The University of Iowa

SAINT JAMES HARRIS WOOD, CA: Walking All Night

August 3, 2020

IOWA PRISON WRITING PROJECT

 

Walking All Night

SAINT JAMES HARRIS WOOD., CA


 

 

I’m at a party with a drunken friend (it’s 2 a.m.), there’s doctors, punk rockers, stock brokers, an open bar in someone’s low-rent house on the North Shore; it’s grown late, the music is too loud, laughter bursts like fireworks. My only female prospect is barefoot, has a mauve crew cut, black beatnik tights and turns out to be solidly married to an addict currently in New York who’d lost his muse in the Afghan Wars—she guzzles merlot and proceeds to tell me his entire life history, at which point I want to leave. The party is dead to me. All at once, all I want is my own warm bed. I stumble through a crew of cocaine snorters out onto the patio where lesbians are wrestling, amble back through the house to find Tommy, my ride, sitting on the front porch weeping about an old girlfriend there in the care of Stony, a well-known surfer. Tommy also wants to go home, to grieve, but can’t find his keys; he stands, and though standing still, topples, almost crushes his drunken head on the concrete steps. I am bored—with him, the party, life in general. A little stoned myself, I decide to walk the ten or so miles home even though I barely know where I am in this winding suburban beach enclave full of dead ends and circles.

Walking into the foggy night, I glance at my watch, which has stopped, playing into the deserted streets and silent world; birds and dogs have taken the night off, cars stand still, the sky is hidden under the low-lying clouds’ professional embrace. I see at best thirty feet into the mist, shaggy lawns covered by bicycles, surfboards, and ceramic trolls in front of selfsame cookie-cutter houses revealed one by one in silhouette, a private hush radiates, only broken by distant waves spent on the shore like a careful train in the ocean fog. I walk in circles for a while, hours perhaps, time is broke. It doesn’t matter, I congratulate myself for not suffering a drunk to drive me home; even lost, I am alive and straggling in the beautiful mist. A seagull shouting makes me notice that I’ve left suburbia, strayed onto a bridge; earlier in the night we’d crossed a river by car, took a minute or so, but on foot . . . ? I stop to study my broken watch—2:15 still—stare over the rail at the river down below, twenty dark feet; an ocean breeze smelling of seaweed and brokenhearted whales, momentarily sweeps the mist away. Sprinting out to sea, the river becomes lost in the brine. A fish pokes his head out, smirks, and studies me, as I him. It seems odd, I’m abruptly worried, all alone in the middle of naught; the cold pulls my light jacket closer. The fish drifts off, still staring, a watery portent of things to come. I waver . . . choose not to care . . . continue, into the murk. The bridge leaves me no decisions, only one way to go into nothingness, so I walk over a river on one of man’s conceits that allows lost fools in the dark wet night to cross unscathed as a fresh gust of gray fog wafts inland on a gentle ocean wind.

An enormous green road sign clambers out of the mist announcing a well-known freeway; and although municipal codes forbid pedestrians, theories of straight lines and linear thought tell me: ten honest miles and I am home. Trudge up the ramp onto the deserted freeway . . . and it begins to rain, a steady true downpour, the fog washed away, which I don’t mind, recognizing it as a poem or a police report. I don’t want to hitchhike, I want to carry on as if discovering the West Coast on foot a thousand years ago. The rare car floats by, like a buffalo, and the rain pours, as if the river behind is trying to catch me. Determined, I walk and walk, looking down, underneath the overpass concrete I spot a camp of homeless, snug and warm; with a fading fire and a foolhardy dog who smells me out as one with a home and warns me off with an easy snarling threat. Head down, I bore on into the deluge.

Suddenly, I’m miles above ground on the top lane of a civil engineer’s dream, five or four lanes writhing below, all washed by the sky, the rain so thick, the road and I seem the same; streetlamps sizzle and the rare car changes to the far lane to avoid the lunatic striding along the edge of night, violating protocol, soaking wet and out of place. As I trudge up a highway hill, a creek sprouts on my path, over my boots, into my epic; eight miles away lightning explodes, so much water falls that is beyond belief. I breach the hill to see another green sign, like an ancient artifact looming in the sky, which regrets to inform me that I’ve only gone two miles. While I have every intention of conquering the road and give myself kudos for audacity and grit, fatigue is muttering, the rain refuses to quit (my boots were made for show, not pioneers), my faraway warm bed seems like narcotics or love, impossible. A part-time realist, while I still put foot after foot, I at last stick my thumb out toward the cars drifting by, more common now that dawn is nibbling at the horizon. Turning my stride into a bluesy strut, I intentionally stomp in a 4/4 beat, looking less than sane, and sing a song about a man who can do anything—unexpectedly, twenty drizzly yards in front of me a car pulls over. In the pouring rain, it looks like my hopeful imagination to the point where I simply stop and gape. Brake lights flare, the horn honks, the passenger door flies open, and I run for it. Her name is Doris, older than anyone I know, seventy-five or so, and she works in a donut shop. A terse rescuer, all she says is, “I’m exiting at Genese.” This will leave me one last noble mile from home. As she drops me off in front of the donut shop, Doris says, “Stay out of the rain, for chrissakes.” The rain fitfully runs out and my watch starts.

The idea of home holds me in its arms as never before, every bit of familiar terrain seems like a brother or a lover. Fighting its way into the sky over my soggy neighborhood, the sun shines my boots, a local dog escorts me, trotting along, dancing in circles. Old Mrs. Turnin in her turquoise sweats speed-walks past, and grunts good morning. I find a spring in my step, lost miles back, and finally turn down my street. Cruising along, I almost break into a Louisiana Pimp Walk, and stop . . . Tommy’s ’65 Impala is parked in my driveway—a strange sight, as if my old life, before the fog and rain, had been resurrected and followed me home. Through the cracked windshield I see Tommy slumped, asleep. I walk completely around the car and there are two slumbering women in the back seat, one of them the New Yorker with the mauve crew cut. While Tommy’s overemotional and a drunk— he’s a good friend. And while I’ve been changed by the night’s events, I’m not past the lure of the female form and slightly mad party girls . . . and yet, I’m tired. Leaving them to their slumber, I cross the threshold I’ve yearned for this long, wet night, drop my damp clothes as I walk through the house towards the bedroom; crawl under my beloved comforter, and immediately fall into a dream where there are better parties than the ones in my real life.

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