EXCERPTS FROM “THE VELVETEEN GULAG” [a memoir]: CHAPTER 22: DESERT LAWNS

 churchill

Sunday, April 8, 2000, late afternoon: prologue

The character Steven Augustine was about to leave the country so he let it be known that he was looking for quick cash. There’s more to the story than that: he needed to escape his first wife. It started as a marriage of convenience (they were having a nice little modern affair in Berlin when it occurred to them that there were Immigration advantages in tying the knot… he met his Persian girlfriend for a cinema date right after the courthouse wedding ceremony… that was May of ’92). Four years later they moved from Berlin to Southern California, got her a Green Card, decided to have a go at a genuine marriage.

Wrong.

The astonishingly high level of material greed on display in So Cal (she got a job as a Maître D’ at a Fine Dining joint where it was possible to buy a $50,000 bottle of wine and hobnob with JM Coetzee, Edward Albee and Dr. Seuss’ wife) drove her spectacularly mad. Every trace of fetching Bohemian innocence gone. She was a tall, thin, aristocratically-pretty blond who tanned extremely well (the aging effects of that miraculous sun hit her very, very hard later on) and was suddenly determined to get a good price. Her guilt and self-disgust expressed itself as aggression bordering on psychosis bordering on genocide. She turned against him and claimed his “hammering” (typing) was driving her nuts. Pots hit the wall and treasured books got ripped in half.

What I’m saying is not for kids: there were times he’d have liked to have pushed her off a cliff into the deepest sea and it only enraged (and shamed) her more that he never stooped to it. This is a dirty little secret of the long climb out of the Stone-age: the sensitive male being secretly (or not so secretly) resented for it. At six foot tall she was half-an-inch shorter than Augustine when they showered, in silence together, in the morning, but she relished towering over him in extravagant heels at night.

Why aren’t we rich? she’d scream.

If only I drank, he’d mutter.

first wife very nearly obliterated me
first wife very nearly obliterated me

Augustine got a call from someone, a house painter named Drew B., and Drew offered him this: five days in Palm Desert painting a condo. He said the job had just popped up and the guy he usually works with is in Colorado for the week. Was the character Steven Augustine interested in doing a little condo painting in the desert?

Augustine packed a gym bag with casual clothes and dry food, stuffed his laptop in a satchel and met Drew at the curb in front of his apartment building. It was spring and slightly chilly. The sun was in danger of being extinguished, wedged as it was in a damp, woolly cloud. When Drew B.’s van rounded the corner, Augustine thought: If you’d told me five years ago, etc, and experienced a delicious shiver of self-pity. But such are the hazards.

They gassed up at a station twenty minutes outside of downtown. Augustine jumped from the van to buy a bottle of water and the guy behind the counter, who looked like a black-haired Santa Claus in a clip-on tie, asked him if it looked like it was going to rain. Without waiting for an answer, the man said:

“In Manila, they use coral in the asphalt they pave the roads with. So when the monsoons come, guess what happens? The roads grow algae, and they’re slick as the devil. I wouldn’t drive on a rainy day in the Philippines if you paid me.”

Then he handed Augustine his change and wished him luck. Augustine wondered how many times a day the man told that story.

Sunday, April 8, 9:45 pm

The drive up to the condominium was three hours long through scenery that changed like an eco-moralist’s slide show from strip-mall ugly to fleetingly beautiful and back again. Twilight came quickly and stayed forever (like adolescence, I could write). A scrawny procession of roadside markets and video stores and car lots and a rise in the road and a dipping curve and suddenly the view opened to a considerable drop, a high view of the valley I’d thought we were driving through, which turned out to be a valley we were only skirting. Up ahead there remained, for most of the drive, the fixed point of a dark mass. Storm clouds or a mountain. The mountain we crested before slipping down towards Palm Desert, a messy pattern of lights in a dark bowl, felt more like real estate than geology.

Palm Desert is populated with rich old people who come there to shuffle on golf greens for a few seasons and thereafter shuffle no more. They come to the desert for the heat and then refrigerate every interior space to within a few degrees of Antarctica. They are as white as the never-born. You overtake them on the road: glimpses of shrinking ghosts in roomy silver caskets with cruise control.

