Right now is the best time there is!
I mean that not only in a Carpe Diem, be-here-now kind of way…but also in a strictly literal sense; the weather at this time of year is PERFECT for desert adventuring. So that’s just what I’ve been doing. Carpe Diem? CARPE SCROTUM — grab life by the balls!!
For my March adventure, I wanted to finish exploring Nevada — remember, I was only able to make it halfway up the state last month, due to shitty weather. But I didn’t really have enough time — I only had about a week free, and that week coincided with the annual visit of my German musician pals, Käpt’n Rummelsnuff and his First Mate, Christian Asbach. And when those guys come all the way from Berlin….Nevada can wait!!!
You may remember from last year that together, my friends perform as Rummelsnuff — a far-out sort of post-punk industrial-pop act with an Eastern bloc aesthetic. They classify their music as electro-pogo, but it’s really hard to describe/categorize….so here’s the music video we shot with them at their ranch last year. Decide for yourself:
Anyhoo, THOSE guys were back in town — and by “town,” I mean the remotest desert out by Twentynine Palms, where they have a sort of winter compound out in a place called Wonder Valley. For the last few years I’ve gone out to stay with them for a few days….I love that place, and they’re super cool people!
But before heading out on this latest adventure, I had to make my monthly nut. First things first! Luckily, there was a photography convention in town, so Vegas was flooded with photographers and I got quite a bit of work off that. I did one shoot at the Palazzo and another at the New York, New York — which has totally pedestrian rooms, but which you can also see from the photos here proves that it’s not the room, it’s the people involved. This photographer was very cool and he captured some great shots. Most of the black & whites in this blog are by him.
Then another day I shot with my Canadian photographer friend, DespayreFX. We’d shot together back in January, and had so much fun/got such great results that he hired me again, and this time he booked a really swanky penthouse suite at the Delano (formerly known as THE Hotel). What an amazing room for shooting!! We got some really incredible stuff, and also ventured out to Big Dune in Amargosa Valley, and got some bad-ass stuff there, too. I don’t typically shoot at these dunes because they’re pretty far from town (a two-hour drive)…but for DespayreFX, I’ll do anything (well, almost anything…LOL).
But our shoot almost didn’t happen, because of the dumb-ass customs agents at the U.S. border — Despayre lives in Vancouver, Canada, and ran into trouble as he was trying to get to Bellingham, WA for his flight to Vegas. Apparently the customs agent saw all his photo gear and assumed that he was coming down to the U.S. to steal American Jobs™…and when he explained that to the contrary, he was coming down here to pay an American model, they didn’t believe him.
Meanwhile, I had no idea any of this was going on — I was going about my business, ferrying another photographer out to the fake ghost town of Nelson for a shoot, when I got a call: “This is U.S. Customs Officer Baker. Is this Sarah Jane Woodall?”
Yoikes!!! Did he read my blog about the goodies I stashed in the desert on my way into Mexico?!? What kind of mess was I in now?????
But all he wanted to know was if Despayre’s story was true. I told him the truth, that Despayre had hired me…and he seemed very skeptical: “Is that how this typically works??!”
Um, yes! That’s how I make my living, dumbass! Of course I didn’t say that to him — I was unfailingly polite, as was Despayre…but despite our best combined efforts, they still ended up detaining him at customs for three hours. He ended up missing his flight because of it, and had to book another flight out of his own pocket — from Seattle, because all the Bellingham flights had already left. All told, this snafu cost him something like $1,000 — what a racket!! Any Canadian photographers who are reading this, take heed!
Aside from photo shoots, my friend Dr. Kildare also came back to town to shoot more scenes for this sort of docu-comedy he’s making based on my life….and this shoot almost got fucked up by American Idiots, too! Basically, there were two things he needed to shoot this time: some scenes out at the dry lake bed, and some more footage of me riding my bike down East Fremont Street with the existentialist ventriloquist dummy strapped to my back. And both of those plans were pretty much derailed by an unfortunate coincidence — the Mint 400 offroad race/redneck jamboree was taking place that very same weekend, and was already using both locations!! They had East Fremont all cordoned off for some dumb pre-race circle jerk…and then the race itself was being held out at the very same lake bed he wanted to shoot at — Roach Lake in Jean, NV. D’oh!!!!
