The Poet's Club

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Sometimes there is nothing better than to be in Big Sur on a Sportster.

Submitted: April 08, 2018

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Submitted: April 08, 2018

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The Poet's Club

Pete was a good guy. The ultimate California surfer dude, although he didn't spend a lot of time on the beach. In fact, he didn't even surf. But he'd been born in Santa Barbara near the beach and had spent his life there. And this had given him the attitude. Pretty much everyone was OK and they could do what they wanted. As could could he. He had the easy laugh and he even had the blond hair, although at the age of twenty-seven it was already starting to thin on top.

Pete and Molly shared a crappy little duplex near Ortega and De la Vina Streets in the old part of Santa Barbara. Molly on the right and Pete on the left. There were trees growing in the yard that nobody could identify, having been brought back in the 19th century by sea captains. In the fall they would drop fruit that nobody had ever seen before.

There was a small cabin in the back yard, almost a doll house, where Molly's best friend Jane lived. Jane was different from Pete and Molly in that everything confused her. She had been a liberal arts major and now she worked temp clerical jobs around Santa Barbara. She was short and cute with long brown hair, and she wore baggy men's clothing so the guys wouldn't bother her. And she was constantly trying to figure out what she was going to do with her life.

For some odd reason, the baggy men's clothing bothered Pete and he would sometimes mention it to Molly. An odd thing for a person who was otherwise so dedicated to live and let live. A bug up his butt over Jane's baggy men's pants and t-shirts. Molly told Jane about it and Jane cackled and said she thought that was hilarious.

Jane was confused, but in those years, Pete and Molly were seldom confused. They were aerospace engineers making good money for their age and they had already abstractly charted the course for their lives, i.e., they would somehow find a way to cease being aerospace engineers. They just hadn't figured out the details yet. Pete supposed he would someday make enough money to buy a large tract of land in Northern California where he would become a hermit. Molly would buy a homey little bar and coffee shop in the redwoods. In the meantime, they got up and went to work everyday and dealt with people they found colorless.

Pete explained why he never attended the company Christmas party, “If I wanted to hang out with those people, I'd be friends with them.”

Both Jane and Molly were single. And not just between boyfriends, but dedicated single. They didn't have boyfriends, they hadn't had one in a long time and they weren't looking for one. Jane liked to come over and sleep with Molly and they would rub each others backs. The fact that Jane did this, and wore men's clothing, and had a motorcycle for transportation made Molly suspect that she might be a lesbian, although Molly never mentioned this to Pete. And Molly never asked Jane about it as that was a question that seemed too be too intrusive.

Molly probably would have tried to hook up with Pete but for his girlfriend Nell. A woman in her mid forties that Pete had dated forever, and who desperately tried to keep a grip on Pete. The couple was perpetually on the verge of breaking up and almost every Monday Pete would tell Molly that it was all over between him and Nell.

Nell was a good person, warm, adventurous and fun. Sharing much of Pete's philosophy of life. And even with the age difference she would have made Pete a great lifetime companion. But she had a self destructive streak. When she became frustrated with Pete, which was almost every weekend, her first reaction was get stinking drunk and then spin off into a sobbing tantrum. While Pete sat stoically nearby trying to ignore her.

Nell would approach Pete with a kootchy kootchy koo type thing, Pete would brush her hand aside, the bottle of Jack Daniels would come out of her purse and Nell would have what Jane, Molly and Pete called a “flip”. They had a scale from one to ten for rating them. A five was constant screaming but not throwing anything and no other physical violence.

But Molly and Jane thought that Nell was OK and they had many nice afternoons getting drunk with her and listening to her talk about what an over grown punk Pete was.

Pete, Jane and Molly all had motorcycles. Pete's was the best. A custom hard tail frame with an eighty inch engine and a magneto. It had a headlight and a tail light and not much else. It had to be kick started it and it had dentist mirrors mounted on the handle bars (sometimes) to meet the California mirror requirements. A real simple machine. The kick starter had a bicycle pedal that folded out and Pete would stand facing the rear of the bike to punch it down. He explained that he stood this way in case the bike backfired and violently kicked the pedal back up.

Molly had a semi-chopped Sportster, which had once been decked out with fenders and instruments. But Molly laid it down at low speed in some gravel and it had skidded across the road and hit a curb. It then bounced into the air and landed upside down. The front fender, the tank, the headlight, the front turn signals, the handle bars and instruments were crushed. Molly could only afford to replace the tank, handle bars and the headlight, so her bike was now sort of a simple machine too. Molly realized that her front fender had been for more than show the first time she ran through a mud puddle without it.

