September 1 Alan

THE WHOLE WHOLESOME TOWN COWERS at the engine's roar. When I turn corners heads turn and worry I'll return. And heads they are: asked around Oakland, and it turns out it was a biker-turned-boho named Farmer John who turned on the area. Now a whole, hairy brotherhood of freaks and fairies call this their wild wonderland, day-tripping and kook-conspiring their time away. It's a hippie enclave, but the psychedelic, peacenik kind without any of the steamy seaminess that lends places like the Haight and Telegraph Ave. their charm. They take enough of that crazy, mind-dissolving stuff (there's a reason it's called acid) and I start seeing funny too: I twist my hog through too-bright, sea-light streets and watch mirrored pastel houses and surrealistic green lawns shudder in my wake.

There's nothing to worry about, Laguna Beach. My mission is a peaceful one, as harmless as they get. Approaching awkwardly again Mystic Arts Workshop, the bike wavers a little from braking and the interference of my shaking hands. It knows when I'm getting stupid and generally misbehaves at a drop in my mettle level. I whisper a malediction, how I'll kick the carburetor hard if it backfires or stalls in front of her. Jeez-iz! my heart's pounding almost as loud as the engine!

Rev once for good measure, cut it, set the stand, climb off. There, Alan, that's not so complicated. Carry out the rest just like the steps of stopping a bike, or starting up. Take a little nip of the syrup to keep smooth. . . . Just like John Wayne in all those westerns: let your swagger do the courtin' for you. Kee-ryst! she's going to laugh in my ugly ape face!

Pick a dandelion from the curb for good measure and enter the fragrant place with the jangle of exotic bells that accompanies the swinging door. Again it seems empty. "I'll be right with you," comes the sing-song voice from behind a rainbow tapestry that leads to the back. My too-big Adam's apple pumps uncontrollably at the sound. Even sweeter than I remember it. I can't even believe I'm standing here, with a yellow weed between meaty fingers, except that even more I can't believe how she struck me down like an angel the last time I passed through town.

"Now what can I help you with today, my brother?" The shock on my face must be just like her own--I guess she wasn't expecting someone like me, either. Except that I'm so freaked out by her 'fro and wondering what the Hell happened to my red-headed angel that I can't even register the hate on my face.

The cough syrup hits a sore spot and somehow I feel too sad to even spit. "Yeah, there used to be a girl who worked here. Long orange hair. Real pretty."

The black girl is all business all of a sudden, fussing with papers and bead displays on the counter. "A lot of people pass through. If she's in some kind of trouble. . . ."

I recognize I'm still holding my poor-man's rose in front of me like a choir boy, work it out of sight around my back and stand my ground with thumbs hooked on the back of my belt. "No, no, look . . . my name's Alan, I just wanted to say hi."

"Yeah, well, if I ever see her again I'll tell her you asked about her. She split something like a week ago and nobody has seen her since."

I'm out of there in a flash this time, empty handed, shook down by a black girl. The bike backfires and I give it one Hell of a kick, bend a spoke. I'm fucked. Don't know where to go and I never even found out her name.

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