more densely aromatic

May 11 [Wed], 2011, 12:12
As crops in the sun grew fatter, flowered, more densely aromatic, as resinous breezes swept out of the gulches to scent the town day and night, the sky over Vineland County, which had allowed the bringing of life, now began to reveal a potential for destroying it. Pale blue unmarked little planes appeared, on days of VFR unlimited nearly invisible against the sky, flown by a private vigilante squadron of student antidrug activists, retired military pilots, government advisers in civvies, off-duty deputies and troopers, all working under contract to CAMP and being led by the notorious Karl Bopp, former Nazi Luftwaffe officer and subsequently useful American citizen. During these weeks of surveillance, helicopter and plane crews were beginning to assemble each morning in a plasterboard ready room out in the flats below Vine-land, near the airport, waiting for Kommandant Bopp to appear in the full regalia of his old profession and announce Der Tag.Up in Holytail, the growers hung around at Piggy's Tavern and Restaurant, discussing, in an atmosphere of mounting anxiety, the general dilemma of when to harvest. The longer you waited, the better the crop, but the better, too, your chances of getting hit by the CAMP invaders. Storm and frost probabilities, and personal paranoia thresholds, also figured in. Sooner or later Holytail was due for the full treatment, from which it would emerge, like most of the old Emerald Triangle, pacified territory — reclaimed by the enemy for a timeless, defectively imagined future of zero-tolerance drug-free Americans all pulling their weight and all locked in to the official economy, inoffensive music, endless family specials on the Tube, church all week long, and, on special days, for extra-good behavior, maybe a cookie.With surveillance farther up the watershed and over the ridge-lines quickening, so had the civic atmosphere down in Vineland taken on an edge, traffic downtown and in the lots at the malls grown snappish and loud with car horns and deliberate backfires, boat owners anxiously in and out of parts places several times a day, reports of naval movement, at least one aircraft carrier sighted on station just off Patrick's Point, and AWACS planes in the air round the clock now, not to mention the Continental charm of Kommandant Bopp all over the local news, as he, often in Nazi drag, declared his "volunteer" sky force at maximum readiness. Something waited, over a time horizon that not even future participants could describe. Once-carefree dopers got up in the middle of the night, hearts racing, and flushed their stashes down the toilet. Couples married for years forgot each other's names. Mental-health clinics all over the county reported waiting lists. Seasonal speculation arose as to who might be secretly on the CAMP payroll this year, as if the monster program were by now one more affliction, like bad weather or a plant disease. The cooking in the cafés got worse, and police started flagging down everybody on the highways whose looks they didn't like, which resulted in massive traffic snarls felt as far away as 101 and I-5. A parrot smuggler in an all-chrome Kenworth/Fruehauf combination known as the Stealth Rig, nearly invisible on radar, swooping by law enforcement with the touch-me-not authority of a UFO, showed up late one Saturday afternoon, parked beside 101 just across the bridge in unincorporated county, and sold out his entire load before the sheriff even heard about it, as if the town, already jittery, just went parrot-crazy the minute they saw these birds, kept drunk and quiet on tequila for days, ranked out in front of the great ghostly eighteen-wheeler, bundles of primary color with hangovers, their reflections stretching and blooming along the side of the trailer. Soon there was scarcely a house in Vineland that didn't have one of these birds, who all spoke English with the same peculiar accent, one nobody could identify, as if a single unknown bird wrangler somewhere had processed them through in batches — "All right, you parrots, listen up!" Instead of the traditional repertoire of short, often unrelated phrases, the parrots could tell full-length stories — of humorless jaguars and mischief-seeking monkeys, mating competitions and displays, the coming of humans and the disappearance of the trees — so becoming necessary members of households, telling bedtime stories to years of children, sending them off to alternate worlds in a relaxed and upbeat set of mind, though after a while the kids were dreaming landscapes that might have astonished even the parrots. In Van Meter's tiny house behind the Cucumber Lounge, the kids, perhaps under the influence of the house parrot, Luis, figured out a way to meet, lucidly dreaming, in the same part of the great southern forest. Or so they told Van Meter. They tried to teach him how to do it, but he never got much closer than the edge of the jungle — if that's what it was. How cynical would a man have to be not to trust these glowing souls, just in from flying all night at canopy level, shiny-eyed, open, happy to share it with him? Van Meter had been searching all his life for transcendent chances exactly like this one the kids took so for granted, but whenever he got close it was like, can't shit, can't get a hardon, the more he worried the less likely it was to happen. ... It drove him crazy, though most of the time he could keep from taking it out on others, what muttering he did do just lost as usual in the ambient uproar of the day, often oppressive enough to force him out of the cabin on gigs like this, though it meant a long, intimidating drive upward through crowds of tall trees, perilous switchbacks, one-lane stretches hugging the mountainsides, pavement not always there — then a sunset so early he thought at first something must have happened, an eclipse, or worse. He nearly lost his way in the dark but was guided by its own pale violet glow at last to the Black-stream Hotel, which loomed up in an array of dim round lights that seemed to cover much of the sky. He'd heard about the place but had no idea it was this big.