Jane had a CM 750 Honda with fenders, speedometer, oil light, turn signals and all that stuff .

On weekends they would ride the bikes into the mountains behind Santa Barbara and camp. There were hundreds of places to go. They would all get drunk, smoke a little weed and then Jane and Molly would retire to their sleeping bags while Nell began screaming at Pete.

Molly didn't have a bed or any other furniture in those days. After she graduated, and got her first job, and first real apartment, way up in a hot and crappy part of Canoga Park, she bought a lot of that kind of stuff. She then changed jobs and moved to Newport Beach, and found out how miserable it was to pack up all that shit to move it. And when she got the job in Santa Barbara, she sold everything to her neighbor for almost nothing, vowing that from that point forward, everything she owned would fit in her car.

Molly did, however, have a queen sized futon, which, incidentally, could be rolled up and fit into the back seat of her car. Molly had this on the floor on one side of her tiny living room. The mattress on the floor appealed to her bohemian soul. On the other side of the small room, also on the floor, were her stereo and TV. The room was otherwise empty except for a large potted palm that was there when she moved in. Molly could sit on the futon with her back to the wall and listen to music or watch TV.

One Friday afternoon Pete, Jane, Nell and Molly were all sitting on Molly's Futon drinking wine and listening to Van Morrison. They were all silent through the song “Moondance” because they loved it.

When the song ended ended, Pete said, “Why don't we take the bikes and cruise up to Big Sur and hang out at the River Inn?”

“Is the Poet's Club meeting?” Asked Jane.

“Never know”, Pete answered. “Sometimes they meet and sometimes they don't. But it doesn't matter. We can have a few in the bar and then sleep on the beach. Have some breakfast on the deck and then come back down in the morning.”

“Why don't we just call the River Inn and ask them what's going on?” Molly asked.

“'Cause that spoils everything”, Pete replied, with his style of inescapable logic.

They agreed to go and went their separate ways to get sleeping bags, extra clothing and to dress for the trip. The cold weather had pretty much ended, but one never knew how much insulation you would need at night on a bike.

They headed out from the center of Santa Barbara and the first gas stop for Molly's Sportster's tiny gas tank was the North end of town. Molly was like a kid on a road trip who has to stop and piss every twenty minutes, but in her case it was stop to buy gas. And the problem was compounded by the fact that she no longer had a gas gauge. Pete, with his Fat Bobs, and Jane, with her gas sipping Honda, didn't have this problem.

The sun was setting as they hit Gaviota. There was little auto traffic and they roared into the night. They followed 101 further inland and again bought gas in Lompoc, or Lompuke as Nell referred to her home town, and then headed back out into the dark. They caught the coast road at San Luis Obisbo and it was a new world. There was a full moon over the ocean and heated the sky to a cobalt blue with a few wispy white clouds. They could see the surf in the bright moonlight. As they passed the openings to the canyons through the inland mountains, the air would suddenly become cold, and then warm up again as they passed by. Molly pictured the rivers of cold air coming down the canyons and flowing out to sea.

They pulled into the River Inn about ten that evening. They parked and Pete rolled his eyes with impatience as Jane, Nell and Molly brushed their hair in preparation for entering the bar. Molly suspected that he was only rolling his eyes at Nell. He probably would have been OK with just her and Jane brushing their hair.

Molly's father had once drank with Henry Miller in this bar and he liked to tell the story. He had stopped in because the weather was bad and it was difficult to drive on the winding Highway 1. There was only one other patron in the bar and her father thought he looked like Henry Miller. Out of the blue Molly's father had said “Plexus” and the person at the other end of the bar looked up and smiled. Her father introduced himself and reports that he and Mr. Miller had a wonderful conversation. Her father was of the opinion that Henry Miller is famous because he is such a superb conversationalist, and that his writing is secondary, and that the writing doesn't do justice to Mr. Miller in person.

There was a local crowd in the bar and Jane said to Molly, “You gotta be tough or lucky to live in Big Sur. It's hard to get in here.”

“Yeah, but it sure would be a great life. I hope to have something like this when I finally go North.”

At the bar a hand lettered sign indicating that a local brew known as “Stale Ale” was on tap. They ordered it.

“So where are you guys from?” Asked the bartender.

“S.B.”, Pete replied. “Just getting out of town for the night.”

“You picked a good night for it”, said the bartender. “The Poet's Club meets at 11:00 and word is that Lawrence Ferlinghetti is coming, but I can't promise that. He shows up when he shows up.”

“The Poet's Club is on.” Molly shouted, and Molly slapped the bar, knowing that this would be a good trip.

