New acquaintances had told me about Farina, so when I saw him walking along the road with his guitar case and sternum-length beard I knew who he was. He knew who I was, too, ’cause not many people travel in a truck with a twelve-foot cargo box on the back. I stopped and rolled down my window.
“You must be Farina,” I said in greeting.
“You’re the super-picker,” was his friendly reply.
Full disclosure: I’m no super-picker. I’ve known super-pickers in Nashville and elsewhere and would like to be one, but I’m not. I’m a competent musician, reasonably good on guitar, mandolin, and dobro and maybe harmonica, but usually hired as a singer. I enjoy playing, but I sing for a living. That valley didn’t have lots of skilled instrumentalists, though, so they considered a competent picker exceptional.
“Don’t know about that,” I said, “but I’m up for a jam.”
Nineteen days into a twenty-five day solo vacation to “find myself” (yeah, OK, that’s pretty ambitious and not an accurate description: realizing I hadn’t been alone in two years, I decided to spend some time by myself—if only to confirm that I could), I had begun to miss playing music. More disclosure: I am hopelessly undisciplined about practicing. If I’m not jamming or performing, I pretty much don’t play. Some people are social drinkers: I’m a social picker. After three weeks on the road with one gig (unusual in itself but arranged intentionally for my ‘mental health exercise’), I suffered music deficiency.
Farina had prior commitments but suggested we jam at a party the next day at Corkscrew Tree swimming hole.
“How do I find it?” I asked.
“Just ask anybody,” he replied. “Everybody’ll be going there.”
Farina was right: everyone in the valley seemed to have that party on their social calendar the next day. I picked up nine locals on my way up the valley—illegally letting them ride in the back. The two in the cab provided good directions to as close to the swimming hole as I could drive. I parked my Ford F-350 among eleven other vehicles in a clearing on Forest Service land and let the passengers out of the back. We walked four hundred yards up a good trail (an official Forest Service hiking trail, I later discovered) before descending to a boulder field on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Indiana River. At least forty people sat or lay scattered over the boulders, and not one of them wore a stitch of clothing.
Some friends describe me as libertine, and I’ve always been rather a free-thinker in matters sexual and otherwise. I nevertheless felt surprised—and, I admit, shocked—to encounter unexpectedly forty-odd nude and apparently oblivious people. I felt not the slightest compunction about removing my clothes, but I have always avoided subjecting my instruments—in this instance my Martin guitar—to the salts and acids on my skin. Colleagues ask why I don’t wear short-sleeved shirts when performing on hot days. I explain that I don’t want to damage my instruments with the copious perspiration my body produces. Expecting a jam session with Farina and friends, I felt more comfortable keeping my clothes on my sweaty body.
As the only clothed person in a group of half a hundred naked hippies, I felt (and, presumably, was) conspicuous. I didn’t see Farina but spotted two musicians I’d met earlier in the week—the ones who told me about Farina—and hoped they would come over to jam. I removed my D-18 from its case and played a few quiet tunes but evoked no response from my erstwhile jamming companions.
Perhaps I’d better explain: I discovered this valley by accident. I had left the county seat late one summer afternoon heading home (or, rather, toward the apartment I rented) after fifteen days on the road. Having shown to my own satisfaction that I could handle solitude, I decided picking up a hitchhiker wouldn’t compromise my quest. The hitchhiker, known in the valley—I later learned—as Nurse Betty, described the community where she lived, and it sounded great. She seemed eager to have me spend a few days there, and I followed her directions to her friend Daniella’s house, where the three of us chatted on Daniella’s porch.
Nurse Betty effected a gracious departure, and I ended up spending the night with Daniella. I enjoyed the night so much that I regretted having to leave the next day to honor a commitment to a friend in Eureka. I had returned to the valley two days later in search of Daniella, when I met Farina.
Heading to the party, I looked forward to sharing some music with Farina or conjugal pleasure with Daniella—or, preferably, both. Daniella, who neither drank nor smoked (one of her attractions for me and vice versa—I had abstained for four years, on another of my self-improvement quests), did not attend the party. I soon saw why.
Several small bonfires burned among the boulders. Some of them cooked food for the party-goers. One warmed a tepid bath of what the locals called “electric kool-aid”, a fruity concoction laced with LSD. One boiled a large cauldron of peyote tea. I had no interest in any of them. Most of the company, however, seemed more interested in chemically altering their mental states than in sustenance through food or music.
