Chapter Twelve

The Millennium Shows by Philip E. Baruth, San Francisco

That was the beginning of the long afternoon. Edward read the last pages of his detective novel perched on the camp stool, and I caught him once checking to see if my silhouette had moved inside the limousine. Neither of us said a word. Finally, after a cautious interval, he stuck his head into the rear compartment and asked if I wanted to play a fist of cards.

He and I stood for what seemed like hours before the grill of the limousine and played gin, the discard pile tucked neatly in behind the hood ornament. He told me in the course of a number of casual things how he had been arrested in Providence that night so long before. How they had taken his story in form after form of information from him. They had walked his fingers on ink and on another clean white form, someone on this coast had opened his house like a medicine cabinet, taken out everything and looked at it all, returned it improperly. He had spent three days in a detention cell.

And when they had enough of him to make up another of him in their files, they had released him.

All of this came together as Edward puzzled over his hand, tried to remember if I was taking nines, turned away a small girl of eight or ten who was convinced that her father was the man in the poster and who wanted Edward to ride the shuttle bus back to her parking space. I ceased to worry about the emptiness of the pouch. I had taken it off and hung it with the crystal from the rear-view mirror. The card was gone, like Marc was gone.

In the loss of it, I came to feel secure with Edward again. I liked standing with him as deadheads and simple tourists walked past the car, watching our falling cards gravely, like totems they had paid to see. He had no use for them, any of them. He leaned one big arm on the hood as he tapped the tops of his cards into place, never a man in the world with a more natural poker face.

I watched him as he played and tried to separate out that thing about him which had made me value him, wish for his company over years. He was unpolished and short-tempered, he did not like people in any common way. If he had Sonjee in the front seat of his limousine, he would drive away from the shows without a good-bye, without any difficulty.

I watched him snap cards against the hood and I thought that it was his aloneness. A solitary approach to the world that he had fostered through his love for its underside, the piping, the backs of drywalls, places behind kitchens.

I guess I envied him. He had no fear of the systems contained there, he had cursed them in the dark. He had spent thirty-five years of his life in a truck of tools. He had learned to inhabit small coffins of crawlspaces and the hypothetical, open foundations of unbuilt homes. He knew places to be alone. He pieced them together with his hands. I had exhausted all of the places in all of the states I knew. Mine were all full.

The longer we played, and the less time seemed to pass, the more I began to think that Vector would be worried about me. I had told him that I would meet him at the ship. He had probably spent the night there waiting for me to return. Finally I couldn't concentrate on my cards, diamonds would bleed into hearts, and I told Edward that I needed to go see a friend. He lay down his hand and began to flip through the discard pile, calculating how many turns he had been from winning. He swept the cards up, made a pack of them.

His face was still a poker face. ``Mind if I come along?'' he asked casually.

It was surprising to me. It wasn't his way.

From two rows away I saw Vector hanging in the rigging, his hands knitting something together there in small, intricate motions. I could see soft blue sky beyond him. Edward opened his mouth when he saw the ship, leaned back to take it in so that his stomach bowed out in front of him.

Then when we came upon it, I saw the wrecked end: the slender prow had been ripped away, the entire assembly which had held it in place was gone. All of the balsa wood and a good portion of the pine fixed to it were gone, like a vast, uneven bite taken from the front of the schooner. From one point as we approached we could see straight through the ship to the Ram beneath.

Clifford was sorting lumber on the blacktop. He wore no shirt beneath his overalls, so that his arms and chest looked bonier, less capable than normal. He heard our footsteps and spun around, his lips set in a line that brought his beard up over them, burying them in a look of frustration. He nodded at me, short, angry nods. ``See that shit? See that whole goddamn front end?''

``What happened?''

``Fucking little pricks, that's what happened,'' he answered like spitting. He hefted four or five stacked boards, balanced them over some tools he had lying beside the ship, walking them up to the front. He threw them down near the torn section, and they threw up a fine yellow dust. He yelled back, ``I'm just putting a fucking band-aid on it today. They ruined it. It's garbage now.''

Vector was coming down the ropes as Clifford went around the side of the ship. He jumped the last few feet, rubbed his hands as he walked over to us. He pointed in Clifford's direction. ``That guy's not having a good day.''

``What happened?'' I asked.

``Clifford went to the show last night with his girlfriend. Some guys were on the boat when he got back, screwing around, lighting firecrackers, and he threw them off. Not any too politely, I don't guess. They came back sometime last night with a couple of ropes and pulled the front end off with their car. I was sleeping right on the deck, it scared the shit out of me. Big crash, big crash. And then they dragged the thing for about sixty yards, whipping it against people's cars. It was pretty lively here. Clifford had a baseball bat out for a little bit,'' Vector whispered. ``Some pacifist.'' He chuckled. ``Guy claims he's a pacifist.''