Molly turned to the bartender: “Out by the fire pit?”

“Yep, usual place”, said the bartender.

They moved out to claim a spot. The River Inn had a great fire pit in those days. A big wire cage that some artistically inclined person had welded together to look like a huge flame. This sat in the center of a small Greek theater made up of river rocks. They claimed their spot in the front row. The fire pit was already lit and a guy was chucking more logs into it. The night wasn't cold, but the heat still felt good.

They drank Stale Ale and talked. A somewhat inebriated group across from them began singing like Indians and they joined in. Beating empty plastic beer cups on the rocks for the tom tom sound. The area began to fill up as 11:00 o'clock approached. About a quarter past 11:00 some guy stepped up and announced the poetry reading. He read the list of names of the people who had signed up to read, and, like the bartender, noted that Lawrence Ferlinghetti might show. But he couldn't promise that.

With this, the first “Poet” stepped up in front of the fire. He stood staring at the audience, weaving slightly from side to side and generating a pregnant silence. He looked pretty drunk. He then launched into a hilarious speech about what a dick his boss was and how pretty much everyone else he had to work with were also a dicks. It was typical Big Sur poetry, more of a raving comedy act than a literary fest. And each “Poet” would try to get bigger laughs out of the crowd than the one before. The word “Poet's” in “Poet's Club” was an acronym for Piss On Everything Tomorrow's Saturday.

Word began to circulate that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had arrived, but he would come on last so as not to steal the thunder of others on the list. The group made quite a few trips back to the bar for more Stale Ale and met the couple sitting behind them. Stacy and Ben. Stacy was quite striking, thin with long white hair and fine features. Ben was your standard hippie with moderately long curly hair and beard. He looked like he was wearing a black motorcycle helmet.

The two were living in a van and knew a spot to park were the sheriffs never looked for such things. They said they had been in the area for about two years. Molly and Pete exchanged contact information and invited them to visit them down in Barb City. Molly, Pete and Jane then offered to share a dube with them and were reminded that there was no puffin' tough in the fire area. The River Inn didn't want the cops descending because a bunch of hippies were smoking pot in public.

By now Nell had drank quite a few Stale Ales and she was pretty much three sheets to the wind. She was taking jabs at Pete by interacting with Jane and Molly in a very animated manner, and then switching her attention to Stacy, while studiously ignoring Pete. Whilst saying such things as, “It's so much nicer to talk to women. Don't you think?”

Ominously, Stacy, who now appeared to be at least two sheets to the wind, seemed to resonate with Nell. Answering Nell with comments like, “Yeah, men can be such pricks. Can't they?”.

Jane and Molly tried to just lay low.

And then Lawrence Ferlinghetti stepped up to the fire. He and some of Henry Miller's crew were the original Poets at the area, and it was from him that the others here tonight derived their styles. A sort of a Babe Ruth of the Big Sur poetry set. One who had morphed the art to it's new and present state. He started slow, commenting on the trip down and San Francisco traffic, but swiftly moved into a full throated monologue that touched on all aspects of modern life. Politics, religion, social conventions, schools, current events and the media. He made fun of them all and he was loud and hilarious. The crowd rolled with laughter. Molly had tears coming down her cheeks.

He was on for over a half an hour, drawing inspiration and strength from the howls from the crowd. Finally spent, he sat down. And the crowd roared it's approval. The group had a final round of Stale Ale and prepared to move out.

The group only had to go a few hundred yards North on the highway, to a fire road turn off that led down to the beach. More of a hard packed trail than a road.

A guy had been living in the woods around here for years and eating by stealing food out of hiker's back packs. The cops finally caught him, about five miles up in the woods by that hot springs, and they had to bring in a team of horses to get him out. Apparently, if a guy is arrested, you can't make him hike. And after all that, the cops would hassle anyone for crashing out in the open. So the three bikes cut their lights as they entered the fire road. The full moon was up and they had no trouble following the trail down to the beach without the headlights.

Over the noise of the idling bikes Molly heard Nell wail, “Peeeeeete!!”. Jane and Molly just looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

They finally reached the beach and traveled about a hundred yards North to be clear of the road. There was hard packed dirt close to the cliffs that made for easy going.

It was a magical place. A beach out of a story book with acres of soft sand and rock stacks extending out into the water. The full moon was the final touch.

As Molly was undoing her sleeping bag and the ground cloth that Jane an Molly would sleep on, Molly heard Nell shout, “I like being alone! A lot!”.

“Whatever that means”, Molly muttered.

“Looks like we're in for a six”, Jane muttered back.

