Saturday, November 7, 2009

Factory World

Spring and Summer, 1996, Portland, Oregon

I got a job at the Portland Press, feeding a machine that put labels on junk mail, sorting these newsletters, monthly bulletins and catalogs by zip code and then bulk mailing them to homes across the Northwest. A noble trade if there ever was one. It was the universe’s way of telling me I needed to get my work ethic back, working for people in exchange for a place to stay was good for a year, but now was time to buck up and get a life. My only hope was a factory job and a cheap hotel until I could get enough money together for a room in a house.

The Kent Hotel was home to all different kinds of people. I think they filmed part of Drugstore Cowboy there, no one told me the history of the place. I didn’t even talk to the receptionist until I needed a new mini-fridge. The only people who ever talked to me were a couple men in long black coats in the elevator asking me how long I’d been staying at The Kent and if I’d gotten to know the fine ladies on the Seventh Floor. I lied and told them I was new and passing through, so they tipped their hats when I reached my floor.

Sixty five dollars a week for the hotel allowed me put a little aside from the Portland Press paycheck, and overtime was available on weekends, so I put my all into it and soon got to know the other people at the factory pretty well. They were all lifers on the floor and they knew this was just a temporary bump in the road for me. The office people were on another planet behind their second floor windows and cubicles.

My main trainer and workmate was Cecil. He had accidentally killed his girlfriend with one punch two years before, he told me, and was working at Portland Press as part of his probation. He got off with manslaughter as a first offense, but he really loved and missed his girlfriend. Cecil had machine intuition, talking to it as he coaxed it back up and running. I sat down and did nothing at least five times a day while he freed up some jam or adjusted some springs.

Another guy I worked with and hung out with a lot was Roger, an old radical from the sixties. Again, that’s what he told me. Was at Woodstock, all that. I always love a good story, even if I think it’s a lie. He worked a couple machines over from me and we usually took our smoke breaks together, or sat out on the dock during lunch. He was really interesting and I felt sorry for him because he had no friends. Actually it seemed like he blew out his mind along with all the buildings he presumably blew up in Columbia and other places in the sixties with the Weather Underground. I met Roger’s mom and she kind of sloughed him off in front of me, confirming that maybe he was full of it. But I didn’t care, he was an old guy who still smoked pot, knew a lot about the sixties and had a great record collection, so that was all right with me.

There was another guy at Portland Press who was always trying to get in with me, Roger, and a couple other girls we had been hanging out with. He was really hyper and skinny, he didn´t blink very much, looked you right in the eye, and it took a while to warm up to him. Not just for us, but for anyone I thought, really freaky guy. We´ll just call him Skinny Guy.

One day Skinny Guy told us he knew where to get some good pot so we made a rendezvous plan for after work. We’d take Roger’s car and pull up in front of my new place, The Kent Hotel, and meet Skinny Guy there to make the deal. We had to meet our other factory girls in Forest Park soon after, so best to do it on the fly, and not have to hang out with Skinny Guy, or let him know where I was living.

We sat and waited with the engine running until finally he came out of the bar across the street, running over to us. He was now wearing blue eye shadow and lipstick and before we knew it he stuck his face through Roger’s car window. He said we had to go into the bar, his friend inside had the pot. This was not just any bar, but none other than The Portland Bathhouse, a city institution for gay men. We didn’t want to get high anymore and just said thanks but maybe another day. He said okay boys but if we needed him he’d be in the bar with a big fat joint and some big dick on the multi-screens.

The next day at work, Skinny Guy didn’t show up. Roger told me he had left his rig right on the mail sorting work table and the bosses had found it. At first they thought the syringe was a special factory tool they hadn’t seen before, but then Cecil my other workmate told them that the guy had been banging up speed at work.

A week later my doorbell buzzed at 3 in the morning in the Kent. It was Roger, my radical sixties friend, saying he had a girl with him who wanted to party with us, a little wine and a joint, come on Jay just for a I stupidly obliged him.

I opened the door and saw Roger with Skinny Guy, who was dressed in drag and drunk off his ass, wearing a big Dolly Parton wig and fake tits. Roger was laughing his ass off, so I punched him square in the nose and closed the door on both of them.

A few days later my friends Jeff and Anne told me they wanted me to help them paint their house and had a basement room available in exchange for working on the weekends with Jeff and Cosmo, another transitional friend. Purple was Anne’s choice.

No Jokes Allowed

Summer 1984, Detroit Windsor Border

When I was 20 I took a long road trip with my bandmate from Bob Uniform, Ben Paulos of Davenport Iowa, a great musician with a very interesting intellectual family. We took his mom’s 1977 Chevy Nova up through Canada and on east to look at Ivy and non Ivy league schools or Ben to study at in the Fall.

Within a day we hit the Canadian border at Windsor, and got in line to cross. I was driving. I had long hair and a beard back then, and Ben was sitting looking all innocent with his big square chin and child like expression of wonder. We got to the booth and they asked us the usual questions---how long are you staying, business or pleasure---on and on like at the drive-in at McDonalds.

Ben was doodling something in his notebook, probably a comic book character, but stopped when he heard them ask if we were carrying any firearms. I asked for clarification, whether they meant automatic or semi automatic. The woman stopped chewing her gum and asked me to pull over to the parking lot just up and to the left. Three other border patrol agents joined her as she squawked something into her walkie talkie.

They went through the entire car but luckily didn’t find anything. They grew suspicious thinking there would be drugs anyway, but we were straight and got off with a warning after an hour of detainment. Ben didn’t think it was funny, and held a grudge for a few days after that, doing most of the driving and deciding where to stop.

Later in the trip, I redeemed myself in Eastern Ohio, having to follow the brake lights of a huge semi through a downpour on a winding mountain road. I woke him up when we finally reached a little restaurant to wait out the rain. He knew by my shaking hands and the looks on the people’s faces when we went in that I had been through hell trying to keep us and the Nova alive.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mariachis in Love and Death of a State Poet

Summer 1995, Mexico City Mexico

It was sad leaving Tony and his family behind in Temixco and Cuernavaca, but I had Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning to visit Mexico City before flying back to Portland.

First thing on the agenda: check in to the D.H. Lawrence Hotel, start getting loaded with the half ounce I got from Tony, and then venture out into the city. You never know what might happen with a good buzz, some intense heat and millions of crazy desperate people.