Still, we managed to shoot the necessary content — we hit the farthest reaches of the lake bed, as far as possible from the hi-octane idiocy, and just ignored all the “TEMPORARILY CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC” signs (this was a few days before the actual race, anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal). And the stuff we shot came out pretty freaking amazing!!! I’m telling you, this movie (working title: WONDERHUSSY) is going to be something else — every time he shows me the rushes, I’m really impressed with the production values and the content. Hopefully it takes the Sundance festival by storm!!!
Anyway, after all that running around and sucking it in, sticking it out, etc. it was finally adventure time again. I started my break with a little overnight kayaking/camping trip on the Colorado River with my friend Rick, and it was just absolutely fantastic — the weather was A M A Z I N G, and the wildflowers were insane — the desert really does bloom this time of year. We paddled
downriver a ways to this sandy little beach, then set up camp and made a fire and sat out enjoying the night. The only bummer was, there was so much garbage everywhere — we packed out like 3 bags full, but there were still at least three dumpsters full left What the fuck is wrong with people?!? Anyway, here’s a short video I made about the trip:
Aside from all the litter, the other bummer was that of all possible times for Wheel of Fortune to come back to Vegas for auditions, it happened to be THAT weekend. You may recall that I auditioned for Wheel of Fortune a couple of summers ago, and totally aced the audition — and they said to be on the lookout for a postcard or email from them in the next two months, with information on the next step. Well, fuckin’ Gmail accidentally sent the email into my spam folder, and I didn’t find it until it was too late!!!! I missed being on the show by two freaking days, and I’ve been pissed off about it ever since. Do you realize how many adventures I could finance by going on that show?!?!? FUCK!
So now they were finally coming back, and I knew I couldn’t miss it. They had three auditions on Saturday, and three on Sunday — so I figured I’d still go kayaking, but leave in time to make the last audition on Sunday. Which meant tearing myself from the beautiful sun-drenched river to go sit in some shitty hotel ballroom with a bunch of other greedy assholes….but whatever; you do what you have to do.
ALAS, however, I think I totally wasted my time — I didn’t realize how freakishly lucky I was at my first audition. See, when you arrive to audition, you fill out a little card and then they put everyone’s name in a raffle drum, then randomly pick out names to come up onstage and play the game. While you’re up there, they interview you and stuff to see how personable you are, and if you’d be good on TV. HELLO!!!! Last time they picked my name right away, and I went up, charmed the pants off one and all and solved the puzzle before anyone else. But THIS time, I sat there and sat there and sat there……and they never drew my name DAMMIT!!! I guess there were people who had gone to all six auditions, and finally got picked….so I guess I should have forfeited kayaking altogether and just stayed in that fuckin’ ballroom all weekend. But, really??
Anyway, supposedly they said they might still call those of us who were in the audience but didn’t get called up…so I guess I’ll keep checking my spam box for the next two months. But I have my doubts. Anyone know anyone at Wheel that can get me in???? I really need to win some money — BADLY!!!!! I could finally buy a badass off-road rig or van with that kind of cheese!!!
So, I was pretty pissed off about that whole debacle, but I didn’t have too long to stew about it because the very next day I was off to meet my sister for our March adventure — before heading down to Wonder Valley to visit Rummelsnuff, we had planned to meet up in the mountains east of Bakersfield and camp out at this intriguing-looking set of hot springs on the Kern River. I left Vegas on Monday around noon, heading up U.S. 395 toward Ridgecrest, then cutting across to the west over Walker Pass…and H O L Y H E L L ! ! ! ! I’ve never seen anything like it — it was astonishingly beautiful!!!!!