Jane and Molly were about a hundred feet South of Pete and Nell and glad for the separation. It was ominously quiet as they spread the ground cover and started getting undressed. They were just climbing into their sleeping bags when they heard the eruption. A constant barrage of screaming. A classic flip. At least a five from the sound of it.

The last image Molly had that night, as she drifted off to sleep, was that of Nell sitting up in her sleeping bag and screaming at the ocean while Pete sat in a lotus position on a nearby rock trying to ignore her.

Jane and Molly awoke the next morning and made they're way to Pete an Nell's camp. Nell looked like a corpse and was pretty unresponsive.

“She had a bottle of Jack in her purse”, Pete explained. “That's what finished her off.”

Pete and Molly pulled they're bikes up on either side of Nell and pulled Molly's ground cloth over them to make a sort of tent. Otherwise they feared that Nell might fry in the sun.

Everyone then got undressed and took a long swim to get cleaned up. They then sat on some nearby rocks and fired up a fatty. After about an hour Molly and Jane's hair was dry and they got dressed and poked Nell until she came around.

“Sorry, you guys”, she said somewhat groggily. “Sorry about last night.” She was very hoarse.

“Let's go eat”, said Jane.

“Yeah, Molly replied.”

“River Inn?” Said Pete.

“No”, Molly replied after a moment. “Nepenthe. Let's treat ourselves.”

And with that they roared off the beach, up the fire trail and South on the coast road towards Nepenthe, about five miles to the South. They had no choice but to leave the bikes in the parking lot and they then climbed the stairs to the restaurant. They were lucky and got seated along the railing with a view for miles up and down the coast. A view to die for.

The waitress came and Pete asked a million questions about every item on the menu. Molly knew that Pete already knew what he wanted and that he was just doing this to drive Nell crazy. He always did this, and Nell hated it with a passion. But Pete was very personable and funny and the waitress, greatly entertained, played along. Finally, Pete screwed up his face as if lost in the possibilities and asked the waitress if she could come back.

As the waitress left, Nell responded with another, “Peeeete!”.

She was silenced with a dirty look from the other three .

Eventually, Pete tired of torturing Nell and they all splurged by ordering the best. The special. Jane started to object but Molly quieted her saying that she would get their half of the check. After the brunch they had coffee for an hour just taking in the view and the sun.

“A lot of times I wonder if life is really worth living”, Jane said. “But times like this made me believe it is.”

Molly pointed out the cabin above the deck where Henry Miller had lived prior to to the Fassetts purchasing the property and starting the restaurant. Molly noted that there was a time when you could not count yourself as a true bohemian unless you had spent some time in that cabin, with one of the generations of the Fassett family. Man Ray, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Benny Bufano, Jack Kerouac, Eric Barker and Harry Dick Ross had all spent time in that salon.

They descended to the parking lot and Molly was grateful to see that her bike hadn't been stripped while she lolled about in the restaurant. Molly took everyone across the highway to a magical place her father had shown her years before. An old cottage directly across the road from the entrance to Nepenthe. It now operated as a visitor center and had a crude sidewalk that had been poured from the drive to the front door. The cement was covered with hand prints, foot prints, names and dates. A good chunk of the Beat Generation was represented there. Harry Dick Ross, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and of course Henry Miller. Molly had no idea which one had lived here, but they obviously knew all of the rest of the crew. At least well enough to get them to come over and help build sections of this sidewalk.

And from here they started home. Back down Highway 1 to Pismo Beach where Highway 1 became 101, the freeway to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. It was a beautiful afternoon and the ocean was that turquoise color you never see anywhere else. Turquoise against the brilliant white of the surf under the sun. There were regions where the green chaparral broke and golden grass covered the hills. Grass the color of lions.The golden California. Molly's straight pipes blew a strong, steady note. No backfires or missing. No modulation on the level highway. In the bright day Molly couldn't see the cones of blue fire that hovered right outside the exists of both pipes. That was only for the night.

Molly could think on the bike. There was no radio or yakking passenger to disturb her. On Monday Molly would be back in her cube, surrounded by guys whose goal in life was to buy a condominium. A condominium on the edge of town, in a building that looked like an apartment complex. An particularly tacky apartment complex with no trees. What Molly called, “Engineer Housing”. Guys who thought that anything that didn't advance their careers was a waste of time. Careers that usually ended one level above Molly's present level and paid just enough at the end to allow the condominium to be traded up for a tract home.

And here Molly was, as Ginsberg put it, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.

Molly wondered how long it would be until she could move to the redwoods and buy her coffee shop. Maybe Jane would come with her.

 


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