A man returns to the place of his birth to sew up memories of incest and abandonment.
Jerry gives an overview of the book:
Pushed by a brisk breeze off the river the wooden archway over the entrance to the Polynesian Gardens swayed and creaked. Dust swirled across the road and the breeze carried it onto the green water. The Gardens consisted of eight small trailers squatting at random angles along the west bank of the Sacramento River as it made a shallow turn south toward a link with the Feather. Near the entrance, on tall pilings, a decaying bar leaned over the water and Lenny entered and the bartender looked up to see who was interrupting the quiet of a summer afternoon. He took two quick swipes at the bar with his towel and managed a nod as Lenny took a stool. “Beer, in a bottle please,” Lenny said.
The bartender said that’s all he had and reached into a small fridge, popped a bottle cap and slid the drink smartly into Lenny’s waiting palm. The breeze, mixing it up with the afternoon heat, eased through the bar in pungent aromatic waves of nettles, oak mold and marsh grass, and the surroundings came at him in a rush as he took a deep draw on the sweating beer bottle and recalled the Gardens short, ill-fated history.
The dismal beginnings of the Polynesian Gardens were born in the fertile imagination of his mother Lenore, a runaway at the age of fourteen. She met Jack Tisdale a misplaced merchant seaman and together they took over the operation of the Gardens, which at the time was nothing but a wide spot in the road. Lenore’s dream was to turn it into a tourist resort. As for Jack, he didn't have many aspirations other than getting laid, and Lenore never having been laid, was willing. With Lenore’s help Tisdale pulled himself out of a drunken stupor. She inspired him to clean up the place and breathe new life into the Gardens and in May of '79, Jack and Dolores stood under the palms at the entrance and flipped the switch to illuminate a neon sign on the archway. It buzzed awake and read, Polyn ardens. The Gardens’ success lasted just five months. By then Jack had fallen off the wagon and Lenore was pregnant with Lenny. Tisdale disappeared one week after Lenny’s sixth birthday, so Lenny didn't remember much about his father. When Jack abandoned her, Lenore dropped any trappings of motherhood and more or less left the Gardens and Lenny to the elements. She never physically left him, but she went on destructive binges, drinking, bunking down with ranch hands that showed up at the Gardens. When men weren’t available, Lenny would be her caretaker. Most days and nights the boy would fend for himself, taking handouts from visitors and spending nights alone in the trailers. Early on he planned to escape and the day he turned sixteen he left. His return today was a gut check to sort out some heavily clouded memories.
Lenny ordered another beer and asked the bartender, “Does Lenore Tisdale still own the Gardens?”
The bartender said he owned the Gardens and that he had bought the property from a couple from Yuba City. He didn’t know Lenore Tisdale, but there were stories about the woman who had owned it before them. “Supposedly,” he said, “she hanged herself in one of the trailers after she lost a baby giving birth. But I don’t know if it was Lenore Tisdale. Are you looking for this Lenore?”
“I knew her,” said Lenny.
The bartender pointed to a trailer shaded by the limbs of a huge oak tree. “That was hers. Supposedly that’s where she did it. Nobody’s used it, ‘cept her.”
“Mind if I have a look around?”
“It’s OK by me,” said the bartender. “You planning to stay the night?”
Lenny shrugged and tossed four dollars on the bar.
“Aloha Spirit”, was the name carved over the door of the coach. Its tires were flattened and mired in mud. Lenny looked in a window but couldn’t see much through the smudged glass, so he opened the door and it slammed against the trailer’s side and stuck. He went inside and sat on the small bed, taking in the bleakness and the intrusion of mould. A ground squirrel skittered from behind a small space heater and escaped through the open door. For a moment Lenny thought he caught a hint of sweet smelling French cigarettes. Lenore had smoked the imported brand, and he always hated the pretentiousness of it.
The trailer was the only home Lenore had known for all of her adult life, and in the clutter she had fabricated a semblance of normalcy. The sheepskin shag rug that Lenny slept on for many nights was still there, faded flower print curtains were still tacked up and held back by safety pins, faded and water stained pictures cut from magazines still hung unframed on the walls.
Along one rain streaked wall was a collection of snapshots, a gallery of visitors who had spent time there during the short-lived success of the Gardens. There were pictures of the “family”, Jack Tisdale on an inner tube in the river a six-pack on his stomach, Lenore and Jack on a motorcycle, Lenore and Jack in front of the Gardens; another with Lenore holding a baby, “Lenny” written across the bottom.
Lenny stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes to the bleakness of the trailer. His thoughts drifted back to the times when Lenore undressed her thirteen-year-old son, tracing his young body with her fingers, cupping his buttocks in her hands, feeling his young maleness strain against her. Lenny unhooked his belt and slid a hand into his jeans. He recalled the times they had bathed together, the feel of her soap-slicked hands sliding over him pausing to tease his penis to attention. As he masturbated, Lenny remembered when she took his hands and guided them to her breasts…he could feel her nipples as they stiffened…and it was in this bed that Lenore had first taken him into her mouth, the first time she had guided him into her moistened, aromatic warmth. Whispering his mother’s name, he climaxed.
Lenny gathered himself and scanned the trailer again as if to burn it into his memory. He took a yellowing photograph out of his shirt pocket, a picture of a small boy, six years old, squatting in muddy water, watching the river run. He looked at it, then tacked it into the ragged collage on the wall to become one more faded memory among all the other pictures of unknown visitors looking for a moment's peace at the Polynesian Gardens on the river.
He left the trailer just as the sun was dipping low over the water. As he made his way to the road at the entrance the crackle of neon stopped him. He turned back to look, and in the low light of dusk, the sign flickered to life again, “Polynardens”.
Beginning In 1957 I was producing commercial and news copy for radio and moved into television news in 1965. During 40-years in journalism and television production I was nominated twice for Emmy Awards for writing and producing news and documentaries for KRON, the NBC...