Quartzsite, Arizona. A small town I can’t imagine anyone would want to visit if they weren’t a seasonal snowbird running from the cold, a dedicated rockhound, or a soon-to-be fugitive running from legal consequence as a result of dastardly deeds. I arrived at the beginning of March on my way from Joshua Tree to Phoenix as the temperature started to climb further into the 90’s with each passing day, giving most of the seasonal locals their sign that it was time for them to move on. What drew me to the town were the large swaths of Bureau of Land Management land that allow two weeks of free camping, and rumors of an abundance of abandoned quartz mines. I was very much trying to delay moving on to Phoenix, a city I have despised traveling through or in for as long as I can remember. So when I packed up my things one morning and pointed East on I-10, my intent was to stay in Quartzsite for as long as my skin and my sanity would allow. I figured a quiet town with little to do but read and explore would be a good place to prepare myself for the long slog of indefinite exposure that would carry me from the dry and desolate Southwest into the thick and humid air of Texas. I had adopted a strategy of getting up with the first glint of sun and doing any traveling or riding as early as possible as a way to avoid traffic, cooking my tires and wearing them out prematurely, overheating my beloved steed, debilitating dehydration, and allow myself full afternoons of desperately searching for shade in as close to the nude as I could legally get away with. The latter objective being more out of despising the confines of clothing in dryer than dry 95 plus degree heat, rather than just enjoying the feeling of being unfettered in the outdoors. Or maybe the heat was just a convenient excuse to roam the desert in my favorite outfit, flip-flops.
I pulled into town before ten o’clock in the morning and the waves of heat were already rising up from the road and cooking me from the feet up. The only parts of my body exposed to the searing eye of the sun were my wrists, nose, and back of my neck. All of which felt like they were on fire. As a result, the skin on my nose would be peeling in some way for the next month, no matter how much SPF 50 and Zinc Oxide I slathered it with. After filling up my tank I decided to stop at one of the local RV parks to see if any of the old salts had any beta on where I should set up camp. I pulled in to the first one I found and was greeted by two shirtless, raspberry red, keg shaped men sitting in folding lawn chairs soaking their feet in a kiddie pool under the awning of an RV, next to a sign that read “Host Is In.” Before I had turned off the engine I was greeted with a “Howdy!” as one of the men produced a beer from the cooler between them. This, I would come to realize, is a friendly custom I would eventually have to get used to. I took my helmet off and said no thanks and that I would take an iced tea or something else if it was on the menu. They looked at each other dumbfounded and then turned and stared at me blankly, just another part of the custom. “What kind of man don’t take a free beer in heat like this?!” said the man who quickly opened the brew I had just turned down. “Me” I responded with a smile. They both laughed and asked what they could do fer me. When I told them what I was looking fer and where I was headed, Texas, for a wedding, they laughed again and told me I was definitely “doin’ it th’ hard way.” I smiled dismissively and let them have their fun. As I took my riding jacket off and secured it to the bundle on the rear of my bike, one of the portly raspberries stood up and waved me over to the card table near the open door of the RV. There he had a large faded map of the area laid out and anchored by rocks showing where the best places to camp with an RV or trailer would be. He told me where not to go in case of a flash flood and where I could get to that others couldn’t, due to my mode of transportation, and he told me where I could set up camp with high prospects of being invited to dinner with one of the many “lonely old birds” camped out in the foothills. I raised an eyebrow at him, he gave the soft skin on the back of my right arm a sharp pinch and shot me a wink. I told him to fuck off. I was irritable. He laughed and called me a “jumpy bugger.” His breath was hot and heavy with malt and negligent dental hygiene. After I took a picture of the map they proceeded to tell me that I had just missed the bulk of the action for the season. It had gotten hotter about a month sooner than usual and many of the regular winter campers had already packed up and gone on their way. On the plus side, this gave me a lot more options to choose from as far as campsites would be concerned, on the negative side, it meant less possibility of “free dinners and shacking up” with a leathery old lady snowbird. I shivered at the fact that they really seemed to be pushing for me to “shack up with one a’ them old toothless birds” but can’t deny that I was happy to know that there was even a slim chance that I’d be getting fed by friendly strangers while I was in town. As I was getting ready to head off and explore the area for a decent camp spot, the other old pervert grabbed me by the arm “If you want good water, and I mean really good water . . .” he pointed up the road across the interstate “ . . . you go ‘crossed that bridge there and just keep going until you see the ‘RV Pit Stop.’ It’s got a big, and I mean DAMN BIG, propane tank on the streetside that y’ can’t miss. Turn in to their last driveway, and on th’ backside of that little shack is a pump that will get you two gallons of the coldest, freshest, deep well water you’ll find in the sate. For 25 cents. I drink it ever’day and I don’t even have to put none of that powdered flavor innit.” I smiled and gave a firm thank you handshake to the man. “And if you want to do laundry, get some cheap grub, and take a shower . . . “ he continued still gripping my hand in his damp and pervy old claw “. . . on Main Street there’s a place, now I can’t remember the damn name, anyhow, look for a sign with a camel onnit and just pull in there. They got oatmeal and a coffee for four bucks and private showers with towels and soap and everything for seven bucks, with plenty of working machines to suit everyone in town any time you go in. They cheap too.” I thanked him again and reclaimed my hand, wiping it on my pant leg. Sweet! I thought to myself. Food, laundry, water, and shower all figured out within less than twenty minutes of rolling into town. I ran to the water shack at the RV Pit Stop first and filled up all of my water containers. Full, they add a considerable amount of weight to my motorcycle, but I wanted the security of hydration perhaps more than I wanted the ideal spot to set up camp for my first night in town. The sweat had begun to drip down the sides of my face under my helmet and I was looking forward to dumping a mug of the cold water over my head and neck as soon as I was settled.
I bounced around on ATV trails for about an hour while I looked for a spot that spoke to me, before eventually just giving up, deciding any one place would be as good as the next. It all looked like one big damn sandbox to me. I found a mostly open and level spot with a stone fire pit that had been built up and cleared out by previous campers and decided to call it home for a few nights. Not too far in the distance was a massive RV with large American flags perched atop each of its four corners and an equally comically large stone fire pit with even more American flags placed on tiny flagpoles around its perimeter. Parked next to it was a bright yellow Jeep Wrangler convertible. It too was festooned with an Old Glory spare tire cover on its backside. It had two “Make America Great Again” bumper stickers slapped to its chrome bumpers and a gun-totingYosemite Sam on each mudflap. The hills behind it were painted various hues of red and pink and yellow in the late afternoon sun. A real thing of ridiculous patriotic beauty that smacked of insecurity and commercialism I couldn’t help but shake my head and laugh at. Between the Monolith of American Pride and myself was a small Airstream trailer and an old blue and white Chevy C-10 pickup. Sitting outside the camper, under its awning, was an older couple and a large sandy blonde hound dog. After I set up my tent I chomped a fresh piece of nicotine gum and decided to walk over and introduce myself to my less gaudy neighbors. Their dog sounded the alarm and came out to greet me as I strode over. He was a big sloppy mess of a pup and I was instantly in love. His massive stoic head was perched atop a trunk of a neck, which was attached to a body of bricks and loose skin sitting atop long sinewy legs. His heavy paws kicked up little clouds of dust that swirled up and clung to the strings of slobber hanging from his loose lips. Tail wagging and eyes fixed on me, I took off my sunglasses and put my hand out palm down so that he could examine me before we inevitably became new best friends. And we did. He gave my hand a sniff and a little lick before circling me once and taking in my human-covered-in-sweat-and-dirt aroma before aggressively bumping his head against my hip and leaving a smear of slobber and mud down my thigh. Like I said, I was in love and we were going to be best friends. He reminded me of the Boxers my family has adopted since I was young and I wanted to run and roll around with him in the dirt instantly. “That’s Bruno. Sorry about that. I guess he likes you.” The man walking towards us said. “He’s usually a little less forward, but he’s a real pushover in any case. Name’s Tom. See you set up camp over the hump over there. Where’er you from?”
