Friday, July 31, 2015

From The A Dimmed Elegy For The Late Peter Paul Markin Series- Tell Me Utah Phillips Have You Seen “Starlight On The Rails?”



A New Introduction From The Pen Of Sam Lowell


A while back, a few months ago although the project had been percolating in his brain for the previous year or so after an incident reminded him how much he missed his old corner boy from the 1960s North Adamsville night, the late Peter Paul Markin, Bart Webber wrote up what he called, and rightly so I think, an elegy for him, A Dimmed Elegy For The Late Peter Paul Markin. That reminder had been triggered one night the year before when Bart took the visiting grandchildren of his son Lenny who now lived in New Haven, Connecticut and worked at Yale to Salducci’s ’ Pizza Parlor “up the Downs” in North Adamsville for some pizza and soda (that “up the Downs” not some quirky thing Bart made up but the actual name of the shopping area known by  that name to one and all not far from the high school although nobody ever knew exactly how it got that moniker). Of course that Salducci’s Pizza Parlor had been the local corner boy hang-out for Bart, Frankie Riley, Jimmy Jenkins, Johnny Callahan, Fran Rizzo, Markin, me and a roving cast of sometime corner boys depending on who we picked up (or who had ditched or been ditched by some faithless girl and thus had time to hang rather than spent endless hours prepping for dates, or going through “the work-out” down at Adamsville Beach in some car) before Tonio who treated Frankie Riley like a son sold the place to moved back to Italy and the new owners did not see “no account” (their description) corner boys as an asset to their family-friendly pizza dreams. The corner boys subsequently “hung” at Jack Slack’s bowling alleys, the ones on Thornton Street near the beach not the ones in Adamsville Center which was strictly for people who actually bowled, liked to anyway although that latter information is strictly on the side since what got Bart Webber in a lather was from Salducci times.

Although Bart had not been in the place in years and it had changed hands several times since Tonio ran the place back in the early 1960 the décor, the pizza processing area complete with what looked like the same pizza ovens and most importantly the jukebox, the jukebox, man, were still intact (that jukebox selections composed of many “oldies but goodies” from that time not found on nostalgia compilations for the local clientele who bring their kids and grandkids in for pizza and soda, what else, although not three for a quarter like in the old days but a quarter a pop). That night a young guy, a high school kid really, was sitting with three guys and a couple of girls all also with the look of high school about them, was if not loudly then animatedly talking a mile a minute complete with about one thousand arcane facts to back him up about “a new breeze coming through the land,” about how he, they were going to save the planet, stop the wars, make the world a decent place to live in by people like him, them who had not made the mess but who had a chance now to clean things up (he, the kid didn’t say that “new breeze” thing but that is what he meant, meant in all sincerity). Like Markin he went on for the time that Bart and his grand-kids entered until they left (and he still might be taking if he was really the ghost of Markin). And of course that talk, that mile a minute talk complete with those ersatz facts reminded Bart of the night (make that nights) when Markin held forth about the “new breeze coming” (his actual term) based on the iceberg tip of events like the fight for nuclear disarmament, the fight for black civil rights down south, the fight against the big bad brewing war happening in Southeast Asia, and the first trappings of the counter-culture with the shift-up in music to a disbelieving group of fellow corner boys who were just trying finish high school without winding up in jail for the midnight capers they pulled off to keep themselves in dough(engineered by that same Markin and pulled off by Frankie Riley’s magic). Yeah, so as the kids today say Bart was “stoked” to do something to bring back Markin’s memory, warts and all.                 

Bart had thereafter approached me about doing the chore, about writing some big book memory thing  since we now live in the same town, the same suburban town which represents a small step up from our growing up in strictly working-class North Adamsville (and still is), Carver about thirty miles south of that town (and a town which had its own working-class history with its seasonal “boggers” who worked the cranberry bogs which originally made the town famous but is now a bedroom community for the high-tech firms on U.S. 495). Bart figured that since he had retired from the day to day operations of his print shop which was now being run by his oldest son, Jeff, and I was winding down my part in the law practice I had established long ago I would have plenty of time to write and he to “edit” and give suggestions. He said he was not a writer although he had plenty of ideas to contribute but that I who had spent a life-time writing as part of my job would have an easy time of it. Bart under the illusion that writing dry as dust legal briefs for some equally dry as dust judge to read is the same as nailing down a righteous piece about an old time corner boy mad man relic of a by-gone era, with his mad talk, his mad dreams, his mad visions, who was as crooked as they come, who was as righteously for the “little guy” as a man could be, who had some Zen under the gun magic which made our nights easier and who I would not trust (and did not have to trust since we had the truly larcenous Frankie Riley to lead the way) to open a door sainted bastard. I turned him down flat which I will explain in a moment.

The way Bart presented that proposal deserves a little mention since he made the case one night when the remnant of Markin’s old comrades still alive and who still reside in the area, Frankie, Josh, Jack Callahan, Jimmy Jenkins, Bart and me were drinking now affordable high-shelf liquors at “Jack’s” in Cambridge near where Jimmy lives (that high-shelf liquor distinction important for old corner boys who survived and moved upa peg in the world who drank cheap Southern Comfort by the fistful pints and later rotgut maybe just processed whiskies from the very low-shelves). During the conversation, not for the first time, Bart mentioned that he was still haunted by the thought  he had had a few years before about the time that Markin had us in thrall one night out in Joshua Tree in 1972 when we were all high as kites on various drugs of choices and he, Markin, at first alone, and then with Josh began some strange Apache-like dance and they began to feel (at least according to Josh’s recollection) like those ancient warriors who tried to avenge their loses when white settlers had come to take their lands and we all for one moment that long ago night were able to sense what it was like to be warrior-avengers, righters of the world’s wrongs that Markin was always harping on. Markin had that effect on the rest of us, was always tweaking us on some idea from small scale larcenies to drug-induced flame-outs. Yeah, that miserable, beautiful, so crooked he could not get his legs in his pants, son of a bitch, sainted bastard still is missed, still has guys from the old days moaning to high heaven about that lost. Bart insisted there was a story there, a story if only for us and someone (all eyes on me) should write it up.             