Hoping to incite a jam session, I had sat on the fringe of the crowd—which continued to grow—and quietly played my guitar. I hadn’t sung, thinking that might be too intrusive, but had finger-picked a few pretty melodies and flat-picked a few others. Feeling disappointed at the apparent unlikelihood of a jam, I had just decided to put my D-18 back in its case and depart, when a young black woman sat down on a boulder right in front of me. I say “black”, but this stunning woman has skin the color of macchiato or cappuccino. In any case, I could see at a glance that some of her heritage was African.
As an undergraduate—before receiving my degree four years earlier—I had dated several black girls and been madly in love with one (with the unlikely name of “Blanche”). I had also chaired the campus Civil Rights Committee. Not that I didn’t notice that the slender young woman in front of me was black, but her so-called “race” simply didn’t matter to me. I did notice her foudroyant beauty. I endeavored to ignore her small, firm breasts and gorgeous face and to concentrate on finishing whatever I was playing (John Hurt’s “Richland Woman Blues”, I think) and sort of succeeded. I had meant to put my guitar away at the end of the piece, but with such a beautiful vision sitting attentively so close in front of me, I hesitated.
“That was beautiful,” she said with a warm smile that somehow seemed to capture all the beauty of the tree-clad slopes above us and the rushing river below.
“Not as beautiful as you,” I replied sincerely.
“Awww, that’s sweet,” she said.
Not knowing what to say, I just smiled at her and started to put my guitar away.
“Oh, don’t stop!” she said. “Please.”
“I don’t think folks here are into music,” I said. “They prob’ly wouldn’t notice whether I played or not.”
“But I would. I really like listening to you.”
If there is a straight, male musician who could resist that from such a woman, I haven’t met him—and he certainly isn’t me. Therefore, of course, I put my guitar back on my knees and played six more quiet tunes. In the crescive intervals between, and sometimes while playing, I chatted with my gorgeous fan. I learned some of her history, that her name was Clara, and that she came from Los Angeles.
More background: since puberty—age ten in my case, some eighteen years before I discovered the Indiana River Valley—I had felt intimidated in the presence of extraordinarily beautiful women. That I could carry on a conversation with Clara suggests I had developed much-needed self-confidence. Obtaining a degree (from a prestigious science-oriented university) helped—OK, it took me eight years, but I did it. Also, a couple of big-ticket singers had recorded songs I’d written. One of those records (remember records? CDs wouldn’t come along for another twenty years) was already moving up the charts, and the other had been released the previous week to considerable acclaim. Even without any boost from those recordings, I had all the gigs I wanted and an invitation to record an album for a not-too-minor label in Nashville. I had justification for increased confidence.
Up to that time, when confronted with an exceptionally beautiful woman, I tended either to be dumbstruck or to babble inanely. On this warm August evening, I found myself able to converse with Clara on topics both serious (including Nixon and Watergate, France’s nuclear tests in the Pacific, Greece’s new republic, Nixon’s wage and price controls, and non-union grapes) and light (“American Graffiti”, the first BART train, someone throwing a pie in the face of Guru Maharaj Ji). The gaps between tunes grew, as we talked about our favorite bands and authors, discovered we both hated mosquitoes, waste, and injustice and that we both liked forests, mountains, walking, and most people.
Some of my new-found composure resulted from increased confidence, but much resulted from Clara’s skill in putting me at ease. She seemed so comfortable and happy sitting there talking about whatever popped into our heads, that I couldn’t help responding in kind. I enjoyed our sharing—both the music and the conversation—and she apparently did, too. I felt attracted to Clara with an intensity I hadn’t known in a decade: not only was she at once alluring and winsome, but she was one of the most thoughtful—in the literal sense—and articulate women I’d ever met.
Clara laughed, when I told her that, then looked serious. “Yes, exactly!” she said, then smiled at my puzzled look and added, “Articulate! That’s part of your appeal. I’d wondered why some men seem attractive to me, when I talk with them, and others don’t. An articulate dude isn’t necessarily intelligent, but it improves the odds, and I like intelligent men.”
Mulling that over, I concluded an inspired but unpracticed rendition of “St. Louis Tickle”. When I let go of the Martin’s rosewood fingerboard, Clara grasped my hand in both of hers and sat quietly, her gorgeous brown eyes looking directly into my blue ones. I felt as if I were falling into hers. She then surprised and delighted me by leaning forward and placing a gentle, lingering kiss on my mouth. When we stopped to breathe, she grinned and said, “I want to share more than music and conversation with you.”
“Can you tell that I do, too?”
Clara laughed again and said, “Good.” This time, she didn’t object as I put my guitar away. Instead, she said, “I’ll be right back,” and disappeared among the throng. Moments later, she reappeared, carrying a small bundle of clothes in one hand and a knapsack in the other. She kissed me again before we clambered over the boulders and through the undergrowth and once more when we reached the main trail. That third time, I wrapped my arms around her and held her tightly.
