Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Out In The Be-Bop 2000s Night- Desperately Seeking... An Idea

By Sam Lowell 

One night in the Spring of 2015 Josh Breslin mentioned to an old friend of his, Bart Webber, met out on the West Coast during the gold rush days of the summer of love in 1967 where a lot of the old social conventions were breaking loose and where they had met under the auspices of Pete Markin, that he had lost the beat, lost the music of writing that had carried him through most of his life. Josh, from down in North Adamsville in Massachusetts, had met and become fast friends with Markin, from Olde Saco up in Maine(everybody in those days who ran into Markin called him “the Scribe,” but for simplicity’s sake the surname Markin will be adequate here), partially because they had both sensed by very different means that something new was in the air and they had both been deeply influenced by the beat in their respective heads culled from grabbing onto the late 1950s “beat” beat that was fading somewhat even then but which drove their thoughts. Although Markin wound up fated to a very bad end down in Mexico in a dusty back alley in Sonora after a busted drug deal went awry he, and Josh also, were crazy to write, write based on that beat in their heads that provided the fuel to push out drivel, a lot of it embarrassingly done under the influence of heavy drugs, as well as star-quality material.

That lost beat is what Josh was referring to when he mentioned his dilemma to Bart. It had been the loss of that beat, the rhythm that had finally made him retire from writing for the various journals and small press publications that had sustained him over the decades. Paid the bills too. He had actually begun to notice the fall-off in the latter part of the first decade of this century when he found himself repeatedly retailing the same story lines that had animated him early in his career. Found himself writing, almost automatic writing like he was in a bell jar. Worse, worst of all was that he would take assignments just for the dough, just to pay into some college tuition fee from one or more of his brood of children from his three failed marriages. Never a good sign however worthy the kids were of his largesse. The situation got so bad by about 2009, 2010 that, thanks to the Internet, thanks to a circle of bloggers whom he broke bread with on-line, he actually had placed an ad in many social media outlets seeking, desperately seeking, some new ideas, almost any new ideas to write about. A few of those ideas thrown at him in responses which pulled him through for a while need not detain us here. Unfortunately more recently in his post-working life splendor he has run into the same worthless abyss. He is now preparing a new plea to all-comers for help, desperate help. He thought though that he would share with Bart what he had written previously and of course Bart felt it incumbent to show the world what happens when a guy, a guy who in his time had a million ideas, runs dry.        


From The Pen Of Josh Breslin (Why he adheres to that designation, that “from the pen” designation in the age of the word processor and computer when nobody, no serious writer, can write with a pen under penalty of extinction nobody knows-S.L.)         

Yah, I know I switched up on you. Usually when I write about the be-bop night, at least the times of my schoolboy “high-tide” feverish, mad monk-driven be-bop nights it is either the mid to late 1950s when I first got the itch, the wandering idea itch, or the early 1960s when I shared those be-bop nights with Frankie, Frankie, king of the be-bop schoolboy night in our old beat-down, beat-up, beat seven ways to Sunday, beatified, North Adamsville working class neighborhood. Certainly be-bop times don’t extend later than the late 1960s and the hitchhike highway road, a separate highway story road, but on this one I have to extend forward to the new millennium to make my pitch. So hear me out, will you.


Desperately seeking…

an idea. I will keep this short and sweet. I have to admit to failure, abject failure, utter failure, despairing failure, and twelve other forms of it, in my efforts to keep up a steady drumbeat of commentaries about the old days at North Adamsville High School (many of which, mercifully, have been relegated to the recycle bin, trash barrel, deep freeze space or other designated welcoming cyberspace disposal sites). Failure, do you hear me? Why? I foolishly, again, again meaning here when one of my projects does not turn out right that is the characterization they deserve, believed that my commentaries would act as a catalyst and draw Class of 1967 classmates, other former students at North Adamsville and an odd denizen from the deep, out. Hell, even an off-hand straggler from fiendish cross-town arch rival blue and white Adamsville would be given a hero’s welcome.

What I was really thinking though when I put out my plea was, maybe, some long lost comrades of the schoolboy night like hang-around guys in front of Harry’s Variety (where the white-tee-shirt, blue-jeaned, engineer-booted, cigarette-smoking, unfiltered of course, sneering, soda-swilling, Coke, natch, pinball wizards held forth daily and nightly, and let me cadge a few odd games when they had more important business, more important girl business, to attend to)would find their voices. Maybe they could tell, finally tell, the secret swaying of the hips, just so not too much left or right, that got them all those extra games, and the girls, fast girls too. Or the gang around Doc’s Drugstore ( a place where all the neighborhood boys, all the sixteen year old boys, and maybe some girls too, all the plaid-shirted, black-chino-ed, “cool”, max daddies came of drinking age, from Doc's shelves, for medicinal purposes of course). They could tell of magic elixirs from rums and raw whiskey, and confess, yes, confess that that whisky taste was nasty.

Or, even holy of holies, Salducci’s Pizza Parlor up the Downs when Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, was king of night (and a few days too) and I was his lord chamberlain. Maybe tell of some pizza dough secrets, or how to snag a girl with just the right jukebox combination when dough was short and you were lonely. But no, no one came forth to spew their whitewashed stories almost a half a century later. Probably, on some of the stuff, some of the kiddish schoolboy night stuff, they didn’t realize the statute of limitations had run out, and had run out long ago. But that’s not my problem.

At some point I figured out that this was not to be the case that those phantoms had lost their voices or preferred snickered quietude, and I resolved to push on anyway at the whim of whatever demons were driving me on. Fierce demon, raider red bleeding demons, to speak out of gone-by days. I was going along fine until I realized and the readers, or at least a few readers, tipped me to this hard fact of literary life. I was recycling the same basic story just in little different guises. You know teen alienation, teen angst, teen love, teen hate, and teen lost themes. And girl less-ness, or too many girl-ness, or wanna be such. Same, ditto, Xerox. Praise be king trash barrel of the dark, dark just before the dawn night. And quick click fingers.

Now, frankly, and this is the core of my plea, I have run out of ideas. A recent re-reading of some of my commentaries has rubbed my face in that hard fact. Two themes, one mentioned above, in various guises have emerged; no, have jumped from the page at me, from the work- the 'tragic' effects of my growing up poor in the land of plenty in the 1950s be-bop working class night and that usual teenage longing for companionship and romance. Gee, those ideas have never been the subject of literary efforts before, right?

Okay, okay nobody asked me to volunteer to be the unpaid, self-appointed voice of the Class of 1967 to the world, to the candid be-bop world from whence I came, and so I have only myself to blame. I swear I will get into a twelve-step program for the nostalgically-challenged just the minute I get out of the rehab program for political junkies. But in the meantime-help, or else. And what might that or else threat mean? I am desperate enough to steal someone else's thunder from the general North Adamsville High Message Board that I have been peppering with my ravings. Do you really want to hear me on the subject of Squaw Rock or other seamy, steamy tales of the seashore "submarine" night? And name names. Or, how nasty some of our teachers were? Ditto on the names. Yawn. Or the kinky, perverted, long-suppressed dark side of the North Adamsville High School Band and what they did with those seemingly innocent instruments? Or ........have me go into back into that dreaded Recycle Bin and dust off some of those rejects? Think about it. Send an idea-quick.