I can say all of that and say at the same time that I can say I couldn’t write the piece. See while at times Markin was like a brother to me and we treated each other as such he also could have his “pure evil” moments which the other corner boys either didn’t see, or didn’t want to see. These may be small things now on reflection but he was the guy who almost got me locked up one night, one summer night in 1966 before our senior year when Frankie who usually was the “on-site” manager of our small larcenies was out of town with his girlfriend. Markin figured since he was the “brains” behind the various capers that he could do one on his own but he needed a look-out, me. The caper involved a small heist of a home in the Mayfair swells part of North Adamsville whose owners were “summering” somewhere in the Caribbean. Markin had “cased” or thought he had cased the place fully except he didn’t factor in that the owners had a house-sitter during that time, some college girl doing the task for a place to stay near Boston that summer from what we figured later. Markin startled her as he entered a side door, she screamed, Markin panicked, as she headed for the telephone to call the police and he fled out the door. But see Markin came running out that door toward me just when the cops were coming down the street in their squad car directly toward us where we met up. They stopped us, told to get in the car and headed back to that Mayfair house. As it turned out the house-sitter couldn’t identify either of us, couldn’t identify Markin and the cops had to let us go. No question Markin panicked and no question he made a serious mistake by heading my way knowing what he knew had happened with the sitter and her response to the invasion. I had, and have always had, the sneaking suspicion that he might have rolled me over as the B&E guy if it had been possible. I have a few other stories like that as well but that gives you a better insight into what Markin could turn into when cornered.

A couple of other incidents involved women, one my sister, the other an old flame or rather someone I wanted to be my flame. One of the reasons that I, unlike Markin who did serve in Vietnam which I think kind of turned him over the edge to the “dark side” once his dream about a “newer world” as he called it started to evaporate in the early 1970s, did not do military duty since I was the sole support, working almost full time after school during high school, of my mother and four very younger sisters after my old-fashioned Irish drunken half-dead-beat father died of a massive heart attack in 1965. My oldest sister, Clara, only thirteen at the time while we were in high school, was smitten by Markin from early on and I could see that he was willing to take advantage of her naiveté as well although I warned him off more than once. Now I could never prove it, and Clara would not say word one about it to me, but I believe he took her virginity from her. I do know during that period I found a carton of Trojans, you know “rubbers,” in her bureau drawer when I was looking for something I thought she had of mine and she was not around to ask. I didn’t confront him directly since among corner boys such things would have been “square” to discuss even about sisters but I continued to keep warning him off like I didn’t know anything had happened and before long I saw Clara had taken up with a boy her own age so I let it drop.

Clara, now a professor at a New York college and with a great husband and three great kids, a bright young woman with great promise even then except around Markin who had some spell on her, had that spell on her even later when she had a boyfriend her own age and would come into Salducci’s trying to make him jealous from the way she acted, cried to high heaven when I told her the news of his fate. Although I left out the more gruesome parts about the where and how   of his demise since I knew that would upset her more. Even recently after all these years when I told her of Bart’s piece she welled up.  I tried to ask her exactly what hold he had over her after all these years just to see if there was something I had missed about my own feelings about the man after all these years but all she said was that he was her “first love” and more cryptically that he was the first male whom she would have been willing to abandon everything for at the time, including her reputation as a good Catholic girl with the novena book in one hand and rosary beads in the other the way we put such things back then. Clara too said too something about those two million facts he had stored in his head and how he swooped her up with them, that and the look in his fierce blue eyes when he was spouting forth. Jesus, that bastard Markin had something going, some monstrous Zen-like hold when his contemporaries are still moaning to high heaven of him, moaning over something good he represented in his sunnier days when he carried us over more than a few rough spots)    

The flame thing involved Laura Perkins who I was “hot” for from the ninth grade on and who I had several dates with in the tenth grade and it looked like things were going well when she threw me over for Markin. Now that situation has happened eight million times in life but corner boys were supposed to keep “hands off” of other corner boys’ girls although I was not naïve enough to believe that was honored more in the breech than the observance having done a couple of end-around maneuvers myself but this Laura thing strained our relationship for a while. Here is the funny part though after a few weeks she threw Markin over for the captain of the football team (she was a cheerleader as well as bright student, school newspaper writer, on the dance committee and a bunch of other resume-building things) who we all hated. Funnier still at our fortieth reunion a few years back Laura and I got back together (after her two marriages and my two marriages had flamed out something we laughed about at the time of the reunion) and we have been an “item” ever since. But you can see where I would, unlike say Bart, have a hard time not letting those things I just mentioned get in my way of writing something objective about that bastard saint.                   

So Bart wrote the piece himself, wrote the “dimmed” elegy (the “dimmed” being something I suggested as part of the title) and did a great job for a guy who said he couldn’t write. Frankly any other kind of elegy but dimmed would fail to truly honor that bastard saint madman who kept us going in that big night called the early 1960s and drove us mad at the same time with his larcenous schemes and over-the-top half-baked brain storm ideas and endless recital of the eight billion facts he kept in his twisted brain (estimates vary on the exact number but I am using the big bang number to cover my ass, as he would). I need not go into all of the particulars of Bart’s piece except to say that the consensus among the still surviving corner boys was that Bart was spot on, caught all of Markin’s terrible contradictions pretty well. Contradiction that led him from the bright but brittle star of the Jack Slack’s bowling alleys corner boy back then to a bad end, a mucho mal end murdered down in Sonora, Mexico in 1976 or 1977 when some drug deal (involving several kilos of cocaine) he was brokering to help feed what Josh said was a serious “nose candy” habit went sour for reasons despite some investigation by Frankie Riley, myself and a private detective Frankie hired were never made clear. The private detective, not some cinema Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, but a good investigator from his scanty report was warned off the trail by everybody from the do-nothing Federales to the U.S. State Department consular officer in Sonora, and warned off very indirectly both down there and in Boston not to pursue the thing further, the implication being or else. What was clear was that he was found face down on some dusty back road of that town with two slugs in his head and is buried in the town’s forlorn potter’s field in some unmarked grave. That is about all we know for sure about his fate and that is all that is needed to be mentioned here.

That foul end might have been the end of it, might have been the end of the small legend of Markin. Even he would in his candid moments accept that “small” designation. Yes, been the end of the legend except the moaning to high heaven every time his name comes up. Except this too. Part of Bart’s elegy referenced the fact that in Markin’s sunnier days before the nose candy got the best of him, brought out those formerly under control outrageous “wanting habits,” in the early 1970s when he was still holding onto that “newer world” dream that he (and many others, including me and Bart for varying periods) did a series of articles about the old days and his old corner boys in North Adamsville. Markin before we lost contact, or rather I lost contact with him since Josh Breslin his friend from Maine (and eventually our friend as well whom we consider an honorary Jack Slack’s corner boy) met out in San Francisco in the Summer of Love, 1967 knew his whereabouts outside of San Francisco in Daly City until about 1974 wrote some pretty good stuff, stuff up for awards, and short-listed for the Globe prize.