“Oh, that’s nice,” she sighed, holding me equally tightly.
She pulled on her underwear and denim shorts and a modest top without becoming a whit less sexy. As we walked along the trail in the last light of the setting sun, she said, “Where are you sleeping? I’ve been crashing sort of wherever, so it might be better if I just go with you—if that’s OK, of course.”
“I slept on Funky Ronald’s floor last night. I s’pose we could just go there, but it might get kind of crowded and noisy—with people coming back from the party,” I said. “Why don’t I just get us a room at one of the motels in town?”
“Ye-e-e-e-s-s, I guess you could.”
Her hesitation set off an alarm in my head. A bass player I’d done some recording sessions with in Hollyweird had told me about the trouble his actor friend Jack Burns had got into by having sex with a sixteen-year-old. “Ummm … Clara,” I asked, “how old are you?”
Clara stood silently for a moment, looking sad, I thought. She looked into my eyes as she had by the river and said, “Sixteen,” so softly I almost didn’t hear her.
“And you want me to break the law.”
“Ummmm … well, yes, ’cause I want us to make love.”
“I think maybe the love is already there,” I said, “but I am not going to have sex with you in Oregon or California.”
“Not fair! And what’s California got to do with it?”
“I’m pretty sure we were in California at the swimming hole.”
“Huh. But why can’t we make love? I won’t tell anybody.”
“Peccadilloes like that have a way of coming back to bite people on the butt. I don’t want to go to jail.”
“No, of course n—”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to make love with you—I do—and it doesn’t mean we can’t make love, just not in Oregon or California.”
She again stood for a moment without saying anything. When she spoke, she had a different tone. “I like that. People always talk about making love to someone. You said you want to make love with me.”
“That’s sort of the whole point, isn’t it? I mean, it’s all about sharing.”
“Of course,” she said, “but not everybody sees it that way.”
“And it just makes me want you more than ever.”
“Good. We’ll just have to have a chaste—and, admittedly, frustrating—night tonight and then figure out tomorrow where we can make love legally and go there.”
“Is there any place?”
“Yes. I know that the age of consent in Denmark is fifteen, but I hope we don’t have to go that far.”
“I want you now.”
“And I want you now, too,” I said, “but you’re worth waiting for. If you still want me tomorrow, we’ll find a place we can go and be together as long as you want.”
“Ummm … Unless there’s some major incompatibility—”
“I don’t know. I’m not saying there is. From the past couple of hours I think we’re very compatible. I’m pretty flexible and easy-going about most things, but there are some topics I’m pretty hard-nosed about—and we haven’t really talked about them.
“OK, let’s talk about them. Number one …”
“Ummmm … shall we talk while I drive us into town. I’ll get separate—”
“Seems wasteful. Didn’t you say you’ve been sleeping in the back of your tru—”
“Yes, but I’m not going to sleep in there with you—because I couldn’t keep my hands off you.”
“Good! You couldn’t keep me off you, either, but I could crash in the front.” Clara looked into the cab of my F-350. “I could be comfortable there. Do you have an extra sleeping bag?”
“As it happens, I do, and an extra pillow—but that seems like an inauspicious start to a relationship. I—”
“You think you have to impress me by renting a fancy motel room? I already want you, remember?”
“I’m glad you do—and, no, I’m not trying to impress you. I just want to take good care of you.”
Clara smiled and hugged me and said, “You are so sweet.” She laid her head on my chest for a moment, then raised her lips to mine. When we surfaced, she said, “We could just stay right here, and you could tell me about your rules.”
“They aren’t rules exactly,” I said, as I unlocked the cab and opened the passenger-side door for her. “They’re just things I’ve learned about myself, things I’ve discovered the hard way.”
As I climbed in the driver’s side, Clara said, “Fights and broken hearts and all that?”
“No fights but plenty of heartache.”
“OK, so, back to where we were: number one?”
“Well, we haven’t talked about religio—”
“Oh, shit! You’re right—that could be a problem.”
“So, could you maybe give me a twenty second summary of your religious outlook?”
“’Cause I want you so much, and I’m afraid I might turn you off.”
“And vice versa. Prob’ly better now than later,” I said, reaching out and taking her hand.
She sat for a minute without saying anything. Finally, she squeezed my hand and said, “This really is scary. You’re right though, we have to be honest and open.” I squeezed her hand in return, and she gave me a worried look and said, “Please don’t be angry—”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“OK. Then … Oh, hell! I don’t know how—”
“I do, but … I think religion is different for different people. For some people, some of these television preachers or whatever, it’s just a scam that they’re running. For people who really believe, it’s more like a mental illness.”
