Angwin, CA * 1997 * Age 20
I had just finished describing my woeful attempts to find a place to set up a tipi in the wine country of Napa Valley when Gary Worner, after we’d filled his run-down VW bug with ganja smoke, informed me that he might know someone with a solution to my problem. We were parked on the edge of a nice but somewhat treacherous cliff that offered an expansive view of St. Helena, and I was hesitant to leave the serenity of the golden afternoon. However, he was enthusiastic about his unrevealed plan and fired up the rattling engine before I could protest. As we drove down the rock-strewn dirt road, he launched into a detailed description of an obscure band I’d never heard of whose lead singer used to play the tambourine for Boy George. Gary, a new friend from my Nineteenth-Century literature class, was an extremely intelligent guy, but his style of communication reminded me of a person who’s trying to carry too many things at once and drops something new every time they retrieve the previous fallen item.
“Where did you say we’re going?” I interrupted, feeling a bit dazed as we meandered down the snaking road.
He was momentarily thrown off his conversational track and had to reboot as he processed my question. “Umm, uhh, I don’t think I did, but we’re going to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz,” he guffawed at his own joke.
“You know you’re a total dork, right?”
This only made him laugh harder. “If you mean that I’m hung like a whale, you would be correct. If, however, you were referring to my witty sense of humor then—”
“Watch out!” I shouted as the Bug began to veer off the road in the direction of a particularly colossal oak. He adjusted the course down the steep grade, seemingly unconcerned, and randomly began to criticize the works of William Faulkner. “The guy just can’t hang on to a single thread of thought,” Gary said shaking his head, the irony of the statement lost on him. I took one look at his bloodshot eyes and perma-grin and knew he was baked. Of course, being a gangly, Nordic-type with emerging dreadlocks, he always looked a little baked.
Ten-minutes later, we’d parked downtown, and I found myself trudging up a flight of steps behind Gary into what appeared to be a fancy office building. Again, this time with growing apprehension, I hissed, “Where are we going dude? This doesn’t feel right!”
“If you need a favor, you might as well ask the guy with the power to grant your wishes,” was his cryptic reply. We walked through a doorway into a well-designed, air-conditioned office and came face to face with a secretary who eyed us suspiciously. I still wasn’t sure what was going on, but I had a hunch that it was a bad idea.
Gary said, “Hello ma’am. My name is Gary Worner, this is Matt Zytkoskee the seventh, and we’d like to see Mayor Thompson about a land issue.”
Turning to me with raised eyebrows she said, “The seventh?”
I was so shocked to realize that we were standing in Mayor’s office that all I could do was nod. I was indeed “the seventh,” but never in my life had I been introduced that way.
After a moment, realizing I wasn’t going to provide more details, she continued, “Is he expecting you gentlemen?”
Gary replied, “No, but uh, I’m guessing that he might be interested in a problem some concerned citizens are having.”
She pursed her lips, looking skeptical, then picked up the phone and spoke quietly to someone. “Right through that door,” she said after hanging up.
My peaceful afternoon had shifted from zen to paranoia in the course of twenty-minutes. I couldn’t believe Gary was leading me into the Mayor’s office—especially when we were stoned.
Inside, a middle-aged man with grey hair and an expensive suit sat behind a large mahogany desk. Behind him on the wall hung pictures of him side-by-side with impressive figures including a young Bill Clinton. He stood up, extended a hand which we both shook, and asked, “What can I do for you boys?”
I let Gary take the lead. He said, “Um, thank you sir for taking the time to see us. And, um, what we were wondering was where we could put our tipi—legally that is, like on public land. My friend here is looking to establish a new residence that meets his economic needs.”
Mayor Thompson looked startled. “Your tipi? Do you mean like an Indian tipi?”
“Actually,” Gary replied, “it would be a ‘Native American’ tipi and, um, yes, just like that.”
If I’d had a sword to fall on in that moment, I probably would have taken the option. The Mayor looked incredulous for a minute and then flashed us a grin. “Yes, well, Native American it is. Where are you boys from?”
Gary replied, “We live in Angwin and go to the college up there.”
The Mayor looked even more surprised, “Is that right? Seventh-Day Adventists huh? I’ll tell you what, this job brings me something new every day.” I thought he was going to start laughing, but he didn’t let it develop past a toothy grin.
Gary, oblivious to the fact that the mayor was struggling not to crack up, asked, “So is there any, you know, um, BLM land or something of that ilk in this vicinity?”
The mayor, who turned out to be a decent guy, actually pulled out some land maps for us all to examine. We poured over them but couldn’t find any BLM land that was close enough to the school to be convenient. I thanked him for his time and patience, emphasizing the latter. Gary, deadly serious, informed the mayor that he was "a beacon of public service." This final comment proved to be too much for Mayor Thompson who burst into laughter. “You boys are welcome any time,” he said as he enthusiastically pumped our hands, “This is the best meeting I’ve had in weeks!”
As soon as we’d walked out of the office building, I turned on Gary, “Are you insane?”
He grinned and shrugged, “Hey, I’m just utilizing the governmental resources. And, you know, if you think about it, he kinda works for us.” Gary nodded, pleased with his own logic, before continuing. “Well, the meeting may not have borne fruit, but I would call it a successful initial contact.”
“Initial contact?” I asked incredulous. “Are you nuts?”
“Like a bag of cashews,” he replied. “Speaking of which, let’s get some lunch, man. I’m starving!”