This is the first two chapters of a book I started last summer, tentatively titled "Ganesh Made Me Do It", that is a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Some of it is directly from my own travels and assorted experiences, and a lot of it is pure fantasy (like pretty much all of the first chapter, except that I did hitchhike across Nevada in the middle of summer once...but I was going the other direction, and no pretty girls in RVs came along to give me a ride). However the book has been neglected and there are only a few more chapters after the two that I've included here. One of these days I do hope to continue from where I've left off because I like where this is going. Maybe I just need some more traveling experiences in order to have more ideas to draw from, we'll see...
Chapter 1. A skinny dip…
The day began with thumb unfurled to the world, ready for action, shirt off under the blazing blue sky, eyes half open behind the protective shield of my sunglasses, and a hazy, sluggish mind from intermittent sleep through the desert heat of a simmering July night. Where I’d slept wasn’t far from where I stood, on Highway 50 somewhere a long ways east of Fallon, lost in the heart of the lonely state of Nevada.
Somehow, that loneliness was heightened more during the light of day, without the comforting blanket of myriad twinkling stars to ponder overhead. It was just my lone soul, the great expanse of wide-open starkness, and a thin sliver of road leading me onwards. And, based on the previous day, a car roughly every half hour, that brought only a glimmer of hope as it approached from across the expanse, for what seemed an eternity of longing before it finally flew by at a mile a minute, with nary a smile nor faintest teardrop of humanity to spare a bedraggled, sullen traveler; and I was thrown back into the despair of the lonely road.
Okay, so maybe I was getting a little melodramatic. I’d spent maybe four hours hitchhiking there the previous evening, before bagging it and crawling into my sleeping bag under the stars. I had food, I had water. Hitching had never failed me before, and surely it wouldn’t this time, no matter how scorching the desert sun might become. The pavement I stood beside was my umbilical cord to civilization, and one way or another it would provide the sustenance and guidance I sought. Or at least, so I hoped.
A crow flew not too far overhead, and cawed. I looked up, squinting into the sun, whistled towards it and it turned and came back. Were crows normally out in the middle of the vast, empty desert? It cawed again as it peered down at me cock-eyed, a faint glimmer of pity in its eyes. No doubt I was the one who looked sorely out of place.
I cupped my hands over my mouth and shouted in its direction:
“Hello, Mr. Crow, how are you today?”
It continued on its way with no need to look back.
For a long while, nothing happened.
Then, off in the distance, a speck of movement materialized out of the east. This was what I was waiting for, since I was westerly bound. It shimmered and grew until it revealed itself to be a brownish mini-van, flying along with reckless ambitions of speediness.
As it grew closer, I heard a heartbeat. It was pulsing with music, which I heard long before I picked up the sound of the engine. As it came closer, I realized it was one of my favorite songs: “Shake Your Hips” by the Rolling Stones. The windows were apparently rolled down, blasting the euphoric mix of drums, sax and bass into the desert. I began to nod my head and shake my leg in rhythm. As it neared, I raised my thumb high overhead, drumming my leg with my other hand, staring down the vehicle with an aura of coolness mixed with desperation, hoping my evident enjoyment of their music would translate into mutual camaraderie or perhaps compassion on their part.
If it did, it failed to produce the desired result. They flew by as a cacophony of mayhem piercing the subtle sounds of the desert. The van was occupied by five crazed-looking twenty-something guys all with squiggly, dark hair, who seemed on the verge of exploding from how vigorously they were singing along to the song in unison. As they passed, they all simultaneously stuck their arms out of the windows, and gave me a huge thumbs-up and a massive yell:
It wasn’t entirely clear if they were offering enthusiastic encouragement, or else mercilessly mocking me. I turned with my thumb still held in the air as they continued down the road in the other direction and saw, spray-painted sloppily on the back of the van, the words: “Cocky Mystery Crew world tour!!!” Whether they were a rock band, circus act or kinky sex show of some kind would, true to their name, remain a mystery.
Back to the silence of the desert, torn asunder by the momentary outburst of perverted humanity. The infectious song was driven firmly into my subconscious, leaving me shaking with the urge to dance. Unfortunately, the lyrics to that song were completely unintelligible, other than the “shake your hips” part; so that I was unable to fill the limitless void around me with even a lame attempt at a Mick Jagger impersonation. Instead, I just jumped and hopped around on the highway for a while, with the occasional yip for good measure; until the incessant, all-consuming silence took over once again and the music slowly faded from my mind.