“Sean. Rode down from Seattle.” As I extended my hand for the formal part of our introduction Bruno barked, half jumped up on Tom before remembering he’s not supposed to do that, and ran back to the Airstream. “Seattle, no shit? We’re from BC. That’s a long ride.” We talked over our respective trips and the insane winter that the West Coast was having and how it sort of derailed each of us on our way south. He invited me over to their trailer to meet his wife, Trudy, and drink one of their beers. Bruno, Tom and Trudy. Traveling in an Airstream to no place in particular. When we got to the trailer, Trudy offered me a sweaty can of beer fresh from a cooler full of ice “Looks like you could use it” she said as she introduced herself. I turned it down but reassured her that I appreciated the offer. “How about a Dr. Pepper?” she asked with a disarming smile. I practically fell over myself “Oh man, I’d love one. Thank you! It’s fucking hot as hell out here.” For a moment I felt a little funny about dropping an F-Bomb within the first two minutes of meeting them. Only a moment. “Sure as shit” Trudy laughed back.
We spent the rest of the afternoon under the shade of their Airstream talking about the world “back home” and sharing snacks. I had about a pound of homemade jerky I had picked up near the Salton Sea a few days before and they had chocolate chip cookies and some trail mix Trudy had whipped up that morning. Bruno spent most of the time napping with his head under the folding table that sat between the three of us, moving only to slurp up any of the crumbs we dropped. I snuck him a little jerky and he gave me a streak of slobber on the leg he had missed earlier while I massaged the dip between his eyes with the knuckle of my middle finger until he groaned and yawned and went back to waiting for crumbs under the table. He was a good pup. While the sun slowly sank in the west Tom asked if I’d care to join them for a fire and some hot dogs. I laughed and told them they didn’t have to feed me but obliged him after he told me to stop being an ass about it. I was more than a little surprised and tried failingly to hide my excitement when I was told that the hot dogs were actually reindeer sausages they had picked up in the Northwest Territories from Tom’s sister before taking off on their little runabout. Those meaty weenies have been like kryptonite to me for as far back as I can remember. Ask any Alaskan or Northern Canadian about reindeer sausage and I can almost guarantee they’ll begin salivating faster than any of Pavlov’s dogs ever did. Before the night was over I had eaten four. Trudy was throwing them at me as fast as I was finishing them. I felt like the chainsmoker who lights his next cigarette with the one he’s about to extinguish. I ate them all straight up. No bun, no ketchup, no mustard, no nothing. Just the taste of fire and the snap of a wild game gut casing. Fucking heaven. To think I was once a vegan cracks me right up when I think about the pure bliss that runs through my entire body while eating wild animals in tube form. You can keep your Noma’s and your top rated whatever’s. Given the option, I’d take this over that overpriced skimpy plate bougie bullshit any day of my life. Throw in a wild fiddlehead fern salad and some rhubarb pie, turns out they had one of those too, and I’m yours. When I had been sufficiently stuffed with enough wild game and homemade pie to make me wish I was back home floating on the clear waters of Rocky Lake rather than sitting in the giant venomous sandbox our forefathers stole from Mexico, I decided to call it a night. The coyotes were yammering and arguing in the distance and I still needed to sort a few things out in my own camp before turning in. My gracious hosts informed me that they would be leaving for Flagstaff the next morning to visit some friends and asked if I’d be coming that way anytime soon. We exchanged information and made mostly empty promises to keep in touch and I headed back to camp. The moon was high and bright and alleviated any need I may have had to use a headlamp to find my way home.
