The first time it happened I was about 20 years old. We had gone into Hollywood to make some deliveries and had lunch at a little Italian restaurant on La Cienega. We were back in the Paint Your Wagon wagon, me in the front seat between Dan and Lyman while Pepi lay on his pillow behind Lyman’s head, on top of all the merchandise that filled what would have been the back seat, window cracked so that he could smell the scenery. It was late afternoon and rush hour traffic was beginning. We were on surface streets, it was very warm, and my pasta fazzoul, whatever that was, wasn’t sitting well on my stomach.
Even in early 1970’s Hollywood we stood out. Right before I had met him, Dan was in the movie Paint Your Wagon. He played a mountain man and had only needed buckskins rather than his normal overalls to make him fit the era. He was so proud to have had a role in a movie he had painted his red and white station wagon (it had doubled as his Santa’s sleigh before then) with the words PAINT YOUR WAGON in large letters on the top. To be seen by helicopters? I never knew. The car was absolutely jam packed with merchandise; bongs, roach clips, rolling papers, sew-on patches, and thousands of posters. He had cleared out the front seat of merchandise, tools, trash, and God know what-all so that we could ride with him. Pepi went with him everywhere Dan went, on his paisley pillow that was window level so he had only to open his eyes to see the world go by. Pepi’s short clipped fur matched perfectly Dan’s grey beard.
Dan was a big man, maybe 6’2″ and 250 pounds. He was around 50 with a full face, pale skin, ice blue eyes, wire rimmed glasses, and always wore a wide brimmed suede leather hat with conch shell adornments and a perpetual sweat stain. He wore denim overalls and sandals, never socks, never ever shoes. His toes were fat, thorny nailed, and dirty. But that was all a backdrop for the beard which could have had its own name, its own social security number, its own zip code.
It’s about right here where you’ll wonder if I’m making this all up and I’ll assure you that no, every word is the truth according to Susan, what I remember 40 years later and with more memories rising as I write this. Dan’s beard had to have been to his knees, God only knows how long it had been growing. Maybe he had never shaved his face but wait, a rising memory of an old black and white photo of him with his weak chin shaved for all the world to see. You might have a vision of him sitting on a rock at the beach like a mermaid, combing his knee length beard. It would blow wispily on the ocean breeze as he combed and fluffed it. Maybe butterflies landed there and snuggled in for a brief rest on their way to Mexico. Maybe birds followed him around to pick up any stray wisps for their nests. He might wrap it around his shoulders, a living scarf to keep him warm. Like our friend Jack who wore a black top hat and cape and slunk around corners after dark with a fluorish, maybe Dan’s beard was his cloak.
But you’d be wrong. Dan never combed his beard and I don’t know if he ever washed it with shampoo. I think it only got wet from any rain drops his hat didn’t divert. In short, Dan’s beard was one giant dreadlock. No you can’t call bullshit, it is absolutely true. He kept it tucked into his shirt. It ran down over his belly past the smallest penis in the world, past his old man balls, and down one leg of his overalls. It ended mid-thigh and when I say it was knee length, who knows how long it would have been if it had been magically detangled, shampooed, and allowed to see the light of day. It might have been something his sandaled feet would have tripped on in its undone state. The part of his beard attached to his face was very full, grey, with a few black strands, and lots of white. It was a lovely cloud on his cheeks, under his nose, and all around his chin and neck before it disappeared into the collar of his T shirt. A casual observer noticed only his uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus and Dan had been hired many times at Christmas to play the jolly gentleman. Once his picture was on the cover of a magazine in December. He also looked an awful lot like Karl Marx.
Dan had lots of tricks that he liked to pull on people. One was to, when someone moved away from him in disgust or muttered something like “dirty hippie”, reach into his pocket and pull out his giant roll of cash, thick as a stuffed billfold, wrapped in rubber bands as no money clip could hold it, pull back the $1 bill on the outside to reveal the $100s below and say “Did you make 2 grand today?”
His other favorite trick to play was when someone would compliment him on his beard, he would beam at them and say it was to his knees. They would look him up and down and say nuh uh and he’d grab at the end of it through his overalls at mid thigh and give it a tug. The peoples’ mouths would fall open as the hair cloud around his face would move with each tug. The onlookers had the same look on their faces as when David Blaine does his street magic or levitates. They would stare stupidly for a few seconds and then a dawning horror would fill their faces, no it wasn’t Santa after all. It was something darker, outside the realm of ordinary existance, a character out of Stephen King’s imagination.
That day Dan, of course, was driving. I was in the middle with Lyman to my right. Lyman must have been about 60. He was Dan’s cousin and the family resemblance was strong. Lyman was a smaller version, Republican and what we would back then have called straight, short haired and clean shaven. Looking into the car an onlooker may not see that Lyman’s body was somewhat twisted. They wouldn’t know that he had an odd gait with maybe one leg shorter than the other, and a way of walking that was probably an elabortate systerm of pain avoidance. He would swing one let around without bending his knee and then catch up to it with his other leg, a sort of drunken looking waltz.
Dan and Lyman had the car radio on to some kind of Sinatra station and were talking across me. Traffic was now at an absolute stop, nobody moving. I just wanted to be home! But home was so far away. I was going to throw up all of that pasta fazzoul (what the fuck is that?) Dan couldn’t pull over, we were absolutely blocked in traffic. Lyman opened the car door and painfully lifted himself out of the car to let me out. Dan and I had been to a sale at Warner Brothers costume department and I was wearing one of my beloved robes from the movie Ben Hur and a pair of sandals. My hair was in two braids. I had on white lipstick and white eyeshadow from my lashes to my eyebrows with little blue dots cleverly painted on. I crouched in the dry curb area between 2 parked cars and dry heaved doubled over in my Ben Hur robe. Lyman with his back in the open door of the Paint Your Wagon wagon and Pepi still curled up lying in the window watched me along with all the other bored people trapped in their cars in the traffic snarl going nowhere, horns honking, music playing, sun shining, heat shimmering in waves. Dan would inch the car forward, Lyman would swing his leg and then catch up, I’d stand in my Ben Hur robe and walk alongside the car ahead and then dry heave at the curb. Fun times! We must have somehow gotten home, maybe hours later, maybe weeks. I know we did because I’m here now to write about it. Of course by now they are all probably dead. Dan would be 90 something and Lyman over 100, Pepi probably dead 35 years now. The Paint Your Wagon wagon maybe a block of compressed metal, who knows.
As I say, that was the first time it happened.