Essay originally published in “Sandstone Seduction” (Johnson Books)
Published in Mountain Gazette – #78
Re-launch Issue – December 2000 – Breckenridge, CO.
It was the hottest day of the year when I decided to do it.
Sure as hell it wasn’t anything planned in advance. Intuition works best in a case like this. I remember dreaming up something similar a year or so back and threatening that I would do it someday, but the notion didn’t even get out of bed with me that morning. I was still deep into the sorrow of loss.
He was such a wonderful friend, such a joyful man, full of life and living it, of love and giving it. He could torch you with his sense of humor–fire your laughter until you peed your pants to put it out. An artist, a sensualist, and I suspect, a creative lover as well. Gentle. A listener. A man who treated women the way he handled his sculptures–moulding, caressing, teasing them into creatures of beauty and supple grace until they glowed with a life they didn’t know they possessed. I watched that happen with more than one of his many women friends–women he’d never made love to, women he saw every day in his shop, in the shop next door, all around town, really. Everyone knew him. It’s a small town, less than five hundred of us.
Then, about three years after his move from the Big Rotten Apple to this little berg he loved so well, tiptoeing quietly toward another peak in his creative talent–not with money in mind this time, only love—and with all the freedom to do whatever he chose whenever he wanted and with whomever, his generous heart betrayed him. Harvey up and died!
And the heat moved in.
We held a memorial for him in the park. A big one. Everybody came, brought food, drink and things to say and remember about him. Our town is still one that lets its folks express their grief in their own way, lay it out and mix it up it so it doesn’t hurt so much. No preachers. Just all of us talking about him, telling stories of our time with him, things he said, things he did, what he meant to us. Harvey’s spirit was right there that day, moving among us, telling us to get on with it, laughing at us, caressing us. And we all knew it. For me it was really tough because I had to sing his favorite song. I ain’t no Judy Garland, I can’t sob and sing at the same time and I was holding tight to a big aching bubble as I tried to get the words out. Then, I felt Harvey pat me on the bum, right in the middle, right in the hardest part–hardest part of the song, not my bum–and through my tears I almost ended up laughing, which is no better than crying when you’re trying to sing.
Then the heat bore down.
The first year he was here he was my next door neighbor. I won’t forget the day he first walked down the street in front of my gate with a couple of his friends. I was out watering the nematodes that like to make my carrots into funny little men with penises and hair all over them, when he stopped laughing at whatever his friends had said, turned his flax-blue, slightly bulging eyes on me and supposed: “Ooooh! You must be the lovin’ lady (lovin’ as opposed to lovely I noted right away and he knew that I noted, which is what blew me away), the lady I’m going to live next door to?”
Harvey had class!
I am a lovin’ lady, though I try hard to disguise it, which is why lotta people don’t call me a “lady”. I could care less. (I’ve always maintained–for those who belive in such messy-physics-moon-shine–that being a Scorpio, right there on the cusp of Libra, the balance of the Scales keeps me from being a total bitch). Gimme a break. Harvey did.
He sure enough rented the house next door. Every morning from his back deck when I came out with my cup of coffee, he’d wing his sweet morning greeting across my yard, “How-dee-doo, Miss Kitty Lu–you feeling fine today?” He never started working until after nine o’clock because his electric sanders and shapers and drills would make too much noise. (A caring man among his other talents– like he loved music, jazz, folk, Cuban, but he played it benignly, not at 2000 decibels like some twits in our built-like-a-Greek-auditorium-town do).
By the time I returned from my morning ride, I’d find him nearly smothered in clouds of alabaster and marble dust, tooling away at some beautiful sculpture he was creating. He’d ask me to come over and check it out–see if it looked all right. Wow!
He sure didn’t need my two-bits, his pieces were always elegant. Never mind that it was a media he’d never worked in before–his imagination was limitless, his gift, divine.
Then he bought a broken down little house up the mountain a way with an out-building he could make into a studio, and began its renovation like a doting father building a dollhouse for his beloved daughter. I don’t think a nail or a board when into that place without his kiss, or his blessing on it–that it be happy there–happy like he was, and “thank-you-very-much for being such a beautiful piece of wood and for coming from such a fine tree in such a lovely forest”.
“But where, Harvey?”
“I don’t know, but it’s a fine tree, just look at that lovely, graceful and oooh…sensuous grain!”
Key word. Harvey was indeed a sensualist.
