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The Monkey Wrench Gang 6


  “Will you still love me when I’m old?” he asked, filling her glass again with ruby-red La Tache. “Will you still love me when I’m old and bald and fat and impotent?”

  “You’re already old, bald, fat and impotent.”

  “But rich. Don’t forget that. Would you still love me if I were poor?”

  “Hardly.”

  “A whiskery wreck of a wino, puttering about in garbage cans on South First Street, barked at by small rabid dogs, hounded by les fuzz?”

  “No.”

  “No?” He took her hand, the left one, which she had left lying on the table. Silver and turquoise glittered richly on her slender wrist. They liked Indian jewelry. They smiled at each other, in the unsteady candlelight in a large round room that turned, on tracks, round and slowly round above the city of tomorrow today.

  Good old Doc. She was familiar with each bump on his bulbous head, every freckle on his sunburned dome, each and every wrinkle on that map of nearly fifty years they had agreed to designate—jointly—as Doc Sarvis’s face. She understood his longing well enough. She helped him all she could.

  They went home, back to Doc’s old pile of F. L. Wright rock in the foothills. Doc went upstairs. She placed a stack of records (her own) on the spindle of the turntable of the quadraphonic record player (his). Through the four speakers came the heavy beat, the electronic throb, the stylized voices of four young degenerates united in song: some band—the Konks, the Scarabs, the Hateful Dead, the Green Crotch—which grossed about two million a year.

  Doc came down in his bathrobe. “Are you playing that goddamned imitation-Negro music again?”

  “I like it.”

  “That slave music?”

  “Some people like it.”

  “Who?”

  “Everybody I know except you.”

  “Hard on the plants, you know. Kills geraniums.”

  “Oh, God. All right.” She groaned and changed the program.

  They went to bed. From below rose the genteel, discreet and melancholy sounds of Mozart.

  “You’re too old for that kind of noise,” he was saying. “Those teen tunes. That bubble-gum music. You’re a grown-up girl now.”

  “Well I like it.”

  “After I go to work in the morning, okay? You can play it all day then if you want to, okay?”

  “It’s your house, Doc.”

  “It’s yours too. But we must consider the potted plants.”

  Through the open French doors of the bedroom, beyond the second-story terrace, miles away down the sloping plain of the desert, they could see the glow of the great city. Airplanes circled softly, inaudible, above the metropolitan radiance, quiet as fireflies in the distance. Tall searchlights stalked through the velvet dark probing the clouds.

  His hands were upon her. She stirred sleepily in his arms, waiting. They “made” love, for quite some time.

  “Used to do this all night,” Doc said. “Now it takes me all night to do it.”

  “You’re a slow comer,” she said, “but you get there.”

  They rested for a while. “How about a river trip?” he said.

  “You’ve been promising that for months.”

  “This time I mean it.”

  “When?”

  “Very soon.”

  “What made you think of that?”

  “I hear the call of the river.”

  “That’s the toilet,” she said. “The valve is stuck again.”

  She was a walker too, that girl. In lug-soled boots, army shirt, short pants and bush ranger’s hat, she marched along, alone, through Albuquerque’s only mountains, the pink Sandia range, or tramped about over the volcanoes west of town. She didn’t own a car but on her ten-speed bicycle sometimes pedaled all the fifty miles north to Santa Fe, pack on her narrow back, and from there up into the real mountains, the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains, to the end of the pavement, and hiked on to the peaks—Baldy, Truchas, Wheeler—camping alone for two or three nights at a time, while black bear snuffled about her midget tent and mountain lions screamed.

  She searched. She hunted. She fasted on the mesa rim, waiting for a vision, and fasted some more, and after a time God appeared incarnate on a platter as a roasted squab with white paper booties on His little drumsticks.

  Doc kept muttering about the river. About the Grand Canyon. About a place called Lee’s Ferry and a riverman named Seldom S. Smith.

  “Any time,” she said.

  Meanwhile they cut down, burned up, defaced and mutilated billboards.

