[Time for another tale from my past. It's only barely connected to carpentry, but at least the connection exists. The year is 1973.]
“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.
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 an odd little bohemian paradise, a cluster of broken-down cabins on a nameless frontage road, one block long. To make us easier to find, I had painted orange letters on a board and tacked it to a telephone pole: FAR OUT. At the road’s other end I tacked another board: FAR IN.
Immediately real estate developers, who lusted for the property, called the place Far In Far Out. The year was 1973; property values were soaring. We were tucked between the Stanford Golf Course and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center 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 Oakley 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 car was waxed to a gleam. The man and woman were dressed as if for a wedding.
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 -”
“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. Is it on this road? Which way?”
“Turn left at the second light.”
“How many lights are there? 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 - as I saw in the rear view mirror - it 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 was whooshy and I couldn’t understand. 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. It was an office building, newly built, and it wasn’t even occupied yet.
The owl whooshed and pointed again with his pipe.
The woman stood on tiptoe and cupped her hands over Owl’s ear. “THAT’S NOT IT” she shouted.
Owl nodded his head, whooshing and pointing. He looked at me. I shook my head.
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, Oakley Heights turned out to be a fantasy land of gigantic houses among dainty landscapes, swans floating on a mystic little 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 Oakley 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 woman 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. And yet again a mile later she pulled off, Owl pointing, dollars waving, my head shaking. 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.