A good portion of the drive is through a long valley dominated by rock-studded humps that may either be miles distant or touchable from the van’s window as we zoom. We pass through several towns along the way but they feel like one thin, depopulated display on a purgatorial loop, an eerie procession of repetitively identical gas stations and video stores. And what is it about forty-year-old music that has the power to make a billboard at nightfall advertising discount potato chips feel like the long-awaited end of the world? All of America, on the road, is purely this. Not with a bang or a whimper but very loud static from the far end of your illuminated FM dial.

Making the trip with us is Drew’s very old dog, a wire-haired terrier named Churchill. His bed is bunched in the space between our seats but he keeps standing on trembling legs and resting his head on my lap, too nervous to simply curl up and sleep through the journey. An old dog driving with us to a retirement resort: it feels like we’re delivering him. It feels like everything old must eventually go in this direction, and now it’s his turn.

Drew says, after about two hours on the road, “You can’t see them right now because it’s like so dark, but we’re driving by a bunch of windmills. For electricity? Really cool.”

I look out my window and see a couple of propeller-topped towers, barely discernible in the darkness. More road-side clutter.

We find the Desert Green Resort after a stop for provisions at a titanic grocery store: blinding and icy cold, with aisles as wide as narrow streets. We load up on groceries, and get past the gated community’s security station after a minor controversy.

The security station is manned by a jovially fleshy black woman who prides herself on knowing most of the owners here (“Are they renters or owners?” she asks, looking at her list, inquiring about the people who have sponsored our passage through the security gate, and then, “Oh, I don’t know them.”). She can’t find Drew’s name on the list at first. It turns out that the name that has been left with her is the name of Drew’s company instead. She finally finds that name on her list, it matches the logo painted on the side of the van and so we drive through the gate.

I reflect on the demeanor of the woman at the security station, which looks like a giant toll booth and is flooded with light. She isn’t as grumpy as security guards and all-night-convenience-store clerks usually are, though her job is a combination of the two. And then I realize that it’s her association with the filthy rich that has elevated her mood, her sense of self and place. The filthy rich have touched her with their magic.

She doesn’t feel as left out as the rest of us feel (after all: those gates are there to keep us out), even if she is. I try to imagine her in an evening gown, vast and black-nippled and cocoa-bellied under the diaphanous folds of sheer fabric, daintily fingering the stem of an exotic cocktail, laughing quietly with some liver-spotted coot in his robber-baronial billiards room. And then I realize, with a dainty tingle of embarrassment, that I’m peering directly into her poignantly happy soul.

This place is a maze at the center of which is a golf course. Identically characterless houses on identically treeless lanes. Single story off-white boxes with faux-elegant touches here and there (modern legal sensitivities have robbed the owners of the right to use black-faced lawn jockeys, that most traditional of faux-elegant touches: they somehow look even more racist in white-face). Not so fancy-looking, considering the price of ownership. But these are, after all, only resort condominiums.  Everyone here, renter or owner, lives in a real house (or two or three) somewhere else. They just come here to wake up near the green every morning for a few weeks every year.

We finally locate the particular white box that we have a key for and back the van towards it. The garage door goes up and there it is:  a golf cart. We ease in beside it. “I’m not sure what’s sillier,” I say. “Golf carts or the people who own them.”

Drew laughs non-committally.

Monday, April 9: morning

I wake up, open the vertical blinds, and what do I see? Little old men in caps and baggy pants, crawling all over the grass. Golfers.

I see something even stranger than that. There’s an imperiously gutty duffer in bone-white shoes, being followed at a cringing distance by his peculiar caddy. The caddy is short and skinny and hopping around with the stiff energy of a coolie, terribly eager to please.

The golfer has swatted the ball into a sand trap, and then hacked the ball up out of it again in a tail feather of sand, and the caddy was there right after the golfer had driven off like Goldfinger towards the next hole. The caddy hurriedly smoothed the sand over with a special rake and then dashed after the master. There’s something about this golfer and caddy. They get close enough for me to see finally what’s going on: the caddy is a white-haired old woman. The golfer’s wife.

I kicked through a fitful sleep last night, menaced by a large black form in the corner of this very dark bedroom. It turned out to be the plastic tree that I somehow hadn’t noticed as I first moved in and unpacked. All through the night, the shadow looked to me like Sitting Bull standing pugnaciously in the corner of the room by the sliding doors, reproaching me, and my civilization, for turning his glorious hunting grounds into a golf course. I was greatly relieved when the sun finally rose and articulated the tower of plastic leaves, dispelling the grumpy Indian Chief for good.