  “Kid stuff,” the good doctor complained. “We are meant for finer things. Did you know, my dear, that we have the biggest strip mine in the United States, up near Shiprock? Right here in New Mexico the Land of Enchantment? Have you thought about where all that smog is coming from that blankets the whole bloody Rio Grande valley? Paul Horgan’s ‘great river,’ channelized, subsidized, salinized, trickling into cotton fields under the sulfur skies of New Mexico? Did you know that a consortium of power companies and government agencies are conspiring to open more strip mines and build even more coal-burning power plants in the same four-corners area where all that filth is coming from now? Together with more roads, power lines, railways and pipelines? All in what was once semi-virginal wilderness and still is the most spectacular landscape in the forty-eight contiguous bloody states? Did you know that?”

  “I was once a semi-virgin,” she said.

  “Did you know that other power companies and the same government agencies are planning even bigger things for the Wyoming-Montana area? Strip mines bigger than any that have devastated Appalachia? Have you thought about the nukes? Breeder reactors? Strontium, plutonium? Did you know that the oil companies are preparing to disembowel vast areas of Utah and Colorado to recover the oil in oil shale? Are you aware of what the big logging companies are doing to our national forests? Of what the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation are doing to our streams and rivers? The rangers and game managers to our wildlife? Do you realize what the land developers are doing to what’s left of our open spaces? Do you know that Albuquerque-Santa Fe-Taos will soon become one big strip city? The same for Tucson-Phoenix? Seattle to Portland? San Diego to Santa Barbara? Miami to Saint Augustine? Baltimore to Boston? Fort Worth to—”

  “They’re way ahead of you,” she said. “Don’t panic, Doc.”

  “Panic?” he said. “Pandemonium? Pan shall rise again, my dear. The great god Pan.”

  “Nietzsche said God is dead.”

  “I’m talking about Pan. My God.”

  “God is dead.”

  “My God is alive and kicking. Sorry about yours.”

  “I’m bored,” she said. “Amuse me.”

  “How about a trip down the river?”

  “What river?”

  “Down the river through God’s Gulch on a rubber boat with handsome hairy sweaty boatmen waiting on you hand and mouth?”

  Bonnie shrugged. “So what’re we waiting for?”

  5

  The Wooden Shoe Conspiracy

  There was this bum on the beach.

  Fiercely bearded, short, squat, malevolent, his motor vehicle loaded with dangerous weapons: this bum. Did nothing; said nothing; stared.

  They ignored him.

  Smith’s assistant boatman did not appear. Never did appear. Smith rigged his boat alone, chewing on jerky. He sent his girl friend to Page with the truck to pick up the passengers arriving that morning by air.

  The bum watched. (As soon as the work was completed he would probably ask for a job.)

  Flight 96 was late, as usual. Finally it emerged from a cloudbank, growled overhead, banked and turned and landed into the wind on the strictly limited Page runway—limited at one end by a high-tension power line and at the other end by a three-hundred-foot cliff. The aircraft itself was a bimotored jet-prop job with an antiquarian look; it might have been built in 1929 (the year of the crash) and seemed to have been repainted several times sinc
e, in the manner of a used car touched up for sale on the corner lot. (Square Deal Andy’s. Top Dollar Johnny’s.) Somebody had painted it recently with one thick coat of yellow, which failed, however, to quite conceal the underlying coat of green. Little round glass ports lined the sides of the craft, through which the white faces of passengers could be seen, peering out, crossing themselves, their lips moving.

  The plane turned from the runway and lumbered onto the apron of the strip. The engines smoked and grumbled and backfired but provided enough power to bring the plane almost to the loading zone. There the engines died and the plane stopped. The airport ticket agent, flight traffic controller, manager, and baggage handler removed his ear protectors and climbed down from the open-air control tower, buttoning his fly.

  Black fumes hovered about the plane’s starboard engine. From the interior came little ticking noises; a hatch was opened and lowered by hand crank, transforming itself into a gangway. The stewardess appeared in the opening.

  Flight 96 discharged two passengers.

  First to alight was a woman. She was young, handsome, with an arrogant air; her dark shining hair hung below her waist. She wore this and that, not much, including a short skirt which revealed tanned and excellent legs.

  The cowboys, Indians, Mormon missionaries, Government officials and other undesirables lounging about the terminal stared with hungry eyes. The city of Page, Arizona, pop. 1400, includes 800 men and sometimes three or four good-looking women.