P.S. Someone has suggested a comparison or contrast between Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis along the lines of Rolling Stones/Beatles (Class of 1967-Stones or Beatles) or Brenda Lee/Patsy Cline (Battle of The Sexes-Round 235) commentaries that I had done earlier this year. This does not count as a new idea though as that goes to the old lonely nights and girl-less days theme that we are trying to move away from just before that twelve step night.

Of course, Jerry Lee was better than Elvis-that's a no-brainer. But it is an idea that would have found its way into these pages on its own. Meanwhile how about some North Adamsville idea? I am ready to start writing about President John Adams, his wife Abigail, his son John Quincy, his grandson, Charles Francis, his great grandson, Henry and unto the nth generation if nothing better comes along. And believe me, Adamsville born and bred, I have all the dirt on those guys and their dolls. You have been forewarned.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Yet Again Further In-With Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters And The Yellow Brick Road School Bus In Mind

Yet Again Further In-With Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters And The Yellow Brick Road School Bus In Mind


By Sam Lowell


Maybe it had been the time of Josh Breslin’s time, the time of his now more nomadic life since he had moved back to his Maine growing up town of Olde Saco and had retired, well sort of, retired from the hurly-burly pressure of getting out an assortment of by-lines for half the unread small publications and journals in America.(That assortment of publications driven by the need for hard currency, cash, checks as the financial end of his three, count them, three failed marriages, the alimony, child support and college education tuitions for his brood of children that nearly broke him rather that any overwhelming loyalty to the publications since half the time he could have given a rat’s ass, his works, about the publication or the subject matter he was writing about.) Maybe it had been the very hard to fathom fact that after a lifetime of writing, drivel or star quality, whatever music, whatever beat, beat in his head mostly from being immersed early on in in late 1950s Jack Kerouac, king of beats be-bop beats when he wrote, had driven him to write for those unread small publications and journals over the years had deserted him of late, that he had been flat, had been recycling in different scenarios the same old stuff.

Maybe though if you wanted to get closer to the truth of the matter it had been “karma.” world-spirit, something in the air that all came together the day that he was driving down the Maine Turnpike toward Boston where he was to deliver a small article about a film noir, an old film noir, the classic B-noir Kansas City Confidential he had reviewed for yet another small artsy publication-Film Noir Finale listening to a CD titled Bleecker Street on the car CD player, a compilation of covers of 1960s folk music standards done by later well-known artists who had been inspired by the music in their own up and coming careers. Bleecker Street in New York, one of the central arteries of the coffeehouses that spawned the 1960s folk minute that he had recently endlessly wrote about from about every possible vantage point. With the Bleecker Street CD or rather a cover of Phil Och’s 1960s anti-war, war-resister, draft resister classic  I Ain’t Marching Anymore playing Josh noticed a school bus in the distance. Not just any school bus though but what he would have called back in that beat-driven youth when all things were possible and he had to rein in his writing, or rather what his late old friend Peter Markin would have called a “yellow brick road school bus.”

From the speed with which Josh caught up with the bus hunkered down in the extreme right lane it seemed to be going too slow though to be carrying school children and in any case school was out for the summer so that it was unlikely to be carrying children. As he got within eyesight though the bus was nothing but an old time relic from the 1960s school bus converted to be a home for the travelling gypsy wanderers of that good night. In the year 2015! He at first he thought that maybe he had had a retro-flashback, that LSD he had drunk in Dixie cups of Kool-Aid or licked off some Owsley blotter had finally reared its ugly head like all the parents, pastors, professors, panic-mongers had predicted would occur of the youth nation succumbed to demon drugs. He could not believe his eyes, thought that he had been transformed to an earlier time in some time machine, to the time when he himself had been a wanderer gypsy out in the high holy California night aboard Captain Crunch’s version of that very same vehicle  for almost two years in the days when being a member of such a travelling home made you one of the brethren (a common sight then out on the Pacific Coast Highway if not so much in the East until after the first one, Ken Kesey’s Further In crewed by his Merry Pranksters got written up by Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson).            

All Josh could do at the time he saw the sight since he was on a fast-moving traffic highway not close to an exit had been to beep the beep of recognition and solidarity and accept the wave of the grey-bearded driver who looked at least at window view like he too had come out of some time machine. Josh thought later once he got to Boston after delivering his article and hence it was too late that he should have somehow gotten the bus to stop and grabbed the stories he knew were jam-packed in that vehicle along with the assorted mattresses, mismatched pots, pans, dishes and silverware, odd-end chairs, and master of the universe sound system that he knew was standard for such homes, some of which he could see had been attached to the roof of the bus. But that was later when the journalist instinct in Josh was in high dudgeon.

What he thought on the seventy or eighty mile trip left before Boston though was a different matter. Josh had only one thought-what would his late friend Markin make of such a sight. Markin who had brought Josh into the tribe, who had  given Josh his first joint up on Russian Hill in San Francisco in the summer of love 1967 when all things were possible, or maybe under the rages of youth nation trying to jail-break from a world it hadn’t created and had no say in, impossible. He could hardly wait to tell the surviving members of the group, mostly Markin’s old growing up corner boy friends who had stuck together all these years after Markin’s demise down in forlorn mysterious Sonora, Mexico in the mid-1970s. They would periodically meet at Jack’s over in Cambridge and swap stories and other lies but just then he was in a somber mood thinking about his and Markin’s now forever lost youth.       

Yes, all roads led back to Markin, Markin and his search for the great blue-pink American West night as he called it, and as he, Josh, and the other corner boys from his youth Markin introduced to him along the way and who formed the coterie that gathered at Jack’s on occasion also got caught up in before the night-takers and who knows maybe their own hubris took command and burned what they thought they were creating to the ground. Fifty years later the night-takers were still throwing oil on the flames, still trying to stamp out the embers as a look at the news on any given day painfully demonstrated. How was Josh to know that some fifty years later he would still be etched by that experience, that experiment in a new way of living, a new way of thinking all because he like lots of others in the summer of love, 1967, had the wanderlust, had let whatever gypsy, traveler nation, genes in his DNA package (a scientific term he had never heard of then but appropriate just now) run amok.       