Pushed on by Bart’s desire to tell Markin’s story as best he could who must have been driven by some fierce ghost of Markin over his shoulder to do such yeoman’s work, he, Frankie (as you know our corner boy leader back then who had Markin as his scribe and who coined the moniker “the Scribe” for him that we used to bait or honor him depending on circumstances and now is a big time lawyer in Boston), Josh, and I agreed that a few of the articles were worth publishing if only for ourselves and the small circle of people whom Markin wrote for and about. (Markin’s oldest friend from back in third grade, Allan Johnson, who would have had plenty to say about the early days had passed away  after a long-term losing fight with cancer before this plan was hatched, RIP, brother.) So that is exactly what we did. We had a commemorative small book of articles and any old time photographs we could gather put together and had it printed up in the print shop that Bart’s oldest son, Jeff, is now running for him since his retirement from the day to day operations last year.

Since not all of us had everything that Markin wrote, as Bart said in his piece, what the hell they were newspaper or magazine articles to be used to wrap up the fish in or something after we were done reading them, we decided to print what was available. Bart was able to find copies of a bunch of sketches up in the attic of his parents’ home which he was cleaning up for them when they were putting their house up for sale since they were in the process of downsizing. Josh, apparently not using his copies for wrapping fish purposes, had plenty of the later magazine pieces. I had a few things, later things from when we went on the quest for the blue-pink Great American West hitchhike road night as Markin called it. Unfortunately, we could not find any copies of the long defunct East Bay Eye and so could not include anything from the important Going To The Jungle series about some of his fellow Vietnam veterans who could not adjust to the “real” world coming back from ‘Nam and wound up in the arroyos, canyons, railroad sidings and under the bridges of Southern California. He was their voice on that one then, if silent now when those aging vets desperately a voice.  So Markin can speak to us still. Yeah, like Bart said, that’s about right for that sorry ass blessed bastard saint with his eight billion words.  

Below is the short introduction that I wrote for that book which we all agreed should be put in here trying to put what Markin was about in content from a guy who knew him about as well as anybody from the old neighborhood, knew his dark side back like I mentioned  then and when that side came out later too:  

“The late Peter Paul Markin, also known as “the Scribe, ” so anointed by Frankie Riley the unchallenged self-designated king hell king of the schoolboy night among the corner boys who hung around the pizza parlors, pool halls, and bowling alleys of the town, in telling somebody else’s story in his own voice about life in the old days in the working class neighborhoods of North Adamsville where he grew up, or when others, threating murder and mayhem,  wanted him to tell their stories usually gave each and every one of that crew enough rope to hang themselves without additional comment. He would take down, just like he would do later with the hard-pressed Vietnam veterans trying to do the best they could out in the arroyos, crevices, railroad sidings and under the bridges when they couldn’t deal with the “real” world after Vietnam in the Going To The Jungle series that won a couple of awards and was short-listed for the Globe award, what they wanted the world to hear, spilled their guts out as he one time uncharitably termed their actions. Not the veterans, not his fellows who had their troubles down in L.A. and needed to righteously get it out and he was the conduit, their voice, but the zanies from our old town, and then lightly, very lightly if the guy was bigger, stronger than him, or in the case of girls if they were foxy, and mainly just clean up the language for a candid world to read.

Yeah Markin would bring out what they, we, couldn’t say, maybe didn’t want to say. That talent was what had made the stories he wrote about the now very old days growing up in North Adamsville in the 1960s when “the rose was on the bloom” as my fellow lawyer Frankie Riley used to say when Markin was ready to spout his stuff so interesting. Ready to make us laugh, cringe, get red in the face or head toward him to slap him down, to menace him, if he got too ungodly righteous. Here is the funny part though. In all the stories he mainly gave his “boys” the best of it. Yes, Bart is still belly-aching about a few slights, about his lack of social graces then that old Markin threw his way, and maybe he was a little off on the reasons why I gave up the hitchhike highway blue-pink Great American West night quest that he was pursuing (what he called sneeringly my getting “off the bus” which even he admitted was not for everyone) but mainly that crazy maniac with the heart of gold, the heart of lead, the heart that should have had a stake placed in its center long ago, that, ah, that’s enough I have said enough except I like Bart still miss and mourn the bastard.”

Here is a little sketch Markin did for The Green Journal that Josh Breslin had kept in his files and which when he went to write his own piece for, I think, Roving Eye magazine in the late 1970s about the ebbing of the great 1960s splash down “revolution” which had lost plenty of steam by then, almost to a vapor as people went back to “normalcy” he “stole” if not the words then the spirit of what Markin had written. Markin, and this may have helped do the bastard in held on to the dream of the 1960s,what he endlessly called the “new breeze coming throughout the land” when he was standing in front of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor haranguing a disbelieving audience of corner boys, us, in 1963,64 that the “newer world” was out there to be created. He had it right but it cost him, cost him more than the rest of us who became “believers” later but who were able to walk away in one piece. This piece, using one of his best friends from elementary school’s name as a stand-in, Billy Bradley, who had his own “wanting habit” problems later on and served a number of jail sentences before being gunned down by the cops in North Carolina in a shoot-out after robbing a White Hen variety store. Take the symbolism involved for what you think it is worth.       


Tell Me Utah Phillips Have You Seen “Starlight On The Rails?”


From The Pen Of The Late Peter Paul Markin  



(Bruce Phillips)


I can hear the whistle blowing

High and lonesome as can be

Outside the rain is softly falling

Tonight its falling just for me


Looking back along the road I've traveled

The miles can tell a million tales

Each year is like some rolling freight train

And cold as starlight on the rails


I think about a wife and family

My home and all the things it means

The black smoke trailing out behind me

Is like a string of broken dreams


A man who lives out on the highway

Is like a clock that can't tell time

A man who spends his life just rambling

Is like a song without a rhyme


Copyright Strike Music

@train @lonesome


“Hey, Boston Blarney, lend me a dollar so I can go into Gallup and get some Bull Durham and, and, a little something for the head,” yelled out San Antonio Slim over the din of the seemingly endless line of Southern Pacific freight trains running by just then, no more than a hundred yards from the arroyo “jungle” camp that Boston Blarney had stumbled into coming off the hitchhike highway, the Interstate 40 hitchhike highway, a few days before. Pretending that he could not hear over the din Boston Blarney feigned ignorance of the request and went about washing up the last of the dishes, really just tin pans to pile the food on, metal soup cans for washing it down, and “stolen” plastic utensils to put that food to mouth, stolen for those enthralled by the lore of the road, from the local McDonald’s hamburger joint. Like that corporation was going to put out an all- points bulletin for the thieves, although maybe they would if they knew it was headed to the confines of the local hobo jungle(bum, tramp, someone told him once of the hierarchical distinctions but they seemed to be distinctions without a difference when he heard them).