I did some writing in the hotel room while I smoked a few joints. I thought about D.H. Lawrence living here, maybe in this very room, and writing about The Plumed Serpent, Quetzalcoatl. This was the Aztec God which Hernan Cortes impersonated so well in 1521, somehow able to convince the locals that his flea bitten battalion of conquistadors were deities descended from the sky. I tried to feel Lawrence’s presence there, maybe his imaginings still lingered these halls, but his spirit had long since fled and the only thing I channeled was a splitting headache.
I rolled a couple bombers and then left the marijuana wrapped in a towel in the bottom right drawer of the desk. I was three blocks from the Zocalo, which was slowly sinking and tilting farther into the ground, and I heard there was an Anthropological museum showing a section of Tenochtitlan, the ancient city.
There was a room dedicated to human sacrifices and wax models of the priests who used the obsidian blades to cut people’s hearts out. The priests took a psychedelic derived from some plant, and they were tripping the whole time, up on the pyramid, bodies stacked around them.

There were a couple rooms dedicated to training birds of prey, a common thing for the nobles to have for hunting. Also, Tenochtitlan had a highly advanced canal system that served the people’s needs for at least a couple centuries, but then Cortes came with his fear of cleanliness and water as an agent of the devil and just paved over the whole thing. The big church in the Zocalo was also tilting and sinking, held up only by scaffolding and who knows what block and tackle system. Outside people lined up begging, a tent city was built to protest things happening in Chiapas, with vendors lining the alley on either side.

I went in to see the Diego Rivera murals in the government building and was planning to see his and Frida’s house in Coyoacan the next day, Monday. No one told me the Universal Truth that all museums are closed Mondays. I thought that was only barbers. So even though I went all the way out there on the bus, I only saw the outside of the house. The bus driver who took me back to D.F. was the first to explain the truth to me about museums and Mondays the world over.

I left the Zocalo and walked aimlessly through the streets. After about half an hour I came upon a huge plaza with pillars in it. I saw some scattered Mariachi musicians standing around chatting. A few couples were sitting together and being serenaded while others vicariously took in the songs for free, lingering in the park.

I walked on some more, the strains of Volver, Volver crying behind me, and soon came upon a big crowd of people. They were all gathered around a large building watching the coffin that was slowly, methodically being carried down the steps to the waiting hearse. Funeral music played and the widow cried. The crowd parted in front of me as I trained my camera on the procession. A man shot past me and his bodyguards brushed me aside, all captured in the photo. Someone said it was Mayor Cardenas, he had just given a speech at the Bellas Artes Building, eulogizing Octavio Paz.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Beauty and the Beast

Winters of 1978 to 1983, Nevada, Iowa

The first two llamas we bought were called Ozzie and Harriet, named after the famous 1950’s TV series. Harriet was pregnant, but Ozzie was not the father. Within a few months of bringing them home from the Chamberlain South Dakota Exotic Animal Auction, tragedy would strike and Ozzie would kill Harriet while she was giving birth to Andy.

My Dad was away on business at the time and I felt pretty guilty knowing Harriet was suffering on the hilltop while I was lying down with my headphones on a pillow listening to X Los Angeles or London Calling. The neighbor Bud, a sheep farmer, made the call to the Veterinarian but it was too late. Andy became our pet after that, and he often sat in the family room with us watching TV and humming, as all young llamas do.

After Harriet died, my dad wanted to recoup his $2,000 loss by finding another female and breeding her with Ozzie. If the baby were female, a one in four chance, then he would be on the right track. Meanwhile it was just Ozzie and Andy, two orphans ruling the pasture where horses had once run free.
One of my weekly chores was to feed Ozzie. During the winter, with the dirt road iced over or the long driveway blocked, it was easier to just cross over the pasture, take the bridge over the creek and climb the hill to the barn. Only problem was that Ozzie would be there waiting at the top.

I had to take a large stick with me and wave it in front of him or whack him in the face with it so he wouldn’t trample me down. He was a good 300 pound spitting machine with hooked teeth like a serpent, wielding his dragon neck at me with bulging eyes, hissing stinky fire. I usually could hit him squarely in the balls a couple times and he got the idea until I went in and closed the door to the barn.
We find out later that Ozzie had been raised by humans too, bottle fed just like we were doing with Andy. He imprinted humans as natural enemies, and his aggression came from being coddled by some unwitting children in a petting zoo. Andy got too big to come inside anymore, so we put him back in the barn with Ozzie. The Veterinarian told us he died of heartbreak.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Weather of Oz

Spring 1979, Nevada, Iowa

There was a video camera in our Geology class, and the teacher told us we could make a video for our final project. Whatever we wanted to do, as long as it had a theme, like Rock Formations, or Volcanoes or something, and actually explained things about this topic.

I, along with Randy McHose and Mark Stefani, jumped at the opportunity. We had already made a couple videos in Ms Haas' class, doing skits from Saturday Night Live, Cheech and Chong and Steve Martin. In one, I was John Belushi, in like a lion and out like an African Tapir on Weekend Update. We reran it and watched endlessly as the white line ran down the black and white screen, Jay in glasses and a suit, flying over the makeshift table clutching his heart in a mock Belushi cocaine heart attack.

Me and Mark just figured we’d make Randy the star of The Weather of Oz, as we were now calling it, having chosen our theme. We knew Randy wouldn’t sit and do any actual writing or planning of the characters or scenes, but he would be the best actor for the lead part, and ham it up. He would still be called Randy in the video so no one would have to remember a new name. Instead of Toto we had a bean bag frog named Clyde. Mark and I would write and direct, but I did not want to appear.

So Mark and I went to his house to brainstorm and write down some ideas. Mark’s Dad worked for the CIA and Mark said he didn’t know for sure what his Dad did. I only saw him once. I remember we listened to Ummagumma a lot and a couple times we even made pipe bombs to blow up tree stumps.

I did most of the actual writing, I felt Mark was going off on tangents, not sticking to the point or being realistic with the time limit, the people's acting abilities, and the equipment we had. In the end, we decided that Randy and Clyde were to be undercover environmental agents trying to find out who was responsible for the recent, sometimes deadly, weather disturbances in the area.

An unusually long drought had caused corn and soybean crops to fail for the first time in thirty years, dust devil tornadoes were wreaking havoc on once peaceful small town life, and the coldest winter on record had made people think the end of the world was near. After a sudden air inversion over Des Moines during the six o’clock news, which caused the fatal crash of a small passenger plane, this one carrying the African Agricultural Ambassador, a few insiders thought something more sinister was happening, something the public was not fully aware of.

Randy and Clyde, the undercover environmental secret agents, had to go on foot to the weathermens’ castles and find out if which of the two men was the evil weather changer. Then when they found out who it was, they could infiltrate the TV station and pull the plug during the six o’ clock news, announcing to the viewers that all was well, right there on Prime Time.

Our good friend Kendra was the wicked witch, explaining tornadoes to the camera as a mini Lincoln Logs cabin spun on a string in front of Camera Two, eventually crushing her. Of course we edited this part. We filmed a close up of the polka dotted Barbie legs sticking out from under the mini log cabin as Kendra moaned in the background.

The Munchkins became The Doldrums, and we filmed three friends from above as they knelt and sang We are the Do Oldrum Winds, the Do Oldrum Winds, or some such thing I had written in a flurry.