He had an open Jeep, little runt of a thing it seemed for a guy as big-boned and tall as he was. Drove it with his girlfriend through rain or shine, snow or hail, through forest and desert. In summertime, all over the back roads, windshield down, canvas off, toodling up and down the mountains in his hirsute and shorts, his ponytail straight out in the slipstream–winter it was khakis, jacket and headband, maybe with the top up, maybe not. Rarely did I see the side-curtains except on the floor of his studio.
About a week before he flipped his coin for the “other side”, I stopped by his shop with some friends to show them the lovely things he made–I often did that, especially after he’d grown a new wig-bubble and made something that nobody even dreamed about. It was ladders this time. Crazy ladders like some that might have come from a ceremonial kiva back a thousand years ago, except that they were so beautifully and imaginatively carved, they’d have to have been used only by Shaman for special initiation purposes–twining snakes and lizards slithering up the rails and whole Pueblo villages on the rungs that you stepped between as you went up from desert floor to mountains near the top. They were transcendental!
His blue bulbs seemed to be dancing to extra potent jazz that day. He pulled me into a corner and whispered, “Just got back from the Apple, baby, and I dropped a shitload of problems back there that I won’t ever have to deal with anymore. I’m never going back. Wow–do I feel great!”
I was so happy for him, knowing how he hated going to New York for anything, except to show his rarefied Arizona girlfriend something she never need worry about missing.
After the memorial, the heat became grotesque.
Nothing short of our Main street knee deep in rattlesnakes will keep the damn tourists out of here, but the weather that week was proving to be a deterrent of the same magnitude. Shopkeepers were kvetching and moaning “no business”–never mind that most of them came here as artists or Flower Children to enjoy life, grow a little pot on the back deck, and just incidentally make enough to pay the bills–before they opted for a Chamber of Commerce, after which violation, as Ed Abbey said, you can kiss your town goodbye. Friends were snapping at each other like looney birds in a tank of toxins and the humidity was a wet, down comforter under a 110 degree heating pad. Even at eight o’clock in the morning, pulling on my lycra shorts and top, was a sticky chore.
That’s when I decided to do it.
I ride my bicycle up the mountain about three miles from the house five days a week, before the traffic gets repulsive, if possible.
I’ve been doing it for almost thirty years, so people are used to it and pay me no mind. (Had the first mountain bike in town–1980 I think, when I was sixty years old–and I took all the outlying cowpaths with the same sort of joy and devil-may-care as Harvey did with his jeep, fifteen years later). That morning was no different with regard to the joie-de-viv. I always love the ride because of the canyon, once I get above town. The rocks are so beautifully cruel; deep maroon, red and orange and pale sheeny- green in ragged pinnacles and spires, spit from the pit of the earth into great ridges and crevasses that time can’t seem to smooth over. The smell of juniper and mountain earth is heady under early morning sun before cars and motorcycles take over the highway with their noxious fumes, and there’s a sometime-creek rippling below the winding road where canyon wrens sing their sweet song down the scale. All this adds up to perfection, or as close as you can get to it…on a paved road.
It’s my meditation time, too, that ride. I sort out everything for the day, the week, sometimes the month. It’s where I learn the lyrics to new songs–up, on up, to a rhythm of the pedal’s turning–where I find inspiration for a story, a show, a letter or a melody. And the reward! All downhill at 25 to 30 mph–cooling the sweat, blowing through my helmet, down my back and neck, even through my shoes! Ya-hooooo!
So…8:00. I got on my Trek and pedaled up through town. Didn’t stop at the P.O. for my mail, it wasn’t in yet; beside which, I was looking very hard for special little nooks and hidey-holes that could assist me on the way back down. My heart was beating a bit faster than usual–the adrenaline of anticipation already started.
I must not have been paying close attention to everything like I usually do, because the “beep” from behind startled me. After thirty years I can hear cars coming both ways before they get anywhere near me–it’s an acoustic mountain–I can identify locals from tourists and tune in the driving “mood of the day”. There is one, you know–fast or slow, frantic or relaxed–it infects the whole road like a virus. That day it was relaxed, nobody on the road but me. The beeper wasn’t a local–they don’t beep–so I looked in my bike mirror and saw…
I’d been thinking about him so hard, my sadness turning to giggles as I rode, picturing what a hoot he would get out of this caper, that for a second I just accepted it. When I remembered him being gone, I nearly fell of my bike. But it wasn’t his jeep, just some slow-driving, far-more-than-ordinarily-polite dude trying not to run over me. I got to my rock under the tree, ducked in, sat down and poured half the water bottle over my head. Cooling down, I rested there in the shade for about fifteen minutes. Even so, my heartbeat was much faster then usual.
I had chosen my spot on the way up.
