SoHumBorn Sunday: Bear Harbor
In December 2008, a Southern Humboldt blogger began posting fictional tales of the marijuana culture. Some people were appalled. Most were enthralled. For three months her stories gripped the online community and then, abruptly, she was gone. Even though SoHumBorn pulled her blog, for months her stories were available in the cached version but eventually they, too, were swallowed into the dark abyss. Recently she gave me permission to revive them. I’ll be doing one each Sunday for awhile. Do you have a favorite? Let me know and I’ll try and include it. The stories of this culture, true and fictional, need to be saved.
At the bottom of the post are links to all the other stories published so far.
She’s been every where performing her duties, the Emerald Triangle is her office. Dirt roads her hallways.
Clipper, Trimmer, Cleaner, there are many terms for what she does. She prefers the term Manicurist. Sounds professional.
She has a “real” job at a small local business, but it barely puts a roof over her head. She likes to eat, insure her truck, have her truck, & use toilet paper, so she works these extra jobs for the money. She has an arrangement with her coworkers that allows her to take days off when needed. When someone has to fill in for her she gives them a hundred bucks when she gets back. No one ever gets mad about covering her absences.
She’s packing for a job on the east side today, it’s a place she’s never worked before so she’s bring everything she might need. You never know what kind of set up you’re going into the first time, so it’s wise to be prepared. Especially if you’re working for a bachelor. She’s been to some jobs where accommodations were… well, let’s say rustic.
The guy she’s going to work for is a regular at her real job. He was paying the other day when he looked around, and then quietly mentioned that he needed help with a little cleaning job. She didn’t have anything lined up at the moment, and a new job often means repeat business or referrals to other growers. He said she could bring a friend and work that weekend so she wouldn’t miss any days. The place is really out in the middle of nowhere, so he agreed to come by after work the next day and she and her friend could follow him.
There is an old cabin that’s not being used they can sleep in. If they get up and start early and work late both days they should be able to get it all done in two days.
If she really bangs it out she can make more in those two days than she brings home in two weeks at her real job.
She’s got everything she needs in the back off her little toyota. Air mattress, sleeping bags, folding chairs, work clothes, (weed doesn’t stick to the ugly, slick, nylon running pants) beer flats, paper towels, rubbing alcohol, olive oil, food, bottled water, and a paper bag, filled with paper bags. Most employers provide the essential tools of the trade, but when you’re going some place new, and far from stores it’s a good idea to plan for all contingencies. She’d found that out the hard way.
Right on time her friend pulls up and parks her little car behind the toyota. “Hey, ready to go?” She walks toward the little car as the other girl gets out. “Hell yah! I’m so glad you called. I’m fuckin’ broke.” They walk around to the trunk and grab the bags there, taking them to the back of the toyota. Her friend bursts out laughing when she sees how much is already in the truck’s little bed. “Holy shit! We workin’ or movin’?!” Their laughter rings out and briefly brightens the little street.
The man pulls up along side the still smiling women. “You girls ready?” They look at each other and the laughter bubbles back up. “Oh yeah… we’re ready.” They jump in the little truck, and she smiles at him “Lead on. “
They pull out behind him and the two trucks begin their long trip up the hill. As they wind their way up the sun begins to set and the hills roll out before them bathed in the fading golden light. Dirt roads snake out on either side like capillaries carrying life from the artery into the body of the land.
It’s dark by the time the man finally turns down one. “Thank God” Her friend voices the relief they both feel knowing there is an end to the drive somewhere ahead.
They follow the other truck across a wooden bridge down the gravel road passing drive way after drive way. Then it begins a steep climb.
“Man, how far out its this place?” She shakes her head and lifts her shoulders. “I don’t know, but I don’t think we’re even in Humboldt any more.” Her passenger, being a transplant rather than a native, doesn’t know the area as well, and replies with a surprised “No Way!” So she explains to her how the three counties come together here in the hills. They hadn’t been paying attention to the signs on the pavement. They had just followed the other truck, happily chatting away, and once you’re on dirt there are no handy signs to let you know if you’ve crossed lines.
The road gets much rougher, with washboards on the corners, and deep jarring potholes. It’s grown so narrow that the brush on either side makes occasional reaches for the truck, squealing down the sides as the truck slides through its grip.