Other than that, the script and story board weren’t very worked out until we got to the point of filming, and then we improvised scenes over a three day rigorous shooting schedule after school. Through the forest, by the river and along the sea went Randy and Clyde, meeting people and strange creatures along the way.
Randy and Clyde see Hal Jacobs, played by Mark, creating some strange weather pattern in his castle and realize he is the evil weatherman. They bust in and catch him redhanded as he is brewing up a crop damaging hail storm over Central Iowa.

After much debate, we decided that the evil wizard Hal Jacobs would not be caught by Randy and Clyde, but in the end the Wizard makes himself disappear, vanishing in the breeze left by Randy’s clutching arms, a trick of the video. We wanted to leave it open to a sequel, Mark's performance practically outshining the unfocused Randy.

Also, in the wake of the evil wizard's sudden disappearance, Clyde the frog is sucked up into a High Pressure stream, blowing up on camera with little Black Cat Firecrackers. We had to film this when the teacher was gone, and open the window afterwards. Randy didn’t like the way Clyde didn’t blow up so good, so he put some Ronson lighter fluid on him and lit him on fire for the grand finale, saline tears running down his cheeks as he announced to the TV audience that the evil weatherman was gone for good. By the time it was all done, there were eleven weather phenomenon explained in detail and 90 minutes of video and we got an A. I wish I still had that tape.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Hustler

Fall 1976, Nevada, Iowa

I was partly raised in bars and pool halls. On Bald Eagle Lake we stopped into a little bar almost every day and I’d get a Tom Collins with extra cherry juice, shooting pool on tiptoe while my Dad gave me little tips. We had a pool table in the basement in Ames, before Nevada, as well as a ping pong table and horseshoe pit and batting net out back. We always went to gambling night at the Elks Club where I found the pool table alone on the second floor for many a practice session while the folks played roulette or blackjack.

Going from Ames to Nevada meant I had to make new friends. At first I tried to integrate the two groups, the Ames crowd only 15 miles away, and had a bunch of guys over one day to play bumper pool, regular pool and ping pong in the new acreage my folks bought in Nevada. I felt like I was going from a big University town to a little backwater, but from the Suburbs to the country, so you could see the paradox. My city friends didn’t like Hicksville, and my country friends didn’t like the city slickers. They never really mixed and I kind of forgot about my Ames friends.

Besides the new junior high dynamic, I had to get used to a little crowd downtown and driving around the Loop. I could drive legally when I was 14 with a permit, and was the tallest kid in school until the girls passed me up in 8th grade, so no problem with the police going around the Loop in the Galaxie 500, Econoline Van with tinted windows, the yellow Fiat deathmobile, or the Lincoln with tilting seats.

The streets in Nevada are A to Z and 1 to 100. I think there’s a 121st and MM street now. The grid system, just like the furrowed soybean and corn fields being encroached upon with every unwelcome settler. Downtown was small, one main street with all the bars, shops and restaurants. When I first moved there, the main center for the youth was The Head Shop, selling bongs and other paraphernalia out in the open. And there was a pool table so I started to spend more and more time there.
Mind you, I didn’t do drugs yet. I was a drinker, sloe gin in the theater making out in the back row, whisky in the Econoline, yard surfing in the Fiat, first and last at the kegger party at the cool parents’ house. The Heads had their own thing going on, I thought they were more like hillbillies with no future. But there was a pool table at The Head Shop, so I had to mingle.

Being tall and husky, I was used to older guys picking fights, but I usually managed to stave off any violence, at least after turning 13, through my wit and eloquence. And in my pool game. In The Head Shop, regular clients hung out, pinball machines clanging and pool balls clacking, bleary eyed patrons scattered in wooden chairs, looking at no posters on the walls. There was no overhead fan like a Bogart movie, but the jukebox had the classic rock songs that served as soundtrack to our meager lives.

The daughter of the owners ran the place. Jean Ackerman. Even though I may not have known it at the time, she was a lesbian, but like one of those corn fed tough lesbians, trapped in a virgin sixteen year old body. Every time I went in there she gave me some grief. One thing sticks out in my mind for some reason. I was playing pool with one of the regulars and using the pool cue as an air guitar, jamming to Since I’ve Been Loving You. She leaned her elbows on the top of the glass case with the paraphernalia, watching me for a while.

Then she said You think you’re pretty cool doncha? My air guitar became less animated but I didn’t stop moving around the table. After less than a year in this little backwater I was at a crossroads, all The Heads looking on. So I pushed up my chin and nodded affirmatively, saying Yeah I DO think I’m pretty cool, but I’m just whistling through town honey!! I scratched on the eight ball and Jean was vindicated.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Marie Laveau´s Grave

Time of the big Mississippi flood, the whole Midwest was under water. I was riding AMTRAK All Aboard America, and made a three week stop in New Orleans.
I didn’t have any money, but I had my banjo. I already made up four songs in Berkeley, playing in front of Cody’s bookshop and eating out of a can. This time I had a room in exchange for odd jobs in a hostel on St. Charles.

I found out later one of the rooms was site of a grisly arson murder, a woman setting her husband and children on fire in the early 1980’s. I mowed the lawn, changed beds, folded sheets, whatever needed to be done in the morning with horrible humid heat. In the afternoon I went exploring and playing my four banjo songs in and out of the French Quarter for spare change.

I visited the Voodoo Museum and was invited to a Voodoo Party by the Voodoo hippy chick who worked at the front desk. Inside the museum, the wishing stump was all dusty, and the altar to Exu looked kind of kitsch, but all in all it was a good diorama of the Yoruba syncretism with Catholicism. I learned a lot, but I didn’t go to the party. One of the things I learned was where Marie Laveau was buried. You could even make a wish on her grave.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, closed after 9 p.m. due to drug trafficking. All the graves above ground in crypts, some empty from looters or conjurers. Marie’s grave is full of offerings, bottles of rum, flowers, food, white candles, pictures of loved ones, you can’t miss it, even though there is no name. The headstone is filled with red X’s. The tourist book said find a piece of red brick, turn around three times, make a wish and then scrawl three red X’s on the headstone. I did it and wished for a job on my next stop, Austin, Texas. In three days I was working for a house painter and had a nice wad of cash for going back up the Mississippi to the Twin Cities.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Star Search

Various Early Years, Ames and Nevada, Iowa.

My Mom Darlene and Dad Jim are music lovers all the way, and they know a lot. They went to see Harry James and Count Basie back in the day, dancing ballroom style in Washington, D.C. My Grandpa Dave, from Darlene’s side, when he wasn’t working on the railroad, played the organ on a live Minot, North Dakota radio program twice a week during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Not without some notoriety in the area, he played small dances with a combo that kept him on the road some weekends.

