The chasm yawns wide before the Traveller. It descends into a gloomy darkness. There are many steps that lead down into the entry to the Underworld and his heart is filled with dread at the prospect of what he might find there. But descend he must, for he is Orpheus: doomed to lose all that he holds dear and all that he doth cherish if he fails to make the dark journey down the infinite steps. With one last look behind him at the sun-dappled plaza, he takes the first step, then another. His journey has begun.
My son comes around the back of the house where I am working on the deck, sorting and re-stacking lumber in an effort to try and get a sense of order and a clear path to completion.
“Father! I brought some food!” The sun is out now, and the mists have been dispersed by the warming glow of a California day in full swing. “It's a vegan burrito!” I am certainly hungry enough. And strangely weary. Since this trip began I have never quite felt as though I were myself.
“Thanks, son. I got all those deck boards replaced up top.” He goes up to take a look.
“Good job, Dad! I knew you could do it!" Once again I get a feeling that this is somehow scripted. While I eat, he starts carrying long boards up the stairs. It looks like we are going to do the handrails next. I finish my lunch and climb back up to help.
I hold one end of a long two-by-four as Beau pulls it into place at the top of the worn old post. He is working fast; perhaps a little too fast. Already we have had to pull out a couple boards and start over. These nail guns make for rapid work. They also make it easy to make mistakes rapidly, too. Once slow is faster than twice fast. But the day is exceptionally fine and the Canyon is beautiful here today. As a carpenter helper, I don't have much to do but hold the other end of the board and gaze around and enjoy the day and the scenery. We aren't talking, much, except to communicate anything necessary to get these boards cut and nailed in place. And we do it for a few hours. We have spent many, many hours doing this, my son and I; but this is the first time that he is the Carpenter and I am the Helper. I wonder at the role reversal. But it is, after all, his job. He told the other guys to take the day off and then left me alone up here. I don't mind, really, but I don't get it.
At the bottom of the stairs there is a large cavern lighted by an eerie glow with no visible source. Orpheus sees a withered crone, dressed in rags and surrounded by many bags and bundles of shifting, amorphous shapes that he cannot quite make out. Looking at him, she cackles and stretches forth a withered arm. He shudders, clutches his pouch of charms closer to his side and hurries on his way. There is a clanking and a distant roaring and he sees a tunnel stretching into still greater darkness. There is another long flight of stairs going yet deeper into the Underworld and Orpheus hesitates, then takes a step down. There can be no turning back. The roaring grows louder, then ceases. Looking back, he sees that the old crone has disappeared.
Another long day is drawing to a close. Again, we are in the rented car creeping down Ventura Boulevard. The work is finished for the day and we plan to return tomorrow and work some more. My return flight is scheduled tomorrow for ten p.m. and it looks to be the longest in a series of long days. We sit in traffic and I watch a guy flash by on his bicycle in the gathering gloom. He has his headlight on and one of those go-pro cameras on his helmet. He is gone before I know it and I wish I was him.
My reservations at the Hilton had expired this morning and while I waited for Beau to pick me up at seven a.m. for the day's work I had been in the computer center, trying to find new housing. I had seen a likely-looking Motel 6 the evening before. There was a likely-looking pizza joint next door and a very likely-looking liquor store next to the pizza joint. And to tell the truth, I was also trying to reschedule my return flight to earlier in the day. No luck. I have run the roads for a lot of years and I always know where I will sleep after a day's hard work. But not today.
"Beau, did you guys get anything figured out about the motel? That Motel 6 I told you about would be fine with me.”
“Oh, yeah...let me call her and see.” We could just drive there, I think, and I'll check in myself with my own credit card. I don't really enjoy flying on the wings of others. Beau takes an unexpected turn off Ventura onto White Oak. I wonder where we are going. This is my old neighborhood where I lived out my LA existence in the Valley. This is where I met his mother.
“Yeah, honey, did you get a room for my dad yet? What? I don't believe it. Fuck! I'll call you back. No, don't get mouthy with ME, we talked about this!” He slams the phone into the the console of the expensive rental car. With Beau, the violence is always there, bubbling beneath the surface. I'm tired. Plus, I have done my hour upon the stage, and, wearied by life, these days...well, these days my time is spent in gentle pursuits involving quiet companions who are close to my heart; I concern myself with my dogs and the trailer park stray cats that count on me for scraps, and of course, long contemplative bicycle rides and beer.
“Look, son, I have enough money for a room. Just take me over to that Motel 6...”
“No, No Dad it's all good. She's in the beauty shop and all tied up with this Christmas Party at her parent's house and not taking care of business. We'll get you a room.” I don't like it, but before I came out here I had made a promise to myself to keep it pleasant and to just be a Dad.
“Isn't this your old neighborhood, Father?” He knows damn well that it is.
"Yeah, Beau, we lived over on Newcastle Street by Victory.” The sun is going down.
“Hey! I know where that is! Wanna go see it?” Not really. I have already seen it many times, lately, when drunk and singing the blues and wondering what the hell went wrong. I can see it now, in my mind's eye, the way it was thirty years ago when I was young and strong and full of piss and vinegar like he is now. And I have seen it recently, using the miracle of the internet and the mad geniuses at Google Earth.
“Sure, why not?” I say, resigned to the inevitability and the mysterious necessity of all of this..re-enactment. He whips the car through a series of turns that are burned into my soul from a past long ago. I loved his mother like I never loved again. I am suddenly more drained than I ever thought possible. We have been in this damned automobile for what seems like eons and a thought occurs to me.
“When was the last time you put gas in this thing, Beau?”
And then, there it is: not on a computer screen, not in my fading memory, but there, right here in front of my own two eyes. Here it is, the scene of so much of my youth and probably the place where the promise of a joyous life first faltered. I am ripped back in time as I remember me and my '68 Plymouth convertible pulling away, on this very street; I am ripped back to the image in my rear view mirror of the young, the beautiful young girl waving goodbye, barefoot and wearing a long white skirt, her shining blonde hair bound with a silk scarf from someplace far, far away. I am ripped back in time and maybe my heart will burst with the realization that it all went wrong, this cannot possibly be how my life turns out and...
“Fuck! Dad, we're on fumes! We gotta get gas RIGHT NOW!”
I don't say anything. I can't. I turn my head for one last look. I know that I will never see it again. I will never see her again. I had come back, eventually, and spirited her away. I had come back and reclaimed my lost woman-child and spirited her away to my home in the Florida sunshine. The sum of it all sits next to me, driving fast for more fuel, slamming around corners in a car he can't pay for and young and headstrong and apparently filling in missing pages from the book of his life, coloring in mostly inside the lines with the crayon of a worn-out father and a yearning for the life he was denied, a life of Mom and Dad and Home.
Orpheus has reached the deepest level of the pit. He finds that he is in yet another vast cavern. There is no one to be seen. Across the way, he sees some faint glow of light and he is drawn towards it. His heart is heavy and he is haunted with doubt and his footsteps feel as though they are mired in some ancient morass of guilt and anxiety. He makes it to the glowing sign and sees that it is some manner of indecipherable map of the Underworld. He is exhausted and slumps against the wall of the cavern. It is cool and solid and as good a place as any to rest. He can once again hear the roaring but it is far away and he is beyond caring.
Whispering Pines Trailer Park on location: Escape From LA!