Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “October Story, Part 1 of 5”
“Don’t you start me talking/I’ll tell you everything I know,” –the New York Dolls
“Feels like fall in the air.” I’ve been saying that for weeks, but it was wishful thinking. “Feels like fall in the air”? Today, yesterday, the day before, yes. But these past few weeks? No. It has been hot as hell here on the farm since spring. Relentless, punishing heat where the glare of the sun is hard and direct, and where it chips away at you as if you’re painted wood and it’s a metal scraper.
Growing up in San Diego, the summer sun was softer. “More Mediterranean,” is what people say. Here in the hilly prairie country of eastern Kansas, summer kicks your head in like an angry mule. But today? Today fall is here—the chill in the air each morning; cool and mild enough all day that you can throw open the windows and let the breeze air out the rooms.
In a week I’m packing up to fly to Santa Cruz for a funeral. My uncle’s. My mom’s brother. They’re having one of those Hawaiian-style paddle-out things that surfers do. Way it works is everyone paddles out past the waves and they sit in a circle and join hands and … beyond that I don’t know. I’ve never been to one, and while I will be in attendance, I won’t be paddling out. Plan is to stay off to the side on a boat with my uncle Lenn and my dad.
After that it’s a few days of seeing family and maybe a trip up north to the land near Waddell Creek and Año Nuevo, which is a part of the world I love more than most. The big cliffs and the desolate beaches. The dark trees and empty highway. Waddell was named after a Mr. Waddell (I don’t know his first name) who was killed after pulling over for a piss on the side of the road. Bad timing, bad as it gets, because just as he let loose, a bear stepped out of the woods and swiped him with one of those giant paws as big as a frying pan and sent his head flying off into the trees. I don’t know if that last part is true; it’s what I remember hearing. But that land—those rugged cliffs, the cold and vast open ocean. It’s one of California’s best places. I hold a lot of my home-state close to my heart and that’s one of the closest held. That whole area is good—Watsonville, Moss Landing, Los Gatos, Manresa, the beach at Monterey Bay Academy, Aptos, the woods at Nisene, Soquel, Pajaro Dunes, Castroville…
From Santa Cruz I’ll drive down to San Diego with my parents. I’ll sit in the backseat and read whatever I’ve brought with me and I’m sure I’ll feel like a little kid in a variety of ways. All those years of holiday drives from San Diego to Santa Cruz (La Selva Beach, to be exact). They’re burned into my DNA. The Grapevine. The crop fields—strawberry, artichoke, lettuce, onion, garlic, brussels sprouts. Big rigs passing. Wind blocks of eucalyptus guarding ranch homes. The smell of alfalfa and ditch water.
I’ll be in San Diego a week and a half or maybe two weeks. I don’t remember which. Problem is, without my day planner in front of me I’m adrift. The planner’s inside. I’m outside on the porch of the farmhouse writing this while the sun lowers into the hills to the west of here. Alison sits at the table in the front room working on book layouts. She’s singing a Black Belt Eagle Scout song I can hear just barely through the walls. “Need you, want you/need you, want you” the chorus repeats. She’s singing it because today we drove our borrowed van down to Bonner Springs to buy a shoulder bag for me (a flight bag) and the whole way there we listened to the Swedish band ShitKid, which sounds a little like Black Belt Eagle Scout but evil and into Jack White and maybe Scout Niblett. ShitKid is Billie Eilish for weird punks.
In San Diego I will be sitting behind a table of my books for two weekends at my hometown bookfair. My friend Dean Francisco and I are the opening ceremony. I’m reading something new I’ve written and he’s playing music behind it. We plan to record it later in the week. It’ll come out on a tape next year. Endless plans these days. (“Deadlines and commitments/what to leave in, what to leave out,” sang Bob Seger.) It’s weird to be an artist in a time when what’s needed most are practical solutions. Edwin from Foals just quit the band to work against the escalation of climate change. He wrote in his statement a few days ago: “I’m beginning a postgraduate degree in economics at Cambridge, and I hope in the next couple of years to join others in technical efforts to mitigate the imminent climate catastrophe.” This is a proper response to the problems of an ailing world. I think often of doing the same sort of thing. I’m not sure how, or whether I’d be able to make a difference with my limited skills, but it weighs heavy on me.
In San Diego I plan to write my next book. I’ll also have copies of the newest book with me—the one that hasn’t been announced yet. Things are moving fast. Faster each day. The idea is I’ll go to the places in the book and sit in the car or outside under a tree or on the curb (or wherever) and I’ll write those scenes with the places right in front of me. That’s my big plan. I have it written in my day planner: “Go home to San Diego and write the next book.”
There’s a lot I want to do beyond that. Visit Verbatim, the great bookstore in North Park that carries my stuff. Go see Hong Kong Fuck You up in Anaheim. Record more writing with friends. Eat burritos. Go to Pokez whenever I can. Ranchos. El Cotixan. Kindred. See friends. Sit on the boardwalk and think of the sad immensity of life and the wild passage of time. Sit on the rocks at Sunset Cliffs and stare into the tidepools and try to relax. Walk around Pacific Beach and feel glad I left. Drive up and down Golden Hill’s sloping streets listening to Tristeza’s second record or One Day I’ll be on Time by the Album Leaf because it’s something I’ve always done—driving and listening to either album and staring out at the palm trees, tall against light blue sky; the smell of taco shops flooding in through the car window. The old Craftsmans and Victorians with their lovely porches and columns. That big coastal sky that feels like the end of the Earth. The smell of night-blooming jasmine at dusk as the evening settles in. The ghosts on every corner.
Don’t get me started on the ghosts because I’ll tell you everything I know. Joey Carr’s methy apartment and the giant frog statue. Chente Ramirez and I walking up 30th to day-drink at the Livewire before he was banned—walking and laughing and talking about the New York Dolls or Chuck Berry or the girls he was seeing. The weekly magazine Dean, Frankie, Alison, and I ran, and how it nearly killed us. The internet newspaper. The parties in twilit yards. So many blurry nights at Scolari’s Office or the Alibi or Landlord Jim’s. The woods outside the Che, and Ben Frank passing a jug of wine to Davy Ramos. Lil’ Cassidy’s endless succession of dying days. I promise I will talk without cease and I promise it is often better to stay silent. –Adam Gnade