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Where’s Phil?

Saturday morning I awoke later than usual, with a headache after a night at the Buckhorn. Some wedding party had arrived from the Boonville Hotel across the street, mostly people in their mid 20's from the Bay Area, jovial and insisting upon buying drinks for any locals who engaged in conversation.

The Ukiah Farmers' market starts at nine a.m. these days. When I finally staggered down the steps to the old truck, turned the key, the digital numbers read "9:35." Jimmy Humble was on the air with the Real Sarahs live in the KZYX studio. As the truck climbed Highway 253, they played the first song he'd requested, "Headed for the Hills." Static interrupted over the grade. Ironically I was headed to Russian River Studios in Talmage, where they had recorded their latest album. The owner and I had planted an heirloom watermelon variety, Mickey Lee, in the space between their rows of apples and plums, and they'd proliferated on genuine horse shit from the stables.

The Sarahs were singing "Half Love" by the time I got to the studio and discovered that the watermelons were gone. They'd been turned to mulch. There was nothing but dry soil between the trees. I guess the vineyard and orchard managers had decided the season was over, which it mostly was, one reason I hadn't been too worried about sleeping in.

Still, I decided to stop by the market since I had no other plans for the day. The Mickey Lees were a seed crop that I'd been growing with Phil Cool, a vendor, and we'd already harvested tons, literally. Tons of melons, anyway. I didn't do any of the seed saving. His truck was parked there on School Street, but by now the Sarahs were singing "Fireflies", so I chilled in the shade for a minute. Their harmonies continue to blow people away. Not trying to flatter them by saying this, either. I only report the facts. I listened to the rest of Jimmy's show, as they did this bluesy tune from back in the twenties that Sarah Ryan called "cheeky." I'd never heard anybody dub anything "cheeky" and wondered what that involved. Sexual innuendo, it soon become clear: "Don't come too soon."

Since I already had an Amtrak ticket to depart for Indianapolis from Emeryville, a trip back to the Hoosier Homestead to check up on a few things like a house infested with bedbugs and septic tanks full, I wasn't interested in "Trading Time," the next show, though it's another local resource worth having as they say on pledge drive. At the market I walked past the Girls Gone Wild fish vendor and glanced at Phil Cool's tables covered with baskets of figs and cherry tomatoes, also the empty one set up for watermelons. He wasn't there. Instead, it was Jetta, who has considered herself my girlfriend on and off for five years, now. She was holding her baby.

"Where's Phil?"

"He had to play piano at a recital."

"You look really happy," I said.

She was glowing. "Things are working out for me. I can't believe it."

Recently I have heard all kinds of rumors about our relationship, which I’ve been writing about for five years. Previously my "girlfriends" had always been ficticious. However she was in Indiana when we met, a long way from Anderson Valley, and didn't mind that I used her real name, which is somewhat unique. She also didn't mind that I introduced her to people as my "Ho." I'm not sure if the readers are aware of what has happened to the youth of America in the last two decades, but basically from the age of twelve a majority of the boys and girls are trained by drug dealers to aspire to be pimps or hoes. All wars create that situation, and the Drug War is no exception. If it wasn't for the fact that I was actually out in a field hoeing weeds by myself, daydreaming about puns and the dating scene in the local bars, none of this ever would have happened. There would have been no Spec and Jetta, no Hoefest. I was an eccentric, broke, hippie who dabbled in writing and farming when I met her, and had been basically destitute by most people's standards my entire adult life, so playing the role of a pimp was a total joke. She was twenty two at the time and had never met somebody who read Kafka for fun. I had watermelons for the Bloomington Farmers' market, and she rode along on a Saturday morning.

Then our buddy, Hippie Mike, had this idea to put on a music festival. At first we were going to call it "Hoosier Hoedown," but at a consensus meeting with the lesbian couple who were staying and working at our farm, we all decided to just go for it and say, "Hoefest." If it wouldn't have been for the presence of the women I wouldn't have gone for it, because the implicitions made me nervous to say the least. The word "sexist" would no doubt be launched at me, especially that first year. I woke up in a cold sweat every morning, petrified by the very thought of a music festival on our farm, let alone the inevitable stigma. I had to quit drinking warm beverages. The next thing you knew it appeared that I was a pimp, in our rural, conservative, farming community. The joke had become reality, and Jetta was part of it. Readers of the AVA thought she was a figment of my imagination, which in a way was partially true. If her name had been "Jill" or "Rebecca" or "Tonya" it wouldn't have mattered that I'd used her real name, but by now she was on the original Hoefest poster, which the website still uses.

Somewhat ironically, her recent baby, now three months old, was probably conceived at the brother to Hoefest, the autumn "Rakefest," that we hold at the Farmhouse. I was with a local woman my own age that night, as an alibi, while Jetta was camping with the baby's daddy. It wasn't the possibility of paternity that caused me to want Jetta to take a train out to Ukiah this spring, but for better or worse we are somewhat connected til death do us part, thanks to Facebook, unless the internet goes down. Our histories are intertwined. I wanted the baby to be born in Mendocino County where my three boys all have had happy childhoods, and in the likely event that the kid wasn't mine, the even likelier event that she would soon grow tired of hanging out with an alcoholic writer in the middle of his first true work of fiction that might be called a "novel," I had friends who would be glad to take her out to dinner.

One of them approached the farmers' market table, carrying a smart phone from Wal-Mart still in the box. He's a great guy, good with kids, a lot sweeter than I am, which is about as well as I can safely describe him. I know he cares as much as I do, probably more. I love Jetta and the baby, don't get me wrong, but my kids are more or less their own men now so I have retired from playing daddy or boyfriend all day long, and I got bedbugs at the Farmhouse in Indiana to deal with, septic tanks, fun shit. The place is vacant except for friends stopping by to take care of the dogs, cats, and chickens, the tennants having effectively evicted themselves. Not exactly the kind of travels suitable for a three month old infant.

"I would have called you," she said, "but I lost my phone last night."

I felt like I was walking on the moon, which had been nearly full the previous night. I smiled at her as my buddy set the phone box and Straight Talk card on the empty table.

"What?" she asked.

"It's a beautiful day in Ukiah."


"Hey--think I finally got a title for this book." (Originally it was going to be my farming memoirs, titled 101 Ways to Strike Out, but due to Hoefest I thought about changing it to 101 Ways to Use a Hoe, sort of a mix of fiction and fact. I'd nearly finished the first draft of this story which mostly takes place in my home community. Thomas Wolfe had written You Can't Go Home Again, about returning to his hometown in North Carolina, back in the early 1930's. Then Gene Logsdon, the country humorist, wrote You CAN Go Home Again, after going back to Sandusky, Ohio. I've been toying with all those themes and titles.) "What about, You Can Go Hoe Again? Sort of an inspirational, back-to-the-land--"

A customer approached the table, inquiring about figs. "Where's Phil?"

"Playing piano somewhere, at a party or a recital, I think? He had to duck out," said Jetta.

"Phil plays piano?"

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