Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Hamlet Motel (Newman, California)

We're on the road again, southbound, and I am trapped in a bad road movie.

Where to begin…
Big Dog loaned some money to an old friend, who we shall call Peahead, a while ago. Several years ago. It was at the beginning of his downward spiral which saw him go from a large home in Livermore, to a smaller, but still comfortable home in Newman, to his girlfriend's home in Arizona, to Humboldt where he brought his two kids 2 summers ago, wrecked his car (BD and I had to drive his two kids back to LA so they could get a plane back to their mother's home.) We hadn't been much in touch but found him last week, living out of his car, in some crackhead's yard.

It was heartbreaking to see him like that, looking much older than his 60 years. And the worst of it was that no one could help him but Peahead himself.

"If he had no income and was really destitute, I'd feel a whole lot sorrier for him, but I can't understand how he can get thousands each month and still have no money!" Peahead's plight was a giant mystery to me. As well as why he can't just set aside a hundred or so each month to pay back BD.

After 3 years or so, Big Dog is just tired of it and wants to end it somehow. So, in one last desperate move, he decided to drag Peahead to Newman, to get the Triumph Spitfire that Big Dog had as collateral.

The bad road movie actually started last night when Big Dog brought Peahead to our friend's house where we were staying so we could take him with us to get the Triumph.

No, actually, the bad road movie began when we found Peahead near Blue Lake in Humboldt. He limped up to us as we pulled up to his friend's (the crackhead's) place.

"What happened to your leg? It's not the thing you had before, is it?"
The last time I saw Peahead, he had a gruesome sore on his leg. He had mashed his shin with a hammer or something and it was horribly infected.
"No. I fell down a cliff."
"How did that happen?"
"I was walking down to town in the dark for cigarettes and I fell off a cliff."
"See, every one of your problems is self-inflicted," muttered Big Dog. Peahead just laughed.
"Hey, Big Dog, can you give me 20 bucks?"
"Why should I give you 20 bucks? You already owe me 3500!"
"I need to buy heart medicine."
"Yeah, when you stop smoking and drinking, I'll give you money for medicine."
"I'm going into rehab."
"Why aren't you there now?"
"My car won't start."
"You can take the bus."
"Well, there's a waiting list for the rehab center."
"And, how far down the list are you? Oh, wait, let me guess, you haven't gone there to register yet."
"But I will! So can I have the $20?"

I think the months of homelessness has really gotten to Peahead. Homelessness is not for the weak. If you are strong, emotionally or spiritually, not having a home is okay, but for someone who is used to spending all his money on stupid luxuries, I guess it does something to your head. When he showed up on Monday evening, his right lens on his glasses was missing. Instead of an empty space where the lens should be, he had taped in a picture cut out from a magazine. I think it was a surf scene. Nice.

This morning, in the car out of Humboldt, he was asking us for money so he could buy Sudafeds.

My seat was pulled way forward to give him leg room in the back seat of our truck and I was getting hot and claustrophobic. I just rolled my eyes at Big Dog.

It was a beautiful, sunny Indian Summer day and the scenery outside our window was spectacular. Green hills, autumn grasses waving at the edge of the bay, cows munching lazily, egrets eyeing something in the water philosophically…

"I think you should give me $10 or $20 so I won't have to bug you for stuff. Like a coke or cigarettes…"
"There's a jug of water there in the back," I sigh.

The farmlands turn into forests as we go further south. I love the dark brown grooves on the trunks of the redwoods, I love the sunlight coming through in splotches. I love the silence, but this time, Big Bog and Peahead argue about every 10 miles.

"I don't understand it! Bad Dog and I were talking about it last night! With $2500 a month, you could even live in Tokyo, the world's most expensive city! You won't be going out much, and you'd live in a tiny apartment and maybe get an old bike to get around, but you could still do it. I can't understand how you could have this income and still be homeless and penniless!!!"
"It's because I'm too nice!" Peahead protests. "I got rolled by a bunch of bums when I sold them my trailer."
"Yeah. I sold them the trailer and then they invited me for a drink. Next thing you know, I have no trailer, no money…"
"So that was one month. What about the other 23?"

