Chapter Twenty-Eight (The Garden of Eden)

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Note: Here’s the voice only chapter of the video book, in case you want to watch while you read. The multimedia version has music by The Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker, but this version ain’t bad all on its own:

Okay, this next part gets a little tricky. Toward the end of 1969, Melanie and Wendy and I moved to Sacramento for a year or so and the idea of us all living together got put on the back burner, but when we moved back to the Bay Area again at the beginning of 1971, I still didn’t see anything wrong with it. I thought, at the very least, that it wouldn’t do any harm to maybe just try it sometime and let the chips fall where they may. Man, was I ever wrong about that.

After we came back from Sacramento, we lived in an apartment by the San Mateo Municipal Golf Course. I sort of eased Melanie another step in the general direction of the four of us all living together by encouraging her to fuck other people. I wanted her to get over the idea of being jealous — to see that she could be with other people without it diminishing the affection we had for one another. I wanted her to find out for herself that I would be even more in love with her than ever.

So she started fucking other people. I’m pretty sure that what Melanie had in mind was that once she actually went out and fucked some guy, I really wouldn’t like it and we could forget about the whole absurd notion of us all living together. It was the early seventies. These were all such early seventies things to do — getting a bunch of people to all live together like “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.” We may even have had a Lava Lamp there for a while.

I remember this one guy in particular. He was a bartender at the Off Broadway. I never met him. I just remember him. Melanie was a dancer by then. She had started working at topless bars in Sacramento. When we moved back to the Bay Area, she worked at one or another of the clubs up on Broadway. She was the headliner in a love act at The Garden of Eden. There were pictures of her in Playboy. Melanie and the bartender at the Off Broadway had the hots for each other the minute she started working there.

“It’s just…really…physical,” she said.

“Hey, so fuck him and get it over with.”

“When?”

“Whenever you want.”

“Tonight?”

“Okay.”

“He’ll bring me home, then. Don’t wait up.”

I did wait up, however. I waited up all night. I waited up until around five the next morning. I can still hear her footsteps. The sun was about to come up. Birds were singing so excruciatingly loudly I didn’t see how they could keep from tearing their poor little pink gullets out. I expected the sidewalk to be strewn with dried-up sparrows’ throats. I expected them to crackle under my shoes the next time I went outside. The front door opened. I could barely hear it because of the birds. Our bedroom door opened. The birds stopped singing.

“So?”

“I thought you’d be asleep.”

“I’m not.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Did you fuck him?”

“Yes.”

“What’s up and down your arms?”

“Hickies.”

“From him?”

“No. I did it to myself.”

“While he was fucking you?”

“Yes.”

“Did you suck his dick?”

“Yes.”

“Did he eat your pussy?”

“Yes.”

“Did you come?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I just didn’t. Do you want me to take a shower?”

“No.”

“I probably should.”

“No. You shouldn’t. Really. Just come here.”

Jealousy may have been an aphrodisiac, but it was also kind of a bitch. I didn’t want Melanie fucking everybody in town. Well, I did and I didn’t. It was all part of the preparations that needed to be in place.

The next guy, she fucked five days a week. That was her job. She got weekends off. I forget his name. He lived in Foster City and owned a couple of the clubs on Broadway. He paid Melanie to clean his house and fuck him. Some days she didn’t bother cleaning his house. After awhile I didn’t see how she could possibly have any reservations about at least trying the idea of us all living together.

In the meantime, Ginny and Elliot had moved up from L.A. and were living in a Taoist commune in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The commune was run by some old Chinese guy by the name of Gia-Fu Feng, who, along with his young Caucasian girlfriend, had written a book about the teachings of Lao-Tzu. The people in the commune ran around naked all day. They greeted the sun in the morning, said good-bye to the sun at night and ate organic vegetables and lentils and brown rice.

Melanie and Wendy and I went down there one weekend. Wendy dug it, but it wasn’t Melanie’s cup of tea. She liked wearing clothes, for one thing. Clothes were pretty. She liked how they felt. She liked how they made her feel. No one wore any make up, either. She felt out of place. If that was what I had in mind about us all living together, I could forget about it. That wasn’t what I had in mind, I told her. What I had in mind was that you pick the people you want to live with and you live with them — like a family.