I’m telling you, I had no idea this area even existed, but it was incredible. It was lush and green from the winter rains, with wildflowers all over the place — sort of how I picture Wyoming, only with Joshua trees. Fabulous!! I almost wrecked my truck six times gawking at the amazing splendor of it all. It’s the area around Lake Isabella, if you’ve ever been up there — just absolutely breath-taking.
Anyhoo, I met up with my sis at Remington Hot Springs…these rustic little hippie-dippie man-made pools right on the edge of the river, in a forest. The parking area is only about 1/4 mile up the hill from the springs, and most people just camp up there…but since we’re badasses, we packed up our gear and headed down to the river, and set up camp on a secluded little beach down by the springs. Natural-beauty-wise, Remington is definitely in the top 2 or 3 springs I’ve ever been to — just amazing. The only downside is, the soaking pools aren’t very hot — there’s really only one tub that’s a decent temperature, and it’s pretty small, fitting about 5 people max if you really squeeze in.
Fortunately it was all dudes down there, so when my naked sis and I showed up there was more than enough room for us in the hot tub…and we enjoyed a nice, long soak late into the evening, with the peaceful sound of the Kern River rushing past in the background. What a magical place!! I had heard it can get really crowded with riff-raff from Bakersfield, but on this Monday evening it was pretty chill — and no trash or anything laying around, either. At first, I did get a slightly creepy vibe from the parking area — it looked like the kind of place a car might get broken into, because there were a lot of mixed characters hanging around, and apparently some poor guy’s van had been burned to a crisp a couple nights before — but apparently it was his bad, for dropping a cigarette butt on the ground next to a gas can, I guess. In any event, I had no bad experiences. In fact, everyone I met was cool as fuck!
The most interesting of the bunch was this dreadlocked vandwelling busker from Big Sur named Lonnie, whose act consists of him playing guitar and singing while two rabbits sit on his head. Meanwhile, the rabbits have the run of his van, and apparently poop and pee all over the place as they please. Alas, I did not have the opportunity to visit Lonnie’s van…but I found him to be very charming and entertaining, as he sang songs and recited poetry to us all night long.
Then there were a couple of local guys, retired big-rig drivers who I found endlessly interesting to talk to. For some reason I’m fascinated by long-haul truckers, and these two guys indulged me by telling me all about the truckin’ life. They were super cool, and one of them gave my sis and I parting gifts of a colorful scarf heavily scented with stripper perfume, and a framed cross-stich of some howling wolves in the snow. AWESOME! I didn’t have room for the wolf painting in my house so I left it at a thrift store down in Lucerne Valley later in the week….but the scarf has already become one of my favorite accessories
Then too there was this little hippie family living in one of those A-frame pop-up campers — a mom, dreadlocked dad and their little girl. These people were what is commonly referred to as “Drainbows” — as in, the type that attends hippie jamborees like the Rainbow Gathering, but who live off government assistance and are basically lazy pot-smoking drains on the economy. Now, I can’t say for sure that this kid and his wife didn’t have some sort of debilitating medical condition that prohibits them from holding a job, but….the father did bitch about food stamps and WIC only paying for “shitty cheese” and bread containing high-frustose corn syrup. Jeez! Beggars can’t be choosers, bro — I’m sorry my tax dollars don’t cover Gruyère and Ezekiel bread!!!
Now, speaking of foodie food — before we headed down to Wonder Valley the following day, my sis and I decided to hit up the Vons grocery store in Lake Isabella and buy supplies for a gourmet fucking feast at Rummelsnuff’s compound. It was the least we could do to repay their hospitality, for letting us stay there! We loaded up on caviar, brie, capers, water crackers, asparagus, peppers and lots and lots of steak — we know how Käpt’n Rummelsnuff is when it comes to his protein!! We also got champagne, cabernet and port wine for dessert, with grapes and, yes, Gruyère — we don’t fuck around!!!!!
