The General

The General

Part 1

My good God, I’ve struck metaphysical gold. I’m at the Poulsbo Library in Poulsbo, Washington, and the reason I’m here is because I’m on my way out to the coast to pick up The Fish, which has just been repaired by Bauer Surfboards in Port Angeles, and from there to La Push to go surfing tonight and then on to Westport tomorrow. I had to drop off a couple CD’s I’d checked out, and out of curiosity checked to see if there was anything by Carlo Rovelli or anything about Taoism. There was Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli, (hopefully) everyone’s favorite primer on the quantum world, and also, and this was entirely unexpected, Stephen Mitchell’s The Second Book of the Tao. I am more than a pig in mud right now. I’m like a pig with its head buried in the feed trough.

And yet. And yet. When I left my parents’ house this morning I had a strange feeling in my chest, a bit of a sad feeling. I’m not sure why this was. Maybe it was just the simple act of saying goodbye. Saying goodbye is always a little bit sad, even if it’s only going to be for a few weeks. But I think one of the reasons it was sad is because my mother didn’t realize she wouldn’t see me before I left for Norway, so it all felt a bit abrupt.

“OK, I’m gonna head out now. See you in a few weeks.”

Upon which I got into Panchita, where, unbeknownst to me, The General was waiting for me. The General, I will explain now and only now, is Swedish snus. Snus, and here again I will only explain now, is smokeless tobacco. Basically it’s little sacks of water, tobacco, and nothing else (I think there’s one relatively benign preservative, too). I’ve been hanging out with The General a lot lately, training, some might call it. The General is a no-nonsense fellow. When I got in the car this morning he said, “Sup, pussy.”

The General can always be called upon for moral support.

“Little late leaving today, aren’t we?” he said. “What were you up to in there? Drinking tea? Sucking your thumb?”

I said nothing but rather put Panchita in gear, rolled out of the driveway, and then out of the cul-de-sac toward the main road. Took a right on 305 and was off toward Poulsbo, off toward the library, off toward a weekend of surfing. Tonight, though, I’ll be camping alone. This isn’t entirely terrible. I’m used to spending time alone. To a certain extent I like spending time alone. And of course I won’t be alone at all, because Panchita, The General, The Fish, and La Mala will be there. In fact, The General is looking over my shoulder as I type these very words, snorting and shaking his head.

“Jesus,” he says, “Aren’t you an emotional one? What are we doing in a fucking library, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be surfing?”

The General, despite being Swedish, speaks perfect English. If anything he has a bit of a British accent, and some British mannerisms. He’s always smoking and wearing aviators. I’ve never seen him in anything but the same black, leather jacket. He’s in tremendous physical shape, mostly owing to the hundreds of push-ups he does every morning. In fact, I recently got an invitation from the Seattle Fire Department to apply for a job as a firefighter, and The General laughed when he saw the physical fitness test you have to take.

“You can’t do 35 push-ups,” he said. “I’ve seen you do push-ups. You don’t even do them right.”

“That’s because my wrist is messed up,” I said.

“Your mind is messed up,” he countered. “You can’t do 35 push-ups because you’re not a 35 push-up kind of guy. You know who’s a 35 push-up kind of guy?”

“You?”

“Fuck no. I’m a 100 push-up kind of guy. Have you seen my pecs? No, your dad’s a 35 push-up kind of guy. Some of your friends are 35 push-up kinds of guys, though maybe not because you have soft friends. Actually, now that I think about it, I doubt any of your friends can do 35 push-ups. Get down and give me 20 right now.”

The General is always demanding that I “get down and give him x number of push-ups.” I never do it. I just look at him, and he takes a drag off his cigarette, and then walks away, disgusted.

The General doesn’t completely approve of my lifestyle, but he’s always down to hang out. He was stoked we were going on a road-trip today. Panchita was also stoked, though she shows it in her own little way. A coy smile here and there.

On a completely unrelated note, the hotel I was hoping to stay at on Friday in Bergen has just gone up $30 dollars. Last night I checked it, it was $91 dollars including tax, including an “evening meal” and also breakfast, and I didn’t book it because I couldn’t decide between a room with two twin beds or one double bed. And now the price has gone up $30. Woe is me.

