It was the end of October and Kentfield was unusually balmy during the day but cold enough at night, especially when the fog climbed over mount Tamalpais from the ocean and rubbed shoulders with that unwilling assortment of hippies, hot tubbers, drug dealers, Vietnam war protesters, utopianists, nudists, vegetarians, Buddhists, Born Again Christians, gay and Lesbian activists, acid heads, pot heads, freedom riders, black separatists, socialists, advocates of free love, rockers, criminals and squares. It was 1968 and the nation slouched forward, nervously, towards a Presidential election or a civil war. No one was really sure which.
Brad’s relationship with his Finnish Juliet was at a perfect stalemate. She seemed adamant about her fiancé, Sean. Sean didn’t love her but she had known him since high school, their families were a perfect fit and he was going to be a lawyer.
Brad went to the College of Marin theater to meet her. She greeted him with great warmth. She said the theater was closed that night and she was free to do what she wanted for the rest of the night.
Brad decided that Juliet was an avatar of Brunnhilda: She was a force of nature, a woman in the agony of self-immolation. She was a self-proclaimed virgin, sleeping in her self-built and self-ignited ring of fire.
She said, “I want you always to remember me.”
They held hands on the redwood bench under the redwood trees in the dark.
He said, “Why not just run away with me and release yourself from this blond, success-bound American surfer boy who doesn’t love you and whom you don’t love.”
Juliet said, “We’ve been over this so many times. I don’t want to write novels anymore. I’m finished with that. I’ve got to live in the real world now. I’ll have a family and a good husband.”
“Why not write just one more. The novel of your life. Drop him.” She didn’t answer. He said, “OK. I understand. Of course I understand. But why should I understand? I could grab you and throw you in my car and drive you to Mexico. Baja. I know a place there called La Paz. It is a sleepy little fishing town. We could disappear there for awhile and then we could go down to Cabo San Lucas and lie on the beach and …”
She wiped a tear away, looked up bravely and smiled.
He said, “Or we could go to Manhattan. It is the most beautiful few miles of real estate on the planet. Greenwich village. Washington square. Central Park. The museums. It is a miracle. We could live three lifetimes there. And then Paris.”
“I didn’t know you were rich.”
“I’m not Juliet.” He made an evasive motion with his hand. “I told you about my mother. We did a lot of traveling when I was a kid.”
“I’ve never been to Europe or Mexico or even New York.”
“Look. We could hang out at Lake Tahoe.”
“Brad.” There was a silence. “I want you to put me in your novel just as I am. I can’t run with you. I know what I said about the ring of fire but it doesn’t apply to me.”
“What the hell. I’m not talking about eternity. The only thing I know for certain about myself is that three years from now I won’t be a lawyer.”
“That’s cruel.” She was a gentle soul and he was surprised by her quick anger.
“I didn’t mean it that way.” He was covering all his bases. He didn’t have any idea of what it was that offended her. Brad felt pretty certain that if he could get her between the sheets, in Cabo San Lucas or even in a Hotel 6, he could take her away from her lawyer.
They had been through this several times. After each meeting she almost begged him to return and he always did, but at longer intervals. It seemed to him that when the intervals were longer she was happier to see him.
He asked, “Why do you like to hold hands?”
“I want you to remember me.”
“I’ve got a better idea. I’ll put you in my novel. Then the world will know how you sacrificed yourself for Sean and for your children and your father and mother. And how it was the right thing for you and for all the female readers too, who will immediately put the book down and refuse to read any more of my thoroughly unromantic and implausible novel. It will be the final straw.”
“Life is implausible.”
“True. No one will believe this.”
Juliet said, forcefully, “So what?”
He said, “They’ll know that you weren’t ready to exercise your great intelligence and creativity, the brilliance of every great warrior woman, of every Brunhilda. You weren’t ready for an idiot like me to play Siegfried to your Brunhilda.”
