Can Eye Carl

The last time I tried to bury a bicycle it wasn’t so hard. But it wasn’t so hot and I was only seventeen, my first time out of these mountains, living in a busted up old San Francisco house where I got my name, Can Eyed Carl, nice to meet ya.

We were planting the bike up to its top tube in leeks going to seed. It was my second morning in that pad, and I’d already lost account of my cousin Henry who I’d convinced to run away with me. We’d shot for the border on his daddy’s horse, with my brother Abe’s hounds barking at the backs of our imaginations. We felt safe enough by Grant’s Pass to sell the horse for some bus tickets out and down the coast to San Francisco - the only city we knew of. I don’t feel so bad about losing track of Henry, that house got busted up the next week on grounds that no one in particular owned it, which was true. So I lit out for Portland with a couple of folks.

A couple of years later Henry passes through the strip club where I’m bouncing and tells me of his feed business in Eugene, which is where the VW bus he got on in San Fran lost an axle and died. Now I’ve worked about every imaginable job in Oregon ‘cept governor and I can tell you that none’s more embarrassing when family shows up at your strip club. Not even knowin’ that Uncle Bill musta’ had a hard night ‘caus I got a whole dollar worth of empties from his back porch this morning.

After all a name’s a name and I try to live up to mine. I ain’t lived outside a refundables state in twenty-five years and I don’t plan to anytime soon. Well, I done lived up to my name, whenever times got tough, anyways, until I got pulled back into these mountains. Oh I’d feel the pull of home plenty strong plenty of times, but Pa lived longer than anyone would’ve bet. It turns out he gave up drinkin’ for a bit after I left and one of his dredges, now that he had the money to run it, hit a seam. A dredge? Ya take a lawnmower engine and some vacuum cleaner hose and put it together on top of an old pontoon boat and let her suck the bottom.

A rich seam, well, rich enough to win the general store in town from his old drinking buddy Perry Wright in a game of poker, retire from mining, and start drinkin’ store bought whiskey in place of the white mountain lightning he had been so partial to.

So well after I got word of the funeral (one has to be sure about these things) and the next time I hit a broke spell, I headed back with the idea of fixing up the old shack, growin’ a patch of garden, and livin’ quiet and peaceful for a while. But I got down there and found that Abe had gotten the fire men to burn the homeplace down for practice. So I go down to Perry’s store and find Abe managing away.

“Now brother it wouldn’t do to have you living up there. I just got Jeanne - fine woman you need to meet her. An’ I got the Wright family breathin’ down my neck - Johnny’s runnin’ for mayor against me this year, and you remember Tim - that SOB is trying to open up  a motel just across the street from mine, and listen to this - Jeb walked in here and flat out offered to buy the car wash from me, seein’ as how I was short on cash. Now maybe that’s true and maybe it ain’t - the point being brother - how about I set you up with a job. Would you help your brother stay on top in this town?”

Which is how I came to be on top of this hill. This is my eighth summer back in these mountains, prospecting some of Daddy’s old claims (and a few that ain’t in the family too). Mostly I’m lookin’ for selenium, some for moly, and, sure, gold, if I see it. I take soil samples, put a mark on my maps, and keep movin’. Abe drives me up here with a summer’s worth of canned food which I bury the bulk of and come back to, from time to time. This is the first time I’ve taken a bike, doesn’t seem like such a good idea of Abe’s now, I think I’ll just hide it in these bushes. Abe picks me up in September, same place, and he sends off the tubes to a lab in Fresno or someplace like that. And I live on the rebuilt homeplace for the winter. Abe doesn’t visit much. He’s busy with bein’ mayor, and his family, and the store, and all them goose egg soil results, and keepin’ an eye on the Wrights.

The littlest Wrights have been growin’ dope just outside of town, and he goes back and forth worryin’ about the money they’re bringin’ in and schemin’ on how to run them out of town for good. The older Wrights and Abe are still fightin’ over control of the town’s business and spendin’ each other into debt, to boot. Naw I ain’t embarrassed or worried by Abe. He’s embarrassed of me, to be sure, his older hobo brother, livin’ up in the shack he tried to forget he came from. (He doesn’t even know how I fixed up the old still.) That’s why he shuffles me off to the mountains before the tourists arrive for the summer, and see me collectin’ their cans each mornin’. But like I said, I’ve met relatives’ eyes with worse shame. At least I’m home now. And Abe? I feel sorry for him sometimes. He ain’t seen the world, or missed these mountains. He don’t know any better, only enough to try and control that little town down there.

Well, I’ve yammered on enough and it’s only getting hotter. If you don’t mind, an old hobo gets right squirrely when stashin’ his bread. Maybe I’ll see you on up the trail.