Picture, PARISE and Lew Gardner, Casey, at camp
Parise is a friend of Lew’s. Let me rephrase that. Parise is Lew’s goddess. She also lived at Ortega Campground. Although Lew praises her untiringly, he also warned me against meeting her while she was pregnant. With good reason, I soon learned.
She and her husband Casey and their toddler daughter Maya lived in a big comfortable family tent next to Lew, sharing the same plot. Parise is a rather
pale fair woman of thirty with fine and limp brown hair, deceptively quiet and introverted, a little rounded from pregnancy. Her husband Casey is a wonderful looking part Indian man, seven years younger than her, who passed his large dark eyes on to their daughter.
I was visiting Lew when Parise arrived home at the camp. “Stay out of her way now,”he advised. Parise took one look at me, glared, pulled Lew aside hissing something at him. “Uh, well, I have some chores to do,” he told me. He baby-sits long hours, does most of the chores, and apparently is not allowed to chose his own friends, and pays half the lot rent as well.
Parise is quietly bright, nature oriented, and a bit of a shaman I think. She controls the whole bunch of them – except Casey’s tough-minded mother.
I was trying to make headway with Parise by washing the camps morning dishes. When she came home she snapped at Lew and scowled at me. “You have to put a towel over the dish rack or flies land on them,” Lew reported to me. He and Parise have known each other for years. She more or less owns him. I came to call her Empress Parise.
I just don’t know anyone kinder or meeker than Lew. Since I am mild mannered myself we spend all day doing an after you Alphonse routine. I mean, we can hardly get through a door because we can’t decide who goes first and he won’t take a cracker from my kitchen without asking for elaborate permission.
1914 – Rasputin was a free man until he met Empress Alexandra of Russia in the early 1900’s. He captivated her by saving her hemophiliac sons’ life and she captivated him. He moved into the palace over objections of the Emperor and his ministers, but the Empress overruled them. Rasputin, a braying jackass, according to some, a master magician with piercing eyes, smelled like a jackass too, altemately healing or seducing with his considerable hypnotic powers. Until death do us part. There was no way to separate Rasputin and his Empress short of murder and murdered were they all.
Lew certainly intimidated people with his weird costumes and bellowing voice. You could hear him laugh a block away. If you went out in public with him he was sure to embarrass you at least three times. However he was well washed…
Meanwhile up at the camp the new managers were making all the tent people move into trailers and pouring truckloads of gravel over the loose dust. Parise and Casey bought a large trailer, which was like a small home inside, very comfortable. Lew bought an old ramshackle trailer, deserted and full of junk, all he could afford, but he and I cleaned it out fastidiously and he moved in. It had two small rooms and a tiny bathroom. Nothing worked. Not the plumbing or electricity, or even the front door. It was difficult to open or close and didn’t lock. He left it hanging open, it didn’t matter. He moved in his bookshelves, sleeping bag, and a long electric cord from outside, a little heater, a lamp to read by, and the coffee maker was all he needed. He was living in luxury, in his opinion.
I often slept in the little back room of the trailer when I was visiting camp. A heap of blankets and a small heater kept me cozy. It was terribly sweet room, big enough for the cot and the narrow bookshelf only. But in the glow of the little lamp at night, surrounded by dark oaks and starlight, rustle of little creatures and leaves, it was a little mini-vacation each time.
Anywhere we were, Lew and I talked for hours and when we visited Nasser at his sandwich shop overlooking Dana Beach, with a wonderful panoramic view of the ocean, the three of us sat around a table during quiet times between meals and talked for hours, philosophy and religion, poetry and literature, we never ran out of material. Reluctantly Nasser would go back to work when the lunch crowd arrived.
Lew had been a carpenter by profession. He built a wide platform porch outside his trailer to combat the dust and mud, with an old carpet and a couch on it; it became his morning yoga and meditation spot, as well as a visitor center. A tattered awning spread out over it, protecting it from sun and rain. A fire pit with a round stone wall by the platform completed the picture. He loved to build a fire everyday. Fragrant wood smoke rose, and several chairs appeared around it including the easy chair where he sat and wrote for hours a day. It was nonetheless a hard life there for the mothers with children and it was difficult for me, walking with a cane. The bathroom was located hundreds of yards away from the trailer in the visitor center, across weeds, gravel and dust. All cooking was done on a hot plate, but Lew didn’t bother to cook because as he ate every evening with Parise and Casey. I didn’t generally go with him because of tension with Parise … I can’t eat any normal food anyway because of my health diet and allergies. Parise never accepted me as a part of Lew’s life. It took me a while to realize she was very jealous of Lew’s time and attention.
Lew had his social security check to live on as well as occasional carpentry jobs. He is a very content human being. That is why I was so amazed when he chose to tell me where he was during those weeks that he was missing.
“In jail.” He told me simply.
“What!” I responded thunderstruck. “What on earth for?” “Oh, it’s a long story.” He answered.
“Well? ” I said, “What? Vagrancy?”
“Huh? No, but maybe that’s part of it.”
I finally managed to get it out of him … he was charged with burglary. “Well I know you didn’t do anything like that. What happened?”
He was in the habit of walking in a Laguna Hills neighborhood, carrying the baby, Maya, up to her grandmother’s house. One day he was walking alone and cops drove up and grabbed him, hauled him up to a local house and paraded him in front of the old lady there. It seems she called the police reporting that a man in a plaid shirt and black backpack had been in her house and stolen gold coins and jewelry. Then, she identified him in a lineup, AFTER the police brought him to her house and asked if that was him. That was it. Total and complete evidence against him. Her word, but no gold coins. Of course he had no such valuables in his possession. Poor Lew. He is such a helpless character. The police dragged him off to the local jail and there he stayed for three weeks, with an absurdly high bail, not wanting to bother family and friends, assuming nobody he knew would have that much money to spare.
His worried family and friends finally tracked him down and an old family friend came up with the bail. One of Lew’s sons is a policeman, married to a lawyer, and they were outraged at the flimsy circumstances of his arrest. Everybody was outraged. A letter-writing campaign was started. The district attorney’s office reported they had never received such a blitz of glowing, positive letters in defense, 32 in all. It is my opinion that the lady’s charge against him was a complete fraud. She had probably seen the oddly dressed old man walking in the neighborhood and either decided he must have done it or she deliberately framed him, who knows, maybe she’s senile, or maybe she did it for the insurance on the valuables …
Anyway, I drove him around for months to court dates and lawyer visits. It finally came to an end when the charges were dropped. It wasn’t too much later when Parise and Casey decided to move to a farm in Idaho and Lew went with them.Parise is an enigma – unfortunately I only saw her during an uncomfortable pregnancy, and in a tug-of-war over Lew’s time and attention. She is not a mean person. I have observed her many times meditatively tending to the potted garden around her home, affectionately caring for Maya and the new baby. She forms deep friendships with women – if they fit into her life. I met her parents on a couple of occasions – her attractive blonde mother and her father, a quiet little man with a white beard, and was amused to learn they were professional card dealers. Parise is deep and withdrawn. She has an intriguing aura of mystery and one expects her to start cooking up herbal brews at any moment. She speaks little. She has a natural aura of control and plays Empress Alexandra to Lew’s Rasputin.