A stranger told me to meet her at Rocky Butte to watch the sunrise. Though I prefer sunsets for many reasons, some of which are philosophical in a dumb and cartoonish way, I said yes, damn it, I will meet you at the summit—and for God’s sake, please don’t kill me. And if you must kill me, at least make it quick.
Sometimes you’ve just got to see these things through. I decided I did not want to meet a new human being twenty minutes after waking up, since there was a good chance I would sound stupid and delirious. It really does take me until noon or one p.m. to get it together and be able to interact with the world, and even then just barely. Why, just today I was visiting my friend Ella at work in downtown Portland, and she said to me: “I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you in the daylight. I was sure that would never happen.” See!
So I stayed up all night. I thought, you know, I’d rather meet someone at the tail end of my wakefulness than at the very beginning of it. It wasn’t difficult to stay up since I stay up every night, but around five I was starting to get a whiff of that bad craziness. To distract myself I wrote a letter to my friend Danielle in Los Angeles. The letter is sealed on my kitchen counter, and because I have no memory of it, there’s no telling what depraved nonsense is contained inside . . . though hell, it really did help me to power through all the way up until I had to leave the house.
The sun was scheduled to appear at six twenty-four a.m., so I hit the road at five thirty. It was cold and rainy out. I wore thermal underwear and a thick fur-lined sweater beneath my denim jacket. I got on the highway and was alone there. I listened to talk radio for miles and miles.
On the brink of total collapse, I cut through a residential neighborhood that looked a lot like the one at the foot of Griffith Park, and searched for the winding road that would lead me to the summit. It wasn’t difficult to find, and once on it, I took it real slow just for the hell of it. I rolled down the windows. The rain had stopped and the grass and flowers smelled real good. The sky was dark. I had plenty of time. Vaguely I wondered if I was minutes away from being murdered.
At the top I spotted a lone silver car parked near the edge of the slope. I pulled up behind it and killed the lights and got out. There was a young woman in the car. She opened her door and approached me. I extended my hand but she went straight for the hug. I am a hugger, I hug, so I hugged her back.
We sat in her car for a while. She was funny as hell. I thought that I liked her immediately. She had the same deadpan delivery as me, and so for the next fifteen minutes we seemed to be trying to out-deadpan each other. Every now and then I would stop and say, “OK. That was a pretty good joke. You’re pretty funny,” or some such thing. I mean hell, it just seemed like the polite thing to do. Part of having a dry sense of humor is that you never let on that you’re joking, and so of course you don’t dare laugh at someone else’s dry joke. It can be difficult to tell when a joke is appreciated by a fellow practitioner, so sometimes you’ve got to put it to a sentence like that. It’s a nice courtesy. I do what I can when I can.
I glanced in the back seat of her car. I reckoned she had about ten different multi-colored hula hoops all bunched together. Well, I thought, ain’t that something. Lord is it ever. Hell of a thing, et cetera.
Round sunrise she had me follow her up a path leading to an even higher elevation. In the center of a clearing was a small radio tower with a revolving spotlight mounted to the top. It spun and spun. My new friend sat down on a stone ledge and wrapped herself up in a pink blanket. I stood beside her with my arms inside my jacket. We were there for a long while. She and I had us a good old time riffing on stuff and making jokes and talking about nothing. Really, it’s my favorite thing to do.
The air was very cold. It seemed to keep getting colder. She offered me her blanket. I was reluctant at first, saying that I didn’t see myself in that particular shade of pink (I prefer a soft, powdery pink), but I relented when the chill got down my shirt and hollowed me out right good. I sat down beside her and she wrapped half her blanket around my shoulder. I clung to it and tried to stay warm. Somewhere in all this the sun came up, though I never saw it. It made the sky a sort of murky blue. Up there we had a three-hundred-and-sixty degree vantage point, and could see mountains and forests and so on for miles. Oregon really is a beautiful place when you can take in a lot of it at once. She pointed to a place faraway and swore that’s where Mt. Hood lives on a clear day. The clouds were swirling like hell, as though a storm were coming, and I could see nothing at all.
She asked if she could take some pictures of me. I warned her that I was nothing more than a compacted ball of garbage with a human face painted on the side. She was unfazed by this, and told me to shut up or something, and had me stand in various places making various faces. She gave me a parrot feather and I stuck it in my cap. I really hammed it up after that. In my head I imagined Peter Pan, if Peter Pan stopped sleeping and was haunted by time and memory and darkness and so on. Oh, God, was I having fun with it! It was dumb and stupid as hell. It looked like this:
After that we sat in her car for maybe another two hours. She had the engine on and the heat blasting. It sure was swell, even if I felt completely insane. I was making some of the worst jokes of my life. Her jokes were a thousand times better than mine. I think we had fun anyway. I told her, you know, you’re a good one. You really are all right. I was so tired I wanted to scream. I had not slept in over twenty-four hours, so I left. We hugged each other again and I ran to the car and fired it up. I ripped down the snaking road toward ground-level Portland and got back on the highway headed south.
It was nice and quiet when I returned to my neighborhood. It was raining a little and the sky was overcast. I parked behind the house and went inside. Matt was still asleep. I found Dante curled up on my bed. He was making little sleep noises. He was deep and faraway in some sort of dream. It looked nice, so I swallowed a couple of pills and put a sleep mask over my eyes and went there to join him.