  Behind the young woman came the man, of middle age, though his piebald beard and steel-rimmed spectacles may have made him look older than he really was. His nose, irregular, very large, cheerily refulgent, shone like a polished tomato under the bright white light of the desert sun. A stogie in his teeth. Well dressed, he looked like a professor. Blinking, he put on a straw hat, which helped, and came tramping up to the terminal door beside the woman. He towered over the girl at his side. Nevertheless everybody present, including the women, stared at the girl.

  No doubt about it. Under a wide-brimmed straw hat, wearing huge black opaque sunglasses, she looked like Garbo. The old Garbo. Young Garbo.

  Smith’s girl friend greeted them. The big man took her hand, which vanished within the clasp of his enormous paw. But his grasp was precise, gentle and firm. The surgeon.

  “Right,” he said. “I’m Dr. Sarvis. This is Bonnie.” His voice seemed strangely soft, low, melancholy, issuing from so grand (or gross) an organism.

  “Miss Abbzug?”

  “Miz Abbzug.”

  “Call her Bonnie.”

  Into the truck, duffel bags and sleeping bags in back. They whipped out of Page past the thirteen churches of Jesus Row, through the official government slums and the construction workers’ trailer-house slums and out of town into the traditional pastoral slums of Navajoland. Sick horses loitered along the highway looking for something to eat: newspapers, Kleenex, beer cans, anything more or less degradable. The doctor talked with Seldom’s driver; Ms. Abbzug remained aloof and mostly silent.

  “What utterly ghastly country,” she said once. “Who lives here?”

  “The Indians,” Doc said.

  “It’s too good for them.”

  Down through Dynamite Notch to Bitter Springs to Marble Canyon and under the paranoid gargoyled battlements of the Jurassic Age to Lee’s Ferry, into the hot-muck green-willow smell of the river. The hot sun roared down through a sky blue as the Virgin’s cloak, emphasizing with its extravagant light the harsh perfection of the cliffs, the triumphant river, the preparations for a great voyage.

  A second round of introductions.

  “Dr. Sarvis, Miz Abbzug, Seldom Seen Smith….”

  “Pleased to meet you, sir; you too, ma’am. This here’s George Hayduke. Behind the bush. He’s gonna be number-two nigger this trip. Say something, George.”

  The bum behind the beard growled something unintelligible. He crunched an empty beer can in his hand, lobbed the wreckage toward a nearby garbage can, missed. Hayduke was now wearing ragged shorts and a leather hat. His eyes were red. He smelled of sweat, salt, mud, stale beer. Dr. Sarvis, erect and dignified, his beard smartly trimmed, regarded Hayduke with reservations. It was people like Hayduke who gave beards a bad name.

  Smith, looking at them all with his happy grin, seemed pleased with his crew and passengers. Especially with Miz Abbzug, at whom he tried hard not to stare. But she was something, she was something. Smith felt, down below, belowdecks, that faint but unmistakable itching and twitching of scrotal hair which is the sure praeludium to love. Venereal as a valentine, it could have no other meaning.

  About that time the remainder of the passenger list arrived by car: two secretaries from San Diego, old friends of Smith, repeaters, who had been with him on many river trips before. The party was complete. After a lunch of tinned snacks, cheese, crackers, beer and soda pop, they got under way. Still no regular assistant boatman; Hayduke had himself a job.

  Sullen and silent, he coiled the bow line in nautical trim, gave the boat a shove from shore and rolled on board. The boat floated into the current of the river. Three ten-man rubber rafts lashed snug together side by side, a triple rig, it made a ponderous and awkward-looking craft but just right for rocks and rapids. The passengers sat in the middle; Hayduke and Smith, as oarsmen, stood or sat on each side. Smith’s truck driver waved good-bye from shore, looking wistful. They would not see her again for fourteen days.

  The wooden oars creaked in the oarlocks; the vessel advanced with the current, which would carry it along at an average of four to five miles an hour through most of the canyon, much faster in the rapids. Not as in a rowboat but facing forward, like gondoliers, pushing (not pulling) on the oars, Hayduke and Smith confronted the gleaming river, the sound of fast water around the first bend. Smith stuck a stick of jerky in his teeth.

