I Don’t Know But I’ve Been Told
by Flynn Washburne, August 3, 2016
The night hung on deep summer Ukiah like damp, dark wool— thick, heavy, and vaguely redolent of an indefinable funk. Insectile whirrs, chirps and chillers carried for miles in the still, superheated air and gave, along with the oppressive heat and saturated atmosphere, a jungly complexion to the unfortunate little town.
Miles away, the Potter Valley power station chugged and chundered without respite, its workers steadily beavering away to provide the vis viva necessary to animate the conveniences of the modern age designed to alleviate the summer's fever. Down the miles of conduit the galvanic bolts raced, raw, powerful, surging, to the substations where they were transformed and distributed along the urban grid and diverted into each household and business, lighting lights, making ice, extracting heat from and circulating the air, and keeping the cold stuff cold. But wait — here, there's an interruption. All along Ford Street, homes are ablaze with light and doors and windows are sealed against the heat as the miracle of air conditioning creates soothing mini-climates in each one.
But #163 is dark. The charging dynamism has bypassed the property without as much as a how-do-you-do. No fans oscillate, no window units drip; inside the freezer, ice trays contain only tepid pools. The power is out at the Ford Street Project and all over the courtyard and parking lot, salty, sweaty, cranky drug addicts are draped in attitudes of resignation. Repeated testing has determined a negative outcome of any manual attempt to ameliorate the effects of the heat, and so they remain still, waiting for the breeze that never comes.
I make what I feel is a helpful suggestion: "I count one, two, three little Indians here. How about you guys make yourselves useful, do a rain dance?"
Black Joe, proud and fierce member of Porno Nation, finds it neither helpful nor funny. "How about I just scalp your white ass instead?" he says.
"This is not how I imagined sobriety," I grumbled, ten days in and still prickly from the absence of energizing intoxicants. "I was promised rainbows and laughter. And unicorns were, at least, implied. Not this… this place. Not these people… No offense."
"OMG, shut up, dude." This from Randie, a flamboyant young blade from the West Side who delighted in flaunting his elevated socio-economic status. "You're so tedious. If I were at home, I'd be wearing a sweater and drinking Cristal. From crystal. And watching a thousand channels on my 80 inch high-definition plasma TV."
"Blow it out your ass, you disgusting little fruit bat," said buxom bottle blonde Robin.
"Let's all go up to the Safeway and hang out in the frozen food section," said Crystal, a young Pomo lass with the soul of a warrior and the mind of a dangerous psychopath. "They can't kick us all out."
"Uh, Safeway might have a slight problem with a bunch of broke addicts loitering among the fish sticks and soaking up their AC," I said
"It's a free country," Randie said.
"We all know you're an idiot, you don't have to prove it every time you open your goddamn mouth," said Tommy, a seasoned convict with a huge chip on his shoulder.
"Well ex-ca-yoooz-me," Randie said.
"I don't know what the hell y'all so dang mizzable about," drawled Lester, a rangy, 40ish tweaker from Clearlake Oaks. "We ain't never had no damn 'letrict back home 'n' we do jis fine. Hell, this here is prime dogfightin' weather."
"That was a triple negative, you dolt, which I guess agrees with your intent. You got lucky," I snarled.
"Bickering is not going to help the situation," said Robin. "Where the hell is Beaverhawk? We need Beaverhawk!"
A frisson surged through the assembled degenerates at the sound of the name, and a ragged chorus echoed the sentiment. "Beaverhawk!" "Yeah, Beaverhawk!" "Where is he, anyway?" "Someone find the Beaverhawk!"
Beaverhawk was our de facto leader and a wise, charismatic generlissimo. Endlessly positive, eminently capable, and effortlessly charming, he lent an air of optimism and cheer wherever he went. His bearing and appearance were quasi-military but benevolent and helpful, like a drill instructor mixed with Mr. Rogers, with a soupçon of Bob Vila for technical expertise. Unlike the rest of us broken, jagged unfortunates, the Beaverhawk seemed to have emerged unscathed from his years with demon meth. His wide, bright smile and chiseled physique brought the girls down en masse to the parking lot for calisthenics every morning.
