Good news! I reached my 10,000 words goal for July. I want to thank you for urging me on. Whether it’s a public comment on this blog or Facebook, a private comment or a quick word just mentioning that you got something out of my writing, you make this journey worthwhile. Your thoughts matter to me!
I thought it would be perfect to post this excerpt about turning 21 since this is the week of my 44th birthday. Enjoy!
The morning of my 21st birthday I woke up and looked out the sliding glass door that served as one of the walls of my room. Outside on the bench sat a mango.
It’s a mango from God! I thought. I slid open the door and held it in my hand.
The green fruit blushed with red on one of its curved sides. It gave ever so slightly as I pressed it. I knew it would be ripe and sweet.
In my first moments of being 21, I was happy.
I came to mangoes when I came to Santa Cruz. The view of my first mango at age 19 seemed unremarkable. Warren handed me the fruit. I held the green bulbous thing with a questioning look.
“It’s a mango,” he said. “Have you ever had one before?”
I shook my head no. Warren took the mango back and brought it into his kitchen. On the tile counter, he cut off one side of it and handed it back to me.
“Eat the yellow part.”
I bit in. The rich juice tasted of islands and sunshine. It covered my tongue with tangy sweetness, like an apricot and pineapple mixed together.
“Do you like it?”
“I think this is my new favorite fruit!”
From then on, I kept an eye out for mangoes in the market. In May, they dropped down to less than a dollar a mango and I gorged myself.
Warren said that you can’t waste a mango. You have to eat all the flesh. His family had a house in Jamaica with a mango tree.
“Even if all the mangoes on your tree ripen at the same time, you can’t waste it.”
I called the inner seed the bone and chewed all the fruit off until it was stripped of any goodness and left with frayed ends. The fibers stuck in my teeth. A mango made me appreciate floss.
There are some foods that are happy foods for me. I don’t remember any sad times eating them. Ice cream, popcorn and mangoes.
Later in the day on my 21st birthday, I found out Warren had left the mango for me, early in the morning before sunrise. I still believed it was from God. I was starting to understand that God worked through people.
When it rained, I took the bus instead of my motorcycle. By bus, I mean buses. I walked two and a half miles from the bus I called home to the Lompico bus stop. I took the Lompico bus to Felton. From Felton, I took the bus to the metro, the main station in Santa Cruz. From there, I could go anywhere.
The bus back from Cabrillo College where I took general ed and a poetry class (and an English class with lamps) was a slow ride. It seemed to stop every block. People would attach and detach their bikes from the front rack as if they had the whole afternoon free instead of a bus load of impatient passengers sending them hurry-up glares.
While taking the bus back from Cabrillo and heading to work in Scotts Valley, a tall man with a briefcase got on the bus and sat next to me. Uncommonly handsome with mussed dark hair and blue eyes, he had the look of someone who was used to getting attention. He seemed comfortable with admiration.
He opened the briefcase. I peered in. Inside he had a square bottle of thick mango juice and a stack of blue fliers, hand drawn with a Sharpie pen and photocopied. I wanted to talk to him.
I ran over possible lines in my head. Your mango juice might spill. No, too negative. Don’t see a lot of guys with briefcases on the bus. How was that a good thing to say? I settled on this: “What are the fliers for?”
He handed me one. “I’m in a band. We’re having a show tonight. Want to come?”
“I don’t know.” I hesitated but I was tempted.
“I could put you on the guest list.”
I longed to be known. I longed to be wanted. Being put on the guest list satisfied both longings. I was in.
“OK, I’ll come check it out.”
I spelled out my name for him. He wrote it down on the back of a blue flyer. He said it was a pretty name. He took care to tuck the flyer with my name on it in one of the inner silky pockets and closed the briefcase. His was the next stop. Uncurling his length toward the bus ceiling, he stood to go. He gave me a gargoyle’s smile as he shook my hand and told me he’d see me later that night.
It had been just a bus ride before the man with the briefcase boarded. Then it became an adventure.
The show was in a café that was seedy and charming, heavy on the seedy. The front door was kept open to the night air. It took a moment to orient myself to the atmosphere when I first got near the café. It was a world unto itself with its own smell, sound, look and culture. I could smell it and hear it before I could see it. French roast wafted out to mingle with the ocean air that carried strains of music, conversation and clinking dishes.
The café faced the metro station and the buses motored by at regular intervals. Next to the café, a whirring machine blew bubbles into the darkness. They rose, shining with tiny orangey reflections from the orangey street lights.
The café cockroaches knew martial arts and took no guff from the patrons. They sauntered over the floor during business hours without fear.
They didn’t matter much. It was so dark inside that it was hard to distinguish the cockroaches from the years of coffee stains and gunk built up in layers on the floor, like levels of civilization that an archaeologist could read in the future: We can tell that in 1988, someone spilled their soy latte here in this area. Then later in the afternoon, a vial of patchouli broke when a girl dropped her Guatemalan woven bag under the table.
I was peeling my Doc Martins from the sticky surface more than walking.
I walked through the front part of the café where the espresso machine hissed. Cool people draped themselves over furniture that had seen its heyday decades before. None of the tables matched and the chairs were metal folding chairs with different patterns of rust spots as if they’d been pulled from a soggy dumpster. Which they probably were.
I walked to the back room where the shows were. A big-bellied guy with a ZZ Top beard sat on a stool, a silver chain swinging from his wallet when he moved. He held a stack of money on top of a clip board.
“I’m on the guest list,” I yelled. “Genevieve.”
He looked at the clipboard and thumbed his way toward the room.
“OK, enjoy the show.”
My first time on a guest list, I felt like a mini-celebrity. I pulled my shoulders back as I entered the room. Once in, I scanned for a familiar face. I didn’t see anyone I knew so I joined the crowd standing around the stage.
