In the Garden
I’m out whacking blackberry bushes with the machete when Lulu and Guy come driving up with a jar of Red Zinger and a bottle of gin. Palmer is in his shop sawing away on something so Lulu goes and pounds on his window. He must have looked up because she starts a little war dance, waving the bottle of gin over her head. Lulu is a big goofy redhead in cat-eye glasses and you never know what she’ll do next. She acts all flirty toward Palmer but I don’t think it’s personal. I think that’s just how she is.
Guy comes over to me and asks how it’s going down in the garden. He gave up on his own garden, so now he always makes a point of sympathizing with me about mine. I complain to him that with all the rain—it seems like it’s been raining more than usual—the blackberry vines grow over the path in just one day. By the second day they’ve linked up so you can’t get through. You’ve got to be out there constantly whacking.
Of course we talk about the slugs because that’s the main thing that drives everybody crazy around here. They overrun your garden every night, and in the morning you find dozens of them, sprawled out on the lettuce leaves like they’ve been on a drunk.
Guy wants to know what’s my latest strategy against the slugs. When he still had his garden, he was a big slug fighter. He was always picking up local lore on how to get rid of them and he tried everything. Once he tried making a little mountain range of coarse salt all around the garden. The salt was supposed to suck the fluids out of the slugs when they tried to crawl through. The slugs were supposed to dry up and die. You would come out the next morning and there would be nothing left but a hundred little slug crusts. That was the idea. Instead, what Guy found were a dozen little pathways cut through the salt; the slugs had just plowed on in. And now his garden was sewn with salt.
We’d both tried the well-known method of putting little saucers of beer all around the garden. The slugs would try to drink the beer; then they’d fall in and drown. Supposedly. But that didn’t work either. Maybe you did get a few slugs floating around in the beer, but there would still be plenty in the garden eating lettuce.
“I think the beer just invites them,” Guy says. “They come from all over when they hear there’s free booze.”
“What about egg shells?” Guy asks me. Somebody has just told him that a border of crushed egg shells will keep slugs out.
I tell him I’ve got a border of crushed glass. I tell him the whole story of how Palmer brought home some old window glass from a house he was demolishing, and how I put three or four panes in a sack and pounded the glass into shards.
We walk down the path, and I show Guy how I ran a six-inch wide border of canvas around the whole garden. Then I got gloves and sprinkled on the glass so there’d be a thick ridge all around. I tell him I worked two whole days on that project.
“Looks good,” Guy says. “Does it work?”
“Nope. A lot of them are dead in the glass but you can see from the slime trails that the others just climbed over them and headed on into the garden.”
“You’ve got to hand it to them,” Guy says. “They have the courage of their convictions”
By now Lulu has gotten Palmer out of his shop and we all go sit on the porch. I get glasses and more ice and we all sit down to have a drink. After all the rain, we are glad to have a warm, sunny day. That’s probably what made Lulu and Guy start thinking about drinks. We do have to be a little careful about our drinking out here, especially in the winter, but on a day like this it’s probably OK.
Lulu and Guy live about a mile down the road on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. They live in an old church that they bought with the idea of fixing it up into a cool place to live. Guy has shown us where he wants to put a big window in the roof so there would be great light, even when the sky is, like it usually is, overcast.
They got a start on the renovation, but it turned out to be a bigger job than they’d thought. They discovered that the hillside under one corner of the church was eroding and they had to put in a new foundation on that side. After that, they ran out of money and haven’t been able to do anything on the church for quite a while. Lulu has a part time waitress job at the Gull’s Nest and Guy can get a little work as a draftsman for the town, but they still don’t have enough money to gut the church and fix it like they want.
At the same time, they don’t want to start putting up makeshift stuff that they’ll have to take down. For now, they’re just camping there in the empty church like a couple of refugees.
Well, it is hard to get much money out here on the island. To get any real money you’d have to get a job in Seattle. I was thinking of trying to get a job of some sort, but it’s hard from out here. You either have to take your car on the ferry which costs a lot and takes forever to load and unload. Or you have to go on foot and wait for a West Seattle bus which doesn’t come very often. And then, if you’re going into Seattle and working a job and then spending four hours a day commuting, you think: what’s the point of even being on the island?
I bring glasses and a bowl of ice out onto the porch and put it all on the table beside the gin and the jar of Red Zinger. I hold onto my own glass and pour my own gin, because Lulu always pours too heavy. Lulu likes everybody to get drunk. But I don’t necessarily want to get drunk just because Lulu shows up with gin.
