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joe's bio

Alta and Miro
The town sits on a shelf of land overlooking a treacherous coast. The prevailing winds, westerlies, whip foam from the breakers rolling in off the Pacific to dash against dark rocks that jut out of the water like shark fins. For the sailors manning the dog hole schooners fetching lumber south to rebuild the badly shaken, burned city of San Francisco in the first years after the earthquake, the striking rocks were merely a navigational hazard. Only later, after the hardy mariners were long gone, replaced by harried urbanites seeking a romantic weekend getaway, did some poetic soul compare the rocks to the faded black sails of lateen-rigged pirate ships that might've foundered in the shallows.
Fog was another hazard. Most days the coast is shrouded in the eerie white breath of the sea. The flimsy light, diffuse, resembles the light of dreams. Logging rigs with their headlamps on high beam, the only things moving along the highway in the early hours, crawl through the mist like creeping somnambulists with candles. Even if the sky does chance to be blue, the sun, blocked by the eastern hills, doesn't make an appearance till mid morning, about the same hour Alta and Miro used to arrive.
Nobody ever saw one of these lovers without seeing the other. Neither did anybody actually ever see them arrive. They would just be there, Miro with his battered guitar and Alta with her frizzy hair, resting on the porch of the defunct bar, waiting for the store next door to open. Miro might be strumming the guitar, coaxing unusual chords from the strings while Alta lilted formless melodies in her high, ethereal voice. They sounded like Tibetan elevator music, the kind of stuff you might hear while being tugged to the top of a high-rise luxury hotel in Lhasa. Sometimes Miro sang a lugubrious accompaniment to his mate's trilling. The effect was uncanny, the vaguely Himalayan atmosphere of the music suddenly transformed into the endless keening at an Irish luau.
At some point Alta and Miro became part of the town's folklore. Of course, that didn't take much. It really isn't much of a town. The houses are little more than termite bait resting on gopher mounds, rickety props for the nasturtiums slowly devouring the walls. Not a single floor is level, and the cracked windows are repaired with duct tape. The houses could've been shrugged off the shoulders of the hills, brushed aside like large chips of dandruff. And added to the luster of the primitive songs the duet crooned was their curious beer diet, their mysterious abode and Pedro's dead Ford.
The owner of the store, afraid of misplacing his keys, always left the back door unlocked. When he finally rubbed enough sleep out of his eyes to amble up the rear steps and switch on the lights, Miro would sling the guitar over his back. Soon as the front door swung open, he and Alta headed inside for the cooler and picked up two six-packs of beer.
Absent-minded as he may be, the owner is sure his cash register never rang up anything for them besides bottled beer. On sunny days, the blissful couple would walk hand-in-hand, six-packs cradled in their free arms, down the steep path to Shoe Beach. Another piece of local folklore, this sheltered curve of shore gets its name from the enigmatic fact that it seems to be the repository for all footwear lost within a five-mile radius of its fine, white sand. There they would sit, watching the swells, motionless save for the elbow-bending necessary to bring a bottle to the lips, so still curious sandpipers skittered by for a closer look.
Like statues with one mechanical part, says Pedro, who frequents Shoe Beach during big minus tides to collect mussels from the outlying rocks. He offered them several pounds of shellfish from a bumper harvest once, but they politely declined, telling him they were on a beer diet. According to Pedro, they were convinced their spiritual health and trim figures were the result of the strict regimen they followed. Maybe you can live on love alone, muses Pedro, if you water it with plenty of beer.
Once one six-pack was polished off, Alta and Miro climbed the trail back into town, deposited the empties at the store and began the trek with the other six-pack up the county road twisting into the wooded ridges to the east. On rainy days they skipped the trip to the beach and carried two six-packs up the hill. Their destination was a mystery. Each time a passing motorist gave them a lift, the tandem asked to be let off in a different place. They waved good-bye and disappeared into the forest, not to be seen again till the next morning, when they would be back on the porch of the bar, spooking the barn swallows with their music.
Pedro almost discovered their lair one night. He was out bushwhacking through the forest in search of a runaway colt when he heard singing. He followed his ears, sure the silvery quavers were Alta's. As he got closer, he realized that the song was in Spanish. But it was very poor Spanish, or some obscure dialect, and all Pedro could understand was that the lyrics were about a knight named Gerineldo and some princess who shouldn't have been kissing and embracing him quite so ardently.
He never did find the colt. It returned to the pasture on its own the next day. And he never tracked down the music. Like the elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, by the time Pedro approached the place where it ought to be, the song had already moved elsewhere.
A few weeks later he gave the inseparable pair the gutted Ford in his driveway. He attached a tow bar to the sedan's chassis and hauled the junker to the county road, to the top of the hill, about four miles from the sea. Now Alta and Miro could tool into town for beer cool as you please, like knights themselves, with that tow bar sticking out in front like a lance. Then anyone with a trailer hitch could lug them back up to the starting place.
As luck would have it, the very first morning the Ford rolled into town a state trooper was idling in front of the store. He watched the clunker speed past the stop sign at the junction of the county road and the highway, glide the hundred yards uphill and peter out of momentum.
The Ford had neither plates nor registration, its driver neither a license nor a domicile. These facts were duly noted in the officer's ticket book, along with the obvious failure to obey. While the trooper was merrily scribbling, Miro lifted the hood to show him the empty engine compartment. All those rules and regulations, didn't they only apply to motorized vehicles? The trooper's grunt indicated that Miro could find out the answer to that one in court.
It was a drizzly morning. Alta and Miro sat necking in the back seat of their much-cited chariot till the store opened, then followed the long arm of the law inside. The owner heard Miro mumble something about life becoming way too civilized and complicated as the trooper drove off with his bag of frosted jelly doughnuts.
That was the last day Alta and Miro were ever seen in town, beginning the long trudge up the hill with their six packs one last time. Strangely, they weren't missed till the first real storm of winter, when Pedro finally got the store owner off his back by hauling the Ford carcass back to its resting place in his driveway. You'd think their absence would've been quickly noted in such a sleepy town, and that folks starved for gossip might've gone on talking about them for years, though it must be admitted that much more is happening there these days, particularly on weekends, now that it's been discovered as an ideal romantic hideaway.
Yeah, says Pedro, swiveling on his vinyl stool to stare out the window of the reopened, revamped bar as we conjure Alta and Miro out of the swirling wisps of fog, in their own way those two dusty lovebirds were museum pieces, real pioneers.

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