I had to laugh at myself while I took a pee. Sitting Bull! I tried to pee quietly, aiming at the upper interior slope of the bowl, just under the rim. Quietly because I don’t want to wake Drew yet. I’m not ready to start painting.

When I told my pretty Swedish friend (Stockholm is the first stop on my escape route) about this resort job, she didn’t like the idea of it at all. She’s only seen two pornographic films in her entire life, and one of them featured this for a plot: two handsome house painters are painting a luxury condo in a resort and end up having sex with the bored young beautiful condo wives that lounge around the resort pool all day.

What I neglected to tell my Swedish friend (because why give her something to worry about?) is that Drew, my partner in this paint job, is Gay. He looks like a blond Tony Curtis (wouldn’t he be tickled to hear me say this about him) and the two of us together, in overalls, do, in fact, look like featured characters in an 80’s porno. A Gay one. I’ll wait to fill her in with the details later.

Monday night

From 9 am until about 6 pm, Drew and I removed twenty-year old wall paper from two auditorium-sized walls in the living room. It was very hard work with solvent and putty knives for scraping and I spent most of the day on a twelve foot ladder, slathered in cold harsh goo. We were only half-finished with these walls by the end of the day. My back was killing me.

After we spent another forty five minutes cleaning the place up a bit (gloppy tatters of old wall paper everywhere), I retreated to my bedroom. Drew, on the other hand, had an illicit dinner date to prepare for. But first: the Jacuzzi.

Drew had on his terry cloth bathrobe and rubber flip-flops and a towel over one shoulder and he was toting a little leather bag of toiletries. He headed for the garage. He climbed into the golf cart, backed out of the garage and headed for the Jacuzzi, a few hundred yards away, at the club house where the indoor pool is. He looked like an unusually young member of the condo association as he steered the golf cart up the road. Snob heaven. Addicted to the trappings of privilege (seems a funny trait in a house painter), even in its counterfeit form. Not to mention a certain strain of Gay Snobbery he dabbles in. But with so much glee that I can’t bring myself to judge him over it.

The dinner date he was preparing for was adulterous. He has a “committed” relationship with a skinny Singaporean named Quentin, back home and here he was about to have dinner with Juanito of Mexico. Juanito is from the old days, Drew informs me; Juanito was a teenager the first time Drew did something with him (funny that sodomy, which would, more than most words, require a euphemism, doesn’t have one: only the opposite). Now Juanito is twenty-two and lives as a waiter in Palm Springs, a forty minute drive from Palm Desert. Singapore Quentin is at school this evening, so he isn’t likely to call while his adulterous husband is out butt-fucking a near-midget.

Infidelity is like being a wild man out after nightfall, sniffing around garbage cans and pissing behind garages and howling at the moon, while responsible couples are snuggling in their cozy bungalows. It’s cold and dark out there. And terribly fun.

Churchill was scratching at Drew’s bedroom door and whining after Drew left, so I let him out. Who wouldn’t be frightened in a strange dark room like that? He’s really old. He always flinches when you start petting him, as though you’re the ghost, surprising him with your touch.

He walks into walls sometimes and he can’t stand without his hind legs trembling. I give him a good back rub, slip him a slice of ham from the ‘fridge and he ambles back to his bed in Drew’s room after about an hour, ready to face the darkness again. It touches me to think that I helped.

I’m just a long bruised muscle in a strange bed, drifting in and out of sleep, when I hear Drew sneaking into the condo at three.

Tuesday April 10, 6:30 am

Woke up to the sound of a several very large lawn mowers. And then Zsa Zsa came.

This condo association (this loose affiliation of wealthy duffers and their bored families) has its own little government of annually elected officials. You know these titles and positions are just time-fillers for the people who bother to run for office. It’s less strenuous than doing volunteer work for muscular dystrophy and more prestigious than collecting stamps. There’s a Chancellor, a Bursar, an Ombudsman, etc. They’re in charge of “activities” mostly. Dances and little golf tournaments and what not. They also keep a strict eye on the upkeep of the bungalows, which is how I met Zsa Zsa. Her real name I’ll never know.

