Cloudless bright blue sky. Ocean waves gently touching sandy inlets, crashing boldly against rocky shores. Warm sunshine. A faint breeze. Palm trees and bougainvillaea. Southern California.
Alan couldn't remember where he saw the first palm tree, but as he drove south they increased in frequency and variety, along with the eucalyptus, bougainvillaea, bird of paradise, fuchsia, and other imported vegetation that transformed the landscape into something it was not. Far out on the blue green of the ocean he saw two freighters suspended silently between ocean and sky, about to disappear over the horizon. Here and there were black suited surfers bobbing patiently, each waiting for the perfect wave. Driving further, he marveled at what to him were unusually exotic names: Paso Robles, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria, El Encanto.
"Not much like Montana," Alan thought happily to himself. He had never been away from Montana, except once when he had delivered wild horses to a ranch in Idaho. His decision to leave had come suddenly and without obvious cause. He just decided one cold winter day to move to Southern California. Now here he was with his ten year old Chevy pickup and his few meager possessions: clothes, tools, a few books and his guitar. As he drove he glanced continually from side to side, smiling, perceiving, enjoying, but quite unable to capture everything at once. The countryside was different. The houses were different. The people were different. He began to feel different. He started to sing, softly at first, but then with increasing volume and satisfaction.
As he entered the city he noticed the pier. At the very end was a bait shop which announced itself with a sign on the roof almost as large as the building itself. Men, women and children of all races and descriptions stood shoulder to shoulder at the railings, fishing. On one side of the pier, closer to the shore, was a merry-go-round, some bumper cars, booths where you threw darts at balloons, tossed rings, threw at bottles and shot at moving targets. These enterprises were separated and surrounded by an awesome variety of fast food enterprises. Two narrow lanes of traffic allowed one to drive to the end of the pier and back, slowed by the heavy pedestrian traffic and moving only as the carnival flow allowed. Below the pier the beach was crowded with boisterous children running in and out between the supporting posts, laughing and splashing noisily in the bubbling water.
As Alan reached the midpoint of the pier, past the beach area below and above deeper water, the faded old sea green Ford convertible in front of him suddenly stopped. The tall blond driver got out and moved unhurriedly to the rear where he began untying a rope that held the door of the luggage compartment down tightly over a large antique trunk. Grasping the trunk by one handle he began pulling it with difficulty from the car. Aside from his age, approaching forty, his bloodshot eyes, and an unsightly growth of stubble, he looked to Alan like the personification of a California surfer. He was barefoot and wore only a pair of faded bathing trunks. He was lean and tan and muscular, with untidy but beautiful shoulder length hair. It appeared as if he might have spent his entire life on the beach which, incidentally, he had. The long line of cars behind Alan soon began honking impatiently. Unused to traffic and foreign to the city, Alan looked around helplessly. It was impossible to pass. The honking intensified. When he saw the driver immediately behind him leaning out of his window, shaking his fist and yelling, Alan nervously got out of his car and went forward to help.
The trunk was heavy and as one handle was missing it was awkward to lift. But after considerable effort the two of them had it balanced precariously on the railing. With one final effort the surfer shoved it off and watched as it fell thirty feet into the water. Without a thank you, expressionless and silent, he drove off through the crowd. Alan, much relieved, did the same.
Alan felt he was fortunate to have found a room so easily. It was an inexpensive but clean hotel only two blocks from the main street which paralleled the beach. Far too excited to sleep, he walked the streets until after midnight. At one point in the early evening he passed a sidewalk cafe where he saw the surfer, still clad only in his bathing suit, drinking with a group of younger people, mostly women. They were all beautiful to Alan. He looked with envy at the scene, wondering how he might make friends, but too shy to approach anyone. He sat alone at a distant table slowly enjoying a beer, watching people pass. The tourists, with their pale skins, new shorts and bathing suits, cameras and accessories, were so easily identifiable they might have been a different species. He marveled at the natives, sometimes bra-less and gum chewing, and often dressed with a brevity he had only previously imagined. He watched with incredulity as older men and women followed their little dogs, scooping up their droppings and placing them in bags or pieces of newspaper. On the way to his hotel he passed a tattered looking black man speaking solemnly into the barrel of an antique cannon that faced the now empty ocean. He gave five dollars to a unkempt couple with a small child who held out their hands and said they were hungry.
Although Alan woke at daybreak, as he always did, he deliberately stayed in bed, enjoying a luxury he knew would soon pass. "I'll look for a job tomorrow," he thought. It was almost noon before he returned to the cafe of the night before, intending to have breakfast. The surfer was still there, still talking, but with what was now an audience of only two. Alan wondered if they had spent the night there.
"Coffee?" the waiter asked, pouring it without waiting for an answer.
"Oh, fine," said Alan, who didn't drink coffee. "I'd like some ham and eggs with the eggs over easy, some hash browns and toast. Wheat toast. And, oh, yeah, some jam or jelly. And I guess I'll have some orange juice. Okay?"
As Alan waited he looked around, satisfied with what he saw. The sun shone brightly through the palms that lined the street. Girls in bikinis paraded shamelessly back and forth provoking stares of appreciation. Children, and even a few adults, including one very old woman, skateboarded noisily, oblivious to the inconvenience they caused others. Cars of all descriptions cruised by endlessly searching for girls to pick up or places to park. A distinguished looking middle-aged man in a business suit unexpectedly sniped a butt from the sidewalk and hurried on.
As the waiter placed his breakfast on the table Alan sat up expectantly. Just as he was about to sample his breakfast he noticed the waiter staring in surprise as two police cars pulled up to the curb. Four officers walked quickly towards the surfer who looked up too late to bolt or offer any resistance. Forcing his hands roughly behind his back, they handcuffed him and led him quickly away before most of the patrons were aware anything had happened. One of the officers spoke briefly to the concerned cafe owner who had hurried out immediately. Pushing the surfer roughly into the back seat of one of the cars, they quickly sped off. It all happened so quickly Alan couldn't quite believe it. He looked around only to notice that everyone else had either continued or resumed eating.
"What happened?" Alan inquired, when his waiter finally returned. "Why did they take that guy away? What did he do?"
"Well," the waiter said, "first of all, he's been hangin' around here for the last three or four days, drinkin' and making a nuisance of himself. A real jerk... But that's not his real problem. His real problem is that yesterday he dumped a trunk off the pier. Just dumped it off in broad daylight right there in front of everyone... You wanna guess what was in it?"
"No," Alan replied, "I don't want to guess. What was it?"
"His mother! He cut up his mother and put her in the trunk! Then he dumped it off the pier... Can you believe it?"