Once the cooler was loaded up, we headed down south to the Cat Ranch (the name of their compound; so named because it was infested with feral cats when they bought it off an old blues musician). It was a pretty barren ride through the off-road redneck paradise of Lucerne Valley, but we finally rolled in around dusk, and the party began. My friend Fabian was also there from Vegas, and he had brought along a friend of his who used to be the tour manager for the Killers, but is now apprenticing to be a butcher. That guy had brought even more meat, so the night promised to be a real sausagefest…..in more ways than one!!!!
First things first, though — upon arrival, First Mate Christian mixed up cocktails, and we all climbed the rickety spiral staircase to the roof, to watch the sunset. By the time that was over, Käpt’n Rummelsnuff had fired up the grill, and the grubfest began in earnest. There is no running water or electricity at the Cat Ranch, so we enjoyed champagne, caviar and all the accoutrements in the tiny, cluttered kitchen by the light of a kerosene lamp and those colored glowing balls my sister bought me for floating in hot springs — they add instant ambiance to any situation!
Then we all headed out back to the “backyard,” a sort of fenced-in courtyard that is half outdoor gym, half lounge space, where the apprentice butcher set about grilling up all the various and sundry meats in attendance. Oh my god, I’m not normally a big meat eater but I ate so much meat that night — steak and bratwurst and Italian sausage and chicken, and all kinds of crazy grilled awesomeness. The booze and weed were flowing freely, as was the conversation, and it was an amazing night all around. After awhile, the neighbor lady Jill came by with more champagne and peanut M&Ms, which perfectly complimented the port wine, cheese and grapes. UGH!!!!!
The next morning we were all pretty hung over, but fortunately there was plenty more meat on deck — nothing like glistening slabs of thick-cut artisanal bacon to cure a hangover, ya know??? Fabian and the butcher had to leave early, but the rest of us sat around all day in the shade listening to Nico’s Desertshore album, which was the perfect soundtrack for a Teutonic post-gluttony desert comedown. I finally had some time to start embroidering that caftan I bought in Bisbee back in January, so I pretty much just sat around all day working on that. It was very relaxing!!
Around sundown, Christian and my sister and I all went over for a sunset soak in the neighbor lady’s Jacuzzi, and then we headed back to the Cat Ranch, where der Käpt’n had prepared a light meal for everyone of various chopped salads and rice. YUM!!! We pigged out again, then Christian fired up their little ramshackeldy sauna, and we all took a nice, therapeutic shvitz. And remember, after sauna you have to hose off in the open-air shower, which is really just a water tank on stilts that you stand under, bathing in a stream of cold water under the desert stars. Legs first, then arms, then belly, then chest — you don’t want to shock your system, you know!! Let me tell you, I slept WONDERFULLY that night!!!
Now meanwhile, Rummelsnuff (the band) had managed to book a show the following Saturday night, at the local dusty dive bar, the Palms — and so the Käpt’n invited us to stay all week, and attend the show. I didn’t think I’d be able to make the show, as I had a photo shoot in Death Valley on Sunday…but my shoot wasn’t until 5pm, so I figured why the hell not?? If I left Wonder Valley early enough Sunday morning I could go home, take a shower, shave my various body hairs and wash my head hair, and still be in Death Valley in plenty of time for my shoot. So, why not????! YOLO, baby!
We didn’t want to wear out our welcome at the Cat Ranch, though, since it was still only Wednesday at that point…so rather than just sit around the ranch all week boozing and sewing, my sis and I took off for a couple days to explore the area.
The first day, we went to Joshua Tree National Park — a cool desert paradise full of Joshua trees (duh) and crazy rock formations that are super-popular with rock climbers from all over the world. I myself went rock climbing there once, last August, and I don’t get all the fuss — but many people are obsessed with climbing. It’s like a cult — they spend every waking moment and every dime on climbing, climbing gear, and the climbing lifestyle…which apparently includes lots of stuff like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Dave Matthews CDs and primo-grade chronic. Those climbers are faaaaar out!