As I zoomed down the mountain and through the upper residential section to the turnoff that goes to the open pit, I was so exhilarated, so hyperventilated, that the wind made me shiver. No one in front of me–good. No one behind–even better. Very few cars on Main street (the only level spot in town) and I didn’t see anyone walking the street.
I darted in behind Robby’s antique oar truck–yanked off my lycra, everything but helmet-socks-shoes, mounted the Trek, buckass, and pedaled furiously through the center of town, past the P.O., past the shops, the bars, Town Hall, Police office…. Oh-oh!….never had I seen our Town Marhall (as he liked to be called) out in front of the cop shop, but there he was, in a blur, talking with someone beside him. He looked up, automatically began a wave….
Hull…ohh, (double take) Kay–t-e-e-eeee?!
I was gone!
Faster then, working the brakes, no more level ground. As I passed Harvey’s empty shop, I looked up and cried out–Harvey… this is for you, Harvey. Bye-bye!”
The last half-mile to my front gate, I was laughing so hard I could hardly steer and hoping to hell no one would pull out in front of me, when up came Wally, one of our town crew, in the frontloader. You got this? These are no passing, two lane roads, barely, and behind him was a whole string of tourists, ten or more cars long, chugging along at three miles an hour.
Hoo-eee! What an opportunity!
“Ole!” I yelled, as I sailed by, “Welcome to _________ !” (You cannot have the name, you won’t like it here).
In my mirror I saw arms flapping out windows and a couple got out and stared downhill, not at all sure of what they’d just seen.
My uproarious laughter had turned to streaming tears and coughing by the time I hooked a U-ie in front of my gate, hauled in, decked the bike and headed for the shower, where I sat down under the spray and howled.
Still wired and laughing, my tummy sore from it, I dressed, got in the car and drove up town. I knocked on the Police Chief’s door, walked in and said, “You wanna arrest me, Ray?”
He just looked at me, shook his head and sucked in the corners of his mouth to keep from laughing. “I thought about that,” he said, ‘but what exactly would I do?”
“Yeah, that could pose a problem,” I answered–picturing him chasing me down with the cop car, getting out, yanking me off the bike, steering me onto the seat, nude-o, and driving me up to the office.
“Phones are ringing like crazy (as was his), you certainly gave the town something to talk about.”
“That was the object of the exercise, Ray. Everybody’s so damn glum they need something to distract them; besides, hardly anybody saw me, there weren’t more than three or four people on the street.”
“Enough. I took a consensus and asked them, ‘well, is anyone deeply offended?’– only the retarded son of one of our emporium owners raised his hand and said, ‘I am’, so I told him to go chase you down the hill and tell you so.”
His phone was still ringing. Ray ignored it. “You going to make this an annual event?” he queried.
“Absolutely not. I like to quit when I’m ahead…meanwhile I’m going to enjoy what all the hardnoses have to say–the old farts who need their blood stirred up. As for my friends, they’ll just laugh their butts off.”
There was, as expected, quite a reaction–notes, phone calls and letters–only one anonymous, which wasn’t really bad. The next day, tacked up on the post office bulletin board, there appeared an Ode to me and my stunt, and folks were smiling again.
The town had lightened up and I had purged the heavy loss of our dear Harvey.
Before the weekend it rained and cooled the town down right smart. I ran into friend Mod-Bob at the P.O. and stopped to chat. Underplaying it, he eyed me sideways from beneath his brows, and sneaky-like, whispered, “I saw ya.”
“Oh, yeah? I didn’t see you–where were you?”
“Sittin’ on the bench…in front…out there…by the Nellie Bly”, he misered it out, one word at a time, “Hollered…but you weren’t lookin’.”
“Nope–I laughed–I was in kind of a hurry.”
“Uh-hh…ya think anybody got any photos?”
“Gawd, I sure hope not!”
“Yeah…uhh…right. Then he looks as me straight on, eyes dancing, his face nearly fractured by his smile, and says, “B’cause I thought you had your backpack on backwards.”
The nerve of that boy!!
© Katie Lee Aug. 1999
You lit up our Morning ! I was one of the 3 locals in front of P n J’s when “the ride” took place . You were sort of a blurr , but when ,Ray ,came running over to us acting like.. he had to do something ? .. he stopped and asked if any of us “were offended” ? Almost simultaneously the reply was , “about what” ? I guess he felt he needed to take the pulse of the local community standard or something ?
I love you colorful characters in your colorful town!
Katie… Just want to say a big fan of yours.. My Aunt Mary “turned me onto you” She was the Cool Aunt… Would take me with her to the hot springs in the 70s in her MG sports car.. Shes now 97 and still thinks outside the “Box”