Who knew that the simple act of asking for a joint, you know, marijuana, dope, then getting a huge boost among the younger, non-junkie tribe gathering out West, on a then unknown hill in San Francisco from a long-bearded, long-haired, long gone daddy guy sitting on the ground beside an old-time yellow brick road school bus would lead to a few thousand thought flash-backs now. That in all simplicity had been how it all started. Well, maybe there had been a little more than that. Josh had just finished high school at Olde Saco that year and had been kind of restless, had been kind of thinking he had some time on his hands before he headed to State U in the fall to start his freshman year. He was supposed to work for the summer as a janitor in the now long gone and converted to condominiums MacAdams Textile Mills along the Olde Saco River. His father who had worked there since his discharge from the Marines after World War II had gotten him the job through some pull he had with the plant superintendent in order for Josh to made some cash for expenses at school since his family was rock bottom poor what with five kids in the family and only his father working then.

Josh would be the first member of his extended family to go to college so this was important to his parents. (His father had been brought up in coal country Kentucky where the boys went to the mines for their educations early and his mother’s people had come down from the farms in Quebec to get work in the factories rather than starving on the land.) One day in very early summer Josh had met a guy on Olde Saco Beach who had just come back from California, had come back to Maine on some family errant after staying around Big Sur, staying in a canyon called if you can believe this Todo el Mundo, the whole wide blessed world who told him some exciting stories about dope, women and the new dispensation. That conversation had decided him on his course for the summer. He was heading west, would wind up taking his first hitchhike expedition west and let loose that bebop wanderer’s beat that had been in his head since the late 1950s when he had finally heard about the “beats” who were trying to do their own thing, and MacAdams be damned. Not without some bitter family controversy, especially from his enraged father, he left one morning on a Trailways bus to head to Boston as a first stop. That guy on the beach at Olde Saco had told him Boston, Cambridge really, was the best place to start since hitchhiking West there was a huge truck depot in back of the Coca-Cola plant right near the Massachusetts Turnpike there and lonely for company or fast talking truckers were usually a good source of rides.

And so he went, went out to the Coast pretty uneventfully, at least uneventfully enough to not be able to think back now to what it was really like since over the course of the next two years he would travel back and forth across the country about six times before the deluge hit in the early 1970s. What is more important is what he did when he got to San Francisco the first time. He had been told by a young guy who looked from the way he was dressed like Buffalo Bill he had met on Post Street to go to Golden Gate Park to search for whatever he was looking for. He had been left off on his last truck ride on famous Market Street (where the ancient trolleys still ply their trade for the tourist who flock there to ride up and down the hills) and had originally asked for directions to Mission Street. Those direction were off, the giver of them probably like Josh among the thousands of new comers to the city once word got out that a new nation, youth nation was a-borning and he wound up on Russian Hill where he saw his first yellow brick road bus and decided to test the waters asking for some dope. And hence his first meeting with Markin.

Something about Markin demeanor and Josh’s response to it just seemed to mesh from the get-go although Markin had already been on the yellow brick road since the previous summer after, unwisely as it would turn out, dropping out of college in Boston to “find himself” out in the wilderness. He was also a few years older than Josh. Maybe it was the similar working-class backgrounds, no, desperate working poor, a notch below working class, backgrounds, Josh’s already mentioned precarious textile mills in Olde Saco and Markin’s dying shipbuilding industry a precursor to the deindustrialization of America in North Adamsville down south of Boston. Those resulting “wanting habits” they would spent endless dope high nights trying to control, trying too to make sense out of tightened their bond. Maybe too it was their mutual love of the sea put paid to by being in another ocean scene. Maybe it was their love of language when later both would dip their respective pens in the inkwell of literary life. But as Josh thought about that first encounter up on Russian Hill it had probably been a little thing like after Josh, who didn’t know Markin from Adam, asked him for a joint, a blunt, Markin had passed it along without a thought to a guy he didn’t know from Adams with the already classic line “don’t bogart that joint” meaning keep the residue for the start of another joint, meaning too that any guy with the audacity to ask for joint in the middle of nowhere was already a kindred spirit.

And so they were, kindred spirits, until the bitter end, the time a few years later when Markin had gone over the edge and wound up in a very dark place in sunny Mexico. But that later stuff the stuff after the bus caravan disbanded was a story for another day. Josh’s thoughts were about the couple, almost three years, he spend alongside Markin on Captain Crunch’s yellow brick road traveling caravan bus, The Living End. A bus very similar to the one he had seen on that Maine highway.

Now this bus stuff, the Further In, made famous by author Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and recorded for eternity later by the writer Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was in 1967 still something of an oddity, especially on the East Coast. Josh until he ran in Captain Crunch’s The Living End had only heard about them as he headed west and when he approached Markin that was the closest he had ever been to such a vehicle. Over the next couple of years as youth nation gathered itself along the Pacific Coast Highway for adventures it would be almost impossible to go ten miles without seeing one, or of dropping into any campsite, rustic or full service without at least one “freak” bus disturbing the mental space of the square regular campers. They were of a piece usually and were distinct from the ubiquitous Volkswagen buses both in size and purpose. The “school day golden rule day” seats a lot of youth nation knew from riding in the damn things endlessly during their school days had been ripped out and replaced by layers of mattresses, boxes of camping materials, boxes of dry goods, knapsacks and whatever any current traveler had for personal effects topped off by a sound system worthy of a concert hall to give the beat once the drug intake reached nirvana proportions. Captain Crunch’s bus layout was no different except it had a compliment of folding chairs and a folding table for eating purposes, if anybody was interested in culinary delights. Go to it.

Despite Josh’s best efforts he had been unable to unravel how or why Captain Crunch, real name, Samuel Malone, a college graduate, Michigan, Class of 1954, so older than his fellow travelers for the most part, had given up his career in Mad Man Manhattan Madison Avenue advertising and headed west, began to hang around the haunts of North Beach when that was the time when the beat Jack, beat Allen, beat Neal, beat Gregory were social lions and kings in the late be-bop 1950s cool jazz breeze that swung through the land and landed in Frisco town before heading out to the Japan seas. Word around was that he had become a tea devotee (now in the new dispensation called grass, herb, ganja but it all came down to marijuana and plenty of high-grade dope too) it in the Village and that tripped him west. Word around was that he had been left money by some wealthy uncle and indifferent to the wiles of advertising when he had free-flow dough he split the New York scene. Word around was that in the Village he had met a girl, a woman from Vassar really, Susan Stein, Class of 1958, who persuaded him to go west with her and see what was what on the West Coast. That seemed to be the best version since Susan now known among the bus occupants as Mustang Sally was riding alongside the Captain as he made his way up and down the Coast, looking, looking for his (and her, he was very jealous of an independence on her part and he went silently crazy when she developed a taste for rock and roll band members of the new acid rock groups that were starting to emerge creating a distinct rock sound to go with the new dope-induced lifestyle), well, looking for something. Word had also been around that the Captain who knew everybody, was connected in with a serious dope-line that put him in touch with the Kesey crowd in La Honda and he had traded a bag of dope, a big humongous bag of dope for the bus but that was in the realm of urban legend. All Josh figured out after giving up trying to get a scoop on what was going on was take the ticket, take the ride as Doctor Gonzo, Hunter Thompson would say when he coined the phrase.         