Not being climbers, my sis and I just wanted to camp out and go for a few hikes. Alas, this was right in the middle of Spring Break, so all the campgrounds were jam-packed, and we were lucky to get a shitty campsite right next to the road, cheek-to-jowl with squalling families and right downwind of the toilets :-/ BOOOOO! Now that I have all this BLM boondocking camp experience, it’s the only way for me — this “civilized” camping shit is for the birds!! But we still enjoyed a nice campfire and a good dinner, and went on a couple of pretty good hikes. My personal opinion? If you’re not a climber, go to the Mojave National Preserve, instead. There you’ll find similar topography, tons of Joshua trees….and it’s FREE to get in! Plus, there’s tons of camping — much of that free, too. And it’s WAY LESS CROWDED!!!!!
The next morning, we packed up camp and headed back up north a ways to pay a seasonal visit to my beloved #1 all-time favorite place, Deep Creek Hot Springs. I had been there in winter, summer and fall, but never spring — and if the wildflowers around Remington Hot Springs were any indication, it was probably a riot of orgasmic beauty!!!! How could I miss seeing that?!?!?
Before heading up, though, we stopped for lunch at this touristy-looking joint called Pappy & Harriet’s, in a place called Pioneertown outside Joshua Tree. Apparently it was used to film old Western movies back in the day, but now it’s just a tourist trap with an amazing saloon/restaurant, with astonishingly good, healthy fare. I guess they also feature live music every night, but we were there too early to see any bands — hipsters come all the way from L.A. to see shows there; it’s that kind of place. For that reason, my endorsement is not 100% enthusiastic….but the food really was good, so if you’re in the area, check it out.
Anyway, after lunch we headed to Deep Creek, and packed all our gear down the loooooong trail to the hot springs — unlike Remington, this is more like a 2-mile hike to the springs, so you have to be pretty dedicated if you want to
camp out down there. I made sure to bring my colored balls, and they looked fantastic in the dark, tucked away into crevices in the rocks around the soaking pools. The only bummer was, again, it was Spring Break….so the crowd down there was almost exclusively young kids from area universities…and none of them were very interesting to talk to :-/ Normally when you go down there it’s all naked old conspiracy theorists and kooks…..but this time, it was all bros and bikini girls. No one was even naked!! You could tell, they all thought my sis and I were total hippie weirdos for being nekkid. But whatevs; we still had a nice night.
In the morning we packed up our gear and hiked up out of the canyon in the brutal sun. Here’s a video I made about the whole experience:
Before heading back to the Cat Ranch to get ready for the big Rummelsnuff show that night, my sis and I first stopped off in Yucca Valley to check out the legendary Yucca Valley Swap Meet. I love me some swap meets, and this one was said to be particularly amazing, being as the desert in those parts (Yucca, J Tree, Landers, 29 Palms, Wonder Valley) is chock-a-block with artsy, broke bohemian refugees from L.A. It’s basically Kook Central!
Alas, we got there too late and the swap meet had already mostly shut down…but we wandered around anyway, marveling at the amazing set-up. This swap meet is held on the grounds of an old, defunct drive-in movie theater, and the swap meet booths are permanent structures, like kooky wooden old-west-type shacks and huts with stained glass windows and kooky artwork everywhere. AMAZING!
Even more amazing, we were looking in the windows of this weird building made of painted spray-foam called the Crystal Cave, when out of nowhere this wizened old man in yellow Hunter S. Thompson sunglasses and a leather vest and cowboy hat appeared — he had built the Crystal Cave himself, and wanted us to see inside!! O…M….G…..I cann’t describe in words how amazing this Crystal Cave was inside. I tried to take photos, but you can’t even get the idea: basically, it’s like being inside someone’s eyeball who’s tripping on acid!!!!! Everything is made of brightly-painted spray foam, with colored lights and crystals and little figurines scattered about in nooks and crannies. You sit on a little cushioned bench, and he closes the door behind you so that you’re in complete solitude — the foam is also soundproof. It’s just you and your thoughts inside this crazy psychedelic diorama…..and it is FAR FUCKING OUT!!!!!!!
