Zeno could not get a flight to any Bay Area airport. Not Oakland, not SFX, no way San Jose. Telephone service was down and electricity out all over Santa Cruz County. No buses, no trains. Bridges required support and tunnels testing. Landslides blocked Highway 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Likewise Hecker Pass to the south. No dice on Highway One along the rocky northern coast. A tsunami warning had been issued for Monterey Bay. Deputy Sheriffs from three counties had been deployed in full riot gear to maintain order. No place to run wild and no place to hide out. Debris filled the streets of Santa Cruz and Watsonville and dust fanned flames that were rising with the moon along a key stretch of Freedom Blvd. No place to come home to. Stay the fuck away.
A tidy man in a loose suit lied, “It’s for your own good.”
Zeno heard the words differently. He heard them spoken in the voice of Joe Avergan. What means you to you does not mean me to me. Not as long as I do my own choosing. Don’t ever forget, kid, it’s not what you say, but what you do.
As an American born in the heat of July, Zeno did not waver. He maintained his unsteady and erratic pace at full tilt and speed. All of his mistakes came entangled in a tidy package with unintended consequences. As a requisite, he stopped only for banging into walls. It required a heavy hand and a light touch. He rated his ability to twitch and overcome resistance as top notch. What’s more modern and American than trendy high self-esteem in service of a soft, ripened ego? Even if fake and highly overrated. He stuffed some loose crap into his small bag and flew like a moth because he was so familiar with flames.
He followed the dusty trail north by northwest in a rented car that was less than second best but would have to do. A creased map covered his lap. He was aiming to tiptoe around the edge of Western Civilization without tipping over the edge. No contradictions would pause for crossing. The goons on his tail were on their own.
One goon conjectured wisely, “What’s the big deal?”
“We could take it easy and still be there.”
“Or say we did.”
“Who’s to know, Mr. Whazahootchie with the false face and hair?”
“Only we know.”
“Silly putty and powder.”
“Write it down.”
There was no doubt in Zeno’s right mind that he was heading in the right direction. Even when that right mind was facing left. Either way, the destination was the same. Even goons employed by a clown knew that much.
He followed a trail of garlic in bloom that led as far as Gilroy. Then roadblocks, smoke, dust, fumes, vapors. A dam below Coyote Reservoir had broken out in blotchy red bumps and there was fear of contagion. Humans are such easy touches like that, susceptible to bruising. Meanwhile, a toppled electric pole was smoking in a dyspeptic zone. The siren emanating from a fire truck with two flat tires repeated like a scratched record. He skirted Hollister and San Juan Batista where another steeple had toppled. Cracked pumpkins fallen off of hay wagons seemed to be grinning back at him with jagged teeth. Gulleys grew overnight into bold canyons. Boulders were brought to their knees like pebbles. Ancient spores escaped solitary confinement. Brave dandelions stood tall.
Zeno paused in respect and listened to the roar as he recklessly approached an unstable edge. Monterey Bay was flexing cocky like a hoodlum in front of a corner liquor store. Ten foot waves steamed into Pleasure Point like locomotives. An excited symphony of humpback whales was tooting riffs from a hot spot above a deep pool at 36.704 N. They had arrived to check out the commotion caused by crumbling, superficial cliffs. At depth it was still trending cool and bubbly, consciousness mightily expanding. One standout trumpet reminded Zeno of Freddie Hubbard before his discovery of electricity. The whales were patiently waiting for the purity of water to rise and more cliffs to to crumble. Grey whales, too. What elevated creature with a vast memory to fill would not welcome a little extra head room to spread out and think whale sized thoughts?
But humans sadly were going to be left behind in the lurch. Deep thoughts were not what Zeno had in mind. He eyed the line of cars squeezed like anchovies into slots on Highway One with dismay. Overheating engines were backing up to the artichoke fields of Castroville. Deputy Sheriffs from Monterey County had blocked the road at Moss Landing. Chain link fences protected the power plant from intrusive teenagers and rodents performing sex acts. Deputy Sheriffs from Santa Cruz County were patrolling Watsonville on the other side of the river. Word was out. Forget all impure thoughts and desires. No crossing, gringo. Go back to where you came from.
Zeno turned and backtracked east into gilt hills hugging croplands surrounding Aromas. Strawberry Rd. to Hidden Valley to San Miguel Canyon. Lettuce, cukes, broccoli, beans, squash. No few cracks in the earth had the power to unsettle roots. He found his idyllic spot at the end of a dirt road leading to a pitted rut of mud where he parked under a sickly weeping willow. By then the professional goons were enjoying a delectable mulch derived from eggy substitutes at a Denny’s in Hollister. Zeno left the keys in the unlocked car and plunged down a sandy bank at Murphy’s Crossing. The aroma of sulfur beckoned. He matched digits and limbs with an unwelcoming committee of burrs, barbs, bristles, and thorns, and came out the loser, cut, slashed, gashed, bruised. Then he encountered their identical mates on the other side. Interlopers deserved no warnings in advance of attack and he received all he deserved. Bones, blood, deliverance. The river was shallow but the mud deep. He hopped a fence, took a fall, shed some skin. Rats were catching mice on the levee. The regular homeless encampment at Salsipuedes Creek had grown tenfold. What better guise to blur intentions that mud? Expectations continued apace.