As Josh looked back to those days he thought how easy it had been to become a “member” of this Living End war circus-commune-ghost dance-beat-hippie bandwagon. Of course there was no official membership people just kind of came on board and left as they desired. The Captain was pretty liberal in letting people stay with the caravan as long as they didn’t freak out from the dope too much and need hospitalization, didn’t hog the dope, drink, food, didn’t trash wherever they were camped and didn’t steal from or lay “bummers,” a term of art for a bad scene, anybody on board. Although not everybody was built for the road over the long haul like Josh and Markin, some people just gravitated to the bus in say Golden Gate Park and stayed around as long as the bus stayed and then left. Others took the ride for a few days and then headed home and back to the old life or to somewhere else for whatever it was they were looking for. Not much stealing or hogging of dope in the early days, or ever on the Living End although later on other buses and the whole scene in Haight-Ashbury and elsewhere there was plenty of  bummer material once the less idealistic pioneers drifted back  to where they came from and the lumpen crazies and batos locos reared their ugly heads.     

Josh had been welcomed aboard pretty easily on the basic of Markin’s “good vibes” about him. After that introductory joint Markin had invited him to stay for the party that was going to happen later in the day and through the night. It had been a great party although Josh was now very vague about what had happened except that having stayed through the night and having found himself on a big old fluffy mattress in the bus Markin had said that morning after that he was “on the bus,” meaning that if he wanted to stay with the group he was in. He decided that he would stay, stay until the end of the summer, maybe a week before Freshman Orientation at State U in early September and then head back. That part was simple. The part that had been hard was when the end of summer came and the bus was camped at Todo el Mundo south of Big Sur he had to make a big decision about whether he wanted to go back to Maine or do as Markin suggested and play his hand out on the Coast and go back some time later. Aside from where that would have left Josh in draft land status since the war in Vietnam was raging out of control and eating up men and materials at a prestigious rate requiring more draftees than ever he had to face the issue of his parents and their rages against the night if he told them he was going to forego being the first in the family to go to college for a lark. He did choose to stay, did it but not without the rancor that would alienate him from his parents for many years thereafter, had never really gotten back on an even keel with them before they passed away.      

Of course a lot of that family business, a lot of that worry about the draft, a lot of that what would he do in life if Josh didn’t go to college right away and lose his place in the rat race was later time rationalizations. The real reason that he stayed, or the primary reason why he stayed after the end of summer was that he was “married” to Butterfly Swirl. Butterfly Swirl, real name, Carol Clark, a surfer girl from Carlsbad down in Southern California near San Diego who had broken loose, who had run a “jail-break” from her golden boy surfer boy when she heard about what was happening in the summer of love up north in Frisco town and had taken the Greyhound bus up to see what it was all about. Somebody had directed her to Golden Gate Park and after checking out a few other scenes along the way wound up in front of The Living End with some guy who knew one of the “passengers” on the bus. She too had just finished high school but somehow she gravitated toward Markin although he was far from interested in surfer girls as could be. (Markin who, by the way, was always called “the Scribe” in those days on the bus, a moniker he had carried with him from the East from his corner boy days in North Adamsville and not laid on him out West like with so many others who were trying to escape their old names, their old slave names to hear them tell it just like blacks like Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali who had shed their slave names with much greater justification.)

But those were odd times, times when hardened corner boys from nowhere in the East in places like Olde Saco and North Adamsville could hook up with surfer girls, JAPs, Native Americans, then still called Indians, brown skinned daughters of the braceros and batos locos and black as coal women from everywhere then called negroes. And so Butterfly Swirl and the Scribe “played house” together until, well, until Josh hit the scene looking for that vagrant joint at the end of Markin’s hand. The night of that first party had been the night when Butterfly made her play for Josh, wound up next to him on that mattress “on the bus.”

Now we are talking about people, young people, who were trying to turn the world upside down, get away from their family value values, get away from some straight-jacket existence in Elmira, Evanston, East LA, and so it was considered corny, old-fashioned to take umbrage if your girl, or guy, took off with somebody else. That was the way it was, everything, everybody free. But as in the case of Captain Crunch who saw red, or some evil color whenever Mustang Sally went off with some young rocker the Scribe was bitched out for a while over the new combination of Butterfly and his new friend Josh. But those were the days when everybody was looking for new “family” and so after sulking for a couple of days Markin finally gave his “blessing” to the pairing, finally “married” them and became the “patriarch” of his little family.

Although the “marriage” ceremony was performed by Captain Crunch in his role as leader of the ship it was the Scribe who gave Josh his new name “Prince of Love” that he carried with him for the two almost three years he traveled up and down the Coast with The Living End. Needless to say also as a sign of the times after Butterfly and Prince had their “honeymoon,” taking their first hits of acid, LSD, at a Jefferson Airplane and going down the coast for several months Butterfly decided that she was not cut out for the vagabond life and went back to her surfer boy life. But by then the Prince was totally into the alternative lifestyle scene provided by the Scribe and the other passengers on the bus.

Many nights Markin would regale his “family,” Butterfly and Prince, as well as whoever else sat around the fireplace wherever they were camped eating whatever hell-broth olio concoction somebody who was hungry enough to do so started to throw in the big metal bucket of a pot that most stews started in, with stories of his corner boy days, of his long-time corner boys. Mostly about, Frankie, now a lawyer, now Josh’s lawyer along with most of the other old-time corner boys who needed his services for whatever reason, Frankie Riley, the acknowledged leader of the crew who gave Markin him the moniker “the Scribe” since he was always writing something, something about Frankie and after a while, became his “flak.”  What Markin called Frankie’s Boswell although nobody knew or gave a rat’s ass about the analogy with Doctor Johnson’s biographer except Markin. Markin was a pip that way as everybody on the bus would find out eventually if they stayed long enough.  He relished the fact that he knew about two thousand arcane pieces of information like that Boswell thing.

Markin also mentioned guys like Jack Callahan, the great football player and now Mister Toyota of Eastern Massachusetts, the hooligan Jimmy Jenkins who developed the five finger discount, the “clip” into an art form, now a dentist, Sal Russo who laid his head down for his country for no good reason down in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and whose name is now etched in granite on the North Adamsville memorial to the Vietnam war dead of the town and down in D.C. too but in black marble,  Bart Webber, who became a printer, now retired after turning the business over to his youngest son, Alex Johnson, a musician, now passed  away after years of heavy drug addiction and horror, Sam Lowell, also a lawyer but who unlike Frankie who ran a mid-level law office in Boston ran a small two man operation in his old hometown and is now semi-retired, and Frank Jackman, who went into writing advertising for a big Boston public relations firm and had been doing penance for that career recently by writing stuff about the old days which many people are very eager to read.  