The first sign of me having any musical talent was singing with the family around the Wurlitzer in Grandpa’s basement around 1969 or 1970. My Grandmother Luella saw what was happening to me, with my eyes fixated on Grandpa’s fingers, singing out strong. She held my hand one day on the sofa and told me the life of a musician was no life. She had spent too many nights alone with Dave out on the loose, living and drinking hard.

Jim and Darlene were the kind of people, especially my Dad, who would bust out into a song if someone said something which reminded them of that song. Jim was a catalogue of partial song lyrics, always singing under his breath, not humming so much as brr brrriinggg through his lips like he was doing a trombone or trumpet sound. Around the house or outside while working in the yard or in the barn, he jammed out big band stuff mostly, but of course all the Sinatra, Dean Martin and Ink Spots hits filled the air, as well as the classic country of Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash and George Jones. Or Darlene would suddenly do a quick dance move and sing some old time number from Rosemary Clooney or Ella Fitzgerald from the Cole Porter Songbook. Lots of fun.

We also had a babysitter named Cheryl Costal, a neighbor on Bald Eagle Lake. She sang John Denver, Bob Dylan, Ian and Sylvia, and other popular folk songs to me and my sister out in front of the lake. We had great sing a longs, and I got a plastic guitar one Christmas, which I didn’t stick with. Not like the real thing.

Despite what Luella said, my folks were always trying to get me into music or acting. In second grade, just after moving to Ames from Bald Eagle Lake, the music teacher Mrs. Busch made a special call to tell Darlene that I had a great singing voice, and wanted me to do a solo at the next school concert. I wasn’t ready, at age eight, to get up in front of an auditorium alone. Instead we did a jubilee quartet singing Sloop John B. and Dem Bones.
Later on by popular demand I did do a solo in class for my classmates, singing along with George Harrison Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), the first record I ever bought. I still can’t get that song out of my head.

After a couple years of chorus and singing at Guitar Mass in Saint Cecilia’s, it was time to take up an instrument in fifth grade. The plastic guitar had long been gathering dust. Jim decided I was to play the trumpet. I refused for some reason, he wanted me to be the next Doc Severinsen and also because he quit band when he was young so he didn’t want me to make the same mistake. We discussed the matter across the pool table in the basement one Saturday afternoon. He was explaining why playing a musical instrument was such a pragmatic thing to do, could be a money maker too. I wouldn’t budge. Occasionally we would lobby over a ball to the other person’s side in the midst of indecision and urging. When he finished preaching the benefits of the trumpet, I firmly said no, that I would decide once all the prospective students met in the band room the following Monday to choose instruments and do a tryout.

At the tryouts, It seemed to me that people split into groups based on personality or who was already playing a certain instrument. It wasn’t necessarily because they liked that instrument, there were many factors involved in the mind of a fifth grader, mostly forced into playing in the band, getting up two hours earlier than everyone else in school to practice.

In a full concert band, there is everything except strings. Gertrude Fellows Elementary had an extensive collection of instruments in a state of the art band room. That Monday, about sixty of us were assembled in the band room, taking turns at different instruments. At first I wanted to play the drums, but when a couple of known bullies went to the top riser and started beating the tympani, I shrunk back to the winds once again. The sax was out, mainly because you had to sit in front. No flute, thank you, even though some of the prettiest girls were in that section. I didn’t want to play a big instrument, like Tuba or Baritone, too much to carry. Piano was not portable, you had to buy one for the house, and trombone was for people with the same intelligence as drummers. So I was left with Trumpet after all.
I was first chair trumpet from day one, playing lots of concerts in fifth and sixth grade, even little quartets and competitions in other schools. I was already getting in with other musicians and meeting lots of girls at the band clinics and weekend retreats. Being in band was fun, my Dad didn’t tell me that part.

When we moved to Nevada in sixth grade word was already out about the hot trumpet player from the big city coming to town. I sat in last chair on the first day, just out of respect for the other players, but by the second rehearsal it was apparent I should take first chair, just in front of Chris Abbott and Robin Richards. We became the best of friends, listening to Dizzy, Louis and Miles all the time, playing in the jazz band doing all the great tunes. Band directors came and went, but our section was always swinging at the basketball games and other pep rallies at Nevada High School. We won a lot of awards in Iowa and went to Florida to compete, Chris won outstanding soloist and I got a second place. So that’s where I learned how to swing.

At some point people tried to get me over to the swing choir. It was enough for me already to wear the pastel shirts and matching black vests in the stage and pep band, but in the swing choir they did dance steps, but really cheesy dance steps. Jazz band was more my style, no uniforms and we could decide what charts to play. I gave in to the new director’s request one day in choir and went to a try out with the swing choir at the beginning of the year.

The new director was really sexy and flirty and we had a pretty good rapport. Her husband came later after class sometimes, he’d silently come in and play the piano a bit as she got her things to leave. We all couldn’t believe she was married to him, he was overweight and pretty ugly.

She called me honey in a southern kind of way, including in front of the chorus during practice. At first it was kind of scandalous, but then everyone just realized it was playing, that it just brought us closer together to feel the love. I knew that southern attitude from my family, especially my Aunt from Alabama.

The new director was nice to everyone though and everyone liked her. So she urged me to be in the swing choir, and I relented. The singing wasn’t a problem, I could site read no problem. It took a while to get the dance moves, especially with smelly Mike Hathaway, king of the cheesy swing choir, showing me how it’s supposed to be done. I tried but couldn’t stop laughing and the new director was giggling too, at the same time counting off and playing the piece with great effort at the piano, sweat forming in the armpits of her pastel shirt. I got it pretty good in the end and it seemed like I was in. Mike left and she and I went into her office.

She smiled at me approvingly, leaning back in her chair. I was still laughing inside, unable to accept but unable to figure out how to tell her. She really wanted me in that swing choir, in a southern kind of way. I just couldn’t do it, I told her I couldn’t be in such a cheesy group like that, and kind of made her feel ridiculous. She got really upset, like she felt rejected, that’s the feeling I got. I snubbed her. Needless to say our relationship wasn’t the same after that. By spring we had a new director.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Personal tale

Head has left body no chance
For recovery of lost memory
Umbilical cord severed floating in space
The bus driver pulled over to the side of the road in order to take a nap.
The entire situation was a mess.
Swallows scatter like molecular bats
One or two shooting out the isotope connecting the houses
Overhead they swarm and hunt for night bugs
Choppy and scattered
Maybe that’s why I watch them

Mexican journal not so bad
Best kind of journal I ever had

All of the cement
Seeps down the hill
Into battlefields asunder
Skulls crossed with bones warding away interlopers
And non-believers

Stones in the palace
It is now so real
A distant constellation
Was once an ideal
I mention a name and the door unfolds
I put down the same steps
In the hills of Tepeyacac

Garibaldi square mariachis eyes look vacant cases closed

Only heard one small group playing the day looked over

Stuck in the hotel placating rituals denied.

