Monday, September 30, 2013

***Off The Road With On The Road- A Film Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

DVD Review

On The Road, starring, Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund, Kristie Stewart, based on the be-bop Beat Generation novel by Jeanbon Kerouac, IFC Film, 2012

We will always have memories of blasted out Frisco town in the late 1940s, out on the Left Coast supplementing the Village in New York City as refuge and damn few other places, ready to take refugees, car-borne refugees, coming in from the cold war red scare Denver/Chi Town/Jersey Shore/Village/Lowell/Hullsville American dreaded night. We will always have Jack Kerouac’s novel, On The Road, that sent one, maybe two generations, on the road, on the road to some mystical discovery thing, some search for language to explain our short existence, to make sense of things in the modern world that has no time for reflection on the big cosmic questions. Weary feet, rain bedraggled, sun-blistered, snow-drifted hitchhike (but what do youth today of free rides and hard times thumb out against a misunderstanding world) roads to sort out things in good time.

We will always have Kerouac’s finely wrought be-bop word plays jumping off the page out in the desolate 1950s a chicken in every pot and two cars (if not three) cars in every garage, in every leafy suburban ranch house sub-division garage. We will always have Sal (a.k.a Jeanbon Kerouac late of working class kid mill town Lowell ready to break out at almost any price) and Dean, Dean Moriarty (a.k.a. Neal Cassady late of Denver reformatories and ready to break, break into any machine that moves, and maybe some that don’t), the father we did not know, could not know, while we were sitting on those Jersey shores, sweating out in those Ames cornfields, hell, even sitting on the seawall down in those old Hullsville beach fronts looking for the great blue-pink great American West night.

We will always have Charlie, Sonny, Slim, Big Red, the Duke, blowing out, trying to reach and sometimes making it, that high white note, after hours, after the paying customers, the carriage trade, went home to bed and they blew to heaven, or tried to, with the boys, with the guys who knew when that note floated out some funky cellar bar door winding its way down to the harbor.

We will always have Sal, Carlos, Bull, Dean and an ever changing assortment of , well, women, women, mainly, at their beck and call, riding, car-riding, riding hard over the hill and dale of this continent searching, well, just searching okay. We will always have the lost brothers, Sal and Dean, playing off of each other’s strengths (and weaknesses) as they try to make sense of their world, or if not sense then to keep high, keep moving, and keep listening. And we will always have a great American novel to pass on to the next wanderlust generation, if there is another wanderlust generation.

And that is exactly what is wrong with this long time in the making film adaptation of Kerouac’s cultural coming- of- age novel. I looked forward with great anticipation to the film, and came away with a fair- sized disappointment. Not with the main actors, Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund and Kristie Stewart since they were confined by the constricts of the way the director (and screen-writers) wanted to play the novel. Take away the drugs, sex, rock and roll (oops, be-bop jazz), and, oh yeah, driving at high speed and/or hitchhiking, and there is no glue holding this thing together.

Now no one can complain, or such complaints will go for naught after watching this film, that Kerouac was, frankly very oblique in his sexual references, and certainly in the amount of time he spent on discussing the ins and out of sex in the novel so it was quite disconcerting to find so much time spent on the sex scenes. Moreover, let’s face it women for the men, and it was mainly men, of the Beat generation women were ornaments, or drudges and while it does no good to project today’s mores backward they were kept around because as Dean/Neal shouted out one time “I love women.” End of story.

While Road is not strictly a buddy film I came out of the watching the film thinking that maybe, just, maybe, it is impossible to put this novel in cinematic form, there is perhaps too much stream of consciousness, too much introspection, too much angst to corral on film. We will however always have the novel, praise be.

***Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-The Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers Of Amerca

In this series, presented under the headline Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By I will post some songs that I think will help us get through the “dog days” of the struggle for our communist future. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist, although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here. Markin.


From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin

My old friend from the summer of love 1967 days, Peter Paul Markin, always used to make a point of answering, or rather arguing with anybody who tried to tell him back in the day that “music was the revolution.” Meaning, of course not that eight or ten Give Peace A Chance,Kumbaya, Woodstock songs would do the trick, would change this nasty, brutish, old short-life world into the garden, into some prelapsian Eden. No, meaning that the gathering of youth nation unto itself out in places like Woodstock, Monterrey, hell, the Boston Common, or even once word trickled down, Olde Saco Park, would feed on itself and grow to such a critical mass that the enemies of good, kindness, and leave us alone would sulk off somewhere, defeated or at least defanged.

Many a night, many a dope-blistered night before some seawall ocean front Pacific Coast campfire I would listen to Markin blast forth against that stuff, against that silliness. As for me, I was too into the moment, too into finding weed, hemp, mary jane and some fetching women to share it with to get caught up in some nebulous ideological struggle. It was only later, after the music died, after rock and roll turned in on itself, turned into some exotic fad of the exile on Main Street that I began to think through the implications of what Markin, and the guys on the other side, were arguing about.

Now it makes perfect sense that music or any mere cultural expression would be unable to carry enough weight to turn us back to the garden. Although I guess that I would err on the side of the angels and at least wish they could have carried the day against the monsters of the American imperium we confronted back in the day.
Thinking about what a big deal was made of such arguments recently (arguments carried deep into the night, deep in smoke dream nights, and sometimes as the blue –pink dawn came rising to smite our dreams) I thought back to my own musical appreciations.

In my jaded youth I developed an ear for roots music, whether I was conscious of that fact or not. Perhaps it initially started as a reaction to my parents’ music, the music that got them through the Great Depression of the1930s and later waiting for other shoe to drop (either in Normandy or at home waiting in Olde Saco), and that became a habit, a wafting through the radio of my childhood home habit. You know who I mean Frank (Sinatra for the heathens), Harry James, the Andrews Sisters, Peggy Lee, Doris Day and the like. Or, maybe, and this is something that I have come closer to believing was the catalyst, my father’s very real roots in the Saturday night mountain barn dance, fiddles blazing, music of his growing up poor down in Appalachia.

The origin of that roots music first centered on the blues, country and city with the likes of Son House , Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James, then early rock and roll, you know the rockabillies and R&B crowd, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, Roy, Big Joe and Ike, and later, with the folk revival of the early 1960’s, folk music, especially the protest to high heaven sort, Bob Dylan, Dave Von Ronk, Joan Baez, etc. As I said I have often wondered about the source of this interest. I am, and have always been a city boy, and an Eastern city boy at that.

Meaning rootless or not meaningfully or consciously rooted in any of the niches mentioned above. Nevertheless, over time I have come to appreciate many more forms of roots music than in my youth. Cajun, Tex-Mex, old time dust bowl ballads a la Woody Guthrie, cowboy stuff with the likes of Bob Wills and Milton Brown, Carter Family-etched mountain music (paying final conscious tribute to the mountain DNA in my bone) and so on.
And all those genres are easily classified as roots music but I recall one time driving Markin crazy, driving him to closet me with the “music is the revolution” heads when I mentioned in passing that the Doors, then in their high holy mantra shamanic phase epitomized roots music. That hurt, a momentary hurt then but thinking about it more recently Markin was totally off base in his remarks.

The Doors are roots music? Well, yes, in the sense that one of the branches of rock and roll derived from early rhythm and blues and in the special case of Jim Morrison, leader of the Doors, the attempt to musically explore the shamanic elements in the Western American Native American culture that drove the beat of many of his trance-like songs like The End. More than one rock critic, professional rock critic, has argued that on their good nights when the dope and booze were flowing, Morrison was in high trance, and they were fired up the Doors were the best rock and roll band ever created. Those critics will get no argument here, and it is not a far stretch to classify their efforts as in the great American roots tradition. I argued then and will argue here almost fifty years later when that original statement of mine was more prophetic the Doors put together all the stuff rock critics in one hundred years will be dusting off when they want to examine what it was like when men (and women, think Bonnie Raitt, Wanda Jackson, et. al) played rock and roll for keeps.

So where does Jim Morrison fit in an icon of the 1960s if he was not some new age latter day cultural Lenin/Trotsky. Jim was part of the trinity – Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix who lived fast, lived way too fast, and died young. The slogan of the day (or hour)- Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. And we liked that idea however you wanted to mix it up. Then. Their deaths were part of the price we felt we had to pay if we were going to be free. And be creative. Even the most political among us, including Markin in his higher moments, felt those cultural winds blowing across the continent and counted those who espoused this alternative vision as part of the chosen. The righteous headed to the “promise land.” Unfortunately those who believed that we could have a far-reaching positive cultural change via music or “dropping out” without a huge societal political change proved to be wrong long ago. But, these were still our people.

Know this as well if you are keeping score. Whatever excesses were committed by the generation of ’68, and there were many, were mainly made out of ignorance and foolishness. Our opponents, exemplified by one Richard Milhous Nixon, President of the United States and common criminal, spent every day of their lives as a matter of conscious, deliberate policy raining hell down on the peoples of the world, the minorities in this country, and anyone else who got in their way. Forty plus years of “cultural wars” in revenge by his protégés, hangers-on and their descendants has been a heavy price to pay for our youthful errors. And Markin will surely endorse this sentiment. Enough.
***Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-E. P. Thompson's The Making Of The English Working Class

A YouTube clip to give some flavor to this subject

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline-Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By and Films To While Away The Class Struggle By-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin
Films to While Away The Class Struggle By-Harlan County, U.S.A.

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some films that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. In the future I expect to do the same for books under a similar heading.-Markin

***Songs To While The Time By- The Roots Is The Toots- Bessie Smith's Careless Love Blues

Over the past several years I have been running an occasional series in this space of songs, mainly political protest songs, you know The Internationale, Union Maid, Which Side Are You On, Viva La Quince Brigada, Universal Soldier, and such entitled Songs To While The Class Struggle By. This series which could include some protest songs as well is centered on roots music as it has come down the ages and formed the core of the American songbook. You will find the odd, the eccentric, the forebears of later musical trends, and the just plain amusing here. Listen up-Peter Paul Markin
***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Boy Meets "Our Lady Of The Saint Patrick’s Day Night" Girl- For Joanne- Class of 1964

Markin comment:

I am fuming but I will get to that part in a minute. First, let me just point out the trouble I had figuring out what I should use as a headline for this entry. See, this is a Frankie story, a Francis Xavier Riley story, maybe you already know the name, Frankie, king of the old North Adamsville working class neighborhood schoolboy night in the early 1960s. That part, the boy part is simple, the other part is less so because this is a story, or is going to be a story, once again straight from the horse’s mouth, the Frankie mouth.

I have been letting Frankie spew forth in this space whenever a subject comes up that is from “pre-markinian” times, the time before we became fast friends in the seventh grade North Adamsville Middle School (then junior high) days. And the subject here is how Frankie “courted” his ever lovin’ sweetie, Joanne, a sweetie whom he “went steady with” from middle school all the way though to the end of high school. And that courtship, its twists and turns, is linked to the observance, the non-heathen observance of Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th (although any real Irish partisan, heathen or non-heathen knows, or should know, that the observance of Easter 1916 is the real Irish deal). So once again because he did okay, or at least good enough, on his previous two endeavors (the weirdly interesting king of the skees carnival story from his innocent dream pre-teen days and his saga, christ that is the only word to describe it, of his “conversion” from no name football wannabe to midnight sunglassed king hell king of the late 1950s, early 1960s be-bop North Adamsville schoolboy night) he gets to speak his piece here.

Now for the fuming part. In that just mentioned football conversion saga Frankie said, although it was not strictly part of the story (or part of the deal in my letting him use this space for his spewing), that he wanted one and all to have an example of how his be-bop “beat” style worked magic on the, frankly, bewildered North Adamsville Middle School girls (and whatever other stray frails he could corner with his pitch). And the story he wanted to tell, the primo, numero uno, ace example one story was how he captured (and kept) the elusive, ever lovin’ Joanne. So rather than just coming out in manly fashion, manly working class fashion, and asking for space he tried an "end around." Just to goad me into another story he mentioned that somehow in that desperate late 1950s night I was smitten with Joanne, and that she was smitten with me, before he honed in on her and worked his magic. Needless to say once said Frankie magic was applied that previous configuration was ancient history.

So just to set the record straight before Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, spins his misbegotten yarn let me say my piece:

In order to set the background to this dispute up for those who don’t know I had arrived from the Adamsville Middle School just at the beginning of 1959, about half way through seventh grade. As a twelve year old boy, almost thirteen, after some delay I had developed a very healthy interest in girls. In their girlish charms, if not their giggles. Of course, as anybody who went through the experience knows, which means just about everybody, the social pecking order in middle school (and high school too, but maybe a little less so) is etched in stone for the duration about the second or third week of school.

So I was nothing but an "outsider," an outsider waiting to be an insider if I could hitch onto somebody else’s star. That star, no question, was Frankie. But Frankie’s “style” was different, not a football or sports thing, or an intellectual thing (although that is what it was, it just didn’t look like it at the time), or a best looking thing (wiry Frankie did have pretty decent Steve McQueen-type looks though). What he had, and what made him a magnet for me (and, strangely, those girls with their girlish charms not giggles that I was attracted to) was this be-bop, “faux” beat thing. He will describe it better in his story but it certainly caused a stir, especially the eternal midnight sunglasses that he wore part.

Now what does all that have to do with Joanne, my attraction to her (or her to me)? Well, everything. See Joanne was the smartest person in the seventh grade class. Book smart for sure. Answering teachers’ questions smart, definitely. She also was pretty, but no more so, and maybe a little less so, than some of the other less bright girls. And she had, had when she wanted to have it, a very winning smile. Moreover, and here is when Frankie seems to have gotten his signals crossed for once, she was friendly toward me, me, an outsider, friendly in a universal kindly way, even before I started running around with Frankie (or she did either).

So as any observant person could see there was nothing to the whole thing but kid’s stuff and, as I thought about it later (and just now as I am re-thinking about it) Joanne had a huge dose of Roman Catholic fellowship and rectitude, meaning doing the right social thing. Frankie is right about the part that we, Joanne and I, were civil to each other in his presence later but that is after a whole bunch of other things happened to sour our relationship. But enough of this because this is stuff that Frankie will, I am sure, tell you about. Let me just finish with something I wrote in another Frankie story, one that I told so I know it’s true. I will swear on a book with seven seals the following- when it came to Joanne, and this was true even before Frankie whiz kid moved in, she was okay, but not someone that I would jump off a bridge over. There were girls, some of those other less bright girls, whom I would have jumped off that bridge for, and gladly. But not her. That should put paid to this subject.

Francis Xavier Riley comment:

See, I told you I still had the kingly touch. I knew, and know now, just how to get to Markin, Peter Paul Markin, get him where he has to defer, humbly defer, to my "goading" as he called it. Of course, and here is the beauty of the king’s touch, I knew, and I damn well should know even fifty years later, that old Markin never carried the torch for Joanne. But see I just threw that little doubt in his direction and he jumped at it. And then that “social” thing, that Peter Paul Markin sense of fair play, that overweening sense of his about giving the other side a chance to speak their minds (if only, as he used to say, to hang themselves) came into play. A piece of cake. And for those who don’t know, or don’t understand, how old Markin could have got bested for the kingship of the old neighborhood in the old schoolboy nights this is a prime example. His failed attempt was so utterly a failure that we all, everybody except Markin that is, spent more than a few off moments, a few nothing dull moments, giving it a big laugh every now and again when we needed a laugh. But enough of that I have a story to tell, and by hook or by crook, I ‘m going to tell it.

See, as anyone can see from the last paragraph, it is about knowing human psychology. No, not some book, Sigmund or Anna Freud, Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein, Carl Jung, christ, even R.D. Laing goof thing. Hell no, it is about observing people and what they like and don’t like, what makes them pay attention to your patter and what doesn’t. Now the big thing about this is, let’s face it, for a red-blooded boy like me, not just to inspect people in general but girls, girls with girlish charms, all the way back to middle school girlish charms. I already told you before about my short-lived football scrawny kid career and how through perseverance, perversity, and perdition I figured out my place in the sun by my wits(a thing Markin was always yakking about, but you've probably figured that out by now)and by knowing what Markin insists was "arcane" knowledge. But see it was just that arcane knowledge part, weak as it was, and it really was looking back on it, and the way the knowledge was presented both by style and by fit that made the difference. On behalf of the interest of that honey you were aiming your stuff at.

See, Markin never really got it, got how the knowledge and presentation worked together, and probably still doesn’t from what I can see. Let me give you the wrong example before I tell how this thing worked to bring me and my ever lovin’ Joanne together back in the day. Markin, after he started hanging around with me for a while, decided that he would try my method out after he saw that the foxiest girls, the cutest girls, and well, as always in a pinch, those just girls with their girlish charms (giggles and all, see, that is where Markin and I had big differences always-the giggles go with the charms-get it Peter Paul) who were hanging around me before school, during passing time, lunch time and, a little, at least in middle school, after school.

So, and so help me this is true, even he won’t forget this one, Markin decides that he will go up to this cute girl with a French name, Barbette or something like that, and start in on every known fact about the French revolution, the French revolution of the 18th century, you know the Jacobins, Girondins, Marat, Robespierre and those guys- the "liberty, equality, fraternity" guys. See, this is something he is interested in, interested in like crazy if I remember. Ya, I know you know, no dice. But here is the thing-a couple of weeks later as Barbette starts to hang around the outer edges of our circle she confides in me (no secret here as I told Markin at the time to try to straighten him out) that she thought Markin was okay but that she was afraid, get this, afraid of him because of his flipping out (my term) over something she knew nothing about. I admit that I never got too far with old Barbette myself, but at least I didn’t scare her half to death.

Hey, I actually have a better example now that I think about it. A lot of this arcane knowledge thing was, as you can figure, playing the percentages. Probably Barbette was a “no sale” anyway. But Evelyn, Evelyn Smythe, was a different matter. Ya, now that I think about it forget Barbette as an example and pay attention to this one. Okay, Evelyn through my intelligence network of sources (that’s part of the secret to success too) was seriously into church, her church, her Episcopalian church and its history. I found out, and its shows you an example of good intelligence work, through my sources that she had given a class report on said subject. Bingo. Now Evelyn is nice, Evelyn is cute, Evelyn is smart (although not as smart as Joanne), and Evelyn has that winning smile we were always on the lookout for in those days. But see, Evelyn was a, a, how should I say it, Protestant so she was a “no go, no way” for one Francis Xavier Riley, one Francis Xavier Riley to the cold-water tenements, the Irish Catholic, more Roman than the Romans Catholic, tenements born. No way that, outside of the gates of hell, that Patrick “Boyo” Riley, and on this issue one Maude Grace Riley, nee O’Brian, were going to let their blessed son within twenty non-school paces of said Evelyn Smythe. Not seventh grade Frankie anyway (later I had more Protestant girl friends that I care to remember, if for no other reason than they weren’t so religion crazy, Roman Catholic religion crazy, mainly)

But see ecumenical Markin, Peter Paul Markin, Irish Catholic brought up, and church mouse poor, but with a heathen Protestant father (except for that he was a good man whom everybody liked, even Boyo) decides he will take a shot at sweet Evelyn. Now his approach, since he knows from my intelligence report that she’s also some kind of history nut, is to start talking about the word "anti-disestablishmentarianism," then the longest word in the English dictionary, and for all I know still is, and related somehow, although don’t press me on this to Puritan stuff or English stuff, because, again, he’s crazy, crazy as a loon for Puritan heritage English colonial stuff. I mean really crazy. I think that he was born on Plymouth Rock in another life, maybe. Now sweet Evelyn was, if nothing else, polite and she hears him out. And since I was near the scene of this encounter I heard him say as she drifted off, “and my father’s a protestant too.” Like the co-religionist link is going to clinch the thing. Christ.

No sale, amigo. But here is the kicker, a couple of years later, when Joanne and I had, uh, uh, one of our “misunderstandings” I ran into Evelyn one night down at the seashore. Now by this time she had blossomed into a certified twist, although I also knew that she was still into religion because she belonged to some Protestant girls' club, some religiously-oriented girls' club. But see she had that winning smile still, that winning smile that we were on the lookout for in those days, and by then after another earlier Joanne “misunderstanding” I had already sold my soul to the devil and taken a Protestant girl out, and liked it. So, because in the meantime I had started to get a little Puritan nutty like Markin I started on my patter and mentioned that word anti-disestablishmentarian and what it was all about. We must have talked for about two hours about this and that on the subject; two hours can you believe it.

But see here is where the lesson is. Peter Paul got the context all balled up so bad he was arguing about the beauties of Oliver Cromwell, or the Quakers or something. Those were not Evelyn’s forebears. He had the wrong side, although, as usual, he had it right for the side he liked. Evelyn couldn’t figure it out. What she could figure out, and figure out fast, if not necessarily accurately in Markin’s case, was that she was a minority in a heavily Irish Catholic working class neighborhood and so Markin was probably putting her down for being a Protestant. Christ, again. As a postscript I will mention that sweet, smiling Evelyn and I had a couple of nice weeks together before "ball and chain" Joanne and I stopped our "misunderstandings." I won’t give the details of Evelyn's and my tryst because, see, and especially Markin see, she is now an Episcopal priest, or something like that and does not need that kind of publicity.

So you can see that the be-bop pitter-patter was (or is) not for amateurs, or the faint-hearted, and requires some skill. Especially for hormonally-charged twelve and thirteen year old boys who are only vaguely, at best, aware that this thing requires skills, finely-honed skills. All of this is to say that whatever skills I had in, let’s say October and November of 1958, needed to be used in the hard nut to crack case of one Joanne Marion Murphy, one lace curtain Irish Catholic, more Roman than the Romans Catholic, Joanne Marion Murphy, to the lace curtain single house working class family born.

Markin mentioned in his “introduction” that Joanne was smart, check, pretty, check, had a winning smile, check, and was, as he put it and rightly so I think, universally kind out her religiously-derived social sense, check. What she was not, at least for a long time, was very interested in one Francis Xavier Riley and his cohorts, amigos, and “faux” beat aficionados. She had moved into the neighborhood, neighborhood in the widest sense because no way did she live near my cold-water flats district or Markin’s cottage-like (to be kind) dwelling on the wrong side of the tracks, in sixth grade but went to Adamsville Central Elementary School and so I did not pick up her scent until middle school, the first day of middle school, no, the first hour of middle school, jesus, no, the first minute. Sure she had all the checked things above but she also carried herself, her twelve year old self, in a very intriguing way and so I took a note, literally, took a note on her. But for a while nada, nothing, nowhere and partly because that intriguing carriage included what to me, shanty boy me, was that lace curtain Catholic by the rules thing despite smarts, pretties, winsome smile, and kindliness I thought no way. No way one Francis Xavier Riley was going to get involved with that scene, not with that frail, no way I said, did you hear me?

Truth. Once I started to have a first little success with my girl-directed be-bop pitter-patter Joanne kind of went off the radar even though I saw her every day in class, every day. Truth again. I had no angle on this girl, no angle at all. See the other less bright girls kind of got caught up in the sunglasses, be-bop words, long-gone daddy, rock ‘n’ roll, heartthrob thing. And I loved that, loved the idea that I could be the max daddy king of that scene with a few breaks. So it was not until a couple of real frailly frails came round my table, good-looking girls, maybe not beautiful, not twelve year old beautiful anyway, but smart enough, whimsical enough, and daredevil enough that I noticed Joanne starting to pay attention in my direction. You know that look, that look a guy twelve or twelve hundred is ready to leap off bridges for, and as Markin mentioned before, gladly. Well, if someone is giving old Francis Xavier Riley the look well what is he going to do but look back, right?

This went on for a while, as such things do. But you can't depend on the after-effects of "the look" to determine your whole twelve year old life so what you need, and need badly is intelligence. Any king of the hill, any poor boy, boondocks, third-rate king, hell, any king of the pizza parlor night (in-waiting at that point) needs all kinds of intelligence from whatever source. In this case it was like manna from heaven as my younger sister, Catherine Anne (not Kathy Anne, not Kate, straight Catherine Anne with no bluster nicknames like with my older brothers Tommy and Timmy), was friendly with Joanne's younger sister, Mary Margaret (there are more Marys with various middle names, more Elizabeths, ditto with middle names, and more Catherines, with or without Annes, in this early 1960s Irish working class neighborhood than you can shake a stick at but that is another story, a Markin sociology of the neighborhood story for another time, I am sure) over at North Adamsville Elementary School. This intelligence was gold because it seems that beyond that "look," that jump off the bridge look that I just mentioned, Joanne liked me. But wait a minute no teen saga can just end like that, a story goes with it. See, Joanne was put off by my devil-make-care-attitude which seemed to her, pious girl that she was, kind of sacrilegious, but on the other hand she liked the cool midnight blessed sunglasses. Ya, women.

Let me get back to that pious part for a minute because it will explain lots of things, lots of things that even Markin didn't get. Like when Joanne and I would later have our "misunderstandings" and break-ups which is usually when I looked around for another girl. Not the slanderous way Markin made it seem like I was 24/7 on the hunt even when Joanne and I were in our glory days. See, and here is where the intelligence from Mary Margaret (hereafter, Moe, which is a reasonable nickname and she liked it as well) was invaluable, although if I thought about it I should have after hearing the gist of it ran, ran like hell to Africa or some place like that. See, even worst that in mother Maude's household the religion, the hard core Roman Catholic religion, the more Roman than the Romans religion, its superstitions, its dogmas, and its graces were pervasive via Joanne's mother (Doris). And while mother Maude, and to a lesser extent mother Arlene (Markin's mother), bore down, and bore down hard, with their religious tyrannies toward us boys the girls took the serious brunt of the damage to their fragile psyches. No question.

See here is the set-up. Pious mother (learning from pious mothers back to Stone Age Ireland, and elsewhere I suppose) had a funny standard. They, with the boys, would give kind of a sacramental dispensation for wayward behavior up to, and including, the occasional armed robbery (I am not kidding that happened with one of Markin’s brothers, and others, too many others in the old neighborhood) except, of course, holy of holies, taking the lord’s name in vain and stuff like that. With the girls though, and maybe with some malice, I don’t know, but at least in the family of Doris Anna Murphy, nee Mulvey, it seemed so. They, the girls that is, were held to a higher standard of behavior and were suppose to act as such, at least for public consumption. (I found out later that the public consumption part was all that really mattered for some later flames who, as Markin very succinctly pointed out, had twelve novena books in their hands and lust in their hearts, great lust, praise be). This is the backdrop to my struggle to win Joanne’s affections.

But see that was only part of it, the religious part, the Roman Catholic religious part (I won’t say again the more Roman than the… , ah, forget it) part of it. Let me show you how I got it wrong at first though to show you how tough it was to get my signals straight. Based on my intelligence service (My Catherine Anne-Moe intelligence) I took my best shot at Joanne by going on and on about the Church (you know now what church), about ritual, about various disputes, theological disputes, City of God, Thomist, Counter-Reformation, Virgin Mary disputes, about the meaning of the religious experience in one’s life, etc. Basically blarney, okay (I am also being polite here as I, like Markin, prefer to be so in the public prints).