Edward had drifted around to the other side of the ship, running his hand along the bracings and under-supports which held the upper frame to the truck underneath. He was staring up at something, reaching up.

Vector pointed to him and asked me quietly, ``Who's the old guy? Like a building inspector or something?''

``That's Edward,'' I said. I watched Edward pull a piece of dark wood away with his stubby fingers, from a place on the ship which hadn't been damaged. I saw him bend the scrap of wood. It was wet for some reason. He did not think to wait to be introduced, something in the makeup of the ship had caught his eye.

Vector raised his eyebrows. ``That's Edward? The one you told me about?''

``That's him. I met up with him last night. He's here alone.''

Vector nodded at the word alone, then whispered, ``He looks kind of different than I thought, from what you always said.''

``How different?''

Vector thought about it. ``Shorter. Older. He just looks like an older guy. I thought he'd be, I don't know. Bigger-seeming.''

We both watched him for a second, until Edward looked up from the dark fragment he was holding and caught us looking, moved stiffly, gruffly around the side of the ship, out of sight.

Vector said, ``I feel cheerful, I really feel much more devil-may-care next to your other friends.''

``He's really a good man. And Clifford just has a temper.''

``Tell me about it. He was yelling at me this morning, like I was asleep on watch or something. After he calmed down, I offered to string up some running lights for him, you know he got ticketed for no lights on the ship, right? He told me not to wear myself out. Very sarcastic. I swear I had to beg him to let me run up a new electrical system for him. I told him he could have the lights free. I have a whole bunch of odds and ends from that Minnesota job in the back seat of my car.''

``But he's letting you go ahead,'' I said, smiling.

``Oh yeah,'' Vector shrugged. ``Against his better judgement, I'm sure. He has also condescended to let me take a look at some tic in the ignition system. I'm telling you, he has this attitude like it was my fault, like I'm making restitution by wiring all this crap up for him.''

``Well?'' I asked.

``Well what?''

``You do feel guilty about it, don't you?''

Vector wiped his hands on his shirt, leaving light ashy tracks fanned out on his brown shirt. ``Of course I do,'' he said blackly, ``you would too if somebody stripped Edward's limousine while you were asleep in the back. I heard something, but I thought it was just people partying. I shouldn't feel responsible. But I do,'' he added.

And then he tapped my chest. ``But you're on the shit list too.''

I looked at him. ``Me?''

``Yup. Forgot. Clifford thought you were going to be here last night. Not to mention you told me you were going to meet me here, come to think of it. I think he thought you were going to spell him watching the float. That's what he seemed to be saying this morning. Your name had the word fuck in front of it just like regular folks.''

I looked up, saw that Edward had come out with Clifford, both of them standing over a spot on the deck, both with their arms crossed. One red-faced, paunchy, white-haired, the other just a pair of overalls on a thin hanger of bone, draped with a beard. Both of them were staring sullenly downward. Edward stretched out the toe of his shoe, seemed to push at the wood. Clifford muttered something, then copied that probing gesture with his own leg. Neither looked at the other. After a moment, they repeated the gesture, watching the dark wood pessimistically. They seemed oddly at home with one another.

``I didn't do anything,'' I told Vector. ``Not a thing.''

He went back to the ropes, spat on his hands that always seemed too large and calloused and powerful for his body. ``That's exactly what Clifford was saying this morning,'' Vector tossed back over his shoulder, hunching up the rope. He was grinning as he climbed.

I watched him make it up into the net of the rigging, and saw him pick up the wires he had left dangling there. He had a sack on his belt. From it he pulled a round yellow light and hung it, smooth and unflinching as an eye, to the rope in front of him. He began to coax something from the back of its casing with a small tool. I stood and looked up at him working, and I did feel guilty for the vandalism of the past night. I had caught it somehow from him.

Edward, it turned out, had pointed out a section of wood-rot to Clifford. The water tank was running over onto the wood of the deck and softening it. And despite his public fatalism, it was clear that Clifford intended to restore the ship, to limp it back to Pasadena and tend to it on the flat roof of his garage.

Edward talked noncommittally about installing a chrome drain in the flooring, a section of white plastic piping which would run the water to a spill pipe peeking down near the double-wide bed of the Dodge Ram. He mentioned a child-sized porcelain sink bowl which he had riding in the hollow of his spare, beneath the cupboard in the limousine, which he had intended for a half-bath in his own home. Clifford showed just little enough interest so that the discussion neither stopped nor proceeded to payment. They followed one another through the imaginary trail of pipe, coming in and out from beneath the hollow shell of the ship with tape measures in their hands, neither of them tendering or accepting a proposal.