The crow came back, and again cawed. I echoed back with a feeble caw of my own.
Another car came down the road, this time from the west, heading from whence I’d come, no use to me other than a comforting reminder that humankind was in fact still in existence. It was a shiny, silver Lexus, a clean-cut looking businessman behind the wheel, shrouded in sunglasses of his own. I stood there in solemn, shirtless intensity, only a tapping finger remaining from the previous, peculiar automotive passing. He looked at me curiously, his head cocked momentarily not unlike the crow’s, as he flew by like a dazzling silver bullet. I raised a hand and gave a little wave, and he nodded back with a subdued gesture of acknowledgment.
And again, for a while, nothing happened.
Finally, I detected another movement out of the east. Something subtle fluttered within my bowels. Perhaps this was my ticket out of there. I hoped and prayed, as the faint speck of a vehicle emerged from the horizon and drew ever closer. Or lumbered, I should say. It was an RV, painted the precise, colorless beige of the desert. My heart and thumb sank. Catching a ride in an RV was about as likely as being picked up by a passing UFO.
The awkward vehicle careened towards me at breakneck speed. It was weaving all over the highway. I grabbed my backpack and stepped off the road a little ways, in case it veered towards me. I couldn’t quite see who was inside because of the tinting of the windows. I raised my arm half-heartedly. It flew past…and then screeched to a halt about a hundred yards down the road, and began backing up. Deliverance!
I grabbed my pack and sprinted to meet it, as it came to a teetering halt.
I reached up to the passenger door and threw it wide open, met by a blast of refrigerated air. A lone woman sat in the driver’s seat staring down at me, a vision of beauty. Long dark hair, dark eyes, soft, kind face with feminine lips, a red tank top plastered to her torso and a flowery, flowing pink and purple dress enveloping both her lower half and the seat.
“Hey there, hitchhiker man, where you headed?” she said straightforwardly.
“Reno!” I said, as I lifted a leg onto the step up to the seat, and hovered in a fleeting, tangled moment of anticipation and dread as I awaited her reply–thumbs up or thumbs down.
“Great! I’m going to Tahoe, so I can get you there. Hop on up, you must be ready to get out of that glaring sun.”
“Oh man, tell me about it.”
I hauled myself up out of my potentially imminent demise, squeezed my pack between the seats, slammed the door shut and relaxed back into the blissful embrace of chilled brown leather.
She gave me a brief, delicate glance, and somehow a glint of sunlight reflected off one of her teeth, almost blinding me in a brilliant flash that induced in me an overpowering drunken giddiness. My abrupt transition from outcast desert flotsam to basking in the gaze of an air-conditioned RV goddess was more than I was prepared for. Good thing I had the sunglasses to hide behind, as I laid back and tried to act normal.
She hit the gas and we shot forward.
“So, how the hell did you end up right there? I haven’t seen a road or anything for miles.”
“Well…yesterday I got a ride a ways back, I forget the town…oh yeah, Ely I think…with this guy that was going to some business conference in San Fran. All of a sudden he realized he’d forgotten his portfolio, or something or other, and he had to turn around right there and drive all the way back to Salt Lake City.”
“Bummer! For both of you.”
“Yeah. No shit. I’m not sure which one of us was more screwed.”
She’d continued weaving back and forth all over the road as we flew along.
“Why the wacky driving?” I asked, since upon further observation it seemed deliberate.
“I don’t know. I figure with all this road to spare and hardly anybody on it, might as well make use of it.”
“Okay, I guess that makes sense,” I replied…which of course it didn’t.
“I’m Allison, by the way,” she said as she took her right hand off the wheel and gently glided it towards me. “Allison Stoic.”
“Interesting name. I’m Jacob Caulfield, Jake, either way, whatever…” I replied as our hands met and embraced, and I drifted further towards a state of unrepentant delirium. She slid her hand back towards the wheel.
“So what’s in Reno?” she asked.
“I’m going to visit my brother and sister-in-law,” I said. “Other than that, not too much.”
“Where are you hitching from?”
“Well, I was at this bluegrass festival in Colorado, in Telluride. I live in Portland, Oregon, but I took a couple weeks off work for a mid-summer traveling adventure. So, I’m making my way back home. Just five more days of freedom.”
“Cool, that sounds like fun! I love bluegrass music too.”
“Oh yeah, good times, for sure. We boogied our butts off.”