Finally it comes to an end in a small circular parking area. He gets out of his truck flashlight in hand. “Damn it!” She slaps the steering wheel with one hand. “I didn’t bring a flashlight.” “Me either.” They share a look of chagrin, and get out of the truck.
“Hang on. I’ll fire up the genny.” They wait by the truck in the dark, while his flashlight disappears around the corner giving them a glimpse of tar-papered wall. After a few moments there is the thrumming sound of a motor, and the lights in the cabin and on it’s porch all come on at once.
She looks at the cabin and immediately recognizes the architecture as being that of the 1970s outdoor scenes. She loves these crazy old homesteads. You can see how they grew a bed room, a deck, a kitchen. Improvements coming each fall, giving the house a personality never seen in town.
They begin unloading the truck. Carrying the bags in the house they are happy to find it warm. The wood stove had been going before their arrival. The man gives them a brief tour starting with the room they’ll sleep in and ending in the out house at the end of a worn trail.
The house is empty for the most part. The living room had to have been the original cabin. A simple square room with a wood stove near the wall closest to the drive way, and a ladder to a small loft that sat above a large picture window on the opposite wall. Above the loft there is a tower room made of a circle of salvaged windows. Their frames and shapes a mismatched quilt of glass, that she finds enchanting. In it’s center is a small alter. On it sit a dust covered testament to the past occupants reverence for the land. A large feather, a piece of antler, a small bleached bone, surround an old candle in an abalone shell.
The kitchen had been added on one side, it’s plywood floor a step up from the rest of the house. The refrigerator and oven are missing now, propane lines jut out of the floor in their empty spaces. There is a large ice chest on the floor, and a camp stove and microwave on the pretty mosaic tile counter.
The room that will be their bedroom for the weekend is a small square room that had been added on the same wall as the wood stove. It has windows on three walls, and once again they were mismatched in size and frames.
On the side wall of the living room opposite the kitchen, is a strangely long windowless hallway that spans a small ravine and lead to another bedroom with a large round window that faces out in the same direction as the living room windows.
This is the work room. It has a plastic table in the center of it with a few pairs of clippers in a cup of dirty green fluid. There are two funky chairs. One an old dinning room chair, and the other a folding chair with a couple of the bands of webbing snapped. Along the back wall is a row of trash bags filled with dry plants and buds.
The man apologizes for the poor conditions. Explaining that he and a friend had thought they could do the job themselves, but realized after one day that they weren’t making any progress. The girls laugh and tell him they don’t mind. They’ve had it worse.
He tells them he’s staying in a trailer they’d passed on the way in, and asks if they need anything else before he goes. They tell him they’re fine, and he heads back down the road. Leaving them to settle in for the night.
They get the bedroom set up, smoke a bowel, and decide to put on their sweats and hit the hay, so they can get an early start.
She wakes up as the sun is rising and goes outside to pee. The view from the hippie house is amazing. In the light of dawn she looks down the fog filled valley thinking “This explains the glass glass tower.” She’s on the top of the world.
Inside she takes wood from the pile next to the stove and stokes the fire. She steps up into the kitchen and puts a kettle of water on the camp stove. Frowning at the can of Folgers on the counter she digs in the bags they brought, and comes up with a bag of Signature Coffee. She has the cone and filter out when she hears her friend coming out of the bedroom. “Check out the view.” She calls over her shoulder. The girls wanders out the door, as she begins to pour the water.
“Oh wow!” The girl exclaims as she comes back in. She walks over to the wood stove and throws a handful of white tissue inside. “That view is amazing. Almost make up for the whole peeing outside thing.”
Stirring creamer into both cups the woman walks over and hands her one. “Until you have to squat in the snow.” She replies with a grin.
They decide to take their coffee up to the tower for a look before starting work. Once up there they stop their chatter as both of them watch in awe as the sun slides up the eastern sky shinning on the fog filled valleys below giving the sense that they are alone on an island in a sea of glowing white.
Wordlessly they climb down the ladder. They get fresh coffee and head back to the room with the work table. Here the begin to talk again. They move the battered old chairs to the living room and unfold the canvas camping chairs. Each chair get two paper bags, on on each side. The cup of dirty alcohol on the table is poured out and replaced with plastic tub holding 2 parts alcohol to 1 part olive oil.