I swear I thought I was making some headway when all of a sudden I started balling things up, balling them up like I just learned them rather than had them down pat like I should. Now remember this is before Pope John XXIII’s Vatican Council II thing and we were all confronted with the mysteries of the Latin mass, a weird language that confronted us kids like the bloody English language did when those heathens stepped into (and over) the old sod Ireland, plebeian anti-Semitic hatred of the Jews (hell, they killed our savior, didn’t they), and other doctrinal stuff that didn’t mean much. I tried to be cute, meaning I tried to bail out as best I could, by reciting what I knew (and knew haphazardly) about Christian doctrine. Without boring everybody with how I held forth on such esoteric things like how many angels can fit on the head of a needle and other Thomisms the long and short of it is I busted flat, busted flat hard. No sale, no wannabe sale, nada, nothing. Joanne stiffly proud, stiffly piously proud, just kind of dismissed me out of hand, with the flip of a wrist. Vanquished. Gone. In short, she just walked away. (Later, she told me she actually liked my pitter-patter but that on Church matters, you know what church matters, I should leave it to the priests, and guys like that. Fine.)

But that little setback was obviously not the end of my hopes, not even close, because, as I gathered from my Catherine Anne-Moe CIA connections my approach was all wrong. How? Well, Joanne, as it turned out, was pious, no question, pious for public consumption anyway, but that her Catholicism was very much colored by the Irish aspect of it. An Irish expression drilled into her by her grandmother, Anna, who apparently was next to, or close by, when old Saint Patrick did his demon-devouring tricks in the old country. Okay, no problem I will just be-bop on John Bull’s tyranny, eight hundred years of oppression, the bastard Oliver Cromwell (sorry Markin), and the heathen English at Wexford and Drogheda (and in the North).

See here is where it gets tricky again though, actually weird is a better word, because as Irish as the shamrock as I am, I didn’t know a lot about the history of the old Catholic, blighted (like the potatoes too often), priest-ridden (oops) Irish. And I didn’t want to get all balled up like I did with Christian doctrine (or like Markin with Evelyn and her Protestant ways). But I got well fast as I studied up on my own, and again giving the devil his due, Markin filled me in on some stuff. (Wouldn’t you know it took a half–arsed Irishman with a bloody protestant father, although everybody liked old father Prescott, would be giving me, a full-blooded son of the old sod Irishman chapter and verse, christ). In any case one day after school I was walking up Atlantic Street (or was it Appleton) and I noticed Joanne coming out of the old Thomas Crane Public Library branch, the one that was nothing but an old unused storefront that they used until they built a larger one up in Norfolk Downs (by the way although the Irish and Italians build modern Adamsville, or modern in those days, way back when back in Plymouth Rock times every name was bloody English so all the streets names and section names reflect either that or the Indian (oops), Native-American, influence). When Joanne sees me walking her way she gives me the cursory, kindly (really kiss-off okay, twelve year old kiss-off) nod to acknowledge my existence but no little “the look” (discussed previously and the reader is presumed both to remember such details and to “know” the look from his or her own life experiences). Nevertheless this is my golden opportunity-out in the street-no crazy classmates around, no Markin fouling the waters around, and no distractions. Yes, just the right time to do my sing-song, pitter-patter be-bop night paean to the plight of bloody, but not bowed, Ireland and its churchly concerns.

I will say I “stepped up to the plate” on this one. I even brought in the Book of Kell, for christ’s sake, and how the Irish Church, the blessed Irish church and the monasteries were fountains of knowledge , wisdom, …faith (she said later she loved that one) when the dirty-handed, unwashed English were eating their meals off the hip in their dingy little hovels. Suddenly she said “Stop.” My heart fell, oh my god, I’ve blown it. No, not this “scholarly” twelve year old. Well maybe. Joanne said she knew I was up to something (she had intelligence, exclusive intelligence, from, ah, Catherine Anne and Moe) and although I had actually had a fair number of facts balled up (about bloody Oliver Cromwell and Wexford and Drogheda for one, that damn Markin put his secular spin on the thing and made the hated Cromwell the hero, although from this reference you can see what kind of ammunition I was throwing out like this was a meeting of the Central Committee of the Irish Republican Army, (IRA), or something). She was “impressed”, impressed as hell (my term, okay) that I thought enough of her to go to the bother. And then she gave me a winsome smile. (Hey, Markin is not the only one susceptible to that smile.) Home run.

On the basis of that smile I “asked her out.” Now twelve year old “asking out,” then anyway, and probably now too, was usually something like going to a dance after school, or maybe getting a bite to eat at the soda fountain (including listening to the jukebox, coins in hand), bowling, ya, bowling, or a matinee movie thing. But see here is where old Frankie knew how to segue into this proposition based on his recent pitter-patter. I asked Joanne to go the upcoming March 17th Saint Patrick’s Day Parade over in South Boston with me. Nice touch, right.

Now in those days, and you can ask your parents and grandparents about it if you are too young to remember the be-bop 1950s night, the parade was actually held on March 17th, whatever day of the week it fell on so that meant “skipping” school that year. See in Adamsville March 17th, unlike in Boston, was not a day off-a holiday and even in Boston, officially, it was not a day off for blessed Saint Patrick. It was to celebrate the bloody British defeat in Boston- Evacuation Day- a worthy reason in its own right. Joanne “freaked” out at this idea at first. But then I worked on her, and worked on her, with the notion that it was her patriotic duty, her grandmother Anna memory honor duty, to go and pretend we were in the old sod for the day. Ya, I know bringing in grandma was off base but, well, but… As an added kicker, and to show my honorable intentions, I told her that Markin was also going although I had not asked him at the time (and didn’t want him around anyway). That day she said no, but over the next several days she started to weaken.

In the meantime (although I guess my intelligence network was on “vacation” or, like the current day CIA, “out of the loop” because I didn’t know this) Joanne was working on her mother by putting up an argument that it was her religious duty to stand up for the Irish Church on that day (christ, she sounded like me after a while). Finally mother Doris said yes and Joanne said yes. Of course, as this was going on, old Peter Paul, old true-blooded, down with John Bull’s tyranny, Markin wimped out, yes, wimped out, saying he did not want to miss school. As it turned out (and was Joanne’s expression after she heard that Markin had wimped out) three was one too many (and both Joanne and I agreed on this one, with a little snicker, many times later). And the reason that Joanne said that, to make a long story short because you really don’t need me to go into the details of the parade-marching bands, drill teams, bagpipes, twirlers, drunken green-faced rowdies and all that- or the results of my efforts, was that she figured (as she told me later) we would probably get around to kissing (be still my heart on hearing this even now) and she didn’t want Markin to blab it all over school. And guess what? We did kiss, kissed in honor of Saint Patrick, the Irish Church, the Book of Kell, and I don’t know how many other things, Irish things, naturally-hey, maybe even the blarney stone.

Now Markin in one of his foolish, damn foolish, commentaries once asked a question to his fellow North Adamsville high school classmates about whether, in the old days, anybody “skipped” school to go over to Southie and see the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. We know he wimped out, always. But note this, Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, has a very big A (for absent) next to his name for March 17, 1959. And he is proud of it. I’ll even get a notarized copy of the damn North Adamsville Middle School transcript to prove it. So there.
***Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- Juke Box Cash-In

A YouTube film clip of Jerry Lee Lewis performing Breathless to give a little flavor of the early 1960s American teen angst night.
Markin comment:
Frankie, Frankie, king of the old North Adamsville neighborhood, Frankie, king hell king, Frankie, king arbiter of the teen social mores, was the alpha and omega. Or that is what his relentlessly self- promoted image would have you believe. Most of it was strictly “flak” and now that we have some serious distance of time and space to shield us from retribution it can be safely told that a lot of this “mystique”, this Frankie, king of the hill, mystique, was made up by me to enhance his authority. Nothing wrong with that kings, and lesser kings and, hell, just average jacks and jills have been using this gag for centuries. What is not a gag, what is not “flak” is what I have to tell you here.

Frankie and I, of course, if you have been paying attention went back to old North Adamsville middle school days and although we had some tight moments old king Frankie, giving the devil his due, guided me fairly well through the intricacies of, well, ah, girls, girlish ways, and girlish charms. No question that I would have been left to dry out, alone, in that great teenage angst night if not for my brother, Frankie. And I’ll just give you one example, and you can judge for yourself. Okay.

I was just the other day telling someone about how in the great 1960s teen night a lot of our time, our waiting around for something, anything to happen time, was spent around places like pizza parlors, drugstore soda fountains, and corner mom and pop variety stores throwing coins into the old jukebox to play the latest “hot’ song for the umpteenth time (and then discard them, most of them anyway, after a few days). This is the scene that Frankie ruled over wherever he set up his throne. I was also telling that person about a little “trick” that I used to use when I was, as I usually was, chronically low on funds to feed the machine.

See, part of that waiting around for something, anything to happen, a big part, was hoping, sometimes hoping against hope, that some interesting looking frail (girl in the old neighborhood terminology, boy old neighborhood terminology that is, first used by Frankie, and then picked up by everyone else) would come walking through that door. And, especially on those no dough days, would put some coins in that old jukebox machine. I swear, I swear on anything, that girls, girls, if you can believe this, always seemed to have dough, at least coin dough, in those days to play their favorite songs.

So here is the trick part, and see it involves a little understanding of human psychology too, girl human psychology at that. Okay, say, for a quarter you got five selections on the juke box. Well, the girl, almost any girl that you could name, would have a first pick set, some boy romance thing, and the second one too, maybe a special old flame tryst that still hadn’t burned out. But, see after that, and this is true I swear, they would get fidgety about the selections. And, boy, that is where you made your move. You’d chime up with some song that was on your “hot” list like Save the Last Dance for Me, or some other moody thing and, presto, she hit the buttons for you.

That choice by you rather than, let’s say Breathless by Jerry Lee Lewis which maybe was your real “hot” choice told her you were a sensitive guy and worthy of a few minutes of her time. So you got your song, you got to talk to some interesting frail (you remember who that is, right?), and maybe, maybe in that great blue-pink great American teen night you got a telephone number even if she had a boy friend, a forever boy friend. Nice, right?

But here is the part, the solemn serious part, that makes this a Frankie story although He is not present in this scene, at least not physically present. Who do you think got me “hip” to this trick. Yes, none other than Francis Xavier Riley, Frankie, king of the teen night, king of the North Adamsville teen night. And, this is why he was king. He was so smooth, after a while, at directing the selections that girls would not even get a chance to pick those first current flame and old flame selections but he would practically be dropping their quarters in the machine for them. Hail Frankie.
***Once Again, When Be-Bop Bopped In The Doo Wop Night- “Street Corner Serenade II”- A CD Review

A YouTube film clip of the Harptones performing Life Is But A Dream.

CD Review

The Rock ‘n’ Roll, Era: Street Corner Serenade, Volume II, Time-Life Music, 1992

Sure I have plenty to say, as I mentioned in a review of Volume One of this two volume Street Corner Serenade set, about early rock ‘n’ roll, now called the classic rock period in the musicology hall of fame. And within that say I have spent a little time, not enough, considering its effect on us on the doo-wop branch of the genre. Part of the reason, obviously, is that back in those mid-1950s jail-breakout days I did not (and I do not believe that any other eleven and twelve year olds did either), distinguish between let’s say rockabilly-back-beat drive rock, black-based rock centered on a heavy rhythm and blues backdrop, and the almost instrument-less (or maybe a soft piano or guitar backdrop) group harmonics that drove doo-wop. All I knew was that it was not my parents’ music, not close, and that they got nervous, very nervous, anytime it was played out loud in their presence. Fortunately, some sainted, sanctified, techno-guru developed the iPod of that primitive era, the battery-driven transistor radio. No big deal, technology-wise by today’s standards, but get this, you could place it near your ear and have your own private out loud without parental scuffling in the background. Yes, sainted, sanctified techno-guru. No question.

What doo-wop did though down in our old-time working class neighborhood, and again it was not so much by revelation as by trial and error is allow us to be in tune with the music of our generation without having to spend a lot of money on instruments or a studio or any such. Where the hell would we have gotten the dough for such things when papas were out of work, or were one step away from that dreaded unemployment line, and there was trouble just keeping the wolves from the door? Sure, some kids, some kids like my “home boy” (no, not a term we used at the time) elementary school boyhood friend Billie, William James Bradley, were crazy to put together cover bands with electric guitars (rented occasionally), and dreams. Or maybe go wild with a school piano a la Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, or Fats Domino but those were maniac aficionados. Even Billie though, when the deal went down, especially after hearing Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers on Why Do Fools Fall In Love was mad to do the doo-wop and make his fame and fortune.

The cover art on this compilation shows a group of young black kids, black guys, who look like they are doing their doo wop on some big city street corner. And that makes sense reflecting the New York City-derived birth of doo-wop and that the majority of doo-wop groups that we heard on AM radio were black. But the city, the poor sections of the city, white or black, was not the only place where moneyless guys and gals were harmonizing, hoping, hoping maybe beyond hope to be discovered and make more than just a 1950s musical jail-breakout. Moreover, this cover art also shows, and shows vividly, what a lot of us guys were trying to do-impress girls (and maybe visa-versa for girl doo-woppers but they can tell their own stories).

Yes, truth to tell, it was about impressing girls that drove many of us, Billie included, christ maybe Billie most of all, to mix and match harmonies. And you know you did too (except girls just switch around what I just said). Ya, four or five guys just hanging around the back door of the elementary school on hot summer nights, nothing better to do, no dough to do it, maybe a little feisty because of that, and start up a few tunes. Billie, who actually did have some vocal musical talent, usually sang lead, and the rest of us, well, doo-wopped. What do you think we would do? We knew nothing of keys and pauses, of time, pitch, or reading music we just improvised. (And I kept my changing to teen-ager, slightly off-key, voice on the low.) Whether we did it well or poorly, guess what, as the hot day turned into humid night, and the old sun went down just over the hills, first a couple of girls, then a couple more, and then a whole bevy (nice word, right?) of them came and got kind of swoony and moony. And swoony and moony was just fine. And we all innocent, innocent dream, innocent when we dreamed, make our virginal moves. But, mainly, we doo-wopped in the be-bop mid-1950s night. And a few of the songs in this doo-wop compilation could be heard in that airless night.

The stick outs here on Volume Two which is not quite as good as the first volume overall reflecting, I think, that like in other genres, there were really only so many doo-wop songs that have withstood the test of time: Life Is But A Dream (which with my voice really changing I kept very, very low on), The Harptones; Gloria ( a little louder from me on this one), The Cadillacs; Six Nights A Week (not their best 16 Candles is), The Crests: and, A Kiss From Your Lips, The Flamingos.
***The Search For The Great Blue-Pink American West Night- Scene Seven A-"The Ballad Of Captain Cob And The S.S. Blue-Pink Night"

This scene originally formed part of scene seven but with today's posting of the entire Search For The Blue-Pink Night series of scenes this seemed awkward to the flow of the whole story.

Scene Seven A-"The Ballad Of Captain Cob And The S.S. Blue-Pink Night"

Markin comment:

I already told you today the story about the Moline Meltdown that was part of the search in the old days for the great blue-pink American West night so I don’t have to repeat that here but I did start to think that the story of Captain Cob and the S.S. Blue-Pink Night that was part of it would be easier to tell and I would not get myself so balled up in the telling if it was done as a ballad. Shorter and more to the point, if nothing else. Also an important source for this story, or model for the story if you will, was Red Sovine’s Big Joe and Phantom 309 as translated by Tom Waits. And Big Joe was nothing but a “talking” ballad in the old Hank Williams or Woody Guthrie style. So I am in good company. Here goes:

The Ballad Of Captain Cob And The S.S. Blue-Pink Night

Okay, let me tell this thing straight through even though I know it will sound off-kilter to you anyway I say it, hell, it will sound half off-kilter to me and I lived through it:

See, back a few years ago, ya, it was back a few years ago when I was nothing but a summer-sweltered sixteen year old high school kid, a city boy high school kid, with no dough, no way to get dough, and nobody I knew who had dough to put a touch on, I went off the deep end.

Plus, plus I had had about thirty-six beefs with Ma, around par for the course for a whole summer but way too many for a couple of weeks in, and not even Fourth of July yet.

Worst, worst, if you can believe this, I had a few, two maybe, beefs with the old man, and having a beef with him with Ma the official flak-catcher meant things were tough, too tough to stay around.

Sure, I know, how tough can it be at sixteen to stay put waiting for the summer heat to break and maybe have some clean clear wind bring in a change of fortune. But don’t forget, don’t ever forget when I’m telling you this story that we are talking about a sixteen year old guy, with no dough and plenty of dreams, always plenty of dreams, whatever color they turned out to be.

I threw a few things together in an old green, beaten to hell knapsack, you know enough to get by until things break, that stuff and about three dollars, and I headed out the door like a lot of guys headed out that same kind of door before me in search of fame and fortune.

I hit the main street with a swagger and immediately start thumbing as if my life depended on it. Right away a car, I didn’t see where it had come from before it came into my view, a late model car, looked like a 1961 Ford, slowed down, the driver rolled down his passenger side window and asked where was I heading.

I said “west, I guess,” he said “I’m heading up to Maine to work. Too bad I can’t help you.” As he readied to make tracks I say, “Hey, wait a minute, I‘ll take that ride, North or West it’s all the same to me.”

This guy, if you are thinking otherwise, turned out to be pretty interesting, he wasn’t any fruit like a lot of guys who stop when they see a young guy with a dour, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders pan like mind, and are ready to pounce on that fact.

Seems that Kenny, Kenny of a thousand ships, his name was, worked the boats, the ferries out of Portland and Bar Harbor over to Nova Scotia and filled the time we traveled with stories about different funny things that happened on the trips back and forth.

And there was this one story that I didn’t think anything about when he told it. He was going on a bit about how one time out in the misty mist his uncle, Captain Cob, Captain Caleb Cob, some old swamp Yankee, whom he served under in some boat saved a bunch of people off an island ferry, off of Portland Light, got them to shore, and went back out looking for more.

Well, he is telling his stories, and I am telling mine about this and that, but mainly about my love of the sea, and about going west to see the Pacific when I get tired of the Atlantic.

Suddenly, Kenny says out of the blue, “Hey, if you’re gonna bum around I’ll leave you off at Old Orchard Beach, right at the beach, there’s plenty of places to sleep without being bothered."

See, though this guy, Kenny, was so good, such a good guy, that when we get there he doesn’t just let me off on Route One and so I have to thumb another ride into town like most guys would do but takes me right down to the pier, the amusement park pier.

Then he says you know it is probably better to get away from this crowded area, let me take you down Route 9 to the Saco jetty where you can set yourself up in an empty boat.

Okay, that sounds right and besides it’s won’t be dark for hours yet and it’s not dark enough for me to make my big teenage city boy moves.

I could see right away that Kenny was right, this place was quiet and there were many rows of boats just waiting to be used for housekeeping purposes. But, what got my attention was, maybe fifty yards away, the start of the longest jetty in the world, or so I thought.

Hey, I have walked a few jetties and while you have to be careful for the ill-placed boulders when you get to the end you are feeling like the king of the sea, and old Neptune better step aside. I started walking out,

Christ this is tough going I must be a little tired from all the travel. Nah it’s more than that, the granite slaps are placed helter-skelter so you can’t bound from one to another and you practically have to scale them. After about a hundred yards of scraping my hands silly, and raw, I say the heck with this and head back.

But put sixteen, hunger for adventure, and hunger to beat old fellaheen king Neptune down together and you know this is not the end.

I go around looking at my boat selection just exactly like I am going to rent an apartment. Except before I set up housekeeping I am going to take an old skiff out along the jetty to the end. So I push one off the sand, jump in and start rowing.

Now I am an ocean guy, no question. And I know my way around boats, a little, so I don’t think much of anything except that I will go kind of slow as I work my way out.

Of course a skiff ain’t nothing but a glorified rowboat, if that. It’s all heavy lifting and no “hi tech” like navigation stuff or stuff that tells you how far the end of jetty is. Or even that there is a heavy afternoon fog starting to roll in on the horizon. Ya, but intrepid that’s me.

Hey, I’m not going to England just to the end of the jetty. I said that as the fog, the heavy dark fog as it turned out, enveloped the boat and its new-found captain. I started rowing a little harder and a little more, I ain’t afraid to say it, panic-stricken.

See I thought I was rowing back to shore but I know, know deep somewhere in my nautical brain, that I am drifting out to sea. I’m still rowing though, as the winds pick up and rain starts slashing away at the boat.

Of course, the seas have started swelling, water cresting over the sides. Christ, so this is the way it is going to finish up for me.

What seemed like a couple more hours and I just plain stopped rowing, maybe I will drift to shore but I sure as hell am not going to keep pushing out to sea. Tired, ya, tired as hell but with a little giddy feeling that old Neptune is going be seeing me soon so I decide to put my head down and rest.

Suddenly I am awakened by the distinct sound of a diesel engine, no about six diesels, and a big, flashing light coming around my bow. I yell out, “over here.” A voice answers, “I know.”

Next thing I know an old geezer, a real old geezer decked out in his captain’s gear, is putting a rope around the bow of my boat and telling me to get ready to come aboard.

After getting me a blanket, some water and asking if I wanted a nip of something (I said yes) he said I was lucky, lucky as hell that he came by. Then he asked what I was doing out here in the open sea with such a rig, and wasn’t I some kind of fool boy.

Well, I told my story, although he seemed to know it already like he made a daily habit of saving sixteen year old city boys from the sea, or themselves. So we swapped stories for a while as we headed in, and I had a nip or two more.

As we got close to Saco pier though he blurted out that he had to let me off before the dock because he had some other business on the Biddeford side.

Here is where it gets really weird though. He asked me, as we parted, did I know the name of his boat (a trawler, really). I said I couldn’t see it in all the fog and swirling sea. He told me she was the “S.S. Blue-Pink Night.”

I blurted out, “Strange name for a boat, what is it a symbol or something?”

Then he told me about how he started out long ago on land, as a kid just like me, maybe a little older, heading to California, and the warm weather and the strange blue-pink night skies and the dreams that come with them. I said how come you’re still here but he said he was pressed for time.

Here is the thing that really threw me off. He gave me a small dried sea shell, a clam shell really, that was painted on its inner surface and what was painted on it was a very intricate, subliminally beautiful scene of what could only be that blue-pink California sky.

I said, “Thanks; I’ll always remember you for this and the rescue.” He said, “Hell lad that ain’t nothing but an old clam shell. When you get over to that Saco café at the dock just show it to them and you can get a meal on it. That meal is what you’ll remember me by.” And off he went.

Hungry, no famished, I stumbled into the Saco café, although that was not its name but some sea name, and it was nothing but a diner if you though about it, a diner that served liquor to boot so there were plenty of guys, sea guys, nursing beers until the storm blew over, or whatever guys spend half the day in a gin mill waiting to blow over.

I stepped to the counter and told the waitress, no, I asked politely just in case this was a joke, whether this old clam shell from the captain of the “Blue-Pink Night” got me a meal, or just a call to take the air.

All of a sudden the whole place, small as it was, went quiet as guys put their heads down and pretended that they didn’t hear or else though the joint doubled up as a church.

I asked my question again and the waitress said, “What’ll you have?”

The she said did I know anything about the captain, and how did he look, and where did he meet me, and a whole bunch of questions like this was some mystery, and I guess maybe there was at that.

Then the waitress told me this (and I think every other guy in the room by the loudness of her voice),

“A few years back, yes, about six or seven years ago, there was a big storm that came through Portland Light, some say a perfect storm, I don’t know, but it was a howler.

Well, one of the small ferries capsized out there and somehow someone radioed that there were survivors clinging to the boat. Well, the old captain and his first mate, I think, started up the old “Blue-Pink Night” and headed out, headed out hard, headed out full of whiskey nips, and one way or another, got to the capsized boat and brought the survivors into shore and then headed out again.

And we never saw them again.

And here is the funny part; when he was unloading his passengers he kept talking, talking up a perfect storm about seeing the blue-pink night when he was out there before and how maybe it was still there.

I guess the booze got the best of him. But hear me son, old captain was square with every one in this place, he used to own it then, and some of his kin are sitting right here now. He was square with them too. So, eat up kid, eat up on the house, ‘cause I want you to save that old clam shell and any time you’re on your uppers you can always get a meal here. Just remember how you got it.”

“Thanks, ma’am,” I said.

Then I slowly, like my soul depended on it, asked, “Oh, by the way what was that old captain’s first mate's name?” and I said it in such a way that she knew, knew just as well as I did, that I knew the answer.

“Kenny, Kenny Cob, bless his soul.”
***Out In The Be-Bop Night- Scenes In Search Of The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- The Complete Journey

And then... .

the great Western shore, surf’s up, white, white wave-flecked, lapis-lazuli blue-flecked ocean, rust golden-gated, no return, no boat out, lands end, this is it coast highway, heading down or up now, heading up or down gas stationed, named and unnamed, side road diners, still caboose’d, ravine-edged sleep and beach sleeped, blue-pink American West night.

Yes, but there is more. No child vision but now of full blossom American West night, the San Francisco great American West night, of the be-bop, bop-bop, narrow-stepped, downstairs overflowed music cellar, shared in my time, the time of my time, by “beat” jazz, “hippie’d folk”, and howled poem, but at this minute jazz, high white note-blown, sexed sax-playing godman, unnamed, but like Lester Young’s own child jazz. Smoke-filled, blended meshed smokes of ganja and tobacco (and, maybe, of meshed pipe smokes of hashish and tobacco), ordered whisky-straight up, soon be-sotted, cheap, face-reddened wines, clanking coffee cups that speak of not tonight promise. High sexual intensity under wraps, tightly under wraps, swirls inside it own mad desire, black-dressed she (black dress, black sweater, black stockings, black shoes, black bag, black beret, black sunglasses, ah, sweet color scheme against white Madonna, white, secular Madonna alabaster skin. What do you want to bet black undergarments too, ah, but I am the soul of discretion, your imagination will have to do), promising shades of heat-glanced night. And later, later than night just before the darkest hour dawn, of poems poet’d, of freedom songs free-verse’d, of that sax-charged high white note following out the door, out into the street, out the eternity lights of the great golden-gated night. I say, can you blame me?

Of later roads, the north Oregon hitchhike roads, the Redwood-strewn road not a trace of black-dressed she, she now of blue serge denim pants, of brown plaid flannel long-sleeved shirt, of some golfer’s dream floppy-brimmed hat, and of sturdy, thick-heeled work boots (undergarments again left to your imagination) against the hazards of summer snow squall Crater Lake. And now of slightly sun-burned face against the ravages of the road, against the parched sun-devil road that no ointments can relieve. And beyond later to goose-down bundled, hunter-hatted, thick work glove-clad, snowshoe-shod against the tremors of the great big eternal bump of the great Alaska highway. Can she blame me? Guess.

Ya, put it that way and what does that young comrade, a dreamer of his own dreams, and rightly too, know of an old man’s fiercely-held, fiercely-defended, fiercely-dreamed beyond dreaming blue-pink dreams. Or of ancient blue-pink sorrows, sadnesses, angers, joys, longings and lovings, either.
Setting The Mood
I, once a while back, was asked, in earnest, what I meant by the “blue-pink western skies” that has formed the backdrop for several entries in this space of late. Or rather the way I would prefer to formulate it, and have taken some pains to emphasize it this way, “the search for the blue-pink great American West night.” Well, of course, there was a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my back (sometimes right at my back) New England homestead meant unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that the hitchhike road meant heading west.

So that night is clearly not in the vicinity of the local Blues Hills or of the Berkshires since early childhood ocean-fronted Massachusetts, those are too confined and short-distanced to even produce blues skies much less that west-glanced sweet shade just before heaven, if there was a heaven shade, blue-pink. And certainly not hog-butcher-to-the-world, sinewy Midwest Chicago night, Christ no, nor rarefied, deep-breathed, rockymountainhigh Denver night, although jaded sojourner-writer not known for breathe-taking, awe-bewilderment could have stopped there for choice of great western night. Second place, okay.

