dripping in the fogs with the smell of the Eucalyptus trees and the pines. On The Road was rumbling around my brain, the big flat records were red see-through vinyls from Pacific Jazz and Monterey was still an old town and Cannery Row seemed the same as in the book. This was my beach and I read and took long walks up into the old graveyard way up above Carmel Bay, in the days just before I could drive.
I hadn’t been back for some years. We’d shot “Nick Danger and the Case of the Missing Yolks” there in the middle Eighties and there’d been one TED Conference in the Nineties and the Peninsula had dropped out of my life for many years and here I was going back, as if sliding backwards into my youth.
The show and the Firesign Theatre were alright. I approach each of these jobs as if they are in fact reunions, which, in fact, they pretty much are. We’ve grown old together, the four of us, and we treat each other more kindly now. We’re more gentlemanly, all of us. We adjust. We weather the storms. We get through.
As if we are Lewis and Clark and Philip and Philip, on outings usually spaced five some years apart, we traverse the American West because we’d have to have a lot of dates set up in order to afford to play the East Coast. This way, we can try – for the first time in our over forty years together – to actually finance and produce one experimental show by ourselves; no promoters, no backers.
Monterey is still a little town with archaic parking restrictions and the kind of Old California mission charm dear to the hearts of plein aire artists and craftsmen carpenters. My dear old friends George Cromarty and Paul (then Ed) Rush were known as the Goldcoast Singers back in the Sixties and appeared at Kalisa’s on Cannery Row. The song called “Plastic Jesus” is theirs.
We charged into the old piece we call “Forward, into The Past” a little too quickly, but the audience caught up to us once they realized that Mrs. Darlene Yukamoto had knitted Barrage Balloons and that each and every Veteran had been promised a Dead Mule. We charged ahead. We tried out parts of Dwarf and parts of Bozos and a kind of cut-down Danger. We listened to each other’s ideas about ourselves, we counted seats, set lights, we discussed sound cues, we talked to reporters, we rehearsed.
Then Oona and I spent a couple of days on the dunes:
Then we drove north and camped at Gold Bluffs Beach:
When we left, we drove up the coast all the way to the scary Astoria Bridge that arches out over the mouth of the giant Columbia River and connects Oregon to Washington like a thread that might one day become a web, the spider unknown and perhaps gone away, leaving only this single long frightening line.
Like Lewis and Clark, the weather turned torrentic
Like Lewis and Clark, we drove through Tilamook
Like Lewis and Clark, we stopped at the Tilamook Co-op
Like Lewis and Clark, we watered the dogs and walked away with nothing because it’s the Disneyland of Cheese, full of lines of tourists eager to buy curdled milk products
Unlike Lewis and Clark, we did not eat our dogs