Unused Miles

By Dick Bentley

This all happened in San Francisco in the 1960s, but in the early sixties San Francisco wasn’t quite as we picture it now. There didn’t seem to be an unusual amount of freedom or rebellion in the air. Allen Ginsberg was a store clerk.
Back in Chicago, I had been captivated for many years by a girl named Mary Banz, beginning when she was fourteen and I was 27.

A few years later, she was studying art in a summer program at a Colorado college. I had just moved to San Francisco, not to wear flowers in my hair but because of a job promotion. How “square” is that? Ugh.

I invited Mary for a visit when her art school was over.

“Are you out of your mind? I know what you’re up to and do you think I’m going to do something stupid like come visit you? I’m not even drinking age in most states.”

“We don’t have to go to bars. We could drink at home.”

I heard a faint giggle in the background, followed by silence.

“No,” Mary said sharply, “I don’t think so.”

Did she say this to me? Or did she say it to someone else?

There was a muffled conversation with hand held over the speaker. I thought of how far away she was and what a blunder I could be making, even though I’d gotten a job promotion. There was another stifled giggle, more silence.

After a while Mary said, “How about if I send you someone?”

“Someone.”

“Her name’s Patty. She’s a sculptor. My age. She’s from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Says she wants to go to San Francisco, wear some flowers in her hair. Says she wants to walk around the Haight-Ashbury and smoke dope and have sex with some really nice people.”

“Typical tourist.”

There was more inaudible conversation.

“A week from next Thursday,” Mary said. “You can meet her at the airport. She’ll be in a crate with holes punched in it. You can meet her at Baggage Claim, ha ha.”

Patty was smart and articulate in a foul-mouthed sort of way, but what she said was always cheerful. She was funny and her beauty was unusual, with soft, red hair fluffing outwards as if a halo of static electricity circled her head. She liked to sit naked on the bed, practicing Handel’s Recorder Sonata in F major. Over and over… da-da-da-da-da-dah-da …da da-da-da-dah-da.

She practiced her recorder on the bed, in the car going up to Mt. Tamalpais, on the Mad River Beach at Arcata, on the Skunk Railroad from Ft. Bragg to Willits, in Golden Gate Park, in the Ukiah redwood forest, in a canoe on the Russian River, at a picnic table at the Souverain winery. A typical tourist.

She spoke as if she had a habit of authority.

“They haven’t made any decent music since the fucking century,” she declared, slapping the recorder against her palm. “Stravinsky, the Beach Boys, it’s all the same stuff” She was especially disrespectful of the Beatles:

“You say you want a revolution?
Oh no—oo…
I don’t wanna change the world

What kind of insipid middle class crap is that?”

On the other hand, she said there was no good sculpture until the twentieth century. I couldn’t argue with her, even when I spoke of the ancient Greeks and all their Apollos and Aphrodites.

“Come over here,” she said.

I moved closer to the bed and she reached out. “You see? A nice sculptural assemblage…ornamentally baroque and complex. You’d rather look at fig leaves?” She sighed, “One of these days I’m going to have to go back to school, back to sophomore year. But who knows when? This apartment’s a real tourist trap.”

“Just stay,” I said. “You have plenty of unused miles.”

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