That washing up chore fell to Boston Blarney as the “new boy” in camp and before he had even gotten his bedroll off his sorely-tried back coming off that hard dust Interstate 40 hitchhike road, it was made abundantly clear by the lord of the manor, the mayor of the jungle, Juke Duke, that he was more than welcome to stay for a while, more than welcome to share a portion of the unnamable stew (unnamable, if for no other reason than there were so many unknown ingredients in the mix that to name it would require an Act of Congress, a regular hobo confab, to do so, so nameless it is), and more than welcome to spread his bedroll under the conforms of the jungle night sky but that he was now, officially, to hold the honorific; chief bottle washer, pearl-diver to the non-hobo brethren.


So Boston Blarney washes away, and stacks, haphazardly stacks as befits the ramshackle nature of the place, the makeshift dinnerware in a cardboard box to await the next meal as a now slightly perturbed Slim comes closer, along with his bindle buddy, Bender Ben, to repeat the request in that same loud voice, although the last Southern Pacific train is a mere echo in the distant darkening Western night and a regular voiced-request would have been enough, enough for Boston Blarney. This though is the minute that Boston Blarney has been dreading ever since he got into camp, the touch for dough minute. Now see Boston Blarney, hell, William Bradley, Billy Bradley to his friends, on the road, and off. That Boston Blarney thing was put on him by Joe-Boy Jim the first night in camp when Joe-Boy, who was from Maine, from Maine about a million years ago from the look of him, noticed Billy’s Boston accent and his map of Ireland looks and, as is the simple course of things in the jungle that name is now Billy’s forever moniker to the moniker-obsessed residents of the Gallup, New Mexico, yah, that's one of those square states out in the West, jungle, although don’t go looking for a postal code for it, the camp may not be there by the time you figure that out.


Now here are the Boston Blarney facts of life, jungled-up facts of life is that no way is he going to be able to beg off that requested dollar with some lame excuse about being broke, broke broke. (By the way I will use this Boston Blarney moniker throughout just in case anybody, anybody Billy does not want to have known of his whereabouts, is looking for him. In any case that moniker is better, much better, than the Silly Willy nickname that he carried with him through most of his public school career put on his by some now nameless girl when rhyming simon nicknames were all the rage back in seventh grade.) See everybody knows that San Antonio Slim, who belies his moniker by being about five feet, six inches tall and by weighing in at about two hundred and sixty, maybe, two-seventy so he either must have gotten that name a long time ago, or there is some other story behind its origins, has no dough, no way to get dough, and no way to be holding out on anyone for dough for the simple reason that he has not left the camp in a month so he is a brother in need. Boston Blarney is another case though, even if he is just off the hitchhike highway road, his clothes still look kind of fresh, his looks look kind of fresh (being young and not having dipped deeply in the alcohol bins, for one thing) and so no one, not Slim anyway, is going to buy a broke, broke story.


The problem, the problem Boston Blarney already knows is going to be a problem is that if he gives Slim the dollar straight up every other ‘bo, bum, tramp, and maybe even some self-respecting citizens are going to put the touch on him. He learned, learned the hard way that it does not take long to be broke, broke on the road by freely giving dough to every roadster Tom, Dick, and Harry you run into. “Here, all I have is fifty cents, until my ship comes in,” says Boston Blarney and Slim, along with his “enforcer,” Bender Ben, seem pleased to get that, like that is how much they probably figured they could get anyway. Blarney also knows that he was not the first stop in the touch game otherwise old hard-hand veteran Slim would have bitten harder.


Well, that’s over, for now Blarney says to himself softly out loud, a habit of the single file hitchhike road time when one begins to talk, softly or loudly, to oneself to while away the long side of the road hours when you are stuck between exits in places like Omaha or Davenport on the long trek west. And just as softly to himself he starts to recount where his has been, where he hasn’t been, and the whys of each situation as he unrolls his bedroll to face another night out in the brisk, brisk even for a New England hearty and hale regular brisk boy, great west star-less October night. First things first though, no way would he have hit the road this time, this time after a couple of years off the road, if THAT man, that evil man, that devil deal-making man, one Richard Milhous Nixon, common criminal, had not just vacated, a couple of months back, the Presidency of the United States and had still been in office. After that event, after that hell-raising many months of hubris though, it seemed safe, safe as anything could be in these weird times, to get on with your life. Still, every once in a while, when he was in a city or town, big or small, large enough to have sidewalk newspaper vending machines he would check, no, double check to see if the monster had, perhaps, “risen” again. But Blarney’ luck had held since he took off from Boston in late August on his latest trip west in search of ...


Suddenly, he yelled out, no cried out, “Joyel.” Who was he kidding? Sure getting rid of “Tricky Dick” was part of it, but the pure truth was “woman trouble” like he didn’t know that from the minute he stepped on to the truck depot at the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike in Cambridge and hailed down his first truck. And you knew it too, if you knew Billy Bradley. And if it wasn’t woman trouble, it could have been, would have been, should have been, use the imperative is always woman trouble, unless it was just Billy hubris. Nah, it was woman trouble, chapter and verse. Chapter twenty-seven, verse one, always verse one. And that verse one for Joyel, lately, had been when are we going to settle down from this nomadic existence. And that Joyel drumbeat was getting more insistent since things like the end of the intense American involvement in Vietnam, the demise of one common criminal Richard Milhous Nixon, and the ebbing, yes, face it, the ebbing of the energy for that newer world everybody around them was starting to feel and had decided to scurry back to graduate school, to parents’ home, or to marriage just like in the old days, parent old days.


