As a casual student of history and an avid observer of current events, I am often struck by the fact that so many misadventures begin with men trusting bad advice from other men. Just think of the quests: Cities of Gold! Fountains of Youth! A western sea route to India from Spain! And think of the echo chamber hubris: Invading Iraq will be a slam-dunk! Trade wars are good, and easy to win! Yes fellas, we can be our own worst enemies.
Awhile back, I had some time to kill in Ukiah, CA, the town where I spent my first ten years. It was early on a Sunday morning, and I walked the empty streets of my old neighborhood, where I hadn’t been for years. I was flooded by memories, but they were the memories of a five year old, a seven year old, a nine year old. It was an interesting experience.
I stood on a corner across the street from my elementary school and relived a conversation I had there when I was probably eight. I’d run into the older brother of a classmate of mine. He was around twelve. The conversation went as follows.
“Hey Jeff, want to know a secret?”
“You know where the creek comes down the hill, up by the baseball fields?”
“Well, if you follow the creek up far enough, there’s a cave full of naked girls. They haven’t seen a boy in a long time, and if you find them, they’ll let you do anything you want.”
Looking back, I have no idea what my eight year old brain thought “anything you want” might mean- not sure I’m clear on it now– but I know I was interested.
I took my leave of the knave, who certainly followed me snickering into his hand, and beat a hasty track to the little bridge over Gibson Creek, which rises steeply up the mountain, full of large boulders, snags from fallen trees, poison oak, and no doubt, rattlesnakes. It was a very hot summer afternoon. I hadn’t told anyone I was going into the hills. I had no water. I went.
I chuckle now imagining the picture: a skinny little red-faced squirt with a crew cut, dressed in levis, white t-shirt and sneakers, huffing and puffing wild-eyed up that canyon, scaling rocks and muscling branches out of my way, head jerking at any sound or movement of shadow- “Is that them?!?”- I heard whispers at one point and knew I was close.
I don’t need to imagine what I was feeling, though, because it was my very first sneak preview of full-on LUST, feverish and involuntary, new and familiar, scary and thrilling, pulling and pushing me up that hot creek bed.
Even after I turned back, tired and dispirited, I was convinced I simply hadn’t gone far enough. I even drug my best friend up there with me a few days later. He thought I was joking.