M: My idea is to give little reports. It’s now 8:19 p.m. We’re at –
W: – Dwight and Sacramento.
M: Wendy has just told me about all these terrible things involving a fire in her apartment and… what else?
W: Battery fumes.
M: Oh yeah, disgusting battery fumes.
W: White gas is going to explode in the dumpster in the garage. The entire building is going to be destroyed. We’re going to be at Yosemite when it happens.
M: It’s 8:41 and Wendy has reported, as I already knew, that the left arm of the crash test dummy dangling from her rear view mirror won’t go back into its socket.
W: It’s permanently severed.
M: She mentioned that she has a purple crash test dummy at home and that she’s thinking of… Are you thinking of just taking the arm or the whole crash test dummy?
W: No, I thought of switching them, but then I decided that that would be unfair to this one. Just because you’re missing an arm doesn’t mean the rest of you should be rejected.
M: Have you thought of transferring the purple arm onto this one?
W: Well, then you’d have a purple arm and a white body.
M: That would be interesting, don’t you think?
W: But the purple arm might not go in that socket.
M: What you could do is remove the right arm from the purple one and then they could hang together side-by-side without any superfluous arms between them. It would be romantic.
W: Not for the one who just lost an arm.
3. The Endless Night
M: It’s 10:48. We’re about sixty miles from Yosemite and we’re winding up these incredible rock-like mountains. The moonlight is extremely bright, as bright as the lights on movie sets. From where we are, it looks like a car commercial behind us. You can look down there and see the winding road we came up. At first we weren’t sure if the mountains were snow-covered or grass-covered or what they were, but it turns out that they’re rock-like mountains and that they have these sort of bushes growing in patches, so it resembles some kind of hair disease.
W: There are no other cars. It’s sort of eerie. I’m having this feeling of being up really late doing homework in New York when everyone else had gone to bed, not only in my house but everyone in the huge apartment building across the street. All the lights would have gradually gone out and there would be just a few on still, and me and Laura would be doing homework over the phone.
M: Over the phone?
W: Yeah. I remember going through half a loaf of bread once, doing homework. There was this incredible feeling of being the only person awake, and I’m sort of having that feeling now because we have the whole road to ourselves. I feel like we have all this time. The endless night.
W: We each had our set-up.
M: What do you mean?
W: We each had our own camp, and my doll had her camp and Laura’s doll had her camp.
M: Were there tents or was it all imaginary?
W: No, it was all imaginary. But they were in the woods and there were bears and things. And I had this rubber knife that belonged to some other doll set (naturally, Barbie dolls don’t come with knives), which fit perfectly in her boot. So my doll used to carry a rubber knife in her boot wherever she went. To protect herself. And since they were living in the wilderness, they didn’t have any watches or any way to tell time. We had these ways of distorting the dolls for different reasons.
W: Well, they were already distorted, as you know, in their dimensions. So we had to bend their heads back, which we could do pretty easily, and we would say, “I wonder what time it is.” That was how they told the time, by looking at the sun. The other thing we used to do was squish their cheeks together and say, “I wish I could see on both sides of my head.”
M: Was the idea that they would do that when they wanted to see on both sides of their head?
M: Have you and Laura talked about this since?
W: Oh yeah. This was the same period as the Batman and Robin adventure.
M: What was the Batman and Robin adventure?
W: We would pretend that we were Batman and Robin and that we had gotten into a horrible car accident and then one of us would say, “Oh, are you alright?” and we would burst into hysterics.
M: Last night we got into our tent and “married” our sleeping bags, only our sleeping bags weren’t quite the same length, which was awkward. Also the ground was slanted towards my side of the tent, so gravity tended to pull me towards the wall of tent, and her towards me. Plus we set up the sleeping pads in the middle of the tent, which is to say that I ended up rolling off my pad. But the biggest problem was that the short side of the combined sleeping bag was at my back and it was quite cold. After Wendy tried to move the pads and the sleeping bag while still inside the bag – an absurd and silly operation – we finally, with some annoyance, got out of the bag and switched things around so that the warmer, longer side of the sleeping bag was at my back, the direction of gravity. And then, some time during the night, we switched sides, with Wendy taking the downhill side.
W: Which turned out to be a disadvantage because you get pressed up against the edge of tent, which is really cold, and then you get terrible cramps in your legs.
M: Hey, there’s a waterfall up there.
W: There is a waterfall.
M: Yeah, it was problematic: my arm started to hurt when I was on the bad side. But we did, after a while, get a little better at it. We moved towards the middle of the tent and somehow stayed there.
W: Look, people are taking pictures of the waterfall.
