The idea of New Yorkers shoveling shit in Ralph Lauren shirts appealed to me, and after breakfast I headed out to the ranch, which turned out to be a group of old cabins on a hill with a view that stretched east to Mecca. The first “dude” I met was Sam, age 15, wearing tennis shoes and glasses. He and his mom were having a great time, he said, and he took me to a kitchen cabin where some teen-agers were cooking pancakes and sausages for breakfast. I asked them who ran the place and they said Lenore Honeywell, who was 72 years old. Then they introduced me to Lenore’s granddaughter – a bouncy college student. I told her I was working for a German magazine and she gave me the rundown on the place.
Her great-grandfather had bought the land in 1870 and logged it to build Bodie (a nearby mining town of over 10,000 people at its height). When Bodie went bust, he started raising cattle.
“My grandmother built the cabins and opened the place up as a dude ranch during the Depression when beef went down to 3 cents a pound,” she said. “The price of beef fluctuates, but the dude ranch is steady income.”
“And people pay to work here?”
“Well – some of them help with round-up”
“I heard they really work. You know, dig fence posts and, well, shovel shit.”
“Not really. The people who come here want to ride. We have one thing that’s really good here, and that’s horses — I can definitely say that the horses are first-rate. Otherwise, we’re pretty basic.”
After checking the prices at Honeywell, which were dirt cheap, I slunk back to town wondering why I hadn’t seen through small-town prejudices about city slickers being pansy-assed; why I had gone after the cheap story in the first place. In penance, I sacrificed lunch and headed directly out to find the hot springs and Old Pete. I got the first turnoff alright, but everything else got confused because the dirt roads weren’t marked. Finally, just as it started to rain and I started to worry about my car getting stuck in the mud, I saw a stream and followed it to a flat plateau overlooking a deep valley and the Sawtooth Mountains. Someone had built a cement pool near a hot-water vent and in it was Mr. Jack Murray, about 60 years old, red as a beet, bearded, naked, and smiling.
“WELCOME, LADY!” he cried. “MAN OH MAN, ARE YOU BEAUTIFUL. THIS IS MY LUCKY DAY.”
Telling myself I shouldn’t turn down an adventure, I got in the pool with Jack, whose red beard was glistening with water and steaming. But when he said, “Come over here and I’ll give you a foot rub,” I decided to set matters straight.
“I’m married and I’m not interested in anything sexual.”
“OK, OK. I promise I won’t make a move on you. I promise this will just be a very good foot rub.”
I decided getting my soles massaged was all in the line of the magazine business and settled down to listen to Jack talk about himself. He was a loner, he said; he painted signs for a living and had trouble making friends. “What do you do at night?” I asked. “I try to think of ways to pass the time,” he said.” Sometimes I think about going into the desert with a cup of water just to keep my lips dry – I could dehydrate there pretty easily…"
“But, hey, I keep my humor and my smile.”
I told Jack about my search for a great American adventure, and he had an idea. “Take me with you,” he said. “I know where to find Indian petroglyphs; I know all the hot springs; I know where they filmed High Sierra, with Humphrey Bogart. Make me your assistant.”
I wasn’t sure how much my German editor was prepared to pay for my 1,500-word haiku, especially since I had 1,400 words already written, but I decided to pretend that the editors in Hamburg were cheap. And so we sat in the hot springs and watched the storm clouds pass and the sun go in and out of the clouds, and when the rain turned wet we ducked down in the water. For five minutes or so we sputtered and laughed in a shower of hail.
“OH GOD, THIS FEELS GOOD,” Jack would say every now and then, or “It’s SO GREAT to be with a WOMAN,” and I’d get worried and start to get out, but then he’d say, “No, no stick around: I have another story.
I stayed because Jack was, in his way, a gentleman, and his stories were too good to miss. Most of them were about cosmic coincidences and Jack’s personal relationship to a parallel universe. Here’s the shortest one, which he called “The Candle and Lieutenant Kosmos”:
“I got my first inkling that God was paying attention to me when I was in the Army in Korea. A Lieutenant Kosman was coming to inspect our barracks and we all had to be ready. I remembered his name using a mnemonic device: Lieutenant Kosmos, the lieutenant from outer space. Now, for some reason we were supposed to keep our washbasin and candle in the bushes behind the barracks, and although I’d put the basin there earlier, I somehow overlooked the candle. When I found it, I just put it on my bunk under my helmet. When we heard Lieutenant Kosman was coming we all stood at attention, and then KERBANG! The door opened with a huge WHOMP! and Lieutenant Kosman stormed in, looking neither right nor left.