I made the mistake of leaving two five gallon drums in front of the garage. Where everyone could see them. These plastic white buckets were visible from the little road that snaked along behind the row of dwellings in which our bungalow was roughly the midpoint. I was still brushing my teeth (and Drew was still out cold, sleeping off the side-effects) when the doorbell almost kicked me out of my skin. I opened the door and was confronted with a shortish woman crowned with eight inches of stiff-stacked hair. She was wearing a pink and white striped shirt, tight black pedal-pushers and gold-colored high heel shoes. The lower half of her face was dedicated to the presentation of an unusually aggressive smile. She looked at first like a very old young person, and then she struck me as a very young old person (both impressions occurred to me within the span of three seconds) until it dawned that I was face to face with a rich old lady who had been face-lifted to within an inch of her life.

Not to mention whatever mysterious engineering went into the illusion of her large-but-perky breasts. You had to look to her neck, where the smooth white line of her face stopped abruptly at the speckled leather of her wattled gullet, to gauge her seniority. Using that method I put her in her early sixties. Breasts and teeth as decoys. And the towering miter of cotton-candy hair. I’m sure among the octogenarian millionaires of the Desert Green she is considered a tasty helping of ass.

I wondered if, thirty years ago, minus the technical help, she’d been attractive. I imagined her in a sheer gown (the same one I’d pictured on the fat black security lady), making an entrance in a ballroom that sparkled with mirror ball twinkles, to a bossa-nova version of The Fool on The Hill, catching the eye of every middle-aged miser with center-parted hair in the room.

“Young man,” she said through her teeth, “These buckets.”

After she rode off on her golf cart (with other infractions of appearance to police down the road, no doubt), the cloud of her eau de lingered as Drew came bleary-eyed out of his bedroom.

“What’s that smell?”

Nothing natural.

Wednesday, April 11, noon

It’s dawning on us that we’re going to be here longer than the five days we originally thought. After three days we’re still removing wall paper. We’re nowhere near ready to paint. My Swedish friend will be worried if I don’t call her on Saturday morning as I promised I would, but how can I telephone Sweden on a client’s phone? Even if the client is rich enough to afford this vacation condo?

Drew phoned the client this morning and mentioned the fact that the job is a bit bigger than originally estimated and they consent to re-negotiate the fee without an ounce of resentment. They’re old and rich and mellow.

This upcoming Sunday is Easter and before signing off, the client suggests that we attend the Easter Service at the chapel up the road. The client says it’s a beautiful service; they have a world-class chapel. Of course the resort has its own chapel. I hope you’ll attend, says the client, and bring your helper too. Drew politely suggests that we just might do that, though of course we both chuckle at the very idea after he’s hung up the phone. Church? Us?

“I’ll bet these pious ass-holes have a front row pew,” I shout. “And the Mexicans listen to the service over an intercom in the basement.”

“Well, jeez, I doubt that,” says Drew.

If I was just a little more energetic I’d go to the damned Easter service. A church full of golfers must resonate with a particular kind of spiritual energy.

********

We stop work every day around six and after nine solid hours of taxing my lower back, I’m barely capable of standing upright in the shower. Drew is paying me an hourly wage because he was the one who found this job. He’s the boss, essentially. This means he takes frequent breaks (some as long as two hours) and does rather less nasty work than I do when he is working, so by the end of the day he’s still rather fresh. Meanwhile, I’m too tired to write much in the evening. I do most of my writing very early in the morning or during lunch. After six I’m already dead: I read a little, and, just a few hours after washing up each day, fade throbbingly into sleep.

Eight p.m. and I’m in bed, trying to discover new pain-free positions. Drew, meanwhile, has already returned (on the golf cart) from the Jacuzzi and is preparing for another rendezvous with Juanito.

Thursday, April 12

Today I’ve been lucky enough to remember a sex dream. I remember most of it, I think. In the dream, my lover has a cat. She has a beautiful red cat and she’s never without it. We go for walks in public and the cat is curled around her shoulder. We go to a movie: the cat is purring in her lap. Everyone ooohs and ahhhs at this gorgeous bright red cat; the fur is so rich and bright that it’s very nearly a liquid. It’s not just red: it’s more of an orange-red. A shimmering orange-red cat that smells like citrussy flowers.

Abruptly, I notice that this cat has a beautiful (I mean beautiful like a human) face. The cat has a movie-star’s face and I think: why haven’t I noticed this before? I look closely and I’m shocked again: this cat not only has a beautiful humanoid movie-star face; this animal has the face of my lover!

