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December 16, 2017
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Humboldt County, 1972

Photo by Amanda Reed

By Tom Braverman

Excerpted from: “717 Hemlock Street: The Empiricist Conversation from Locke to Gödel,” a novel by Tommy Saxophone

John and I sat on the porch on attached movie theater seats John had rescued from an old East Bay movie theater just prior to its demolition. From tall glasses we drank hot coffee sweetened with condensed milk. John pointed west, towards a hilltop in the distance.

“China Creek Road is between us and that ridge. If you walk downhill from here you pretty much can’t miss it. Stay on the path.” John looked at me and repeated, “Stay on the path. If someone asks where you’re going, tell them you’re coming from Glassblower John’s and you’re going to Uncle Jimmy’s. Hoka Hey.”

“‘...coming from Glassblower John’s going to see Uncle Jimmy.’” I repeated.

“...Hoka Hey...!”

“Sorry. ‘Coming from Glassblower John’s going to see Uncle Jimmy...Hoka Hey.’”

“Yeah. Don’t forget the ‘Hoka Hey.’”

Sure enough, a quarter of a mile down the path from Glassblower John’s a voice out of the brush hailed, “Who goes there?”

“Uh...Tommy, coming from Glassblower John’s on my way to Uncle Jimmy’s.”

I heard a mechanical clicking that sounded very much like a round being chambered.

“Hoka Hey,” I added.

There was a pause.

“Go on then...”

I walked out of the woods into a clearing, an open space in front of a geodesic dome, the plywood sheathing three quarters complete, the remainder covered in black plastic. A young man with a sparse beard and long blonde hair gathered in a ponytail, shirtless under bib overalls and barefoot, was splitting wood rounds. The young man stopped working and leaned on the maul, regarding my approach with an owlish, bemused expression.

“And what have we here?” he asked in a clipped British accent.

Reggie was not British, as it turned out, but a refugee from an eastern steel town. Land in southern Humboldt County, deemed by the lumber industry of no further use, was going for a few hundred dollars an acre, and Reggie and a few friends had come west to live a simpler life far from urban sprawl.

“Sit, Sir,” he said, pulling out a chair for me. A young woman sat on the edge of the bed holding their infant son on her lap. The baby followed Reggie with his eyes as Reggie went to a cooler and fetched a quart container. Reggie sat down on a stool and pinched the container open and, touching it to his forehead, intoned something that sounded like “Bom Shiva.” The baby laughed, squirming with pleasure. Reggie took a swig from the container and passed it to me. I started to lift the container to my lips; Reggie stopped me.