Clara looked ready to open the door and bolt into the night. I held her hand tightly and said, “I could damn near marry you on the strength of that alone.”
She let out a sigh and collapsed against me, as I let go of her hand and put my arm around her shoulders. She snuggled against me as much as the gear-shift would allow and said, “Whew! That worked out better than I thought. So, what did you learn on that subject?”
“That I cannot live with a believer.”
“Yeah! I hadn’t thought of it explicitly, but me, too. No matter what happens with us, you’ve probably saved me some hurt by helping me clarify that.”
“I want to shield you from all hurt. And, while we’re on the topic, I think I’d like to Clara-fy my life.”
She laughed and said, “Cute. I think I’d like that, too. What’s the second hurdle?”
Rather than speaking, I tipped her face up to mine and gave her a lingual kiss.
“I don’t usually like tongue-y kisses,” she said afterward, “but that was very nice. The only thing is, you’re getting me all excited, and that isn’t fair if you aren’t going to make love to—I mean with—me.”
“Oh, I’m going to make love with you alright, or I hope I am, just not tonight. And, I’m feeling uncomfortably aroused, too.”
“So, what was the second hurdle?”
“I think we’ve taken care of that. I didn’t taste any hint of tobacco.”
“No chance! Yecch!” Clara said, as I squeezed her against my right side. “Is there a number three?”
“This may seem like a weird question, but could you live happily without a television?”
“I’m living happily without a television right now.”
“Yeah, but I mean long-term, in a settled relationship—I mean, if you even want to be in a long-term relationship.”
“OK, first answer is ‘yes’. I don’t miss—wouldn’t miss—television at all. As to the other issue…I s’pose I’ve assumed I’d settle down in a…not exactly conventional, but…ummm…somewhat traditional relationship someday. I haven’t been looking for one, for that kind of partner, but getting to know you—”
“There’s a song about that—’scuse my interrupting.”
“Ummm…OK. Getting to know you, as I was saying, makes a long-term relationship sound really good.”
“I’m glad of that,” I said, kissing the top of her head.
“Mmmm…not much else I can’t bend on. What about you? What do you need or want to keep out of your life?”
“I think checking your boxes has pretty much checked all of mine. Is there really nothing else?”
“Maybe a couple of dietary issues.”
“I don’t consume refined sugar, artificial colors or flavors, or preservatives. I guess I’d be happier if you didn’t either.”
“That sounds sensible to me. No, I’d be happy with that. Anything else?”
“I don’t think so.”
We swivelled our upper bodies—I banged my elbow on the steering wheel in the process—and embraced.
“Speaking of diet,” I said, “are you hungry? I’ve got bread and cheese and some apples down by your feet.”
“I’ll sleep better, if I don’t eat. What time is it, anyway?”
After fishing my pocketwatch out of my jeans, I quickly switched the Ford’s interior light on and off. “Holy cow! Twenty past eleven.”
We agreed to resume our sharing in the morning, and I opened the back of the truck. I locked the door latch in the closed position and then showed Clara how to secure the door from the inside. When she said, “But I’m gonna sleep in the cab,” I said there was no way I would go for that. I handed her my spare flashlight, pointed out my bed, grabbed a pillow and a sleeping bag, and bade her good-night. I was tired enough that I slept pretty well.
Sunday morning, I woke at seven-thirty in a solar oven. I opened both doors silently, which lowered the temperature enough that I could do my usual hundred sit-ups. Next, I walked first up the path and then down the road, only as far as I could keep the truck in view.
Twenty minutes later, I heard Clara stirring and then beheld her beautiful face and form emerging and jumping down from the box. “I like waking up to see you,” was the first thing she said, “but I’d rather wake up next to you.”
“I could eat some of that bread and cheese now.”
I reached through the open passenger-side door and extracted two paper bags and handed them to Clara, but she said, “Wait—let’s eat on the road,” so I secured the back door and we climbed in and fastened our lap belts—no shoulder belts in those days. I started the Ford and eased it into gear. Clara broke off a piece of bread and fed it to me, as I drove down the gravel road toward the green bridge that took us over the Middle Fork and on down to where the pavement began.
“Where are we heading?” Clara asked.
“I thought I’d start with the nearest library, ‘though I ‘spect it’ll be closed today. If it is, we’ll push on to Grants Pass—if that’s OK with you.”
“Anywhere you want to go is OK with me, as long as I get to be with you. What if the library in Grants Pass is closed?”
“I’ll find a payphone and track down a library. Where’s the nearest college?”
“Dunno. Medford, maybe?”