But no, onward, beyond, beyond pioneer, genetically-embedded pioneer America, past false god neon blue-pink glitter Las Vegas in the Nevada desert night to the place where, about fifty miles away from sanctified west coast, near some now nameless abandoned ghost town, nameless here for it is a mere speck on the map and you would not know the name, you begin, ocean man that you are, if you are, and organically ocean-bred says you are, to smell the dank, incense-like, seaweed-driven, ocean-seized air as it comes in from the Japanese stream, or out there somewhere in the unknown, some Hawaii or Guam or Tahiti of the mind, before the gates of holy city, city of a thousand, thousand land’s end dreams, San Francisco. That is where the blue-pink sky devours the sun just before the be-bop, the bop-bop, the do wang-doodle night, the great American Western star-spangled (small case) night I keep reaching for, like it was some physical thing and not the stuff of dreams.
The scenes below stand (or fall) as moments in support of that eternal search.

Scene One: The Prequel- Germantown Monday, Summer 1957

I wake up early, with a sudden start like something hit me but it kind of missed, kind of just glanced off me, something that felt like a pebble, maybe thinner and a little lighter, but I don’t see anything out of my watery, half-closed eyes. And I don’t feel anything around me in this feeble excuse for a bed that my father lashed together out of old blankets when my previous mattress fell apart, something like you see down at the Plymouth Plantation when the Pilgrims, a few hundred years ago, made beds for their kids except not with the corn husking filler they used. See, Ma and Pa couldn’t see their way clear to getting me a new one since my younger brother, Kevin, really needed one for his “problem”. A “problem” that I don’t understand about, and that nobody ever talks about, even Grandma, and she talks about everything and will tell me anything, anything but that, at least when I am around they don’t.

Maybe, I wouldn’t understand it even if they blabbed about it all day, but here I am with this low-rent sleeping bag, our lord in the manger kind of a bed. And Kevin’s sleeping like a king in the room across the hall all by himself away from this midget-sized room that they must have thought of when kids were smaller than they are these days, what with us drinking more milk with “Big Brother” Bob Emery every school day when we go home at lunchtime. Ma says I should be thankful (including to the Lord, as she always says, without fail) that I have any bed at all as some kids in India don’t even have that. The reasons for that, I guess, are ‘cause those people don’t thank the Lord, or at least thank our “the Lord.”

Darn it, I now suddenly remember, whatever it was that hit me, maybe something from outer space, broke up a nice half-formed dream that was just starting to get somewhere and that was about being on some television show and winning something like a thousand dollars and me getting to buy stuff for me and my friends like serious bicycles or a big record player, and getting girls stuff too, like a box of candy from the Rexall drugstore up in Adamsville Square, and just like that its gone, gone, now long gone. Just like shutting off the television before the end and the good guys, or whoever has the right to be on the right side of the law like Maverick, wins; just like missing American Bandstand before Dick Clark gets to the big dance off thing at the end where everybody’s jumping and grooving and having a good time, the band is rocking, and the guys, especially the guys that get the cute girls and not the left-over ones that they must just put on to be nice, or something are smiling, smiling the smile of the just. Double darn it.

Ya, something’s out of whack, something’s definitely out of whack, or it’s gonna be. Every time I have one of these broken-up dreams something goes awry pretty soon only not today please, and I am scared, no, really scared about it this time. Wouldn’t you be? I suddenly notice something in a split-second that confirms this bad omen coming-Oh no, not again, for the hundredth hundredth time this ratty old summer, this boring never-ending summer that I wish would end so bad I am praying, and praying hard, that it will be over and we can go back to the cool air in Snug Harbor school that we left the last part of last month. I told you it was bad, bad as all that. I’m all sweaty, I feel under my arms, underarms sticky, underwear, all cottony, sticking to me like it’s part of my skin forever, eyes sticky and half shut from a nighttime’s worth of perspiration, and maybe more than a night at that. I don’t think I took a bath yesterday, did I? I sniff, no. Sticky, that me, that’s gonna be my middle name before long if this mind-numbing weather keeps up.

Heck, I’m tired, tired to hell and back, no, farther than that, of these half-sleep, restless nights; god awful humid, sultry, breathless summer’s nights, no relief and no air conditioning in sight. No air, no wind coming from the channel across the parking lot from our house, or I should say apartment. No air, less than no air, coming from Adamsville Bay, so still that throwing a rock on it would make ripples all the way to Merrymount. And certainly no air coming from god forsaken Hough’s Neck. I know that for sure, ‘cause I went over there, walked all the way up to Rock Island and down that dusty dirt road all the way to Nut Island almost before I realized that the air had died, or gone on vacation.

Ma, making fun of me and my sweating every second of every minute of every day for about a week now, the other day told me that this was my own personal preview of what it is gonna be like for me in hell, if I don’t change my ways. Yes, ma. But that is just her con, she’s always conning me and my brothers, trying make us do good by bringing God, his son, his holy ghost, his mother, his father, his sisters and brothers and whoever else she can conjure up using to make us do good, to do as she’s says every chance she gets in order to do God’s work, but that’s impossible using her tried and true method. She must have learned that “method” from some priest over at Saint Boniface, or something. She sure didn’t learn it from that cool doctor, Doctor Spock, I think was his name, that I saw on TV the other day on that Mike Douglas, or one of them talk shows. He knows a lot about kids, they say, at least that’s what someone said. I wouldn’t know, I ‘m stuck with Ma, and that ain’t no nice to kids lady, nor does she want to be.
But saying all that ain’t doing me any good, lying here in a pool of sweat, thinking about getting up. But I’m getting mad, even though I know getting mad today is tempting fate, I guess I was born mad, or got that way early because even though I know its gonna get me in trouble , I’m mad . You would think that in the year 1957, in a year when everybody else seems to have money and is spending it, that even in this woe begotten tiny airless apartment filled to the brim with three growing boys and two grown, overgrown if you ask me, adults; in this woe begotten tiny airless room filled to the brim with two growing boys, one sleeping like a log, sleeping the sleep of the just, I guess, across from me right now; in this woe begotten no account housing project where you can’t get anything fixed without about twenty forms and a six month wait and even then you have to wait, nothing less. Even for a light fixture it takes a civil war. Christ, how long, in this woe begotten town before we could have this “necessity,” air conditioning. Ma says we can’t afford it, or whatever her excuse of the week is. “How about a fan, Ma?” Nope, can’t afford the extra electricity ‘cause Dad just got laid off, whatever that means. He’s always getting laid off so I can’t tell what is so different about this time so that we can’t get air conditioning. Johnny Jakes has it, and his father hasn’t ever worked. Can’t, for some reason.

Enough of this, I‘m getting up, if only to splash some water on my face and get my eyes unstuck, or get a cool drink of water to bring down what has got be about a 110 degrees of temperature running through my body, maybe 115. Nah, that can’t be right, we learned about body temperatures in class. I would have to be some alien from outer space maybe. But I’m feverish, that’s for sure. Just then I am stopped short by a sound, a familiar sound. A sound that if I had just one sound to hear in the whole universe of sounds that I have heard in my long eleven year old life it would be that one. The sound of fleeing this hellish, airless place for parts unknown, any unknown. Ya, that old, sweet, lonesome, high whistle sound that cuts me to the bone, that sweet old fog horn sound when the air is like pea soup down the channel ‘cause that means a big old firemen’s red, rubber tire-draped tugboat, or maybe two, is bringing a low-riding, rusty old tanker, or some ship to port across the channel to the Proctor and Gamble factory, the place of a thousand perfume smells, as we call it when the wind is up and all the world here smells like a bar of soap.

If I live to be a hundred, if I live to be a thousand, I’m always gonna watch, even if only in my mind, when that old tanker comes down the line, dragging or getting dragged by that old tug, whistling away, to keep river traffic away, and like it just as much then I bet. I know what I will be doing this morning, or the first part of the morning, heat or no heat, air conditioning or no air conditioning. I will be perched on my very own private, for invited guests only which means nobody, viewing stand at the little point along the shoreline that is my real home, or the home that I wish was my home except maybe in winter, just across from where the big boy boat will settle in.

“Hey, a boat’s coming in, I’m off,” I yell to no one in particular. And from not one of those no one in particulars do I get an answer. My brothers don’t suffer the sweats like I do, they have their own problems which I already sense will be their undoing later, but it ain’t the sweats and so they just sleep away. I rush, and I mean rush, to the bathroom, use the toilet, splash that life-saving water on my face, it always feels good, brush my teeth perfunctorily, and run down the stairs. “Ma, a ship’s coming in,” I say excitedly, even though its about the hundredth time I seen one come in, to my mother who is distracted by something, as usual, especially when my father is out of work, and especially today, Monday, when he goes off in search of new work with a lot of hope about getting some job that will keep the wolves from the doors, that is the constant phrase that he uses to deal with the situation. I’ll tell you about him sometime but today I ain’t got any time for nothing but my ship coming in, and that ain’t no lie either.

“Well, it is not our ship that is coming in so don’t worry about it and just eat your breakfast,” she, dear old Ma, blurred out, and then I know she is in a fit and even if my ship wasn’t coming in I know the ropes enough to know to keep low, very low and out of the range of fire that I know is coming from her direction. I go to the cabinet, grab a cracked, slightly cracked bowl, get a spoon and go over to the stove, take the cover off the pot, steam escaping, and without even looking start dishing out my Quaker Oats oatmeal. Rain, shine, sleet or snow, summer, winter, spring or fall that is my nectar of the gods. With a little milk, when we have it, and even if we don’t a little Karo syrup, I am fortified for the day. Ma, can be a pain, Ma and I have a thousand battles a week over two thousand different things, and I know that already things are never gonna be right between us, even if at times we have an armed truce but, mark this down I always got my oatmeal, and always when I wanted it. I guess that put her on the right side of the angels, a little.

A few gulps later, washed down with about a half glass of milk, I am out the door, hell, even my blessed oatmeal gets short shrift when the tankers blow in. Now going out the door most places that you know about means just going out the door straight. Bu in this urban planner’s nightmarish hangover not at 666 Taffrail Road. First you have the obstacle course of getting around the ten million poles and fences that are plucked right in the “courtyard” when my mother and the other housewives in the other three units that make up our mega-plex hang out their daily washing, or dry their curtains or whatever people like my mother do to keep places like this from reverting back to caveman times. Then I have to cross the parking lot, a lot filled with all kinds of cars, for those that have them. These days we don’t have one, in case I didn’t tell you before, because Dad is out of work so we are all reduced to waiting for an eternity for that slow-rolling, seems never to be here when you need it, Eastern Mass. bus that ambles on to Adamsville Square, making so many stops that I usually just walk it, if I am in a hurry to get something, even on a hot, sweltering summer day like this.

As I hit the already hot asphalt of the lot I look around longingly at the vast array of cars; Plymouths with fins that look like a fish; Chevies, my favorite, sleek and so, Timmy McDevitt tells me, go real fast when you get onto Route 128 and let her rip; Fords that look like something they want to use to go up into space with, and I don’t know what else, but there are plenty. Finally I get to the lower parking lot that’s for guests or people who don’t get a parking spot in front of their house, or maybe just run out of steam before making the turn into hell-bent Taffrail Road. I don’t know and I am now passed that spot on the move along the fence anyhow to get to the little opening that will take me to my grand viewing area. I’m okay though, I still hear the old tug whistle coming up the line so I have some time to wait.

I get to my little sliver of land, just a little jut out of the shoreline, covered with old, oil-slicked quarry rock probably from the ground around here about a million years ago, ‘cause this town is known for its granite rock, cause it’s a granite city, even though the real work done around here is over at the Five Rivers Shipyard that is just across the bridge from the Proctor and Gamble factory, and where even on this hot, god forsaken morning I can faintly hear the sounds of metal being banged by hammers or whatever they use to put the ship together, and the flashes of welders’ torches as they put that banged metal in seamless water-tight condition.

I also notice some empty beer cans, cigarette butts, chip bags left haphazardly all over my viewing stand, somebody last night, or the night before, must have said the hell with it and got out one of the sweltering houses and came over here to get whatever little, little breeze that could be eked out of the windless night. I rule the day here in this spot, especially when the boats come in, no question about that, but what others do at night I have no control over. I just wish they wouldn’t leave a mess on my sacred site.

But that is all so much made-up irritation, probably ‘cause I am so hot, for now I can see the first glimmer of the smokestack of a ship coming up the line. I wonder whose oil it is, Esso? Texaco? Shell? Esso has been in the lead this year, and they are bigger ships and ride real low in the water coming in, and real high going out. I can start to see specks on the bridge, human specks that are busy doing the work of preparing the ship for the dock.

I wonder, wonder a lot, about these guys and the work they do and whether they like it and like being on the sea and whether they ever have any trouble like in stories that I read down at the Thomas Crane Library attached to the school, and where they have been and what adventures they have had, and where, and with whom. Maybe that’s the life for me. And I wonder about the girls they know from all over and whether they are nicer than the girls in the "projects" who are beginning to get on my nerves, for some reason. At least I don’t know what to do or what to say around them, or what they want me to do, or want me to say. I hope this is just being a boy kid and that it goes away, and I hope it a lot.

Oh, there she is, an Esso. The tugs are in position, gently nudging her and getting her ready to go dockside, tie up and unload. Wonder how long she will stay? Usually its takes a couple of days and then they are gone, sometimes in the middle of the night and they are not there in the morning depending on the tides and the traffic on the roads, oh, ocean roads, that is. Hey, its almost lunchtime, guess I’ll go home and eat and go down the cellar, maybe to try to cool off. I know one thing now though that kind of had me worried and kind of bothered me for a while 'cause I am just a kid. I now know I will always take time to watch the boats as they blow in, and dream about catching a boat out, wherever I am. Maybe, that is an omen, a good omen, about my future. I'll let you know.

Scene Two-Hayes-Bickford Breakout -October 1962
Here I am again sitting, 3 o’clock in the morning sitting, bleary-eyed, slightly distracted after mulling over the back and forth of the twelve hundredth run-in (nice way to put it, right?) with Ma that has driven me out into this chilly October 1962 early morning. And where do I find myself sitting at this time of morning? Tired, but excitedly expectant, on an uncomfortable, unpadded bench seat on this rolling old clickity-clack monster of a Red Line subway car as it now waggles its way out past Kendall Station on its way to Central Square and then to the end of the line, Harvard Square. My hangout, my muse home, my night home, at least my weekend night home, my place to make sense of the world in a world that doesn’t make much sense, at least not enough much sense. Sanctuary, Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford sanctuary, misbegotten teenage boy sanctuary, recognized by international law, recognized by canon law, or not.

That beef with Ma, that really unnumbered beef, forget about the 1200 I said before, that was just a guess, has driven me to take an “all-nighter” trip away from the travails of the old home town, North Adamsville, across Boston to the never-closed Hayes-Bickford cafeteria that beckons just as you get up the stairs from the Harvard subway tunnel. Damn, let me just get this off my chest and then I can tell the rest of the story. Ma said X, I pleaded for Y (hell this homestead civil war lent itself righteously to a nice algebraic formulation. You can use it too, no charge). Unbeknownst to me Y did not exist in Ma’s universe. Ever. Sound familiar? Sure, but I had to get it off my chest.

After putting on my uniform, my Harvard Square “cool” uniform: over-sized flannel brownish plaid shirt, belt-less black cuff-less chino pants, black Chuck Taylor logo-ed Converse sneakers, a now ratty old windbreaker won in a Fourth of July distance race a few years back when I really was nothing but a wet-behind-the ears kid to ward off the chill, and, and the absolutely required midnight sunglasses to hide those bleary eyes from a peeking world I was ready to go. To face the unlighted night, and fight against the dawn’s rising for another day. Oh ya, I forgot, I had to sneak out of the house stealthily, run like some crazed broken-field football player down the back of the property, and, after catching my breathe, walk a couple of miles over bridge and nasty, hostile (hostile if anyone was out, and anyone was sniping for a misbegotten teenage boy, for any purpose good or evil) Dorchester streets to get to the Fields Corner subway stop. The local Eastern Mass. bus had stopped its always erratic service hours ago, and, any way, I usually would rather walk than wait, wait my youth away, for those buses to amble along our way with their byzantine schedules.

Right now though I am thinking, as those subway car wheels rattle beneath my feet, who knows, really, how or why it starts, that wanderlust start, that strange feeling in the pit of your stomach that you have to move on, or out, or up or you will explode, except you also know, or you damn well come to know that it eats away at a man, or a woman for that matter, in different ways. Maybe way back, way back in the cradle it was that first sense that there was more to the world that the four corners of that baby world existence and that if you could just, could just get over that little, little side board there might be something better, much better over the horizon. But, frankly that just seems like too much of a literary stretch even for me, moody teenage boy that I am, to swallow so let’s just say that it started once I knew that the ocean was a way to get away, if you needed to get away. But see I didn’t figure than one out for myself even, old Kenny from the old neighborhood in third grade is the one who got me hip to that, and then Johnny James and his brother filled in the rest of the blanks and so then I was sea-worthy, dream sea-worthy anyway.

But, honestly, that sea dream stuff can only be music for the future because right now I am stuck, although I do not always feel stuck about it, trying to figure my way out of high school world, or at least figure out the raging things that I want to do after high school that fill up my daydream time (study hall time, if you really want to know). Of course, as well, that part about the ocean just mentioned, well there was a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my-back (sometimes right at my back) New England homestead meant unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that meant I had to head west. Right now west though is Harvard Square, its doings and not doings, it trumpet call to words, and sounds, and actions in the October Friday night all-night storm brewing.

The train now rounds the squeaky-sounding bend out of Central Square and stops at the station. So now I leave my pensive seat and stand waiting, waiting for the driver to release the pressure to let the sliding train door open, getting ready to jump off the old subway, two-steps-at-a-time my way up the two flights of stairs and head for mecca to see if things jump for me tonight. The doors open at last. Up the two-stepped stairs I go, get to the surface and confront the old double-glassed Hayes door entrance and survey the vast table-filled room that at this hour has a few night owl stranglers spotted throughout the place.

You know the old Hayes-Bickford, or one of them, if you live in Boston, or New York City, or a few other places on the East Coast, don’t you? Put your tray on the metal slider (hey, I don’t know what you call that slider thing, okay) and cruise down the line from item to item behind the glass-enclosed bins of, mostly, steamy food, if you are looking for fast service, for a quick between doing things, pressing things, meal. Steamed and breaded everything from breakfast to lunch to dinner anytime topped off by dishwater quality coffee (refills on demand, if you feel lucky). But this is not the place to bring your date, certainly not your first date, except maybe for a quick cup of that coffee before going to some event, or home. What this is, really, is a place where you can hang out, and hang out with comfort, because nobody, nobody at all, is going to ask you to leave, at least if you act half-way human. And that is what this place is really about, the humans in all their human conditions doing human things, alien to you or not, that you see floating by you, as you take a seat at one of the one-size-fits all wooden tables with those red vinyl seat-covered chairs replete with paper place settings, a few off-hand eating utensils and the usual obligatory array of condiments to help get down the food and drink offered here.

Let me describe who is here at this hour on an early Saturday morning in October 1962. I will not vouch for other times, or other days, but I know Friday and Saturday nights a little so I can say something about them. Of course there is the last drink at the last open barroom crowd, said bar already well-closed in bluelaw Massachusetts, trying to get sober enough by eating a little food to traverse the road home. Good luck. Needless to say eating food in an all-night cafeteria, any all-night cafeteria, means only one thing-the person is so caught up in a booze frenzy that he (mainly) or she (very occasionally) is desperate for anything to hang the name food on to. Frankly, except for the obligatory hard-dollar coffee-steamed to its essence, then through some mystical alchemic process re-beaned, and served in heavy ceramic mugs that keep in the warmth to keep the eyes open the food here is strictly for the, well, the desperate, drunk or sober.

I might mention a little more about the food as I go along but it is strictly to add color to this little story. Maybe, maybe it will add color to the story but this is mainly about the “literary” life at the old Hayes and the quest for the blue-pink night not the cuisine so don’t hold me to it. Here is the kicker though; there are a few, mercifully few this night, old winos, habitual drunks, and street vagabonds (I am being polite here) who are nuzzling their food, for real. This is the way that you can tell the "last drink" boys, the hail fellows well met, who are just out on the town and who probably go to one of the ten zillion colleges in the area and are drawn like moths (and like wayward high schools kids, including this writer) to the magic name, Harvard Square. They just pick at their food. Those other guys (again, mainly, guys) those habituals and professional waywards work at it like it is their last chance for salvation.

Harvard Square, bright lights, dead of nights, see the sights. That vision is nothing but a commercial, a commercial magnet for every young (and old) hustler within fifty miles of the place to come and display their “acumen”. Their hustle. Three card Monte, quick-change artistry, bait and hook, a little jack-rolling, fake dope-plying, lifting an off-hand wallet, the whole gamut of hustler con lore. On any given Harvard Square weekend night there have got to be more young, naïve, starry-eyed kids hanging out trying to be cool, but really, like me, just learning the ropes of life than you could shake a stick at to set a hustler’s heart, if he (mainly) or she (sometimes) had a heart.

I’ll tell you about a quick con that got me easy in a second but right now let me tell you that at this hour I can see a few con artists just now resting up after a hard night’s work around a couple of tables, comparing notes (or, more likely, trying to con each other, there is no honor among thieves in this little night world. Go to it, boys). As to the con that got me, hey it was simple, a guy, an older guy, a twenty-five year old or something like that guy, came up to me while I was talking to a friend and said did I (we) want to get some booze. Sober, sixteen years old, and thrill-seeking I said sure (drinking booze is the coin of the realm for thrills these days, among high school kids that I know, maybe the older set, those college guys, are, I hear, experimenting with drugs but if so it is very on the QT).

He said name your poison, I did, and then he “suggested” a little something for himself. Sure, whatever is right. I gave him the money and he returned a few minutes later with a small bag with the top of a liquor bottle hanging out. He split. We went off to a private area around Harvard Yard (Phillips Brook House, I think) and got ready to have our first serious taste of booze, and maybe get rum brave enough to pick up some girls. Naturally, the bottle is a booze bottle alright but it had been opened (how long before is anyone’s guess) and filled with water. Sucker, right. Now the only reason that I am mentioning this story right here is that the guy who pulled this con is sitting, sitting like the King of Siam, just a few tables away from where I am sitting. The lesson learned for the road, for the future road that beckons: don’t accept packages from strangers without inspecting them and watch out for cons, right? No, hell no. The lesson is this: sure don’t fall for wise guy tricks but the big thing is to shake it off, forget about it if you see the con artist again. You are way to cool to let him (or occasionally her) think that they have conned you. Out loud, anyway.

But wait, I am not here at almost four o’clock in the Hayes-Bickford morning, the Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford morning, to talk about the decor, the food if that is what it is, about the clientele, humble, slick, or otherwise. I am here looking for “talent”, literary talent that is. See, I have been here enough, and have heard enough about the ”beats” (or rather pseudo-beats, or “late phase” beats at this time) and the “folkies” (music people breaking out of the Pop 40 music scene and going back to the roots of America music, way back) to know that a bunch of them, about six in all, right this minute are sitting in a far corner with a light drum tapping the beat listening to a guy in black pants(always de rigueur black), sneakers and a flannel shirt just like me reciting his latest poem. That possibility is what drove me here this night, and other nights as well. See the Hayes is known as the place where someone like Norman Mailer had his buttered toast after one of his “last drink” bouts. Or that Bob Dylan sat at that table, that table right over there, writing something on a napkin. Or some parallel poet to the one now wrapping up his seventy-seven verse imitation Allen Ginsberg's Howl master work went out to San Francisco and blew the lid off the town, the City Lights town, the literary town.

But I better, now that the six-ish dawn light is hovering, trying to break through the night wars, get my droopy body down those subway stairs pretty soon and back across town before anyone at home notices that I am missing. Still I will take the hard-bitten coffee, re-beaned and all, I will take the sleepy eyes that are starting to weigh down my face, I will even take the con artists and feisty drunks just so that I can be here when somebody’s search for the blue-pink great American West night, farther west than Harvard Square night, gets launched.

Scene Three: A First Misstep In The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night, Early Spring 1969

Let me tell this story, okay, this story about a couple of guys that I picked up hitch-hiking out on the 1960s highway. I’ll get to what highway it was later because it could have been any highway, any American or European, or maybe even African or Asian highway, if those locales had such highways, at least highways for cars back in those days. Anyway it’s their story, these two guys, really, and maybe around the edges my story, and if you are of a certain age, your story, just a little anyway.

Some of it though just doesn’t sound right now, or read right, at least the way they told it to me but we will let that pass ‘cause it has been a while and memories, mine in this case, sometimes seize up even among the best of us. Ya, but this part I do remember so let’s just subtitle this one a segment on that search for the blue-pink great American West night and that makes this thing a lot of people’s story. Let’s get to it right now by picking up where they and I intersect on the great American 1960s road:

Two young men were standing pretty close together, talking, up ahead at the side of a brisk, chilly, early spring morning 1969 road, a highway really, a white-lined, four-laned, high-speed highway if you want to know, thumbs out, as I came driving down the line alone in my Volkswagen Beetle (or bug, hey, that’s what they were called in those days, you still see some old restored or well-preserved ones around, especially out on the left coast), see them, and begin to slow down to pick them up. I would no more think not to pick them up than not to breathe. A few years earlier and I would have perhaps been afraid to pick up such an unlikely pair, a few years later and they would not have been on that road. But the thumbs out linked them, and not them alone on this day or in this time, with the old time hitchhike road, the vagabond road that your mother, if she was wise or nervous, told you never ever, ever to take (and it was always Ma who told you this, your father was either held in reserve for the big want-to-do battles, or else was bemused by sonny boy wanting to spread his wings, or better yet, was secretly passing along his own long ago laid aside blue-pink highway dreams).

This pair in any case, as you shall see, were clearly brothers, no, not brothers in the biological sense, although that sometimes was the case, but brothers on that restless, tireless, endless, hitchhike road. My hitchhike road yesterday, and maybe tomorrow, but today I have wheels and they don’t and that was that. No further explanation needed. I stopped. From the first close-up look at them these guys were young, although not too young, not high school or college young but more mid-twenties maybe graduate student young. I’ll describe in more detail how they looked in a minute but for those who desperately need to know where I picked them up, the exact locale that is, let me put your anxieties to rest and tell you that it was heading south on the Connecticut side of the Massachusetts-Connecticut border of U.S. Interstate 84, one of the main roads to New York City from Boston. Are you happy now? Not as sexy as some of those old-time Kerouac-Cassady late 1940s “beat” roads, but I believe their ghosts were nevertheless hovering in the environs. Hell, now that I think about it, would it have mattered if I said it was Route 6, or Route 66, or Route 666 where I picked them up. I picked them up, that was the way it was done in those halcyon days, and that’s the facts, man, nothing but the facts.