I run through the house to find this lover of mine, to tell her. Or to confront her? As in: what are you doing with a cat that has your face, Baby? Up up up a spiral stair case I hurry. I think: I forgot…we live in a light house!

I find her in a brightly lit room at the top of the tower. Sunshine is pouring through the 360 degree windows. The view from this window is a felt-green, hilly, planet-wide, sun-blessed golf course. My lover’s back is to me. Her graceful back, the lush tumult of her hair. Her back is turned in a teasing way and she isn’t unaware of my presence. I approach quietly, sensing that I shouldn’t speak. She isn’t wearing a top. Only that waist-length hair, but she is wearing a skirt and carefully, tenderly, I reach to pull the skirt down and she responds by moving out of reach; she moves her ass shyly away. Hiding something.

It dawns on me, in the dream, that this is that thing, the thing I’ve always sensed was her secret and now I’m close to finally knowing it, the thing she simultaneously dreads I will discover and longs for me to know. That is, she can no longer bear the awful weight of her secret, but she’s afraid of how I’ll react upon finding out.

Finding out what?

I reach again, determined, and I take the hem of her skirt and pull down quickly and she makes a sound of pleasured agony, a low moan as I expose her. Oh my god. I’m amazed. How has she managed to hide this from me for so long? I’ve never been so turned on, in all my life, at what I see, right there, above her ass…

A long, plush, orange-red tail.

girl with the orange tail
girl with the orange tail

Thursday, April 12, evening

Drew B. is a sweet guy, but I can’t help thinking, as I listen to the television he has blaring in his room at the moment, blaring to spoil the cool silence that rolls down from the mountains tonight, how something-or-other he is. It’s not the Television, per se, that disgusts me but why waste all this gorgeous quiet? We’re staying in a resort in the desert, after all. Drew reminds me of Americans who go to Paris and insist on MacDonald’s. Wherever he goes, he has to take the normalizing chatter of the teevee with him. It’s preposterous to try to picture him with a book instead, looking up from the page every now and then to sail an errant thought towards the moon. Nature abhors a vacuum. Americans abhor a silence.

Today, while working (we’ve finally begun to actually paint; a darkish color for the living room walls), we started to listen to an evangelical radio show instead of the goddamned oldies station. A hipster’s ironical conceit. After all: I’m an agnostic (until otherwise notified) and Drew is an avid sodomite with borderline pedophiliac inclinations (if his boyfriends could get any smaller and more hairless…).

The humorless entertainer on the radio was talking about sin.

I said, suddenly, putting my paint brush in the bucket and looking down at Drew from the top of my ladder, “What kind of psychotic Creator would punish His creations for their design flaws?”

Drew smiled nervously and kept painting. I climbed down off my ladder and changed the radio back to the oldies station.

Friday, April 13th, morning

Tread lightly, O ye superstitious house painters. Churchill walks under a ladder and we just stare at him, waiting for him to explode, or collapse. This would not be a good day to break one of those bathroom mirrors. Or open an umbrella in the kitchen. Drew wonders out loud if it isn’t pushing his luck to meet Juanito tonight: does adultery on Friday the 13th generate a kind of double-whammy of bad karma?

I say, By the way, how is that going?

Drew shrugs. It’s okay, he says. “The thing is,” he adds, scratching himself (we’re both on ladders, not facing each other, so it’s easier to discuss personal matters), “Juanito has put on a little weight since the last time I saw him.”

Oh?

“His ass.” I can feel Drew cringing on the ladder as he says the word. “It’s all big and icky now. It’s all, you know, womanly. I find it kind of hard to… uh…”

I’m baffled. Why bother to have an affair with someone you’re not even attracted to? And betraying a monogamous relationship for sex you barely like is as silly as breaking a year-long health food diet to gorge on a case of stale Twinkies. If you’re going to transgress at all, shouldn’t it be for a worthy cause? Shouldn’t it be for the fine Belgian truffles; for the ass you really want?

“Then how do you manage to screw him at all?” I ask.

Drew climbs up a rung on his ladder and grins over the top of it at me with paint on his nose.

“I just close my eyes and pretend he’s Quentin.”

Then there’s a knock on the front door. Drew and I freeze on our ladders; Drew holds a finger over his lips to shhhh me. We just want whoever it is to go away. Again: rap rap rap on the door. Drew shakes his head.