She glanced over at me again and smiled.
“So what’s the deal with the RV?” I asked. “Anybody else in here, sleeping in the back or something?”
“Nope. I’m all on my own. I’m actually getting paid to deliver this thing to somebody in California, in Tahoe like I said. I found out about the gig online. I’m actually from Alaska. I’m an archeologist normally, but I also fight forest fires during the summer. It’s great money, ‘cause you get hazard pay and plus it’s pretty exciting. So they call you up and tell you, ‘We’ve got a fire in such-and-such place’ and then you have just a day or two to hop on a plane and get down there. I was in New Mexico for two weeks fighting fires there. You probably heard about them on the news, they were friggin’ huge! But it’s all contained now. So then I found this thing with the RV, had to get myself up to Durango to pick it up, and then set up a flight back home, flying out of San Fran.”
“Crazy,” was all I could think to say.
Silenced gripped us both for a time, as we watched the stream of desert solitude rushing past.
“Hey, you want to go skinny-dipping?” she suddenly burst out.
“Who, me?” I blurted.
And, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ I thought.
And then, regaining some scant measure of composure: “Yeah, that sounds great. I could stand to wash off some grime, that’s for sure.”
“Alright, next time we see a river, we’re finding a good swimming hole.”
A long, long hour of sporadic conversation pierced by rampant romantic visions later, we crossed a bridge over a cool, clear, green river. A gravel road on the other side of the bridge followed the water, and she turned onto it. We drove about a mile upstream, and came to a pull-off alongside the road. It continued onwards from there towards a hunched group of hills on the horizon, which offered negligible evidence of justification for the road’s continuance. But if it had been my rig and I wasn’t destination-bound elsewhere, I would certainly have been tempted to keep the pedal on the metal and find out. I mean, after the skinny-dipping.
She pulled over, turned off the car…and then stretched her bare, tanned arms high above her head, as she let out a soft groan of exquisite release and then turned her head to sniff her own armpit.
“Yep, getting stinky. I could definitely stand to wash off. That water is gonna feel damn gooooood, don’t you think?”
“Oh yeah…No doubt about that,“ I said, as I adjusted my sunglasses.
We both glanced down towards the river, flowing languidly a little ways below the road.
“You need a towel?” she asked as she turned towards me, bringing a hand down to brush her cascading, velvety hair back behind her ear.
“I’m all set, got one in my pack here, somewhere.”
I dug around until I found it, as she reached back and grabbed a bright orangeish towel from behind my seat. Then we flung open the doors to confront the suffocating intensity of mid-summer’s-day middle-of-Nevada heat. It was far more intense now than when I’d been standing in it for hours, after being softened up by the soothing air conditioning.
“Fucking crap, it’s hot!” she said.
We followed a narrow, dusty path that led down to the river, where a thin strip of sandy beach nestled against the water. We paused there in the piercing sunlight for a moment, as we took in the peaceful, barren surroundings. Besides I wasn’t quite sure of protocol in this situation. Should I start undressing first, or politely wait for her to initiate the nakedness?
Screw it. I was halfway there already anyway. I unlaced my sneakers and chucked them into the sand, eased out of my jeans, socks and underwear simultaneously, and tossed the sunglasses onto the jumbled pile. Then I stepped without further hesitation into the delicious coolness of the river. I immersed myself with a pleasant, sanguine groan and backstroked out to the middle, though I could still touch the shallow, gravelly bottom. I looked back at her with a contented smile; only because, of course, she happened to be standing where I was looking.
“It’s so damned sweet!” I said. “You coming in?”
This was the moment of truth. The ultimate hitchhiker’s dream was materializing before my very eyes. It didn’t get any better than this, if you were luckier than a leprechaun in a rainbow-emblazoned field of four-leafed clovers.
“Of course!” she said, as she reached down to unbuckle her sandals. They found a home on the beach beside my tattered blue Nike’s. She looked towards my bobbing head in the undulating waters, and then the red tank top was whisked up and away and settled onto the sand. The flowing dress and undergarments came, slowly, down to her ankles as she wiggled her hips back and forth, and then she stood tall, brushed back her hair away from her face and stepped out of the flowery pile. And with that, there was nothing left to hide her glorious, dark-haired perfect womanhood.
I gazed from the corners of my dripping eyelids upon her luscious beauty, and she didn’t seem to mind. She stepped into the water, and settled in up to her waist as she drifted slowly towards me, all four of her eyes staring at me (and no, I’m not talking about glasses).