Hey, by the way, while we are talking about facts, just the hard-headed fact of this pair standing on the side of a highway road should have been enough to alert the reader that this is no current episode but rather a tale out of the mist of another American time. Who in their right mind today would be standing on such a road, thumb out, or not, expecting some faded Dennis Hopper-like flower child, or Ken Kesey-like Merry Prankster hold-out to stop. No this was the time of their time, the 1960s (or at the latest, the very latest, about 1973). You have all seen the bell-bottomed jeans, the fringed-deerskin jackets, the long hair and beards and all other manner of baubles in those exotic pre-digital photos so that one really need not bother to describe their appearances. But I will, if only to tempt the fates, or the imaginations of the young.

One, the slightly older one, wispy-bearded, like this was maybe his first attempt at growing the then <em>de rigueur</em> youth nation-demanded male beard to set one apart from the them (and from the eternal Gillette, Bic, Shick razor cuts, rubbing alcohol at the ready, splash of English Leather, spanking clean date night routine, ah, ah, farewell to all that). Attired: <em>Levi</em> blue-jean’d with flared-out bottoms, not exactly bell-bottoms but denims that not self-respecting cowboy, or cowboy wanna-be would, or could, wear out in the grey-black , star-studded great plains night; plaid flannel shirt that one would find out there in that bronco-busting night (or in backwoodsman-heavy Maine and Oregon in the time of the old Wobblies or Ken Kesey’s <em>Sometimes a Great Notion</em>); skimpily-sneakered, Chuck Taylor blacks, from the look of them, hardly the wear for tackling the great American foot-sore hitchhike road which makes me think that these are guys have started on something like their maiden voyage on that old road; and over one shoulder the ubiquitous string-tied bedroll that speaks already of ravine sleep, apartment floor pick your space sleep, and other such vagabond sleep certainly not of Holiday Inn or even flea-bag motel sleeps; and over the other shoulder the also ubiquitous life’s gatherings in a knapsack (socks, a few utensils, maybe underwear, and the again maybe not, change of shirt, a few toilet articles, not much more but more than the kings (and queens) of the roads, 1930s ancestor forbears carried, for sure , ask any old Wobblie, or bum-hobo-tramp hierarch- take your pick-who took that hard-scrabble, living out of your emptied pocket road).

And the other young man, a vision of heaven’s own high 1960s counter-cultural style: long-haired, not quite a pony tail if tied back and maybe not <em>Easy Rider</em> long but surely no advertisement for <em>Gentleman’s Quarterly</em> even in their earnest days of keeping up with the new tastes to corner the more couth segments of the hippie market; cowboy-hatted, no, not a Stetson, howdy, Tex, kind of thing but some Army-Navy store-bought broad brimmed, sun-bashing, working cowboy hat that spoke of hard-riding, branding, cattle night lowing, whiskey and women Saturday town bust-ups, just right for a soft-handed, soft-skinned city boy fearful of unlit places, or places that are not lit up like a Christmas tree; caped, long swirling cape, like someone’s idea of old-time film Zorro stepping out with the senoritas; guitar, an old Martin from the look of it, slung over one shoulder, not protective cased against the winds, rains, snows, or just the bang-ups of living, but protective in other ways when night falls and down in the hills and hollows, or maybe by a creek, heaven’s own strum comes forth. Woody Guthrie’s own child, or stepchild, or some damn relative. I swear.

Welcome brothers, as I open up the passenger side door. “Where are you guys heading?” This line is more meaningful than you might think for those who know, as I know, and as these lads will know, as well, if they spent any time on the hitchhike road. Sometimes it was better, even on a high-speed highway, to not take any old ride that came along if, say, some kind–hearted local spirit was only going a few miles, or the place where a driver would let you out on the highway was a tough stop. Not to worry though these guys, Jack and Mattie, were hitchhiking to California. California really, I swear, although they are stopping off at a crisscross of places on their way. A pretty familiar routine by then, playing hopscotch, thumbs out, across the continent.

These guys were, moreover, indeed brothers, because you see once we started comparing biographical notes, although they never put it that way, or really never could just because of the way they thought about things as I got to know them better on the ride, were out there searching, and searching hard, for my blue-pink night. Christ, there were heaven’s own blessed armies, brigades anyway, of us doing it, although like I said about Jack and Mattie most of the brothers and sisters did not get caught up in the colors of that night, like I did, and just “dug” the search. Jack and Mattie are in luck, in any case, because on this day I’m heading to Washington, D.C. and they have friends near there in Silver Springs, Maryland. The tides of the times are riding with us.

And why, by the way, although it is not germane to the story or at least this part of it, am I heading to D.C.? Well, the cover story is to do some anti-war organizing but, for your eyes only, I had just broken up, for the umpteenth time, with a women who drove me to distraction, sometimes pleasantly but on that occasion fitfully, who I could not, and did not, so I thought, want to get out of my system, but had to put a little distance away from. You know that story, boys and girls, in your own lives so I do not have to spend much time on the details here, although that theme might turn up again. Besides, if you really want to read that kind of story the romance novels section of any library or the DVD film section, for that matter, can tell the story with more heart-throbbing panache that you will find here.

I’ve got a kind of weird story to tell you about why Jack and Mattie were on this desolate border stretch of the highway in a minute but let me tell a little about what they were trying to do out on that road, that west road. First, I was right, mostly, about their ages, but Jack and Mattie were no graduate students on a spring lark before grinding away at some master’s thesis on the meaning of meaning deconstuct’d (although this reference is really an anachronism since such literary theories were not then fashionably on display on the world’s campuses, but you get the drift) or some such worthy subject in desperate need of research in a time when this old world was falling apart and the bombs were (are) raining (literally) on many parts of the world.

In one sense they were graduates though, graduates of the university of hard knocks, hard life, and hard war. They had just a few months before been discharged, a little early as the war, or the American ground troops part of it, was winding down, from the U.S. Army after a couple of tours of duty in ‘Nam (their usage, another of their privileged usages was “in-country”). I swear I didn’t believe them at first, no way, they looked like the poster boys for the San Francisco Summer of Love in 1967. Something, something big was going on here and my mind was trying to digest the sight of these two guys, “good, solid citizens” before the “man” turned them around in that overseas Vietnam quagmire who looked in attire, demeanor, and style just like the guy (me) who picked them up.

Ya, but that is only part of it and not even the most important part, really, because this California thing was also no lark. This is their break-out, bust-out moment and they are going for it. As we rode along that old super highway they related stories about how they came back from “in-county”, were going to settle down, maybe get married (or move in with a girlfriend or seven), and look forward to social security when that distant time came. But something snapped inside of them, and this is where every old Jack London hobo, every old Wobblie, every old bummer on the 1930s rail highway, hell even every old beat denizen of some Greenwich Village walk-up was a kindred spirit. Like I said, and I am sitting right in the car listening to them with a little smirk on my face, the boys are searching that same search that I am searching for and that probably old Walt Whitman really should take the blame for, okay. I’ll tell you more, or rather; I’ll let them tell you more some other time but let me finish up here with that weird little story about why they were at that god forsaken point on the highway.

Look, everybody knows, or should know, or at least knew back then that hitchhiking, especially hitchhiking on the big roads was illegal, and probably always was even when every tramp and tramp-ette in America had his or her thumb out in the 1930s. But usually the cops or upstanding citizenry either ignored it or, especially in small towns, got you on some vagrancy rap. Hey, if you had spent any time on the hitchhike road you had to have been stopped at least once if for no other reason than to harass you. Still some places were more notorious than others in hitchhike grapevine lore in those days, particularly noteworthy were Connecticut and Arizona (both places where I had more than my own fair share of “vagrancy” problems).

So I was not too far off when I figured out that Jack and Mattie were on their maiden voyage. Thumbs out and talking, the pair missed the then ever-present Connecticut state police cruiser coming from nowhere, or it seemed like nowhere, as it came to a stop sharply about five feet away from them. The pair gulped and prepared for the worst; being taken to some state police barracks and harassed and then let go at some backwater locale as the road lore had it. Or getting “vagged”. Or worst, a nice little nasty trick in those days, have “illegal” drugs conveniently, very conveniently, found on their person.

But get this, after a superficial search and the usual questions about destination, resources, and the law the pair instead were directed to walk the few hundred yards back across the border line to Massachusetts. Oh, I forgot this part; the state cop who stopped them was a Vietnam veteran himself. He had been an MP in ‘Nam. Go figure, right. So starts, the inauspicious start if you think about it, in one of the searches for the blue-pink great American West night. Nobody said it was going to be easy and, you know, they were right. Still every time I drive pass that spot (now close to an official Connecticut Welcomes You rest stop, whee!), especially on any moonless, starless, restless, hitchhiker-less road night I smile and give a little tip of the hat to those youthful, sanctified blue-pink dreams that almost got wrecked before they got started.

Scene Four: Sweet, Moonless Ohio Dreams, Early Summer 1969
The 1960s asphalt-driven, white-lined, hitchhike road, the quest for the blue-pink great American West night, the eternal midnight creep of over-weight trucks with their company-seeking, benny-high, overwrought teamster drivers, and the steam-driven, onion-filled meatloaf-milk-heavy mashed potatoes-and limpid carrots daily special diner truck stop are all meshed together. You could say that there was no hitchhike road, and no blue-pink dreams, if the old-fashioned caboose (sometimes literally) diner was not part of the mix that glued things together out on that lonely highway.

No, I do not speak of the then creeping family-friendly one-size-fits-all but still steamed meats-milky starches-sogged vegetable franchise interstate restaurants that now dot the roads from here to ‘Frisco but back road, back hitchhike road if you were smart, back old time route one, or sixty-six or twenty road where you had a chance for pushing distance and for feeling America in the raw. Hey, I have a million diner stories, diners with and without truck stops, diners famous and obscene, diners of every shape and composition to tell about. Or rather I have about three basic diner stories with a million steamed meat loaf-mashed taters-carrots (okay, maybe string beans, steamed, for a change-up)-bread pudding for dessert variations. I want to tell you one, one involving a young woman, and involving the great American night that drives these scenes. The other variations can wait their turns for some other time.

Car-less, and with no hope for any car any time soon, but with enough pent-up energy and anger to built a skyscraper single-handedly, I set out for the early May open roads, thumb in good working order, bedroll on one shoulder, life’s worldly goods in a knapsack on the other. It was that simple in those days. Today, sadly, it would take my rental of a major U-Haul truck, for starters. As always in those days as well, and some of you may know the spot if you have ever been in Boston (or, better, Cambridge) there was (and is) an old abandoned railroad yard that was turned into a truck depot near the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike where most of the truckers, the big diesel-fuelled ones, the doubled-wheeled, eight, sixteen-wheeled and eighteen wheeled ones, picked up or unloaded their goods for further transport. That was the place to check first if you were heading west on the off chance that some mad man trucker was looking for company on that white-lined, hard-scrabble road, and did not mind bedraggled, bearded, long-haired, hippie boy company, at that. As luck would have it I caught a guy who heading out to Chicago with a load of widgets (or whatever, even these guys didn’t know, or want to know, what was on the manifest half the time, especially if they were running “heavy”).

And why, by the way, although it is not germane to the story, was I heading out on that old California road at that time. Why all that pent-up energy and skyscraper-building anger. Well, the cover story was so that I can get my head straight but you know the real reason, and this is for your eyes only, I had just broken up, for the umpteenth plus time, with a women who drove me to distraction, sometimes pleasantly but on that occasion fitfully, who I could not, and did not, so I thought, want to get out of my system, but had to put myself a little distance away from, again. You know that story, boys and girls, in your own lives so I do not have to spend much time on the details here. Besides, if you really want to read that kind of story the romance novel section of any library or the DVD film section, for that matter, can tell the story with more heart-throbbing panache that you could find here.

Now there were a million and one reasons that long-haul drivers back then would take hitchhikers on board, even hippies who represented most of what they hated about what was happening in, and to, their America in those days (in the days before the trucking companies, and the insurance companies, squashed that traveler pick-up idea and left the truckers to their own solitary devises). Some maybe were perverse but usually it was just for sheer, human companionship, another voice, or more usually someone to vent to at seventy or seventy-five miles an hour, especially at night when those straight white lines started to get raggedy looking.

This guy, this big-chested, brawny, beef-eating teamster guy, Denver Slim by name (really, I heard other truckers call him that at truck stops when they gave each other the nod, although as described he was neither slim nor, as he told me, from Denver), was no different except the reason, at least the reason that he gave me, was that I reminded him of his goddam son (I am being polite here) whom he loved/hated. Loved, because that is what a father was expected to feel toward kin, son kin especially and hated because he was showing signs or rebellion (read: becoming a hippie). I, needless to say, was a little queasy and sat close to the door handle for a while until I realized that it was more about love than hate. Old Denver Slim just didn’t get what was happening to his world, especially the part, the huge part, that he had no control over.

Hey, I had countless hitchhike rides in all kinds of vehicles, from the Denver Slim big wheels to Volkswagen bugs (look that up) but the common thread was that there were some interesting (if disturbing and hopeless) stories out there. Let me fill you in on Denver Slim’s story both because it helps explain what is coming up in my own quest and the hard, hard fact that there was a malaise, a palpable malaise, in the land and his story was prima facie evidence for that notion. Denver Slim had gone, like a million other members of my parent’s generation, through his childhood in the Great Depression (Chicago) and did his military in the throes of World War II (Corporal, U.S. Army, European Theater, and proud of it). After the war he started driving trucks, finally landing unionized teamster jobs as an over-the-road long haul driver based in Chicago. As was not unusual then, and maybe not now either, he married a local woman he knew from the old neighborhood, had several children, moved out of Chicago proper to a suburban plot house (“little boxes”, from the description he gave) and bought into the mortgaged, green-grassed lawn, weekly mowed (when he was not on the road), television-watching, neighbor-averting (except for the kids when young) routine that was a blueprint for America 1950s life in the lower-middle classes.

Here is where Slim’s story gets tricky though, and interesting. Of course being on the road, being mortgaged up to the neck on the road, he was never home enough to make the word family stick. He, as he admitted, when talking about his son Jamie, the rebellious son (read: becoming a hippie son), didn’t really know the kids (the other three were daughters whom he , as he said, wouldn’t have known anyway past the age of ten or so the way things work in girl world). But here is the kicker, the kicker for me back then although I get it better now, much better. The wife, Ruth, the ever-loving wife, had along the way taken a boyfriend and, off and on, lived with that boyfriend. Slim went crazy at first about it but somehow got through it and accepted that situation. Oh, you though that was the kicker. No, that was just the prelude to the kicker. Here it is. Denver Slim, old proud soldier-warrior, old mortgaged to the neck teamster, old work and slave on the road for the kids that he doesn’t know had a girlfriend, and had said girlfriend way before his wife took her lover. A beautiful family values story out of the age of Ozzie and Harriet, right?

But this is the real kicker for your harried hippie listener, old salt of the earth Denver Slim in relating his life story gets a little bit lovesick for his honey (no, not the wife, the girlfriend, silly reader) who lived in Steubenville, Ohio. And that, my friends, is where we are heading as we are making tracks to Youngstown on Interstate 70 and so instead of getting a ride through to Chicago (a place where I knew how to catch a ride west, no problem, almost like out of Boston) I am to be left off, and good luck, at the diner truck stop just off Route 7 outside of Steubenville, Ohio. Right near the Ohio River, at the eastern end that I was not familiar with. Christ, I never even heard of the place before, never mind trying to get a ride out of there, getting out of there at night as it looked like was going to happen by the time we got to the stop. Well, such is the road, the hitchhike road, and I hope old Slim had a good time with his honey, maybe, maybe I hope he did that is.

Slim must have had it bad, love bug-bitten bad, because he no sooner left me off at the diner than he then barrel-assed (nice term, right?) that big rig back, that big sixteen wheeler, onto the love-night road and to his own dream sleep. So here I am doing graduate-level diner study by my lonesome. Look, I am no stranger, by this time in my wanderings, to the diners, trucks stops, cafes, and hash houses of this continent. From the look of this one (and one judged these things by the number of big rigs idling near by) it was something of a Buckeye institution, maybe not like the football team or various legendary football coaches but busy (ya, see I know a little about Ohio, although not much outside the bigger cities and campus towns).

As I go inside through the glass-plated double doors I can practically inhale the steam from the vegetables, the dank, faded glory of the taters, and the inevitable onion smell than can only mean meat loaf. Hey, this is what passes for home-cooking on the road. And be glad of it, friend. As a single I would not be so uncool as to take a booth, although at this time of day there are some empties here, but rather hop right up on that old stool at the Formica-top red counter replete with individual paper mat and dinner setting, spoons, folks, knives, various condiments and plastic-entombed menu that every self-respecting diner has for those caught by their lonesome. Their sincere, if futile, attempt at home-away from homeyness. It’s not like this is a date-taking place (or at least I hope nobody thinks along those lines, but you never know, maybe people celebrate their anniversaries here) although it is okay out here abandoned in the neon-lighted wilderness of a back road truck stop.

Okay, at long last here is the part that you have been waiting for, the girl in the story part. Well, wait a minute, let me hold forth on waitresses because that is important to the girl part (and it was almost always waitresses in those days, or in a pinch, the owner/short order cook) who served them off the arm. In college towns and big cities, waitresses were (and are) just doing that job to mark time while going to college or some other thing but in the hash houses, the road side diners, the hole-in-the-wall faded restaurants of this continent it was (is) almost universally true that in this type of establishment this was an upwardly-mobile career move (or, maybe, just a lateral move). You have all seen and heard about the typical career waitress- surly, short-tempered, steam-pressed uniform, steamed by the proximity to the food trays that is, hardly has time to take your order because that party of six in the booths is waiting on dessert (and her big tip for this evening, she hopes, although if she thought about it the hard facts should have told her that old lonesome single male trucker was the best tipper). There is a smidgen of truth in those old hoary stories about waitresses but there is also some very hard-pressed, ill-fated bad luck thrown in as well. They all had stories to tell, at least the ones who didn’t scurry away like rats from “hippies.”

Okay, okay I can now tell you about angelic Angelica. That name, the smell of that name, the swirl around the tongue speaking that name, the touch of that name, still evokes strong memories even after all this time. But enough of nostalgia. Let’s get down to cases. First of all she was young, very young for a truck stop diner waitress so at first I thought that she was a career waitress-in-training or that there was a college nearby that I might not have heard of. I will describe her virtues in a second but let me tell you right off that the minute I sat down, and although there were several others at the counter who had come in before me, she came right over to my stool and asked if I wanted coffee. Well, kind of sleepy that I was at the time, I said yes and she went right off, got it, and came right back. And then, while the others at the counter were cooling their heels, she took my order, and as she moved away to put that order in (No, I do not remember what it was but, probably, since I was counting pennies, a burger and fries, meat loaf and other such high-end cuisine was saved for serious hungers) she slightly turned to give me another look and a sly smile.

In those days I was susceptible, very susceptible, to that winsome sly smile that some women know exactly how to throw (hell, I am still a sucker for that one, and don’t tell me you aren’t, or couldn’t be, too, male or female, it works both ways on this one). That sly smile and her, well, looks. Forget that endless physical description stuff about soft auburn hair, full ruby-red lips, bright, fresh, naïve blue eyes, nicely-shaped hips and well-formed legs. Very good legs. Okay, forget all that. I will describe her looks in “on the road” terms because when you were on the road and trying to get across the country the rules, the rules of the road, were a little different. Your take on life and your usually transient relationships with passing strangers, male or female, got a little twisted. Not necessarily in a bad way, but twisted.

There were different protocols for different situations when you were hitchhiking. A lone male hitching was usually not a bad proposition, especially if you stayed close to the highways and knew the truck stops, and appeared to be drug free, or at least that you were not in the throes of a terminal drug experience while trying to hitch a ride. This Hunter Thompson Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas drug stuff is good road fiction, but fiction nevertheless, if you were trying to get from point A to point B before your old age set in. The same with goofy Dennis Hooper Easy Rider stuff. Good cinema, bad, real bad road stuff. The main problem then, and probably would be today as well, is single middle-age guys, maybe desperate for a little company, picking you up with the idea of making advances. I don’t know about anybody else, as least I never heard anybody talk much about it then, but a simple "no" usually was enough to stop that(and not infrequently got you dumped in some odd spot between exits to thumb down some flying-by traffic). It’s only later, in the early 1970s when I wasn’t on the road so much that things started to get hairy, and the talk turned to weirdness, serious weirdness, out on the white-lined lanes.

In the late 1960s a pair of males was not a bad combination either. Not so much for getting rides from truckers who usually did not have room for two (or, if so, it was uncomfortable as hell) but for the plethora of Volkswagen vans, converted school buses, campers, and pick-up trucks that were out there on the blue-pink seeking road. There were times on the Pacific Coast Highway out in California that you barely got your thumb out and some vehicle stopped, especially if you looked like you were part of “youth nation.” Two more guys in back, sure thing, no problem. Those were good days to travel the roads, and another time I will tell you about some of those experiences but right now I have to get back to describe Angelica, or her road-worthy attributes anyway.

The optimal road set-up though, the one that got you rides the fastest, usually was to be paired up with a woman, truth be told, preferable a good-looking young woman. Ya, it’s not good form today, it’s certainly not politically correct or socially useful today to work from this premise, but back then the idea was that a guy and girl were safe from the driver’s perspective. And it was almost always guys, truckers or loners, or an occasional man and woman, who picked you up. Not single women drivers, young or old. For my perspective, the hitcher’s perspective, a good-looking woman, with good legs, made the road easier. And other delights, of course.

And it did no harm to have the woman act as an upfront side-of-the-road decoy for that same reason. Maybe not in the desert tumbleweed badlands of Arizona or Nevada where the hot sun, or dust, got you a ride from people who knew that area and knew they had to stop as a matter of your survival, and who knows their own sense of survival as well, but between exits on Interstate 80, let’s say, it helped, hell it helped a lot. Maybe not old Denver Slim, high on benny and moaning and groaning for his honey (the girlfriend not the wife remember) in dark night, white-lined blur but a guy like me would have made those lonesome highway brakes squeal to high heaven, and gladly. Angelica, at first glance, would certainly make the road easier, although this little detour is strictly for descriptive purposes in this part of the story. Put a simpler way, she was fetching.

But all of that is music for the future. Needless to say making any kind of move toward continuing the conversation with Angelica required a certain diligence and patience in the middle of diner traffic. As it turned out the diligence was only partially necessary because she was more than willing to talk to me while taking orders all around us. Her story was that she had been enrolled in some local Podunk (her term) business school (Muncie Business College for Women,or something like that) in her hometown of Muncie, Indiana but now wanted to be a medical technician of some sort (radiologist is what it was, I think). But most of all she wanted to get away from home (be still my heart) and had wound up in Steubenville as some kind of way station between dreams. Yes, I can hear the snickers now about some small-town girl seeing the bright lights of Steubenville and going all a-flutter. Stop it. Stop it right now.

In the dark of that night I was obviously not in any particular rush to leave, and as the dinner crowd thinned out we talked some more, as she filled my coffee cup repeatedly so that I could look like I was a "real" paying customer. To say this gal was innocent in some ways would be an understatement, and on the face of it a Midwest naïve and an East Coast hippie just would not make sense, no sense at all. But so would the fact, the hard fact that I would be in Steubenville, Ohio as part of a search for the great American night. Let’s just call it the times, and leave it at that.

And the times here included a very convenient fact. Angelica, as occurred more often than one would have thought out in those highway stops, as part of her job resided in one of the diner owner's motel cabins that dotted the outside ring of the truck stop. These single units provided cheap lodging for someone new, or transient, in town and were basically provided to the help so the newer help could be readily available on call when the inevitable call came in from the drunken cook, the moving-on dishwasher, or when one of the love-smitten senior career waitresses called in “sick”. Mainly though these cabins were for over-weary transcontinental truckers to grab a little sleep before pushing on. Thus they weren’t, at least these weren’t, your basic family-friendly digs that made you feel that you were in some room at home but rather that you were on that hell-bent, weary road, and this is the best you could do to rest those weary bones.

Well, yes we got around to leaving after her shift was over about 11:00 PM and did the ceremonial dancing around that generations, no, generations of generations, have pursued in the “courting ritual” on that initial question of whether, and when, a smitten pair get together for the night. If they do. But this time there is no story if they don’t, right?

Well, to spare any more suspense dear Angelica asked me into her digs. Just to talk, okay, and frankly I was so tired from my long day’s journey that just talk seemed about right then. I will describe that talk in a minute but let me describe this cabin homestead as we approached it on our one hundred, or one hundred and fifty, yard walk from the diner. Now that I think about it though I really shouldn’t have to describe it to you because you have all seen them, that is if you have been on the back roads of America a little, especially out on those one-lane country roads where working class people who don’t have much money go out to the country to get away from the city and this is what they can afford. There are about fifteen or twenty barely whitewashed cabins in a semi-circle, or maybe a few degrees over. If they were not numbered or if you came to them unknowingly on a dark, moonless night like tonight I guarantee that you would be hard-pressed to tell your new-found home away from home from any other in that arc.

The telltale old-fashioned, green oil-based painted screened door tells you immediately that you are not at the Ritz, or even its fifth cousin. As we enter amid the inevitable light-drawn flies, or moths, or whatever those insects are that you need to swat away to get in the door, or else you have to deal with them inside all night. Like I say these places are built for the moment and so the amenities are on the Spartan side.

As we walk inside, if I were to hazard a guess, and I was a professor in some upscale home interior design school, if someone presented this layout in a portfolio I would sent them, and sent them quickly, to remedial work. Or to a job at Sears Roebuck. But we are here and here the basic bed, bureau, kitchenette with a small table and a couple of wooden chairs, small sleeper sofa, and tiny shower ¾ bathroom fill the room. The only things personal about this place are Angelica’s alternate uniform that matches the one that she has on hanging to one side, drying out for her next bout with the ham-fisted crowd at the diner, and a small open suitcase that has her clothes neatly packed in it. On the bureau her “making my face” fixings and a few gee gads that everyone throws on the bureau when they want to unload their pockets. Hey, I have placed my head down to sleep on paper-strewn park benches and under paperless bridges on up to downy-pillowed, vast, roomy, and leafy suburban estates so a highway motel cabin is hardly down at the low end of my sleeping quarters resume. This, my friends, will be just fine for the night.

So we start the "just talk" that Angelica promised. I don’t and, frankly, no one should expect me to, remember most of what we talked about but here is my lingering impression. Turnabout is fair play. I thought that I was going to get an in-depth view of what “square” small-town Midwest girls dreamed of, or what drove them from the Lynds’ Middletown (that’s Muncie, okay, the subject of a famous study in sociology), to the wilds of Ohio. Instead I was the interrogated. It seems that Angelica had been so “brain-washed” (her term) about “hippies” or what the old town folks thought was hippiedom (basically a variant of their mid-country fears of the “Bolsheviks” under every bed) that she was crazy to “capture” (my term) one. And, as it turned out, in the course of events, I was the one. And on top of that and here is a direct quote from her, “You seemed nice, right from the time you sat down.” (Well, of course, without question, without a doubt, it’s a given, and so on).

But here is the unexpected part, or at least the somewhat unexpected part. Off the top of my head I would not then, in the 1960s, bet my last dollar that a young woman from Muncie (town used here for convenience only) would be coy (nice word, right?) on her first “date.” Coyness here signifying her willingness to gather me to her bed at about 3:00 AM as we both were trying to fight off the sleep that was descending on us. But get this, and I will sign any notarized document necessary in support of this, she asked, yes, asked me into her bed. Well, as I mentioned above, she said I seemed nice, and there you have it. Of course, being “nice” I couldn’t say no. Yes, the gentleman “hippie”, that’s me.