A couple of ‘phone calls and two hours’ driving brought us to Ashland and Southern Oregon College. Two hours digging through the College library informed us that the nearest places we could legally enjoy each other’s bodies were Canada, Mexico, Colorado, and Hawaii. Mexico didn’t appeal to us, and Clara liked the sound of Hawaii.
“OK,” I said, “we rendezvous in Hawaii. When? How are we going to do this?”
We discussed our options, as we walked back to the truck. I offered to provide the money for a ticket to Honolulu, but Clara declined. “I’m going to do that part without involving you.” She said she thought she could talk her parents into giving her the money, which surprised me.
“Do they know where you are and what you’re doing?” I asked.
“Yeah, they know roughly where I am and most of what I’m doing.”
“Won’t they expect you to be home getting ready to start school pretty soon?”
“I graduated early—two months ago—and I’m taking a year off before starting college. They’re OK with that.”
“Don’t they worry about you?”
“Probably some, but they know I’m sensible.”
“You’ll want to visit them before flying to Hawaii?”
“Yeah, I think I’ll have to—and I’d like to see them anyway. Let’s find a ‘phone.”
“You want to ring them?”
“No, I want to ring Greyhound and Snailways and see when I can get a bus south.”
“You could just ride with me.”
“I could not. Transporting minors across state lines? No way!”
“You’re right. So, what, then?”
“I’ll catch a bus into California and meet you in the first town.”
“Funny name, but OK.”
We found a payphone at the Student Center, and Clara called Greyhound and learned we had to go back to Medford for a bus into California in two hours. Before we started toward the truck, she said she’d like to call her parents to let them know she’d be home soon. “But what will I tell ’em—I mean, when will I get to Los Angeles?”
“I’m not sure the time, but tell ’em you’ll come in on the Coast Starlight—there’s only one a day—not tomorrow night but the next night.”
“So, Coast Starlight on Tuesday—what railroad? Oh, that probably doesn’t matter, if there’s only one.”
“I think it’s called Amtrak now. But, yes, there’s only one.”
Clara relayed her plans to her parents, and, stopping at a Safeway on the way, we headed for the Medford Greyhound depot. We arrived at the depot with twenty minutes to spare. Clara bought her ticket, while I ‘phoned friends in the Bay Area and Chico to arrange visits. As we waited in the Ford’s cab, I told her about my gigs Thursday in San Francisco and at the Palomino Club all the next week.
“Cool!” she said. “I can come see you in North Hollywood. Maybe I could even bring my parents.”
“Sounds serious,” I joked.
“I feel serious. Don’t you?”
“I feel as serious as humanly possible, but I’m aware we’ve only known each other for a few hours.”
“Yeah, I hear that, but maybe it doesn’t matter.”
“Maybe it doesn’t,” I agreed, as I gathered her into a hug. Concerned, I couldn’t help adding, “And I wonder what your parents will think.”
Clara relaxed into my hug and said, “They’ll be OK. I’m going to do what’s right for me—and that’s for me to decide, not them.”
“Uh huh, but they might not see it that way.”
She climbed onto the two o’clock bus and blew me a kiss from the doorway. I headed for a gas station to fill up and then up the long grade toward California. The greyhound driver drove faster than I did (or do)—that plus the fuel stop meant Clara had been waiting fifteen minutes by the time I arrived. We’d expected that, though, so she wasn’t worried and climbed into the cab with a smile. One short stop (just outside Red Bluff) and my slow driving put us on Mulberry Street in Chico about seven, after talking nonstop and growing even closer. My friend Mike, a talented keyboard player, welcomed us with his usual enthusiasm and said he had organized a jam session in honor of my visit.
The jam wound down about one Monday morning, and Mike said Clara and I could have his downstairs bedroom (a bachelor with a four-bedroom house, Mike gets lots of visitors). I explained we were sleeping separately and why, and Mike—who obviously thought my abstinence silly—said he’d throw a mattress on the floor of his office. I said I’d just sleep in the back of my truck and told Clara the arrangements.
“No,” she said, “I’ll sleep in the back of the truck. You sleep in the bedroom.”
“Mike’s OK,” I said, “you’ll be safe in the house.”
“I know that, but I like the idea of sleeping in your bed—and I like that it smells like you.”
We all slept in, but after breakfast, thanks, and farewells I herded the truck onto Highway 99 and south toward Yuba City, Sacramento, and the Bay Area. As before, Clara and I talked the whole trip and grew ever closer with each turn of conversation. I parked in front of my friend Darrell’s house on Hays Street in San Leandro about four that afternoon, beating Darrell by five minutes and his wife by fifteen. Clara and I and the Cherringtons, academics both, enjoyed a pleasant social evening. We retired at midnight to approximately the same sleeping arrangements as in Chico and rose at seven for the Cherringtons to get to work and me to get Clara to Oakland’s 16th Street Station by eight-thirty.