M: Yeah, it’s a waterfall.
W: “Watch for rocks.”
M: So we sort of fooled around a lot. It was nice. I won’t go into details.
W: The flowers are out.
M: Five minutes back, we passed over a little bridge that crossed to the other side of the river. There was a guy there who had set up a tripod by the roadside, so Wendy and I both looked around maniacally to see what he could have been taking a picture of. But there didn’t seem to be anything spectacular there to photograph.
W: These trees are in bloom. They’re pretty, white, open flowers. Big. What are they called?
M: I don’t know.
Now we’re coming up to the waterfall.
W: It’s Bridal Veil.
M: This rock is absurd.
W: There’s another one up there.
M: I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s just weird.
W: What are those people taking pictures of? They’re looking back there, in the wrong direction.
M: How high would you say that rock is?
W: How high? The rock is –
M: – hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet.
W: It’s more than that.
M: Okay, two thousand feet of sheer rock.
Now we’ve got different trees, and they’re pretty. Yellow trees. Yellow leaves.
W: Look at that.
M. We decided to get out and take a look at Bridal Veil closer up, because we realized that the road coming back is on the other side of the river, so we wouldn’t be this close again.
We just saw this lovely family: outdoorsy-looking parents, young, in their thirties, and two kids, girls. They were playing this game where they all stood in a line together and the older girl said –
W: – “Okay, everybody stand still. Okay, one, two, three, go!”
M: And then they strode together.
W: The little one couldn’t quite keep up.
M: It seemed like they were happy together and that there was no disfunctionality of any kind in that moment.
W: No, none visible.
M: We’re now at Bridal Veil Falls, which Wendy just said looks better from a distance. Then her sentence sort of trailed off, but I think she was going to say that it has a certain majesty from a distance, but that here, up close, it’s this loud thing with too many people around it.
M: We’re walking on rocks in the stream. That sound you hear is the water rushing over rocks.
Wendy mentioned that the trees at the foot of the rock mountains are pretty and that perhaps they’re aspens. I pointed out that we’re not as interested in them because we don’t know what they’re called.
W: Right. We’re not interested in the rocks either.
M: Just the names.
M: It’s 12:07 and we’re just getting out of the car again. We’ve come to a little meadow. A car has stopped in front of us, a Toyota, and a blond couple has gotten out. I remarked that they have the same ass. The woman put her arms around the man from behind. I said that they’re happy together.
W: Maybe they’re brother and sister.
M: I don’t think they’re brother and sister.
W: How can they have such similar hair?
M: And asses.
They’re holding hands right now.
If they’re brother and sister, it’s pretty intense.
M: It’s 2:30. It’s snowing now and we’ve decided to leave Yosemite; to leave the mountains, in fact. Wendy suggested Mono Lake but unfortunately it’s a five-hour drive in the wrong direction. So rather than do all that driving we’re going to head back down out of the mountains. We’re hoping for better weather.
So when we decided this, we went back to the campground, ran to where we had left our tent, threw the tarp off it and just carried the whole tent, with the sleeping bags and such still inside, back to the car. While we were in the tent I suggested making love, and although we did kiss, it didn’t happen because it seemed too cold, according to Wendy, for all-out sex. I argued that one, we didn’t need to be fully naked (technically only one part of you needs to be naked during intercourse, and even that part, for the male, can and often should be covered), and two, we would generate our own heat. Alas Wendy spoke, rather unromantically I thought, of freezing her tits off, so the idea was tabled.
M: It’s 4:15. We went to a cafe called Cafe where we got bowls of split pea soup and talked. It’s chilly and rainy. We talked mostly about the situation involving Wendy’s friend, Annabel, who is supposedly moving out of her boyfriend’s apartment this Saturday at a time when her boyfriend is, as I see it, likely to be there. In my blunt fashion I said that this was sure to be a disaster, although perhaps exactly the sort of disaster Annabel secretly desires.
I found myself speaking in that tone of voice I so dislike.
M: Wendy has stopped the car to take a picture of a dilapidated building by the roadside. She’s standing in the middle of road now, taking a picture of it from in front. I’m walking towards her. She’s standing on the yellow line. It’s raining. “Wendy, there’s a car coming,” I’m saying.
M: It’s 9:00 Sunday morning and a lot has happened. Yeah, hmm. Anyway we’re about to go down to breakfast.
W: At The Hotel [French accent] Leger.
M. I’m a little nervous about this breakfast. The woman at the desk said there’s going to be eighteen guests. Although she did make the food sound good.
W: Yeah, yogurt and fruit.