Blarney needed to think it through, or if not think it through then to at least see if he still had the hitchhike road in him. The plan was to get west (always west, always west, America west) to the Pacific Ocean and see if that old magic wanderlust still held him in its thrall. So with old time hitchhike bedroll washed, basics wrapped within, some dollars (fewer that old Slim would have suspected, if he had suspected much) in his pocket, some longing for Joyel in his heart, honestly, and some longing that he could not speak of, not right that minute anyway, he wandered to that Cambridge destiny point. His plan with the late start, late hitchhike start anyway, was to head to Chicago (a many times run, almost a no thought post-rookie run at one point) then head south fast from there to avoid the erratic rockymountainhigh early winter blast and white-out blocked-in problems. Once south he wanted to pick up Interstate 40 somewhere in Texas or New Mexico and then, basically because it mostly parallels that route “ride the rails,” the Southern Pacific rails into Los Angeles from wherever he could pick up a freight. Although he never previously had much luck with this blessed, folkloric, mystical, old-timey, Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World, IWW) method of travel a couple of guys, gypsy davey kind of guys, not Wobblie guys, told him about it and that drove part of his manic west desire this time.


As he eased himself down inside his homemade bedroll ready for the night, ready in case tomorrow is the day west, the day west that every jungle camp grapevine keeps yakking about until you get tired of hearing about it and are just happy to wait in non-knowledge, but ready, he started thinking things out like he always did before the sleep of the just knocked him out. Yes sir, chuckling, just waiting for the ride the rails west day that he had been waiting for the past several days and which the jungle denizens, with their years of arcane intricate knowledge, useful travel knowledge said “could be any day now,” caught him reminiscing about the past few weeks and, truth to tell, started to see, see a little where Joyel was coming from, the point that she was incessantly trying to make about there now being a sea-change in the way they (meaning him and her, as well as humanity in general) had to look at things if they were to survive. But, see if she had only, only not screamed about it in those twenty-seven different ways she had of analyzing everything, he might have listened, listened a little. Because whatever else she might have, or have not been, sweet old Joyel, was a lightning rod for every trend, every social and political trend that had come down the left-wing path over the past decade or so.


Having grown up in New York City she had imbibed the folk protest music movement early in the Village, had been out front in the civil rights and anti-war struggle early, very early (long before Billy had). She had gone “street” left when others were still willing to go half-way (or more) with LBJ, or later, all the way with Bobby Kennedy (as Billy had). So if she was sounding some kind of retreat then it was not just that she was tired (although that might be part of it) but that she “sensed” an “evil” wind of hard times and apathy were ahead. She was signaling, and this is where they had their screaming matches, that the retreat was the prelude to recognition that we had been defeated, no mauled, as she put in one such match.


So, as Billy got drowsier from having taken too many rays in the long hard sun day and was now fading nicely under the cooling western night he started connecting the dots, or at least some dots, as he thought about the hitchhike road of the past several weeks. He, worse, started to see omens where before he just took them as the luck of the road, the tough hitchhike roads. Like how hard it was to get that first ride out of Boston, Cambridge really, at the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike down by the Charles River where many trucks, many cross-country traveling trucks begin their journey from a huge depot after being loaded up from some railroad siding. A couple of years ago all you had to do was ask where the trucker was heading, whether he wanted company, and if yes you were off. Otherwise on to the next truck, and success. Now, on his very first speak to, the trucker told him, told him in no uncertain terms, that while he could sure use the “hippie” boy‘s company (made him think of his own son he said) on the road to Chicago the company (and, as Billy found out later, really the insurance company) had made it plain, adamantly plain that no “passengers” were allowed in the vehicle under penalty of immediate firing. And with that hefty mortgage, two kids in college, and a wife who liked to spent money that settled the issue. He left it at, “But good luck hippie boy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”


He finally got his ride, to Cleveland, but from there to Chicago it was nothing but short, suspicious rides by odd-ball guys, including one whose intent was sexual and who when rebuffed left Billy off in Podunk, Indiana, late at night and with no prospects of being seen by truck or car traffic until daybreak. Oh yah, and one guy, one serious guy, wanted to know if anybody had told him, told sweet-souled Billy Bradley, that he looked a lot like Charles Manson (and in fact there was a little resemblance as he himself noticed later after taking a well-deserved, and needed, bath, although about half the guys in America, and who knows maybe the world in those days, looked a little like Charles Manson, except for those eyes, those evil eyes of Manson’s that spoke of some singularity of purpose, not good).


And thinking about that guy’s comment, a good guy actually, who knew a lot about the old time “beats” (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and had met mad man saint Gregory Corso in New York City), and for old time’s sake had picked Billy up got Billy thinking about a strange event back in Cambridge about a year before. Although he and Joyel had lived together, off and on, for several years there were periods, one of those chapter twenty-seven, verse one periods when they needed to get away from each other for one reason or another. That had been one of those times. So, as was the usual routine, he looked in the Real Paper for some kind of opening in a communal setting (in short, cheap rent, divided chores, and plenty of partying, or whatever, especially that whatever part). One ad he noticed, one Cambridge-based ad looked very interesting. He called the number, spoke to one person who handed him off to the woman who was handling the roommate situation and after a description of the situation, of the house, and of the people then residing there was told, told nonchalantly, to send his resume for their inspection. Resume, Cambridge, a commune, a resume. Christ! He went crazy at first, but then realized that it was after all Cambridge and you never know about some of those types. He quickly found a very convivial communal situation, a non-resume-seeking communal situation thank you, in down and out Brighton just across the river from hallowed Cambridge but at more than one of those whatever parties that came with this commune he never failed to tell this story, and get gales of laughter in response.


But that was then. And here is where connecting the dots and omens came together. On the road, as in politics, you make a lot of quick friends who give you numbers, telephones numbers, address numbers, whatever numbers, in case you are stuck, or need something, etc. A smart hitchhiker will keep those numbers safely and securely on him for an emergency, or just for a lark. One night Billy got stuck, stuck bad in Moline and called up a number, a number for a commune, he had been given, given just a few weeks before by a road friend, a young guy who gave his name as Injun Joe whom he had traveled with for a couple of days. He called the number, told of his plight and received the following answer- “What’s Injun Joe’s last name, where did you meet him, where do know him from?” Not thinking anything of it Billy said he didn’t know Injun Joe’s last name and described the circumstances that he met Injun Joe under. No sale, no soap, no-go came the reply. Apparently, according to the voice over the telephone, they knew Injun Joe, liked him, but the commune had been “ripped” off recently by “guests” and so unless you had been vetted by the FBI, or some other governmental agency, no dice. That voice did tell Billy to try the Salvation Army or Traveler’s Aid. Thanks, brother. Yah, so Joyel was not totally off the wall, not totally at all.


