Friday, March 19, 2021


May 1974

It is about four and a half hours from Winnemucca to Reno. We were mostly silent during the drive.  I took the wheel for a stretch, but Maurianne became exasperated when I couldn’t downshift smoothly. She was somewhere between nervous and annoyed--as if she was thinking, “How tough can it be to drive a stick?”   We were both tired and getting cranky.  Maurianne had just driven this 14-hour trip in the other direction a couple of days prior. I had spent the last three days in many cars and had had strange adventures. Not sure how much sleep I had gotten the night before in Phil’s backyard. And the frightening episode with the charged fence, which seemed like forever ago, had taken place only earlier that day.

Reno, Maurianne said, was like a poor man’s Las Vegas.  We exited the highway, rode around a while so I could see lights flashing.  Reno made Winnemucca and Elko look like towns created for a movie. Not the other way around.  As unusual as it was to see all the neon lights, the quick ride around Reno made our stops in Winnemucca and Elko seem like we had been visiting the sets there for a Hollywood show. As if a director had fabricated and plunked down houses, stores and even characters like the greasers, Barbara, Shel and his tattooed kid lover in the middle of nowhere.  

We found a cheap steak restaurant. Salad bar and what passed for tenderized meat.  Maurianne told me about her mother and father.  Betting machines jangling their one-armed bandit sounds as I listened and hacksawed my way through a tough piece of something.

“You hear people speak about why they stay together for the kids.  Ours was a situation where moving apart would have been right for the kids.  My parents did not speak.”

“You mean they did not speak much.”

“No, they didn’t speak.  Not a word.  They had separate bedrooms which is no big deal, but there were no words uttered in that house between them for as long as I can remember. “My mother would say, ‘tell him, that dinner won’t be ready until 8 tonight.' ”

“She still cooked him dinner?”

“Every night, she would put it out for him.  We didn’t eat as a family. He came back from work after we were done. She put out the food, left the room. Came back in to clean up.”

“They still with us?”

“Yeah, but after we grew up he moved out of the house.  Got an apartment. Once saw him in town with his girlfriend.  That was interesting.  She looked like a tart.”

“A tart?”

“Yeah, I know it is an old-fashioned word. Sounds funny. But that’s what I thought when I saw the two of them. ‘What a tart’ I’d said to myself.” Maurianne snorted something approaching a laugh.  “We found out that her father was in the mob.  That made my mother nervous, but nothing came of it. Not even sure it was true, but dad got a new car at one point.  That might not mean anything.  My brother said he was going to kill him one day.”

“Kill who, your father?”

“Who am I talking about?”

“You mentioned the mob father of the girlfriend.”

She waved me away. “No, my father. My brother has a lot of hate in him.  I think that’s why I am okay with my split up and the kids leaving.  I don’t want them to see this negative energy between me and my old man. My father was a real bigot. Hated the Chinese and Japanese, had a special hate for blacks let me tell you.  Hated pretty much everybody.”

After dinner we began the stretch run to San Francisco. When we crossed into California I threw my hands up and said I made it.  I started singing “California here I come” Maurianne smiled and  said, “what the hell” and joined in. Then for about twenty miles we sang all the California songs we could think of.  

It was close to 2 when we arrived at her home in Pacifica.  She had offered me a spot on her couch and it was a genuine offer.  We slogged into the house more than halfway beat. She gave me a tour of the place. It was a small ranch. Decent sized living room with a space for a dining room table, two bedrooms off the living room, one was the kids’ room and it looked it both because of wallpaper and hangings, and also because there were kids’ toys and junk on the floor.  Her bedroom was across from the kids', separated by a hallway and a bathroom.  She showed me her bedroom. Above the bed was a huge blown up photograph of her with her husband. The two kids were curled up around their legs.  I saw that her old man was black, and the kids light skinned.

I pointed to the picture.  “Your dad get along with your husband?”

“Yeah, right.” She said.

No comments:

Post a Comment