After enjoying the Cave for a while, we came out and chatted with the old man, and he was so wonderful! He said he just wanted to share his happiness with others….and by golly, he sure did. I left that place feeling 100% happy, awesome and amazing — in fact, I felt that way pretty much the whole week!!! It was great!!!!!
So then it was time for the Rummelsnuff
show. We headed back to the Cat Ranch and got dressed, then drove over to the Palms Restaurant. I’ve written about the Palms before, describing it as a sort of Mos-Eisley-cantina-type dusty little desert shitshow with all kinds of kooky characters and astonishingly good food, sitting all alone in the middle of nowhere on Amboy Road, halfway between nowhere and tumbleweed. This night, in honor of Rummelsnuff, the house specialty was bratwurst, so we fueled up on yet more meat, then sat back and watched the show. Curious desert dwellers from miles around had come out to see what this Rummelsnuff was all about, and it ended up being a great night, with a great turnout! The show was amazing, except for the part where Käpt’n asked me to sing backup on this Boney M song, and a great time was had by all. I’m here to tell you, seeing Rummelsnuff at the Palms is like seeing the Rat Pack at the Copa or Hank Williams at the Grand Ole Opry — it’s legendary!!!
After the show, the plan was for more partying into the night, then brunch the next morning at the Palms (they have great Bloody Marys and veggie omelets)…and then board up the Ranch so that Christian and Käpt’n could head back to Berlin (the Ranch sits unattended 11 months out of the year). I would have loved to be part of all this, but ALAS, I had to be in Death Valley the next day…so I went to bed early, then got up, broke camp, and sat on my tailgate enjoying one last cup of coffee with Christian before heading out. Käpt’n Rummelsnuff made me a guacamole sandwich for the road (more protein)….and then it was time to say goodbye. Well, not goodbye — Auf Wiedersehen. Til next year!!
So, I cruised back to Vegas, scraped all the crud and body hair off, did my hair and spackled on some makeup, and then got back on the road again, Death Valley-bound. I was meeting the same photographer I shot with last month, when I stayed at the Amargosa Opera House — the guy with whom I totally hit it off, this super-artsy, gaunt motherfucker who is sort of a cross between Tom Waits, David Lynch and R. Crumb. He’s awesome!!!
Anyway, this time we were camping out at one of the campgrounds in Death Valley — Mesquite Springs. After I set up my tent, we loaded up some music, wine and cheese and headed out into the desert to shoot, getting there right around sunset (this photographer shoots starry night sky stuff, so the later, the better). We passed the evening shooting and bullshitting, sitting around drinking this amazing wine he’d brought from his wine cellar, paired with some exceptional cheeses he’d also brought, listening to some far-out William Orbit electronica and just generally enjoying the fabulous desert night. I tell you, some people know how to live!!!
After shooting, we headed back to camp to get high and talk some more…but alas, it was one of those shitty, developed campgrounds chock full of families and angry people, and we hadn’t been in camp more than 2 minutes when some bossy old biddy came shuffling over to shush us, telling us we were making way too much noise in the middle of the night (it was about 11:30). Like I said, I’m all about desert boondocking – fuck this developed campsite shit! I’d rather set up camp in the middle of nowhere, piss on a bush and and brush my teeth with bottled water, any day!!! We ended up having to hang out inside the photographer’s car, just to keep our conversation from bothering all the sleeping biddies. But it was cool — we sat in the car and got baked, and had a pretty good time, considering. But the REALLY good times were yet to come!!!!!