She gave a look of longing as she approached. Clearly we were thinking the very same thing. Her lips seemed to part, as her arm emerged from the water to reach towards my cheek. I moved through the river towards her to close the gap, knowing it was meant to be. My hand reached out and touched her moistened hair, as her trembling lips pouted and pursed in vulnerable surrender. I grasped her tender waist with my other arm beneath the water, pulled her towards me as our naked bodies converged…and our lips hastened towards ultimate sensual union.
It was right about then that an incessant blaring noise came out of nowhere, a high-pitched screech filled my ears, and something heavy slammed into my head. And then, tragically, I woke up.
Chapter 2. Back in the real world…
‘Damn!’ I thought, as reality seeped into my groggy consciousness, and I opened my eyes to the morning light shining upon my cluttered, cramped studio. The yowling sound had ceased, but the blaring continued. Ah, yes, my alarm. I reached over and hit snooze. Looking around my room, I saw my cat Pumpkin (he’s orange and roundish) sitting on the carpet, licking himself. A weighty copy of Steinbeck’s East of Eden was lying on the bed right next to my face, staring at me. I’d been meaning to read it for years. Finally, in frustration over being neglected, it had apparently attacked me.
I pieced the evidence together and figured out what had most likely happened: Pumpkin had been sitting atop the bookcase next to my bed when my alarm went off, sending him scurrying frantically with a feline howl, in the process dumping the nearest book directly onto my dozing personage, resulting in the shattering of a perfectly good hitchhiker’s dream. In short, it was a veritable quandary of perfectly orchestrated events, with catastrophic consequences to my love life. Although, the dream at least would have come crashing down anyway, regardless of the placement of my cat, due to my alarm’s robotic insistence that the day’s duties were about to begin.
I reached over to the bedside table and turned on my walkie-talkie. It hummed and lit up, and emitted a confident beep. I pushed the talk button and uttered sleepily into it:
“Jake to base. I’m ready to roll…” (which, obviously, I wasn’t).
A couple seconds later I heard back, “Gotcha Jake, we got nothin’ yet. I’ll let you know when something comes in.”
With that, I was on the clock; though I wasn’t actually getting paid yet, since we were paid on a per delivery basis, plus tips. I worked as a delivery guy for a local service that contracted with assorted area restaurants to bring their dishes to homes and businesses around the greater Portland area. Think advanced pizza delivery, with a cultural medley of 150 different restaurants to choose from.
Ostensibly, when I called in I was supposed to be ready to hit the road at a moment’s notice. But it could be two minutes before they sent me something, or an hour, since the lunch rush usually got off to a slow start. Just depended on how hungry the city was. I preferred to maximize my precious shut-eye. I mean, it was the crack of 10:30. I turned over and went back to sleep.
Twenty minutes later, the walkie-talkie beeped again and a voice blared out:
“Okay, Jake man, head on down to Yummy Garden Chinese.”
“Ten-four, Bob, heading that way.”
The flurry began as I tore away my blanket, rushed to the bathroom, splashed some cold water on my face and hair, pulled on pants, socks, shoes, shirt and a warm jacket (despite my dream, it was late fall), threw my portable breakfast of raw oats and raisins in my backpack and headed out the door, less than five minutes after the onset of consciousness.
The job was a frenetic adrenaline rush that paid the bills and then some, thanks to the generous tipping of Portlanders. If I ever felt inclined to write a book about it, which is doubtful, it would be called Adventures in Creative Parking. I confess, my flagrant violations of parking and other vehicular laws occurred on a more than hourly basis.
My favorite, shining instance of delivery heroism (depending on your perspective) occurred late one evening when I was stuck behind a line of other cars in the southeast industrial part of town, waiting for a train to go by. After the train had passed, the flashing red lights continued blinking, and the traffic arms refused to raise. Five minutes later (in delivery terms, an eternity) traffic still wasn't being allowed to resume. Something was stuck.
I eked myself out of the line of cars, turned around and headed back the other way. Two blocks later I took a left turn onto another through street, heading away from the direction the train had been going, hoping I'd find another place to cross the tracks. No luck, since all the other crossings were still flashing their red lights.
