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[Fiction] Novel Excerpt by Art Hanlon "Cascadia"

An Excerpt from CASCADIA – a novel by Art Hanlon

 

I still have, somewhere, the famous photo that appeared on the front page of the Berkeley Barb, the one that caught me standing atop a burned-out police car at the People's Park fiasco in 1969, power chording my field guitar, a twenty-dollar thrift store Stella, with its painfully high action and its floating bridge and rattling metal tailpiece. I played the buzzing tailpiece as if it were feedback—acoustic analog feedback. That was my moment caught on film, the public record. Time magazine even picked it up, although I wasn't identified in the cutline. I was high on my fifteen minutes, standing on that scorched black-and-white chassis, singing antiwar songs in a top hat and a faded-green Marine Corps battle jacket. Caterina, la Pasionaria, the daughter of Dust Bowl radicals, my red-diaper-baby girlfriend in an Apache headband, her brown braids flying, climbed up to stand right next to me to sing out the harmonies with her fist clenched and raised as I chorded the machine that kills fascists: ¡No pasarán! Very inspiring, not to mention suicidal. Showtime! the billboard sign said atop the arched façade of the Forum Restaurant. Catie and I would have made a great poster for the siege of Madrid, winning the battles but losing the proxy war. And sure enough, a few minutes later, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department entered the scene, oversized, red-faced Southern boys imported from Georgia who thought they were fighting the Vietcong, bursting out of Sproul Plaza, encased in blue jumpers with their tear gas, nightsticks, and Mossbergs loaded with double-aught buck.


Yeah. That was my private Suribachi, six years after my release from the Marines. Henckel had been long gone to the East Coast, disappointed because he wanted me to go with him. Except I had found Caterina, my mission, and my tribe, and so I made my stand, and some would say on the wrong side because the rout only took a half an hour that day, or even less. Time gets weird in situations like that. Most everyone fled straight down Telegraph toward Oakland in this huge running mass. My fucking tribe, all assholes and elbows, running on patchouli fumes, rage and fear, inhabiting a crazed borderline, the outer fringe of nonviolence, unarmed on purpose, the zone where martyrs and angels live. Our eyes were burning from tear gas, but Caterina and I rushed across Telegraph to get to Dwight, tripping over the metal newspaper boxes that had been thrown into the littered street, paper scraps and dust filling the air, hopping over students and street hippies rolling on the pavement while the Alameda County Sheriff's Department grimly swung those nightsticks. The Caffe Mediterraneum was trashed; Moe's Books had wisely closed down, but the clerks in Shakespeare and Company on the corner of Dwight stood in the doorway with handkerchiefs pressed to their faces, watching the scene unfold. It was crazy confusing, paper scraps scattered all over the avenue, tear gas canisters spewing burning toxic white clouds, the display blankets of the street vendors whipping down Telegraph, their beads and jewelry scattered like broken glass across the sidewalk, a small-scale Kristallnacht, a warning shot of sorts that echoed eventually all the way to Kent State, Jackson State University, and beyond.


I grabbed Catie's arm as she landed on her feet already running, my guitar at sling arms, and we cut up Dwight to Dynamite Annie's apartment on Regent Street. Once there, we felt giddy at first, now that we were safe in the company of a roomful of musicians and students, fellow travelers nervously passing joints around, all caught up in the momentous drama of the day. When the helicopters came close, a young woman in the kitchen began crying; then the flurry of hollow popping sounds down on Telegraph shut everyone up.