The imaginary estimate passed unspoken into an agreement for work in this gradual way, perfectly understood by both of them. Edward told me that he had to go for his tools, and a half an hour or so later I saw him reappear in the open doors of a shuttle bus, his arms hung with coils of piping and tools, and a small boy he had hired next to him bearing the sinkbowl carefully, as though it were ivory.

I watched them all work. Vector hung up in the sun, Edward and Clifford moving in and out of shadow. I ran cans of beer to them, and held flashlights at certain angles, illuminating certain obscure recesses in the wood. Clifford placed me at one end of a long two-by-four as he sawed a penciled line. I worked out a bucket-and-pulley system with Vector. I would put a roll of deep black electrical tape or a fresh beer in a Chinese take-out container, and tug on the twine attached to its metal handle. Edward needed no help it seemed. Very occasionally he would stop his work and search me out with his eyes, seeming to make himself sure of my position. He would wave me over for some small thing, feeding a pipe through a hole to the hold of the Ram below, something he would have contrived otherwise to do for himself.

Watching them all work was a tonic for me. They were craftsmen, individuals doing jobs well, from personal knowledge and understanding. It was so comforting to see them work with wood and water and current. It gave me hope that life in the next thousand years needn't mean greater and more interdependency, the giving up of more privacy, the acceptance of more authority. Maybe culture would make terms with individuals. I watched them work.

Still the day was passing like some heavy fluid. I left Edward's site to hold a series of planks for Clifford, feeling the shocks as he nailed them, and I returned to see that the second hand on Edward's watch had dragged through only four revolutions. I couldn't understand the way in which those elongated hours of working in the sun, of taking small breaks with the three of them, fit into the space before we stopped for lunch.

I went for the food, without asking anyone, consulting anyone. There were people everywhere, hot lines of people, bumping into one another, crossing at all angles. It might have been a street in New Delhi.

It was important to me again that I buy the food, as it had been the day before with Vector. I went to the same vegetarian kitchen, the same stand of butcher blocks and I told the same man behind one of them that I wanted to trade my green bracelet for three vegetarian dinners, and one with chicken. I had no desire to return to that garden of monitors. I felt disoriented even in my memory of it.

He looked at it on my wrist. ``How many day's it good for?''

``Three,'' I said, holding it out to him.

He looked at the zebra stripe. There was no way for him to read it, but he nodded. ``Hang on a second,'' he said, and turned around to the woks and bottles of peanut oil and utensils behind him. He turned back with a small whetted knife.

``Hold your wrist out,'' he said. And as he sawed carefully through the green strip, he was explaining himself in a chatty, low voice: ``They started invalidating mutilated bracelets last night. Ones that were stretched out, or cut open. I guess people, hang on, just a sec, I guess people were ripping them off other people's wrists. Running away with them.''

``OK,'' he said finally, and there was a small snapping noise. The bracelet fell away from my wrist. He held it up, made as though to join it back together. ``We'll glue it back together,'' he said, ``they don't have time to look at them real close up.''

He packed my food in a series of brown bags, stacked them up and set a six-pack of all-natural soda next to it. He waved me away when I began to protest. ``Only fair, man, only fair. You could have gotten one hell of a lot more than that for it, anyway.'' Then he threw the bracelet in the box with the credit card receipts, went back to serving the long lines waiting. There seemed to be no difference in his mind between the plastic of that wristlet and the carbon paper of those receipts, the green of one and the black of the other.

The four of us ate up on the deck, mostly in silence, although Vector and I talked about shows that we had seen together, and Edward and Clifford asked one another short, terse questions, and discussed the states of their different parts of the ship. But largely we ate and rested, and watched the throngs of people pass below the railing. Most, I thought now looking at them, with no colors. Tourists. They were restless, those people, they seemed all of them to be searching for something to do in the heat. They had debauched the lot of its possibilities in the first two days. They had thought that there would be more to camping out with the Dead. They were glad of the things to buy. But the sameness of those things, the repetition of earrings and tie-dyes and moccasins had taken the edge off even that. They were tired of the music after two days of live shows and the half-phrases of thousands of differing bootlegs that they heard walking through the lot.

Clifford watched for the vandals, for Lu who was with friends from Northern California. Vector watched for Susan. Edward looked for Sonjee, I think, although there was a bitter and puzzled quality to his expression as he scrutinized the people passing. He looked as though he wanted to jump down amongst them and squeeze answers out of them, squeeze the questions themselves out of them.

There was a fine high part of that afternoon that reminded me of the day those years before at the Headlands, when that deadhead had stood on the carcass of a whale and stamped until his foot sank through the wall of skin and bone. Edward finished the sink and the chrome drain, and he sculpted a black caulk around it with careful fingers and a set of small knives.

At one point, Vector worked his way down the ropes, and came into the shadow of the boat where I was. He sat down beside me.

``I have to tell you something, man,'' he said seriously. His forehead was lined, and I saw for an instant how his face would fold and fall as he aged.