The reason Josh thought of these names is that they were all still familiar to him, the ones still alive since with the exception of Sal Russo whom he never met before the reports of his death got transmitted to Markin.   Josh had met each and every one of them out on the West Coast when Markin, after have made a beachhead told them that they had better get there asses out to the Coast because the big tidal wave sea-change that he had been predicting, had been boring them to tears, boring them until they could give a rat’s ass about the subject, since about tenth grade was unfolding before his eyes. See aside for those two thousand facts that he loved to hoard like a king’s ransom and then pop on some unsuspecting doper Markin had sensed that big things were floating in the air for his, their generation to grab onto, and now that they were all out of school they had better hurry up and get west any way they could, by wagon train if necessary. So not only was the summer of 1967 the summer that Josh would latch onto that big tidal wave change he had also sensed coming although he could not articulate it quite that way Markin could but the summer that he met Markin’s corner boys who took him as one of their own. And he them.

Something new was in the air, longer hair, boys and girls, bearded for those males who unlike Josh could muster up enough facial hair to not appear ridiculous, less ownership of girl-boy single and forever ideas, freer sex, protected or not, the break away from the missionary one-position- fits-all, all taboos about sinister dope thrown out the windows, fuck you to the war, the Vietnam War, the central event that fifty years later still defined the life of the generation, except for those who like Markin and Sal  got caught in the draft vice and couldn’t figure a way out, and a general hell let’s turn the world upside down attitude for its own sake but some old-time working-class kindred spirit thing was working among the old friends of Markin and his new friend Josh.

Late August of 1967 was the high water mark of those who came out from North Adamsville and met Josh. They came in a couple of waves, came hitchhiking mostly except Alex Johnson who was working in a band that was heading west on a tour. They all eventually met in what today would seem like pioneer days manner via snail mail, Western Union telegrams and over the land-line telephone. Met in Todo el Mundo just south of Big Sur in a then isolated forest clearing with a few cabins, primitive cabins and a clear view of the pacific Pacific Ocean (just kidding the ocean down on the edge of the western world was wind-swept even on good days, so windy that you had to back yourself to the wind in order to light a cigarette and use about six matches to get a light for a smoke which they all did in those days). Met Josh and Markin there and struck up those life-long connections.            

Josh was thinking how improbable it was that they would all meet in such a desolate isolated spot, such an isolated desolate spot for city boys, born and raised but that was just a matter of Captain Crunch’s whims, or some deal he was running to keep everything afloat, keeping his own counsel on how and why too. The most probable rumor among the passengers, those not too stoned at all times to give a fuck or who just “grooved” on the ride, on the scene and could care less about the finances or the social niceties, was that the Captain was running a high-grade dope operation getting the best dope from south of the border from guys, bad hombres from what Josh could tell when they headed in the bus down to San Diego one time to stay “house-sitting” this huge hacienda mansion place called Rancho San Pedro for a “friend” of the Captain’s, he knew from many trips down there. The most persistent rumor that never faded in the time Josh and Markin were on the bus was that The Living End like he said before was either bought with the proceeds of a dope deal or the Captain got it in trade.

So the Captain, although he ran a loose ship except when it came to Mustang Sally and in that case he was totally frustrated with her antics, was the guy who decided when the bus was leaving for another site. That why the bus had been sitting on Russian Hill the fateful day Josh asked Markin for some dope. It had also been why Markin had first picked up the bus down in Monterrey (and where he meet a short-time fling, Mother Earth, a slender red-head wearing one of the first granny dresses which had caught his eyes down near beat down Cannery Row where he was paying homage to the muse of John Steinbeck, and yes, the monikers, the break from slavery monikers were fast and furious then.) And this was why through a whole ration of crap trying to get West in the first place and then trying to find this place that nobody knew of even longtime denizens of Big Sur the North Adamsville crew met up in the middle of nowhere California.           

Of course as early 1960s corner boys formed by rock and roll and the deep freeze red scare Cold War night they all loved the wine, women and song, and the add-on dope until it came out of their ears. They even bought into Markin’s (and Josh’s) idea of building a commune, getting back to real life and not the nine to five grind of their parents and of what those parents had instilled in them. But as time went by, after what Josh thought was about six months later, after the high tide of the ghost dance they had all performed on peyote buttons under the direction of a neo-shaman, it was clear that like with Butterfly Swirl who had left in the late fall of 1967 that not everybody shared Markin’s dream, not everybody was built for the new world a-borning. Especially when the real world intruded, like hassles from the cops, like not being welcomed in various towns and establishments and like the frictions of living together got too intense. But most of all the whole thing went poof when Markin got his belated draft notice and decided he had no good reason not to be inducted into the Army, a decision he would sorely cometo regret, the old gang started drifting away. Except Josh who would still be on the bus until Markin got back from the service and he meet him in Oakland to see what they would do next.       

They stayed on the bus for a while, although clearly, clearly to Josh, something, something the usually gregarious Markin would not talk about happened in Vietnam, something that had taken the edge off of his free spirit. So they got off the bus, got a place in Oakland, did a lot of political work, mainly defending the Black Panthers and other political prisoners who were increasing under the gun of the American government. One night Markin mentioned that just as he saw in the early 1960s that a new day was dawning, that all things were possible by the end of the decade, the first couple of years of the 1970s, the high tide had been broken, the ebb tide was flowing. Josh held out for a few more years until Markin went over the edge, started doing cocaine, got into bad drug deals, went south on some kind of drug deal never fully explained and wound up with two slugs in his heart in a back alley in Sonora or and was buried in a potter’s field down there.              

Josh thought though after he had gotten back to Olde Saco from his Boston chore that day he saw the blast from the past yellow brick road bus on the Maine highway as he was phoning and e-mailing the old companions about what he had seen that day not everything was for naught. Maybe that bus was a harbinger of things to come. He was ready.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hunter Thompson-“Doctor Gonzo” Where Are You Now When We Need You?

A link to a Wikipedia entry for Doctor Hunter S. Thompson, "Doctor Gonzo."

By Frank Jackman


Back in 2008, no, maybe late 2007 Josh Breslin, the then well-known writer for half the unread alterative journals and small publication in America now mercifully retired attempted against  all caution to seriously comment on the upcoming presidential election in the United States (mercifully retired for his gallon of friends who had to subscribe to those alternative and small press publications and appropriately display them, unread, on their expansive coffee tables when guests, including Josh showed up for party time). Attempted to in his small way “pinch hit” for his mentor, the late Doctor Gonzo, the later big-time lefty journalist Hunter Thompson who had gained a fair share of his fame from every four years since the ill-fated and ill-starred 1972 campaign where nice guy Senator George McGovern got pasted by the then current president and common criminal, one Richard Milhous Nixon, rolling out his wild wind commentary, Who would be sorely missed having committed suicide for what were apparently health reasons in 2005 (or maybe not being able to stand what looked like then a standard brand same old, same old campaign in 2008 where he would begin to look like the ghost of Teddy White who in an earlier time got tagged with being the “go to” guy for presidential politics to the exclusion of any other worthy pursuit).   