You know the boy meets girl plot lines of most movies have it all messed up. Either they meet, give each other lecherous stares (hell, not even winsome smiles) and proceed to tear each other clothes off in an act of sexual frenzy then spent the rest of the movie justifying their eternal love by that first edenic act. Or, and this is truer of older films (and prudish modern comic book-based superhero flicks), the “foreplay” lasts so long that by the time that they hit the downy billows you go ho-hum and are more interested in returning to the unfolding plot. Novels follow a lot of the same paths except, mostly the sexual scenes are about a paragraph or so and reflect the wisdom of the parties involved more than raw sexual energy. Romance novels, a category that would seem to be made for sexual exploits, using don’t get around to hitting the pillows until about page 323 and by then all you care about is whether the sheets are pastel or designer prints.

Real life, real life first encounter romances (read: sexual encounters) are more halting and, frankly, timid. Except, of course, those phantom Herculean and nubile sex-crazed teeny-boppers of urban legend that we have heard about. Ya, I have heard about them too. But that’s about it, heard about them. Think about the awkwardness of that first touch reflecting those ancient memories of being kissed back in about sixth grade, or about those gone wrong affairs that have piled up in your life’s memory bank, or that intense moment when both parties look downward in trepidation at what may come ahead. Or, and here is where memory plays no trick, that woman back home, that woman of one thousand frustrations that you needed to get some distance from, and that set you on this blue-pink road, but whose 999 delights have now surfaced and clouded all thinking. I nevertheless plunge recklessly onward.

For those pruriently-inclined readers who now expect a touch by touch, feel by feel, clothes taking-off by clothes taking-off, flesh against flesh description of our precious, sweet, private, very private love-making look elsewhere. Wait a minute. Look elsewhere, unless you have a written book (and/or movie rights) contract in hand. In that case I will be more than happy to fill in the sweaty, steamy, lurid, blood-pressure-rising details. I will make the earth under that old cabin shake, and the rafters too. I will give details that would make the Marquis de Sade blush, blush profusely. If you have no contract then let’s leave it at this; something deep in that moonless Ohio night, that times out of joint, moonless Ohio night, created a passion, or better, a moment of passion that we both could have bet our last dollars on. Something that it seemed we had both been waiting all our lives for, although we didn’t use those words. Just a couple of sly, knowing smiles, and then sleep.

Suddenly, we are awaken with a start. A still dark of night start and a hard rapping on the door, that damn, fly-flecked, oil-based painted green door. And a voice, a female voice. “Angelica, one of Penny’s kids is sick, you’ll have to take her shift.” Even a night of passion, a moonless Ohio sly-smiled night of passion, cannot fend off the day’s realities, Angelica’s day realities. She says: “Yes, I’ll be there in a little while,” almost automatically. But just as automatically she says to me: “Don’t go out on the highway yet.”

Humble, barely whitewashed cabin or exotic, leafy country estate if a woman jumps out of bed and orders me to stay put who am I to disobey, at least until I see what my next move is. I agree and turn over. A few hours later she returns and we mess up her bed sheets again, and again. Then, after some Angelica sleep, and some kitchenette supper she says to me, just as boldly as when she invited me to her bed, that she wanted to go “on the road” with me.

My heart is racing for a thousand reasons, one of them included the thought that our little romance would lead to this although I didn't put it that way in my answer. More like: “Ya, I guess I was kind of thinking, maybe, a little about that idea.” A couple of days later, after she had worked some double-shifts and I did my bit doing some off-hand dish washing for meals and wages we gathered up her stuff off the bureau, place it in that orderly small suitcase, shut that damn, moth-crusted oil-based painted green door and head for the trucks a couple of hundred yards away and our ride out. Our ride out in search of the blue-pink great American West night that I have not told her about, at least not in those exact words, but that that she will find out about in her own good time and in her own way.

Scene Five: The Siren Call Of The Mountain Wind Song- Summer 1969

Hey, not every aspect of the 1960s blue-pink night was a search for some kind of transcendence. Mostly it was that, and its glow has kept a few of us warm through many a desperate dark, cold night since. But sometimes it was running away from the past, from roots, or maybe better, from rooted-ness. Or just plain old running away from what lurked ahead, and ahead did not seem as good as the road, the road with all its troubles. For those who have read the previous scene, the scene where I got stuck down in a Steubenville, Ohio Summer 1969 truck stop diner and got “lucky” finding a woman friend to share the road with, you know at the end of that episode we were heading out, or trying to head out to the American West. For those who have not read that scene let me introduce my new lady friend, Angelica. Angelica, who, as fate would have it, was working in that diner truck stop where I got stuck and happened to think I was “nice” and after a little of this and that decided that her search for meaning in her young life entailed accompanying me on the road west. Whoa! In any case there she was walking beside me as we tried to hitch a ride from one of the rigs idling at the stop. If you want to know the details of the “how come” of our walking together just now go read that last scene, otherwise I will try to fill you in as we go along.

In the process of getting you filled in, let’s get one thing clear. When you were on the road, on the 1960s hitchhike road, and trying to get across the country the rules, the rules of the road, were a little different than the rules in workaday life. Your take on life and your, usually, transient relationships with passing strangers, male or female, got a little twisted. Not necessarily in a bad way, but twisted. I was pleased, pleased beyond belief, as least privately, to have winsome, fetching Angelica along. As I mentioned before in those hitchhike days it was always easier to get rides when you had a female companion, and one with good legs and a good shape, a shape that drivers could notice as they sped by was a plus. Maybe, thinking it was a mirage anyway, not every benny high, moony, overstretched transcontinental truck driver, running overweight in any case, would put on the airbrakes for her on the Interstate at eighty miles an hour. But those young, slower lane sedan drivers would slam on the brakes, and gladly. Ya, I know now it is not cool, nor should it be, to be using a woman as a “decoy” in that way but that was the way it was then “on the road.”

Now, if you don’t know, meaning you haven’t read the previous scenes, I, by this time, had been periodically crossing the country for some time in search of ... well, in search of something because just now, some forty years later, I am getting just a little weary of calling it the blue-pink night but this was Angelica’s whimsical maiden voyage. Angelica, was, moreover, pretty naïve about life and clueless about the road having just a few weeks earlier left home and hearth in cozy mid-country Muncie, Indiana. (Don’t tell me all about the famous Lynd sociological study of squaretown, oops, I mean, Middletown, that used that town as its sample back in the 1920s I already mentioned that before.) Therefore she was crushed beyond my comprehension, as we walked closer to the idling trucks on the other side of the diner, when I mentioned to her that the small suitcase (neatly packed) she was carrying was not a good road item compared to a nice fungible knapsack for when we had to do some walking between rides. I do not know, and I never found out, whether the look, not the nice sly, coquettish look that she greeted me with early in our “courtship” at the diner and that hooked me, but some volcanic devilish look when I mentioned that to her the fact that she was going to have to abandon that suitcase or that the “road”, the real hitchhike road meant some walking. Later, and not much later at that, she saw my point about the suitcase, but that does not erase that look from memory’s eye.

Nor was that little episode the end of out little road “adjustments.” In the few weeks that Angelica had been working long hours at the diner she served many of the truckers whose rigs were idling in the truck stop rest area we were cruising for rides. So, naturally, she tried to find out where some of those that she knew were heading. This day, they are heading mainly east, or anyway not west. Finally, she ran into one burly teamster, Eddie, who was heading down Route 7 along the Ohio River to catch Interstate 64 further down river and then across through to Lexington, Kentucky. Angelica was thrilled because, as it turned out, she had kin (her term, okay), a cousin or something, down in Prestonsburg, Kentucky whom she hadn’t seen in a while and where we could stay for a few days and take in the mountain air (her idea of rest, mine then and now, was strictly ocean breezes, thank you). I tried, tried desperately, without being obnoxious about it, to tell her that heading south was not going to get us to the West very easily. She would have none of it, and she rightly said, that we were in no rush anyway and what was wrong with a little side trip to Kentucky anyway. Well, I suppose in the college human nature course, Spat-ology 101, if there was such a course then, and they taught it, I should have had enough sense to throw in the towel. After all this was Angelica’s first, now seriously, whimsical venture out on the road. And I did, in the end, throw in the towel, except not for the reason that you think.

What Angelica didn’t know until later, and you didn’t know until now, was that I was deathly afraid of going to Kentucky. See, I had set myself up to the world as, and was in fact in my head, a Yankee, an Ocean-side Yankee, if you like. I was born in Massachusetts and have the papers to prove it, but on those papers there is an important fact included. My father’s place of birth was Hazard, Kentucky probably not more than fifty to one hundred miles away from Prestonsburg. He was born down in the hills and hollows of mining country, coal mining country, made famous in song and legend. And also made infamous (to me) by Michael Harrington’s Other America which described in detail the plight of Appalachian whites, my father’s people. And also, as a result of the publicity about the situation down there, the subject in my early 1960s high school of a clothing drive to help them out. My father left the mines when World War II started, enlisted in the Marines, saw his fair share of battles in the Pacific, got stationed before discharge at a Naval Depot in Massachusetts and never looked back. And see I never wanted him to look back. That’s the way it was back then, make of it what you will. Sure, now, among other things, I can thank winsome, head-strong Angelica for making that move, but then, well, like I said I threw in the towel, but I was not happy about it. Not happy at all.

Actually the ride down Route 7 was pretty uneventful and, for somebody who did not feel comfortable looking at trees and mountains, some of the scenery was pretty breath-taking. That is until we started getting maybe twenty miles from Prestonsburg and the air changed, the scenery changed, and the feel of the social milieu changed. See we were getting in the edges of coal country, not the serious “Bloody Harlan” stuff of legend but the older, scrap heap part that had been worked over, and “worked out” long along. The coal bosses had taken the earth’s assets and left the remnants behind to foul the air and foul the place.

But, mostly, and here is where I finally understood why my father took his chances in World War II and also why he never looked back, shacks. Nothing but haphazardly placed, unpainted shacks, hard-scrabble patched roofs just barely covering them. With out-houses, out-houses can you believe that in America in the 1960s. And plenty of kids hanging out in the decidedly non-manicured front yards waiting… well, just waiting. Look, I came up in my early youth in a public housing project that had all the pathologies one has come to associate with that form of social organization. Later, in my coming of age days we lived in a tiny, very tiny, single family house but I was not prepared for this. All that I can say about my feelings at the time was that I would be more than willing to crawl on all fours to get back to my crummy old growing up homestead rather than fight the dread of this place.

Fortunately Angelica’s kin (second cousin), Annadeene, husband and two kids all at about age twenty, lived further down the road, out of town, in a trailer camp which the husband, Fred, had expanded so that it had the feel of a small country house. Most importantly it had indoor plumbing and a spare room where Angelica and I could sleep and put our stuff. Fred, as I recall, was something of a skilled mechanic (coal equipment mechanic) who worked for a firm that was indirectly connected to the Eastern Kentucky coal mines.

This Prestonsburg, as you can imagine, in the 1960s was nothing but one of a thousand such towns that I had (and have) passed through. A main street with a few essential stores, some boarded up retail space and then you are out of town. Then hardly worth, and maybe now too, putting a strip mall into. Moreover, Route 7 as it turned into Route 23 heading into Prestonsburg and then further down turned into nothing but an old country, pass at your own risk, country road about where Angelica’s cousin lived. What I am trying to get at though is that although these people were in the 20th century they were somewhat behind the curve. This was (is), as it probably was in my father’s time, patriotic country, country where you did your military service came home, worked, if you could find it, got married and raised a family. Just in tougher circumstances than elsewhere.

I understood that part. What I did not understand then, and am still somewhat confused about, is the insularity of the place. The wariness, serious wariness, of strangers even of strangers brought to the hills and hollows by kin (yes, kin, make of it what you will). I was not well received at least first, and I still am not quite sure if I ever was, by Angelica’s kin and I suppose if I thought about it while they had heard of “hippies” (every male with beard, long hair, and jeans was suspected of belonging to that category) Prestonsburg was more like something from Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee lyrics than Haight-Ashbury. Angelica kept saying that I would grow on them (like I did on her) but I knew, knew down deep that we had best get out of there. I kept pressing the issue but she refused to listen to any thoughts of our leaving until after Saturday night’s barn dance. After all Fred and Annadeene had specially invited us to go with them. We could leave Sunday morning but not before. Christ, a hillbilly hoe-down.

Probably about twenty years ago I would have felt no compulsion to go into anything but superficial detail about this barn dance. Today though I do. Otherwise this scene lacks completeness. I will say that I have, twenty years ago or now, a very clear picture of Angelica being fetching for this dance. All her feminine wiles got a workout that night. What I can’t remember is what she wore or how she wore her hair (up, I think) but the effect on me (and the other guys) was calculated to make me glad, glad as hell, that we stayed for this thing. What I can remember vividly though is that this barn dance actually took place in a barn, just a plain old ordinary barn that had been used in this area for years (according to the oldsters since back in the 1920s) for the periodic dances that filled up the year and broke the monotony of the mountain existence. The old faded red-painted barn, sturdily build to withstand the mountain winds and containing a stage for such occasions was something out of a movie, some movie that you have seen, so you have some idea of what it was like even if you have never been within a hundred miles of a barn.

Moreover the locals had gone to some effort to decorate the place, provide plenty of refreshments and use some lighting to good effect. What was missing was any booze. This was a “dry” county then (and maybe still is) but not to worry wink, wink there was plenty of “white lightning” around out in the makeshift dirt parking lot where clusters of good old boys hovered around certain cars whose owners had all you needed. Just bring your own fixings. After we had checked out the arrangements in the barn and Annadeene had introduced us to her neighbors Fred tapped me on the shoulder and “hipped” me to the liquor scene. We went outside. Fred talked quietly to one of the busy car owners and then produced a small jar for my inspection. “Hey, wait,” he said “you have to cut that stuff a little with some water if you are not used to it.” I took my jar, added some water, and took a swig. Jesus Christ, I almost fell down the stuff was so powerful. Look, I used to drink whiskey straight up in those days, or I thought I drank whiskey straight up but after one swig, one swig, my friends, I confess I was a mere tee-totaler. Several minutes later we went back inside and I nursed, literally nursed, that jar for the rest of the night. But you know I got “high” off it and was in good spirits. So good that I started dancing with Angelica once the coterie of banjo players, fiddlers, guitarists and mandolin players got finished warming up. I am not much of a dancer under the best of circumstances but, according to her, I did okay that night.

Hey, you’d expect that the music was something out of the Grand Ole Opry, some Hee-Haw hoe-down stuff, some Arkansas Jamboree hokum, right? Forget that. See back in the mountains, at least in the 1960s mountains, they did not have access to much television or sheet music or other such refinements. What they played they learned from mama and papa, or some uncle who got it from god knows where. It’s all passed down from something like time immemorial and then traced back to the old county, the British Isles mainly. Oh sure there was a “square” hoe-down thing or two but what I heard that night was something out of the mountain night, high-powered eerie winds as they rolled down the hills and hollows (hollers, if you are from there). Something that spoke of hard traveling, first from the old country when luck ran out there, then from the east coast of America when that got too crowded and just sat down when it hit those grey-blue mountains, or maybe, although I never asked (and under the circumstances would not have dared to ask) formed their version of the blue-pink great American West night, and this is as far as they got, or cared to go.

Some of this music I knew from my folk experiences in Boston and Cambridge earlier in the 1960s when everybody, including me, was looking for the roots of folk music. Certainly I knew Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies when the band played it instrumentally. That was one of the first songs, done by gravelly-voiced Dave Van Ronk, I heard on the folk radio station that I listened to. But, see, back in those early days that stuff, for the most part, was too, well you know, too my father’s music for me to take seriously. Bob Dylan was easier to listen to for a message that “spoke” to me. But this night I thrilled to hear real pros going one-on-one to out-fiddle, out-banjo, out-mandolin, out, out-any instrument each other in some mad dash to appease the mountain nymphs, or whatever or whoever was being evoked to keep civilization away from the purity of the music. That night was as close as I got to my roots, and feeling good about those roots, and also as close as I got to Angelica. I could go on and give examples of the music that you could go check out on YouTube and listen to but this is one of those moments you had to be there, okay.

About 12:30 or one o’clock the dance broke up, although as we headed down the rutted, jagged street we could still hear banjos and fiddles flailing away to see who really was “king of the hill.” Angelica said she was glad that we stayed, and I agreed. She also said that, yes, I was right; it was time to head west. She said it in such a way that I felt that she could have been some old time pioneer woman who once she recognized that the land was exhausted knew that the family had to pull up stakes and push on.

Dog tired, smelling of a distillery, or some old time hardware store (where the "white lightning" ingredients probably came from) Angelica and I laid our heads down to get a few hours sleep. Gently she nuzzled up to my side (how she did it through the alcoholic haze I do not know) and gave every indication that she wanted to make love. Now we are right next door to the two unnamed sleeping children, sleeping the sleep of the just, and as she gets more aggressive we have to be, or we think we have to be, more quiet. No making the earth under the Steubenville truck stop motel cabin shake this night. And, as we talked about it on the road later, that was not what was in her mind. She just wanted to show, in a very simple way, that she appreciated that I had stayed, that I had been wise enough to figure out how long we should stay, and that, drunk or sober, I would take her feelings into account. Not a bad night’s work. And so amid some low giggles we did our exploration. Oh, here is the part that will tell you more than a little about Angelica. She also wanted to please me this night because she did not know, given the vagaries of the road, when we would be able to do it again. Practical girl.

In the groggy, misty, dark before dawn, half awake, no quarter awake night Angelica tapped me to get up. We quickly packed, she ate a little food (I could barely stand never mind do something as complicated as eat food), and we made our goodbyes, genuine this morning by all parties. As we went out the front trailer door and headed up the road to the place where Eddie had said to meet him I swear, I swear on all the dreams of whatever color that I have ever had, that the background mountains that were starting to take form out of the dark started to play, and to play like that music I heard last night from those demon fiddlers and banjo players. I asked, when we met Eddie, who was only a few minutes late, and who looked and felt (as he told me) worst that I did (except that he proudly stated that he was used to it, okay Eddie) if those musicians were still at it over at that old devil of a red barn. “No,” he said. “Where is that music coming from then?” I said. Old Eddie (backed by Angelica) said “What music?” That angel music I said. Eddie just looked bemused as he revved that old truck engine up and we hit the road west.

Several years ago I was half-listening to some music, some background eerily haunting mountain music coming from a folk radio station when I had the strangest feeling that I had heard the tune before. I puzzled over it sporadically for a few days and then went to the local library to see if they had some mountain music CDs. They did and I began on that date a feverish reaquaintance with this form of music that I have occasionally reviewed here, especially the various Carter Family combinations. I, however, never did find out the name of that song.

And in a sense it has not name. It was the music from that old mountain wind as it trailed down the hills and hollows that I heard that last night in Prestonsburg. See here is what you didn’t know as you read all this stuff, and I only half knew it back then. I had been in Kentucky before that trip down from Steubenville, Ohio with sweet Angelica. No, not the way you think. My parents, shortly after they were married and after my father got out of the service, took a trip back to his home in Hazard so his family could meet his bride, or maybe just so he could show her off. They stayed for some period of time, I am not sure exactly how long, but the long and short of it is, that I was conceived and was fussing around in my mother’s womb while they were there. So see, it was that old mountain wind calling me home, calling me to my father’s roots, calling me to my roots as I was aimlessly searching for that blue-pink great American West night. Double thanks, Angelica.

Scene Six: Westward Ho!-Mid-Summer 1969

As I stepped down onto the yellow-sunned, farm-fresh soil from the farm-fresh cab of the farm-fresh truck that had deposited Angelica and I out into the waving-fielded, farm-fresh Neola, Iowa September day I quickly flashed back to stepping down from Colonel Eddie’s truck cab in Winchester, Kentucky that had started this whole segment of the trip westward. Christ that seemed like an eternity ago although it had been only a few summer heated, summer sweat-soaked heated weeks. Life on the road had it own tempos but this one, for reasons that I will discuss later, had run out of tempo and we were living on pure fumes just then.

While I am thinking about Winchester, Kentucky I might as well tell you what had happened since then to get us here to yellowed-sunned, waving-fielded, farm-fresh country and that will go a long way to explaining our need, our desperate need, for a jump start. Needless to say if you read the last scene, the scene where fair Angelica and me are kicking our heels up at a barn dance (and kicking those same heels up after as well) in greater Prestonsburg, Kentucky and me about four sheets to the wind, no five or six sheets to the wind from the local , well-aged (about six minutes) “white lightning” then you know that we, thanks to Angelica, got promised a ride from Prestonsburg to Winchester which is just outside of Lexington, Kentucky.

Our chauffer, our Angelica-smitten chauffer, for the occasion turned out to be one ancient hard-driving (as we quickly found out), hard-drinking (as I knew from his condition as we met up with him), ghost of a truck-driving Colonel Eddie. (The colonel part is made-up, made up by him, all these Kentucky guys from the lowliest pig farmer on up call themselves colonel, or did back then. I think for about two bucks you could get yourself an “official” certificate designating you as such. If old Eddie had been a “real” colonel then that would go a long way to explaining the South’s righteously deserved lost back in Civil War days). And despite this awful build-up of the guy, and a little off-hand character assassination above, he actually got us there, to Winchester that is, in one piece. Colonel Eddie was one the last of the good old boys, for sure.

What that one piece, by the way, looked like after traveling more back roads in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that seemed humanly possible in order to us get there is another story. See that is where the “white lighting” (rotgut, according to a somewhat miffed Angelica) had something like seven lives. Every time I thought I was feeling better, just a tiny bit better like maybe I would actually survive the day, we would hit a double-reverse triple somersault hairpin turn followed by a triple-reverse double somersault hairpin turn that made me wish that, if there was any mercy in this flea-bitten old world, we would just go over the top down into some heavenly embankment and be done with it. But, as I said, we got there, and although we were pinching pennies a little, my condition was terminal and we needed, as a matter of simple primitive medical wisdom, to stay at one of those cheapjack motels that dot the back roads of this world to rest up for future battles, for future tilts at the westward windmills.

No, I am not going to descript this cheapjack motel, this back road, and what did or did not happen there, for the simple reason that I don’t really remember much about what it looked like it, or what happened there. Except this, this is etched in my brain and I can feel the cool- handed, cool-toweled sensation even as I am writing. Angelica, miffed or not, had taken a towel, wrapped some ice from the ubiquitous, usually whiskey fixings-friendly motel ice machine in it, and placed it on my forehead and held her hand on the compress for a while until I fell asleep. Of such kindnesses long-lasting civilizations should be created.

But enough of medical reports and folk wisdom medicines, sweet-gestured or not. We were on the road west now, the blue-pink road west and for the first time since Angelica and I had met really on our own. Winchester, Kentucky heading to Lexington on our way west. Next morning, next already hot, steamy, sulky July Monday morning, having had a decent night’s recovery, and a thimbleful of food in my stomach to be on the safe side, we are off. Tonight we will sleep in no “bourgeois” roadside motel, ice cubes included free of charge or not, but out in the great outdoors, out in the promised great American night, and save our dwindling cash for stormier times. Thumb out, Angelica thumb out here, and we are indeed off. A half hour later after being picked up by a wayward sedan, driven by a nondescript but kindly driver, we are on the road to Lexington. And arrive we do without fanfare, or flourish.

This is really what is important about Lexington though. See, like I told you and I know I told Angelica before, that suitcase that she had packed up for Steubenville in her Muncie break-out days was fine to live out of for Steubenville motel cabin existences but no good on the hitchhike road, of whatever color. I didn’t tell you this before because Angelica had been such a trouper, especially with that ice-encrusted towel, but she had complained like hell about the damn dangling suitcase every time we had to push on in a hurry. Truth be told I had carried the thing more than she had, invalided as I was. So when we hit Lexington we hit the first Army-Navy store we could find to get her one of those fungible mountaineer backpacks.

Army-Navy store? Ya, Army-Navy store. Don’t snicker about so, well, about so yesterday, okay? Out on the hitchhike road you needed sturdy stuff, whatever it was you needed, because stuff got pretty banged around and your “faux” hitchhike road designer goods would last about seven miles (or about as long as the owner of such goods would be on the road before hailing a cab to the nearest airport). And as much as we hated the notion of deadly military weapons and anything military in those days we, we of youth nation, were strangely drawn to that fashion look, and the indestructible nature of their “camping” equipment. Besides the stuff was cheap, remember it was bought as World War II surplus mainly, hell, maybe World War I, but cheap.

Naturally, as events kept unfolding Angelica was showing more and more her origins as a Midwestern flower, and although a total stranger to such a place was thrilled (and mystified) by this place, including the odd , musty smell that goes with such stores. I will quote her, “Wow, does all this stuff really work?” So you can see by that simple statement that, every once in a while, she will throw out her Indiana naïve to confuse me. In any case, soon enough she will know whether it works or not. Of course she took forever to decide on which of two types of olive green backpacks “fit” her. Christ, women (oops, sorry). After that we made other purchases in order to set up “housekeeping”. Like. Well, like a small very portable army pup tent, complete with staves, to shelter us from storms and summer bugs. And a couple of canteens, small useful three-prong knives, a shovel, and mess kits.

I, as I write this, still smile over the fact that Angelica talked for days about how whoever invented such a useful thing as a mess kit was a genius, a pure genius. So you see again what I meant about that Muncie thing. Best of all to her sheer unmitigated delight we purchased a warm, cozy, snuggly army surplus sleeping bag (hey, the best kind okay, you can’t have soldiers freezing their buns off in Alaska, Korea, Northern China or wherever). And also delighted, blushingly delighted, when I, off-handedly, whispered in her ear about how many people could fit inside the thing, in a pinch. And, finally, a green (naturally) army blanket, for emergencies, real emergencies, not those in a pinch kind.

After completing those purchases we stepped just outside the store door to a nearby bench, placed there probably for just such purposes, and ceremoniously transferred her stuff from the suitcase to the backpack. Here is the kicker though, which may tell something about human nature or maybe not. I just kind of threw everything into my knapsack and hoped for the best. Hope, for example, that a pair of socks, matched, showed up when needed. Angelica, as I noticed back in the Steubenville pack-up, neat of suitcase also took pains (and would do so throughout the trip) to keep her stuff organized just like in the suitcase. I wonder if we had decided that plastic bags were absolutely the best for travel gear whether she would have done the same. Probably. In any case, Angelica’s yesterday Angelica miffs had turned around and she was beaming, at me, at her new existence, at the whole wide world for all I know. I liked it, I told her so, and we are off to a campground just outside of town that the Army-Navy store owner told me about to “camp out” in the great dark American night. Hell, even I was excited. Still I noticed, just a glimmer of a notice, that she turned back wistfully for just a second to take one last look at the suitcase that we left on that bench for someone else in need.

Every once in awhile, just as things are going right and this old world seems full of bright-eyed possibilities, things get twisted around. Let me tell you about it and see what you think. As we were walking, Angelica proudly practically hip-hop walking with her new backpack bouncing up and down with each step, decided she needed to discuss something, one of our little “adjustments” talks. Apparently the miffed Angelica of yesterday was not so much miffed at my condition as that when we went to sign in at that cheapjack motel I wrote down my real name and her real name indicating that we weren’t married, or at least not related. Some primordial sense of modesty, no, I know, just Muncie conventionality, made her feel ashamed.