But guess what? The front door opens anyway. Then we hear heels go pok pok pok across the foyer tiles.

Zsa Zsa.

“Looking good, boys,” she says, clapping her hands together with insincere glee. She’s wearing a hot pink pants suit, gold lame pumps and a matching gold lame hand bag. Her hair, as far as I can tell, is in the same shape she formed it in at the beginning of the week… a dyed brown nose cone of cotton candy. Her boobs protrude with defiant sass. Walks around the living room with her hands clasped behind her back as if she’s casing an Art Gallery.

“Have you a card? A business card? I’m thinking of having a little something done to the cottage.”

I mime searching my person for a card (out of politeness) but before I can open my mouth to say anything, Drew fixes her with a steely Gay glare and asks her if she doesn’t know better than to waltz into a place uninvited like that.

This is how straight I am: my first impulse is to run after her and apologize.

Friday, April 13th, evening

It’s by now a tradition that Drew leaves around eight p.m. for his session with Juanito, Churchill starts whining and scratching at the door after Drew is gone, I let Churchill out, slip him a slice of ham and let him guard the foot of my bed for an hour or two until he decides to creep back into the premonitory darkness of Drew’s room. The drive from Palm Dessert to Palm Springs is forty minutes one way, so Drew is gone at least three hours every time. If he has dinner before the fucking he doesn’t get back until after midnight.

Tonight I decide to break the routine and sit out on the terrace overlooking the golf course, rather than remain boxed up in my bedroom writing. Churchill follows me out there. A little patio of ceramic tiles, girded by a low wall. He reclines pantingly at my feet. I’m stretched out on a lawn chair. There’s a bit of a chill in the air.

No matter how hot it gets during the day out here, it drops to a chill at night, which is the ecology of the desert. The mountains have melted into the night sky, visible only as jagged patches of starlessness. The moon is nowhere to be seen. (Come to think of it: I haven’t seen the moon once since we got here.)

Lights are on in some of the distant bungalows on the other side of the golf course, and this makes it almost feels like a neighborhood; a semi-suburban Chicago neighborhood of my youth. A cricket chorus and the distant rumor of the smoke from a grill reaches me; I pretend that this is a small Midwestern town of the mid-century called Greenville. Greenville, Illinois. But the palm trees ruin that image, so I stop pretending and look at it all for what it is and that’s okay. A resort community of two thousand rich white golfers and their families, being protected by one fat black lady in a little box at the front gate.

Every night around ten, the sprinklers come on. This is, after all, a desert. It takes a million gallons of water every week to keep this shit verdant. V-shaped jets of water, at intervals of every ten yards or so, come at the sky. The moonless green is so dark that I get an inspiration.

I jump up and slap my thighs. “Come on, Churchill!”

I’m trying to get the old beast to gallop out onto the grass with me and jump through a sprinkler or two. When was the last time he did a puppy thing like that? Wouldn’t it do him a bit of good? Will he ever get this chance again?

“Come on now, boy!”

He stares at me, purple tongue lolling like a Senator’s dick. The cauled twinkle in his eye is the biggest reaction I’m likely to get by hopping and spazzing and doing my best to be The Angel of Youth, but I keep trying. Then I get an idea.

Churchill turns his dust-mop head to watch, anciently curious, as I hustle into the bungalow. I return with a dripping sheaf of ham. I peel a strip off and dangle it directly over his nose. Ears cocked he stands, suddenly taking me very seriously, trembly spindleshanks and lateral farts of pyloric suspense notwithstanding. I take a step backwards. And another. And one more.

I back through the gap in the low wall that opens onto the green. Churchill’s nose sucks hard on lucent strings of hamscent and his anticipatory slobber puts me in mind of the re-hydrated wall paper paste I’ve spent three days scrubbing from condo walls. Beyond the diffusing semi-circle of light from the sliding glass doors of my bedroom, we are encased in the vast and erotically expensive Heavens. If the Swede were here, I think ruefully, we’d be fucking on the grass. She’s half-Sicilian and her head is heavy with long brown hair and she’s needy and sweet-natured and jazz-loving enough that I could do the things you’d dream of doing on such an immaculate Republican surface. Anal on the green: why not? Instead, here I am. Tantalizing a dog.