Clara and I had exchanged contact information, including several friends’ numbers for backups. Kisses and long hugs filled our time on the platform, until she boarded the train. From her window seat she waved and blew kisses, as the screech of steel on steel carried her out of the station. Darrell’s spare key let me in, and I slept two more hours. I visited two of my favorite East Bay music stores and my bank—where I found my balance had more digits than I expected. A record company’s business quarter had ended right after a large order for one of the recordings of my songs. That evening, I took the Cherringtons to dinner.
The next day, Darrell had only two classes, both early, so we spent the day prowling our favorite bookstores together. That evening, I ‘phoned Clara and enjoyed a short chat with her but spent most of the evening chatting with Darrell and Eileen. I slept late on Thursday, spent much of the day reading, then made my way across the Bay Bridge to the Great American Music Hall. I opened solo for Jon Herald and later joined him onstage for a few duets. Friday, I drove to San Luis Obispo to visit my sister before heading on south to my friend Warren’s place on Sunday. I ‘phoned Clara from my sister’s and from Warren’s, and found her at the Palomino on Monday—with two girlfriends and three fake IDs.
The bandleader, a well-known fixture in country music in those days, had me sing one song on each set in addition to my instrumental duties. I hoped Clara would like my singing—especially since it’s my usual livelihood—but felt worried she might find it too hillbilly. When I sat down at their table at the start of the first break, she dispelled my anxiety by gushing, “Jeez, Bob, that was amazing. You sing even better than you play.”
“Thank you, I think,” I replied, glad for the reassurance.
She introduced me to her friends, one of whom was her cousin and both of whom were complimentary and gorgeous. They remained through the end of the last set, when the eldest drove them all home and I went home with Warren and his wife, Noeleen. Clara, with a rotating cast of friends, and Warren attended every evening—separately, although they shared a table Wednesday and Thursday. Friday night worked out particularly well, because Clara brought her parents and Warren brought Noeleen again. The bandleader and lead singer had overtaxed his throat during the week and had me sing three songs every set Friday evening. That wasn’t quite as good as having the Crocketts, Clara’s family, at my own show, but seemed the next best thing.
Clara’s parents assured me they had enjoyed the show—they stayed to the end—and invited me to dinner the next evening. “I would consider that an honor,” I said, before they took Clara home and I went home with Warren and Noeleen. Before we left, both Tom and Bill Thomas, the Palomino’s owners, asked me for a price with a band of my own in December. I said sixteen thousand, and they said they’d see.
In the course of a delightful evening at the Crocketts’ home in Ladera Heights, I learned that Clara’s mom taught math at Culver City High, and her dad worked as a security guard while finishing a PhD in history. I also found I liked both them and Clara’s big brother, Edward, an engineering undergraduate at UCLA. To my great relief, they seemed to like me, too. I invited Clara to ride out to Barstow with me the next day to my friend Mark’s place.
When I returned to Warren’s, he said I’d had a call from a record producer in Nashville. I’d planned to fly to Honolulu on Monday but called United and changed my reservations to Tuesday, so I could ‘phone the producer Monday morning.
Warren followed us to Mark’s late Sunday morning. I stored my truck on the north side of Mark’s barn and introduced Mark to Clara and chatted awhile. By mid-afternoon, Warren had dropped me and Clara at LAX and gone home. I rented a car and drove Clara to Santa Monica. I’d invited the family out to dinner, but Clara’s dad had to work, so Clara and I grabbed a bite at The Boathouse and walked on the beach for three hours holding hands, continuing old conversational threads, starting new ones, and stopping for hugs and kisses.
“You sure you want to do this?” I asked her.
“Of course. Don’t you?”
“I absolutely do.”
“Good,” she said, followed by a kiss.
“Have you talked to your parents?”
“They’re cool with it.” I waited for her to elaborate, and she continued, “Well, they aren’t exactly enthusiastic, but they’re OK with it. Dad said he’d buy the ticket Wednesday.”
“Flying over there when?”
“Well … They really want me to stay through next weekend for Ed’s birthday. Would that be OK with you?”
“I’ve waited two weeks to make love with you. I can wait another week. As I said, you’re worth waiting for.” Clara smiled and hugged me, and I continued, “It’s like an old-fashioned romance. Y’know? Instead of a modern jump-into-bed-immediately romance.”
“That might not be a bad thing.”
“That’s what I meant—not what I’m feeling, mind you, but what I was thinking.”