She said, “I just heard the sound of three million women closing your novel and two million men not getting past chapter 1.”
He smiled. He looked out into the darkness theatrically and assumed a mock pose. His voice was melodramatic, “You weren’t ready for an idiot like William Bradford who wants nothing because he wants everything and who strives for nothing because he stands in the void with empty hands waiting for anything. Bradford, who will stumble in the darkness of this world and who will need constant help and whose wounds will need eternal dressing and who will endlessly seek out battles and yet be endlessly defeated.”
She said, “Well, your book will never be published anyway. My 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Chesterton used to tell us that the worst books get published and that great books are usually trashed by the critics. After you’re dead they’ll give you a Nobel prize.”
Brad had learned not to offend people with long quotations. He offered, tentatively, “The critic Clifton Fadiman said, in an article in The New Yorker, about William Faulkner’s Absolom! Absolom! ‘The final blowup of what was once a remarkable, if minor, talent.’ ” He smiled apologetically. I memorized about a hundred rotten reviews, just to keep my sanity.”
She said, “Tell me another one.”
“One of my favorites is a review of Melville’s Moby Dick: ‘a huge dose of hyperbolic slang, maudlin sentimentalism and tragi-comic bubble and squeak.’ Or this one about Emily Dickenson, ‘An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village- or anywhere else- cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravity and grammar. Oblivion lurks in the immediate neighborhood.”
“Your memory. How many of those do you know?”
He sidestepped her compliment with his “trick memory” explanation, “I have a trick memory, I suppose. My grandfather helped me develop it. And my mother too. I can’t leave her out of it. She memorized the Bible, of course and forced me to memorize a good deal of it too.”
“Is that why you’re so good at mathematics?”
“Not at all! Memory has nothing much to do with mathematics. Well, it helps you get through classes without doing much work, but it doesn’t help with doing real mathematics. I think the only thing it helped me with was differential equations. I was a real whiz at differential equations because you have to know a lot of recipes but it’s no real sign of mathematical talent, believe me.”
“You must be a genius.”
“I met a 10 year old boy who was a lot smarter than I am. I mean he learned to speak fluent Russian almost on his own in less than a year, when he was eight years old. One of his teachers happened to be Russian so he taught him Russian! I learned German in about two years but I had to study every day for about two hours. This kid learned how to speak German better than I can after studying it for about three months! He could speak French, Spanish and Latin too. And he was only ten years old. He learned languages in a few months!”
“I took four years of French and I still can’t speak it.”
Brad hated this conversation although he knew that some variation of it was inevitable after a display of his memory. He preferred the “you’re a genius” song and dance to the “you’re a goddamned self-involved braggart” routine but he was silent.
She asked, “What was your favorite mathematics course?”
He answered evasively, “Oh, I guess Number Theory.” He looked for the usual blank stare. It wasn’t there. “Well, I proved a bunch of theorems about prime numbers. It’s all pretty theoretical. I mean it doesn’t have much practical value. My grandfather was an amateur mathematician who really knew number theory well and he taught me a lot of it. Have you ever heard of the zeta function or Bernhard Riemann?”
She said, “No. I took calculus in high school. What theorems did you prove?”
He was surprised. “Well, it’s not easy to explain. It’s got to do with the Riemann Hypothesis. We proved a bunch of things about the non-trivial zeros of the Zeta function.” He smiled down at her indulgently.
She smiled back and said, ironically, “I understand everything now.”
He said, “For a very short time, we thought we had proved the Riemann Hypothesis itself. That would have been a very big deal. But I’ll explain it later. It’s too complicated to go into now.”
She persisted, “What’s the Riemann Hypothesis?”
“A very ….a, well, a very useless theorem.” He didn’t want to talk about it. “Believe me, I’ll tell you all about it some other time.”
