“The Arrival” from A Simple Revolution

Now she had a new story for what we were doing together. Once in San Francisco, we would go to the docks and find Vicky Jacob’s boyfriend Baxter. He had bought a genuine Chinese junk, an ancient sailboat design still in use, and he needed a crew to sail around the world. Although most water, especially the ocean, was frightening to me, and I considered Baxter truly strange, so that this prospect filled me with horror, I didn’t let on. Let stoicism prevail. Let the moment fall where it would, like a handful of divinatory sticks, at least we would be in San Francisco, and we would be together.

I loved the city on sight, the interesting neighborhoods, the playfulness and sometimes elegance of the paint jobs, the variety of detail on the houses, the ghostly fog traipsing in through the up-and-down streets. We stayed with Beth and other friends from college while deciding what to do next. Almost immediately my lover drove us to the marina. Oh damn.

Wendy was persisting in the Baxter quest. A remote young white man, he was extremely tall, slender, and unpredictable. A child of the excessively wealthy upperclass, he seldom spoke, and was questing after meaning long after the beatnik era was gone. He and Vicky had gone to Amsterdam, where nothing would do but to act out a scene from the French movie she and Wendy both loved so much, Jules et Jim. A woman has two lovers, marries one, desires them both. The two men are friends who fought on different sides during the Great War. They all attempt unsuccessfully to live together but her inability to choose continues until she drives a car with herself and Jim into a lake, while Jules watches from the shore.

In Amsterdam, Baxter set out to replicate the final scene of the film with himself driving, Vicky as passenger. He rented or bought a car, a classic of similar vintage to the one in the film. They sat in it, aimed it, their nihilistic weapon of choice. But Vicky leapt out of the passenger’s side the second before he plunged it into one of Amsterdam’s canals, and she held her breath as the vehicle vanished. Minutes passed while her heart trembled, and then his head bubbled up to the surface.

Now we proposed to be, just the two of us, on the high seas with him. Whatever was Wendy thinking? I had no idea. She loved sailing, had crewed on sailboats on the Atlantic coast. But that was for a day’s sport; that wasn’t “around the world.” I solaced my anxious self by imagining that the boat would be a vivid green, friendly lizard of a thing, with two or even three masts, red and gold trim, like something—though in miniature—I might have painted under my father’s crafty roof. We wandered the maze of docks until my feet hurt and the sea wind cut me in half. That Vicky must have made the whole thing up. But then, there the boat was, a very faded, uncared for, venerably old, gray dead-dragon-looking Chinese junk.

“This is it!” Wendy was excited. She went below to find Baxter while I paced the unpainted, splintery deck, noticing how chilly San Francisco was actually, and vowing to acquire a warm coat. (I did after a while, a gorgeous dark blue, nearly black, Navy surplus peacoat, which served to keep me through several San Francisco seasons. These well-made wool coats have the advantage that you can button the double row of buttons up under your neck and the coat flap comes up another scratchy inch or two so you can duck your teeth behind a fabric shield in a chill wind.)

Never well-acclimated to weather, hot or cold, I was shaking when Wendy came up from below deck. The afternoon wind was well up. She looked very disappointed.

“Let’s go.” As we trudged up the dock she explained the situation. “We can’t sail around the world with him. He has decided to live on fifty cents a month.”

Trudge trudge. “How does he do that?”

“He eats nothing except oatmeal.” We walked on as I assimilated this information. A yellow-beaked gull on the rail let out a squawk. The sea breath invaded my nostrils, and now smelled deliciously of liberty. The wind in the Bay Area cleanses the whole place for a couple of hours every day, making way for endless possibility.

“That might not be such a problem…” she paused. I pondered living on only oatmeal, bobbing across the Pacific. We walked a few more yards. “It wouldn’t be a problem, except he has epoxied his hands together.” To get the picture I had to ask her twice about this last detail. Epoxy is a particularly permanent glue, and Baxter had spread it on his palms, then slapped them together and let it dry. He was studying Buddhism, American style.

Within a year or two we ran into him again, on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, wearing a thin orange dress, chanting Hare Krishna with the other devotees. His hands were blissfully free, his long fingers slapping a tambourine, his eyes fixed on peace. I was extremely grateful to the Krishnavites and their bhakti devotion for saving me from having to sail around the world in order to keep my love. Instead, we found something else to do. We joined the revolutionary movement.

A Simple Revolution is available now from Aunt Lute Books. For marketing or publicity inquires, contact marketing@auntlute.com


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Community Forum

  1. Laura C. says:

    This is an incredibly integral narrative that will shed light and perspective on the queer women’s movement. I was struck by Baxter’s seeming obliviousness to his position in the world as a male and found Grahn’s assessment of him to be delicate, although humorous and how the two deviated from the movements they chose to join.

  2. Chelsea M says:

    A fantastic glimpse into one of Judy’s many delightful and deeply absurd encounters. I truly enjoy and very much resonate with her zig-zagging path full of wrong turns, weird turns and near misses. The immediacy of the differences among these vastly divergent social actors intrigues me most about this passage, though I also appreciate the ongoing theme of Judy, a thoroughly desert-grown body, being met multiple times with the tumultuous sea, both through the reality of living on the coast and the meeting of Baxter.

    Baxter’s history of extreme material and social privilege has motivated him to romantically pursue the Unknown, putting him in contact with Judy and Vicky at a potentially pivotal moment that can be described only as having multiple levels of situational absurdity. Judy’s sumptuous detail describing the texture, fit and quality of her one prized jacket; Baxter’s irrational and somewhat flippant/crazed film reenactment; and his character’s introduction that is hinged on a wave of desire to mold his markedly privileged body according to the extremes of a manufactured American asceticism/eccentric/experimentalism, intersect in this moment in time to create an unexpected tension.

  3. Tucker says:

    Wonderful! I have the book and can’t waitbtobread it. Thanks for posting excerpt. And for your goo work!

  4. L.C. says:

    Great excerpt! The descriptions were beautiful and so vivid, I felt myself being transported to the docks. Baxter is an interesting character to me, particularly how he figures into the story. It seems that in a way, his decision not to sail the world became a means through which the narrator and Wendy were able to participate in the lesbian movement. I can certainly appreciate the irony of a hetero man unintentionally and indirectly contributing to a revolution by and for queer womyn. It makes me wonder, however, how men must be positioned in order to create homosocial/homoerotic spaces for womyn; here, for instance, I interpreted the incident with Baxter as a symbolic rendering of how the absence of men can be a catalyst for female empowerment. I guess one question I have is, in what ways have men (gay or straight) served as allies to queer womyn and their cause? I am only just learning about the history of this transformational movement, and am excited to find out more!

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