M. I’m pretty hungry and have to pee.
I took some nice pictures of Wendy after having made love and having come relatively quickly because we have to hurry down to breakfast before those monsters devour everything.
M: We’ve come to the cemetery in Mokelumne Hill, where we’ve seen some interesting things, including a sign that said, “No Digging.” And now here’s something even stranger: At the back of the cemetery all the grave sites are in cement.
W: All of them. In cement.
M: It’s bizarre. Also the place seems way too new for a cemetery. Wendy has suggested that the graves may have been moved from someplace else. But that still doesn’t explain why they’re made of cement.
In any case we’ve now come to a large, new-looking gravestone embossed with the images of a husband and wife: John Nelson Sandoz and Margaret May Sandoz. Margaret May isn’t dead yet, so her side of the stone still remains to be fully inscribed. It seems strange that she might come here and stare at the blank space where she is later to be memorialized. Although on the other hand this merely formalizes what all of us – Margaret May included – know. Death approaches.
15. Gone Away
M: I just realized that “Dear Mother, You Have Gone Away But Are Not Forgotten” is not necessarily a positive statement.
M: We’ve come to the Kennedy Mines Tailing Wheels, which were once these four huge wheels that carried the tailings, or residue, from the mines. The one we’re looking at, which I think is number three, has collapsed; Wendy is taking pictures of it. The wheel itself is surrounded by a barbed wire fence, but we noticed a place where someone cut open part of the fence, which Wendy was able to slip through. Up the hill, looming in the background, is wheel number four, which is still intact, although it appears to be badly slanted.
M: After taking many pictures of the collapsed wheel, Wendy tried to wiggle though the opening in the fence, got caught, and called for help. Instead of helping her, I made her give me her camera, which I used to take photos of her trapped in the fence.
W: While you were gone I imagined this piece of electronic equipment getting into the hands of some person who would then listen to your tape. And so on.
M: What do you mean, “And so on”?
W: I felt kind of sad because it would be like having someone steal one of my cameras with film in it. So I sat here and took some pictures and experienced some sense of satisfaction that I still had my pieces of electronic equipment with latent images in them, and I also felt fear that you would be separated from yours, and I wondered what that means about what you record.
M: At times I’ve been seeing us as others might see us. Like the way we were around the fallen wheel. We were present there but we were also elsewhere – in some imagined future looking back. We had all this energy on the question of what was worth documenting.
W: So in some sense losing the record would be freedom.
M: Yes, but a sad freedom.
W: I thought about that when we were joking about my apartment exploding. You pointed out that I would lose all my pictures. There’s some sick part of me that would feel liberated by that. It’s as though there’s a ball and chain effect with things you really care about. Isn’t that twisted? The things or people you care about most – like your parents, for example – trap you. Or they don’t trap you…
M: They bind you.
W: They have such power over you. It’s ironic because they’re the things you care about most and yet there’s this dark side that wants to be freed from the burden of caring.
M: We don’t have any documentation of making love. The last thing I’m thinking about then is the future. In that moment I’m right there with you. And it’s precious – it’s the present and it’s precious. I say this in contrast to how we are around the wheel. Which is not to say that what we do around the wheel is wrong.
There’s a little bird in the tree.
W: It’s a hummingbird. It sounds like a plane.
W: There are people over there. They’re doing something together.
M: What do you see?
W: They’re standing together, and walking away, back down the hill.
M: What else?
W: They’re facing each other, they have their arms out together.
M: What else?
W: One’s a man and one’s a woman. She has a dress on. She has her arms out again. She keeps holding her arms up in the air. She’s dancing now. She’s throwing her legs out. She’s really happy. She’s turning around in circles. He’s just walking. She’s very happy.
M: I’ve decided not to look.
W: They’re walking on the ridge, so they’re sort of silhouetted against the sky. They have the same gait. They’re holding hands now and walking back to the car.
It’s over, they’re not there anymore. They’re in the parking lot now, experiencing the parking lot. They had they’re little joyful moment on top of the hill. It’s over, gone.
M: You didn’t take any photos.
M: Now they’re gone.
W: That moment is gone.
M: They’re gone with it.
W: They’re getting into the car.
M: You can see them still?
W: Yeah. He’s driving. Now they’re in their car – an unpleasant place to be. He’s about to drive over the cliff. Off they go.
M: Over the cliff?
W: No, they’re coming this way. The windows are down. They’re still trying to experience it, trying to let some air in, the sun. There they go.
M: I saw the car for a second.
W: Here it comes again.
M: I see it.
W: Those two people.
M: It has a shadow.