The opening band was long on enthusiasm. Their vigorous playing only made up part of the gap between reality and talent.
I listened with a waiting ear. It wasn’t the music I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear him, the mysterious stranger with the briefcase from the bus. Would he be guttural, crooning or falsetto? Would he see me?
His flyer campaign and personal charisma had paid off. The room was full. Leather jackets dominated the dress code, with thrift store finds coming in a close second.
The walls showed art from a local artist. By local artist, I mean, one of the majority of the population. You couldn’t throw a rock in Santa Cruz without hitting an artist. The art was done in a neon cartoon style but with a gruesome subject matter. It might have been an ironic rebuttal to the ever present fact of mortality. Or it might have been the Technicolor vomit from a sick mind on drugs. Like the crowd and the decor, it was a mixed message and difficult to decipher.
Soon enough the group with the robust lust for performing was off the stage and his group was on.
His presence dominated the room. Screams replaced the polite clapping that the first group received.
I stood enraptured. With my youth, my impressionable nature and my ability to glom on, I was primed to be a groupie. He sang love songs and I took them personally. Did he see me? I pretended he did. I imagined he could see only me. The crowd blurred away. It was only me standing below and him, above on the stage.
The last song of the set was a cover of Lights by Journey. A blue spotlight lit his face and hair. It shone off him in a holy glow. His voice, sonorous and smooth, filled me with longing.
I had found my charmer. I swayed in fascination, a cobra transfixed. He held the mic in both hands, closing his eyes and telling about how he wanted to be back in the city. I started to miss home myself. Home as I had never known. Home as I could never find. I felt a melancholy so massive that it filled my mouth, like icing that is too heavy but still sweet.
I stood in a transcendent moment, pulsing with joy and connection, filth and shabbiness, beauty and harmony, sorrow and homesickness.
He found me after the show. I was standing to the side and he came up, sweaty with his eyes shining.
“Hey, it’s the girl from the bus. You came! How did you like it?”
“Wow, you’re amazing.” I looked up at him and could almost imagine him still haloed with a blue glow. I was star struck.
“We’re having a party at my house. It’s off Mission Street. Want to come?”
Me invited to his place! My stomach twirled as if my gut had a hamster running in a wheel. I managed an answer, “Yeah, that sounds good.”
“OK, see you there.”
He snaked his way through the crowd. I peeled my boots all the way outside but I hardly noticed. In my mind, I was flying.
A guest list. A rock show. A party. What more would come out of this bus ride?
I returned from Europe and moved to Santa Cruz, California, in 1988 where I could rent my brother’s school bus as a place to live. I was nineteen.
The school bus was a model from the late 1960s. The seats were taken out and the inside was redone with shelves and a counter. A blue captain’s chair toward the back offered seating.
I went in and out of the bus through the emergency door at the back of the bus. It served as my front door. When I opened the door, a whiff of kerosene and storage shed smell greeted me, with a top note of dank mold.
The bus was parked in the Santa Cruz mountains, in an area called Lompico.
Mountains are known for being slanted. The mountain this bus was parked on was no exception. The back of the bus was the lowest part. The bus slanted upward toward the front. When I say I climbed through the back of the bus, I really did need to climb.
I didn’t much use the front of the bus because it was filled with my brother’s storage. He had boxes stacked up thick so it was impossible to get up where the driver’s seat was.
The bus came with electricity, supplied from a very long orange extension cord running from the house. I had to chose what I wanted to plug in because it only had two slots.
I could have my lamp on and my music, an 8-track player. Or I could have my typewriter and my lamp.
For music, I had two 8-tracks. One was Simon and Garfunkel, the other was the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange.
I had a rule about dancing in the bus. Whenever Cecelia came on the 8-track player, it was time to dance. It didn’t matter who was over, or if I was by myself. That song was a cue to get up and dance.
I developed a dance style unique to the bus. Because I was a six-foot-tall woman and the bus roof was six feet high, I could only stand and dance with my knees bent and my feet spread.
For heat, I used a kerosene heater. Even when the heater wasn’t burning, the bus smelled of kerosene.
My bed was on the roof of the bus. A hole had been cut in the roof and a small structure, just large enough for a queen-size mattress, was built out of fiberglass and plywood.
I didn’t have an actual mattress. I had an old four-inch thick piece of foam with a large piece of brown fake fur on top to use as a bed. The foam had seen better days. Possibly in the 1970s. It had gone from being soft to being hard and crumbly. The foam crumbs stuck in the long brown fur of my bed and in my hair.
My process for going to bed was simple. I twisted the wick on the kerosene heater until the flame went out. I turned off the lamp.
There was no ladder to get up on the top level. I put a wooden crate on its small end so I had the maximum height from the crate. I stood up on the top of the crate so my hands could reach the metal rooftop.
Then I jumped off the top of the crate to get enough momentum to push myself up to the top of the bus roof and crawled on top of the fur-foam bed. The structure was three feet high, so I couldn’t sit up. I had to stay low.
In the morning, I repeated the process, dangling over the sharp metal roof edge until my feet found the top of the crate.
The worst was when a vigorous jump at night toppled the crate over. It meant a morning drop where I tried to land on my feet without getting caught on the fallen over wooden crate.
I often slept in my clothes. The damp cold that settled in the redwoods surrounding the bus pervaded the metal bus skin, plywood and fiberglass.
I dressed in layers and usually in black. A typical outfit would be black leggings, a black skirt, a purple tank top and a ribbed black wool sweater with black suede on the shoulders. For shoes, I had black wingtips.
I was growing my hair, still black from London, from a bob to past my shoulders. I often got twigs caught in it. It suited my style as a woman who lived in a bus in the Santa Cruz mountains.