After a good hard bike ride up East End Road out of Homer, we decided to celebrate the rare sunshine with ice cream for a late lunch. We bought a carton at Fred Meyer’s and took it outside to their picnic tables.
A woman sat at a nearby table smoking. She had that rode-hard-put-away-wet look off women of a certain age who have experienced an interesting life. Shari introduced herself to us, and in the same sentence told us a long story about how she was in the original cast of Up With People in 1968. I vaguely remembered such a quasi-religious hippy vocal group and their brief fame. Her participation seems to have defined her life for the last 42 years. She measures the value of a year by whether or not there will be an Up With People reunion. There is one in Tucson later this summer and she is very excited. Note the new tie died t-shirt, made special for the occasion. She’s wearing it early to get in the mood, or more likely to stimulate conversation.
Seeing us on bicycles made here vociferously apologize for her smoking. She went to great lengths to tell us of past failures, and her next attempt – just as soon as she gets back from the reunion – Up With People, don’t forget – and she gets a few other things in order. She gave no timeline.
Lighting another cigarette, she rambled on for a long while, telling us very personal things about her life, just happy to be hearing the sound of her own voice, and having us listen. This happens to us often. I guess we look like we need to be entertained. She was entertaining. Maybe that’s why she was an Up With People cast member so long ago.
Just then John arrived, smoking and semi-controlling a large but young and hyper black lab mix, jerking repeatedly on the short leash. Shari told us John lives in a tent, by choice she added — no doubt. She began to tell us his life story in great detail while he tried to shut her up so he could tell us the story of him being sick the previous night. He paused, stalking and cursing, to his dog tussling with a less enthusiastic dog and owner nearby.
John awoke sick to his gut at 2am, ran for the toilets, nearest bush, whatever and, “I swear to god I shit my pants.” He threw up repeatedly and then began to cough violently. This went on for hours. Could have been alcohol involved, or worse, who knows? He told this story with great relish, taking particular pleasure in the most savage details.
Shari broke in and suggested, “Maybe these folks don’t want to hear all this while they’re eating.” Did I mention the ice cream was delicious? “We don’t mind. We’ve heard and seen worse.” We didn’t mention that our experiences were always in overcrowded poor countries where privacy is not a priority or even an option.
He finished with a good-natured curse, slapped the picnic table, jerked on the dog’s leash and walked away, apparently satisfied that his adventure had been adequately shared with the wider world. It doesn’t take much to make some people happy.
There was a third visitor. He was also of middle years, forty something, and had obviously had a stroke of some sort, signaled by his cane, halting walk and slurred speech. Shari said he was probably, “on something,” since his speech was worse than usual. He wasn’t in a sharing mood, just wanted to borrow Shari’s phone to call for a pick-up.
Young stroke victims are not all that uncommon, among populations of substance abusers. The substances abused include cheap fat sugary food. Of course we were eating ice cream at the time, lots of ice cream.
Shari hated to see us go, but we had a few hours of sunshine left, and wanted to spend it on Homer Spit with the kittiwakes, sea otters, the lone bald eagle and a few tourist campers. Sunset is before 11pm now, so we have to make use of a rapidly diminishing resource, and it looks like rain again for the next few days.