The next morning I woke up as the sun started peaking up over the hills to the east. At home, domesticated, I rarely wake up this early. But at the time of writing this, I’ve evolved into a different kind of animal. I am now up with the first glimpse of the sun every day. However, when I was fresh into Quartzsite, I had not fully accepted our planet’s rotation around the great ball of fire as my one and only criteria that would dictate my sleep cycle in the following months. I grumbled and rolled over, accidentally releasing the valve on my ill-designed inflatable sleeping pad, letting all of the air out, again. I could hear Bruno barking and the old Chevy of Trudy and Tom’s warming up in preparation for their drive to Flagstaff. I took a drink of water and popped in a piece of nicotine gum before emerging from my now repellant sleeping quarters. The sun was starting to cook my tiny tent and I had begun to sweat. I grumbled a little more, pulled my jeans and flip-flops on, lumbered to my motorcycle and combed my greasy hair in one of the side view mirrors before checking the state of my sunburned shoulders. “Not too bad” I thought out loud, and decided to go without a shirt for the morning. When I turned to face the sun again Trudy and Bruno were standing in my camp. Trudy was holding a pie tin covered in plastic wrap. “You know, we have another one of these for tonight, and I thought you may want a little more than peanut butter and jerky for breakfast.” My mood instantly improved. She handed me the tin, Bruno sighed and gave me another smear of saliva and dirt as I gave him a good scratch behind the ears, and we said goodbye. As they pulled off towards town on a well-beaten path I hadn’t seen the day before I threw a leg over my motorcycle and dug the camp spork out of my tank bag. Trudy had delivered nearly half of the pie we had started into after dinner the night before, and I polished off every last bit. Lying on my back, my head on a tail bag, my feet crossed on the handlebars of the bike, the pie tin on my stomach, I used the buttery crust to sop up the syrupy goodness I wasn’t able to scoop up with my hybrid spoon-fork camp utensil. As soon as I started to think that this would be the start of some kind of ritual meal stance, perched precariously on top of my traveling companion, the kickstand of the bike sunk into the sand and my motorcycle and I tipped over and I was dumped onto the desert floor. Harumph. I jumped up to look and see if anyone may have witnessed my folly, only to see the silhouette of the patriarch of the Monolith of American Pride, facing me, with his back to his compound on wheels, exhaling a hefty plume of smoke from his morning cigarette. I waved. He snuffed out the butt turned around and walked back inside. I shrugged and queued up David Crosby’s ‘If I could Only Remember My Name’.
The next few days started off a lot like my first morning in Quartzsite, only there was never again any rhubarb pie. The sun came up, I grumbled and rolled over, the air escaped from my mattress, I grumbled some more, birthed myself from my rapidly warming domicile, and combed my greasy hair in one of my motorcycle mirrors. Until one day as I was fighting the tangles of quickly thickening grey atop my head, I decided it was time to check out the cheap oatmeal, coffee, shower, laundry facility in town. I grabbed my bag of dirty clothes; two pairs of underwear, one t-shirt, two pairs of socks, a hooded sweatshirt, some sun faded running shorts, and a crusted and dusty snot rag. I took my favorite route into town using a dry stream bed as my imaginary motocross track. The sides were sloped steeply in some spots and I was getting pretty good at drifting up the taller banks, doing my best to send a spray of rocks and dust as far out into the desert scrub as I could. I had grown fairly confident in my route from the days before and I was trying to make new tracks higher up above the ones I had dug out previously. I allowed the kid in me to run free with my poor decision making and on the biggest bank in the old dry stream I laid out as far out as I could and lost control of my motorcycle’s rear end. Before I knew it I was on my side, the machine pinned on top of my left leg, and we were sliding up and over the bank. The old baseball hat that I usually snap to my belt loop on short rides was ripped off and somehow ended up getting sucked under the rear tire and spit out far behind me. Luckily, the only real damage done was to that hat. The entire front of the dome had been worn through and was now a chewed up mess of rubber streaks, loose threads and desert debris. I dusted myself off and checked Kilgore