“Out of town, out of
mind, can bring encounters
of a most peculiar kind.”
“License and registration, please…”
So I had slept in, closet-wise, then tried to call, no answer. Tried again after coffee, nothing but questions. Was Moon walking the dog? Straying off the trail? Even with the time difference, this early on a Sunday meant it couldn’t have been due to work back there. Nevertheless, here, first things first: Syd fired up her Fox, two parking slots down the block. She drove us over to my squareback, good to go so far, whereupon we transferred her Samsonite road show into the Audi.
Helping us lug the bags and boxes from her building’s loading zone through its chandeliered lobby, resident manager Ivar Krile motioned us to pile it all into his black wrought iron elevator. Stooped and diminutive as he was, the Uzbekan émigré squeezed us all into his cramped little birdcage. Saying little on up, he hustled us out to Syd’s third floor hallway, what with the buzzing of his lobby call button—but not before reading her for a belated Christmas gratuity. Later, mon ami, she winked, waving him down as she directed me to schlepp the load into her room, now being particularly careful with the small brown-wrapped package she’d been so insouciantly carrying for Josh Gravanek—wondering aloud why he’d asked her to hold it in safe keeping until hearing from him or one of his…crew.
Then Syd called Aimee Pellimore to catch up, which resulted in an offhand invitation to Marin. Delegation being the better part of valor, Syd insisted I join her, behind the wheel, of course, on a road trip to Eden with the edge. She rode shotgun like a dismounted drover, guiding me along Lombard Street’s motel row up onto Doyle Drive, calling out the bay and headlands, warning me to mind the little 19-inch tall yellow plastic tubes—four inches in diameter, manually placed at 25-foot intervals by rolling truck crews—that were the only margin of safety between us and oncoming traffic traveling at least as fast as we were.
Squeezing through the free-direction toll-plaza slots, we gaped at the grandeur of the Golden Gate. Syd swivel-gazed upon the overpowering sweep of it all, from the Oakland Hills on out to Land’s End and beyond, as if viewing this dramatically scenic panorama for the very first time. I, in fact was, and could barely keep track of other vehicles speeding by on moveable lanes, craning to follow the tanker and container ships passing beneath the arching 1.7 mile long bi-way span, hooking my neck even further to peer up at the soaring International Orange bridge towers as though they were Eiffel and the Flatirons, one after the other.
This epic sea and skyline view kept fixing our over-the-shoulder gazes all the way up El Camino Real’s Waldo Grade, catching us again once we breezed through Highway 101’s rainbow tunnel, adding Sausalito’s cliffside cribs and Richardson Bay houseboats to the foreground mix. But no less compelling was the Marin County landscape unfolding beyond the coastal hills to our left—from low-lying Bridgeway wetlands to the commanding heights of Mount Tamalpais. Strawberry, Mill Valley, Tam Junction, Corte Madera, Larkspur fanned sumptuously about winter green peaks and valleys—all too much to absorb while keeping a wandering eye on now Redwood Highway’s northbound flow.
Mellow mountains and major water under clear blue skies, a parlay neither Colorado nor Chicago could rival: Even the specter of San Quentin guard posts and cellblocks couldn’t fuzz our buzz. KSFD’s AOR playlist squelched out some as we exited onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, a spin of the stereo dial picking up a KTIM-FM segue from Jorma Kaukonen’s ‘Hot Tuna, Double Live’ bootleg to Sweetwater Maria Muldaur. Sydney covetously pointed out the estates and manses of Kentfield, Ross and San Anselmo, fleered the funkiness of Fairfax, rhapsodized the one-horse, west Marin lure of San Geronimo—so far, and yet so near.
I was no less taken with yet more remote redwood beauty when she steered me onto Nicasio Valley Road—at least until we rounded a narrow curve near the Lucas Valley turn off, straight into a dense bosk of fir and pine trees, and the uniform glare of caution flares and a gumballed welcome wagon.
“Colorado DL, is it? But the registration says San Francisco,” said the CHP road blocker, running a roving safety inspection like a Medellin ambush.
“Uh, yeah, it belongs to her.”
“In accordance with California Vehicle Code, we are conducting this random inspection as a means of determining whether drivers like yourself are complying with minimum state standards regarding the safe operation of a licensed motor vehicle. Would you mind stepping out of the vehicle, please.”
“Unreal,” I grumbled, poised to spring out of the Audi as a second highway patrolman called in my license for outstanding tickets and warrants. Couldn’t help but wonder why she was taking me on these side trips anyway, why I was going along…
“This is my doing, officer,” Sydney leaned over toward the driver’s side. “It is my car and I’ve asked my visiting friend here to take the wheel.”
“Now, why would you do that, ma’am?”
“You see, I’ve just had my purse stolen, including my license, so he’s generously helping me with a very important errand,” she smiled, holding back my arm. “Plus, I’m having my period, and I do get a little hot flash crampy without my Midol—which was also in my purse. So you wouldn’t want me behind the wheel that way, would you?”