On the face of the matter the thought of a big-time drag out knock them down fight for the soul of the Democratic Party between an insurgent black candidate, Barack Obama, subsequently the first black president but also the first president whose administration from start to finish was tied up with wars somewhere despite a still unseemly Nobel Peace prize to his credit and the first serious woman candidate Hillary Clinton, former first lady and the wife of most publically acknowledge randy President since Warren Harding  had seemingly endless possibilities for comment and consideration. And no question a few well-chosen barbs as well. On the other side, the Republican Party also had what looked like a real donnybrook for that party’s nomination between ex-Vietnam prisoner of war Senator John McCain from Arizona and an upstart Mormon, Mitt Romney out of Massachusetts or someplace it was never  clear where he claimed residence, whose seemingly odd-ball religion with its former history of polygamy (including by his grandfather or great-grandfather Josh forgot which) and the wearing white cotton underwear by its devotees had its own feisty possibilities.


Josh did start out like a house afire, had the Obama black and smart appeal nailed down, saw where Clinton fatigue would do Hillary in and where Mitt’s inability to not drool in public over the prospects of getting the nomination despite being “on the one hand, on the other hand” about every single issue including whether he liked wearing white cotton boxer shorts or briefs would finally make him a loser. Then in May maybe before, but not question by May, Josh threw in the towel, publically stated that what had seemed like the makings of an interesting bourgeois parties campaign had turned to piss and vinegar. Had all the appeal of a mop.


He abandoned his ideas in a fit of hubris recognizing as well that it took the stomach of a Hunter Thompson loaded down with as much dope as he could get down his gills, as much Wild Turkey as he could syphon down his throat and as much gibberish as he could produce on whatever new technological gadget he could handle to make his reports to do justice to the damn thing. Long gone Hunter meant that there was really nobody who gave a rat’s ass about covering the campaign the way it should be covered-with a very pinched nose and from a midnight hotel room one hundred miles from any candidate.


When 2011 came around with a sitting if then wildly unpopular president in office Josh didn’t even bother to think about the nerve-wracking possibility that he might slip back, might abandon that twelve-step program for political junkies which had weened him off such fruitless endeavors. Then 2015 came along, 2015 the year that Josh had planned to retire, planned to go back up to Maine and work through a couple of ideas about that great American novel that due to the urgencies of making enough money to pay alimony, child support and college educations for his three divorced wives and his brood of children, and all of a sudden a guy named Donald Trump came into view, had some kind of serious chance to take the Republican nomination based on Know-Nothing politics that had not been in play since about 1856 before the newly emerged Republican Party beat back the bastards.


Josh toyed and toyed with the idea of getting back in the ring, of going mano y mano with this cartoonish character who seemed a natural for the skewer. Then Josh went back to his archives, back to some comments he made in 2008 and later in 2012 when he abandoned the crummy little small change of beating up on guys and gals who could give a rat’s ass about some writer up in Maine holding forth on the issues of the day. The kicker though was a commentary he had written about the need for the outsized ego of a Hunter Thompson to do justice to the campaign. Hunter whose blood rose to the quick when all the bullshit of the campaigns gathered steam would have loved this low-rent 2016 fight. Here’s what Josh had to say then, and stands by now when more than ever we need a big foot guy like Thompson to tilt his lance:


Josh Breslin comment:                  



One of the beautiful things about commentary on American bourgeois presidential electoral politics is that with a change of name here, maybe these days an added gender or two, maybe a longer list of contenders in one contest year than another, you can “cut and paste” from 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 (I’m ready) and be right on point. The following piece from the archives is a case in point. But the real beauty, as stated in the entry, is that I don’t have to actually vote for any of them. That, as the credit card commercial says, is priceless.


“In my old age I am getting a little weak-kneed about having to wade through the basically vacuous blather coming out of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating processes. While we are in a little period of ‘doldrums’ before the deluge I keep falling back to the work of Hunter Thompson on earlier presidential campaigns to try to keep a little sanity. Here’s a little tribune to the fallen journalist. Damn, Hunter we sure as hell could use you now. Call me collect from wherever you are. I’ll gladly accept the charges. Selah.


This commentary was originally used as part of a review of Hunter Thompson's Songs of the Doomed. Since most of the points I made in my review of that book apply here I will let that review stand in for the essential thrust of his whole body of political work. Obviously each book written by Thompson on the various presidential campaigns is formatted differently but whether Thompson was skewering the Nixon era, the Reagan era, the Clinton era or the Bush eras the song is the same. And it was not (and is not) pretty.


Generally the most the trenchant social criticism, commentary and analysis complete with a prescriptive social program ripe for implementation has been done by thinkers and writers who work outside the realm of bourgeois society, notably socialists and other progressive thinkers. Bourgeois society rarely allows itself, in self- defense, to be skewered by trenchant criticism from within. This was particularly true when it came from a known dope fiend, gun freak and all-around lifestyle addict like the late, lamented Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Although he was far from any thought of a socialist solution and would reject such a designation we could travel part of the way with him. We saw him as a kindred spirit. He was not one of us- but he was one of us. All honor to him for pushing the envelope of journalism in new directions and for his pinpricks at the hypocrisy of bourgeois society. Such men are dangerous.


I am not sure whether at the end of the day Hunter Thompson saw himself or wanted to been seen as a voice, or the voice, of his generation but he would not be an unworthy candidate. In any case, his was not the voice of the generation of 1968, my generation, being just enough older to have been formed by the earlier, less forgiving coming of political age in the 1950's. His earlier writings show his struggle to break out of formalistic journalism. Nevertheless, only a few, and with time it seems fewer in each generation, allow themselves to search for some kind of truth even if they cannot go the whole distance. This compilation under review is a hodgepodge of articles over the best part of Thompson's career. As with all journalists, as indeed with all writers especially those who are writing under the gun and for mass circulation media these works show an uneven quality. However the total effect is to blast old bourgeois society almost to its foundations. Others will have to push on further.


One should note that `gonzo' journalism of which his later work is a prime example is quite compatible with socialist materialism. That is, the writer is not precluded from interpreting the events described within himself/herself as an actor in the story. The worst swindle in journalism, fostered by the formal journalism schools, as well as in other disciplines like history and political science is that somehow one must be “objective.”' Reality is better served if the writer puts his/her analysis correctly and then gets out of the way. In his best work that was Hunter's way.


As a member of the generation of 1968 I would note that the 1960s was a period of particular importance which won Hunter his spurs as a journalist. Hunter, like many of us, cut his political teeth on one Richard Milhous Nixon, at one time President of the United States and all- around political chameleon. Thompson went way out of his way, and with pleasure, to skewer that man when he was riding high. He was moreover just as happy to kick Nixon when he was down, just for good measure. Nixon represented the “dark side” of the American spirit- the side that appears today as the bully boy of the world and as craven brute. Sound familiar? If for nothing else Brother Thompson deserves a place in the pantheon of journalistic heroes for this exercise in elementary hygiene. Anyone who wants to rehabilitate THAT man before history please consult Thompson's work. Hunter, I hope you find the Brown Buffalo wherever you are. Read this book. Read all his books.”