And then in that micro-second before sound sleep set in Billy went on the counter-offensive. What about those few good days in Austin when a girl he met, an ordinary cheer-leader, two fingers raised Longhorn Texas girl, who was looking to break-out of that debutante Texas thing, let him crash on her floor (that is the way Billy wants that little story told anyway). Or when that Volkswagen bus, that blessed Volkswagen bus stopped for him just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in, as Thomas Wolfe called them, one of the square western states that he now still finds himself imprisoned in, and it was like old times until they got to Red Rock where they wanted to camp for a while (hell, they were probably still there but he needed to move on, move on ocean west).

But Red Rock was more than some old time hippie community, including passing the dope freely. Red Rock was where he met Running Bear Smith, who claimed to be a full Apache but who knows (and where did the Smith part come in).


Now Running Bear was full of mystery, full of old-time stories about the pride of the dog soldiers, about his ancestors, about the fight against the ravages and greed of the white man. And about the shamanic ceremonial that he learned from his grandfather (his father had been killed, killed in some undisclosed manner when he was very young, about three), about dancing with the spirits of by-gone days, and dancing he added, or Billy added, under the influence of communion wafer peyote buttons. Several days ago, or rather nights, just a few days before he encamped in this broken down jungle Running Bear and he had “walked with the ‘Thunder Gods,’” as Running Bear described it. Billy described it somewhat differently, after the buttons took effect, and Running Bear stoked the camp fire with additional wood to make a great blazing flame that jumped off the wall of the cavern adjacent to where they were camping out. The shadows of the flames made “pictures” on the cavern walls, pictures that told a story, told Billy a story that one man could fight off many demons, could count later on many friends coming to his aid, and that the demons could be vanquished. Was that the flame story or the buttons, or Billy’s retort to Joyel? All he knew was that Running Bear’s “magic” was too strong for him and he began “smelling” the ocean some several hundred miles away. Time to leave, time to get to Gallup down the road, and the hobo jungle wait for the ride on the rails.


Just then, just as he was closing accounts on the past several weeks by remembering his reactions on entering this ill-disposed jungle that was in no way like the friendly, brotherly, sisterly Volkswagen encampment at Red Rock, old-time stew ball “Wyoming Coyote” yelled, yelled almost in his ear, although Billy knew that he was not yelling at him personally, but that the Southern Pacific was coming through at 4:00AM. The Southern Pacific going clear through to Los Angeles. Billy’s heart pounded. Here he was on the last leg of his journey west, he would be in L.A. by tomorrow night, or early the next morning at the latest. But the heart-pounding was also caused by fear, fear of that run to catch that moving freight train boxcar just right or else maybe fall by the wayside.


This was no abstract fear, some childhood mother-said-no fear, but real enough. On the way down from Chicago, after being enthralled by the gypsy davies talk of “riding the rails” he had decide that he needed to try it out first in order to make sure that he could do it, do it right when a train was moving. Sure he had caught a few trains before but that was always in the yards, with the trains stationary, and anyway as a child of the automobile age, unlike most of the denizens of the jungle he was more comfortable on the hitchhike road than the railroad. So, as practice, he had tried to catch an Illinois Central out of Decatur about a half-mile out just as the train started to pick up steam but before it got under full steam and was not catchable. He ran for it, almost didn’t make it, and cursed, cursed like hell those coffin nails that he smoked, and swore to give them up. So he was afraid, righteously afraid, as he fell asleep.


At 3:30AM someone jolted Billy out of his sleep. He woke with a start fearing someone was trying to rob him, or worst, much worst in a grimy jungle camp trying to sexually assault him, some toothless, piss-panted old drunken geezer caught up in some memory fog. Damn, it was only San Antonio Slim shaking him to wake him up for the Southern Pacific coming, just in case it came a little early, although according to the jungle lore it came on time, with maybe a minute or so off either way. Billy asked for a cigarette and Slim rolled him a choice Bull Durham so smartly that Billy blinked before he realized what Slim had produced. He lit up, inhaled the harsh cigarette smoke deeply, and started to put his gear quickly in order, and give himself a little toilet as well. Suddenly Slim yelled out get ready, apparently he could hear the trains coming down the tracks from several miles away. Nice skill.


The few men (maybe seven or eight) who were heading west that night (not, by the way, Slim he was waiting on a Phoenix local, or something like that maybe, thought Billy, a Valhalla local) started jogging toward the tracks, the tracks no more than one hundred yards from the jungle. The moon, hidden for most of the night under cloud cover, made an appearance as the sound of the trains clicking on the steel track got louder. Billy stopped for a second, pulled something from his back pocket, a small weather-beaten picture of Joyel and him taken in Malibu a few years before in sunnier days, and pressed it into his left hand. He could now see the long-lined train silhouetted against the moonlit desert sands. He started running a little more quickly as the train approached and as he looked for an open boxcar. He found one, grabbed on to its side for all he was worth with one hand then with the other and yanked himself onto the floor rolling over a couple of times as he did so. Once he settled in he again unclasped his left hand and looked, looked intensely and at length, at the now crumbled and weather-beaten picture focusing on Joyel’s image. And had Joyel thoughts, hard-headed Joyel thoughts in his head “riding the rails” on the way to the city of angels.
Hobo’s Lament-With Yip Harburg’s Brother, Can You Spare A Dime In Mind


From The Pen Of Bart Webber


It must have skipped generations, skipped generations in the greater Kelly clan  (of the Kellys from Northport about sixty miles south of Boston via County Cork to give the family line a bit) since Lance Kelly’s father (Lawrence) was just a guy who worked in a machine shop when there was work, plenty of overtime when there was plenty of work before the shipyards or rather the shipyard owners decided “flags of convenience” and low-wage overseas “shipyards of convenience” were the way to make profits jump and don’t give a damn investors happy in the first stages of the de-industrialization of America back in the late 1950s, early 1960s, and “the best he could” when there was no work as the family (parents and five sons) slid down the mobility pole to the projects before Lance grew to maturity. Yeah, Lance’s father was just a guy who took life’s blows in silence (and with a secret promise not revealed until after he passed away a number of years ago when Lance’s mother, Delores, let it be known at his memorial service that whatever else happened he said would not be like his own father and fritter away, his words, his life chasing after rainbows like his own father, Lamont (or women as we will get to in a minute). 

