A Nigerian Proverb says "Hold a true friend with both your hands."
IN 1976, I left my birthplace of the midwest and ran away to California. I hitched a ride with a Marine I met at a pool table who was headed back to Twenty Nine Palms. I had no intention of staying in southern California, but planned to head north to a little resort town. The town was called Clearlake Highlands, and I knew some people there. This town (which has since shortened its name to simply Clearlake.) is about 2 hours northeast of San Francisco, and Lake county is a delightful compilation of scattered small towns around the edges of Clear Lake, the largest natural lake completely within the borders of the state of California. This lake is nestled in a bowl made of mountains that surround the area, one of those being an inactive volcano called Mt. Konocti. There is an Indian tribe that makes their home there and all kinds of unsavory creatures that get paroled there from Los Angeles, because the courts think maybe they'll be more likely to stay out of trouble there. As if. There are lots of retirees living there, because (for California) the cost of living is low. There is little or no industry except the hospitality business. That means bars and restaurants and hotels.I knew I could find work there.
The first day I was there, I was walking down main street and passed a man on a ladder. He looked like Jesus. He was pretty rag-tag, I thought and was grinning like a hyena. Turns out he was painting a sign over a shop, and when he leaned down, I could smell that sweaty turpentine smell that I would come to know so well. He spoke shyly, and said hello--you're somebody that I don't know yet! I introduced myself, said I just got into town from Illinois, and he burst into a rendition of "Lookin' out my back door". We laughed and he wiped his hand on his bib overalls and reached out to shake my hand. Told me his name was Rudy and he was a sign painter and musician. We became fast friends immediately, lovers for a while, and back to fast friends again. He was one of those intellectual types that is almost too smart for his own good, but was a complete misfit. He lived in a storefront and was a vegetarian and had traveled with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as a camp cook because he wanted to learn to meditate at the feet of the master. (Remember TM ??) He played almost every musical instrument known to man. You could put him in a room with an instrument for half an hour and he would come out playing it. I was awed by him. He cooked for me, concoctions of strange food I had never eaten or heard of before. I became a vegetarian, and we would do grape juice fasts one day a week and sit in the stillness and listen to Joni Mitchell. He played in a band and he painted weird abstract pictures that I tried to understand but rarely did. It was his idea, I think, for a bunch of us to put on a parade one summer. We made grand costumes and masks and played flutes and had a ball. He designed a huge Dragon for all the children to be under, walking down the parade route.
His parents were both intellectuals, university professors. He had a sister who was pretty much the same. None of them could understand him and the way he chose to live. Once I went with him to visit his folks for a weekend and his mother stifled a small cry as she came into the kitchen to find me reading the paper. "Oh! Sweetheart! One of Rudy's friends that actually reads the paper!!!" I remember she gave me 2 garbage bags full of cuttings from her massive garden of succulents. She and her husband tried to convince themselves that I was his girlfriend, the best thing that ever happened to him.
We have remained friends through these long..what?--35 years now. We don't talk often or long, but we both still know how to find the other one when the need arises. We have long since taken different paths and forged new alliances, but every time I listen to Joni Mitchell's Blue album, I have sweet memories of an old friend. One who helped me in and out of more scrapes than I can count. One who was there when I needed him most. One who, to this very day, makes me smile at the thought of him. His long hair is gone now, but he still has the same twinkle in his eye that he did when he was in his twenties.