Have you seen The Illustrated Man with Rod Steiger? Maybe you’ve only read the Bradbury story? I did, a long, long time ago, but I sat in the dark and watched the movie last night, and smiled at the movie’s timing. So, my people of San Jose, here’s some irony for you -- though I’ve never been to San Jose, I find myself closer and closer to it all the time. I never asked the way, but the way found me, in a roundabout sorta way, by way of losing my way -- if that’s way too wayward for you, don’t worry, it’ll all come together, eventually, for you, like it did me . . .
So I was hitchhiking not long ago and a nice couple picked me up on the side of the road somewhere north of Los Angeles and somewhere south of Portland and they asked me where I wanted to go and I said I wasn’t sure, but if they were going anywhere near San Jose, they might drop me off there. Now this couple was no ordinary couple, they were driving in an electric blue 1964 Pontiac, a Catalina, I think, and I got the funny feeling that they were time travelers, not just some nice grandparents going to Berkeley to see their new grandson, although that’s what they told me as I settled in for the long drive. The husband, Frank, he was driving and wearing a brown suit that fit somewhat like he’d lost a lotta weight and the wife, Leana, yes, her name was Leana, was generously shaped and packed into Chanel Knockoff, an iridescent peacock suit of silk moire, so when the light changed along the highway, so did her suit -- she was like a the light of TV coming through a window at night. She offered me a sandwich as Frank drove, “It’s deviled ham and cucumber with lots of pepper and mayonaise, just like you like it.” She said.
“Why how did you know?” I replied as she handed me the dainty little sandwich with the crust cut off the soft white bread.
“I just know these things dear.” And that’s when I knew that she was a time traveler and not somebody’s grandmother, at least not any more.
As we rocketed north on Route 1, I kept my eyes to the Pacific and my ears open to Leana’s stories. Frank just drove, he wasn’t a talker. But occasionally he would hold out his hand and Leana would put a handful of peanuts in his palm, or she would light a cigar for him and he would smoke it happily and I marveled at how she read his mind -- they had been traveling time bands for centuries it seemed.
At one point I fell asleep and night fell while I was dreaming about what I might find in San Jose, but I woke up and Leana was still rambling on about when Frank was a piano player in Hamburg during the war and she was a singer and then she stopped in mid story and asked me if I wanted a Coca-Cola?
“Yes, that would be a nice pick-me-up.” And so Leana produced an ice cold green glass bottle of Coca-Cola from somewhere out of nowhere and she popped the top with a church key that seemed to be encrusted with rhinestones, but I wasn’t sure.
“Here you go dear . . . now tell me something.” I took the bottle from her and cocked my head questioningly at her, “I’ve been doing all the talking, about Frank and me, why don’t you tell me something about you? You got any family? A girl like you traveling all alone on the highway, with no direction. Seems like your folks would be worried about you.”
“Ain’t got no folks Leana.” I took a long swig of the Coca-Cola and it was just fizzy enough to scratch my dry throat as it went down and just sweet enough to make me smile.
“You gotta have folks dear, everybody got folks.”
“Not me Leana. Not me.”
And see that’s where things took an odd turn, cause Frank stopped the car, and the moon was rising in the east and casting this spotlight down on the ocean and I don’t know if it was the Coca-Cola or a spell, but I could see the fishes swimming in the swells just like you might see stars in the sky. And Frank spit the stub of his cigar out the window and turned in his seat so he could say something to me. He removed his hat, smoothed his black hair, and just before he put his hat back on, I noticed one long shock of gray mixed in with that black, and he cleared his throat and Leana, touched his arm, and she looked like she wanted to stop him from saying what he was going to say, but, she didn’t and out he came with this, “Don’t matter if you don’t have folks, what matters is if you got spirits.” And then he pointed out the window to a road sign that glowed in our headlights: San Jose 5 Miles.
I got my knapsack and opened the door. They drove off, Frank and Leana, leaving nothing but red tail lights and a bit of dust in their trail.
Me and my spirits started walking . . .
So, have you seen that house with the sign out front? The one that says Skin Illustrations? Did you go in? Did she give you lemonade and leave you standing naked in the road covered with stories? She might have, but you don’t have to be so damn angry about it Steiger. A muse turns another into a muse who then gets lost and is caught on the way by yet another muse -- see? That’s the way . . . turns out there are muses everywhere, yup yup, everywhere.