Cuernavaca, Mexico, Summer 1997

Animal Farm

Fall 1979, Nevada, Iowa

We waited too long to break Missy to lead. She was ¼ Arabian from her mother Dolly, and a mix of Appaloosa and Pinto to go along with it, with long legs to let us know she would be a real runner.
You may not know that horses are wild by nature, their spirit must be broken at an early age or it requires at least a couple of rodeo cowboys to ride that bucking horse into submission. After six months, a couple months too long according to shared wisdom, my Dad thought it would be a good chore for me to break Missy’s spirit and learn a little more about life on the farm.
Missy didn’t want anything to do with humans, and she was unapproachable in the pasture, keeping her distance or hiding behind Dolly at all times. My only chance was to separate them in the pens and lock Missy into her own pen and lock Dolly out. I lured Dolly into the barn with a can of seven grain oats, and Missy came trotting in unaware. She saw me and gave a start, hiding behind Dolly and peeking out at me from behind her mother’s tail, Dolly snuffling away into the can as the grain dust floated up in little puffs into the dank air.
I put some grain in my hand and beckoned to Missy, all the time using the curry brush on Dolly’s favorite spot just above her front leg, where you comb the hair up into a little tuft. Missy absentmindedly approached my hand and I leapt out to grab her around the neck, dropping the oats can and leaving Dolly snuffling into space, her eyes darting over to me as she saw the clever move I had made.
Missy stood about shoulder high to my waist, so it was not a problem to wrestle her into her own pen and lock the door. With a couple menacing waves of my arms, Dolly fled the barn and I slid the aluminum door shut behind her. For a second it was almost completely dark. I looked over at the holding pen and caught Missy’s opaque brown eyes as a shaft of light from a hole in the barn darted across her face.
What they told me to do, and what I had seen with my own eyes, was to try being nice at first, but if that doesn’t work, there are other more extreme methods which can be used to break a horse. It all depends on the situation how far you need to go.
Missy stood with her face in the far corner of the pen, about ten feet across, ignoring me as I entered with nylon lasso in hand. I was saying there there now Missy, don’t worry sweety, be a good girl Missy that’s a good girl...

I threw the lasso into the air over her neck but she suddenly jumped backward with some horse karate move and kicked me squarely in the right knee. I slumped onto a straw bale in screaming pain. After a bit of rubbing, I got up and grabbed the blue rope, getting ready for the slow approach, each hand forward like another notch up the mountain. To keep her from kicking I had to stay calm and not make any sudden moves. They told me most of it was in how you talked, you could see it in their eyes if they were calm and if they trusted you. So I kept talking, calmly and evenly through my teeth.

The idea was to get up to her head without getting kicked too much, slip the halter over her and then and only then could you try to break them to lead with a rope. This was the first step, later you broke them to ride. I finally made it up to her head and slipped the halter on, but she still wouldn’t budge and I was getting more and more impatient as the pain wore off on my knee. I picked her up and carried her into the pasture outside, Dolly looking on but doing nothing.

I pulled and pulled at the rope but she just dug her hooves farther into the dry earth. She went bucking off with me on the end of fifteen feet of rope and I literally skied behind her, skidding across the ground on the heels of my boots. I decided my only chance was to wear her out, and as a last resort, I used a method I had seen someone use at Chamberlain South Dakota Exotic Animal Auction and Sale. Cut off their air supply.

The halter had little rings holding the nylon straps together. I took the long rope and draped it over her shoulders, the two ends going down and through the front legs, up and through the halter. The more she resisted, the more her air would be cut off from the rope and any horse was said to yield under such pressure, gladly being domesticated just for a little gulp of air.

Not so with Missy. She fought and fought against me, wheezing and puffing, her eyes bulging out at me. She collapsed on the ground with white foam in the corner of her lips, chest heaving up and down in the dust.
A couple years later I saw her again. We had sold her to some friends who had more experience and they said she in fact was one of the fastest horses they had ever had. I saddled her up and took her for a ride and she tried to throw me in the ditch.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Killer

Summer 1985 Iowa City, Iowa and Chicago, Illinois

Jerry Lee Lewis was playing in Chicago. I had a big white 69 Volvo with an eight ball clutch that just might get us all there. We were only three hours away from Chicago and our little university town was blessed with having some of those legends coming through on a regular basis, playing festivals and small clubs.Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Little Walter at the Crow’s Nest, Albert King at Gabe’s Oasis, Koko Taylor at the Crystal Ballroom, complete with a spring operated floating dance floor. I met them sitting in the back warm up rooms or in the case of Albert Collins and the Icebreakers, me and my friend Willie saw AC Reed sax player sitting in an IHOP at 3 in the morning and we asked him where the band was. He pointed across the street at the Motel 6, room 12 and 14 he told us so we went over. Albert stood silently in the doorway to room 12, a mink coat adorning him from neck to toe, watching his band snort cocaine. We joined in but never talked to Albert, he went over to room 14, which he had to himself. Later I heard he used to beat up his group, but they say that about a lot of blues guys.

Jerry Lee was a legend but he didn’t work as hard as the people from Chicago, so seeing him was like seeing Elvis Presley if Elvis hadn’t seized up on the toilet a few years before. Six of us got in the Volvo and about a half hour into the drive I start to smell Ether. One of my former housemates at the Maid Rite House, Rich Haven, was the son of the chief of police, and like sons of preachers, he was one of the wildest people in town. We hadn’t lived together for over a year, now Totem Soul was all living together in the country, playing and recording in the basement of a big ranch style house, and I was giving guitar lessons and teaching at nearby Scattergood Friends School. I hardly ever went into town anymore.

I knew that Rich had gotten on this Ether kick, getting it from some medical supply salesman, putting it on a black glove and sniffing it, but I didn’t think he would be so presumptuous to bring it on the road trip. He had his head out the window the whole time, glove pressed to his face, eyes bulging out. He even got our other friend Dan on it too, the two of them floating like Bugs Bunny in the back seat.I honestly don’t remember exactly what the Ether smelled like, but it didn’t go away. If you go into the 7Eleven, the cloud goes with you too. Everyone in the same air is overcome with a sickly sweet feeling, a dreadful primordial memory of the scalpel or the obsidian blade sweeps through your mind. A man on Ether becomes dangerous simply by the way he smells, as if he has strapped dynamite to his body in a crowded place.I chose to ignore it and drove on, The Killer was probably just waking up in The Hyatt, ordering a grapefruit and corn flakes for breakfast, thinking of Crazy Arms and Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On.