I got a job running the registration desk and taking care of periodicals at the San Mateo Public Library. We moved to a nice house on a quiet street in Burlingame. I had money coming in. Melanie quit working and stayed home with Wendy. I had my mind set on us all living together more than ever. I had done enough. She’d fucked plenty of other people and, to my way of thinking, the time had come to just try it and see.

Elliot stayed with us for a couple weeks during the Christmas of 1971. Ginny had wrecked the dining room at the commune. They’d had to leave. She was in a private mental hospital in Santa Cruz. Melanie and Elliot got to know each other on their own terms. They didn’t do anything untoward — nobody was trying to push anything on anyone — they just got to know each other. They liked each other. They talked. They were shy with one another. He drew pictures of her and told her she reminded him of Cordelia — she was Cordelia, actually. If you really want to know what Melanie was like, go read King Lear. Elliot and Wendy finger-painted in front of the fireplace. Nobody watched TV. See. It was like a family, like I knew it would be. Melanie admitted it hadn’t been bad, but she was still glad Elliot left when he did.

Six months later Ginny and Elliot showed up together; arm in arm, hand in hand. That was when the shit hit the fan.

— — —

Melanie and Wendy and I were living in our cozy little house. We had a fig tree in the back yard. I was working at the library. I wore suits and ties and belonged to the employee credit union. Melanie and I were more in love than ever. Some weekends we still took acid and lounged around out in the hammock in the backyard and watched hummingbirds and bumblebees leave jewel-encrusted vapor trails among the fig leaves and thought we were Adam and Eve. She was happy. I was happy. Wendy was happy. Susie was happy.

Susie was a shiny black squirmy little part Labrador Retriever and part Dachshund who had followed Wendy home from school one day and kept getting knocked-up by the next door neighbors’ Kerry Blue Terrier. The neighbors complained that Susie enticed him over there because of his champion blood lines, although why Susie would have done that we had no idea, since all she ever got out of it was a minimum of seven of the ugliest yapping little blue-skinned puppies you ever saw. Wendy used to have to spend two or three days over in front of Safeway getting rid of the little bastards out of a cardboard box marked “FREE PUPPIES.” But the next door neighbors swore it was a conspiracy to contaminate the racial purity of the Kerry Blue Terrier breed. Their dog wouldn’t have anything to do with the champion bitches they tried breeding him with. His heart belonged to Susie. The next door neighbors also had a bomb shelter and thought World War II had been lost — which may have accounted for some of their views on racial purity.

In the summer of 1972, Susie had just had her latest batch of ugly puppies. There were nine of them this time. Every morning, bright and early, Melanie waded out into this huge warm whimpering pile of black and blue flesh, carrying a speckled roasting pan full of hot Puppy Chow, and Susie’s puppies went berserk. They engulfed her ankles and licked her feet and bit at her toes and looked up at her in utter adoration with their newly-opened eyes — while Susie sat on her blanket like it was a throne, squirming and wagging her entire body with such pride and gratitude and dismay that Melanie had to make a conscientious effort to keep from laughing out loud for fear Susie might get her feelings hurt.

Melanie and Susie were the two happiest creatures in all creation. Melanie was almost complacent. That was the way she wanted to live — knee-deep in newborn puppies, trying not to laugh out loud. All she wanted was to shine the faucet handles, clean the toilet bowl, bake enchiladas and have me love her forever. And we were doing that. There wasn’t anything wrong with it. I was happy. Wendy was happy. Susie was happy. Her nine ugly puppies were happy. Everyone was happy. There wasn’t anything wrong with anything. We had the next door neighbors to gossip about and the people at work to gossip about and movies to go to and the Sunday paper to read and a brand new Safeway less than a block away.

But. Despite the fig leaves and the hummingbirds and the bumblebees and Susie’s puppies and the rest of all that other unbridled bliss, I still had it in mind that you only live once and that there are things in life you have to try if you get the chance — if for no other reason than just to know for sure that they really won’t work — and Ginny and Elliot and Melanie and me all living together like one big happy family was still one of those things.