My Life with Steve
I spent a fair chunk of the 1980’s living in Eugene, Oregon. It was a wonderful time of cooperative living, incessant rain, and eight dark years of Ronald Reagan as President. OK, maybe there were some issues, but by and large it was quite magical, as long as you never read a newspaper or watched the TV news, which none of us did in those days.
Forty miles to the east, the mountains. Forty miles to the west, the ocean. Marooned in the middle, lots of tie-dyed freaks living on the dole and waiting for the Sixties to return. In vain, as it turned out.
Always being one for high efficiency, I wrapped several lifetimes into my time in Eugene, and over the course of eight years I transformed myself from an itinerant hippy vagabond into a fledgling jazz musician. I leave it to you to decide whether this was a step up, down, or lateral.
As I drifted toward my future life of #9b9 Dominant chords and ramen, I shared a house for a time with a gentleman named Steve. Steve was the perfect housemate: he was about ten years older than me, he didn’t smoke, and as a bonus, he worked as a surveyor for the Forest Service, which meant that once a month he would be gone for about ten days to Burns, Oregon.
If you have never heard of Burns, you’re not alone. Adrift in the high plains of eastern Oregon (an area we high-falutin’ hippies called “So Unimportant That We Don’t Even Have a Name For It”), Burns was about 5 hours from Eugene and 10,000 years from the Iron Age. I didn’t know what Steve was doing over there, not really grasping what a surveyor was, but I was sure it was important, real-job type stuff. Go, Steve.
One time when Steve was gone, we almost killed his dog by taking it on an outing to the Devil’s Punchbowl, where it proceeded to sprint away from us and down to the edge of the ocean’s spray, perilously close to certain death on slippery, razor-sharp rocks. It was crucially important that the dog get down there so it could engage in its favorite pursuit of barking at nothing.
Somehow we coaxed the fool animal back, not being nearly foolish enough to follow it down there ourselves. I was preparing a story of my valiant but ultimately failed heroism leading to the dog’s death for Steve’s benefit when the moronic beast came bounding back up the rocks like a mountain goat, with an expression that said “Let’s do it again!” No, let’s drag your sorry ass back into the car, Hound of Satan.
Another time, I got up as usual at the crack of noon to discover that Steve had made it home sometime in the wee morning hours, because his car was there–but he was still asleep. Steve liked to drive during the night, when it was cooler. So I puttered around awhile, cooking up some of his bacon, until he woke up. And we had the following exchange:
Steve (bleary-eyed): Hey.
Me: Hey. <pause> Got any eggs?
Steve: I’ve been gone ten days.
Me: Oh. Yeah.
We sat a while in silence, while I turned Steve’s bacon. Then:
Me: Hey, Steve?
Me: Why is there a black cat with three legs rubbing up against my shins?
Steve: <yawning, stretching> Oh, yeah. Funny story.
Me: I’m listening.
Steve: OK, so you know how I like to drive home at night, right? So I’m driving home last night, and I’m out in the middle of nowhere.
Me: That’s pretty much anywhere east of Bend.
Steve: Right. So I really have to take a leak, and of course there’s nothing in any direction, so I just stop the car in the middle of the road, in pitch black darkness, and get out to relieve myself.
Me: Uh-huh. Does this thing have mange?
Steve: I wouldn’t know. Anyway, I’m out there writing my name in the dust, and something brushes against the back of my leg. This being rattlesnake country, I jumped about three feet.
Me: So where’s the snake? I’ll fry it up with this bacon.
Steve: No snake, it was this here 3-legged cat. Came out of nowhere. I couldn’t just leave it, so I brought it home.
Me: Well, that’s a touching story. What are we going to name it?
Steve: I was thinking ‘Tripod’.
Me: But of course you were.
That was Steve, big-hearted and affable to a fault, or a three-legged cat. Tripod lived with us for about four months, and then ran away.
It takes a special kind of inertia to be able to lose a cat with three legs by allowing it to run away. But in those days, we were up to it.
I don’t know what Steve is up to these days. Math tells me he must be pushing seventy. So I will hope for the best without delving too deeply. You never know what might jump out of the desert at you.