for any leaks or missing parts. The evidence of my slide was about thirty feet long and besides the loss of a well broken in baseball hat, all I could find out of place were a few broken threads on the knee of my riding jeans. My trusty steed of plastic and aluminum started up on the first try and I headed off into town, taking my time in order to listen for any mechanical quagmires I may have missed in my hurried assessment. Soon after turning from my dirt track onto the pavement, a large white SUV, festooned with all of the typical law enforcement identifiers, made an appearance in my side view mirror. They were descending on me in that unmistakable way that says “you’re boned, son” and my stomach dropped. The lights and siren and the rest of the fanfare fired up on the suddenly very menacing looking vehicle and I pulled over. What do I do? Do I take my helmet off? Do I sit patiently with my hands on the tank? Do I cut the engine? Did they see me riding in the stream bed? Is that not okay? Fuuuuck me, I really don’t want to talk to a cop right now. The officer emerged from his vehicle and said something indecipherable into the radio on his shoulder. His hand was on his hip and I was imagining a showdown. A showdown, with what? I have a pocket knife, a multitool, and psychedelic mushrooms in my tank bag. Jesus, I thought, I watch too many fucking movies. “Can you remove your helmet, please?” I took my helmet off and Officer Ewald suddenly smiled. “Hey, man, I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t spook you or anything. We were chasing a guy out here last week on a bike that looked a lot like yours, but I just received confirmation that it was a Yamaha, not a Suzuki.” An instant sigh of relief. “Oregon, huh? Man, you rode that all the way from Oregon?” my new cop buddy asked me. “Seattle, actually” I said. We shot the shit a little bit and our interaction started feeling a lot like I had been pulled over by the Department of Tourism. I was informed by Officer Mike Ewald that the little town of Quartzsite, Arizona is only little, as far as population goes, for about a third of the year. He told me that sometime around September or October the formerly sleepy town of about two to three thousand permanent residents explodes to nearly three or four hundred thousand(!) people until about April or May. “Holy shit, did I hear that right?” Turns out I did. He also told me that it’s hard work for a police force of ten to twelve full-time officers to keep the riffraff in line during the winter months. I laughed heartily at the idea of three hundred thousand rapidly aging and largely slow moving snowbirds running away from a cold and meandering death being referred to as “riffraff.” The look on Officer Ewald’s face told me it was nothing to laugh at. “You ever heard of those, what are they called, ‘Rainbow People’?” I had. Many times. Might even know a few by name. In fact, on my way into town I saw an ancient RV with spray paint and duct tape repaired corners spilling about twelve of them onto the curbside by a truck stop. They were a hodgepodge of tie dye, dreadlocks, parachute pants and faded, ill-fitting, tights that made the spot between my upper lip and my nose curl just thinking about what the inside of that camper smelled like. Eventually the aroma of free or very cheap and processed food, reefer, hand-rolled cigarettes, bodies upon bodies sans basic hygiene, essential oils, and farts, can add up to just about more than any mere mortal can handle. A few were waving signs that read “Need Gas and Food” and “Will Trade Hugs For Cigarettes” while the others had formed an impromptu drum circle, spun hula-hoops, or just spun themselves, in circles all around their decrepit old RV. “Yeah, those people” he said in an exaggerated tone. “They show up here in droves, too. Say all this stuff about being free, but all they seem to do is hang out and panhandle and take advantage of the old folks who’ve worked their whole lives to be able to retire to the road.” I told him I know the type, but I admitted that I had been offered free food by some of the folks I’d met on the road up until that point. “That’s different” he said “these guys bring their drugs and their freeloading lifestyles with them and we get calls all the time about how these supposedly ‘free and loving’ people are starting fights and causing drunken messes with the older crowd that just want to be left alone to go to the casino during the day and relax to a nice quiet place in the evening . . .” he trailed off and looked into the desert as if something far in the distance had called his name. I tried to not look too amused by his frustration.