Back in Ladera Heights, the Crocketts and I managed to blend a serious discussion and a sociable chat. I rose with Warren and Noeleen Monday morning—to be sociable and because I’m an early riser by nature—and saw them off to work. I was about to call the producer, when he saved me the trouble. I answered on the third ring, as is my wont, and found myself talking with … not Owen Bradley (thank goodness) or Norbert Putnam and not Chet Atkins (darn!) but a producer almost in their league: Galen Charles. He said he liked my demo tape and was eager to get me to Nashville.
“That’s great, Mr. Charles,” I said. “I’d hoped somebody’d like ’em—”
“Everybody likes ’em,” he said. “And you’d better call me Galen.” In response to my enthusiastic thanks, he said he wished we had recorded and released my other two songs before the two stars did. I told him I had lots more, and he liked the sound of that. He said he couldn’t get me into a studio with the musicians he wanted until December. I had gigs through the first week of December anyway, so we agreed on the 10th through the 14th. He also suggested, since I would be in Nashville for the sessions, that I have my manager get me on the Opry as a guest on the 9th or the 15th, which I did as soon as Galen and I hung up.
After telling my manager what Galen Charles—my manager could hardly contain his excitement, when I mentioned that name—had said, I told him about the offer from the Thomas brothers but said I’d deal with them directly and let him know the dates. I also asked him to set up gigs in Hawaii, if he could find some, and he said he would. I rang the Palomino next and told Bill Thomas I wouldn’t be available the week of December 10th. He said, “What about the 17th through the 21st?”
“For sixteen thousand, yes.”
“Jeez, you’re a tough man, Bill. OK, I’ll come down to fifteen, ’cause I like ya so much.”
“F’r cryin’ out loud! Yeah, OK—fourteen thousand; five-piece counting me, four sets a night, December 17th through 21st. Are you happy now?”
“Yeah, thanks, Bill. Say ‘hi’ to Tom. See you in December.”
I hurried to Ladera Heights to tell Clara my news. She showed her enthusiasm with a hug and a kiss and said, “We have the house to ourselves all day. We could make love, and nobody would know. I think my parents assume we already have.”
Reluctantly deciding to wait, I took her to Santa Monica Pier to stroll among the attractions and distract us from our urges. We ate lunch at The Lobster and dinner later at Barney’s Beanery. When I dropped her at her parents’ house, we lamented our impending prolonged separation.
Tuesday morning, I breakfasted with Warren and Noeleen and headed for the airport as they headed to work. I bought both the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser at LAX and combed the classifieds for affordable real estate and a cheap car on Hawaii. There wasn’t much—most of the ads related to Oahu—so I spent half the flight reading Desert Solitaire, which Mark had recommended and pressed into my hand.
At one o’clock, I made a bee-line for the newsstand at Honolulu International and bought the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. I spent the flight to Hilo reading the big island used car ads. In Hilo, I rented a hotel room for a week and went car-hunting. That evening, I rang Clara to tell her my location and situation then fell asleep early. Wednesday afternoon, I bought a beat-up but low mileage two-year-old Pinto and set out to explore the Mamalahoa Highway.
Forgetting how short summer days are in the tropics, I was overtaken by nightfall before I had accomplished much. I checked out the bulletin board on the Paauilo Store and found one notice about land for sale. As field research, I visited a little bar in Honokaa after not finding one in Paauilo. The research proved fruitful, when a couple of the fellows I met provided ‘phone numbers of farmers who were selling land.
Running on California time ensured I set out early the next morning, and I found something I had missed the previous evening: a bunch of notices in a window in Honokaa. Most were for events or organizations, but one advertised bare land and two offered cottages on a few acres. I found a payphone and called the six numbers I had, connecting with one farmer and three other sellers. The farmer wanted to retire and offered eight acres with an old caretaker’s cottage “in pretty good shape” for twenty thousand. That was the first place I looked at, so I said I’d get back to him and went to look at the others.
One of the others was too close to the coast, one too close to the highway, and all three too expensive. I revisited the payphone, reached the other sellers, and went to see their places. Neither of them seemed worth the price asked, so I ‘phoned the farmer I’d seen first and asked if I could visit again and talk turkey. His “Yes,” hurried me back to his luxurious farmhouse. With apologies, I offered him seventeen thousand. He countered with nineteen. I thought of offering eighteen but decided the place was easily worth nineteen and accepted that, with the understanding that I would pay half down and the other half in six months. I then hurried back to Hilo and ‘phoned Clara—just after nine her time—to tell her the good news and to enjoy her enthusiasm and intellect.