Christ Angelica, there is not one cheapjack (or five star, for that matter) motel, hotel, inn, youth hostel, ashram, whatever in the whole world that in the year 1969 cares who you sign in as. I could have put down Queen Elizabeth and Richard Nixon (although that combination might have raised my eyebrow) and they would have been nonplussed, as long as the coin of the realm, cash, was in hand. I didn’t put quotation marks around the above sentences but I think I could have because that, in my mind’s eye, is probably exactly what I said to her. Her plea, and here I will quote, “I feel ashamed and like a tramp (exact word) and couldn’t we just say we were married when we signed into places?” Apparently the time I was going to spend with this woman was going to be filled with throwing in towels because that is just what I did, I agreed to this proposition. Why? Well, in those days I, frankly, didn’t have an opinion, at least a strong opinion, about married or not married and to keep peace I conceded the point. Now would be a different story. But, hell, let’s get to the camp and the great American night.

There are camp sites and there are camp sites. Today you can belly up to some sites with your seven ton, overloaded monster “trailer” home and put in a plug or two and act just like you never left Cicero, Albany, or whatever your port of origin. Or you can go back up into the hills, some forlorn shaggy hills, mainly some Western hills these days, carrying in with you whatever you are going to bring on your back, and be not that far removed from those old pioneers who feared every dangerous animal, dangerous man, dangerous natural condition step of the western way, and carried on nevertheless. The real westward ho crowd. That day though Angelica and I found ourselves at a plain old-timey campsite which we could see from the road in was dotted with various tents, some small trailers sitting in the beds of pick-up trucks, some free-form trailers pulled by trucks and a couple of psychedelically multi-colored converted school buses. The last had been popping up on the road ever since people started hearing about Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters and their mad eastward escapades a few years earlier. Not a monster trailer in the house, a good sign. I can see a little river as well. Best of all there a small supermarket right across the street. Yes, this portends to be a great American night, and maybe nights.

After I passed the test at the camp office we went to our site, a cozy little site for a tent not too far from the river. What test? Come on now, pay attention, you know the test. Did I or did I not sign us in as Mr. and Mrs. (no Ms. then). Well, I am still sitting here writing this thing so of course I did. Angelica was beaming, beaming like an old married lady (at nineteen, jesus) but, maybe, just maybe because her “hubby” played it straight with her. (I never did get all the details, and she never put them all out there for me, but back in staid old homey Muncie some guys definitely did her wrong, tramp-treating wrong). Of course unlike the “bourgeois” upper class dwellers here in their little campers we were primitives (a word I have actually seen used to designate some campsites) and had to set up camp from scratch. Hell, we had more fun trying to set that damn Army-Navy tent and setting up for dinner on our little fireplace. There are not many times in life when just a couple of goofy, simple things provided so much entertainment. We napped then feasted.

As it got dark though I heard some music, the Stones, I think coming from one of the multi-colored painted, converted buses down the dirt lane. Nothing loud, but also something that said “youth nation” among the families of three and four that seemed to dominate the camp. We moseyed (like it?) on down and as we got closer I knew we had found kindred spirits, at least I thought we had. Angelica said, “What’s that strange smell?” Of course it was nothing but grass (marijuana, herb, ganja, whatever your term), and from the smell high-grade stuff. I thereafter proceeded to tell Angelica the “skinny”. She seemed a little non-plussed by the news but, however, confessed that she had never smoked or done any other drugs. And from the tone of that response seemingly did not want to.

Those were good and simple days to be young, especially on a road situation like this. Perfect strangers, unknown to one another, except by a telltale beard, or longhair, or long dresses or some slightly off-key sign, immediately embraced and as a welcome “gift” passed you a joint (or whatever drug of choice was available that day) and you passed whatever you had. We had some store-bought wine. I knew, knew from hard Arizona and Connecticut experiences, as well as the lore of the road, that carrying drugs was not “cool.” Many a road comrade spent many a night in some godforsaken cooler for making that mistake when the grim-reaper, usually small town, cops needed to boost their arrest records. Thus, for me it was nice to have a chance to get “high.” (inhaling even) although Angelica passed and was happy getting a little silly on the wine. We spent a nice night hanging out, listening to the Stones and the Doors, and a couple of other things that I don’t remember. I do remember, as we went back to our own site to turn in, that Angelica said she finally “got” what her parents, her neighbors, her minister, her schoolteachers, and some of her former boyfriends were afraid of. The feared great boxed-in break-out. She started to go on about it, but I gave her a knowing “preaching to the choir” smile and she stopped.

We wound up staying for few days, got to know most of the twelve or fifteen people connected with the buses (two at two adjoining sites, actually) and found out that they were on “vacation” from a little farm house that they all lived in communally, including some primitive farming and weaving to keep body and soul together, just outside of Springfield, Illinois. They were leaving Saturday morning and we were welcome to join them and stay at the farm for a while. We talked it over and it seemed right, especially for Angelica, as we could by-pass sweet home Indiana that she wanted avoid at all costs, so we left with them. That Saturday morning Angelica with great tenderness, and by herself, struck our camp (“our home” she called it by the end) as we prepared for the next leg of our journey. Ah, pioneer woman.

You know some towns you can say that you have been in but that is misleading. You might have passed through them, you might have been caught having to sleep on some forsaken bench in some lonely bus stop there, or stretched a watery cup of joe in some lonelier diner against some cold , rainy night wait, or, in flusher times, just hopped on a plane out of the place. So, yes you can tick that town off on your map as you move along in the world but you don’t know the town, no way. That is my recollection of Springfield. Oh sure I knew it was Lincoln’s home area, I knew it was the capital of the state of Illinois, I knew that people in that area were not Mayor Daly’s (the first one) people and that there was plenty of farmland there. But Springfield on this trip (or ever) was just that dot on the map because once we passed through it and we got to the farm a few days and joints after leaving Lexington that was it. We spent some quiet, well maybe no so quiet when the music went decibel high, but youth quiet time on the farm, did a little work for our keep, Angelica got a little more sun that she thought was good for her, and we relaxed before pushing on. Westward ho, ever westward ho in the blue-pink great American West night.

Scene Seven-Moline Meltdown Madness-An Interlude, Late Summer 1969

Defeat takes many forms, no question, no question at all, but on the hard-scrabble, white-lined hitchhike highway nothing augured defeat like three or four days of hard, hard-driving, hard-bucket, squishing, swirling, streaming, overflowing the drain spouts, rain. But see, at just that minute on just that road we, Angelica and I, did not know though that we faced that sock in the jaw by dear Mother Nature, having only been out there for a couple of hours. The rain, steady, steady as the homeward-bound after a hard day’s work traffic that passed us by, had started about an hour earlier. Not long, but long enough to get ourselves rain-dripped to perdition.

Rain, rain that dripped deep into your bones, and maybe to your soul if you had one handy that could get wet, and added at least five hundred pounds to your load. No, not the soul the rain soak, and more consequentially, dripped down the back of your neck into your collar despite the best efforts of your seaman’s cap to absorb and contain all before the deluge. And pancho-ed Angelica, patient yellow pancho-ed Angelica, hood up covering half her face, and maybe all of her peripheral vision, acted the trouper, as usual. Drawing strength, drawing vital strength, from somewhere deep in that pioneer American Midwest good night stock from whence she came. The road, the far too long road from gentle, restful, lazy farm, joints and music, edenic commune Springfield of the last scene has sapped some of her energy, and, hell, mine as well.

Ya, but take a guess at what human solidarity, or at least what one would hope would rise from the human sink on such an occasion, and would provide as a natural curative in these circumstances. One could guess, and hopefully not too be far off that the sight of two young, not too disheveled, if somewhat “hippie” attired, rain-beaten people standing on the shoulder of a hitchhike 1969 road would cause at least one lonely-hearted car, one battered truck, one moseying hay wagon, one misplaced mule team, or whatever was out there on State Route 5 in Moline, where our last ride let us off, Moline, Illinois, the one near the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities one that is, in case there is another Moline that I don’t know about and might curse by mistake. But one would be wrong.

No, these were all fair-weather farm people who had that look on their faces as they passed by, not of fear or menace, but that those young folk on the road, meaning us, on their industrious road, did not work. Not at least at anything respectable, this out here means something to do with the land, the sweet sweat of backbreaking labor on the land, and of endless toil. No these two young vagabonds were not like their Johnnies and Sues already lined up by age fourteen to take over the farm, to marry that nice girl or guy the next few farms over, have their fair share of children, and then…on some 1989 or 1999 rain-soaked, white-lined hitchhike road they will be able to give some young nature-devastated couple that selfsame look, if there are still any such hearty souls left by then to tweak their ire.

But enough of that, by this time things were serious and I could tell by the look of Angelica’s stance, or rather her ballooning yellow poncho-covered half-stance against the hardness of the rain that I had better come with some idea, some idea better than standing on this side road being sneered at, or worst, ignored by the local kulaks. And I did. Look, if I had been out there on that windswept piece of flatland alone I could have found myself some old barn to share with the local farm animals, or if that didn’t work out then some lean-to. A fallback option, although I would have rather not, was to draw a beeline to the railroad yards and seek shelter in an empty freight car. Except every hobo, bum, tramp and faux vagabond within fifty miles of there would have had has the same idea and while I can respect the lore of the comradely road as well as the next man, frankly, that lore is overrated when you get twenty males of various physical and mental conditions communing in a freight. But right then I was a respectable “married” man and I had to seek some more appropriate shelter at least for this night for my better half, or else.

And, of course, we were not in covered-wagon, prairie schooner days but in a heartland city so off we went back up the road a bit to find some kind of cheap, flea-bitten motel to wait out this, hopefully, passing storm. Sure, we were pinching pennies and we certainly did not expect to have had lay over there but such is the such of the road, the “married” road. Needless to say I already knew the motel we would wind up at. No, I had never been in Moline before; at least I did not think so. But I did know the motel. I didn’t know the actual name of the place, although Dew Drop Inn rated pretty high as a quick guess. And I did not know the exact layout of the rooms except that there would be about sixteen to twenty identical units, all on the first floor; park the car, if you had a car, directly in front of your little bungalow. After the formality of payment and registration, that is.

Thereafter, open the plywood-thick “security” door, cheaply painted, to gain the first view of your “suite” and inhale the ammonia, bleach, smoke-stained smells that are guaranteed with the room key. And as a bonus whatever odors the previous tenants had left. These cheap, flea-bitten places frown upon pre-inspection, and those who find themselves, like us, in reduced circumstances, would rather not “inspect” the room anyway. Take my word for this, please. Go on then to view your slightly sagging twin bed, with almost matching pillows and sheets, usually lime and pink. Your deluxe color television (guaranteed to run, the colors that is). Your complimentary tray, your Salvation Army-found bureau and night table (complete with Gideon’s Bible) and your bathroom (shower, no bath) with about seventeen sets of laundry over-bleached towels for every possible usage from face to figure. Set off by a genuine reproduction of a reproduction of some seascape on the wall to add a homey touch by an artist whose name will just escape your remembrance. But I have now given it all away, even before we found our cozy cottage. Not to worry there it is. No, not Dew Drop Inn this time, E-Z Rest. All for sixteen dollars a night, plus tax (and two dollar deposit on the television, returnable on departure, returnable presumably if you didn’t decide in a frenzied moment to “steal” the damn thing). Oh ya, I was off on the picture on the wall, it was a farm scene. Silly me.

I will say this for Angelica, for the several weeks that we had been on the road, through all the hassles we have faced up until then; she has been remarkably good-natured about things. Remarkable, as well, I might add for the first time out on the road. Remarkable, moreover, for an Ivory soap naïve Midwestern gal who a few months before had hardly ever left Muncie, as she related parts of her life to me while we, sometimes seemingly endlessly, waited for rides. Remarkable, above all, for her innate ability to face adversity without having a nervous breakdown about it every five minutes. Flame, Boston flame, that I had just run away from, Joyel, would have been a pretty high up number in her one thousand frustrations wearing on my nerves by now. The reason I mention this is that out back there on the Route 5 no-ride road, the rain-swept road that drove us inside I had a feeling for just a minute, but a feeling just the same, that the wilds of the road, the “freedom” of the road, the adventure now not when we are too old to do anything about it, was starting to weight down on her, and on her dreams. Not a good sign, especially not a good sign as the rain kept tap-tapping relentlessly down the spout outside and on top of the creaky rooftop that made you think that it was going to come in the room in about five minutes. And as if she too caught a glimpse of that notion that I felt she sidled up to me and said to me that we needed to take a “nap” to get the chill off from the road. I was only following doctor’s on that command, okay, well the future radiologist’s orders, if that‘s how things worked out. It’s kind of the same, right?

“Married” or not. Remarkable or not. After what turned out to be three days of steady rain and three days of a foul, cumbersome room with nothing but drippy-runny colored television and some light (meaning non-political for me, romance novels for her) reading material bought up the road at a very strange bookstore that ran the gamut in light reading from 17th century novels to soft-core porn (smut, okay) to while away the hours we both were getting severe cases of cabin fever. Remind me to tell you about the bookstore, and another one out in the middle of the desert in California some time but right then I could sense, and more importantly, fair Angelica could sense, that something was wrong. Wrong, right now. And so wrong that it needs to be fixed, right then. It boiled down to this (I will give her version but it will do for my sense of the thing as well). Why were two seemingly sane young people sitting in some dusty, broken down, rain-splattered, motel room in god-forsaken yes, god-forsaken, Moline, Illinois waiting for the rain to stop, or to let up enough so that we could move on to the “bright lights” of Davenport, Iowa or points west.

I will not detail all the talk back and forth that ensued except to say that that momentary glance I had noted back on the road a few days ago when we hit town had some meaning behind it. Angelica was road-weary. Hell, I was a little weary myself. But, I was not ready to go off the road, not ready to go back to the same old, same old. And here is the truth. Just at that minute my delights in Angelica were running just about three to two in her favor, and dropping. This called for drastic measures. I had to unwind the story of the search for the blue-pink great American West night that I had been holding back on. You already know the story, but old Angelica didn’t. Seemed clueless about what I meant when I even mentioned the words. Before this it just seemed too complicated to run by someone who was just traveling on the road to travel on the road. Not someone looking for some ancient, unnamed, unnameable quest that spoke more to the stuff of dreams than anything else.

If you know this old saga, although I did touch it up a little here, then you can kind of skip this part and proceed to find out what Angelica though of the whole thing. Or, maybe, you can re-read it to rekindle that old time wanderlust that drove your dreams, you name the color, you name the place, and you name the pursuit of them:

“I, once was asked, in earnest (by an old flame), what I meant by the blue-pink western skies. Or rather the way I would prefer to formulate it, and have always taken some pains to emphasize it this way, the search for the blue-pink great American West night. Well, of course, there was a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my back (sometimes right at my back) New England homestead meant unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that the hitchhike road meant heading west.

So that night was clearly not in the vicinity of the local Blues Hills or of the Berkshires back in ocean-fronted Massachusetts, those are too confined and short-distanced to even produce blues skies much less that west-glanced sweet shade just before heaven, if there was a heaven shade, blue-pink. And certainly not hog-butcher-to-the-world, sinewy Midwest Chicago night, Christ no, nor rarefied, deep-breathed, rockymountainhigh Denver night, although jaded sojourner-writer not known for breathe-taking, awe-bewilderment could have stopped there for choice of great western night. Second place, okay.

But no, onward, beyond, beyond pioneer, genetically-embedded pioneer America, past false god neon blue-pink glitter Las Vegas in the Nevada desert night to the place where, about fifty miles away from sanctified west coast, near some now nameless abandoned ghost town, nameless here for it is a mere speck on the map you would not know the name, you begin, ocean man that you are, if you are, and organically ocean-bred says you are, to smell the dank, incense-like, seaweed-driven, ocean-seized air as it comes in from the Japanese stream, or out there somewhere in the unknown, some Hawaii or Guam or Tahiti of the mind, before the gates of holy city, city of a thousand, thousand land’s end dreams, San Francisco. That is where the blue-pink sky devours the sun just before the be-bop, the bop-bop, the do wang-doodle night, the great American Western star-spangled (small case) night I keep reaching for, like it was some physical thing and not the stuff of dreams.”

See, though Angelica got all confused by this way of telling about the night, hell, I started to get a little balled up on it myself. She was getting fidgety toward the end and I could tell by her facial expressions that, rain beating down outside, I had not made the right “adjustment” this time. Okay, off came the gloves, here is the” real” story, and as the rain started beating harder I got into a trance-like state telling Angelica of the following:

“Okay, let me tell this thing straight through without questions even though I know that it will sound off-kilter to you anyway I say it, hell it will sound half off-kilter to me and I lived through the thing. But let’s get to it anyway; we can gab about it later. See, back a few years ago, ya, it was a few years back when I was nothing but a summer-sweltered sixteen year old high school kid, a city boy high school kid, with no dough, no way to get dough, and nobody I knew who had dough to put a touch on, I went off the deep end. Plus, plus I had about thirty-six beefs with Ma, around par for the course for a whole summer but way too many for a couple of weeks in, and not even Fourth of July yet. Worst, worst, if you can believe this, I had a few, two maybe, beefs with the old man, and having a beef with him with Ma the official flak-catcher meant things were tough, too tough to stay around.

Sure, I know, how tough can it be at sixteen to stay put waiting for the summer heat to break and maybe have some clean clear wind bring in a change of fortune. But don’t forget, don’t ever forget when I’m telling you this story that we are talking about a sixteen year old guy, with no dough and plenty of dreams, always plenty of dreams, whatever color they turned out to be. So I threw a few things together in an old green beaten up knapsack, you know enough to get by until things break, that stuff and about three dollars, and I headed out the door like a lot of guys headed out that same kind of door before me in search of fame and fortune, Looking back on it I’ll take the fortune, if I have a choice.

I hit the main street with a swagger and immediately start thumbing as if my life depended on it, or at least that I had to act that way to click the dust of the old town off my heels pronto. And right away a car, although I hadn’t seen where it had come from before it came into my view, a late model car, looked like a 1961 Ford, came up on me, slowed down, the driver rolled down his passenger side window and asked where was I heading. I said “west, I guess,” he says “I’m heading up to Maine, Portland, Maine to work. Too bad I can’t help you.” As he readied to make tracks I say, “Hey, wait a minute, I‘ll take that ride, North or West it’s all the same to me.” Whoever said that my fortune could not be made in Maine just as easily as in California.

This guy, if you are thinking otherwise, turned out to be pretty interesting, he wasn’t any fruit like a lot of guys who stop when they see a young guy with a dour, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders pan like mind, and are ready to pounce on that fact. Seems that Kenny, Kenny of a thousand ships, his name was, worked the boats, the ferries out of Portland and Bar Harbor over to Nova Scotia and filled the time we traveled with stories about different funny things that happened on the trips back and forth. Funny things that happened to landlubbers that is, those who were not used to the open sea and who got seven shades of seasick. And he told this one story that I didn’t think anything of, just a guy puffing himself up like a million other guys, like I have myself when I’d brag about how I had so many girlfriends that I was going to have invent some extra days in the week and really I’d, usually, just be scratching and crawling on all fours for one date, and praying for that to come through. Like I say, just puffing. He went on a bit about how one time out in the misty mist his uncle, Captain he called him, some old swamp Yankee, whom he served under in some boat saved a bunch of people off an island ferry off of Portland Light, got them to shore, and went back out looking for more.

Well, he is telling his stories, and I am telling mine about this and that, but mainly about my love of the sea, and about going west to see the Pacific when I get tired of the Atlantic but it looks like not today because where we are heading is nothing but cold hard, windy fighting Atlantic. But that dream, as I start talking myself around it, that getting tired of the Atlantic, is only a maybe because today now that I have made my break-out I can see where going to the coast of Maine to start my new life seems just about right. Suddenly, Kenny says out of the blue, “Hey, if you’re gonna bum around I’ll leave you off at Old Orchard Beach, right at the beach, there’s plenty of places to sleep without being bothered. And besides…” But before he can get the words out I say, hey, there is an amusement park there, right?

Hell, this was getting better all the time. I remember one time we, meaning me and my family, went up there and I played Skees, which I love, and I met a girl there who was watching me play and I impressed her by winning a penny whistle for her. I think I was ten or eleven then, okay, so lay off. See, though this guy, Kenny, was so good, such a good guy, that when we get to the Old Orchard exit he doesn’t just let me off on Route One and so I have to thumb another ride into town like most guys would do but takes me right down to the pier, the amusement park pier. Then he says you know it is probably better to get away from this crowded area, let me take you down Route 9 to the Saco jetty where you can set yourself up in an empty boat. Okay, that sounds right and besides it’s won’t be dark for hours and it’s not dark enough yet for me to make my big teenage city boy, Skeet champion city boy, amusement park moves on the local twists. Nice guy, Kenny, right, a prince of the road. We shook hands as he left, saying see you around.

I can see right away that Kenny was right, this place is quiet and there are many boats just waiting to be used for housekeeping purposes. But, what got my attention was, maybe fifty yards away, the start of the longest jetty in the world, or so I thought. Hey, I had walked a few jetties before and while you have to be careful for the ill-placed boulders when you get to the end you feel like the king of the sea, and old Neptune better step aside. I started walking out, Christ this is tough going I must be a little tired from all the travel. Nah it’s more than that, the granite slabs are placed helter-skelter so you can’t bound from one to another and you practically have to scale them. After about a hundred yards of scraping my hands silly, and raw, I say the heck with this and head back. But put sixteen, hunger for adventure, and hunger to beat old fellaheen king Neptune down together and you know this is not the end. I go around looking at my boat selection just exactly like I am going to rent an apartment. Except before I set up housekeeping I am going to take the old skiff I select out along the jetty to the end. So I push one off the sand, jump in and start rowing.

Now I am an ocean guy, no question. And I know my way around boats, a little, so I don’t think much of anything except that I will go kind of slow as I work my way out. Of course a skiff ain’t nothing but a glorified rowboat, if that. It’s all heavy lifting and no “hi tech” like navigation stuff or stuff that tells you how far the end of jetty is. Or even that there is a heavy afternoon fog starting to roll in on the horizon. Ya, but intrepid that’s me. Hey, I’m not going to England just to the end of the jetty. I said that as the fog, the heavy dark fog as it turned out, enveloped the boat and its new-found captain. I started rowing a little harder and a little more, I ain’t afraid to say it, panic-stricken. See I thought I was rowing back to shore but I know, know deep somewhere in my nautical brain, that I am drifting out to sea. I’m still rowing though, as the winds pick up and rain starts slashing away at the boat. Or course, the seas have started swelling, water cresting over the sides. Christ, so this is the way it is going to finish up for me. What seemed like a couple more hours and I just plain stopped rowing, maybe I will drift to shore but I sure as hell am not going to keep pushing out to sea. Tired, ya, tired as hell but with a little giddy feeling that old Neptune is going be seeing me soon so I decide to put my head down and rest.

Suddenly I am awoken by the distinct sound of a diesel engine, no, sounds about six diesels, and a big, flashing light coming around my bow. I yell out, “over here.” A voice answers, “I know.” Next thing I know an old geezer, a real old geezer decked out in his captain’s gear is putting a rope around the bow of my boat and telling me to get ready to come aboard. Ay, ay, Captain. After getting me a blanket, some water and asking if I wanted a nip of something (I said yes) he, old Captain Cob his name was, said I was lucky, lucky as hell that he came by. Then he asked what I was doing out here in the open sea with such a rig, and wasn’t I some kind of fool boy. Well, I told my story, although he seemed to know it already like he made a daily habit of saving sixteen year old city boys from the sea, or themselves. So we swapped stories for a while as we headed in, and I had a nip or two more. As we got close to Saco pier though he blurted out that he had to let me off in my boat before the dock because he had some other business on the Biddeford side.

Here is where it gets really weird though. He asked me, as we parted, did I know the name of his boat (a trawler, really). I said I couldn’t see it in all the fog and swirling sea. He told me she was the “Blue-Pink Night”. I blurted out, “Strange name for a boat, what is it a symbol or something?” Then he told me about how he started out long ago on land, as a kid just like me, a little older maybe, heading to California, and the warm weather and the strange blue-pink night skies and the dreams that come with them. I said how come you’re still here but he said he was pressed for time and left. Here is the thing that really threw me off. He gave me a small dried sea shell, a clam shell really, that was painted on its inner surface and what was painted was a very intricate, subliminally beautiful scene of what could only be that blue-pink California sky. I said, Thanks; I’ll always remember you for this and the rescue." He said, “Hell lad that ain’t nothing but an old clam shell. When you get over to that Saco café at the dock just show it to them and you can get a meal on it. That meal is what you’ll remember me by.”

Hungry, no famished, I stumbled into the Saco café, although that was not its name but some sea name, and it was nothing but a diner if you though about it, a diner that served liquor to boot so there were plenty of guys, sea guys, nursing beers until the storm blew over, or whatever guys spend half the day in a gin mill waiting to blow over. I stepped to the counter and told the waitress, no, I asked politely just in case this was a joke, whether this old clam shell from the captain of the “Blue-Pink Night” got me a meal, or just a call to take the air. All of a sudden the whole place, small as it was, went quiet as guys put their heads down and pretended that they didn’t hear or else though the joint doubled up as a church. I asked my question again and the waitress said, “What’ll you have?” I called my order and she called it to the short order cook. The she said did I know anything about this captain, and how did he look, and where did he meet me, and a whole bunch of questions like this was some mystery, and I guess maybe there was at that.

Then the waitress told me this (and I think every other guy in the room by the loudness of her voice), “ A few years back, yes, about six or seven years ago, there was a big storm that came through Portland Light, some say a perfect storm, I don’t know, but it was a howler. Well, one of the small ferries capsized out there and somehow someone radioed that there were survivors clinging to the boat. Well, the old captain and his nephew, I think, started up the old “Blue-Pink Night” and headed out, headed out hard, headed out full of whiskey nips, and one way or another, got to the capsized boat and brought the survivors into shore and then headed out again. And we never saw them again. And here is the funny part; when he was unloading his passengers he kept talking, talking up a perfect storm about seeing the blue-pink night when he was out there before and maybe it was still there. I guess the booze got the best of him. But hear me son, old captain was square with every one in this place, he used to own it then, and some of his kin are sitting right here now. He was square with them too. So, eat up kid, eat up on the house, ‘cause I want you to save that old clam shell and any time you are on your uppers you can always get a meal here. Just remember how you got it.” “Thanks, ma’am,” I said. Then I slowly, like my soul depended on it, asked, “Oh, by the way, what was that old captain’s nephew's name?” and I said it in such a way that she knew, knew just as well as I did, that I knew the answer. “Kenny, Kenny Cob, bless his soul.”

And that story my friends, got me a week’s reprieve from being abandoned by Angelica on the road. Not bad, right? Ya, but she didn’t believe the story really, just like you, but tell me this what is this now faded, scratched and worn out painted blue-pink great American West night clam shell that I am looking at right now anyhow.

Scene Eight-Neola Blues- September 1969
Christ, this is something out of a Woody Guthrie ballad, maybe Pastures Of Plenty where he talks about all the crops that migrant farm laborers pull out of the earth’s soil as they proceed through the harvest season cycle, I thought to myself as I helped Angelica bring her things down from the farm-fresh cab of that farm-fresh truck that I just jumped down from, as we started heading to our new "home." In this case a small, simple, solidly built and well-maintained white-painted cabin on a huge corn stalk-waved, yellow-sunned Neola, Iowa farm where I was to sweat it out for a few days (and maybe more) doing farm labor until I could get enough money for us to move on. Hell, we were down to our last pennies, pennies that we thought would last us until Denver where I had some friends who we could stay with and who had jobs for us but that dream petered away well before Neola, Iowa.