After a few more pleasantries I asked Officer Ewald for suggestions for what I might do with my time in his little town. He told me about “This funny old guy down the road there,” he pointed “owns a bookstore called ‘Reader’s Oasis’. He’s not exactly a nudist, but, he wears this, thing around his, you know.” He motioned as if he were describing a belt and looked at me over his sunglasses. I tried not to laugh and suggested that maybe he was trying to tell me that there was an old man that owns a bookstore down the road, who wears a loin cloth. “Nope. Not a loin cloth. You should check it out for yourself. He caused a lot of commotion here when he first showed up about twenty years ago. Besides the rock and gem shows, which you’ve missed, he’s about all the attraction we’ve got in this town. If you want to call him that. Unless you like casinos. But I doubt you do by the looks of you.” “Does the casino have a buffet? I can get really into those. I wouldn’t mind dedicating a day to the buffet, watching all of the old folks chasing each other around in their Rascals. I’m also traveling pretty light and I can definitely eat my weight in overcooked and over-seasoned and probably highly-processed casino food if the conditions are right.” He pretended he didn’t hear me. “You just go check out the bookstore. And if you’re thinking about a shower and maybe doing a little laundry . . “ he eyeballed me as if making a suggestion “There’s a place on the same stretch of road you can do all of that and more for pretty cheap.” I pointed out that I was actually on my way to do just that before this case of mistaken identity brought us together. He stared at me blankly. Another bombed attempt at humor. Fuckin’ cops, man. He told me to keep my nose clean and that if I was looking for some fun on a motorcycle that I ought to “Head south towards Yuma until you see the old mine off in the distance to your right.” and “Watch out for rattlesnakes. They’re waking up.” We shook hands, he mumbled something into his shoulder radio, it crackled something back at him, and we parted ways. I waited for Officer Ewald to disappear around the corner before firing Kilgore up and heading into town to cleanse myself.
The restaurant / laundromat / community shower was almost exactly as it had been described to me. The oatmeal and coffee combo was made for people who have lost the ability to taste but cost four dollars all the same, a twenty minute shower was seven dollars and included a clean towel and a bottle of baby shampoo, and a load of laundry was one seventy five. I didn’t see the point in using the dryer since it was almost guaranteed that my garments would dry within five minutes of walking out the door. While sitting and waiting for my clothes to finish spinning themselves free of cheap detergent and hard water, I met a few of the locals left hanging around – An older woman from Ottawa, Canada who swore her son was going to be drafted into the NHL next year even though he was nearly thirty years old, an old guy from Yuma who drives all the way up to Quartzsite once a week to do his laundry in hopes of running into a waitress he seemed to have fallen in love with on a trip through town many years ago, and an aged and very leathery walking cigarette with sad old fake tits that pointed in opposite directions and eye makeup that looked like it had been applied in a dark room with a paintball gun who, with a wink, invited me to join her in her trailer for “a gin or something” later that afternoon. They were all very agreeable and eager to share their stories and advice from their own lives on the road with a traveller at least half their age. When I finally made it back out to the parking lot I scribbled some notes on all of them and pointed myself in the direction of Reader’s Oasis Bookstore to try and ride the day’s wave of oddity I had found myself on. The universe seemed to have aligned in such a way that made visiting a bookstore run by a partial nudist the next logical step.
As I rode toward my next stop, I passed by a herd of senior citizens all riding two-up (in pairs), on four-wheelers, in single file, on the sidewalk. None of them were wearing helmets and I definitely saw at least three open beers being consumed. I remembered the conversation I had had with Officer Ewald earlier that morning. Rainbow People, right. I turned left into the gravel parking lot of Reader’s Oasis. Standing in front of the store, with his backside to the street, was a thin, very tan, elderly man, wearing nothing but a baseball hat and a faded zip-up hooded sweatshirt. His entire backside was exposed and his wrinkled and aging gluteus hung like a sad pair of helium balloons left out in the cold. Before turning around to see who was pulling in to his parking lot, he reached a skinny arm behind him, extended his long fingers, and lazily scratched at his exposed cheeks. I cut the engine and the old man turned to greet me. He had picked up a tobacco pipe and was packing a small bowl into it. He puffed it a few times before taking a deep pull and exhaling a familiar aroma in my direction. Alarm bells went off in my brain and I knew there was a little more than just tobacco in that pipe. About the same time the sweet smell of cannabis and tobacco made its way to my nostrils, my eyes were at work taking in what was standing there in front of me. Mike Ewald was right, it wasn’t a loin cloth. It was a multi-colored, hand crocheted, dick mitten. It was made up of two