My father came here once and he camped out in the Doe library one foggy summer in the 1960’s searching the stacks for archival material about mining journalism in Nevada during the great silver rush. He found a forlorn journal kept by a woman named Martha Galley in which she recorded her lonesomeness, the absence of her husband and the death of her children. The last thing my dad did in this world was try to publish it, but by then it was too late and he was already out of time.
My grandmother and my aunt came to join him. When my grandmother was a little girl in Philadelphia near the turn of the century she was run over by a carriage and it broke her back. After that she was hunched and stooped and couldn’t play with the other kids and so she set to walking and that she did, up to ten or twenty miles a day. Tilden Park? she once asked me. Do you know Tilden Park? Up in the hills? Every day I would walk from the Rose Garden all the way up the hill to Tilden Park and back down again, she said.
My grandmother was in her sixties at the time and she would walk all the way to goddamn Tilden Park.
I went to Berkeley once.
I had completed my sophomore year in college and all I wanted to do at that time was run fast and far away. I studied Russian during the summer and I stayed on for the fall. I worked at Blondie’s pizza, sometimes prepping in the back, sometimes delivering on a scooter at night. Once I didn’t strap the pizza boxes on right and they flew off the back all over the road. I ended giving them up for free to the college kids who had ordered them.
I liked the feeling of riding that scooter fast through the night. The scooter was red.
I found out that summer that my girlfriend was fucking some other guy. It was my fault, she said. I wasn’t there for her, she said. It didn’t matter. We didn’t have a good relationship anyway. I’d cheated on my first girlfriend to go out with her. None of us were any good.
I was living with a guy named Don at the time, right up there near Tilden Park, and I couldn’t stay down in town past three-thirty because that’s when the Livermore shuttle took it’s last run. I didn’t want to walk up that hill. My friend Kenny wondered what my problem was, why couldn’t I walk up a hill? he asked. You walk up that hill, I told him and he tried and he scarce could do it.
Don was dating Maddie Wegner that summer. He was madly in love and he confided in me that he loved her so much, that she was the one and he was going to propose to her. He had it all planned out. He bought her a ring and later in the summer when they were going to be driving through South Dakota, one sunset evening he was going to propose to her.
And that he did. Except that she had no inkling he was in love with her. She sat there with him somewhere in the midwest, embarrassed in the waning light, looking at the ring he held in his hand. He was a nice boy, she said. A sweet boy. And that’s where she left it.
I would get out at the Livermore Center and walk the deer trail along the hillside and would hunker down by the wind organ and watch the sun make it’s way toward the horizon and at times the colors would be so profound that I would laugh and howl as if I’d lost my senses.
But now, on that afternoon, the one that matters most to us, my daughter and I and the bird arrived unclean and tired and needing food. We cut into town and found the Bread Board across from Chez Panisse. We ordered pizza topped with goat cheese and peaches. We ate it sitting on a grassy divide in the middle of the road. The flavors were rank and disgusting and it made me such. Mazie hardly touched it. For Poe it was much the same.
All journeys, all races run, pass through a place of dissipation and I guess for us maybe this was it. Mazie and I ate what we could in this place transitional and transcending as it has always been, and we piled then into the car and we headed north taking wrong turn after wrong turn after wrong turn until we found ourselves passing across the Delta, that swampland once parceled to the wanderings of Jack London and the tin boot fortunes of China camps, and rogue vagrants and bums and residents who had but fled all there was to flee from.
On this evening the light glinted flat across the misty water, posing an ephemeral halo for the yawning dilapidated penitentiary, and for Saint Quentin himself, I guess, tortured and beheaded as he was. And now what stores of the unrepentant, lead and gold alike, were bound and locked tight within his chest, doing time for whatever crimes done unto?
Unseen, hardly a mote we were, Mazie and I and our companion bird passed across those mud flats, past chambered prisoners and flocks of crane set to taking flight. By them all we passed.