The next morning, Friday, the farmer met me in Hilo, where we did the paperwork and I deposited ten thousand dollars into escrow. He gave me the keys and kindly said I didn’t have to wait for close of escrow but could move in whenever I wanted. I thanked him profusely and hurried off to change the telephone and electricity into my name and to do some shopping. I wanted Clara to get to choose the furniture but also wanted to have a couple of essentials in the house when she arrived. I bought a king-size bed and mattress and a refrigerator, to be delivered the next day.
Mid-afternoon found me heading north on Highway 19 with a car full of pillows, mattress cover, sheet sets, a light and probably unnecessary comforter, bathroom supplies, broom, towels, can opener, flashlight, batteries, silverware, cutlery, dishes, and food. The place was as clean as I remembered it, so I put the broom in its closet and spent half an hour putting everything else away. I then went for a walk around the boundary, arriving back at the cottage just on dusk.
Clara laughed when I told her of my furniture purchases. “You’ve got your priorities right.” She told me she would arrive Monday on the same flight I’d taken. I drove to the cottage Sunday morning, unpacked my large suitcase, and hung my performing clothes in a bedroom closet. I stashed my dobro in the closet, too, and packed shirts and underwear in a small backpack. I then indulged in another stroll over the property and made one last inspection of the house.
Satisfied the house would pass muster, I grabbed my guitar and mandolin cases and day-pack and drove to Hilo’s airport. I wore my day-pack, checked my guitar, and carried my mandolin—people could travel with luggage in those days. In Honolulu, I checked into a hotel and ‘phoned Clara. The Crocketts were sitting down to dinner, so I rang back an hour later. We talked for three hours, despite the hotel’s hefty charges. Before retiring, I visited a few night clubs to hear and, if possible, meet (it was possible—I met three) good local musicians.
I forced myself to sleep in and checked out at ten. I breakfasted at a small café and took a cab to the airport. I had time to look through both local dailies before Clara’s flight arrived. After several Public Displays of Affection at the gate and in the baggage claim area, I steered Clara toward the domestic terminal. She balked at getting on another airplane immediately.
“I thought you’d prob’ly take me straight to a hotel. I guess you’re not as eager for me as I am for you,” she said with a groan.
“Oh, but I am. With any luck, though, we can be in our own bed in our own house in…maybe less than two hours.”
That got her attention and improved her outlook, so we hurried to the domestic terminal and flew to Hilo. I hadn’t missed by much: arriving at our cottage two hours and twelve minutes later. Always a romantic, I carried her over the threshold before depositing her on the new bed, hurriedly doffing my clothes, and joining her there.
Some readers would prefer that I describe in minute detail the intense, frequent, and sustained conjugal activities Clara and I shared. I don’t think that’s necessary. Suffice it to say, we did almost nothing else for the next four or five weeks. We survived for the first week on muesli and the odd celery stalk and very little sleep. We discovered we were as compatible in bed as out and decided we wanted to continue our relationship for at least several decades—and a good thing, too. When we finally paused to notice mundane concepts like the date or the time, Clara was on day thirty-three of her always-regular twenty-five day cycle.
Clara quickly dispelled the moment of panic I felt—because I worried my careless eagerness might have compromised the life she wanted. She proved as eager as I to raise a family together, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve had seven kids, and they’re all physically and emotionally healthy and apparently happy. Four of them have PhDs, one is an MD, and so forth. Clara completed a baccalaureate, in biology, followed by a Master of Science in Psychology.
My guest spot on the Opry led to an invitation to become a regular, which I of course accepted. I bought a house off Neosheo Prices Mill Road, outside Franklin, Kentucky—about an hour’s drive from the Opry. We divide our time about equally between there and our (now considerably expanded) place near Paauilo and still make love almost every night.
Yes, of course, I’m aware literary fashion demands plots include major obstacles and problems confronting the characters, with large helpings of sadness, tension, anxiety, and misery. Sometimes, though—not often enough, but sometimes—in real life as in fiction, things just work out right.
Educated as a scientist but graduated as a mathematician, Harlan Yarbrough has earned his living as a full-time professional entertainer most of his life, including a stint as a regular on the prestigious Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Harlan’s repeated attempts to escape the entertainment industry have brought work as a librarian, physics teacher, syndicated newspaper columnist, and city planner, among other occupations. Harlan lives, writes, and continues to improve his dzonkha vocabulary and pronunciation in Bhutan but visits the US, Europe, or Australia to perform and thereby to recharge his bank account. Harlan has written five novels, three novellas (two published), three novelettes (two published), and eighty-some short stories, of which forty-eight have been published in fifty-one journals in eight countries. One of his stories won the Fair Australia Prize.