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What an evening. They told obscure but rib-tickling Thanatoid jokes. They twitted one another for taking inordinate lengths of Earth time to clean up relatively penny-ante karmic business. Thanatoid wives bravely did their part to complicate further already tangled marriage histories by flirting with waiters, buspersons, and even other Thanatoids. Everyone drank and smoked furiously, and the menu featured the usual low-end fare, heavy on sugar, starch, salt, ambiguous about where the meat had come from, including which animal, accompanied by bushels of french fries and barrels of shakes. Dessert was a horrible pale chunky pudding. There was sparkling wine, to be sure, but all clues to its origin had been blacked out with felt-tip marker at some unknown stage in its perhaps not even entirely legal journey. As more of this was drunk, Thanatoids grew less shy about lurching up to the mike and reciting insult testimonials to the Roastee, or making with the quips."What do you call a Thanatoid with 'Sir' in front of his name? Knight of the Living Dead! How many Thanatoids's it take to screw in a light bulb? None — it gets too hot in there! What does a Thanatoid do on Halloween? Puts a fruit bowl on his head, two straws up his nose, and goes as a Zombie!"he 1984 Thanatoid Roast was being held up north, at an old Thanatoid hangout, the Blackstream Hotel, which dated from the times of the early timber barons, hidden far from highways, up among long redwood mountainslopes where shadows came early and brought easy suspicion of another order of things . . . believed, through some unseen but potent geometry, to warp like radio signals at sundown the two worlds, to draw them closer, nearly together, out of register only by the thinnest of shadows. In the century since the place was built, tales of twilight happenings had accumulated, rooms, corridors, and wings taken on reputations for sightings, exorcisms, returns. Pilgrims enjoying a broad range of legitimacy had been around, so had Leonard Nimoy's "In Search Of" people and Jack Palance's "Believe It or Not," and deals, as you could always count on hearing, were in the works."And someday," the joker at the mike was saying, "maybe they'll even put Thanatoid Roasts on television, as a yearly comedy special, yeah, big names, network coverage — 'course we won't live to see it. . . ." The drummer gave him a couple of bass thumps and some slow mashed sizzling from the high-hat. Providing the music tonight was a local pickup group, including, on bass, Van Meter, who'd heard about it down at the Lost Nugget, would have tried to talk his running mate Zoyd into coming along and playing keyboard, except that nobody had seen Zoyd around for most of the week, and Van Meter didn't know if he should be getting worried yet or not. Zoyd had been staying with planters he knew up by Holytail, beyond the coastal ranges and the yearlong fogs, in a valley where growing conditions were ideal — about the last refuge for pot growers in North California. Access, at least by road, wasn't easy — because of the Great Slide of '64, you had to double back and forth along both sides of the river and take ferries, which weren't always running, and bridges said to be haunted. Zoyd had found a community living on borrowed time, as everyone watched the scope of the CAMP crop-destruction effort growing without limit, season after season — as more state and federal agencies came on board, as the grand jury in Eureka subpoenaed more and more citizens, as friendly deputies and secure towns one by one were neutralized, taken back under government control — all wondering when it would be the turn of Holytail.The Vineland County sheriff, Willis Chunko, a squinty-eyed, irascible old media hand who showed up every autumn, as sure a precursor of the season as the Jerry Lewis telethon, posing on the evening news next to towering stacks of baled-up marijuana plants or advancing on some field shooting a flamethrower from the hip, had featured Holytail on his shit list for years, but the area was extraordinarily tough for him to penetrate. "It's Sherwood Forest up there," he would complain to the cameras, "they hide up in the trees, you never see 'em." No matter how Willis chose to arrive, Holytailers always had plenty of advance warning. The network of observers extended down to Vineland, with some lurking right outside the Sheriff's Department itself with rolls of quarters, ready to call in, others hooked up by CB radio in roving patrols on all surface routes, or scanning the sky from ridges and mountaintops with binoculars and converted fishing-boat radars.

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