``Last night I waited here for you for a couple of hours, and you didn't show up. So after a while I figured that you had to be with that group from Minnesota. And so I took the bus over there, and I talked with them for a while. About you.''

There were stirrings inside me. I looked up at him, to his wide-open eyes: ``Did you tell them I was here?''

``No,'' he answered, shaking his head. ``I told them I was supposed to meet you but you hadn't shown up yet. I felt like a damn liar, but I knew you probably wouldn't want me to say anything.''

That made me feel a little calmer, and I asked him about them, how they were, what they had made of the shows from where they were.

``They're alright, Story,'' he told me. ``They're really a nice bunch of people. And they're all worried as shit about you, that woman Ella feels horrible I think. She told me about making that call, and she kept asking me if I thought it was the right thing to do. And that woman, Sarah's her name?''

I nodded, holding my knees: ``Yes. Sarah.''

``She was more worried than any of them. She was almost crying when I told her who I was. Did you two have something going between you?''

I nodded, said nothing.

Vector looked at me a little disapprovingly, I could tell that he was angry with me at some level. He shook his head. ``Yeah, well she's really concerned about you. She wouldn't let me leave, she wanted to talk about you, where I thought you might have gone. Wanted to make a list of addresses and numbers to check. Obviously got a mind. And she's beautiful, man. I don't see how you can throw something like that away.''

``I'm not,'' I answered. It was hotter than it had been all afternoon, and I ran a hand over my damp forehead. ``I can't go back. I would if I could. I miss all of them, you know that Vector. But there's more to it than that. I don't think I could explain it to you.''

He waited for me to say something more. When I didn't, he got up and dusted off his hands. ``I wish I were you, man,'' he said, ``that's all. I wish I had what you got to give away.''

``I wish I were you,'' I told him, but he just shook his head, walked back into the sun toward the ropes, pulling off his shirt as he did so, ignoring me for the moment. He yelled over to Clifford, ``Taking it off here, Boss!'' And after a moment Clifford yelled back in a Louisiana warden's voice, ``Taking it off, boy!''

They worked in that heat for just a while longer. I ran the things to them that they needed and held things, ran the water into the sink for Edward when he called up for me to do so. They had all reached the point where they had come to ignore the sweat falling from their foreheads. They were concerned only with completion. They would lean on their two arms, close their eyes. They began to swear at lifeless things in their hands, they forced themselves to finish.

When they were done, Clifford took down the can for donations which read California Highway Patrol Fund and shook out the money on the boards of the ship. He counted it silently, while the rest of us watched him, drank our warm natural soda. There was thirty-six dollars and eighteen cents. He passed Edward a stack of fifteen bills, Vector an equal stack, he handed me a five, a one, a dime, a nickel, and three brown pennies.

And all of us put our money in our pockets and were pleased with it, although Vector and Edward had made five or ten times that amount in a single hour at other times in their lives. Clifford banged his hand twice affectionately against the deck, told it that it was a good old tub.

The late sky turned agreeably orange over us, sweetening everything. We heard bottle rockets crying, then popping. Vector took Clifford's keys and ran to the side of the boat, climbed down the side. We heard his sneakers bang against the wood as he rappelled. There was a pause, the muffled slamming sound of the door of the Ram.

And the lights he had installed in the rigging came on suddenly over our head, the running lights, some taillights, some Christmas lights, mostly red and orange. There were a number that seemed like flashers stolen from the sawhorses of construction sites. It was a joyous spectacle.

People parked in spots around us shouted things up at us, and I heard little pockets of scattered clapping. Horns sounded, behind us, to the sides. Laughter. Horns of many different pitches. The reaction stretched further: other stands of cars hills of the parking lot away heard the salute, connected it to the lights in a hint of distant rigging, and they saluted as well.

Clifford got up and went to the sink, sent water rushing through those pipes, a truly delighted smile on his face, and I began to lose the sense I had had of them all working on that ship, each in their own discipline. It was the same. There was no difference; the things that they knew and manipulated with their hands need only suffer a proliferation to pass out of any sense of singularity, solidity. Numbers only were needed: only multiplication.

With more workmen even that handmade ship would live, it would be granted a sense of its own survival. It would expand to enclose its expanding life, its component intelligence. Edward's caulk dead on the floor around the sink was incipient life, I saw then. His odd jobs and his misanthropy were incipient sacrifice to a culture which utilized them. I heard in the horns of community response, community impulse. I heard that over and over again.

The three men walking the boards of the ship were aspecific, frightened living things. They were naked and desperate as a heart in a latex hand. The flashers over my head would continue in their pattern until the battery which powered them had itself died. And as I watched those lights stir the eyes of everyone around us -- even as I smiled weakly at Clifford's enchantment -- I realized that night had finally fallen, that it was night all around us.

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