By the time we had made it to Lake Shore Drive, the strange clicking noises in the Volvo transmission sounded like a machine gun mowing down midday traffic. It died right there overlooking the waves of Lake Michigan, and we pulled over to a little safety lane as the cars whizzed by us. We could still make the concert though and the AAA tow truck and roadside assistance got us all downtown to a mechanic. Neither of the two drivers who came to help mentioned the Ether smell, luckily the canister had run out after two hours on the highway and Rich and Dan were getting back to normal, talking again.

As we were in the little greasy mechanic’s office, swiping credit cards and making phone calls, the classic rock radio station announced Jerry Lee Lewis had cancelled the show. No reason was given, but tickets would be refunded by KPJY or the TicketMaster outlet.We spent three days in Chicago waiting for the mechanic, and went to the Checkerboard Lounge to see Junior Wells. The Volvo made it back to its ranch style home by the river, new fuel pump and rings for 200dollars.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This Wheel’s on Fire

1980, Nevada, Iowa

I think it was a Buick K car, brown with four doors. I took it when the Econoline was not available, and we had sold the Fiat by then, a little death car.
I learned to drive when I was 11 or 12 on a C Farmall Tractor, mowing the pasture. You could get a special license when you were 14 years old back then, so I was already driving a car legally to and from school events early on. Drinking and driving, that great old Midwestern pastime.

We lived a couple miles out of town. At the end of the paved road, right where the driveway to Indian Creek Country Club begins, lined with poplars by the driving range, you turn left onto gravel. I took the turn too fast and slid sideways into the ditch, the car turning completely upside down with me in it. It was 3 o’clock in the morning and I was blind drunk.

I managed to climb out a window and reach the road. I looked down at the bottom of the car and decided to do one thing: get all four tires spinning at the same time, which I did and then stood back watching and laughing.

The only thing I could do was head up the driveway and wake up my boss and his wife who lived in a trailer next to the clubhouse. I went and they woke up grumbling but more concerned that I wasn’t hurt, no concussion or anything. They called my Dad and told him what happened, so he came and took me home. While I was sleeping, the tow truck came and pulled the car out of the ditch. The police also came, as was routine with any accident, and my Dad soberly explained to Capt. Johnson how he had lost control in the turn, but was not injured in any way and thanks for coming Steve, say hello to Katie and the kids for me.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Summer 1986, Iowa City, Iowa

As my parents helped me move into the new house, I noticed the barely legible words written on the bed sheet hanging on the front porch: DRUG DEATH. My folks pretended not to notice and greeted my friends with smiles and handshakes.

The Dude Ranch became a haven for all sorts of people and we had a lot of folks crashing on our couches at all times. It was a trusting environment with the whole hippie ethos, live and let live and ask few questions and make few judgments. Even with all the people taking advantage of the generosity, it seemed okay to let the lost souls collect in our living room.

I was dating a girl named Meg who had a big circular scar where her bellybutton should have been. I had noticed it one of the first times we had sex, but I never let it bother me. She mentioned it to me then, like I had to have noticed, but I acted as if it were no big deal. Some others may have thought it was weird to not have a bellybutton, but for some reason I have always been attracted to imperfection, like buck teeth for example. Besides, this was long before the Brittany Spears craze of showing your bellybutton to the world at all times.

Meg spent most nights in my room in the Dude Ranch, and she was even thinking about moving in permanently amidst the chaos and parties. One day I came home after work in the Hamburg Inn no. 2, working as a short order grill cook, and I saw one of my housemates and Meg on the couch. He was holding her tightly as she cried into his chest. I went to give her a hug, but she made no effort to accept. I thought oh no she has been raped, but soon found out that one of the couch crashers, a guy named Merlin, had knocked on our door after Meg got out of the shower, masturbating in front of her into a towel. Only by slamming and holding the door tightly shut and screaming her head off did she finally manage to send him running out of the otherwise empty house.

Rich told me that all of the other housemates were out looking for Merlin in every bus stop and up and down the highways, armed with tire irons to beat his head in. They never found the guy but two years later when I saw him again in a bar, I asked Meg if she wanted me to go over and grab him, or if she wanted to pursue some sort of prosecution, but she said she didn’t think it was worth it.

I found out later that Merlin, like me, was from Nevada, Iowa, and that he had gone back there after fleeing Iowa City that night. He was busted for doing the same thing to a woman washing her car one sunny summer Sunday on the corner of H Ave and 30th Street.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Over the Mountains

1997, Wilkesboro, North Carolina

Some of my greatest heroes were playing at MerleFest. Tony Rice, David Grisman, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Doc Watson, Peter Rowan and two of my favorites, Norman and Nancy Blake.
When they weren’t playing the big stage, these acts would be scattered all over the festival grounds, giving small concerts and workshops. One day I went to see Norman and Nancy play in a small tent for about 30 people. After the set, I saw Nancy standing outside the tent so I went to say hello.
I told her I lived in Portland, Oregon and I knew people would love it if they all came to play. I would even help them find places to play. Nancy smiled, saying that she and Norman hardly ever made it over the mountains. I figured she meant The Rockies, that maybe they were afraid of flying. She pointed off ambiguously toward the southern mountains and said she was referring to the mountains out back of their house, not The Rockies.
Norman finished his set and came out of the tent. I asked him if we could take a picture together, and Nancy snapped it. He stood even with my shoulders, and he reminded me of Bilbo Baggins.

The Viking

1983, Ames, Iowa

My Dad said he would get me a guitar or a camera for graduation. I couldn’t decide for the longest time if I wanted to be a rock star or a famous film director.
Having an eight or sixteen millimeter camera would have been great, but it seemed like the best way to get girls was with a guitar.

There was a small guitar shop in Ames that I used to go to quite frequently, just to look at all the acoustic and electric guitars. I don’t think the guy liked me too much there, always looking and never buying anything. Plus the place smelled really bad from his farting all the time, so I guess he was lucky anyone came into his store.

Once I had finally decided on getting a guitar, there was only one real choice in the shop: White Gretsch Viking. I had seen it many times in Neil Young’s Decade album, and he used to play it in Buffalo Springfield. That was it, for a mere $300, with overdrive. I told the farting owner I would be back the next day to get it so my Dad and I went there together to get it. It wasn’t hanging on its hook anymore. I asked the farting guy if he had put it away for me, and he told me that he had sold it right after I left the day before. Lie.

I guess he figured that this guitar was destined to be sold to someone who could really appreciate it, not some novice kid who would get tired of it after a year and leave it to collect dust. No, with reason, the owner knew this guitar needed to be played. Too bad he didn’t know me better or couldn’t see into the future.
I was disappointed but soon got over it, walking out with a blue early 70’s Telecaster for $350.

My first real guitar.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Daniel Boone

1971, Bald Eagle Lake, Minnesota

Our neighbor told me he knew Fess Parker, the man who played Daniel Boone on the popular TV series. One Sunday morning he told me Fess was coming over to play cards and that he would introduce me to my hero.
I told Mr. Parker I was building a fort in the woods across the road from the house. He looked at me over his poker hand and took a shot of whiskey, then told me to urinate all around the camp to keep the squirrels and muskrats from crapping in the fort. I thought he looked kind of funny without his coonskin cap and faithful Indian friend. I never followed his advice and I never found any little turds in the fort either.