Guy asks Palmer how it’s going at the marina where Palmer is doing some carpentry work and Palmer says it’s going OK. He’s repairing a dock and its work he likes because it’s out on the water. He likes watching the sea gulls. He thinks it’s cool how they drop clams onto the rocks to break the shells open; then they dive on the meat that’s inside. How many humans Palmer wonders—say they were stuck somewhere and starving—would figure out that method of opening clams.
This is one thing I love about Palmer. He is always noticing little things and making you think: Would you be as smart as a sea gull?
Palmer doesn’t ask Guy what’s going on with the church because we know he’s feeling kind of depressed about it. Lulu never seems to care about anything, but Guy seems to be feeling pretty stuck.
We are a little stuck ourselves at the moment, but it’s not so obvious. We have our little old house that we love. The floors slant and blackberry vines have pushed through where the walls meet, but we like it that way. We would never want to live in a bourgeois type of house. We would never want a house that a banker or a lawyer or some businessman would live in.
We have our big garden, of course, for food, and Palmer gets his carpentry jobs. Lately we’ve been thinking, too, about getting some goats and learning to make our own cheese. We could eat it and sell what was left. I guess it’s an OK way to make some money though I’m not too excited about the idea of milking goats. Still, lots of people are getting them. Goats are the latest thing, it seems.
We all drink our drinks and say they hit the spot. It’s sure great to see the sun for a change, we all say.
Then Lulu starts talking about different people we know. She asks us if we’ve heard about Jonathan and Posy. They are splitting up she has heard. In fact, she heard that Jonathan has a new woman and that he’s already moved her into the house that Jonathan and Posy only recently finished fixing up. We all went over there for a house warming not long ago and they’d done a really nice job on it. They turned this falling-down old place into a beautiful house with lots of tall windows and a nice cedar deck. And now this other woman has already moved in.
“Where’s Posy?” I ask. “Is she still on the Island or what?”
Lulu says she doesn’t know. She heard that Posy was talking about taking Jonathan to court over the house, even though they weren’t married and even though the land and the house technically belong to Jonathan.
Maybe she didn’t have the rights of a wife, Posy is supposed to have told somebody; but she ought to have some rights since she was out there every day working on that house as much as him if not more.
Most people would have to agree with that. Posy is a big tough girl from out on the Peninsula and you always saw her up on that house in a carpenter’s belt. I used to drive by and see her up there in the rain when Jonathan was nowhere around.
“Jonathan’s a jerk,” I say.
“I like Jonathan,” Lulu says. “Posy’s a dope. If he wants to get rid of her, let him get rid of her. It’s not charity. He was smart not to get married. I don’t know why I got married.”
Lulu always says things like this, so nobody takes it seriously. It is, though, a little odd that she and Guy are married since Lulu is always going on about what a hippie freak she used to be and how she’s never going to go bourgeois, no matter what other people do. Whereas Palmer and I have never really thought about getting married, even though I’m sure anybody seeing us would take us for Ma and Pa Kettle.
“Why didn’t he get rid of her before she built that whole house, or most of it,” I say. “If he wanted to get rid of her so bad.”
“I guess he wanted a house,” Lulu says. “Do you think?”
“If I were her,” I say, “I’d go burn it down.”
“Sure and go to jail,” Lulu tells me. “Don’t think you’re going to get away with burning something down. People think they’re being slick, but the cops will know exactly what you did. These arson experts can read what you did like a book.”
“Sounds like you’ve looked into it,” Guy says.
“Bet your sweet ass,” Lulu says.
This is the kind of talk she loves.
Palmer gets a laugh; he almost always gets a laugh out of Lulu even though he never talks like that himself and would hate it if I did. He’s a big, Viking-looking guy but he’s actually very sensitive. He was a violinist when I met him at the U of O. The first time I saw him he was playing in a concert, his eyes closed, his long wavy hair flowing down, his long, beautiful fingers living a life of their own. It was unusual in a big man and I fell for him right then.
Now he takes out his pouch of Drum and uses his beautiful fingers to roll a cigarette. He gives it to Lulu and then rolls one for himself. Guy and I don’t smoke.
Lulu lights up her cigarette and says, “Oh, let’s not talk about people, for god’s sake, like a bunch of old biddies. Let’s do something.”
We are all getting old, she says. We are sitting out here on this dumb island and getting old. Well, that’s not why she came here, just to sit and molder.
Guy asked her why she came then, and she says came out to have orgies, obviously, so that we all get a laugh.
