Sunday, August 07, 2005

Farley's Treasure Map

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My dad knocked on the door to my motel room. The Santa Ana winds had died down, and the Palm Springs morning smelled like citrus fruits and roses. Dad and I had planned to drive up the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains and go to Big Bear. It was a warm day, but Big Bear would be quite chilly.

“Is it true that one of Atajo’s gold properties has buried treasure on it?” I asked Dad.

“I hope so,” he said, smiling for the first time since we had arrived in Palm Springs. This was not as easy for Dad as I had assumed. “The old Bradshaw Trail ran through here. It took people to one of the best passes through the San Bernardino Mountains.”

As we drove up the road, I looked down into the extensive valley. In the distance I could see the other towns near Palm Springs. I could see much of the Coachella Valley: Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Thousand Palms. Somewhere outside my view was Twenty-Nine Palms, the location of an extensive installation of the U.S. Marine Corps. As we continued to ascend, I could see more towns. The trace of the San Andreas fault was visible.

Palm Springs was in its prime back in the 1930s. It was a playground and a spa for the Hollywood rich and famous,” Dad continued. “The hotel we’re staying at used to be a film colony.”

“That explains the architecture and the d├ęcor,” I said. “I like it. It reminds me of a 1930s movie. I really like the pool and the citrus trees.”

After more driving, we arrived at the Big Bear Mountain ski lodge. Marcus was standing next to his dad and was staring vacantly into the distance. He was wearing jeans, a turtleneck, and a windbreaker. He brightened when he saw our Suburban pull up.

“Hey. What’s up?” Marcus grinned at me, and I smiled back. The trembling I’d been feeling did not have the ominous buzzing feeling, so I thought that perhaps this was just due to the chilly weather and nerves.

“You two have a good time – why don’t you take the ski lift up to the top?” suggested Dad.

“You mean the “Alpine Funiculaire”?” I ask. Marcus laughed. We both noticed the name, and the edelweiss motif everywhere. For some reason, it struck us both as very funny.

“Hey, I heard that they’re going to change the name to the ‘Scenic Sky Chair,’” said Marcus.

“Too bad. This one makes me want to burst into song. The hills are alive…” I held out my arms in the classic Julie Andrews pose.

Once at the top, we went into the restaurant. I ordered a hot chocolate. Marcus ordered a chocolate shake.

“How can you eat ice cream when it’s so cold?” I asked.

“Mom always asks me the same thing.” He looked out across the ski slopes. “There’s not really enough snow to do anything. It’s nice, though.”

“My mom’s always making me take vitamin supplements,” I said. “Mom bought a bunch of stuff – desiccated liver tablets, Tiger’s Milk, kelp, and organic vitamins. She buys it from a health food store that used to be run by a commune, before a guy from her church bought it.”

“Weird.” Marcus took a drink of his shake. I felt dizzy.

“My mom has some pretty weird ideas,” I said.

“Oh well – you think your mom’s crazy. You should spend some time with my mom! Mom has this insane idea that she has the ability to “speak” to maps and that they’ll tell her where treasure is buried. She said that the ghost of an old prospector is telling her where to go,” said Marcus.

“Yeah? That’s pretty radical,” I said. I thought of Dad’s obsession with treasure, and his huge collection of antique maps, geological studies, historical documents, and legends of treasure. He could get away with it because he was a geologist, I thought grimly. He could mask his treasure-hunting with mineral exploration.

“Something called Farley Kritzoff.”

“Weird.”

“Check it out. There’s a Pong game over there. Do you want to play?” asked Marcus.

“Sure. I’ve got a couple of dollar bills. I’ll get change.”

The afternoon went quickly. I was wearing a black wool sweater, with a red satin inlay and collar. There were flowers embroidered on the front, and wore dark pants. Although I was still trembling and my legs were sore, the fact that I was on the Sooner Swim Club back at home and often worked out twice a day made me aware that my idea of myself as an obese misfit was probably not too accurate. I was a misfit with large, hulking shoulders, I told myself.

“Where did your mom get the maps?” I asked.

“They were in an old desk in the office. It’s that old building. The old office. She says that the treasure is in two places – one is on the property my dad has screwed up and is about to sell. The other is somewhere in Nevada.”

“That’s pretty wild. What else does she say?” I asked.

“Not much. Mom has been acting really weird lately. She smokes all the time, won’t eat, and then gets totally smashed every night on vodka tonics. She didn’t used to be like this. I don’t know what do.”

I thought back to the dinner Dad and I had the first night we were in Palm Springs. I had met Mrs. Torrell, and my impression of her was of a very pretty older women. She seemed to be nervous, though. She chain-smoked and gulped her drink. I couldn’t imagine her as someone’s mother. I suddenly felt very sad.

“Hey, she’s not as weird as my mom. At least your mom is really pretty and she takes an interest in other people. My mom won’t get out of bed for days at a time. Of course, she’s got my dad fooled. A day before he gets back in town, she hires someone to clean the house, and then she starts wearing something besides a housecoat, pajamas, socks and slippers. Oh. I forgot the cloth she coats with mentholatum and puts over her head and around her neck.”

Marcus put another quarter in the machine to start new game of Pong. He took a drink of his Coke. “Don’t you want something to eat?” he asked.

“No. I’ll get another Diet Dr. Pepper, though,” I responded. We played a couple of games of Pong, then noticed our dads approaching us.

“That computer game looks like fun,” said Marcus’s dad. Marcus looked embarrassed.

“Marcus, would you like to ride with us?” asked Dad. “Your dad has to run a few errands on the way back to Palm Springs.”

We made the drive back to Palm Springs in silence. Marcus fell asleep. His leg flopped over and touched mine, making my heart pound and my belly turn to fire. I didn’t want to spoil the moment, so I sat very still and felt the energy from his body course through mine. Dad was listening to a call-in talk show where the host and the callers were discussing stagflation.

When we got to Palm Springs, there were no lights on at Marcus’ house.

“Will you be okay?” asked Dad.

“Yeah. I’ve got a key. Mom’s probably in the back watching television.” Marcus added something under his breath that I could hear, but Dad couldn’t. “Yes. Probably in the back getting smashed.

Later, we found out there was a different reason for the lights not being on. It turned out that Marcus’s mom died that morning, just after Marcus left with his dad to go to Big Bear Mountain.

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