Once they have everything set up for the way they like, they put a large pile of plants on the table and begin to work. They fill the cardboard trays with branches and begin the tedious chore of removing all the leaf and stem. The bag to the left of each girl quickly begins to fill with pieces of stem and sheared off leaves. While the bag on the right, ever so slowly, fills with buds.
They’ve spent many days like this, mostly as part of a larger crew. They talk while they work, of men, or books they have read, recipes they like, the latest gossip they’ve heard. Sometimes they drift into an amiable silence, lost in their own thought oblivious to the ever present sound of the scissors snipping.
The man shows up a few hours later. He is thrilled to find them already on the job and amazed at the progress they’ve made. He goes to make them more coffee marveling at how quickly they’ve made themselves at home in the empty house.
As the day passes they take a short lunch break, but that and bathroom breaks, are the only time they leave the work room. When evening comes the circular window perfectly frames an amazing sunset. They ask the man for more light when it’s set because without the natural light the room is dim. He come back with clip on work lights, but this room has no place to pinch them onto. They make do by clipping one to the top of the window frame, and two on the end of the table. Pointed straight up so that they reflect back down off the ceiling.
They work until they can’t focus on the little pieces of leaf anymore. It is late in the night, and the man has been snoring in the chair with the broken webbing for a long time. He’d spent his day drinking beer and smoking joint after joint. At first he had brought the chair in the room and started to work with them, but it hadn’t been very long before he’d set the tray aside, never to be picked up again. The scrape of their chairs on the floor wakes him, and the three of them put the room in order before he staggers to his truck, and leaves them again.
The girls take the ball of hash they’ve saved while working, and pass the pretty glass pipe between them as they exchange their work clothes for their sweats. Snugly tucked in their sleeping bags they continue to pass the pipe, until exhaustion and hash combine to turn their conversation into a maddening fit of giggles. With the lights out. they fight recurring giggle fits till they drift off.
The next dawn brings a near exact replay of the previous morning. By Noon they are done with all but one garbage bag. Excited by the prospect of getting done early they are cheerful, and they clip even quicker than usual.
She tilts her head at an odd engine noise. Thinking the genny maybe running out of gas, she turns to the tell the man (who had spent this entire day looking at motorcycle magazine while drinking beer) that he should go check it, when she hears a thump. It almost sounded like it was in the house. Her heart starts to beat a little faster.
“Hey man, I think you need to fill the … ” Her sentence drifts off as she sees a man coming down the long hall.
Her heart jerks to a halt and then restarts in a vicious flurry. She looks at the man they’re working for, his face is pale and wide eyed with fear.
She reaches over and touches her oblivious friend on the arm. When she looks up from her tray, the woman looks pointedly back toward the hallway, and as the friend sees the stranger & the look on her face, she knows something is going wrong, horribly wrong. This all happens in a moment. One of those sick moments that drag slowly through time, like when you’re wrecking a car.
The man jumps up and starts toward the stranger.
The girls stand up to flee, but this room has no door. The only way out is through the hall. They look at each other and then at the circular window, both of them thinking escape.
Then she realizes the man called the stranger by name. Turning to her friend she says “He knows him, it’s cool.”
They smile at each other in relief and start to sit back down.
As the stranger and the man meet in the hall the stranger grabs the man by his face and shoulder and slams the back of his head into the wall. “You Fucking thief! Fucking idiot!” He emphasizes the word idiot, by again slamming the mans head into the wall. “Did you really think I wouldn’t notice?!” He lets go of the mans face and delivers a savage blow to his mid section.
With out even realizing it both girls have moved as far from the violence as possible. Their backs pressed against the wall they are holding hands as the scene unfolds.
The stranger throws the doubled over man to the floor and delivers a few brutal kicks. While continuing to scream at him. “You worthless fucking piece of shit! I gonna kill you and shove you down the out house with the rest of the shit!”
The man is pleading & begging, punctuated by screams as he is kicked.
The stranger takes the front of his shirt in both hands and yanks him back to his feet. Placing a forearm across his chest he pins him to the wall. “Where is my shit!?” He screams into the mans face. The man points down the hallway to the room… and the girls.
The girls are frozen, clutching each other they simply stand and watch, fear and horror written on their faces.