In an act of strategic gambling, desperation and unbridled testosterone, I turned onto a one-way street going the wrong way, and sped down it a full two blocks. No cars were on the other side waiting to cross the train tracks. I was able to shimmy my trusty Subaru around the traffic arm, cross over the tracks and continue up the street without incident back to busy Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, to make the delivery on time. What they didn't know (my managers, the customer and the cops) wouldn't hurt them. And as I mentioned, we were paid per delivery. The quicker the better. Sometimes you had to tweak the risk/benefit ratio a little in order to get out of a jam, and make a living.
But I wouldn't be a steely-nerved, slightly maniacal delivery man for much longer. A week later, I was departing the country and putting my life on indefinite pause for an extended traveling adventure to India and other far flung exotic destinations. I can't tell you the purpose of the trip, since it was shrouded somewhat in cryptic mystery even to me. You see, I was told to go there by a god. No, not by the big 'G' God. I've never talked to him (excuse me, Him). Rather, Ganesh told me to go¬–the full-bellied, fun-loving, elephant-headed "remover of obstacles" in Hindu mythology.
You see, ever since I'd taken a class on world religions back in college, Ganesh had been appearing before me at random, generally inconvenient times. Basically, he was stalking me. Sometimes it was to preach his ways of wisdom. Others, he was clearly just bored and lonely and needed someone to hang out with. Occasionally he would appear to offer specific advice or urgent instructions, which usually involved cajoling me into doing something I had zero intention of doing.
He once convinced me to shave my eyebrows, with no explanation as to what purpose it would serve. The day after doing so, I was standing in line at my favorite Mexican restaurant, waiting to order a plate of chicken enchiladas. After picking up my order to go, I headed out of the restaurant. A punk was standing in line, with a razor-sharp, jet black Mohawk, piercings in all apparent orifices and dangling parts, purple eye shadow, dressed head to toe in tight black studded leather and knee-high combat boots, polka-dotted tattoos all over his exposed head, and another tattoo straight across his forehead that read: "Death or New Jersey"; which, upon consideration, seemed a grammatically deficient statement since it wasn't clear, to me at least, whether New Jersey was then being equated with death or else was the antithesis of death…I guess he hadn't thought that one through completely.
He gave me a quizzical look as I rushed past.
"Dude, what the hell happened to your eyebrows?" he said.
This guy was in no position to be implying that I looked strange. I pondered for a few dozen milliseconds how to respond, and decided to go with the plain truth.
"Ganesh made me do it."
"It's a long story..."
With that I rushed out the door, hopped in my car and sped off.
Three blocks later, at the next intersection, I was about to fly through it on a green light when two sports cars went careening across the intersection in front of me at breakneck speed, against the red, one furiously chasing the other. I missed them by perhaps twenty feet. A policeman parked in a nearby parking lot saw what had happened, and took off after them.
If it hadn't been for the few seconds I was delayed on account of the punk and my shaven eyebrows, me and my silver Subaru would have been one indistinguishable jumble of crushed and twisted metal amidst a three-car pile-up. Of course, I would have preferred a simple word of warning whispered into my ear to slow down a little, since those eyebrows took forever to grow back. But, the gods work in convoluted ways.
Ganesh wasn't always so helpful…such as the time he appeared next to the dinner table while I was on a first date with this girl I was seriously attracted to. I did my best to ignore him. But he was rambling on about how he'd lost his rat which, oddly enough, is what he rides on to get around. He thought maybe the little bugger had scurried off to the kitchen to nibble on some crumbs, and was worried he might be mistaken by the chefs as a regular, ungodly rat and swiftly caught or poisoned or who knew what. And then how would he get his portly frame to and fro?
I couldn't help finally trying to shut him up and shoo him away; which I then had to try and explain to my date was just a nervous reaction to the Coke I was drinking, since I didn't normally have caffeine. Needless to say, I didn't get even a kiss, let alone another date out of her. Ganesh said she was just going to break my heart anyway. But as far as I was concerned, it would have been worth it with her for even one good make-out session.
Speaking of women…It was later that day, following the Pumpkin alarm incident, that I got to thinking as I continued making my deliveries around town. Who was this Allison Stoic? Of course, it was just a dream. But something about her presence within my mind was so familiar and yet elusive, as if we’d perhaps seen each other briefly on a train sometime long ago, exchanged glances and maybe a smile, and that was all.
Her sweet, tender image stayed with me, even as I wrapped up the week with last minute errands, packed up my apartment and travel gear, made a flurry of phone calls to friends and family and prepared myself for the great unknown of a voyage to a profoundly foreign land, for a journey whose ultimate purpose was yet to be revealed.