"What was that?" someone asked. I knew it was gunfire and told everyone to stay in the apartment without telling them why. Bad time for anyone to be running through the streets to get home. Some of us with wet kerchiefs covering mouth and nose took turns rinsing the tear gas out of eyes and hair at the kitchen sink. Strange, but I remember marking the moment as I watched Caterina wash her face, couldn't take my eyes off her. She was flushed with righteous fervor, tossing her braids back over her shoulders before scooping up water to her face. She ignored her reflection in the jagged glass fragment of a broken mirror propped against the exposed water pipes over the sink, so she didn't see what I saw: the battle light shining through her face, eyes glowing with excited fulfillment as she smiled to herself, the red Buddhist prayer strings threading a few glass beads through her brown braids. She was so eager for the next thing, whatever it would be, and I ached with love as I had a fleeting but intense moment completely absorbed in her complicated, seemingly out-of-my-range allure and the possibility of a more or less permanent us rising above even the strange post-battle euphoria we all felt. I had it all at that moment: righteous action for a righteous cause, honor, a girlfriend to share the moment. We actually thought we were winning, until later that evening when we got the news that the bastards had killed James Rector and blinded Alan Blanchard. Yeah. I remember their names. Don't you? We all crashed pretty thoroughly then, and the euphoria gave way to a wary seriousness when we realized what we were really up against. Later, Catie wept with bitter anger when she heard what Governor Reagan had to say: "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with."

 

It feels like light years since I last saw Catarina alive. A minor rollerblading accident while visiting our Buddhist friends in Boulder, Colorado. An aneurysm after swerving out of control and hitting her head on the stone wall lining the path in a Canyon Boulevard park. She got right up after she crashed. She was wearing a helmet, and although she hit the wall pretty hard, embarrassment seemed to be the chief consequence. That night, she complained of a headache, and the next day she collapsed. Six months after the funeral, an Oakland hills firestorm destroyed the house we had been renting in Berkeley. I got back from Brennan's late and stood in the street at 2:00 a.m., surrounded by fire trucks, police cars, hoses, and neighbors watching it all go. Margo from across the street, whose house had not been touched by the flames, came over to console me, her arm around my shoulder. "First your wife," she said. "And now this. Poor baby."


Poor, well-intentioned Margo. Confused because I was laughing while I wiped away tears. For the first time since the funeral, I was actually happy. Yes, happy. Exhilarated, even. What's that old haiku by Masahide? Barn's burned down; now I can see the moon? Oh yes, I hated myself for it, believe me. Change is good, the fatuous ones say. But some changes come too fast and too hard, even when you expect them. The subsequent emotional crash was inevitable, so I was grateful when Josh, an old friend from journalism school who had become the managing editor of the Pacific Slope News Service, mercy hired me. He told me to get out of town and work for a while on the Pacific Coaster, one of their alternate weekly newspapers near Seattle, up among the rhodies, the cedars, the Doug firs, the fearless chickaree squirrels. I hated giving up my plan to buy a house in Berkeley, but I had been freelancing too long, and the cost of housing had gotten way ahead of me. The money just wasn't there to keep me in Berkeley, so I moved the little I had left up to the dream they call Cascadia and rented a house on an island. After enough time, I suppose a dream deferred becomes a dream abandoned. Vector Zero.


And today? Well, I still make the rounds at a few of the bars downtown. I'm finally at the point in my life where I'm pretty much settled in as a part-time local musician and part-time guitar teacher with a not quite full-time day job as a quiet newspaper man, a recorder of small, inconsequential stories trying to draw sly amusement out of the police blotter for the alternative weeklies strung out in university towns across America. Still do the tai chi thing, still big on the walking meditation. My early martial years? Dead and buried, as far as I was concerned, irrelevant to the major part of my career as a human.


The bluish morning light was coming up, and as it did so, I remembered something deep in my pile of saved possessions, almost forgotten. I went into the garage and squeezed my way through a few questionable objet d'art mechanical devices—all that had survived the Oakland fire. There wasn't much: an antique samovar from a Russian émigré's estate sale, a rock tumbler, extra tables—oak, Formica, metal, glass—stacks of cardboard boxes packed with books still smelling of smoke, photo albums, three or four kerosene lanterns, an old brass bed. I crawled through the clutter of the past all the way to the blank, unpainted Sheetrock of the back wall, where I found hanging from a hook my dust-covered road-trip rucksack from my pre-Catie wandering days, a threadbare God's eye tucked into a crease in the top pocket lid. It was a military-type rucksack with an aluminum frame ancient enough to be held together by buckles instead of Velcro. Behind the backpack, I finally grasped what I had been looking for: the strap of a beaded leather, Northern Cheyenne possibles bag originally belonging to my US cavalryman great-grandfather, one of the so-called Custer's Avengers. The bag contained my Marine memorabilia. The strap was looped around a Mt. Fuji walking staff I had purchased for a hundred yen in Gotemba, Japan, as I prepared to climb Mt. Fuji. I don't know how I got to Gotemba from the hospital in Yokosuka. I was stoned on prescription drugs and Suntory.


