What Do You Say To A Partly Naked Woman?

SHE WAS WALKING UP THE hill toward us through the sea of sprawled bodies surrounding the stage at Laguna Seca Speedway, where some friends and I were enjoying three days of the Grateful Dead and Los Lobos in the summer of 1988.

My own life was at a crossroads. I was coming from a year aboard the Golden Hinde II (many stories there, oh yes) but hadn’t decided whether to hitchhike to Alaska and work on a fishing boat or return to the Northern California Renaissance Faire and eventually settle into landbound life. So I stayed for an indecisive interim with some Humboldt County friends who invited me to join them for the show.

(This was also the hitchhiking trip where I heard a sound from ‘midst the roadside bushes, stuck in my hand and pulled out a little black kitten. But that’s another story; or maybe just another part of the same old story.)

So there we were on the hillside between acts (Ralfh, Sputnik, a friend of Ralfh’s, and me), and here comes this partly naked woman. The event itself wasn’t strictly topless, although she was; straight red hair, green eyes, medium build, about my height, and the most striking expression: a mix of “I can’t believe I’m doing this” and “What’s the big deal?” She was angling up the hill, trailing headshakes and sympathetic laughter, perhaps to meet a friend or take in (or be) the all-encompassing view, and she was headed right at me.

As I am something of a magnet for strangeness, and because it was a Grateful Dead show, I would not have been surprised to know her. I didn’t, but as she passed she gave me a beatific and knowing smile.

“Don’t tell anyone I’m naked,” she said.

“I won’t,” I said.

And for 22 years, I didn’t. I hope that, at this late date, she forgives me.

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