After a silence she said, with a cheerful and yet resigned tone of voice, “Our families are going out to a restaurant on Saturday night. All of us. Sean’s brother and sister and my three brothers and their girlfriends and our parents. It’s really something. His family is Swedish and mine is Finnish. All we do is sit there smiling at each other and the women make sure the men aren’t drinking too much.”
“I knew a Finnish guy who was a real rabble rouser. He was in the Co-op movement in Wisconsin. He was a socialist. And some of those Swedes are something else too. Do you know Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries?”
“Of course. But it’s not about Sean’s family, believe me.”
He lifted his arm in a another mock, romantic gesture. “Mexico awaits. Spain. Parts unknown.”
She smiled, “You won’t believe it, but we’re going to the Parts Unknown restaurant.”
“I’ve seen it there on College avenue. But I can’t put it in my novel. It would lack verisimilitude.”
She said, “I think you’re just a romantic.”
“I’m not. You feel exactly they way I do Juliet. I’m trying to tell you the truth. Don’t think I’m just talking poetic nonsense.”
“I don’t think you are just talking poetic nonsense.”
He said, “You have a first class mind. You have mathematical talent. Why waste your mind playing housewife?”
“I don’t have a mathematical mind. That’s just one of your fantasies.”
She had told him that she had got A’s in all of her high school mathematics classes and had scored close to a perfect 800 on the advanced mathematics achievement test and the scholastic aptitude tests.
It was the last night of their short, chaste love affair. He never saw her again.
During the next week, Brad, Cheryl and Jasmine spent a lot of time together. It started when, early one morning, over breakfast, they decided to go up the California coast on scenic highway 1 to see Drake’s Bay, near Point Reyes. Derrin didn’t want to go with them because he wanted to work in the garden so they took Brad’s red, 1961 Volkswagen bug. They were in an adventurous mood and didn’t stop until they reached Mendocino. After having lunch in Mendocino, Cheryl remembered that the Redwood National Forest had just been opened that year, near Crescent City, and so they decided to continue up highway 1 to Leggett where they could get onto highway 101 and proceed to Crescent City. However, Jasmine wanted to go “the back way” and see a “real” forest and so they got lost and finally ended up on highway 96 in the mountains of the Hoopa Indian reservation. At 1:30 in the morning, they found a seven dollar a night log cabin motel somewhere not too far from the town of Hoopa and all three fell exhausted onto a single king size bed. They slept peacefully together, engulfed in the black night of the Six Rivers National Forest. They were awakened, at 11:30 the next morning, by what they assumed was a Hoopa Indian cleaning lady but they were afraid to ask. Back on the road, in the bright daylight, they still couldn’t find the Redwood National Forest and were grateful to even find highway 101, very late in the afternoon. Except for one stop at a Denny’s restaurant, they drove directly to the San Anselmo turnoff and from there to Kentfield.
During the trip they shared many details of their past. Jasmine talked at length of her parents’ divorce and of her father. She said that even though her father had made a small fortune in real estate, he considered himself to be a failed novelist. She said that money was of little importance to him because he said that any idiot could make money. But no one would publish any of his four novels and, as a consequence, he had been seeing a psychiatrist for the last five years, almost crippled with depression. He divorced his wife because he felt as if he had let her down and that he was not worthy of being a husband and father. Cheryl talked at length of her affair with the head master at the orphanage and how it had started when she was fourteen and lasted until she left the orphanage at age eighteen. It haunted her and she said that she had always thought she should try to prosecute him for statutory rape but was afraid to. Finally, she talked of a group of lawyers who were associated with a San Francisco women’s advocacy group who had tried to help her, for almost a year. She said that they were all Lesbians and she had finally got fed up with them. They never got anywhere with her case and she felt that, at bottom, they only wanted to seduce her. Brad talked at length about his childhood affair with Jeanette and about the scandal that almost resulted in his going to jail for child molesting when he was eighteen and Jeanette was seventeen. He explained that she still looked like a junior high school girl but they had got together again for a few months after he had won the Fields medal. He described his mother’s behavior that led up to his breakup with his Jewish high school sweetheart and he described the period after his grandfather’s death. They were like travelers who meet by chance on a long voyage, draw close together for a few days and reveal more to each other than they have ever revealed to anyone else, only to part and never see each other again.