The possibles bag slid down into my hands when I removed the staff from the brackets on the wall, still smelling of smoke from the house fire. I brought the walking staff, the God's eye, and the possibles bag into the house and arranged them on the dining room table.


The sun, full of promise, was almost up, its inquisitive light beginning to spill over the Cascades. The dark green leaves of the rhodies were beaded with dew. I heard the ghostly barking of a formation of geese cruising the migratory interstate just overhead, dipping close to the house, close to the earth. I put the diamond-shaped God's eye on the top flap of the possibles bag, and suddenly breathless, I had to sit, my heart rising in my throat so fast I almost couldn't choke it down. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.


Catie had made the God's eye for my birthday when we were living in a farmhand's shack on a dairy farm on the Eel River floodplain in Humboldt County. I held the God's eye by one of the two thin branches from a California madrone she'd used for the cruciate armature. She had used black yarn to weave the inner diamond and red and yellow yarn to weave the outside and interior borders.


At the time, Catie was taking classes at Humboldt State University, and we read and studied at night by lamplight to the sound of moths tapping on the lampshade, amid the smell of dust, hay, cattle, and grass on the wind, and listened to string quartets, amused at how the music harmonized with the chorus of peepers and crickets outside. I worked long days in the newsroom at the Eureka-Arcata Journal and would come home to find Catie reading on the porch in thick, late-afternoon sunlight amid the tinkling of the bells hanging from the necks of the milk cows grazing in the field across the road. She had a way of folding her legs up under her on the porch swing, graceful as a long-legged water bird, her Flavian curls careening in spiraling meanders, flanking her olive cheeks, framing her troubled eyes, the haunted image in a Pompeii mural. I would get my guitar and she her dulcimer or the autoharp, and we would play and sing, adjusting our pitch in harmony with the faint gravel-throated hum of tractors working the fields, a droning tractori continuo we called it, the Doppler shifts in pitch our chief challenge, the aural inspiration for the Dust Bowl suite we were composing.


Most of the time, Catie and I were happy, a state of being at odds with the condition of the world. We were at peace with each other, living on faith alone that the living-in-a-floodplain-shack period of our lives would give way to something more. A fool's paradise, as it turned out, but at least it was possible for a brief time to actually believe something along those lines. We weren't alone in that. I don't know about the others, but I know I'll never again see the world in such a hopeful way. It's hard to believe anymore that any human being ever will. See, even then, even when it seemed like we were winning, we still didn't know what we were up against.


Catie! Catie! Catie! I stood up in a sudden fit of red anger, ready to destroy everything in sight. I mean to tell you I was ready for major mayhem, on the edge of going downtown and getting blind drunk and doing violence to some luckless asshole in the wrong dive bar who said the wrong fucking thing at the wrong time, but…goddammit, there was nothing to be angry about, unless it was time's arrow, and what could be more irrational than that? It was so tempting to give in to that other deeper abyss behind the anger—the hot little chamber where murder lives. It would all be settled then. A bad end. Or maybe a good end. I don't know. Suicide by cop. I'd heard of it.


###

 

Art Hanlon was born in Brooklyn, New York. After serving in the Marine Corps, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, taking a bachelor’s degree in American history and English, and a master’s degree in journalism. He worked as a newspaper reporter, a country blues musician, a theater set carpenter, a technical writer, and a book editor before returning to the University of California Riverside Palm Desert for an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. He is currently an associate poetry editor for Narrative Magazine. His song, Spokane, won first prize in the 2005 Tumbleweed Music Festival in Richland, Washington. His essays and fiction have appeared in Surfing Illustrated, Art Access, Narrative Magazine, Coachella Review, Please See Me, and Kelp Journal. His essay The Brilliant Present was included in the Special Mention section of the 2019 Pushcart Prize Anthology. His novel Cascadia was selected as a semi-finalist in the final round of the James Jones First Novel Fellowship Competition.




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