Strange that this review could with a few changes have been written in 2016-JB

Lucy In The Sky-With The Ivory-Merchant Production of E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View In Mind

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

A Room With A View, starring Helen Bonham Carter, Judi Dench, and of course Maggie Smith, directed and produced by Ivory and Merchant fromthe1908 novel by E.M. Forster, 1985 


No question for Europe and to the extent that Britain was part of Europe (and is, note the Brexit vote recently) World War I was a watershed between the old ideas of civil society and the new the old represented in Britain by the cultural term “Victorian era,” reflecting certain strait is the gate social norms and tons of sexual repression at least in public. And at least in the public prints, and in public entertainments as well. But right at the end of the era, right around the turn of the century, the turn of the 20th century little cracks began to appear and the younger generation, the younger generation whose male component would join the rest of the flower of European manhood which would lay its head down in some foreboding fields of France, led the way. Not too much however should be made, or rather over-made, of those cracks witness the fate of poor Oscar Wilde who despite his sardonic and witty jabs at late Victorian (and we will not forget when the old biddy Victoria died the changeover to Edwardian era) wound up in Reading Gaol for acts one could not speak of, for the love that dare not speak its name. Those small cracks though are what E.M. Forster looked at in his 1908 novel A Room With A View of which the 1985 film adaptation by the famous team of Ivory and Merchant being reviewed here is based on.      

Of course the “room with the view” idea is both a concrete expression of a physical location in arty Florence where the main characters mix and match in a modest boarding house, a place where a coterie of British citizens are taking a middle class version of the old Grand Tour and attempting to get a room with a view of the famous and quite beautiful city and a more idealistic concept of freedom, of breaking away from the past of stuffy convention and routine. That tension between tradition, custom, the old ways and the “jail break-out” of that late Victorian generation, or part of it drives the film (and the book as well since Ivory-Merchant at least in regard to Forster’s work are pretty faithful to the author’s storyline).     

Here is how the small jail-break played out in this one. Lucy, Lucy of the review headline, played rather nicely by a young and precocious Helen Bonham Carter along with her strait is the gate sexually repressed older cousin Charlotte as chaperone, played, inevitably played, by the great character actor Maggie Smith, are among the guests at that boarding house in Florence mentioned earlier. They, despite their fervent request, have been given a room without a view, and seemed destined to have to put up with that condition until two male fellow boarders, the Emersons, father and son, switch rooms with them. Not only switch rooms with them but are the antithesis of gentile society with some pretty advanced free-thinking ideas that old Emerson has passed on to his son, George. His beautiful son George, played by Julian Sloan, which set up the tormented love interest that drives the film as Lucy struggles with her allegiances to the past and her desire to be a thoroughly modern Millie. Needless to say in Florence no good can come of the budding romance, and nothing does except that George makes his first rebuffed attempt at smitten-hood (translation: He tried to kiss Lucy in an elysian field).             

Fast forward, well, maybe not fast forward but forward with Lucy back in England (you know Britain without Scotland, Ireland, and Wales in those days) at her family’s country estate where she had after several earlier refusals decided that she would marry an ardent suitor, the bookish snobbish Cecil (played by a young Daniel Day-Lewis). Well if that is what she wants then okay. But Cecil is strictly a bookworm, an intellectual looking to add Lucy to his collection of books or something,   strictly a character in old-fashioned Victorian tradition (hell he doesn’t even play tennis then the rage among the younger set). The beautiful part though is when George, who along with his father has very conveniently taken a small mansion in the neighborhood, puts serious doubts in Lucy’s mind about her future with a bookworm, with a guy who won’t even look up at the sky but keeps his nose in a book quoting odd-ball writers out of hand.

Eventually she gives Cecil his well-deserved walking papers but even after that freedom break something is amiss, something is still stirring in her suppressed passionate heart. Against all odd though and this is the ending every ladies’ reading circle would be looking for is this kind of novel and in a film plotline after speaking with old Emerson it turned out that she loved, madly loved, George. Of course George and Lucy had to sneak off to Florence to elope since breaking off one’s engagement to a well-established figure and taking up with a free-spirit would not do, would just not do in high society. What do you want to bet though they have a room with a view in that boarding house they were staying at in Florence? A room with a view if they ever get up from the downy billows.             

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Scenes From An Ordinary Be-Bop 1960s Life-The King Of The Skee Ball World