But now it’s time to leave the Poulsbo library with my trove of books on physics and Taoism. The coast beckons. Plus, The General keeps kicking the legs of my chair.

Part 2

What to say about the city of Port Angeles. There’s a grocery store I love here called Country Aire. I also like the library. It’s weirdly nice for a town known mostly for hunting and meth addiction. But Port Angeles is also where you get the ferry to Victoria, BC, Canada, a place where I’ve spent some of the happiest days of my life, so I will always have a soft spot for Port Angeles. But I don’t think I would ever live here. Why live here when one of the coolest, most livable cities is just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I will live in Victoria someday, or Vancouver. This is something I’ve been talking about for a long time. I must manifest this reality.

Country Aire is a fabulous grocery store, and it’s where I’m currently drinking an English breakfast. Panchita is outside resting, aka yawning, itching to get back on the road. But first I need to do a little grocery shopping.

The drive out here was uneventful. The General fell asleep in the back seat just as we were leaving Poulsbo. It looked like he was having nightmares. He kept saying, “No, no, no! Put it down! There’s kids in there!” followed by rapid fire Swedish and his eyelids fluttering upward. I asked him one time if he had flashbacks and he said, “What do you know about death?” and that was the last we ever spoke of it. I think he might’ve been stationed in North Africa, but I’m not entirely sure. He has a scar on his arm that I’m 96% sure is from shrapnel, and if you accidentally sneak up on him he’s been known to wheel around and get you in a choke hold.

Why did I buy a tea when I have an entire thermos of tea in Panchita?

I’ll probably wake The General up for the rest of the ride to La Push. God, I hope there’s a campsite there. La Push is simultaneously the best and worst place to camp I’m Washington. Best because it’s gorgeous and the surf is good, worst because it’s expensive and they have all kinds of arcane rules, like “one sleeping arrangement” per campsite. There’s no way The General is sleeping in the car with me. I won’t even let La Mala sleep in the car with me, even though she’s sexy as fuck. And of course I have to keep The General apart from La Mala because every time he gets close to her he starts making obscene gestures. How will The Fish fit into all this? The Fish is so passive, I doubt he’ll even notice. I would be blown away if The Fish and La Mala became a thing.

The surf should be good today. My wetsuit is dry. I’m going to buy a sandwich now and some stuff for dinner and head over to the ding repair shop to pick up my board. And then the beautiful drive around Lake Crescent, the beautiful drive to the coast.

Part 3

A slough of dates. Get to the surf shop and the board isn’t ready yet. I play with the pitbull/boxer the guy has who owns the shop. His daughter is still wearing facepaint from Halloween. I sit in the parking lot listening to the cars go by and checking out The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, by Brian Walker. It’s like the Tao but different ways of saying the same stuff. Most of the verses of the Tao are different ways of saying each other. Don’t force things. Don’t rush things. Listen to the Tao. Don’t compete. Don’t look for recognition. Be like water, content to occupy the low places. You can interpret the Tao’s verses any way you want. But the general idea is clear: non-action. Which basically means, “Don’t force things.” And also, “Rejoice in the way things are.”

The General hates when I talk about shit like this.

Panchita doesn’t care.

The drive around Lake Crescent is one of my favorite drives in Washington. Lake Crescent’s water is blue and deep. If you go swimming and open your eyes you are confronted with the abyss, and unless you’re some kind of sea creatures your first instinct is to either close your eyes again or get out of there. The water is cold and surrounded on all sides by steep mountains, covered in pine trees. This is hot spring territory. Indeed there are hot springs just a few miles away. I went there once with a girlfriend and was interested to note almost all of the clientele was Russian. Russians, for whatever reason, love dipping their bodies in scalding hot water.

The road twists and turns around Lake Crescent like a gazelles running from a hyena. And then you’re spit out into the planes just before Forks and the spell is broken. When you’re around Lake Crescent you feel like the outside world doesn’t exist and anything is possible. But then, back to reality.

Luckily, I still have a thermos full of tea. So reality is pretty sweet. And if all goes well in about two hours I should be surfing.

I’m getting kind of bored waiting for this board. I’m going to see what The General is up to.

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