I’ve backed us up about forty paces and break into a slow trot and Churchill follows with a shaky gallop and I toss the first slice of ham and Churchill runs right over it and I toss another one and he misses that too. I keep tossing ham anyway but it’s too dark; he’s too old; he gallops right over a dozen slices. I have one slice of ham left and feed it to an exhausted Churchill at the base of a palm tree, rubbing his shoulders vigorously while he chops and gulps the processed meat and then I lead him back to the bungalow with an entirely unearned sense of accomplishment, saying, “Good boy…good boy…”

Churchill heads straight back to his bed in Drew’s dark room. He’s still licking his chops and reminiscing about that one hard-earned slice when I close the door on him. He will never know that he’s missed out on about a half-pound it. There are slices of ham all over the back nine.

A little puzzle for the golfers to deal with tomorrow morning.

Saturday, April 14th. Evening

A breeze is blowing in my room with a soft clatter of the vertical blinds. On the current of the breeze flows a perfectly crafted wave of silence, an expensive silence studded with discreet little imaginary pills for the senses: the odor of the mountain, the daguerreotype tint of the distant-most reaches of the green and the angelically imperceptible temperature of a brand new ten-dollar golf ball twinkling on the club house roof. This is what $250,000.00 up front, plus a monthly subscription fee of several grand, will buy you. All-of-the-above plus peace and fucking quiet.

Sunday, April 15. Morning

This is supposed to be the last day of work. The living room, Drew’s bedroom and bathroom, my bathroom and the front hall, are entirely done. All that remains to be done is the kitchen, the walls in my bedroom, and a little trim.

The problem is that we worked extra long last night to make sure that today would be a short one, and that we’d be finished and on the road before dark. And after the long day, Drew decided to celebrate by smoking a bit of hash, on top of his nightly vodka-and-cranberry-juices, and he got red-eyed crazy stoned.

He came from the Jacuzzi and pool looking completely insane, in a giddy way, banging on my bedroom door to report to me proudly about how he’d been swimming laps underwater without breathing. His face was distorted with a mad grin; his hair was sticking up; he looked like a bizarre accident as a result of an experiment with some kind of anti-aging drug… a thirty-five year old man with the mind of a twelve year old boy. I humored him. My experience with stoners is that the shift from glee to paranoia to bloody-mindedness is a hair-trigger event.

“Why are you looking at me like some kind of plant life?” he asked, taking a step back to squint because I suddenly shone, for him, with a rude and holy glare. But the moment passed harmlessly when I asked if I could have a drink too. I took a sip and spit it in the sink when he wasn’t looking. Anyway: the upshot. Drew didn’t even wake up this morning until an hour after the time we’re usually working and he didn’t actually get a brush in his hand until well into the afternoon.

Which means we won’t get to go home on Sunday.

(And what do I have to look forward to when I get home, anyway? Mean-spirited sex with my crazed wife? When I fuck her it’s like sex with a raffled hooker; when I refuse to fuck her she hits the roof.)

I masturbate in the shower to keep the sheets clean.

Monday, April 16, morning

Packing the equipment and praying that Drew doesn’t see a spot here or there that needs re-painting and believe me there are several. I just want to get the fuck out of here and away from the smell of paint. Forever.

Monday, April 16, 3 pm

We’ve been on the road for about an hour, and we come over a rise, and swoop down a broad curve, and I suddenly see an amazing sight. We’re on Interstate 10, driving through the Kuchella Valley and for as far as the eye can see, arranged in platoons of various sizes along the road and even on the high hills above us, are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of windmills.

Like radio towers topped with mammoth propellers, arranged in grids, each grid at a different angle to exploit the changeable wind. Most of the towers are easily a hundred and twenty feet tall; the blades of the propellers are incredible and so vast that even the wind machines mounted on the distant tops of the high hills are articulated in the sunlight like printed words, spinning sharp on the wind.

It looks like the whole valley is flying. People in the traffic all around us are gawking with smiles reborn.

It’s the most beautiful and thrilling thing I’ve seen in years. It’s like a science fiction flick. With a boggling budget. The thought that these lovely and preposterous machines are turning the wind into electricity and that any kind of human government (a project on this scale couldn’t possibly be some eccentric’s whim) could be behind such a poetic and quixotic effort shoots me through with a childish optimism for the human future that I rarely, rarely feel. Everything will be alright.

There are tears in my eyes.

(Editor’s note: Churchill died in August of that year)
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