The next morning, our plan was to head down to the fabulous little desert outpost of Tecopa, home of a few dusty old hot spring resorts from the 1940s, and also home to a fantastic all-natural muddy-bottomed hot spring in the middle of a vast, barren desert valley. It’s one of my all-time #1 favorite places in the entire world, and it’s only 80 minutes outside Vegas! Anyway, this photographer had read about it in my blog or on Yelp or somewhere, and wanted to spend a night hanging out there, shrooming and just being mellow. So of course I said YES!!!
It was a beautiful day — just driving through Death Valley, with all the wildflowers blooming, and some relaxing Santo & Johnny slide guitar on the stereo, bathing in the clean, warm desert air with the windows down….omg it was fantastic. I wish you all could have been there!!! We arrived in Tecopa in the early afternoon, and enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life on the patio at Pastel’s Bistro — hands-down my #1 all-time favorite restaurant, anywhere! Seriously, this place serves amazing healthy, gourmet food out in the middle of freaking nowhere – you have to try it!
Pastel’s doesn’t have a liquor license but they let you BYOB, so my photographer friend busted out another bottle of super-nice red wine from his cellar, and we sat there in the shade eating and drinking and just generally being happier than pigs in shit, enjoying La Dolce Vita 1,000 times better than Fellini ever did! About halfway though the meal, one of my kooky friends from Vegas showed up — I had invited him and my sister as well, to make it a party, but alas, my sister ended up not going, so it was just me and the two guys. But it turned out fantastic.
We all agreed to meet up at the mud spring and take shrooms around 5pm, so after lunch my Vegas friend got baked with the chef, and the photographer and I went back to our rented cabin to take a nap. Normally when I go to Tecopa I stay at Delight’s resort, which has really charmingly crusty old cabins — but this time, the photographer had booked a room at the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort, which has similarly crusty old cabins, and is almost equally charming. I’d have to give Delight’s the advantage, though, because some of the soaking pools there are open to the night sky…whereas at this resort, the tubs are all indoors and kinda creepy in an institutional way.
Anyway, the photographer and I got high and zonked out for an hour or so, then got up and packed some gear and cruised down to the mud spring. It’s not far from the resorts, and honestly I prefer to just walk — walking down a desert highway in your bathrobe while shrooming is an experience everyone should have. But we had firewood and blankets and too much crap to carry, so I drove us down there in my truck, and we met up with my Vegas friend at the appointed hour. We set up camp on the shores of the mud spring, then ate some mushrooms and lay back to watch the sunset.
Oh…..my…..GAWD!!! I have rarely had such an amazing experience. It was perfect. The weather was just right, and the sunset came on in a gentle riot of dusky desert magnificence just as the shrooms were really starting to kick in. To make things even better, my photographer friend had this incredible-sounding little boombox with him playing some kind of far-out spacey, twangy pedal steel liquid fabulousness that fit the mood so perfectly I felt like I was surely in a Werner Herzog movie. I know I say this a lot, but….this experience really was FAR OUT! It was one of my best nights, ever.
We spent the evening laying back on a sleeping bag, swimming in the fabulous desert stars. Every now and then we’d get up and soak in the springs, and when it got dark I busted out my colored floaty balls, and set them adrift in the pond for even more ambiance. After a while I built a little bonfire, and we had some more fantastic wine and cheese, and some really far-out conversation, too. You might say we were poisoning our brains and wasting our lives, but………I’m here to tell you, that experience was everything I want out of life. All my senses were alight — the warm desert night on my naked skin, the sharp taste of the cheese and wine, the smell of desert springtime, the sound of frogs and crickets mixed with that fucking amazing pedal steel…and the beautiful sky full of billions and billions of stars, all laid out before us like a smorgasbord of possibility. What more could you ask for?? I sincerely wish everyone reading this could have been there. There would be world peace, for sure.