We are, I guess, getting a little old. We’re all about thirty; maybe Guy is even a few years older. We are all products of the late ‘60s. Lulu and Guy did the whole Haight-Ashbury thing and I can just see Lulu there in granny glasses, her hair in a big red Afro.
Palmer and I never went that direction. Our plan had been to go to Canada to get out of the draft; we thought maybe we could get jobs as teachers. But once Palmer’s brother was killed in Vietnam, they gave Palmer a deferment. So then we didn’t have to go to Canada or try to become teachers and we just took off in our VW bus. We went everywhere, down to Central America, up to Alaska. We lived cheap and picked up jobs when we needed to. We were free and that was all that mattered. Anyhow that’s how it seemed then. That’s how it seemed to me.
Now we’ve landed here on this island in Puget Sound. Like a lot of other people we’re here with our gardens and our goats and our funky old houses. I’m not sure quite why, but this is where we’ve all ended up.
“Let’s have some fun for a change,” Lulu says.
“Let’s tell about our favorite movie.”
She tops off her drink with gin. Guy reaches out and gets the bottle from her and tops off his drink too. She gives him one of her stares, takes the bottle back and tops hers off a little more. Guy laughs and shakes his head; he doesn’t top his off again and Lulu wins that one.
Watching them is kind of like watching a gunfight at the OK Corral except that you always know who’s going to win. I wonder, sometimes, if that’s even why she’s with him, because he’ll always play but she’ll always win.
Palmer gets a laugh from Lulu, but he never wants to play these games that she thinks up and now he changes the subject to somebody we all know, a guy named Bruce. We all went to a party he had few nights ago even though nobody likes him very much. People think he’s kind of weird. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, though he tries hard enough, and he lives alone in a big old ramshackle house that he hasn’t done anything with. We only know him really because he throws these big parties with ribs and burgers and lots of booze and people go, but he has never really fit in here. I’m not sure why.
Anyway we were at his party, and Bruce at one point turned down the stereo and said he wanted to tell us something. People kept talking and laughing and nobody could hear so he stood up on a chair and said he wanted to tell us about something that had happened that was really cool. Finally everybody quieted down and Bruce said he’d written a screen play and guess what, it had gotten optioned. He said he was going to LA next week to meet with his agent. It was something he’d been working on a long time, he said, a story about his grandfather’s experiences in the Depression.
This was so in from left field that nobody knew what to do and everybody just stood there. Finally a couple of people clapped and then Bruce got down from his chair and turned the stereo back up.
“Fucking Bruce,” Palmer says now. “Fucking Bruce up on his high horse.”
I look at Palmer because he seldom curses. I wonder if he has chugged his gin too fast.
“Yeah,” Lulu says. “He’s full of shit. Why’s he standing on a chair. I’ll stand on the chair next time. We’ll all stand on chairs.”
“His agent,” Palmer says. “Right.”
“You don’t think he has an agent?” I ask.
“He probably does,” Guy says. “If his screen play really got optioned.”
“Yeah,” Palmer says. “If.”
“Well, there’s no reason he would say so if he didn’t,” I say. “Nobody cares.”
“That’s right,” Palmer says. “Nobody cares.”
“Palmer!” I say. I can’t think what’s going on with him.
“Come on,” Lulu says. “Let’s play movies.”
“Sure,” Guy says. “Let’s play movies.”
The bottle comes around; I notice that we’re forgetting to pass the Red Zinger along with it. I notice that, but I still pour more gin in my glass when it comes around and don’t bother with the Red Zinger. I’m getting to the point where I’m glad Lulu showed up with her bottle and her crazy talk. I’m tired of that damned garden for one thing.
Lulu says she’ll start. Whenever we play, she always has to go first; that’s understood.
She says the movie she picks is Swept Away.
There’s a movie theater on the island and we all go when a new movie is there. So we have all seem the same ones. We all saw Swept Away not too long ago.
“What’s in it for you?” Guy asks. This is the question someone is supposed to ask when we play movies.
Lulu says her favorite thing is how the woman and the guy who are marooned on the island just fuck their brains out and how he dominates her even though she’s this rich bitch who orders everybody around and he’s only a servant. Lulu says that must be the best sex in the world and she wishes somebody would capture her and dominate her. Not forever, just for a while, like in the movie. Then you could helicopter out of there like the woman in the movie did.
“At least we’re on an island,” Guy says. “You’ve got that part.”
Palmer is getting a red in the face. I don’t know how much of it’s the gin and how much is the way Lulu is talking. Lulu is always like this; still, you are never sure quite where things will go.
Guy says OK, it’s his turn.