A Giant Tangent, Chapter 1: Bakersfield

“I tell ’em like I write ’em, in one long continuous paper streaming across the sky, man, that’s my map, that’s what I’m doing, that’s where I’m going. You coming too?” — Jack

Jack’s not my friend, he’s an acquaintance. At least, that’s the published version. But Jack is a pretty engaging guy, and a good guy too. That’s who this story is about.

Have you ever met someone who only felt comfortable when he was hearing the sound of his own voice? I’m talking about stream-of-consciousness talking. I’m talking about all day, one-way monologues. If you were to hear Jack, you’d notice a certain rhythm to his voice, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but recognize. I’d call it nerve-wracking and downright annoying, if it wasn’t for the fact that Jack is just so dang fascinating.

One foggy evening, as we were walking, and Jack was talking, we fell onto the subject of travel. Jack boasted that he knew California like no one else. “I’m not talkin’ maps, man. . . I’m talking real knowledge – stuff that takes feet-on-the-ground research, not like what you’d see in a dusty old encyclopedia, but brought to life and speaking to you, propelling you, shining on you like the sun, man.”

I rolled my eyes. Jack was on another bender, ‘getting tangential,’ as he called it.

“Yeah, really man, I can show ya, I can show you how to be a giant in California, bigger than the redwoods. You’ll be so big, you can take one step and be standing in the parched bean fields of Bakersfield and take another step and be cool in Salinas. After you wipe that rich dark earth off your shoe, you’re in Mendocino, man, stepping over the old logging chutes that pitched that redwood booty out into the waiting ships way back when. What do you say, man, you in, you wanna be a giant?”

“What are you talking about? Gimme a clue, Jack,” I half pleaded.

What I’m talking about is an emancipation proclamation, man, I’m talking walking papers, carte blanche, an e-ticket that you can’t buy, because you’ll be a giant!”

Oh, brother!

“Oh Brother yeah! If you’re up for it we’re giants tomorrow, swear! But we have to shake on the deal first.”

Jack extended his fist and began his elaborate knuckle bumping, thumb hooking, pinky wiggle with the elbow extension and the wink. Yeah, the wink. Jack had a special wink that was his way of saying that this was an important deal, more important than anything else. So we performed the ceremony that told Jack that, in essence, I had placed myself in his custody.

“Meet me at this crossing tomorrow morning. Bring a coat and a change of clothes and a toothbrush and maybe a sliver of soap, but that’s it because that’s giant gear and if you bring anything else it won’t work. Swear?”
“Swear.” I said, with a little quiver in my voice. “What time?”

“Four-thirty, Amplitude Modulation, my friend. Oh-dark-thirty. Be there with your giant gear and I’ll show you. . .”
“Show me. . .?”

As Jack walked away, he seemed to blend into the fog and the dark, and vanish.

The next morning, as I approached our meeting place, Jack reappeared out of the fog, but now sitting on his backpack, sipping on a cup of coffee in the dark. It was one of those short plastic cups that unscrews off the red plaid thermos, which was sitting in front of him. He held his filterless cigarette with typical Jack-like affectation, between his thumb and forefinger.

“We gotta go,” he said, as he took one last drag, flicked his smoke, gulped his coffee and screwed the cup back on the thermos, all in one smooth motion. “If we’re gonna be giants today, we’d better move like it.”

Now I knew that there was only one thing happening on this corner at 4:30 in the morning, and it was just beginning to dawn on me what Jack was up to when he stopped me and turned his head sideways slightly. Jack heard something, and in the next moment he was running up the gravel covered hill, toward the railroad right of way. I had to run hard to keep up with him.

“That’s it! C’mon, lets move!”

Jack disappeared behind a pepper tree that had grown over the edge of the gravel rail bed.
“In here!” Jack whispered as he ducked down into the foliage. “Now if you do this right, and follow my every move, this is where you’ll take your last step as a little man! Got it?”

That sound that Jack had heard, it was getting louder and closer. It was the 4:47, northbound out of the Santa Fe depot, and just now slowly moving our way. I felt a pit in my stomach as I realized what was next.

Jack was wound up like a top, and unwound his explanation: “OK, brother, this is how it goes. First, you jog along beside her, just like you’ve always known her, but making sure that she’s not moving faster than you. When she’s not looking and you’re sure she’s sweet on you and you’re moving together, you grab her –

“And that next giant step puts you in the bean fields of Bakersfield, California!”

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2 Responses to “A Giant Tangent, Chapter 1: Bakersfield”

  1. I dug it. I was directed to it by a face I knew from life’s passing blurry faces.

  2. more please…

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