It was the beginning of a single week of intimacy that ended as abruptly as it had begun. Brad was happy that the tension between him and Cheryl had finally dissipated.. He thought that Jasmine was the catalyst who would allow a friendship to develop between all three of them They hiked up and down Sir Francis Drake boulevard, from Greenbrae all the way to Fairfax, took trips to Sausalito and Golden Gate park and on Sunday, Brad even convinced them to go to Oakland with him to watch an Oakland Raiders football game at Frank Youell field. It was the first professional football game either had attended and to their surprise, they both enjoyed the game, with the help of Brad’s play-by-play description. They left at half time and he took them to Piedmont and made dinner for them in his mother’s mansion while she was away on a Crusade for Christ.
When they returned to the commune that night, the house was dark and empty. They found a note on the big mahogany table. It was from Derrin saying that he had decided to visit his father in Pebble Beach and that he wouldn’t be home until Monday night. Rod Green, it turned out, rarely slept in his room in the commune and he was not there either. It was very late and they all went to bed in separate beds.
Since his fiasco with Deborah and the ice-cream cone, he had returned, on principle, to the pleasures of Onan. Although he was no longer a believer in the orgone theory of Wilhelm Reich, he was still convinced that the sexual drive should not be suppressed or even be allowed to go underground. To remind himself not to be controlled by his sexual appetite, he put a picture on the wall, over his bed, of an ancient Greek carrying a large phallus on his back. He took it down during the week that he had his affair with Raney but he put it back up a week after she told him to wait for her telephone call and didn’t call. It was still on the wall next to a poster of Sigmund Freud.
The next morning, he felt a great urge to make love to Cheryl and Jasmine, together, and so he did, in his imagination. However, despite his best laid plans, after breakfast, he found himself in Jasmine’s bedroom helping Cheryl with the fingering of John Dowland’s Orlando Sleepeth. Jasmine was wearing a white terry cloth robe with nothing on underneath and Cheryl was dressed in shorts and a halter. In a few moments they were on the king size bed making love. Brad was surprised that he was ready for sex again after only an hour’s rest. He hardly knew how they managed to get him onto the unmade bed but he knew that if he stopped, life in the commune would be very difficult and he would inspire their undying scorn. When Cheryl began to undress him, to his astonishment Jasmine got up and left, without a word. His desire almost vanished and he required every fantasy in his arsenal to make love to Cheryl. Afterwards, Cheryl was clearly unhappy and didn’t wait for him to satisfy her but jumped out of bed, dressed hurriedly and bounded down the steps and out the front door. Brad went into his own room and saw her go through the front gate and turn down Main street towards Sir Frances Drake Boulevard. He laid himself on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He dozed for awhile and was awakened by the sound of Warren, Cheryl’s ex-boyfriend, coming through the gate. He looked through the window and saw him with the wolf, straining against his leash. He went downstairs.
Warren asked, “Where is everybody?”
“I don’t know. Cheryl left about an hour ago. Didn’t you see Jasmine?”
“Nope.” Warren rubbed the head of the smiling wolf and bent over and nuzzled into the thick fur of his neck. Brad said, “He looks like he’s part German shepherd.”
Warren said, “He’s 100% timber wolf.”
“I thought you couldn’t domesticate timber wolves.”
“That’s what they say, but I think you can. I’m going to raise them and sell them to families. Domesticated.”
Brad asked, with strained politeness, “Do you really think they can be domesticated?”
“It’s supposed to be hard, but I think I can do it.”
“So. What are you going to do that’s different?”
“I’ve been raising him in the car with me and I take him everywhere I go. He never leaves my sight. I sleep with him in the car and my beagle puppy Holmes is always with us too. I think that helps.”