“Umm, no ma’am,” he grimaced, steaming up his chrome Aviators. His partner then returned with my clean DL. “Everything seems in working order here—we needn’t cite or impound your vehicle. The California Highway Patrol regrets this inconvenience, and appreciates your cooperation. So you folks have a good day.”
“Thank you, officer,” she waved affably. “You keep an eye out for my purse, will you? Tooled leather with rainbow rays.”
“That true?” I accelerated cautiously out of the road stop.
“Wanna find out,” she chided, settling back into her bucket seat. “But even my mother doesn’t use Midol any more.”
From here on, the road to Aimee Pellimore’s led along rolling green hills, scattered shady groves, Holstein grazing pastures and horse farms—two narrow lanes dotted with cheese stands, pumpkin fields and the oddball wooden sculpture. I dodged a quartet of oncoming cyclists in a roadside bike lane as we left-turned onto Rancho Road, just south of Nicasio and its bladdery Reservoir. Winding up into a more thickly forested ridgeline, we cut onto a fire road dotted with steel private driveway gates and roller cattle guards. Syd pointed to a small wood burned sign reading, ‘Rancho Ridge’ and ‘Villa Manana’, and a simple, rusty metal cross-bar, which she instructed me to swing open with authority as she cranked up some Jim Kweskin Jug Band on KTIM stereo. This, while I still had mariachis and Abraxas maracas dancing in my head.
Manana’s trail, narrow as a double-yellow line, rutted up through ferned pine and redwood, following a shallow creekbed between two smooth, busty hills—thinly green from rainy season shortfalls, but sparkling just the same. She snickered at scores of calendar-clean Guernseys grazing, satisfied tails asway, against a brilliant blue sky, then gestured toward a fir-ringed swimming hole. Framing it all was peeling white rail fencing, around the curve of which surfaced the former Rancho Ridge creamery-post office, now a crafts shack, coveralled counter artisans milling all about.
Some forty yards beyond the lone, sagging storefront, a second Villa Manana marker was nailed under a buckshot-pocked dairy sign, arrowing us another quarter mile up the way. Counting off brightly painted milk cans, waving off a growing litter of car-crazed golden labs, we soon steered through a single-lane split in the fence rails, ‘Villa Manana’ and ‘Trespassers, meet your maker’ mounted to either side—sort of like a private label Bohemian Grove.
Sydney reached over and beeped Foxy’s horn around a clump of spruce trees, filigree and ostrich ferns rising over a heavily algaed pond, from behind which emerged this maroon and marigold farmhouse. She then motioned me toward a slightly lean-to two-car barn, brown Saab wagon and pink, black polka dotted Citroen 2CV inside. Neither rundown nor fully restored, the Victorian homestead just looked lived in and inviting.
Aimee and her matching Gordon Retrievers sauntered through the screen door of a wraparound, plant-rich porch, welcoming the familiar Audi wagon beneath a lone, largely cascading parasol palm tree. Their greeting was demonstrative, as were the photographs framing the foyer and front room—an equal-opportunity rogue’s gallery of intimacy, more profuse than El Menudo’s, baring like measures of hide, not least the nude beach foraging for mussels by a covey of young women au naturel.
“Aimee and I shared a Telegraph Hill walk-up while we were art students,” Syd noted, having introduced me as her ‘driver’. “She was my first Institute figure study, was majoring in…”
“Printmaking—intaglio and stone lithography,” Aimee finished her thought. “Nice meeting you…hope your meter’s not still running…”
“Uh, no, nothing like that,” I said, toying with the dogs, whose collar tags read, ‘Id’ and ‘Ego’. “I’m just repaying a favor…”
“I’ll bet…” She grinned, winking slyly at Syd, shaking back her dishwater blonde mane.
“She won an award from the prestigious Legion of Honor Foundation. Didn’t you, Aim,” Syd gushed, stepping in to point out charcoal paper etchings of earth-toned figure studies mostly covering an inner parlor wall.
“That was a while back, Sydney,” she said, of the two, more fully developed all around. “So much has happened in my life since then. How about you?”
Syd proceeded to recount Europe, bemoan Gulf Coast Florida, avoid Chicago, shrug off Boulder and revel in Telluride and Aspen. She explained how her travels and travails had reinvigorated her creativity, reinformed her painting to where she couldn’t wait to toil away in her studio. She stretched and flexed and contorted while extolling the yoga discipline she had maintained throughout most of her journeys, sipped at a anti-oxidant juice blend Aimee had laid out in a ceramic service set on a wormwood coffee table before a woolen throw-covered, overstuffed sofa.
I sat with them and nursed a citrus juice cup as well, sneaking peeks at more framed half-tones—mainly women who were working their way up the nude chain. Intriguing all the more was a four-color blow-up of these two by the swimming hole, strategically hugging, full-on lip kissing, nipples on point, caressing the only stitches of clothing between them: skimpy bikini bottoms in corresponding and stripes and hues.