Around 1am we packed up and headed back — my Vegas friend back to town, and the photographer and I back to our cozy beds in the cabin. In the morning, the only bummer was I had to be back in Vegas for this photo shoot I had scheduled at 12pm — I would have loved nothing more than to dilly-dally over brunch at Pastel’s, but even though I hadn’t heard back from the photographer with whom I was supposed to be shooting…I am a true professional, and I headed back into reality anyway I bid adieu to my shroommate, then headed back to town, stopping at a McDonald’s to put on makeup and make myself presentable. And then…wouldn’t you know it, the fuckin’ photographer flaked on me anyway. GRRRRRRRRR!!!!!
So, anyway….basically I had an amazing, sun-drenched, wonderful week filled with every Earthly delight imaginable. It was the perfect beginning to a perfect spring, with all the promise of a fabulous summer ahead. I was literally high on the whole experience, feeling sunkissed and happy and optimistic about everything in this life…the way I wish everyone could feel, at least once.
But the next morning, it was all blown to shit. I woke up to a text from my mom, telling me that that my sister’s ex-husband, Mike, had been shot and killed — he was a police officer in San Jose (CA), and he had been killed the night before, in the line of duty, while responding to a call regarding a drunk guy with a gun who was threatening suicide. On his way into the guy’s apartment complex, the guy shot and killed him (and then killed himself).
Holy shit, I wasn’t even this sad when my dad committed suicide a few years ago — this was Mike!! I knew him better than I did my dad — he and my sister were together for ten years, and over that time we spent many, many hours hanging out together. I basically grew up with this motherfucker — he helped teach me how to drive, and how to shoot a gun (he’s the one who talked me into getting my handgun…he was a real gun nut), and we traveled around all over the place together, laughing at stupid shit and just having a good time. I hadn’t seen him in about five years (he and my sis divorced around 2009), but it was still terrible fucking news. He was only 38!!
I did not expect to be this sad about Mike’s death, but fuck….it made me bawl and bawl my eyes out. I guess partly because we shared our youth, and this was like the final death knell in a way — but also partly because he is dead. Sure, he was a cop and I am a drug-addled naked hippie…..but guess what?! He was a cool as fuck person, and a good cop — not all cops are assholes!! My sister was with him for 10 years, for chrissakes — she had quite a bit of influence on him, and he was a pretty progressive guy. ARRRRRRRGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
Anyway, I am planning to go back to San Jose next week for the funeral, which promises to be a real shit show — every politician in California is jumping on the bandwagon, angling for a piece of the action…so much so that they are having his funeral at the freaking SAP Pavilion, which is an arena where the Sharks play. And even in an arena, we had to get our names on a guest list to get in. Wow!
I’m sure this memorial service will be a super pompous affair full of bullshit and rhetoric, with liberal use of the words “God,” “honor” and “hero…” which, as a snarky hipster intellectual elitist, I find ridiculous. But…..I was thinking about it, and if anyone ever really was a hero, I guess Mike was. I mean, he died going in to stop some crazy dude with a gun — protecting innocent civilians from whatever mayhem might have ensued. He basically took a bullet for the neighborhood If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is.
But, whatever. My family plans to have our own, unpretentious (and no doubt booze- and drug-fueled) memorial service afterward…and we will remember him the way we knew him — as a super nerd obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons, Jiu-Jitsu, calculus, guns and the History Channel; a straight arrow who nevertheless tolerated and embraced the kooky antics of my fucked-up, weird-ass family.
Even in the midst of this circus at the SAP arena, I’ll be thinking of another time I went to that arena with him — somehow, my sister and I once convinced him (waaaaay back in the day) to get up super early and wait in line for Neil Diamond tickets (!!!) at that same venue. We got there at like 7am, and sat around with a bunch of old super-weirdos, including a kids’ party clown, eventually scoring front-row seats to the show. Then we went home and ate a bunch of donuts and laughed ourselves silly before passing out for a nap. Those were the days!
But meanwhile….these are the days, too. Spring has sprung, and life doesn’t stop. Wildflowers, stars, shrooms, donuts….Neil freaking Diamond! Carpe Diem, Carpe Scrotum…..whatever you do, just enjoy it.