It is 1969 and a major film is about to be released starring Sean Hayes. But she won't be around for the premier. The love of her life has disappeared south of the border, and she is determined to find him, even if it means joining a Mexican Circus and getting lost in a world of snake charmers and knife throwers, Mayan jungles and machine gun carrying guerrilla fighters. Somehow she will find Frank, and when she does, she learns, on the night of a total eclipse, riding on her favorite elephant, that the love she always needed was actually love for herself.
I first met Frank on Venice Beach, where I wasn’t allowed to go and when I should have been in school. A psychedelic Hindu god and goddess made love on a purple cloud in a painting on the cinderblock wall. Sweet-smelling smoke drifted through the beaded door of the head shop.
Hippies, a few years older than us, wore long dresses and Indian scarves. Old guys with beards gathered on park benches, drank out of jugs or paper bags and looked less like footloose travelers, more like bums. There were runaways too, kids my age, tanned and dirty with backpacks and fringe jackets.
My girlfriend Julia and I had hitched a ride with our English teacher, Kenny. He liked Julia because he said she was a cross between Bridget Bardot and Janis Joplin. We all planned to spend the afternoon wandering around Venice, but Julia disappeared into Kenny’s second-floor apartment when he offered her some pot. I hung out by myself on the boardwalk. Until this short-haired military-looking man started bothering me.
“Hey beautiful, let’s you and me, what do you say?”
I walked away. The sky was gray and the trashcans were overflowing. I heard music. It sounded like some old black guy singing the blues. A group of people had gathered on the beach. I walked over there and inched my way into the crowd.
A white kid stood in the sand, singing and playing his guitar. He was a few years older than me -- maybe twenty. He wore jeans and a dirty suede jacket, even though it wasn't cold. His face hid behind his long dark hair, but when I finally saw it, I saw whiskers soft enough to touch. I saw strong high cheekbones and dark deep-set eyes.
A gray, faded Stetson was upside down on the ground in front of him and occasionally someone tossed in a coin. The military guy tossed a penny in and laughed. Then he tried to put his arm around me. “Be my girl, man,” he yelled, oblivious to the music.
The musician walked straight up to the military guy and sang furiously loud, right in his face. It was so powerful that the military guy disappeared. Then he continued singing, in a soft voice now. The song was about night skies and the moon reflecting in warm muddy water. The musician looked at me for just a moment. He quickly looked back down, his shoulders curved around the guitar. I could feel that my presence had changed him. He would know, without looking up, if I left.
His hands were fast and sure as he fingered the strings of his guitar. I had never really noticed how close the shape of a guitar is to the shape of a woman's body.
When the song was finished, people threw quarters and dropped dollar bills into his hat. He stood up, mumbled thanks, and stuffed the money into his jeans' pocket.
The crowd had dispersed and I felt silly standing there. There was a spot on the toe of my right boot. I licked my finger and tried to wipe it off.
"Cool boots," he said. "They new?"
"Yeah." I was glad I'd worn them. "That was a good song," I said, still looking down. "I never heard it before."
"I made it up."
"Really, you wrote it? It was beautiful." I looked at him and my breath felt weak. I had a powerful urge to run, but his eyes wouldn't let mine go. They were the color of warm earth, half-closed and gently focused, with a longing I understood.