A Wikipedia entry for skee ball.
By Zack James
I have plenty of my own carnival and amusement park stories to tell, and will, but today I am giving my space over to Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, king hell king of the North Adamsville schoolboy night and my best friend in those days. Every once in a while these days we connect and rekindle old lies and other assorted tales and some, including this one, just cry out to be twice told.  So here is Frankie straight up, Frankie in his own voice, and his story about how he became a skee addict. The time of this story is just before I linked up with him in middle school after the my family moved across town from Adamsville proper, the old North Adamsville middle school (then called junior high school). Other stories, later stories, I was there as an eye witness so I can trust them, a little anyway, this one though seems kind of well Frankie-like so let him take responsibility for telling it.
Francis Xavier Riley comment:
Walking on tiptoes its seemed, it always seemed, I entered Playland not much of a name by today’s hyped-up standards for any fly-by-night operation but then an enchanted castle in my youthful skinny dreams, at least at night when one did not notice the daytime noticeable missing slats on one of the outside walls or the desperately needed painting, maybe two coats, inside and out, or the angry smell of the refuge left behind by the who spent and lost, like the angry skimpy cheapjack winnings were going to change somebody's whole life around.
Yah, so I entered, my solemn entry, quietly as I eyed (or spied) the doings and adjust my hearing to the ear-splitting sounds of twenty (or more) pinball machines getting plenty of play. Some guy, some older guy, meaning over sixteen and allowed to play the pinball machines that we younger ones could only watch (and wait for our sixteen turn), slender, sleek, slinky girlfriend hanging from his side is on a roll at one of the machines, Madame LaRue’s machine from the look of it. That’s the one with the full-busted, vivacious women (maybe lusty is better, but all of this is mere refection on innocent, or almost innocent dreams) looking back from the point total/games remaining total area (or whatever it is called), urging the player on and on, like they were the prize and not the twenty extra games that you “win” by beating some score. This guy, this guy on a roll is working that old lady of a machine like crazy, this guy is a pro, because he knows just how to sway those hips of his to get his points, and I notice that his sweetie is alternating between looking at that old pinball hitting the banks as it rolls down the chute, and those swaying hips. All this, of course, had only subterranean meaning then, I would get hip to the thing when I had my own sixteen sweetie, and was hoping, hoping against hope that she was checking out my own wobblier swaying hips. Yah, Playland was nothing but sexual tension in the air from the “get-go”, if you knew the signal, that’s what drove rationale guys to place their honor and their manhood on the line for those extra games. But that was later, now it was all chaste, my chaste, and for all I knew we could have been in church.
Sure the place had sex, if you understood that in the widest sense but it also had strictly kids’ stuff, stuff virile eleven and twelve year old boys like me wouldn’t give the time of day to stuff, like stick-a-dime-in-the-machine and “ride” the wild bronco, or donkey, or whatever. Or, get this, put your dimes in the machine to “win” a prize if you can successfully navigate this crane mechanism and hold it long enough to get to the chute that opens up and gives you the prize. Or step on some weight machine and get your fortune ticket, or at another get your name placed on a metal I.D. tag, or farther on get pictures of your favorite cowboy actors, or other favorites by inserting coin in machine. Or, and this is strictly for lamesters, crank out your dough on one of the bubblegum machines. See what I mean, strictly kids’ stuff.
Then I moseyed (yah, that’s what I did, I moseyed, I swear) around the back and be-still my heart I was, in fact, in church because there are the skee ball lanes. Now I have been in any number of amusement parks, carnivals, county fairs, and the like, from back-county fair Freiburg, Maine to New York's Coney Island to the California Santa Monica pier, and sometimes it is called skee ball and in other places it is called skeet ball. Hey, they are both the same. At least every place that I have ever been, under either name they have had the same set-up. You don’t know skee ball? Seriously? No, sure you do. It’s kind of like bowling, poor man’s bowling, I guess. You put your dime (at the time) in and down a chute come ten small wooden (sometimes ceramic) balls. That’s the bowling-like part. The lane is tilted up with a bump barrier that leads into a bulls-eye type target area made up of different values (10, 20, 30, 50, obviously the higher the value the harder the shot) and you have to get your hand-held small ball into the hole to score points. The more points the bigger the prize (at some point), although you need very high point totals to win anything beyond gee-gads. What this game is though, and this is probably the first attraction reason why I fell, and fell hard for the game, was beyond a certain degree of eye-hand coordination you can be an un-coordinated, clumsy, hit your head on everything, stumble on everything kind of boy and still do pretty well.
Yah, sure, that sure-fire, low-level skill idea may have been the first reason, maybe, that I fell for skee ball, but think about it, I was an eleven year old boy and while sex, eleven year old ideas about it anyway, were not uppermost in my mind, and I didn’t then quite have it figured about girls, or rather about their charms overcoming their incessant giggles, their scent, that bath soap fresh scent, was in the air. So, maybe, I would have played a few games here and there, and dropped it as too easy, too kids’ stuff, or too boring like me and every other kid did with lots of things, and moved on to, oh, archery, let’s say. But you know there has to be a woman, or really a girl, come into this story somewhere, else why bother to tell the story in the first place. There is plenty about carnivals and amusement parks to describe without bringing women in, right? And certainly no one is going to hold their breath for more than six seconds over the mysteries of skee ball, straight up. At least I hope that‘s the case.
Okay, to the story. Yah, it was a dame, a dame, well, maybe, a mini-dame let’s say that led me to a life of skees. And it wasn’t intentional, or at least I don’t think so, but reflecting back on it now you never know. See, after a while, whenever we went to Playland, or rather to the beach where Playland was, I bowed out of going on rides, playing the odd-ball carny-type games like putting a quarter down on a number and have some barker spin a wheel for fame and fortune or trying to hit milk bottles to win a prize, or throwing darts at balloons, or, well, you get it, I was single-mindedly devoted to skees. After six or seven times I got good at it, or at least figured out the torque angle on the thing that got you to the bigger point circles in the target area. Yah, yah, I know this is not rocket science or even close but it was a small victory to an awkward-gaited kid.
Now skee then, and now too probably, is not exactly a game that world-beating pinball wizards (or video game masters-of-the-universe today) would even give an off-hand tumble. Nor would girls who were crazy for pinball wizard guys, with their swaying hips and all. But, maybe, just maybe, kind of awkward, wayward eleven or twelve year old girls might, mightn’t they? Well, that idea, that possibility is what drives this story. I was minding my own skee business when this twist (girl, although I didn’t call them twists then that came later when I became king of the corner boy schoolboy night and had to keep things snappy to keep guys like Zack and Markin amused, just girls) came up to a skee lane a couple of lanes over (no waiting in skee-world), put her money in and starts playing. I don’t know exactly which one it was but either on her second or third roll she went “crazy” and rolled the ball so hard that it bounced over into my lane. Naturally, skee master of the universe that I was got miffed, no more than miffed. She came over to apologize and I could see that she really was sorry-so what are you going to do, right?
Now in the universe of female beauty, even eleven or twelve year old female beauty, this girl, this Mary Beth when she told me her name later, was nothing but middling, and that may be giving her the best of it. But here is the thing and I picked up on it right when she came over to offer her apologies, she had this very winning, very winning smile. Well, like I said what are you going to do. Obviously this maiden in distress needed a little help in the skee department and before I could offer her some tips she boldly asked me if couldn’t, pretty please, pretty please, please help her with her game. Well, yah, what are you going to do, right.
So naturally we go back to her lane and, after showing her one of my moves on the target, I got behind her a little to show her the right way to do it. Whee! I probably had been closer to a girl before, dancing, or some quick-artist petting party kiss thing but this was the first time that I seriously noticed that girls had curves, curves that kind of fit nicely together. And she noticed that I noticed too because she did not back away, or anything like that. But, come on now, I was a serious skee man and so after showing her the ropes I excused myself, and head back to my own lane. A couple of minutes later after she had finished her game she came over to my lane and offered me her coupons (these coupons automatically came up after your game and gave you the appropriate amount based on your score. You later redeemed them for prizes, etc.) and said that she wouldn’t be using them. And, get this, she also said, and I give an exact quote here, “Wasn’t it too bad that I couldn’t be good enough at skee like you to win a prize and go home happy.”
Yah, I know, I know, I know now the oldest trick in the book. But then, well I did try to help her with her game and maybe she could learn something by watching me, and she had those curves and all. So naturally, I was compelled to win a little trinket for her. And so I was off to do battle. I will say having sweet Mary Beth at my side inspired me and I scored pretty, pretty well. Well, enough in skee world language to win her a lucky rabbit’s foot key chain. Pretty good, right. She thought so, and was so delighted by her prize that she said she would keep it forever and wouldn’t I like to go for a walk down to the sea wall and talk. Well, she had my head spinning, for sure, but like I said before I was eleven and didn’t have the girl thing, the girl charm thing, quite figured out then. I said I needed to keep playing to hone my skills but maybe some other time. She said yes, in a voice a little hurt now that I think about it, some other time.
I went to those skee lanes plenty of times later when I wised up about girls and their charms, hoping, looking to see an awkward girl with curves and a rabbit’s foot key chain dangle named Mary Beth but I never saw her again. But maybe, just maybe, that is why I still roll  skee.