On East Lake Ave. in Watsonville he passed families from Oaxaca and Michoacan huddled under tribal blankets salvaged from former homes leaning obtusely west. The National Guard patrolled the river levee at Lincoln St. and practiced marching on the oval high school track. The football field was newly trimmed. None of the windows in the laundromat with extra large dryers had made it out alive. The dryers had tumbled to the mat, went down for the count. The Quik Mart was boarded up, and plastered with help wanted signs. A mixed pair of B.F. Goodrich tires that had escaped the tyranny of retail enclosures bounced like lunatics on the crooked byways. The cheap Baptist church that owed back rent to the grubby landlord had been transformed miraculously into rubble. The sharp nails of the one God’s mightily calloused hands appeared to be in dire need of a fair and just clipping.
Zeno, however, proceeded undeterred, immutable, obsessive. His relocated mountain remained roughly indivisible above a haze that evaporated at the end of flattened Freedom Blvd. Four lanes had become a junkyard and required skills in hopscotch and long jumping to traverse. Schools, churches, banks, bars, had jumped ship. A Motel 6 pancaked on top of a franchised IHOP and the U-Do Self-Wipe car wash behind sagged. The Super Taqueria 8 stood not tall on the corner, but stood. Taxco Ornamental Iron and Rojas Sheet Metal were closed but the Four Star Plumbing Supply outlet was selling sheets of plywood that mysteriously fell from a truck primed for unloading at a Home Depot in Salinas.
Zeno chanted for sustenance in the authentic contralto of a Leni-Lenape rattle shaker, “Huyuyuyuhuyuhuy-huyuyuyuhuyuhuy,” and naturally, like duh, repeated. It was, after all, a chant. Rattle shakers can’t dance. They would if they could. The dancers get to spin. All he was able to do was shake.
He did not connect the strange looks he received from his fellow travelers to any wayward behavior that had any meaningful connection to his until a 2nd concerned citizen stopped him, and along with a helping hand, offered, “You really need to go to the hospital.”
He said, “Huh?”
He heard,”That’s a lot of blood to lose.”
He said, “Are you talking to me?”
He heard, “Not to mention the danger of infection.”
He wasn’t in the mood to argue metaphysics with a stranger who was obviously suffering classic symptoms of anxiety and distress. There were no lofty tautological pinpoints that occurred to him on the surface to be contested and proved in a European clash of ideas. But Freedom Hospital was in fact empirically located right on his way home to the Santa Cruz Mountains where Freedom Blvd. begins to become hilly and he couldn’t miss it. The wobbly neon sign was knocked askew as if gorged on loco weed from the Sonora Desert and the light fixtures and telephone poles were bob and weaving like the icing on hot cross buns. And business was booming.
There was a lot of commotion in front, sirens, lights, hysterical reactions. In the rear, too. It used to be the imposing red brick building south of Airport Blvd. now missing a pair of chimneys, electrical power, a parking structure, and a recently renovated maternity wing generously funded by donations spearheaded at St. Patrick’s Church on Main St, which had also been reduced to rubble. Holy smoke was rising from dust and ashes. Maybe, Zeno conjectured, they will give me a medicinal booster of some juju juice to assist me in the climb.
Wisely, he concluded, what the fuck? It was not a question. The question he asked was, “How can it hurt?”
He stopped in uninvited to inquire about the likelihood of a quickie. That set off a cacophony in which he was manhandled, mauled, rotated, and jerked. He was pushed by a volunteer in a wheelchair to the head of the line. All that blood apparently carried a lot of clout, though the volunteer was wary. There appeared to be an unmistakable aura of pathogens in the proximal air. Then a contingent of mothers attached to newborn babies were wheeled out of the newly renovated maternity wing and moved ahead of him in line.
A frantic voice carrying on undeterred from close quarters demanded, “ What happened to the doctor? This cervix is fully dilated. We need to rush.”
Zeno politely stepped aside and swooned. He’d encountered the word of course, because what experience manly man hasn’t, as well as evidence of vital fluids leaking, sort of, but could not exactly define what in fact a cervix was or did or where or how it was done, and to whom. But it appeared to be important. He leaned on a strategic wall for support.
A roving explorer carrying a clipboard on a mission jabbed at him with a pencil and snapped, “Name, address, date of birth, social security number. Blue Cross or Blue Shield if you have it.”
He said, “Give me a minute.”
It would take more than a minute but he did not let on. The revelation of bare, broken skin was enough exposure for him. The clipboard provided a steadying platform for reams of punched paper forms in pastel colors and parts that would become feed for voracious machines dedicated to harsh and total rule by the dictates of unfeeling automatons. He considered all of the complex alternatives, real, in kind, in trade, outright pseudo, and utterly concocted, and then opted to fill the void with a standard version of the truth as he knew it.
“Zeno Sol. That much I know for sure. As for the rest of the unknown, any address and numbers remain still to be determined.”
In the awkward pause he required to add additional dates, facts, digits, data, a nearby nurse trilled, “Oh you must be the father. No wonder you didn’t show up. Look at you.”
“Are you still talking to me?”
“You may look like a mess now but we’ll get you fixed up.”
“I’m not the one you’re looking for.”
“We’ll do a thorough examination to search for a head injury.”
“Don’t you think I’d know?”
“How many other men with the name Zeno Sol do you think reside in Santa Cruz County?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.”
It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it was. To find out, that is, to find out what it is, where, why, and who. If not, what else is? He was never trying to fake his identity on purpose. That was for sure. And forget how. How was always least likely. Sort of. But he knew like no one else that he could be no known or unknown father under current conditions. Though he also knew it’s not easy to be real. For that, he’d have to find the missing person impersonating an unknown self. And then become what had never been. No pantomimes, no impersonations, no dramatizations, no hieroglyphics, no falsies, no apologies, no regrets.
It would take a long time to find out, but he did, and when he did, he would finally become the last to know.