Now we are at the mercy of Farmer Brown. I swear that was his name and that was how he wanted to be addressed by me out in the fields, probably some old Protestant remnant Mennonite, Hutterite heretic custom that got carried along because nobody thought to change it with the change of centuries. When he picked us up many miles back he must have had some ESP sense that we needed dough, and that he had some "wetback", Okie-Arkie-like-we-were-back-in-the-Great-Depression-1930s help at hand if he played his cards right.

On top of that to say things were strained, strained in comparison to idyllic Steubenville cottage nights, Prestonsburg mad mountain hi-jinks and Lexington great American night thrills, between Angelica and I since we had our Moline meltdown would be an understatement. If you don’t know that story, that Moline story, you had really better go back and read that one, if you want to understand how the road, even the voluntarily taken good night hitchhike road can twist things around. This strain between us was not, as you might think, the way that I have presented things, mainly because I had not been a good "hubby" provider. Rather because now that we were hard into September, had been on the road a couple of months, and all around us school and life were starting back up in their usual annual build-up season Angelica, I believe, sensed that the road, the real road, was not for her, at least not until she had gotten a better grasp of what her dreams were all about. Frankly, most of this had been unspoken on both our parts, more glances and sighs as things got tougher, but I couldn’t help but think that I had spooked her a little bit with that Captain Cob story in Moline, the so-called "real" story of the quest for the blue-pink great American West night. That’s another good reason to read that scene.

Let's get it straight though. Straight as the Iowa corn rows which are now stretched out to infinity before me as I look over at the fields directly across from our new cabin home. As I have told this tale you could see the build-up of some tension between Angelica and me as we drove on, especially since we left Lexington, Kentucky. And that seemed the right way to tell you about it. I haven't spent much time filling you in until now about the things that round out the story and bring us to the current seeming impasse. Or about things that were going on in Big Earth time, like the Woodstock breakout gathering of youth nation back East, guys, guys from NASA nation, walking on the moon in the great Earth breakout, guys and gals in the great Stonewall gay breakout in New York City or the Days of Rage white lumpen breakout in Chicago while we were hell bend west and earth-bound. That Big Earth stuff you know, or can look up. Let me tell about the personal stuff though and then you can see why I used that word impasse.

Let me tell you, for example, about the tearful telephone calls home (collect calls, okay) that Angelica had periodically made back to Muncie and her parents. Tearful not because she was on the road against her will but tearful because her parents were raising holy hell that she was out on the road; that she was out of the road with no car; that she was out on the road with a "hippie", Bolshevik, dragon, beast, you can fill in the rest; and, that she was out on the road with a guy who, unquestionably, was up to some kind of nefarious scheme to corrupt their daughter's virtue. Angelica was good though, she defended her "gentleman hippie." But, of late, I have noticed that when she finished on the phone (usually a pay phone out on some desolation highway or in some noisy Main Street store) when she gave me an instant replay on the conversation she seemed to defense her "old man" of the road less and less fervently as she has gotten more road-weary.

Of course I had been running my own "battles" with the phone as I had, occasionally, been calling back to Boston to check in with my friends, and once or twice with the, in my new mind's eye view of things increasingly delightful, Joyel. Hey, I'd told Angelica about Joyel in the beginning (what hadn't we talked about, at least superficially, since we had spent so many hours on the road) and about my runaways so she knew the score (as I did on a special guy that she mentioned from back in Muncie). See, like I said before when I didn't tell Angelica about the blue-pink great American West quest until my back was to the wall in Moline, it was never clear where we were heading except we liked each other, liked each other’s company and wanted to be together for a time. The problem right this minute was I wanted to be on the road and I had this sneaking feeling that Angelica had some little white house and picket fence ideas, or what passed for those ideas out of 1960s Muncie.

And, of course, I haven't told you about the various running battles we had over this and that on the road because frankly this is a story about a quest and not about the kind of stuff that happens in every day life to everybody and their brother (or sister). Not sexy enough, okay? You know what I mean though little stuff like having her thumb to get quick rides when she was feeling blue, or stopping or not stopping soon enough so she didn’t get too tired. Or real life stuff like having to get to a motel, cheapjack motel or not, so she could wash her hair the right way, etc. and feel human for a few minutes. Sound familiar, sure it does. But the big thing was that the road was a lot harder than she expected, a lot harder than she wanted, and a lot harder than she was willing to put up with. Especially when, like just before dear old Neola, we had no dough, and no prospects. Still Angelica was an old pioneer trouper when the deal went down, a Midwest pioneer trouper and that ain’t no lie. I had no better road companion before or since. She just didn’t want to do it endlessly. But never forget, because I surely don’t, that it was only those times, those mad breakout times, that allowed us to even hook up at all.

I guess I should tell you about the money deal now because that tells a lot about why we were at odds with each other, although like I said before it was more a feeling than anything she had said, at least said since the Moline meltdown. After Moline our luck went from bad to worst as the weather just plain got balky after a few days of clear skies. That meant more cheapjack motels, and more unexpected cash outlay to take us off course, and then our rides started to dry up. About half way through Iowa we were hitching on this state Route 44 that takes you across to Route 191 and then to Neola (and Omaha, Nebraska further on). This farm-fresh guy (Farmer Brown) offered us a ride in his big old hay truck (okay I won't use farm-fresh anymore you get the drift but I swear I had never seen so much flat, cultivated, green and yellow scenery before. I thought I died and went to Grant Wood heaven). Right away, like I said, he sized us up as from hunger and offered us jobs (or at least me) working to bring in the now ready crop. A ride west, a job of sorts, a place to stay, and a place to rest up and sort things out just hit both of us at the same time as right. We said sure thing. And that is why we are now unloading Angelica's backpack on the ground in front of this tiny lean-to of a cabin on old Farmer Brown's farm.

But here is the kicker, for now. No sooner had we got settled into our new "home" (which actually turned out to be cozy in a primitive way) old Farmer Brown called us out and asked Angelica whether she wanted to work at Aunt Betty's diner in town. Be still my heart. Of course, old hand at serving them off the arm Angelica (about six weeks worth) to do her part in jump-starting our future said sure. So off we went in Farmer Brown's Cadillac (that should tell you something) to downtown Neola. In those days (and maybe now too for all I know) this Neola was nothing but a huge grain storage place for all the wheat and corn farmers in western Iowa, a couple of stores and, of course, Aunt Betty's, which seemed to be the hub of the universe here, at least until they rolled up the streets at dusk.

Aunt Betty's, and Aunt Betty herself, however, were something else again. Think about your grandmother, think about your grandmother's cooking, think about your grandmother's wisdom, think about your grandmother not being your hardball mother, that was Aunt Betty, and Aunt Betty's. See that was why these old time farmers hung around there. Hell that was why I hung around there for the time we were there. This was no highway-truck-stop-feed-the-buggers-whatever-calories-you-want because they are moving on anyway and they are so benny-high that they will not notice but some kind of slice of Norman Rockwell America. This was a place of stews, of chicken pot pies, of pot roasts, of Indian puddings, a place to get corn-fed mid-American-sized not emaciated Eastern-dieted. You could practically smell the old-fashioned values in the place, you could feel as you sat in the hand-woven cushioned chairs and tucked in your monogrammed linen, yes, your monogrammed linen napkin, that you were in some other time, a place worthy of the blue-pink night if only it was further west, like California west, but if it was there then it would not be a real Aunt Betty's.

But enough of nostalgia. The main thing is that Aunt Betty immediately took to Angelica, a fellow Midwestern pioneer woman, even if from different generations. I think, or I like to think, that what Aunt Betty kind of instinctively saw in Angelica was what I saw that first night in Steubenville -what you see is what you get. And what you saw and got was just fine. Toward me she granted a certain scornful tolerance because of Angelica, and her "silly" whim for an eastern hippie boy. Ya, Aunt Betty was, maybe, the last of that breed of Iowa women that filled a man’s stomach but also took no guff from friend or foe, alike. At least the last time I spent any time in Iowa a few years ago I didn’t see any Aunt Bettys, all huge corporate farms and peon stoop labor now and no time for slow simmering stews and homemade pot pies.

So Angelica, who was the talk of the diner for days as the old geezers finally had something nice to look at while they were downing their pot roast and, despite all high Protestant caution, lazily lingering over that refilled cup of coffee (coffee pot brewed, naturally). And the nice tips to accompany those looks didn’t hurt either. What I didn’t know though, is that through all of this time Aunt Betty was killing my time (meaning putting the bug in Angelica’s ear about getting off the road). Then I was kind of mad about it, especially when as we overstayed the time when we thought we would have to leave (to avoid the October Denver-bound squalls) old Aunt Betty mentioned it in my presence. Now I can see that it was nothing against me but just an old grandma watching out for her granddaughter. Fair enough, wise Aunt Betty wherever you are.

And how was my work going back on Maggie’s, I mean, Farmer Brown’s farm. Well, I have done all kinds of odd jobs, and worked a fair number of excessive hours but life on a farm, a big prosperous farm, come harvest time was really beyond me, although old Brown never complained about my work and getting to know him a little better he surely would have if he had cause for complain. But after about ten days I was ready to move on, and get the cow shavings and corn shucks out of my system.

Needless to say, at night, each night it seemed the longer we stayed, Angelica and me, tried to put the best face on it but I have not built up this story in just this way to now avoid a parting of the ways. Between road-weariness, Aunt Betty urgings, parental moanings, a few road bumps and bruises, her own highly developed Midwestern practical sense, and her own worthy dreams Angelica put it straight one night when I was getting antsy about making tracks before bad weather set in the rockymountainwest. She was going home, going back to school to see how that worked out, and she would meet me out in Los Angeles in January during school break to see where we stood. Fair enough, although that is just a little too easy way to put it. I saw the sense of it though, and was thrilled that she would come west later. That night we started to pack up after I told Farmer Brown we were moving on.

Next day old Aunt Betty showed up at the cabin in her vintage 1930s pickup truck, something out of The Grapes of Wrath except this beauty was well-kept up. She already knew about Angelica’s decision and came to offer us a ride to Omaha where Angelica could catch a bus back to Muncie and I could pick up Interstate 80 West. We drove to the bus station in Omaha in some silence, only speaking about various addresses where we could be reached at in Denver, Los Angeles and Muncie and other trivia. Finally we got to the Greyhound station; Aunt Betty let us off, and went off to wait to give me a ride to Interstate 80. With mixed emotions Angelica and I made our farewells. I felt strange, and maybe Angelica did too, to part in a bus station. Bus stations to me always meant paper-strewn bench sleeps, tepid coffees and starched foods, noisy, smelly, sweat-filled men’s rooms that spoke to infrequent cleanings and paper bag luggage poverties. But there we were. I put her on the bus, waited for it to pull out, and then headed to Aunt Betty’s pickup truck. As she drove the short distance to the entrance to Interstate 80 Aunt Betty said in her Aunt Betty way that she thought I was probably the best thing that ever happened to Angelica, and Angelica thought so too. We came to the highway entrance too soon for me to pick up on that idea. All I had was the blue-pink west road and that thought to keep me warm as I got out of the truck.

Scene Nine-The Ghost Dance-Late 1969
Damn, already I missed Angelica, road-worthy, road-travel easy, easy on the eyes and easy getting us a ride Angelica as I traveled down Interstate 80 onto the great prairie Mid-American hitchhike road after we parted at the Omaha bus station, she heading home East, at least Indiana east from Nebraska, and I to the savage search for the blue-pink great American West night. And I will tell you true that first ride and every ride after that, every miserable truck stopped or sedan ride, it didn’t matter, made me utter that same oath.

Right then though I was on my first connection ride out of Omaha and as luck would have it this big bruiser, full tattoo armed with snakes, roses and lost loves names, truck driver who was obviously benny-ed, benny-ed to perdition and was talking a blue streak was driving right through to Denver, my next destination. All I wanted was the ride but I knew enough of the road, enough of the truck driver come-on part of it anyway to know that this guy’s blue streak was a small price to pay for such a lucky break. See, some guys, some guys like Denver Slim, who left me off at that long ago (or it seemed like long ago) Steubenville truck stop and Angelica (hey, now I know who to blame, if I ever get my hands on that damn Denver Slim… Ya, ya, what are you going to do, big boy?), wanted to talk man to man. Back and forth like real people, especially as I reminded him of his errant (read: hippie–swaying) son. Other guys are happy for the company so they can, at seventy or seventy-five miles an hour with the engine revved high and where conversation is made almost painful and chock-filled with the “what did you says?”, spout forth on their homespun philosophy and take on this wicked old world. With these guys an occasional “Ya, that’s right,” or a timely “What did you mean by that?” will stand you in good stead and you can nod out into your own thoughts.

And that is exactly where I wanted be, as old Buck (where do they get these names) droned on and on about how the government was doing, or not doing this or that for, or to, the little guy who helped build up, not tear down, the country like him. What Aunt Betty, sweet Neola grandmotherly Aunt Betty, said as she left me off at the Interstate 80 entrance still rings in my ears. I was good for Angelica. Hell, I know I was. Hell, if I had any sense I would admit what I know inside. Angelica was good for me too. But see the times were funny is a way. No way in 1962, or ‘64, or ’66, let’s say, that I would have run into an Angelica. I was strung out, strung out hard on neurotic, long black-haired (although that was optional), kind of skinny (not thin, not slender, skinny, wistfully skinny, I say), bookish, Harvard Square, maybe a poet, kind of girls. If I said beatnik girls, and not free-form, ethereral, butterfly breeze “hippie” girls you’d know what I mean. As a kid I was cranked on pale, hell wan was more like it, dark-haired, hard Irish Catholic girls, and I mean hard Irish Catholic girls with twelve novena books in their hands, and lust in their hearts. So, I swear, when Angelica’s number turned up I was clueless how to take just a plain-spoken, says what she means, means what she says young woman who had dreams (unformed, mainly, but dreams nevertheless) that also were plain-spoken. Ah, I can’t explain it now, and I doubt I ever will. Just say I was stunted, stunned, and smitten, okay and let me listen to old Buck’s drone.

I have now put many a mile between me and Omaha and here I am well clear of that prairie fire dream now in sweet winter desert night Arizona not far from some old now run down, crumbling Native American dwellings that keep drawing my attention and I still want to utter that oath, that Angelica oath. Sitting by this night camp fire casting its weird ghost night-like shadows just makes it worst. And old now well-traveled soldiers turned “hippies”, Jack and Mattie, playing their new-found (at least to me) flute and penny whistle music mantra to set the tone.

Hey, I just remembered, sitting here wrapped up in Angelica and ancient primal tribal memories out of the whistling black star-filled night that I haven’t filled you in on where I have been, who I have seen (like John and Mattie), and how I got here from that star-crossed Neola night, at least the past Denver part. Jesus, and here we are only a few hundred miles from the ocean. I can almost smell, smell that algae sea-churned smell, almost see the foam-flecked waves turn against the jagged-edged La Jolla rocks and mad, aging surfer boys from another time looking for that perfect wave. Ya, another more innocent time before all hell broke loose on us in America and crushed our innocent youthful dreams in the rice paddies of Asia, our Angelica plain-spoken dreams, but not our capacity to dream. That only makes the Angelica hurt worst as I remember that she had never seen the ocean, the jagged-edged, foam-flecked ocean that I went on and on about and I was to be her Neptune on that voyage west to the rim of the world. Well let me get to it, the filling you in part..

After grabbing that straight ride from blue streak talkin’ old Buck I did tell you about, and a short but scary two day delay by a serious snow squall hurricane-wind tumult just before the Rocky Mountain foothills leading into Denver I got there in good order. If I didn’t tell you before, and now that I think about it I didn’t, I was to hook up with my now traveling companions, Jack and Mattie, there for the final trip west to the ocean and serious blue-pink visions. If you don’t remember Jack and Mattie, they are two guys that I picked up on the Massachusetts highways heading south in the days when I had a car this year in the early spring. We had some adventures going south, that I will tell you about another time, before I left them off in Washington, D.C. so they could head west from there. We agreed then to meet up in Denver later in the year where they expected to stay for a while. My last contact with them in late summer had them still there but when I arrived at the communal farm on the outskirts of Denver where they had been staying I was informed that they had gotten nervous about being stuck in the snow-bound Rockies and wanted to head south as fast as they could. They had left a Phoenix address for me to meet them at. I stayed at the commune for a few days to rest up, doing a little of this and that, mostly that, and then headed out myself on what turned to be an uneventful and mercifully short hitchhike road trip to Phoenix to connect with them.

And so here we are making that last push to the coast but not before we investigate these Native American lands that, as it turns out, we all had been interested in ever since our kid days watching cowboys and Indians on the old black and white 1950s small screen television. You know Lone Ranger, Hop-along Cassidy, Roy Rogers and their sidekicks’ fake, distorted, prettified Old West stuff. Stuff where the rich Native American traditions got short shrift.

Earlier today we had been over to Red Rock for an Intertribal celebration, a gathering of what was left of the great, ancient warrior nations that roamed freely here not all that long ago but who are now mere “cigar store” Indian characters to the public eye. The sounds, the whispering shrill canyon sounds and all the others, the sights, the colors radiant as they pulled out all the stops to bring back the old days when they ruled this West, the spirit, ah, the spirit of our own warrior shaman trances are still in our heads. I am still in some shamanic-induced trance from the healing dances, from warrior tom-tom dances, and from the primal scream-like sounds as they drove away the evil spirits that gathered around them (not hard enough to drive the marauding “white devil” who broken their hearts, if not their spirits though). Not only that but we scored some peyote buttons (strictly for religious purposes, as you will see) and they have started to kick in along with the occasional hit from the old bong hash pipe (strictly for medicinal purposes).

So right now in this dark, abyss dark, darker than I ever saw the night sky in the East even though it is star-filled, million star-filled, in this spitting flame-roared campfire throwing shadow night along with tormented pipe-filled dreams of Angelica I am embedded with the ghosts of ten thousand past warrior-kings and their people. And if my ears don’t deceive me, and they don’t, beside Jack’s flute and Mattie’s penny whistle I hear, and hear plainly, the muted gathering war cries of ancient drums summoning paint-faced proud, bedecked warriors to avenge their not so ancient loses, and their sorrows as well.

And after more pipe-fillings that sound got louder, louder so that even Jack and Mattie seem transfixed and begin to play their own instruments louder and stronger to keep pace with the drums. Then, magically, magically it seemed anyway, I swear, I swear on anything holy or unholy, on some sodden forebear grave, on some unborn descendent that off the campfire-reflected red, red sandstone, grey, grey sandstone, beige (beige for lack of better color description), beige sandstone canyon echo walls I see the vague outlines of old proud, feather-bedecked, slash mark-painted Apache warriors beginning, slowly at first, to go into their ghost dance trance that I had heard got them revved up for a fight. Suddenly, we three, we three television-sotted Indian warriors got up and started, slowly at first so we are actually out of synch with the wall action to move to the rhythms of the ghosts. Ay ya, ay ya, ay ya, ay ya,…..until we speed up to catch the real pace. After what seems an eternity we are ready, ready as hell, to go seek revenge for those white injustices.

But just as quickly the now flickering camp fire flame goes out, or goes to ember, the shadow ghost dance warriors are gone and we crumble in exhaustion to the ground. So much for vengeance. We, after regaining some strength, all decide that we had better push on, push on hard, to the ocean. These ancient desert nights, sweet winter desert nights or not, will do us in otherwise. But just for a moment, just for a weak modern moment we, or at least I knew, what it was like for those ancient warriors to seek their own blue-pink great American West night.

Scene Ten: California Dreamin’, Maybe, January 1970

I waved good-bye to Angelica, once again, as she drove off from the ocean front campsite that we had been camping out on, the Leo Carrillo State Park near Point Magoo about fifty miles or so north of Los Angeles. She will now drive the road back in her green Ford Hertz unlimited mileage, mid-size rental (paid for, as she explained one night, by her parents whose golden age of the automobile-frenzied minds counted it as a strike against me, a very big strike, that when I had “kidnapped” their daughter on the 1969 blue-pink summer road west down in Steubenville, Ohio I didn’t even have a car). She planned (on my advise) to drive back mostly on the ocean-abutted, white-capped waves smashing against jagged ancient shore rocks, Pacific Coast Highway down through Malibu and Santa Monica to take one last look at the Pacific Ocean as the final point on her first look ocean trip, on the way to LAX to take a flight back to school days Muncie, Indiana.

She will also be driving back to the airport and getting on that miserable plane east knowing as I do since we talked about it incessantly during her stay, that some right things, or at least some maybe right things, like our being together last summer heading free west and for these two January weeks in front of the sea, our homeland the sea, before her classes started again, got caught up in the curious web of the human drama. For no understandable reason. Hey, you already knew this if you have ever had even that one teeny-weeny, tiny, minuscule love affair that just had no place to go, or no time to take root, or just got caught out there in the blue-pink night. Ya, you know that story. But let me take some minutes to tell you this one. If it seems very familiar and you “know” the plot line well then just move on.

To get you up to speed after Angelica and I had been on the heartland hitchhike road (and places like Moline, Neola, and Omaha are nothing but the heartland, good or bad), she, well, she just got tired of it, tired of the lacks, tired of the uncertainties of the road. Hell hell-on-wheels, I was getting tired of it myself except I was a man on a mission. The nature of that mission is contained in the words “search for the blue-pink great American West night” so the particulars of that mission need not detain us here. So in Neola, Iowa, Neola, Iowa of all places aided by “fairy grandmother” Aunt Betty, who ran the local diner where Angelica worked to help make us some dough to move on, and her own sense of dreams she called it quits back in September. Aunt Betty drove us to Omaha where Angelica took the bus back east, Indiana east from Nebraska, to hometown Muncie and I hit Interstate 80 West headed first to Denver before the snows, or so I hoped.

Honestly, although we exchanged addresses and telephone numbers where messages could be left, or where we could speak to each other (her parents’ house not being one of them), and made big plans to reunite in California in January during her school break, I didn’t really think that once we were off the road together that those plans would pan out.
Now I may not remember all my reasoning at the time this far removed, the now of my telling this story many years later, but I had had enough relationships with women to sense this one was good, very good, while it lasted but it could no survive the parting. Not one of those overused “absence makes the heart grow fonder” things you hear about. And, truth to tell, because I thought that was the way things would play out, I started getting focused back on Boston Joyel more than a little as I walked a lot, stood at the shoulder of the hitchhike road a lot, and fitfully got my rides on the road west.

But see this is where you think you have something figured out just so and then it goes awry. Angelica called, left messages, sent letters, even a telegram, to Denver (to the commune where, Jack and Mattie, my traveling companions on the final leg west whom I had met earlier in the spring on a different trip down to D.C., were staying). She sent more communications in early December saying that she was still coming to Los Angeles as well where we three stayed with a few artistic friends of Jack and Mattie’s. Cinema-crazed artistic friends, including one budding film director who, moreover, had great dope connections right into the heart of Mexico. This is where they would stay while I planned to push the hitchhike road north heading to San Francisco.

I once, in running through one of the scenes in this hitchhike road show, oh ya, it was the Neola scene, mentioned that in Angelica what you saw was what you got, what she said was what she meant, and both those were good things indeed. And so if I had thought about it a minute of course she was coming to California in January and staying with me for her two week break, and maybe longer. So when January came she contacted me though John and Mattie, who like I said were now staying with this very interesting experimental film-maker, David, in the Hollywood hills and canyons. I started back south to L.A. in order to meet her at the airport. From there I had it planned that we would go to Point Magoo and camp out like in the “old days” at an ocean front state park.

Needless to say when I greeted her at LAX we both were all smiles, I was in more than all smiles mode, because I had been “stag” for a while and she was, well, fetching as always, or almost always. Here though is where I noticed that the road really is not for everyone. In Neola, and later getting on the bus back home in Omaha, poor Angelica looked pretty haggard but at the airport, well like I said, she was fetching.

And, guess what, she brought her sleeping bag that we got for her in a Lexington, Kentucky Army-Navy Store when we first seriously started on the road west. And the first thing she said about it was, referring to a little in-joke between us, “it fits two, in a pinch.” Be still my heart. So we gathered up her stuff, did the airport exit stuff (easier in those days) and picked up the outside shuttle to the Hertz car rental terminal. We were jabbering away like crazy, but best of all, we were like, a little, those first days last summer back in that old-time Steubenville truck stop diner and cabin when I first met her.

Of course, part of the trip for her, part of what she went as far as she could with me on the hitchhike road for, was to get to California and see what it was all about, and what the ocean was all about since she was a heartland girl who had never seen the ocean before. When we got to Point Magoo she flipped out, she flipped out mostly at the idea that we would stay, could stay right on the beach in front of the ocean. And just like a kid, just like I did when I was kid and saw the ocean, when she saw the Pacific, she jumped right in. Hell, she was so excited she almost got caught in a small riptide. I had to go drag her out. I won’t say we had fun every minute of those weeks acting out our ocean nomad existence, but most minutes, and I could see that she felt the same way.

Naturally, as time drifted away toward her return flight date we talked more and more about what the future, if any, held in store for us. She was adamant about not going back on the road, she was adamant as well that she wanted to finish school and make something of herself. I had no serious defense against that practical wisdom. And, truthfully, I wasn’t, toward the end of her stay, pushing the issue, partially because even I could see that it made sense but also, we had had a “flare-up” over the Boston Joyel question (I am being polite here).

But it was more than that; the flat out, hungry truth was that I really didn’t know how to deal with a Midwestern what you see is what you get woman like Angelica. I was more used to virtuous Irish Catholic girls who drove me crazy as a kid getting me all twisted up about religion, about nice girls, and about duplicity when I found out what the real score was with this type of young girl/ woman later. I was also, and Joyel was the epitome of this type, totally in sync (well, as much as a man can be) with the Harvard Square folksy, intellectual, abstract idealist, let’s-look-at-everything-from-twenty-two different angles, what is the meaning of human relationships 24/7 kind of woman. And fatally attracted to them (and still am). This Angelica look at things only a couple of ways, let’s work things out easy-like, heavens, let’s not analyze everything to the nth degree flipped me out. Angelica was a breath of fresh air and, maybe, maybe, about ten years later, and two divorces later to boot, I would have had that enough sense god gave geese to hold onto her with both hands, tightly, very tightly. But I was in my blue-pink search phase and not to be detoured.

Of course all this hard work of trying to understand where we stood put a little crack in our reason for being together in the first place. The search for, search for something. Maybe, for her, it was just that life minute at the ocean and then on to regular life minutes out in the thickets of the white picket fences. She never said it then in so many words but that seemed to be the aim. And to be truthful, although I was only just barely thinking about it at the time, as the social turmoil of the times got weird, diffuse, and began to evaporate things started to lose steam. As we were, seemingly, endlessly taking our one-sided beatings as those in charge started a counter-offensive ( a counter-offensive still going on) people, good people, but people made of human clay nevertheless got tired of the this and that existence, even Joyel. Joyel of Harvard Square folksy, intellectual, abstract idealist, let’s-look-at-everything-from-twenty-two different angles, what is the meaning of relationships 24/7 was also weary and wary of what was next and where she fit into “square” society. Christ, enough of that, we know, or knew, that song too well.