But that wandering thing, that need, that compelling need to hit the road, the road west mainly and nothing could stop the urge grabbed his son Lance just as hard as it did his old grandpa (and Lance’s younger brothers, Kenny and Prescott, for a little while when the high arc of the 1960s craziness light show and dark night  held many in its sway which would not have happened otherwise and has not really happened since as the road got weary, the travelers even wearier, in fact got dangerous once the “bad trip” drugs got the best of them, and kids today are clueless about such things as hitchhiking the world on a lark, driving some Neal Cassady dream fast ass car, souped-up if you or a buddy knew how to do so (cherry Hudsons, Chevys, flanked hot rods), racing flat out against the closed-in American frontier washed Pacific, real cheap gas and truck diner stops filled with carbohydrates, hell, take the freaking bus if you had to in order to get out of some Moline dead-ass town and, hell too, would rather bike than get a driver’s license, Jesus).

Hell, maybe that kind of thing, that wandering thing, is in the genes, what do they call it now, the DNA, and the generation skipped, in the Kelly clan father Lawrence,  maybe like some tee-totaller alcoholic father histories gets skipped not because it is not in the DNA but because there was a revulsion against what the father before did, or did not do, and the subsequent male line rebelled against that wanderlust night under railroad steel stars and it was left for the next run of the male line to get the “itch” (or female line but here we are tracing wandering descend in the male part of the line when such wandering if not socially approved in many quarters as least was viewed as “sowing oats” before settling down to the grind, wandering too at a time when such hoboing was not “lady-like,” and now is far too dangerous in most areas of the world except for the foolhardy venturesome, male or female (without an armed escort as Lance would say today thinking back on the chances he and his brethren took).

Well the hell with that soft-shell “theory” on this wanderlust thing except for academics who thrive on such leavings, who speak of societal ill-adjustments, of not being devoured properly by the modern machine life, of being, get this, in step with modern responsibilities. Yeah, let’s leave that to the academics who on every possible media outlet take the “talking head” life out of the generations who did take to the road whether to sow oats, chase some big cloud puff social dream, or just to get out of the cramped spaces in their boxed-in lives, and who have tried to fit the whole thing into some psychic ozone box of malcontents and malcontented-ness. And are still trying three-quarters of a century later long after the Great Depression Okie/Arkie dust bowl treks have vanished in the desert and more than one half a century after the teen angst, teen alienation of the post-World War II “moody” have bit their own pieces of dust.

That the “hell with theory” is what “Boston Blackie” Kelly, born Lance Kelly already mentioned above if you need a legal name, or Jasper Griffin, a name that he gave when some roustabout copper or railroad bull came up to that third freight car on the line, the one with settled hay built for comfort, and drew a billy-club bead on the “residents” said one night in about 1974 to the assembled audience around the camp-fire in the “railroad jungle,” the hobo jungle on the Southern Pacific line along the desperately dry arroyo outside of Gallup, New Mexico. Although the “speech” could have been given in the Sally [Salvation Army] Harbor Lights refuge on Larimer Street in Denver, ditto the South End in Boston, along the railroad tracks out in Westminster, California where a lot of veterans, Vietnam veterans mostly,  his “brothers” and the truth of that nobody doubted, when Blackie, let’s call him Blackie, to keep it short, a name he picked up from some re-run 1950s television series and it stuck, stuck hard once he started with those Boston dropped “r’s” out West where they thought he was some Englishman, first started on the road when he had his moments of not being able to deal with the “real” world coming back and wound up a “brother under the bridge for a while.” Yeah one of those guys, guys that Bruce Springsteen immortalized in a song of the same name, “brothers” trying to keep it together as best they could, trying to keep invisible to a world that was not watching anyway.

A long while as it turned out and now Iraq and Afghan guys who can’t adjust worth a damn either keep themselves together as best they can along the abandoned Union Pacific trunk line (Lance forgot which line since they all intersected at various points out in the end of the world and since some have been rekindled by fast unfriendly trains let’s leave at that), next to the Potomac River down in Washington with the desperate homeless (Jesus, guys without a decent bedroll against the sweats and against those young soldiers running their asses off by the Arlington National Cemetery), the mentally disturbed and the those Congress let fall between the cracks, under the Golden Gate Bridge in Frisco Town with a newspaper for a pillow and the ships honking in the harbor responding to that eternal fog horn coming out of the Japan seas, under the railroad bridges in half the back alley towns in America, call them, Quincy, DeKalb, Council Bluffs, Grand Island, Cheyenne or beat down Hartford (but watch out on that last site the Connecticut staties are bastards who like swinging first and letting god separate out the injured from the rest).

Blackie this dusty Gallup night, his second in camp since jumping the rails was explaining how he got the road “bug,” explaining why he had to wander the roads of America once the limits of Northport where he came of age in the 1960s over in Massachusetts crashed in on him. (And after that hell-hole Vietnam War Army stuff but that didn’t give him any traction since most of the guys in the “audience” were veterans of some battle, if only the battle of the bottle). Of course a lot of guys, hell, Blackie himself when he was on the “con” would be the first to tell you in all “candor” a million stories, would tell a million candid stories to get a little dough, maybe a pack of cigarettes, a cup of coffee, whatever he could hustle (and the success of the story depended on how much rotgut whisky, wine or one in a while out on the West Coast dope, mostly marijuana but occasionally hash or some fresh opium some new “brother” brought back and cut up for the brethren, he had consumed to smooth over his story or make it go bust if he over indulged). So while the heads of the stew-bums, drifters, grifters, midnight sifters, ropers, dopers and just plain crazy were nodding in orchestrated agreement more than one guy who probably would have been floored if you had named that look they were giving this way, was looking askance at this brother who had just rolled in from Phoenix on the late Southern Pacific the day before and was warming the boys up with his tale of woe like a lot of new guys do to act like they fit in. Not knowing that around Gallup anyway every wanderer is welcome until he is not welcome which means that he has pissed off Railroad Shorty the “king of the hoboes” in the Gallup precincts designated by his brethren as such couple of years back. (In a bi-annual congress of hoboes, tramps and bums all with equal votes to confer that title although the title always went to the top hobo in an arcane selection process worthy of the regular Congress.)                