"Alright, you hogs," he’d say. "We're gonna tighten up that cooch. We're gonna defatticate that ass. It's all up to you. Ready? And a-ONE…" They gave him all they could and more, collapsing into sweaty piles after ten minutes or so.
Beaverhawk was the glue that held our little group together and I don't know what we'd have done without him. Killed each other, maybe. We definitely would not have had as much fun.
As if on cue, the upstairs office door opened and out came Beaverhawk, bounding down the stairs three at a time, dressed in nothing but an electric-blue Speedo, jungle boots, and a camouflage boonie hat. He jogged over to us vigorously.
"Okay, troops, here's the dealio," he said. "I’ve been on the phone with the power company and they won't be here til morning. So we gotta suck it up. But are we gonna let it bring us down? Huh?"
A few tentative "no’s," an uncertain, "I guess not."
“WHAT?" he yelled, bending a knee and cupping an ear in a classic Hulk Hogan pose, "I CAN'T HEEEEAAAR YOOOO!"
"I SAID, HELL NO!"
"That's more like it. Okay, everybody on your feet. Strip down to your underwear. That's right, everyone, ladies too. Your clothes ain't doing you no good right now. Get'em off."
Randie was completely naked in a matter of seconds. "Get those skivvies back up, nature boy," Beaverhawk said.
One by one everyone became reduced to a semi naked state and stood there wondering what was next. "Here's what we're going to do," Beaverhawk continued. "We're going to march, and why are we going to march? Because it's good for morale! Because it fosters a sense of community and belonging! And because I said so! Line up, troops! Ready? Your… LEFT. Your left. Your left, right left. Yo lep. Ho hep. Ho hep, hipe hef." We got into the rhythm and spirit of the thing, stepping lively and tramping out a sharp tattoo on the tarmac.
"I don't know, but I been told," sang out Beaverhawk. The assembled throng echoed it back lustily. "Bleu cheese dressing is made with mold."
"I don't know but it's been said… I think I'll have ranch instead. Now you, Washburne!"
"I don't know but it's been sworn: Tweakers like to watch the porn!" I contributed
"Dishman! You're up!" ordered Beaverhawk.
"I don't know, but it might be true: Pandas like to eat bamboo!"
"Adorable! Lake County, represent! Lester!"
"I don't know what the hell to say: but this little fucker might be gay!"
"Not that it's any of your biz: I’m not gay but my boyfriend is!"
"Alright! Sound off! (one, two) Sound off! (three, four) Sound off, one, two… THREE FOUR!"
We marched out there for a full half-hour, the rhymes getting steadily more ridiculous and our laughter longer and more raucous.
Eventually, of course, the police showed up. Beaverhawk moved over to the car and snapped out a crisp salute. "Evening, officers," he said.
The cop took a long look at all of us. "What the hell is going on out here?"
"Power's out, sir, and it's too hot to be inside. This is a morale building exercise."
"Where's your counselor?"
"He abandoned his post when the temperature became unbearable. I've already been on the phone with the director and she's lining up a replacement. Meanwhile, I’m whipping these maggots into shape."
"Alright, well, get your maggots dressed and inside, now."
"You heard the man, inside, now!" Beaverhawk bawled.
We picked up our clothes and filed back inside, followed by a clapping, trotting Beaverhawk. "Cold showers all around! Woo-hoo!"
If you happened to be driving down Ford Street one sultry August night in 2006 at 2am and saw a bunch of pasty reprobates marching around a parking lot in their unmentionables, the mystery is now solved.
Interestingly, every single person who was out there that night ended up completing the program. Not all of them remained sober, at least one died, and several are in prison, but we all managed to get through that 90 days.
Power was duly restored the next morning and everything returned to normal, in a rather flexible sense of the word; the daily doings at FSP were not what your average citizen would characterize at all as a normal way for humans to behave, but it worked for us. Not so effective at drug treatment, but it held our interest long enough to present an appearance of success to the board.
That was my first trip to Ford Street, and my second, third, and fourth times were not near so much fun or as fruitful. If the place still exists, I'll be paroling there in 2018, though, preparatory to beginning the crime-free, drug-free, super-productive, bomb-ass final portion of my life, proving that even I can eventually learn about the straightforward cause-and-effect relationship between my drug of choice and my residence of obligation. It took a while, but I believe I've finally arrived at the nub of it.