“There is no arc of the moral universe,” says Micah. “If there is, there is no reason to think it bends toward justice. Morality is a human concept and the universe is not human. The ghost dances of the Pomo people did not protect them from evil any more than do the prayers of the Catholics or the Protestants or Rafan’s supplications. We are our own enemy and savior.”
Micah lights up a joint. He’s comfortable hanging out with Mac. Mac has that relaxed quality that draws out people even those who are normally shy and quiet. “I’ve become a recluse, alienated from the outside world,” says Micah, “except on Roy’s land where I babble on and on. They seem to like my stories there.”
“What do you mean babble on?” says Mac.
Micah passes the joint to Mac. The oriental carpets on the benches and floor of the Cellar Bar release a multitude of stories. The animal heads detach from the walls. They grow bodies, human bodies. These strange creatures chase each other around. There’s lots of sex. The figures in the oil paintings escape from the canvas and join in the orgy.
“Wow,” says Mac. “Is this joint laced with something? I’m really tripping out.”
“No,” says Micah. “It’s just pure Mendocino sinsemilla. We grow this weed at Roy’s. Nothing but our local sunshine, pure water and earth. Totally organic. But yes, it is stronger than you might be used to. There’s no seeds or stems in it. We clean it really well. We treat the plants like they’re our children.”
There is something about Mac Micah doesn’t get, something out of place, out of time. It starts with the way Mac arrived at Roy’s, then the amnesia—there are questions Micah has but he’s not sure how far he should pursue them.
“Who are you, Mac? Where are you from?”
“Why do you ask,” says Mac. “Does it really matter? I’m here. So what?”
Micah realizes his approach is too direct. He must be patient, move around the ring like a boxer, gracefully and slowly like Tai Chi.
“No, it doesn’t matter,” says Micah.
“Why do people come here? Why did you come here?” asks Mac.
“People come to find the total zero they’ve been looking for all their lives,” says Micah. “And, because there are no distractions, they find it and they melt into it.”
“Well, there’s your answer,” says Mac.
“I was reborn at Roy’s,” says Micah. “I fell in love with the forest. The north woods changed me from a fool into a fool. And this job at the Frolic. I’m living the happiest years of my life.”
“I need to go up to my room,” says Mac. “I’ve got an early day tomorrow. The boss wants me to help him move a bunch of Brin’s things into the house.”
“Go on,” says Micah. “I’ll close up and be gone.”
When Mac opens the door to his room, Myrna is on the bed.
“You’re late. I’ve been waiting to tell you something. I found something else of yours that might help you sort things out,” says Myrna.
“I don’t want to sort things out,” says Mac. “Not now. I like things just like they are.” Mac sits on the bed and puts his arms around Myrna. “You’re beautiful,” he says and he fondles her breasts.
Myrna giggles. “Are you stoned?” she asks.
“Maybe a little,” says Mac who pulls off her shirt and pushes her down on the bed.
“Whoa cowboy,” says Myrna. “Wait, I want to show you what I found.”
“I don’t care what you found,” says Mac. He throws off his shirt, his shoes, his pants and is on top of her before she can say another word.
The sex is slow and gentle and very satisfying. Afterword the room is dark and they both go to sleep.
In the morning Myrna is up early. She is prepared. As soon as Mac opens his eyes, she sticks a crumpled paper in front of his nose.
“What’s this?” Mac asks, sleepy-eyed and brain-fogged.
“I washed the pants you had on when we found you and this was sewed inside the leg. It must mean something.”
Mac straightens out the paper and tries to decipher it.
“I don’t know. I haven’t got time for this now. I’ve got to help the boss move a bunch of boxes and furniture into the house. When you’re dressed, go down to the coffee shop and get some breakfast. Sign my name on the tag. I’ll pay later,” says Mac.
Mac throws on his clothes from the night before. He’s gone and Myrna can’t say another word.
Of course it means something, thinks Mac, but I don’t know what. He walks through the kitchen. Rafan is washing dishes.
“Hey Raf, tell me again what you know about that shipwreck. I’ve been thinking about it lately for some crazy reason,” says Mac.
Rafan is busy with a pile of bus trays full of dirty dishes. Mac unloads the steaming hot plates and cups from the dishwasher and spins it around so Rafan can load up another rack. Myrna walks through the back of the kitchen to the coffee shop. Rafan looks at Mac. His thick reddish-brown eyebrows spike up.
“You know she’s trouble, right Mac?” says Rafan.
“Yeah, I know,” says Mac. “But, I can’t help myself.” He grins. “So tell me again what you know about that ship that sank.”
“Its like that song Turn Turn Turn by the Byrds,” says Rafan.
“What song?” says Mac.
“Where have you been, bro? The Byrds are super popular. Their song writer, Gene Clark, spent a lot of time here with Hawley downstairs in the Cellar Bar. They were drinking buddies. Well, Turn Turn Turn is based on Ecclesiastes in the Bible, on the idea that there’s a season for everything. The Frolic was the fastest ship from Bombay to Canton. But steamships came along and that was it for the Frolic. The shipwreck was a boon for the owners. I read that they made more on the insurance than they would have from selling all the cargo plus the boat. The lesson is that everything has its time and nothing lasts forever. There is a local legend about some treasure from that wreck buried here on the coast but I don’t believe it.”
