Sunday, May 6, 1973
(Only marginally work-related - though social class is always relevant to labor. Anyway, it happened on this day.)
“Yoo-hoo!” Fingers tapped on glass. “Hello! Yoo-hoo!” A little white-haired woman was at the cabin window.
I’d been staining shelves. Wiping hands on my T shirt, I stepped outside. I'd never in my life heard somebody actually use the word "yoo-hoo."
She bobbed up and down like a bird. “Oh at last - I was beginning to wonder if anybody - would you tell me - we’re lost... Where are we?”
Good question. I lived in Wagon Wheels, an odd little bohemian paradise, a cluster of broken-down cabins. The year was 1973; property values were soaring. We were in a pocket of cheap rent and hippie lifestyle surrounded by wealth and academia. If you have to live in poverty, think location, location, location.
The woman smelled of lavender powder. Still bobbing up and down she said, “We’re thoroughly lost. The Sharon Heights Country Club - the clubhouse - we had directions but we couldn’t find it.”
Leaning against a white Bentley sedan, quietly mouthing a pipe, stood an old man. The man wore a white suit; the woman a pastel dress with pearls and a fruit-basket hat. They might have stepped out of a croquet party in the 1920's.
I tried to give directions. “Keep going down this road. Make a left at the second traffic light. Then you’re on Sand Hill Road. Go about two miles...”
The woman clasped her hands. “Do you have a car? - we’ll follow - we’ll reward you - we’ll drive behind - we’ll make it well worth your while - we’re late you see - we’ll pay you handsomely - ” I'd never in my life heard somebody actually say "pay you handsomely."
I said, “Just make a left at the second traffic light and about two miles - ”
“Now which way - do we go right or left - did you say there was a traffic light?”
“Continue down this road. At the second light -”
“Are you an artist?” She was studying the cherry oil on my T shirt and bare legs.
“No, ma’am. I’m a carpenter.”
“Oh. What a pity.” She shook her head. “Well. Could you drive in front - we’ll reimburse you - it’s my birthday - they’re giving me a party - it started at six.”
It was already seven-fifteen.
“Follow me,” I said.
She clapped her hands and - I swear - jumped in the air. “Oh goody,” she said.
My Volkswagen wouldn’t start until I opened the hood and unstuck the throttle. Now my fingers were black with engine grease. I drove slowly along Sand Hill Road. The Bentley followed at a distance and then stopped at the side of the road. I parked and walked back to them.
They were out of the car. The man was pointing with his pipe. His voice seemed to say "Whoosh whoosh whoosh." Then he folded his arms and sucked on the pipe, waiting for something. He looked like an owl.
“He thinks he recognizes it - that building back there,” said the woman. “We were here once before - everything looks different now - there weren’t all these houses - this road - ”
“That’s not it,” I said.
The owl whooshed and pointed again with his pipe at an office building, newly built.
The woman stood on tiptoe and cupped her hands over Owl’s ear. “THAT’S NOT IT!” she shouted.
We climbed back in the cars.
I knew where the golf course was. You can’t miss it. But I’d never noticed a clubhouse. Turning off Sand Hill Road, Sharon Heights turned out to be a fantasy land of dainty landscapes, swans floating on a sculptured lake, a manufactured waterfall. But no clubhouse. The road turned a corner and came to a sudden dead end.
I was wearing rags. On the radio: “The World is a Ghetto.” My car was a junker with a GET NAKED bumper sticker. People who live in places like this hire security guards to keep out people like me. The woman was clutching a handful of dollar bills. “Take this,” she said.
“Ask somebody,” she said.
We drove back through the surreal landscape to Sand Hill Road where I spotted a barefoot girl struggling to push a shopping cart uphill. I called from my car, “Where’s the entrance to the Sharon Heights Country Club?”
“How the crap would I know?” she said.
“What did she say?” the old woman called from her Bentley.
“She said it’s this way. Follow me.”
We drove up Sand Hill Road for the second time. When we passed the empty office building, the Bentley stopped again, Owl whooshed and pointed his pipe, I shook my head, the woman tried to press her dollar bills into my hand, I refused, and we drove on.
I found it.
How could I have missed it?
We stopped in the parking lot. I could hear music from the clubhouse, some Carpenters song. A man in a topcoat and top hat walked toward us, grinning, with a handful of balloons. People were staring at me, frowning. For some reason when I awoke that morning, I hadn’t dressed in club whites. The woman offered money. I refused. She insisted: “Please. You must.”
Finally, to make her happy, I took two dollars. “Happy birthday,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” she said.