A couple of days before Angelica was to leave, and on a day when the sun seemed especially bright, especially bright for then smog-filled Los Angeles January, and warm, not resident warm but Boston and Muncie warm, sat like two seals sunning ourselves in the glow of mother ocean she nudged me and asked me if I had a joint. Now Angelica liked a little vino now and then but I can’t recall her ever doing a joint (grass, marijuana, herb, ganja, whatever you call it in your woods). So this is new. The problem, although not a big one in ocean-side state park 1970 Southern California, was that I was not “holding.” No problem though, a few spots down the beach was an old well-traveled, kind of beat-up Volkswagen van that I knew, knew just as sure as I was standing on that white sand beach, was “holding.” I went over, asked around, and “bingo” two nice big joints came traveling with me back to our campsite. Oh, daddy, daddy out in the be-bop blue-pink night thank you brother van man. For just a minute, just that 1970 California minute, the righteous did inherit the earth.

Back at our camp site Angelica awaited the outcome of my quest, although she also wanted to wait until later, until the day’s sun started going down a bit more to go into that smoked-filled good night. When that later came Angelica was scared/ thrilled, as she tried to smoke the one I lit up for her and started coughing like crazy, but that was nothing then. Everybody, at least everybody I knew, went through that same baptism. But Jesus, did we get mellow, that stuff, as was most stuff then, was primo, not your ragweed bull stuff that ran the rounds later. And why should it have not been so as we were so close to the then sane Mexican border of those days to get the good stuff.

But all of this build-up over this dope scene is so much filler, filler in those days when if you didn’t at least take a pipe full (inhale or not, like it or not) you were a square “squared.” What the stuff did for Angelica, and through Angelica to me, got her to open up a little. No, not about family, or old boyfriends, or her this and that problems. No, but kind of deep, kind of deep somewhere that she maybe didn’t know existed. Deep as I had ever heard her before. She talked about her fate, the fate of the fates, about what was going on in the world, no, not politics; she was organically incapable of that. Mystics stuff, getting in touch with the sea homeland stuff, earth mother stuff too in a way. Dope-edged stuff sure but when she compared the splashing foam-flecked waves to some cosmic force that I forget how she put it (remember I was dope-addled as well) then for just that moment, just that moment when the old red-balled sun started to dip to the horizon on one of those fairly rare days when it met the ocean I swear that Angelica knew, knew in her heart, knew in her soul even, what the blue-pink American West dream stuff I had bombarded her with was all about. That was our moment, and we both knew it.

So when leaving came a couple of days later and we both knew, I think, as we packed up her things, including that well-used sleeping bag, we had come to a parting of the roads. As I put her stuff in the rental car she sweetly blurted out something I was also thinking, “I’ll always remember that night we made the earth under the cabin in Steubenville shake.” And I thought I bet she will, although she forgot the part about the making the roof of the cabin move too. And so there I was, waving as she drove off to her Angelica dreams. And I never saw her again.

Postscript: That last statement about never seeing her again is not exactly true. I have, at least up until a few years ago, and you have probably too, seen her in films and magazines. I don’t know all the later details, because I eventually lost contact with John and Mattie after they went to Mexico and got caught up, got badly caught up in, the small-time end of the international drug trade of the time, but Angelica eventually moved out to California with her boyfriend, and connected with David, the film-maker I mentioned before. And it seems I am a prophet for the still and moving cameras caught that look, that look I sensed when I first met Angelica because she went on to have a successful small-part movie and commercial-making career. She was not the in-your-face-beautiful leading lady in the films but the who-was-that-other-good-looking-ah-fetching actress who you started thinking about later and really set your soul ablaze. The one that would, if you knew her, set your silly, twisted philosophical head straight after about two minutes with her. Or, if in a commercial, her look told you that, yes, maybe I had better buy about a dozen of those widgets she is selling although what on earth I will do with them is beyond me. Ya that look, that Muncie fresh, guileless look. I hope, hope to high heaven, that she got her version of the blue-pink night as well.

Scene Eleven: The High White Note-2007

The High White Note, The High White Western Night and The High White Wave Merged

I am a driven man. I am a driven man, imprisoned, six by twelve room driven, but more by a mental six by twelve internal, eternal, infernal almost paternal quest, and that is the only word that fits for the elusive high white note, or the high white something, that I have spent a lifetime searching for. Certainly as long as that other search, that more physical search for the blue-pink great American West that disturbed my youth, and beyond, and pushed me through many a long, lonesome highway hitchhike mile. But you know that story already now that you have read the previous scenes.

This one is more elusive, although I have caught a whisper of it here and there along the way. Now it looks like I’m stuck with it to the end. Here I sit in late 2007, in any case, quarantined, in desolate, high, hard wind-swept, sunless-sea-ed, busted sand-duned, green sea-grass-blown, icy white-capped waved, Atlantic–oceaned, ragged, rugged, jagged Maine-coasted shack of a room getting ready to search, and search hard this time, for that white devil of a thing that keeps disturbing my rest.

I will put up with an ill-lit stove, half broken from generations of use by others, passing strangers, maybe seeking their own high white notes, or high white something. Or, maybe, just passing sweaty, drunken nights in some foredoomed attempt to avoid oblivion. I will, moreover, put up with that high-pitched, annoying, buzzing refrigerator in back of me that means, at least, a touch of civilization. And the bubbly, perking, hard-hearted coffee-making machine, chipped plates, moldy-cushioned sofa, and this stuffy-aired place in order to make sense of what drove me here once again to place my shoulder against the wind, the whistling wind that signals that it is time to take note, and to seriously take note, of the demands of the quest.

And I came here for a purpose, always a purpose, to leave home and sweet-loved, sweet love. And to get away to clean a man’s mind from the humdrum, fairwayed, fresh-ponded, sun-walked, run-runned, walk-runned, city-maddened depths. Also while we are on the subject from the technological-driven, cell-phoned, personal computer-strapped like some third hand or second-brained, four-walled nightmare. Nightmare-evading Maine fits the bill, although truth to tell Maine figures, Maine always figures in the white note fight, although it is hardly the only place.

Hey, wait a minute, I can almost read your thoughts about my thoughts right now. It goes something like this- here he goes again, you say, on some incensed holy grail trip of the mind, or maybe he is for real, real time, real places but still a trip that would embarrass and shame any self-respecting errant knight of yore, searching for that perfect fair damsel in distress to bring home, or more likely, to carry off, kicking and screaming, to some cozy, stone-faced, thatched-roofed, smoke-filled, forested cottage for two. Or of old mad, maddened, maddening Captain Ahab and his foolish fish, or whatever woe begotten thing that he was really looking for in the Melville deep. Or, maybe, some fiendish, freakish, madman pioneer monkishly doing his own shouldering against the storms, against the snowstorms, against the storms of life of the white-peaked Western trek nights. Ah, the blue-pink Western sky. I wish you well pioneer brother, wherever you landed.

No it is not like that at all. This is not some half-baked, half-bright, half-thought out, interior dialogue that I usually get myself tangled up into. Tangled so bad I have to break it up for a while. No, none of that this time. No intellectual gymnastics, no mental tepidity, no squarey circles or circley squares. No this is purely, or almost purely, a memory trip and that seems about right, you know, if you really want to know it has been painful at times, but no way, no way at all, that it is one of those ill-digested whims that you are thinking of. No way.

And, besides, I have the many pairs of worn out, worn-soled, worn-heeled, down at the heel shoe leather (now thick-soled, thick-heeled, logo-addled running sneakers); worn-thumbed, back-pack-ladened, some forgotten town destination sign waving, hitch-hiked mile (that means bumming free rides on the road, the wide American highway, for those too young, or too proper to the know the long gone, way long gone, exotic word that sustained many a hobo, tramp or bum in his (or her) search for the Great American night) through every nowhere, no-name, no wanna know the name, bus-depoted, stranger-unfriendly town from here to Mendocino. Moreover, here I have marks, and here you can call it intellectual or spiritual or whatever, from every diesel-trailed, oil-slicked, mud-flatted, white-lined, white-broken-lined, two-laned, no passing , hard-bitten, steam-fooded truck stop from here to Frisco as well. So don’t tell me I haven’t paid my dues.

Or it could have been some smoke-filled, nicotine-plastered walls in some long defunct coffee house (when smoking was de rigueur), or some gin-sweated, smoke-fogged Cambridge bar (in the days when smoking was allowed), listening to some local group trying to make it out of town, one way or another. Or it could have been being chained-smoked cigarette (ditto above) writing like crazy, every soul thing, every non-soul thing, every anti-soul thing after passing on the last call train out to the sticks at that old reliable, don’t have the eggs scrambled, Hayes-Bickford where we all believed that if you just spent enough nights, enough hot, heavy-aired July nights, or enough snow-bound, frost-bitten January nights (this before Super Bowl suspense filled in January) maybe something major would come out, and maybe fame, big fame too, fame etched by the gods.

Hey did I tell you how I got here, got here this time that is? Did I forget that in my frenzy to tell you what is? Ya, I guess I did reading back. Let me tell you of my dreams, or at least the story of my dreams to make it right, okay? One recent, sweat- drenched night I woke up, or was I woken up by one of the cats, in a start. I had a weird old dream, or maybe just a flash of a dream where I saw, in living, livid color a big old beautiful high white note floating, free and easy, as you might guess on a very stormy high white wave. After than flash, if that is what it was, I could not get back to sleep and lay there, soaking a little and trying to soak off that soaking with an old bedraggled railroad man’s roaring red handkerchief, or that is at least what I call them since I first saw a railroad guy walking down the line when I was a kid, carrying one in the left back pocket of his dirt-stained denims as he uncoupled one train from another, maybe sending it into the great western night.

But I will get into that great Western night, or what I think is my idea of the great Western night later on once I figure out the meaning of this dream. Hey, it is really bothering me, and it should because, lately, I have been thinking and thinking hard about that very subject. No, it did not just come out of the blue, come on now, you guys know better than that. Ain’t you read Freud, or his acolytes or renegades, these things all have secret meanings of their own. But no surprise if you think about it. I have been thinking about the high white note for a while, ever since I read poor old, black, gay, exiled against his will, writer James Baldwin and his infernal short story, Sonny’s Blues.

You know I really should make you read the whole thing, that whole short story, and then you could come back and get an idea about my dream, or the thought of what my dream was all about. And then the great Western trek in the night, hell in the day time even, would make a great deal more sense. But I am going to let you off the hook this time and just tell you that old “Sonny” is a story about brothers, and I have been thinking about that too lately, although not in the friendly, gee I should get back in touch with my own brother sense, but about brothers who drifted back and forth in each others lives until one day the reality set in hard and hard was that Sonny, a high white note-seeking jazz pianist really got high on the white note. Busted, busted hard, busted back to clean but busted and his brother, would you know that it was his big brother, had to help him put back the pieces, even though the pieces were what made Sonny interesting and alive. That's me, living on old sweet, sweet dream of that white note, and Angelica-ish-driven memories of that old time blue-pink night before I go.

Scene Twelve-Postscript- The Torch Is Passed?- February 2011
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact of the California night calling after too long an absence, the California be-bop late 1960s night, the eternal California be-bop night after years of Maine solitude, of Maine grey-blue-white washed, white-crested, white-capped, foam-flecked Atlantic ocean-flotsam and jetsam strewn waters. After all no all oceans are created the same, not all oceans speak to one in the same way, although they are all old Father Neptune’s thoughtful playgrounds. California’s, yes, white-washed, yes, white-crested, yes, white-capped, yes, foam-flecked speak to gentle, warm lapis lazuli blue wealth dreams of the quest, the long buried life long quest for the great blue-pink great American West night, blue-pinked skies of course. Yes maybe it was just that sheer hard fact that pushed me out of Eastern white, white to hate the sight of white, snowed-in doors, Eastern gale winds blowing a man against the sand-pebbled seas, and into the endless starless night. Yes, maybe just a change of color, or to color, from the white white whiteness of the sea walk white-etched night. Right down to the shoreline white.

Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact of preparing, against the timetable of that Eastern white night, this and that for the winter California day, and night, the ocean California that set the thoughts of the be-bop night, and the quest for the blue-pink skies humming once again in the, admittedly, older-boned voyager, voyeur of dreamed once sultry, steamy nights. A different proposition, a different proposition, on most days, from preparing to face fierce Maine winter mornings, unaided by the graces and forms nature provides its hardier creations. No thoughts today of heavy woolen coats, double-stitched, double-plied, doubled-vested, old nor’ easter worthy, or heavy woolen pants, same chino pants of youth, same black chino pants, no cuffs, except winter weight, not the always summer weight on no knowledge youth, or heavy boots, heavy clunky rubberish boots mocking against the snow-felt, ocean-edged soft sand streets, or maybe, more in tune with aged-bone recipes heavy-soled, heavy-rubber soled (or was it rubber souled) running shoes (also known in the wide world of youth as sneakers, better Chuck’s). Of scarves, and caps, full-bodied caps, better seaman’s caps, heavy, wool, dark blue, built to stand against the ocean-stormed waves crashing and thrashing against ships hulls, and gloves, gloves to keep your hands from frosty immobility I need not speak. Or will not speak.

No, today we think of great controversies of age, well, mini-controversies anyway, between hi-tech-derived aero-flow, toe-fitted, sheer meshed sneakers, or just old-fashioned, Velcro-snapped criss-cross leather sandals, toe-dangling in the sand streets ready. Or between jungle-fitted, twelve-pocketed (or so it seems), straight from the Ernest Hemingway African safari night ( so it seems, again) else, maybe, out of mad man gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson in full loathing regalia, or Reebok, Nike, Adidas, New Balance free-for-all athletic shorts. Or between hearty windbreakers, fit for eastern gales and western el ninos, versus light denim, light blue, tight fit, well, maybe tight fit, be young Marlon Brando or James Dean-worthy in some motorcycle hidden fantasy, jackets. All decisions, all timed but irrevocable once inside the airport terminal, and its maze, no beyond maze, beyond rate maze, of security and scrutiny.

Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact of just that airport invasion, the hard fact of the post-9/11 travel world. The running the gauntlet of checkpoints, charts, human body scanning screens, magic forgery detecting pens, bells, whistles, and surly, or maybe better, indifferent, human scanners, human searchers, human checkers. The piles of thrown away, seemingly harmless, harmless to these eyes, water bottles, pure-springed water bottles (Evian, Poland Springs, Belmont Springs, home-filled reusable, filtered tap water L.L. Bean bottles, whatever) which now are deadly weapons, or could be, are a twisted metaphor for the scene. All in order to get from point A (east coast angry ocean waters) to point B (west coast, or hipper, at least used to be hipper, left coast gentle, spa-like, or faux spa waters) in less than six hours. No more of timeless trips, or at least of months long trips, aimless but aim-full in their purposeful search. No more of Boston to Angelica Steubenville to roots Prestonsburg to Lexington (Kentucky that is, not revolutionary battlefield Lexington, not that trip anyway). No more Moline meltdowns and Neola corn field nights and Aunt Betty lazy, crazy, hazy suppers or solidarity rides to the desert Native American ghost sky night, drums beating back to primal times, and then over the last mountains down into California blue-pink haze. No, six hours, no more, or else breakdown against those bone-aged facts, and bone-aged stiffness rebellions. Or worst surrender to the think better, or at least twice, of such a trip gods, Egad has it come to that.

Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact of riding a rental car, a rental car, my god, a mid-sized, almost brand new, gadget-filled lights, horns, windshield wipers all controlled, whiplash computer-controlled, at the touch power steering. And I like a kid, a dumb, no California hot-rod head under the hood kid with car-ness in the very blood, but more of a youth spent no car, not dough for a car, miles walked, sneaker miles walked, kid, scratching my head to figure out what goes where and screaming onto that good night about how the hell have we come to such a complicated place where it requires seven degrees in astro-physics, at least, to get the damn thing started. No more of drowsy early morning truck stop diner pick-ups by benny-high, reds-low, mortgaged to the teeth zen truck-driving road masters carrying freights from here to there (I would say from point A to point B but that is used up already). No more of psychedelic- painted, further night, magical tour buses, old time yellow brick road school buses converted to living, breathing space on the endless hippie hitchhike 1960s road. No more even of old country hay wagons named, or misnamed, trucks picking up likely farm hands, penny-poor likely farm hands, to work for a few days before moving on. No more of that, indeed.

Maybe, and here we are reaching some home truths, it was the sheer, hard fact of seeing the azul ocean sea coming over the horizon at Laguna Hills or one of those endless, one-name-fits-all or should fit all Southern California beach towns filled with the mandatory fake, yes, fake Spanish décor. Of the ticky-tack rows (thanks Malvina Reynolds via Pete Seeger) of “Spanish” houses, oh, I mean, estates, where I see kids, kids no different than I was just waiting for the jail-break event of their generation, if it comes, and if they want long enough but not too long. Of the million and one surf shops for the youngsters to wax and wane on seeking of their own blue-pink nights (or days, more likely), the endless quest for the perfect wave. Of the strip mall rows of fast food eateries, fast clothes chanceries (swim suits a specialty), of sun-free indoor tanning against the rages of father sun. Of the quaint (nice word, right?), yes, quaint lobster dinner (lobster flown in from, from, ah, Maine), California fresh fish of the day, freshly caught, beach view restaurants or other finery, and of cruising (no, not that cruising) pedestrians of all sizes and shapes. Shapes including show-off lovely formed younger girls, ah, women, maybe a young Angelica waiting to splash her first splash in mother Pacific, peaceful mother pacific. And all races and languages and ethnicities trying to figure out the lure of the heathered (almost like Scotland, Scotland of no burr) coastal shore to the Okies, Arkies and Texies, who descended here a couple of generations ago, planted roots, their migratory roots, not Eastern forever and a day roots, and never left. But still the gnawing question, the question of questions-where to go west from here. Not back to the okie dust bowl, that is for sure, not for those now corn-fed, yellow-haired (maybe genetically yellow from that corn) beauties of both sexes who are tied to the sea, to the endless quest for the perfect wave sea, even though from the look of them if I posed the question that way, that perfect wave search way, I would shunted away screaming in that previously mentioned good night.

Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact of walking ancient shoreline walks, soft sand kicking, shodless feet kicking, tracing new written configurations to ancient gods in the previously clean-slated sand surface, occasionally pebble-dotted, seashell-scattered, as the ocean screams for quiet from those walking in its space and pleads, like some latter day librarian, not to disturb others. Of thoughts of ancient sorrows, and ancient laughters. Remembrances of Angelica first time ocean splashes, of riptide saves, of hero’s rewards for heroic saves, rewards better left to the imagination, ancient imagination. Of scaled seawalls that hold back tide, time and the brick-a-brack whims of fickle man, of humankind. Of squirrels, everlasting, ever-present seashore-loving burrowing squirrels filching, filching and begging, begging for human food against all good nature’s wisdom. And getting it. The food that is. Of ocean side night campfires to protect against the force of the ocean chill, of ocean shadows, and of ocean smokes, thinking back to the days when cigarette smokes filled many pubic spaces. But better smells now of mesquite wood smells, of charcoals broils smells, of sea-drug up woods smoothed from ocean pounds smells. Of high ganja smells, of pellets and pills to ward off the ocean calls to the endless sleep, of the return to the homeland, of the homeland seas. And of skies of daytime blue, blue, blue enough to make a pair of pants out of, cloudless in afternoon after fogged-down mornings. Ah, but you what’s coming, what the whole shore line walk means. Yes, the night, no, not the night night, the dark, starless night of the poet’s lament, of ancient times wonder, and of modern no night human-crafted light beams breaking the will of the dark night. No, not that night but rather the earlier part, the part after the sun goes on its business below the horizon and leaves as a reminder the blue-pink night hanging over the ocean, tourist taking pictures, taking camera, digital camera pictures today, instant, mainly, but, hell who need such tacky reminders when the mind’s eye reeks of blue-pink memory, ancient blue-pink memories.

Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact of leaving, of returning east fast, faster as it turns out that heading west, west to the blue-pink night, to the be-bop night. I will not speak of that airport maze, rat-like or not, again it does not vary on the way back any more than going to. Now I speak of those haunts, those dreaded ancient haunts of having to return to eastern concerns, eastern worries, eastern woes, and a feeling, an old feeling an old Joyel-time feeling of having to go back to routines, not the regular routines that make life bearable but the routines of routines that drive one out on the midnight run to wherever, whenever. And to see, although see only in a flash, the contours of the American night, of the sense of the American landscape, of roads and rivers it took months for ancient pioneer Conestoga wagons to traverse, and weeks for ancient hitchhike roads to swallow.
All blaze past in a flash, all lighted strange patterns civilization.

Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact of grabbing a midnight-like cab for the ride home, eastern home, eastern snow-drenched home that had not changed in sight but changed from still present blue-pink memories as always, from leaving but still necessary to face. On such cab rides, such youthfully scorned cab rides, and truth be known youthfully unaffordable rides, I now take when language is no barrier to asking for cabbie stories (although many times such is a problem as this is now a profession, a city profession, by recent immigrants, dominated, seemingly oxymoronic, since how would such fellows know the ancient trails of the east, at least in pre-techno- GPS days) in the hopes of finding some gem story to feed the literary lights, not blue-pink lights by any means, just fill-in road stories. And this night, this night when thoughts have been whirling for weeks about ancient things, ancient things described above, I find a kindred. Cabbie X, ancient cabbie X, fires back in full-bodied, “I don’t have any cabbie stories to tell, but I have some hitchhike stories.” Hell, hell on wheels, be still my heart, tell, brother, tell kindred tell all, and drive slow, stop at every traffic light slow, I have dough in my pocket and a hunger, an unspeakable, unquenchable just now hunger, to hear your tales, your ancient 1960s hitchhike road tales. Tales about his road from Missoula, Montana to New Haven, Connecticut. (Yes, avoid hitching on those Connecticut roads, and Arizona’s too. Agreed). Of Truckee truck stops. Of truck stop road side diners, and endless cups of coffee, and badgering truckers for long-haul rides. Of hard driving, get to the coast, benny-high truckers seeking to spill their guts to some lone stranger in order to keep awake and pass the hard highway mile. Of Pacific Coast highways brimming with converted magical mystery tour school buses, converted to living housing for the broken-hearted, the love-lorn, the be-bop nighters. Ah, memory. “Hey, you almost didn’t stop at that last traffic light, brother.”

More, more please. Of Nevada desert stops, waiting by lonely crossroads for hours, reading scrawled signs from ancient forbears, maybe those very Conestoga folk, warning that one may wait for a ride to perdition there. Of dope smoke, of friendships, many fleeting, but a feel for that good moment. And at the close of that cabbie night a thought , a cabbie thought- we made it, we were better for it, and we can survive in this old world because we made that venture. No need to speak of the blue-pink night to this brother, such words would be wasted. This is that now dwindling fraternity that sought, maybe still seeks that good night, and that is all that needs to be said. A revolutionary brotherhood handshake, a handshake too hard to describe here but fraught with meaning back in those days, at my door seals our night’s work. Yes, memory almost like a yesterday memory, finely-etched in our collective minds, recallable at an instant.

Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact of carrying around , winter long, winter, snow-blasted long, a song/story in my head, a story recorded by Red Sovine and which I heard by way of the inscrutable Tom Waits, Big Joe and Phantom 309. A story of a fellow hitchhike roader caught out in one of those lonely crossroads to nowhere that every seeker knows about, although they are not always windswept and rain-drenched. Sometimes they are snow-frozen, sometimes, heat-drowned, sometimes, not enough times, just plain, ordinary sunny-dayed. Out of the mist comes the mythical trucker, Big Joe will serve as well any other name, although when I think trucker I always think Denver Slim as he was neither slim (far from it) nor from Denver, and that tells a tale right there. So they ride the night away telling lies and other stories until they come near a truck stop and Big Joe freaks, and the hitchhiker is left, after Big Joe pitches him a dime, to go in for a cup of coffee on Big Joe. Said hitchhiker goes in and tells his story of the ride and with whom and gets the lowdown from a waiter. See Big Joe died, truck-faithful, Phantom 309 faithful died, when he avoided a school bus filled with kids out on that lonely pick-up crossroad. But see Big Joe did another favor, a hitchhike brotherhood favor as the waiter says “have another cup of coffee and keep the dime, keep the dime as a souvenir of Big Joe and Phantom 309.” Great story and I have my own just like it, and Brother Cabbie X had his own, and every man and woman who ever hit the road, by force or desire, has that same story just mix it up a little.

Maybe it was just the sheer, hard fact of listening, listening attentively, listening eagerly on the rented car California roads to old road warrior, Wobblie, kindred of tramps, bums, and hoboes of an earlier age, an age which intersected with the hippie hitchhike road of the 1960s, the late folksinger/songwriter Bruce “Utah” Phillips and his definite Songbook. Listening to old songs of struggle from prairie days, of hobo jungles by the railroad tracks (not today’s high speed ones, no way), and train-jumpers (a different breed that we highway hitchhikers but still searchers. I never had much luck on the trains, and got tossed off a few by the railroad bulls, so I will leave that mode of transportation alone), skid row nights, sidewalk sneers, and destruction of the western hobo night by gentrification. Of paperless street benches, of paper-filled bus depot benches, of public bathroom stenches, of half-way house snores and hostels bland food that dotted the old transient landscape, and have seemingly faded from memory, except on twilight California streets as the homeless hoboes make way to the beach and night time sleeps, sleep it offs, mainly.

Ya, maybe it was all those sheer, hard facts, collectively or individually, that brought me back to memories of the ancient hitchhike road, especially that brother cabbie scene but, finally, here is the real reason. Let me go back to those California roads for a minute, no, not the Pacific Coast highway freedom road (Routes 1 and 101) but the high volume, hard-driving, eighty billion-laned (okay, I exaggerate) Interstate 5 that, one way or another, goes up and down the length of the state. Actually let me go back to the one of the entrances, one of the Oceanside entrances, where beyond belief I spy two youths, a male and female, two youthful Markins and Angelicas maybe, standing on the corner, waiting, waiting for a what. A hitchhike ride of course. In the second it took me to realize that this is what they were doing (they held out no thumb, nor had a sign indicating where they were heading, obviously “green” at this work) and slammed on the brakes I was beside them. “Where are you heading?” asks ancient seeker narrator of this tale. “L.A.,” they shoot back. “Get in.” And they do, the guy (Brandon) in the front and the gal (Lillian) in back. At least they have enough sense to make that configuration, that pair male –female configuration, like we did in the old days just in case things got weird. And I had no intention, no intention in hell, of going back to L.A. that day, except one million questions about their purpose, their reasons for being on the road, and ancient courtesies that dictated that I pick up hitchhikers, a rare, incredibly rare occurrence these days. I will let them tell their stories some other time because this after all is my story but their quest, in any case, involves nothing as grandiose as the search for the blue-pink night although it involved Generation X dreams, and that will have to do.

So the torch is passed, maybe…

Or maybe it is the sheer, hard fact of that knapsack, old Army surplus olive green knapsack, moth-eaten, maybe, moldy, well hitchhike-traveled, well-worn, a lasting memento to that 1969 Angelica-paired road trip sitting in some back closet, up in the attic, or worst, down in the forlorn cellar crying to get out, or maybe some old sea shell of infamous origin also back there calling me back, back to our homeland the road, and the eternal, now I know it is eternal, search for that blue-pink great American West night.