M: It’s about 8:30 Monday morning. Wendy has taken the rain slicker and gone off to pee. We smoked some pot in the tent last night and then talked and then kind of passed out together. It rained during the night and it’s raining still. The rain was heavy at times, a roar in the trees.
M: It’s 12:50. We’re leaving this Native American museum – Chaw-See I think the tribe is called. We came because of the grinding stones, which were somewhat of a disappointment; although the museum was not done any worse than I expected. As Wendy pointed out, these grinding stones, which were just places where people came to grind down their acorns or whatever they had to grind down, were for some reason surrounded by wooden fences with signs that said, “Keep Off The Grinding Stones.” And there were also these overly wide cement paths all over the place.
On another subject: It rained all morning and is still raining. We made love, we talked. We made love, we talked. We talked some more. More talking than making love, but both were nice.
M: Nice. Which means nothing. I asked Wendy about her orgasm and she said it was nice.
W: At least I didn’t say it was fine.
She did tell me – and this I’m sure she meant as a compliment – that I’m her favorite lover.
W: I started out by saying he was the best lover in the entire world.
M: But then it was cut down to something like “best lover in the tent.” Anyway it was “nice.” She came, and I kind of thought she was coming but couldn’t totally tell. That was “nice.”
W: I forgot to tell him.
M: Is this okay?
W: Yeah. If I can remember where I was.
M: “So many things happening – good things, hard things.”
W: That’s when I felt like I was falling. I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t like anything I’ve felt before. We said, “falling in love,” but I don’t know what I was falling into.
M. Well, that’s the nature of falling, I suppose.
W: I don’t know what happened to those feelings.
M: The bad ones?
W: Yeah, I don’t know what happened to that stuff. It kind of dissipated.
M: I remember some things coming back.
W: Things came back, yeah.
M: Buried by?
W: Buried. I see a mountain and I see myself underneath it.
M: I have these moments periodically in which it seems I can see, for just a moment, what’s really happening. I can actually see it. I can see how much of what we do is a facade. Whenever I see that I feel despondent.
W: What was it that made you feel that way?
M: Nothing in particular. Well, there were specific things, but they were innocuous things, moments. It’s when I choose to say something or do something out of the thought that this is what I should do, out of playing a part – like playing the part of falling in love with you. When I see that facade, I see it everywhere, in everything between people.
W: And then you asked me what I felt.
M: What did you feel?
W: And then I avoided the question by telling you the story of my mother.
M: Yeah, and you kept avoiding the question.
W: I’m still avoiding the question.
23. Tuna Fish
M: We’re about an hour from home and Wendy has a poem to recite.
W: This Is Just To Say, by William Carlos Williams: This is just to say that I have eaten the plums that were in the refrigerator that you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me, they were delicious, so sweet and so cold.
M: I think it’s they were delicious, so cold and so sweet.
W: Hey, no. I had to memorize a poem for the poetry contest. Everyone had to memorize a poem. Some kids memorized, Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, but I memorized, This Is Just To Say.
M: A charming poem. Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright is nice too, but this is an extremely charming poem. And I’m glad to know you know a poem by William Carlos Williams.
W: That’s just the beginning.
M: That’s not just the beginning; that’s the whole poem.
W: I know. But it’s just the beginning of my extensive knowledge of the poetry of William Carlos Williams.
M: I’m impressed. Do you perhaps also know the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz?
W: Sorry, never heard of him.
M: It’s fine. He won the Nobel prize for literature, not that that means anything. I saw him once, eating a tuna fish sandwich at a soda fountain in Ann Arbor. I recognized him because of his eyebrows, but I didn’t think it was him because I couldn’t believe he would be in Ann Arbor eating a tuna fish sandwich. The next day I read in the newspaper that Czeslaw Milosz had spoken at the university.
M: The article mentioned that he had smelled like tuna fish.
M: I was heartbroken because he’s one of my favorite poets and I had failed to talk to him. Would you care to hear one of his poems?
M: It’s called Tuna Fish.
W: No it isn’t.
M: That’s true; it’s called Encounter. We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn. A red wing rose in the darkness. And suddenly a hare ran across the road. One of us pointed to it with his hand. That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive, not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture. O my love, where are they, where are they going – the flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles. I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
M: It’s 5:06 and we just got back. I have five messages on my answering machine.
W: I only had four, and one was for somebody I don’t know.
M: And now we’re saying good-bye. And we’re doing pretty good, we’re not too sad. Wendy’s going to go swimming and I’m going to make dinner for myself. It’s good. We had a nice time, whatever nice means.
W: And we’re going to do it again.
M: In two weeks. Pinnacles.
W: But no camera this time.
M: And no tape recorder. We talked about this in the car.
W: Just the two of us.