“Gee, you sure know a lot of stuff,” says Mac. Things are starting to gel in Mac’s head and he’s not sure he likes it. First, the guys Brin spoke about, then the map from Myrna, and now what Rafan just told him.
“Gotta stay on top of things if you’re gonna wash dishes at the Frolic Café,” grins Rafan.
The boss walks into the kitchen. “Hey Mac, come on. We’ve got boxes to move. Clifford’s parking the truck outside and he’s gonna help us out.”
Clifford is a fixture in the Frolic, a light bulb that never burns out, a self-propelled broom that leans against a wall waiting for a spill to happen. He hangs around the Frolic when he isn’t working at his night job, stocking the shelves at Safeway in Fort Bragg. Clifford does things he thinks need doing—dusting, washing, fixing, cleaning and usually without asking. He brings in bouquets of newly sprouted lady slippers for the tables when they are in season. It’s illegal to pick them but he says he’s careful not to disturb the roots.
“There’s a history in patina,” says the boss. “Those copper pots and kettles that hang in the coffee shop, they once had a unique character, a patina as Hawley likes to say. Surrounded by the other antiques and by the locals and tourists who sit at the counter stools and tables, the place is like a Bruegel painting. Years of cigarette smoke, kitchen grease, conversation, sexual innuendo between the waitresses and the men who drink their coffee and eat their meals—all of this was absorbed into the patina of those copper pots.”
The boss takes a minute to collect his thoughts.
“Not long after I took over,” the boss goes on with a tinge of melancholy in his voice, “I walk into the coffee shop and Clifford has this devilish smile on his face that I knew meant he had a secret or surprise to spring on me. I sit down beside him. He looks up at the ceiling inviting me to look as well. I look up and see those copper pots cleaned and shined every last one. I could have cried. I could have screamed. The coffee shop was once full of mystery and intrigue, a lion’s den, a sultan’s harem, a secluded cave of antiquities. They are all gone, spic and spanned into a Denny’s restaurant. Once a would-be John the Baptist sat at that counter and asked for locusts and honey. A madman who had just come from beating his wife. That moment and so many others held tenuously by a thin layer of patina, all gone. Clifford smiled from ear to ear when he saw that I noticed. He spoke quietly to me as he’s prone to do. Hawley and Shirley would never let me do it, but I knew you would like it, he said with his elfish smile.”
The boss looks at me sadly. “He watches me,” says the boss, “and I try to hide my disappointment. He was only trying to help. I thought of all that history, the stories, the silent knowledge that clung to those pots now slowly working their way through the antiquated pipes that carry Mendocino’s sewage to the sea.”
Mac fondles the Chinese coin around his neck. He’ll leave the patina as it is. He’s not going to shine the coin to see if there is silver underneath. He’s not Clifford. But, he’s just as good at moving boxes. Outside the house, Mac runs into Hawley’s son Dana and he tells Dana the story about the copper pots. “When dad told me to wash the car, I should have told him it’s patina,” laughs Dana, “but then he would have chained me to the dishwashing sink again.”
“Washing dishes isn’t so bad,” says Mac.
“Not for you maybe but you get paid. I was dad’s slave. Hey, let me tell you my kitchen secret. It took me awhile but I figured out Henrietta’s routine well enough to sneak in and steal a scoop of her heavenly custard cream that she uses in her cream pies. When it’s warm, it’s pure ecstasy. Keep your eyes open dude! Of course my sisters had their own trick,” continues Dana with a sly smile. “They’d steal a loaf or two of the fresh baked bread through the kitchen window and hide under the restaurant to eat it.”
“You know all the tricks,” says Mac.
“Sure do,” says Dana, “This brain contains multitudes.”
Mac goes into the coffee shop. Brin is sitting with Myrna and Mac joins them. Two strangers walk in and sit at the counter. They can’t see Mac but he knows who they are. One is short, stocky and black. He wears dark blue jeans held up by a thick belt with a knife hanging down. He has on a plaid collared shirt. The other is tall, wiry and white. He has short blond hair and wears faded blue jeans with a white t-shirt. A pack of cigarettes is rolled up on one sleeve.
It’s a busy morning as usual. Mac keeps an eye on them. After they eat, they slip out the front door without paying. The waitress tells the boss and he runs after them. Out the window Mac sees the short one pull out his knife and threaten the boss. Big Tony walks out the front door. “You having any trouble boss,” says Big Tony. The kid drops his knife and pulls out his wallet. “Twenty bucks oughta cover it,” he says. Then he and his partner take off in a hurry.
The boss thanks Big Tony when they come back into the restaurant.
“You’re lucky they didn’t call my bluff,” says Big Tony. “I broke two ribs last night and I’m all taped up. It was all I could do to walk out and stand tall by the front door. No way I could have helped you fight those two kids.”
The boos laughs. “Well, I’m glad you were there and that those two came to their senses. Thanks again.”