compartments – One for the shaft, and one for his testicles. At the top of the apparatus, keeping everything in place around his family jewels, was a tiny drawstring. Attached to that, circling his waist, was a clear strand of monofilament fishing line. Apparently for extra support and insurance to keep the whole, um, package, from falling off. We said hello to each other and he told me his name was Paul and that if I needed anything he would be happy to help. I walked into the store and was instantly impressed. This was clearly a work of passion for the old man. Each and every book was either wrapped in plastic or was in a clear plastic bag of some kind in order to keep the harsh desert elements from working their way in and deteriorating the beauty held between the covers. The floor of the bookstore was the same desert earth as the outside. Every square inch of wall space displayed either an old music or movie poster, a newspaper clipping re-telling an encounter with Paul, either in the store or out on the road from when he was a traveling pianist and burlesque performer, or something relating to an old blues musician or author from a bygone era. There was an old blues guitar record crackling out its sad and soothing sound from a turntable on one of the counters. I found more first-edition printings in one corner of that store than I had seen in any one place I could remember, ever. It is a bibliophile’s dust clouded Valhalla. As I made my way through the store from one corner to the next, more visitors stopped by. There was the mother daughter pair from Wisconsin who blushed and bumbled uncontrollably when they wandered in looking for a children’s book to take with them to California. A Japanese couple walked in and immediately covered their mouths and tittered nervously as they very politely asked for a picture with the man in the multi-colored dick mitten. A few more folks wandered in and left abruptly as soon as they saw the shameless old proprietor. The guy was rapidly becoming my new hero. Eventually he relaxed into a chair behind his desk and got to work on wrapping more books that would soon find their new homes on his shelves once they were protected in a thin layer of clear plastic. He removed his hooded sweatshirt and loaded a little something more into his pipe. As I worked my way around his store we started chatting. I asked him about his attire and how he came to settle in this little town, and how his lack of clothing went over with the locals when he arrived. I learned that Paul was originally from Vermont, had become an Eagle Scout long before he was a senior in high school, that playing Jazz and Blues piano had been his most consuming passion before opening a bookstore, and that he had started wearing less and less until settling on his dick mitten “wardrobe” sometime during the sixties. I also learned that since that time, the ACLU has represented and won over sixty indecent exposure cases on his behalf in more states than I can accurately remember at this time. Setting more than a small precedent for any other men who wish to follow his lead and kick clothing in favor of donning a dick mitten of their own someday, should they choose to do so. He told me that the community in Quartzsite was reluctant and more than a little uptight about his lack of clothing at first, but that when he decided to accommodate any squeamish townsfolk by wearing a dress or a thong when he went out in public, people generally started to leave him alone. We talked about what each of us was reading at the time and which authors we tended to gravitate to. His wife arrived sometime during our conversation and interjected from behind one of the other counters in the shop here and there to straighten out some of Paul’s stories. I learned that she is the one responsible for crafting the clever little codpieces and was quick to ask if she would be willing to sell one or two. Sadly, they do not sell them, but she did joke that it really wouldn’t take long to teach myself to make my own, and that I have the added convenience of carrying my template with me wherever I go. I was quickly imagining the difference in comfort between wearing some stuffy old running shorts during my time in the desert compared to how wonderful it must feel to roam freely in nothing but my own tailor made dick mitten and a pair of sandals. I made a note to look up the ACLU cases to see where this dream could become reality, besides Quartzsite, Arizona.
On my way out of town a few days later, I stopped in to visit Paul one last time. I picked up a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for a handful of change and tried to purchase one of the t-shirts he has made for the shop once or twice a year as funds allow. He was unfortunately out of the shirts, but he did have a jar of free candy he let me take advantage of before leaving. I’m glad I left Quartzsite with one last visit to the Reader’s Oasis Bookstore. I’m glad I met Paul, Tom, Trudy, Bruno, the round red men at the RV park, and the cast of characters at the laundromat / restaurant / public shower hybrid. Never in my life would I have imagined staying in that little town for nine days and nights. Never in my life would I have stopped there for anything but gas if I wasn’t traveling on an underpowered, extra lightweight, built for a different purpose entirely, old motorcycle. But I can say this, I’m glad I did, and I’ll be making it a point to stop again sometime down the line.