Friday, June 12, 2009

California Dreamin’

Spring 1973, Los Angeles, California

I had cousins in California, well Uncle Jim Wheat and Aunt Cathy and their kids. They actually lived in Portland for many years before going to Orange County, where we stayed.
It was my eighth birthday too, and I got one of those cool transistor radios that looked like a Lichtenstein soft sculpture, a little oblong O shape, and the small end of the loop swiveled to reveal the radio dial and controls on one of the big circular ends, and a little speaker on the other. It looked like a cobra sitting there rocking out Right Place, Wrong Time no. 3 on the Billboard Charts Dr. John the Night Tripper.

We took the car everywhere and saw as much as we could. First stop was Sunset Strip to see all the crazy people there, the hookers and street hustlers, the homeless people lined up under the palm trees. Me and my sister pointed and laughed as we drove toward the big Hollywood Sign in the distance. We stopped at Universal Studios to go on a tour.

There were many things to do and see at Universal Studios. We rode on a little boat into a fake harbor and the mechanical shark from Jaws came up alongside, menacing us with his bloody moving teeth. Everyone screeched, and I was put off going into the ocean ever again.
We went through a trailer that had once been Lucille Ball’s dressing room. The usual paraphernalia, as if she had only just left to shoot a scene with Ricky on bongos, white face powder still hanging in the air. I grew up on her later TV show, so I thought she was really funny.

We went to a set for the cop show Adam 12. It wasn’t the actual set, but a simulation, and people sat around in a little pavilion to watch how something could be filmed for TV. There was a stage with a bar, a mock dining room, and the front half of a black and white police car off to stage right. People with headsets shuffled around or waited and we settled onto our wooden bench, the whole family ready to go Behind the Scenes.

The Adam 12 theme song started playing and a man in a Hawaiian shirt and a white golf hat came bounding out from stage right. He was whipping the microphone cord behind him as he leapt to the front of the stage with a big hello welcome to Universal Studios Adam 12 I am your host Billy Wilder and you Are BUSTEEEDDD!! The cop music dah dum de dummm….We laughed and looked at my dad. Then the guy in the Hawaiian shirt looked at my dad too, and called out to him. He needed people to be in the Show, and my dad was the first of six men and women who went down to the stage.

We were all sitting there wondering what the heck was going to happen. My dad was really funny, always made us laugh, and we were already giggling out of control just watching as the guys in headphones chatted with him for a bit, getting a profile, and then placing him directly on a barstool. He was going to be the drunk, perhaps blurry eyed witness to the crime.

The guy in the Hawaiian shirt was explaining what was going to happen in a few minutes but first told us to take a look at the story up to now. They put on two TV screens so we could watch the real actors too, playing part of a real episode of Adam 12. After a few minutes he’d come back and talk a bit more while the actors They even had the dramatic background music rumbling our seats. All the while the guys in headphones are prepping the seven actors, including my dad. They are expected to improvise the dialogue, but after huddling together, it seems they all have their roles straight. Two men are placed in police uniforms, another in rags like a bum, and then they sit poised and ready to shoot the scene, waiting for the set up from the man in the Hawaiian shirt. Neither the other actors nor the crowd in the pavilion know that there amongst them are two professional actors who work for Universal Studios.

The scene is set into motion. A man wipes down the bar, my father hangs his head. Beside him another man, looking nervous, checking his watch every two seconds. Suddenly another guy comes in and orders a whisky and beer back. The two men go to a little booth off to the side. In hushed whispers they discuss the big heroin drop that’s going down at Macarthey and Lymon at 10.30. Stoppard shouldn’t know about this one, its all taken care of, the rat is in the cage. The other one says okay but not like last time all right, I got my people to think about.
Meanwhile, the bartender shoots discreet glances toward the men and my dad remains motionless in his plaid pants drooping heavily on the bar stool.

A hand held camera shot from behind the bar, we were watching it on the two screens on either side of the pavilion. My dad’s face was in close up, and then the camera shot back as he fell off his barstool with a thud on the ground. The two hoodlums went to help him and he dizzily stood back up, the men gracefully scooping him off the floor by the armpits. They rested him back on the barstool, paid the bill, faced the pavilion and walked off camera.

Me and my sister were watching the screens and then looking down at the set. It was strange, our dad was like the star of the show. When he suddenly came to life and spoke to the bartender, we thought it was like some secret weapon he had hidden from us all these years.

We’d better call Adam 12, right away…dum dum dummmmm…..
Turned out the guys in headsets told my dad he was supposed to be an undercover cop, faking like he was drunk to overhear the conversation. The falling down part was improvised.

The rest of the show I didn’t pay much attention to until the end. My dad was still sitting off by the bar, now watching the rest of the actors, chatting with a pretty crew member in a headset. I figured she was offering him a future in Hollywood.
When the bust finally went down, they filmed the cutaway cop car with the two actors inside. It was like an amusement park ride, the car actually moved on springs, and the screen behind it was synchronized with the sudden jerking of the cops in high speed chase. When you watched the TV screens, it looked like a real car chase and then you knew how they did it.

The cutaway car came to a stop and Adam 12 got out and kneeled down, shielding themselves behind the police car doors, guns drawn. In the little kitchen, the two hoodlums held a mother and baby hostage, shooting out from behind calico curtains at the two cops. One of the hoodlums screams that he’s gonna make a run for it, grabbing the mother and baby and busting through the door. The cops tense up, but in a heroic moment, the 23 year old housewife from Great Falls, Michigan bites the hoodlum on the wrist, breaking free and scurrying back into the house. The hoodlum fires one round toward the cops, a long pinnnggg is heard through the speakers, then Adam 12 get off three quick rounds, contortions twisting the man to the ground, a red stain appearing near his heart. There was a murmur from the crowd, that something wasn’t quite real here.

As it turned out, one of the cops and the dead hoodlum were the real actors. They had to synchronize the shot perfectly, there was actually a radio transmitter in the gun which exploded a small cap in the other actors chest, releasing a mini bag of fake blood underneath his white shirt. After the final theme had finished and the moral of the tale had been told by the real cop actor, the man in the Hawaiian shirt came back to thank us all for our participation and a special thanks to Jim from Minneapolis for his fine performance. The audience gave a smattering of applause before getting up to scatter on to other park attractions.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Living with Germs

Spring and Summer 1998, Portland, Oregon

After Arthur and I returned from our first trip to Cuba, he told me I could stay at his house for free while we made preparations for the next trip. I could help him out around the house as well as take care of all the things he wanted to do to bring his wife Sady to the USA, such as talking to lawyers and setting up a temporary bank account in Canada.
Being completely broke, unemployed and unemployable, I of course agreed, quickly making myself at home upstairs in the loft.