Tearing away from that graphic imagery, we soon toured the remainder of the farmhouse, two stories of expertly recaned and refurbished furniture, garnished with Aimee’s matted block prints and indigenous bric-a-brac from as far off as Humboldt County. A room-by-room exploration of hardwood and gingerbread trim brought us back to the rambling, wickered front porch. There, Syd and Aimee calendared and coordinated upcoming gallery openings down in The City, while I transposed Seamus and the Gordons now racing over to the mossy, algaed pond, mulling over who might have so competently staged and exposed that color photograph.
But of rather more interest was Aimee’s accounting of her migration from backyard guest house to big house, however smacking of a self-styled spin on events.
This involved winning over a land poor, fifth generation drunken bachelor with Max Yasgur delusions, subletting a one-time bunk house-size outbuilding to use as a getaway studio space. Soon her family’s L.A. law firm dummied up a buy-out/leaseback package the strapped old man couldn’t refuse. Before long, they froze payment after she accused Mr. Wiggs of rear window voyeurism and sexual harassment, which he denied, and threatened to tell the Feds about a few backyard sensimilla plants.
Then he started an ill-funded and fated eviction proceeding. Her lawyers hit him with a cross-eviction and ongoing legal action that resulted in deputy sheriffs escorting Mr. Wiggs off the property, family belongings in tow. Meanwhile, Aimee moved from the glorified shed into the then shabby Victorian, and lured Barry, her man friend, to come up and help her with some surface restoration, Grandpa Pellimore funding the pet project from his Pasadena demesne.
“I needed more growing space for my studio and screen printing and everything, but couldn’t totally give up The City,” she said, herself having been raised in seaside Orange County. “Then I found this deal in the Marin Sun classifieds. More visual inspiration, less wear and tear. The Tarot cards told me it was right.”
“So, did the ol’ perv actually do it,” I asked, noticing that Aimee was a shade taller than Syd, more fetching yet. And how could she be so tan so early, or late.
“Do what? The peeping tom routine,” she asked back, munching a kale chip. “What do you think?”
“What do I know,” I said, allowing as how I couldn’t blame him. “I’m only along for the drive.”
She said she saw Villa Manana as her manifest destiny, some generational imperative—besides which, this was Marin. I just envisioned an uncanny resemblance between Aimee Pellimore’s profile and Sydney’s description of a younger, firmer, more modest Faith Mendel. But then Aimee tugged impatiently at her tight khaki safari shorts and flowery halter top, explaining her guests away with a stringently tight schedule of TM, Women’s’ Assertiveness Training and the seven schools of yoga. With that, Sydney hugged her dearly, they shared moist, marshmallow kisses and promised to stay in close touch; then she dragged me toward the car.
“Shangri-La, huh,” Syd gushed, waving back to Aimee as I steered the Fox down trail, leaving the bounding Gordon Retrievers in the golden dust. “And excuse us, if we’re a bit demonstrative.”
“Yeah, somethin’ else. So who took that shot of you to by the pond,” I probed, a mite voyeuristically myself. My head spun with wonder: What was with these two? The affection, all the pawing and grab-assing. Was it the nature or the nurture? The climate or the culture? The creative artsy bond or the bucks—big bucks, sudden bucks, free flowing, footloose bucks?
“Barry took it, He’s the wuss in the picture next to ours, in the tawny sleeveless, huaraches and draw-string O.P.s…does lots of Transcendent Convening and Primal Encounter, keeps to himself back there.”
I tried to pursue that angle or tangle, and Aimee’s motherly resemblance on the ride down, but Syd couldn’t see it. Anyhow, this was too glorious a setting for Oedipal psychobabble like that. Overflying gulls and scattered outbuildings were too white, surrounding hillsides too freshly green, drought or no. Here it was, mid January, with springtime already at hand—warm and softly breezy, that dash of sea salt in the air—life so easy and…free.
“Yah? Where’s this Barry guy now?”
“Still living in the guest house, where he belongs,” Syd dismissed, turning on the radio to Elvin Bishop’s ‘Travelin’ Shoes’. “Point is, Aimee’s where she belongs. This delicious bite of paradise came along, she went for it. And to her credit, ended up with the whole enchilada.”
“I thought she said he helped her rehab the Victorian and…”
“He did, that’s why she hasn’t raised his rent all that much.”
“Gotcha. So they still going together, or what?”
“They’re still casual friends, flash. She’s going with the Lagunitas hunk who leads her assertiveness program. He’s her spiritual beacon and casual paramour—he’s into the whole mind-body unity Gestalt, one mean long boarder, too…”
“Casual…mean…yah, well the weather’s sure cooperating, huh?”
“This is California, flash, there is no weather here, only degrees of clear or unclear…with some patches of fog and rain.”
“Yeah…unclear patches, all right…”
Care for more?
Chapter 22. Tête-à-tête at the water’s
edge harbors stirring dreams and visions
that may sound well beyond his depth…