But Blackie after grabbing some hard-bitten stew ladled out of a big vat and being poured a canteen full off bitter end coffee by “Kitchen Charlie,” a lamed-up guy but harmless who like the chuck-wagon cooks who couldn’t cowboy anymore back in the Old West times was reduced to serving them off the arm to the thirty or so tramps, bums, and hoboes that Railroad Shorty had given his stamp of approval to, wanted to tell his story (by the way there are differences among those three classes of  brethren acknowledged as such even in “jungle” society mostly having to do with trust-worthiness and sociability although those road gradations are not germane here and so will be passed over). Just from the way he kind of ambled up to the subject of how he got on the road when he arrived he had been asked by “Red River Rob” how long such a young fellow had been on the road every tramp, bum, and hobo within hearing distance knew he had some back agony to get off his chest. Maybe, the speculation among the brethren went before this “speech” since he was a young guy centered on some “woman trouble” what the permanent residents, or what passed for permanent there, called a Phoebe Snow story (named after an ancient railroad station advertisement of an ethereally   beautiful proper Victorian vestal virgin young lady in purity white used to promote passenger train fares once the railroads solved the coal-dust that settled on everything that moved problem), which was always bound to get a hearing since almost every guy at one time whether he could remember it or not had some “woman trouble” that drove him to the roads, would get a tearful hearing if the story was played right or the brethren were in a forlorn mood.

While Blackie was warming up to his subject a couple of older guys, guys who have not been with a women since they invented them from the look of them were eying Blackie for maybe some bedroll time (the great unspoken homosexual acts of the women-less road wanderers just like in prison, boarding school, and other women-less locales so in general no cause for an uproar unless knives came into play), but watch out boys though for while Blackie looked like meat he cut a guy up six ways to Sunday in Westminster when he though the wiry Blackie could be had for the taking although that would mishap would not be part of Blackie’s story this night, no need since it was obvious from the time he arrived the previous morning Railroad Shorty had taken a shine to him, was treating him like a long lost son so those leering red eyes will be warned off, or else. 

Blackie had told the brethren earlier before he shouted out that “the hell with theory” blast that his grandfather Lamont Kelly, road moniker “Night-Train Bill” which a couple of the really wizened older guys kind of nodded at the mention, nodded like maybe they had run into him back in the 1890s when Night-Train tired of the no job, no nothing soup-line East decided at age nineteen to “ride the rails” to “sleep under the steel stars” as he called it years later when he related his story to Blackie one night when he was in his cups and reflecting on that long ago lost youth. Yeah, that was the wanderer part, the genetic part inherited from those forbears hearty and hale enough to manage the voyage on the “famine ships” in the 1840s when Ireland artificially went hungry (there was plenty of food according to the legend but the bloody British wanted to “thin Ireland out” for the sheep or goats or whatever it was they wanted to feed proper, feed proper except Irish people make of that what you will) and headed to the “promise land,” the “land of milk and honey” and it was for a while until the hard times of the 1890s, that big economic depression that some guys might have read about in school if they had gone that put  a crimp in every working household. And so Lamont had set out to the west to make his fortune some damn way.           

Blackie laughed as the crowd in front of him began to drift off in place or got fidgety and began to move until he said that was Night-Train’s front story, the story for kids and that he would push to respectable society in Northport and true enough but if you wanted to know the real reason that he headed West she had a name, one Minnie Callahan. The crowd settled back down now that the kid was getting to something they could ponder. Naturally what did the trick was when he described Night-Train’s fair lass, all long and slender, with well-turned legs (as Lamont said he knew first hand Blackie added), skin like milk, green eyes and long, very long red-hair tied up in braids and that description got every man in camp thinking about his own Phoebe Snow, maybe even those two guys who looked like they hadn’t been with a woman since they were invented. But it wasn’t to be between Night-Train and Minnie, you see she was married, married and intended to stay married to the son of one of the big cranberry bog owners for which the town of Carver a few towns over from Northport  was famously known. All she was thinking of was a “fling” (that was not what she called it nor what Lamont called it because they didn’t call it that in those days but every men knew what Blackie was getting at). At the beginning that was all Lamont was looking for too. But Minnie was always on his mind, and he was always plotting ways that they could be together. But she dismissed him and his half-cocked runaway to the West and settle in some anonymous town plans out of hand, said that if he did not like the situation she would end the relationship. And so one night Night-Train packed his rucksack and headed down the road to catch a Boston and Maine freight, and kept on moving, moving west until he ran out of land around rural ocean front Carlsbad down in Southern California. Made a name for himself telling his tale of woe before campfires like the one Blackie had the “gab” on.

Blackie soon stopped that Night-Train story because he could tell that his audience was wilting a little, anxious to get to whatever Blackie’s woes were. [Blackie would not tell them, and had no plans to, that Night-Train once he heard that Minnie had moved to Beacon Hill in Boston with that cranberry king’s son headed back to Northport and eventually got married to Catherine Riley and had his father, Lawrence, the one who stayed in the ship-building machine shop business as long as it lasted from the time he got out of vocational school until that folded and he did “the best he could” including  seasonal stints as a “bogger” in the cranberry bogs which caused no end of embarrassment for Catherine and the kids since the “boggers” were the lowest of the low, and four other children.]

Sensing the restlessness setting in again he sighed and said that he too had headed out on the road because of a woman, Laura Perkins (although he did not give her last name), all long and slender, with well-turned legs (as he knew first hand Blackie added), skin like milk, green eyes, and long, very long red-head and that description got every man in camp once again thinking about some lost in the mist of time Phoebe Snow. But here is where Lamont’s story and his depart. See Laura, a college student at Boston University whom he had met one night in a bar in Kenmore Square and they had hit it off from the first, had gotten pregnant, had wanted to keep the baby and get married and Blackie less than a year back to the “real” world from Vietnam and having trouble adjusting on his own wanted no part of the set-up.  One night Blackie packed his rucksack and headed down the road to Cambridge to catch some trucker heading west at the big depot adjacent to the Mass Pike, and kept on moving, moving west until he ran out of land around Westminster down in Southern California where that “band of brothers under the bridge,” guys who also had a hard time adjusting welcomed him to the alternative world they were trying to create until the “Chips” [California Highway Patrol] busted the camp up one night. So he started heading back east, maybe to New Orleans if things worked out.

As the campfire’s light flicked and men started yawning for the sleep of hard road under the steel stars more than one of them probably though back to some similar situation that drove them to the road, maybe they couldn’t stand being cooped up in their own Northports, maybe tired of paying child support, grew tired of being dunned by the rent collector and six other kinds of collectors, maybe hated the nine to five world, maybe got thrown out when he spent the paycheck at some men’s bar, each man had his own story, his own reason for grabbing a moniker, for not leaving a forwarding address, and lived now, as some song-writer said on “train smoke and dreams.”          

 As Blackie turned down his own bedroll one wag yelled out, “Hey, Blackie you know maybe it isn’t that wandering that is the DNA stuff you were talking about but going after flaming red-headed dolls with well-turned legs that had the men in your family in a lather. What do you think?” Blackie didn’t answer but thought-“Yeah, the hell with theory.”