High on Haight (part two)

Hippie Hill is just inside the park off Haight and during the afternoons, when it is sunny and the ocean wind isn’t so cold, it is littered with the street kids who come to San Francisco from everywhere else. They are hoping to catch something of Jerry Garcia, hoping to revive that summer of love. But Jerry is long dead and Woodstock is sponsored by Pepsi now so they walk around disappointed, slinging weed and acid and ecstasy to the tourists who come looking for a piece of authentic San Francisco. The locals avoid the place, they have club cards where the pot is better and cheaper and safer.

The German tourists, perfect blond families of four huddled close together and sensing danger, walk quickly in step, their cameras tucked close under their arms.. The citizens of the park skate and bike slowly past them, offering them nugs and tabs and hits. But the Germans are not looking for the authentic San Francisco. They are looking for the de Young Museum and their hotel maps tell them this is the way.

Henry looks for Julie, a reliable girl who always has good stuff, but he doesn’t see her around today. He is wearing camouflaged pants and an OD green field jacket that he bought at a surplus store on Haight when he decided he wasn’t going back to Knox and needed something warm to wear. He has been living out of his car since he got kicked out of a hostel for lighting his bed on fire, moving it around every now and again to stay ahead of the parking police. But they catch him more often than not and he never pays the tickets so now he waits to come back and find it booted or towed.

“You a cop?” the girl asks him. She has blond hair down to her ass and it’s knotted together in places with wooden beads. Tattoos dance up her arms and her hemp skirt goes clear to the ground.

“No,” Henry says. “Do I look like a cop?”

“Kind of,” she says. Then she smiles. “Come on.”

They go half-way up the gently sloping hill. “Sit,” she tells him. “How much?”

“A quarter.”

“It’s a hundred,” she says.

“Okay.”

“I’ll be right back.” And she disappears into a circle of drummers.

Even though he has grown his hair out and has a mangy beard and is just as dirty as the rest of them they still think he is a cop. Probably he still walks like one, looks around like one, talks like one. He had been working traffic on Knox for two years when he got stop lossed. He loved traffic. He got to drive an unmarked car all over post and wrote as many tickets as he could. At night he liked to catch drunk drivers and he caught a lot of them. Last year the governor of Kentucky gave him a certificate burned into wood for catching the most drunk drivers on Fort Knox. He didn’t have to work the zones, didn’t have to respond to domestics or shoplifters, didn’t have to answer to the patrol supervisor, didn’t have to go to guard mount inspection.

“Here you go,” she says, sitting next to him and cupping a baggie.

Her hand is warm and he wants to hold it but he takes the bag and gives her the hundred in twenties and she quickly counts it and is up and back to the trails.

Henry walks further into the park because he doesn’t like being around all the people. He finds a familiar grove of redwoods and sits on the ground and rolls a couple of joints. He smokes one and watches birds playing overhead and thinks about Nikki. He wonders how she got home, if she got home. Maybe she’s still here in the city looking for him. Henry left her on Ocean Beach shortly after they arrived. He was watching the waves wear away at the continent and she was laughing into her cell phone and he told her he was getting something from the car and drove away, leaving her bags in the parking lot. He feels bad about this sometimes. But what is done is done.

He finishes the joint. The birds have gone. It is getting cold and the afternoon fog creeps into the trees. He stands up and goes to McDonald’s to find Hector and Vargas and Sun Going Down.

***

“Where the fuck are you?”

“I don’t know,” Henry said. “Nebraska, I think.”

“Nebraska?” Sergeant Martin said. “What are you doing in Nebraska? Sergeant Doyle says you missed your last two shifts. And you’re going to miss Matson’s funeral, you fucking asshole.”

“I’m going to California,” Henry said. “Sorry.” He snapped the phone closed and dropped it out the window, watched it break apart on I-80 in his rear-view.

Nikki woke up. “What was that?”

“Nobody,” he said.

She sat up and started rummaging through the glove compartment. “Are you actually on leave?” she asked. “Or are you that other thing? What do they call it?”

“AWOL?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Are you AWOL?”

He looked over at her. Her brown legs were crossed and she was digging dirt from her toenails with a pocket knife. She wore black soccer shorts, a sports bra and a baseball cap, a brown pony tail sticking out the back.

“Yes,” he said. “I guess I’m AWOL.”

She looked at him, big brown eyes. “Oh, Henry. Aren’t you going to get in trouble?”

Henry shrugged, looked at the road, veered back into his lane. “Maybe a little,” he said. “But you don’t get into real trouble until you desert.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Six months,” Henry said. “Once you’re AWOL for six months you’re a deserter.”

“Don’t they hang you for that?” she asked. “I mean, we are at war.”

“This ain’t a real war,” Henry said. “And the Army hasn’t hung anyone for a long time.”

“Do they have cause to?”

Henry thought about this. “Every day,” he said.

“Hey,” she said, putting the knife away. “Pull over up here. I want to get some beer.”

Comments are closed.