In the No Name bar, a dockside social center for the houseboaters, a frail, blond boy with a Jesus beard stares dreamily across the bay toward the Athens of the West. "I went to one of their parties once. They have them to put down their friends. Ugly. They are savages. They don't give a damn about anything."
The 500 or so houseboaters encountered around Sausalito are apt to strike one as an exceptionally mild, unaggressive, soft-spoken lot. (An occupational hazard of making social calls in Sausalito is ear strain. They are the Whispering People.) It is true that the colonists have only a vague, passing concern with the outside world—they have opted out but good. On the other hand, they are not proselytizers as, say, are some of the aggressive Berkeleyites. "You live, man, in your ugly way, and let me live in my beautiful way," is the fundamental plank in the Sausalito tribe's foreign policy. Also, the houseboaters are not ambitious in constructive Big Civilization ways. They manage by selling trinkets, collages, mobiles—hammered out of old auto fenders—and by proving Bill Taylor's economic theory that if you have sufficient faith something will turn up. However, they are not a burden to anyone else.
One's good opinion of the Sausalito Tahitians can be happily influenced, of course, by such a member of the tribe as Shawn, a remarkable chestnut-haired, big-eyed girl with a talent for seeing goodness and beauty in the most unpromising places. If the devil should ever want to make a resort subdivision of hell he could do worse than hire Shawn to sell lots on commission. Once, in rather improbable circumstances, she was a member of a group of Peace Corps trainees taken into a wild West Virginia cave (the exercise was identified as Preparation for Cultural Shock). After an hour or so underground the group took a break, squatting down on the lip of a ledge overlooking a deep, black limestone chasm. A good few of the trainees were on the edge of hysteria because of dirt, the close quarters and exhaustion. At the far end of the line Shawn, however, had opened her pack and by the light of her carbide lantern was doing some sort of busy work.
"What are you doing?" someone asked.
"I am sewing a pretty dress," Shawn said.
And she was.
Shawn was later "deselected" from the training program, a development that was almost inevitable. A Tahitian who says in all innocence, as Shawn has, "Marriage is for people who don't trust each other," has to be suspect and incomprehensible to bureaucrats who can, and admit they do, deselect people. After her deselection Shawn returned to where she had come from and where she belongs, to her houseboat in Arques Shipyard, just north of Sausalito.
One thing about this place that cannot be denied is that if you are going to have a California Polynesia it would be hard to find a more scenic spot for it than Sausalito. The town, the No Name, the docks and boats lie underneath Mount Tamalpais, a rugged-looking hill dominating a peninsula that separates the Pacific from the Bay. The slopes of the mountain are green, in a rain-forest sort of way, often shrouded in mists rolling in from the sea and across the bay toward Berkeley. The Sausalito waterfront—the swaying, slippery, decaying docks, the old boats and rich mud—has none of the antiseptic tidiness of the Long Beach municipal marina or the seagoing efficiency of Portofino, but it is attractive in a disheveled way. "I think," says Shawn, leading the way out of the boatyard, "that we have the greatest old wood here of any place in the whole world."
The Sausalito Polynesians, like other cheerful, close-to-nature peoples, are fond of bright, curiously shaped and symbolic objects (there may not be another boat in the whole world that has a bulkhead as impressive as Shawn's beaded Turkish curtain). In, on and hanging through the rotted wood are all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, which Sausalitans call Things—colored glass, rusty auto parts, cans, old clothes, dried weeds—all sorts of Things fished up from the water, scavenged from the land and displayed for decorative purposes.
"We had this wonderful bathtub," says Shawn. "It had those big, clawy feet. We set it right at the head of the dock and made a flower garden in it. Somebody, a cop or a garbage collector, came along and dragged it away. They said it was trash. I bet they would have let us keep it if it had been a chemical toilet."