Brad reached out his hand towards the wolf. The wolf sniffed it and turned away, indifferently. “He doesn’t seem too friendly.”
“He’s friendly with me. Ain’t cha pooch.” Warren leaned down and the wolf licked his face but not with enthusiasm. “But I have an idea. Until I can afford a kennel I need somewhere for him to stay when I have to go somewhere.” He added, apologetically, “I mean I don’t leave him very often but sometimes it’s unavoidable.” He leaned down and talked baby talk to his wolf again. “The little guy is getting too big isn’t he? Needs a place to run around.”
The wolf’s feet were large and even though he was as big as a full grown German Shepherd, he looked like he was about six months old. Brad asked, “How are you going to keep him from jumping the fence.”
“Oh. I would never allow him to run free. I’ll tie him up. There. Under that big magnolia tree. With a rope and a water dish and a food dish.”
Brad looked at the magnolia tree and then back at the wolf. He said, “Wolves are pretty clever.” He looked up at his cat Zeta who was sitting on the roof, just outside the window of Brad’s room, peering down at them. “I don’t know if I would trust a wolf around my cat Zeta.” Zeta was a very large calico cat but he knew his limits.
Warren said, “You wouldn’t hurt a fly, woudja pooch?”
Brad said, very politely, “I guess you’ll have to ask Derrin and the rest of them what they think.”
“I’ll pay. I’ve already talked to Derrin. I’m prepared to pay $50 a month.”
Brad cringed. He knew that Derrin would do almost anything for rent money. He said, “Well, I don’t suppose he could do too much harm as a puppy. But he’s already as big as a German Shepherd.”
“Believe me, he’s harmless.” Warren reached out his hand again but the wolf was busy smelling something and ignored his hand.
It was agreed later, without consulting with Brad, that the wolf, whose name was Honcho, although no one, including Warren, ever called him by his name, would stay at the commune on Main street when Warren couldn’t be with him. He would stay in the front yard, tied to the magnolia tree and Warren would feed him and put him in the car at night and keep him with him whenever possible. Warren promised that most days the wolf would be with him and his puppy, Holmes, and they would be training him. Brad shrugged his shoulders and said to himself that the commune wasn’t really important to him anyway and therefore he didn’t give a damn.
The next night, at dinner, Derrin announced that a woman with a three-year-old child had decided to rent both the vacant room and the large hall behind her room and Brad’s room, for $150. The formality of all commune members interviewing prospective members was dropped. $150 a month was too much for Derrin to let slip away. She received alimony and he assumed it was a sure thing. The large hall in question was as long as two large bedrooms and about half as wide, with a bathtub at one end and a washbasin at the other end, opposite Brad’s room. He protested, instinctively but without conviction, that he should have control of half of the hall but Derrin asked him how he proposed to divide the room since the wash basin was on his end and the bathtub was on the other end. Brad could come up with no obvious answer and capitulated again because, at bottom, he didn’t really give a damn about the hall and never even went in there except occasionally, to use the washbasin.
Derrin said the woman would be there the following night and they could all meet her at that time. Although she had a three-and-a-half-year old daughter no one mentioned the wolf. Brad didn’t say a word. He reasoned that there would be time enough to deal with it.
After the meeting, Derrin called Brad aside and said there was a possibility of working at the airport as a baggage handler; he said that Rod Green knew some people at Hughes Air West who were looking for seasonal baggage men. Derrin was planning on working there himself and if Brad could work there for a few weeks or even a month, during the holiday season, and pay his salary into a rent fund, the commune could be solvent well into 1969. Brad smiled at his audacity and said he would think about it. Derrin added that he was sure that they could get four Avis rental cars, for the following weekend, to return to the Seattle-Tacoma airport for $50 a car. That would solved their immediate problem which was a short-fall of rent, before the new woman moved in. But there was another problem: no one had seen or heard from Cheryl for three days, including Warren.