The stranger sees the girls & his eyes widen in surprise. “Fuck! Jesus fucking Christ!” He looks from the man to the girls and back. He throws the man to the floor again and begins to kick him toward the room. “Get the fuck down there!” The man scrambles on his hands and knees towards them trying to avoid being kicked along the way.
When they reach the room the stranger kicks the man into the corner to the right of the door. Looking down at him he tells the man “Don’t you move, not one fucking inch!”
She notices the gun then. It’s holstered on his right side, and it’s huge.
The stranger surveys the room looking in every bag. When he’s done he turns to the girls. “He pay you yet?”
Unable to speak they shake their heads in unison.
“Bag up the shit that’s done.”
With shaky hands and pounding hearts they comply. When they’re finished he reaches in toward his side, and the girls friend begins to cry, taking a huge gulp of air in her first sob.
He looks up at them, and seeing their utter terror tries to sound comforting “It’s O.K. You’re alright.” He pulls out a thick wad of bills and holds it out to the girls. “You gals should head on out of here.” They both just stare at him. His voice becomes a firm command “Take this money and go!”
She reaches out and takes the money. He steps to the side of the doorway and gestures toward the hall. The women take small shaky steps toward escape, both of them looking straight ahead. Once past the man they begin to jog, then run.
They flee through the house toward the door, when the woman realizes the truck keys are in their makeshift bedroom. She stops in the little room long enough to grab the keys and nothing else. When she gets to the parking area she sees the strange black truck, and her friend running up the driveway. She starts the toyota and catches up to her. The girl gets in.
Neither of them say a word, as she drives the little truck dangerously fast, sliding in the gravel. When they nearly go off the road she begins to slow it down. They are both crying.
When they finally make it to the pavement. She pulls over and slams her fist into the dashboard over and over. The sobs become a scream, and she screams herself breathless, in the last moments realizing her friend is screaming too. The scream seems to relieve some inner pressure. Looking at each other they reach across and hug each other tightly in the little truck’s cab. They come apart, and she starts the little truck down the road, and out of the hills.
Miles down the road she says “I guess that wasn’t his weed.” Her friend looks at the floor board of the truck. “Do you think he’s….?” She drifts off unable to finish her question. The woman glances over at her. “I think, we shouldn’t think.”
The girl looks back at her “Huh?” The woman stares at the road again as she says “We were in the very wrong place, at the very wrong time. That was not our business, and we should make sure it stays that way. We should forget it, not wonder about it, not think about it, and sure as hell not talk about it, to anyone. Ever.”
Taking a deep breath and blowing it out, she glances to the girl again. “We spent this weekend out in Bear Harbor. It was girl time. We drank wine and read romance novels. It was great.”
The other woman nods, her head bobbing jerkily. “Yeah romance novels.”
They finish the drive home. When they start to get out of the truck they see the money. It’s on the seat between them. Her friend looks up at her. “What about that?” She gets out of the truck and tells her “Count it we’ll split it.”
Outside the truck safe on her own street she can feel the tears coming back. She swallows and looks up blinking them back, she refuses to come undone again.
The truck door opens and closes. “It’s four grand.” her head snaps around to her friend. “What?” Her friend looks at her and manages a weak, sick little smile. “Four.” The girl comes around the truck and hands her a stack of bills, while holding a stack in her other hand. They stand there for a moment holding far more than they would have earned, they look at the money then each other. “Bear Harbor.” “Right, Bear Harbor.”
The next week a woman comes to where she works carrying her purse. The purse she’d left when she fled the scene.
“Here.” She says holding it out. Standing at the counter she just stares at the woman. She can’t think straight. The woman looks her in the eye and smiles. My husband found it on the road. One time I left my purse on top of my car, and lost it the same way.” She smiles even bigger. “Lucky for you we found your address and pay stub inside so we could find you.”
Her hand is shaking as she reaches for the purse. “Thanks.” She says pulling back her lips in a sick parody of a smile.
Four months later she’s walking into the grocery store when she sees the missing poster. She stops and stands there for a very long time. People passing her, she just stares.
She gets back in her truck and goes home, locks her doors, and walks to the bathroom. She steps into the shower without bothering to undress. She turns on the water and stands there, face upturned, she lets the water pour over her for a very long time.
Also for more about the trimmers’ life go here.