There's roadwork being done on 101. They are re-surfacing the roads and where they are working, there's a 45 mph speed limit. It slows us down and this makes BD irritable.

"Loan me $20, so I won't have to bother you for soda or beer or anything during the trip," Peahead pleads.
"Sorry. Not loaning you any more money."
"Jesus! You have to! I swear I will pay you back!"
"Not going to do it, Peahead."
"Let's wait and see how this Triumph thing goes, Peahead," I say.

The suburban slog begins just north of Santa Rosa. Instead of taking the Golden Gate Bridge, we turn east, going around the north end of the Bay and then south. It's a wildlife refuge here and it's great bird watching, but we have no time to dally -- we must get to Newman before the Storage People's office closes.

The bigger suburban slog comes at the Altamont Pass on the other side of the Bay. Every so often, Big Dog and Peahead get into another heated discussion about the $20 that P needs and BD won't give him. Will it never end? It's like traveling with a demented uncle or an unruly child.

"Big Dog, you shit. You gotta stop soon or I'm going to crap in my pants."

Oh, great. But we were near our destination. Newman, in the San Joaquin Valley. Newman, where Peahead's storage unit was. Where we were going to get it all straight, he would pay us back with the Triumph and we'd be at Tabula Rasa again for a fresh new start.

Big Dog talked the Storage People into at least liberating the Triumph. Turns out they had contacted Peahead about removing the car from the storage site anyway.

"Yeah, someone had a car in his unit and it caught on fire. We didn't know Peahead had a car in there but when he didn't pay for a few months, we opened the unit and saw he had a car in there. It HAS to be removed!"

They had already double locked his unit so they wouldn't be burned the missed payments. Both Big Dog and I were hoping that there would be something (other than the convertible) of any value that we could take in exchange for all of our extra expenses, but once the doors came up, I knew that wasn't happening.

"Oh, god."
The storage unit was stuffed with JUNK. Broken drawers, boxes and boxes of old books and school papers, boxes filled with broken stuff… Christmas decorations, swim fins, boxes of mystery memorabilia, more broken drawers were piled on top of the Triumph. We managed to pull them all out, but Peahead had lost the keys to his car so the car wasn't starting.

"Oh, and there's no battery either," he says a moment later, after opening the hood.

We had already been at the U-Haul place across the street. They didn't recommend the tow dolly we had on hold because the Triumph wouldn't have enough clearance. And the tow trailer seemed too heavy for our wimp truck. Well, no matter what the towing situation, we weren't about to continue our trip. We'd stay over night and then figure out a plan for the next day.

We pushed the Triumph back into the storage unit, and as much of the other junk as we could and stood around our truck.

"Listen. You gotta loan me the $20. I need a beer and cigarettes." Peahead pleads again.
It was once too many. Big Dog starts going off on a tirade about all he's done for Peahead and how Peahead is still asking for more.
"I'm going through withdrawal, man!" and to make it more emphatic, he waves his shaky hand in front of Big Dog's face.
Big Dog harangues him some more.
"Screw you! I'm getting out!" Peahead yells and makes a motion to get out.
"Look, Bad Dog and I both would like a beer, too. But we're not going to drop everything now so you can get drunk…"
"All I'm asking for is a LOAN of $20! You've got to trust me!"
"Sorry. Too late for that. You piss away $2500 every month. How can we trust that you'll change your ways…"
"The bums…"
"Yeah, yeah. And the month before that? And the month before that? You're hopeless, Peahead…"
"Stop it! Will you stop belittling me all the time?"
And then Peahead starts sobbing. Jesus.

The sun was setting and casting a lovely pink veil on the western horizon. And up the road, there was a motel. Aptly named The Hamlet Motel. To be, or not to be. That's where Big Dog gave Peahead $10.

"Spend it whatever way you want. Drink it all, smoke it all, get some food. We don't care. But I don't want to hear from you til morning."


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