  Back-lit by the afternoon sun, the rolling waters shone like hammered metal, like bronze lamé, each facet reflecting mirror-fashion the blaze in the sky. While glowing dumbly in the east, above the red canyon walls, the new moon hung in the wine-dark firmament like a pale antiphonal response to the glory of the sun. New moon in the afternoon, fanatic sun ahead. A bird whistled in the willows.

  Down the river!

  Hayduke knew nothing about river-running. Smith knew he knew nothing. It didn’t matter too much, so long as the passengers didn’t find out right away. What did matter to Smith was Hayduke’s broad and powerful back, his gorilla arms, the short strong legs. The kid would learn all he had to learn quick enough.

  They approached the riffles of the Paria, under the bluff where the park rangers lived. Tourists watched them from the new metallic campground on the hill. Smith stood up to get a better view of the rocks and rough water immediately ahead. Nothing much, a minor rapid, Grade 1 on the boatman’s scale. The green river curled around a few fangs of limestone, the sleek smooth waters purling foam. A toneless roar, what acousticians call “white noise,” vibrated on the air.

  As prearranged, Hayduke and Smith turned the boat 90 degrees and bore sideways (this foolish craft was wider than long) onto the glassy tongue of the little rapid. They slipped through with barely a splash. Through the tail of the turmoil they rode into the confluence, where the Paria (in flood) mixed its gray greasy bentonite waters with the clear green of the dammed Colorado. From 12 mph their speed slowed to four or five again.

  Hayduke relaxed, grinning. Wiped the water from his beard and eyebrows. Why, hell’s fuck, he thought, that’s nothing. Why shit I’m just a natural riverman.

  They passed beneath Marble Canyon Bridge. From above looking down the height had not seemed so great; there was no standard for scale. But from the river looking up they realized the meaning of a vertical four hundred feet: about thirty-five skyscraper stories from here to there. The automobile creeping across the bridge looked like a toy; the tourists standing about on the observation point were insect size.

  The bridge moved away behind them, vanished beyond the turning of
the canyon walls. They were now well into Marble Gorge, also known as Marble Canyon, sixty miles of river three thousand feet below the level of the land, leading into the Grand Canyon at the mouth of the Little Colorado River.

  Seldom Seen Smith as usual was fondling memories. He remembered the real Colorado, before damnation, when the river flowed unchained and unchanneled in the joyous floods of May and June, swollen with snow melt. Boulders crunching and clacking and grumbling, tumbling along the river’s bedrock bed, the noise like that of grinding molars in a giant jaw. That was a river.

  Still, even so, not all was lost. The beaded light of afternoon slanted down beyond the canyon walls, whiskey-gold on rock and tree, a silent benison from the flawless sky, free from your friendly solar system. Cut off, then reappearing, the pale elided wafer of the new moon followed after. A good spirit, a faery queen, watching over them.

  Again the white roar. Another rapids coming. Smith gave the order to fasten life jackets. They turned another corner. The noise swelled alarmingly, and down the canyon where all now stared they saw rocks like teeth rising through a white rim of foam. The river apparently went underground at that point; from boat level nothing of it could be seen beyond the rapids.

  “Badger Crick Rapids,” Smith announced. Again he stood up. Grade 3, nothing serious. All the same he wanted a good look before diving in. He stood and read the river as others might read the symbols on a score, the blips on a radarscope, or signs of coming weather in cloud formations far away. He looked for the fat swell that meant hidden fang of stone, the choppy stretch of wavelets signifying rocks and shallow water, the shadow on the river that told of a gravel bar six inches under the surface, the hook and snag of submerged logs that could gash the bottom of his rubber boats. He followed with his eye the flecks of foam gliding steadily down the mainstream, the almost invisible ripples and eddies on the river’s flanks.

  Smith read the river, the ladies reading him. He was not aware of how comic and heroic he looked, the Colorado man, long and lean and brown as the river used to be, leaning forward on his oar, squinting into the sun, the strong and uncorrupted teeth shining in the customary grin, the macho bulge at the fly of his ancient Levi’s, the big ears out and alert. Rapids closing in.