meryl, i think, not merle — like the woman at the bar in buffalo who was incredulous when i asked if she was named after oberon — not the king of the fairies but “The exotic and glamorous Merle Oberon ranked among the most striking performers during the early years of sound cinema in Britain.” so meryl.
meryl lives in fresno next to a cornfield. outside the door to her house stand mountains of corn. a grant-woods-meets-dali cornfield. it is unnerving enough to be in fresno visiting meryl. the bus ride to fresno skewes a socio-ethnic aisles-worth of peoples carrying bags and bundles, arriving and departing, at intersections bereft of even the usual small town quotidian. to find meryl waiting in a kind of truck at the bus station, and to find meryl feigning pleasure in my materializing in her town, like a corkscrew of messed up cellular structure in tight-fitting jeans (they were yet to be skinny).
we barely know one another, but for a drunken whirl of a san francisco night. then a lure to get out of the city, leave the mayhem even for just a moment, and i had never been to fresno — in fact rarely outside the bay area. and i had never been that close to a cornfield before.
meryl makes a dinner and we drink beer and spirits and i step out the door, thinking to acknowledge the wall of corn, hunched over in a bowl of stars. puncturing the inkblack. menacing stalks, suspicious ears, tenuous paths, glowering, a giant lacking the skills but not the presence to say fee fi fo fum, i smell the blood of a drunken bum. the moment when a mind reforms itself, shuddering at unreality, sensing a failure to identify, fear like an animal smell; an inchoate mind seeking resolution, safety, normalcy, what am i doing in fresno. a short path to the door, by the pricking of my thumbs . . . .
the next morning we drive to a place meryl knows — a mountainous terrain near a body of water. we talk about music and finding peace in a valley near the looming giant Yosemite, freakish nature refusing to leave the stage. we drive to the bus station and say goodbye barely grazing our gaze.
the bus ride back brings a companion and a bottle of vodka. he is an undetermined bundle of brash traveler and calm presence, offering the bottle without constraint, with hardly a comment. we drink. talk. forget. doze. awaken. san francisco.
in the twilight, on the street, the mission jitney appears with its usual nonchalance; it will arrive near enough home for a pittance. in the van are several young latino men, facing one another in parallel rows, a field, glazed, convinced the evening will grow. acknowledging a wrinkle in the regularity, a nod to one another, half smiles, hearing together the buzz of the streets, careening through the socio-ethnic slurry, navigating the colors and aromas of home.