Bruce lived in the little shack out in the driveway where Arthur and his ex wife once ran Cripple Power Press. When Bruce wasn’t there, I noticed the huge padlock he put on the door. I wondered what he could be hiding or protecting, considering he never seemed to have any money and he always wore the same clothes. For years the little shack printed all of Arthur’s books of poetry and stories, selling them at Saturday Market and other places. One book was made into an award winning animated short, Arnold and His Bright Idea, a basically autobiographical tale of how Arthur used to go around in his first homemade wheelchair, selling light bulbs from house to house. He used the film to give talks in schools to show kids not to fear people with Cerebral Palsy.
In any case, Bruce was an old friend of Arthur’s from the Trojan Nuclear Plant protests and closure, so there was some deep loyalty between them, like they’d seen a lot and struggled side by side, old soldiers put out to pasture. Bruce was also friends with a young woman named Jessica and her five year old daughter Maya who used to live in the loft where I was living now. We had been hanging out a bit, and kissed in a sloppy drunks embrace one time when she and Maya stayed the night. Jessica spoke well of Bruce so I wanted to give the old diehard the benefit of the doubt, despite his quirky ways. I remember she told me to cook my eggs on low, for like twenty minutes very slowly or the protein all gets cooked away, or at least that’s what Bruce told her.

When I first saw him in the living room watching TV, he put a Kleenex over the remote control, I figured just because it was kind of old and grimy. The first time I said hello when I got home, he ignored me and laughed at the TV, and did the same every time I came home. I didn’t stop saying hello, but eventually it grew from a game of courtesy and became a very vindictive hello, over the top hey Bruce my man how ya doin Had a good day Glad to hear it, that kind of thing, just mocking him under my flaming whisky breath. Things degenerated quickly and sometimes I got in his face so he would at least know I was there, but he always avoided my eyes and moved on the sofa so he could see the TV behind me.
One night Arthur and I came home after the bars closed and decided to make some dinner. I put the cast iron skillet on high to fry some eggs, but when I came out of the kitchen I saw Arthur had puked all over himself. I helped him out of his clothes and cleaned him up and he went to bed. Both of us forgot the skillet and the next morning Bruce met me in the kitchen screaming that I could have burned down the whole house. He looked and sounded like an old wolf, his long grey hair and beard framing deep empty gray eyes. He was probably right, and I apologized profusely, trying to calm him down. Arthur said just don’t let it happen again.
The hellos and mocking hellos stopped after that. I thought it best to leave the guy alone and try not to have any dealings with him. A few weeks passed and we didn’t see much of Bruce, I thought maybe he had left for good. Arthur said sometimes he went out to the woods alone, you never knew how long. Guess he had some friends out there too. He appeared one day to do his laundry, and waited while watching TV, as if he had never been gone. I didn’t know if he was there for good or not.
I had also planned to do some laundry. When Bruce’s last load had finished drying, I took it out and put it in a basket, put my wet clothes in the drier and cranked it up. I went back upstairs and figured he’d see his clothes and that would be that. Next thing I know he is screaming at the bottom of the stairs if you ever touch my clothes again I will kill you, you hear me, kill you you motherfucker….really screaming, like no need to put exclamation points, you get the idea this was a complete head case.
I grabbed my old Stella acoustic guitar to defend myself and ran downstairs ready to bash his head in. He was blocking the doorway so I menaced him with the big end of the guitar and shoved my way through the dining room and kitchen to the dryer. He had taken my wet clothes and thrown them on the floor, right into the big dog dishes, kibbles and bits stuck to my clean tee shirts. He was still screaming at me so I shoved him back into the kitchen hard enough so he knew what I was capable of, then turned my back on him to clean my clothes and put them back in the washer. When I turned around, he was standing in front of the sink, panting and rubbing his hands together. I swear I saw foam in the corners of his mouth.
I didn’t see Bruce again until a month later. He didn’t come around when I was there at least, but Arthur met with him a few times before we left for Cuba and they made a deal that Bruce would build a new accessible bathroom while we were away. When we got home after the six week trip, there was a hole where the bathroom used to be and no sign of Bruce. A few days later there was a note in the mailbox telling Arthur he needed another $5,000 to finish the job, that he had underbid and needed to get more materials. Funny, I didn’t see any materials at all in that big hole where the bathroom used to be. Before we could even look at whether or not it indeed was a $10,000 job, something I highly doubted, Bruce hunted Arthur down on his usual rounds in the Park Blocks, harassing him and chasing the electric wheelchair down the street screaming for his money. All Arthur could do was dart his chair into some bar and wait it out.

I tried to find out from Arthur what was wrong with this guy. I asked him why, if he had known Bruce so long, why he didn’t see all this bad craziness coming. Arthur raised his head up from off his chest and, with a twinkle in his eye, raised his index finger ready to speak. I waited for the words to form, looking into his toothless mouth hoping for some clue to Bruce’s past, an Achilles heel that we could use to bring him down. In a short burst of spit and drool, he said I got the key to the shack.

Bruce hadn’t been around for a couple weeks and we didn’t expect him back anytime soon, so Arthur gave me the key and I went in. There wasn’t much in the little shack besides a folded up cot, a couple boxes of winter clothes, and then in the corner I saw a Moroccan style leather briefcase, one of those you might see in a film noir spy movie. I took it inside for better light and we started looking through it.
There were numerous press clippings, including the same one I saw everyday framed in the dining room, a photo of Arthur from the New York Times lying on the ground in front of the riot police, Trojan Nuclear plant steaming in the background. A man was kneeling down beside him and his chair. I looked at the eyes a little closer and sure enough they were the same deep empty eyes of Bruce with no beard and short hair. Arthur nodded when he realized I had made the connection between the photos.
Other clippings showed other protests over the years, and upon closer look, the same wolf eyes could be found in each and every photo. Bruce had been around, from the first year at Ground Zero Nevada Test Site all the way to the 1999 Seattle WTO shutdown. In many of the photos, I thought, he was looking toward, if not directly at, the camera, as if he knew from which direction his picture was being taken.

Then we came across another sealed with a string plastic envelope, untying it and dumping it on the table. We sifted through, seeing those same empty eyes under a cadet’s cap, high collar pushing up clean shaven neck and erect head; a far off shot of a military graduation ceremony; a Stars and Stripes clipping of Bruce and a few other tired looking soldiers flanking some roped together villagers in conical bamboo hats; three family photos, a pretty wife and three year old daughter standing next to a new model Ford Galaxie 500, Bruce in sargent’s uniform, all the houses look the same; a picture of some men in camouflage fatigues looking intently at a map; pictures of another young girl, from somewhere in Latin America; a newspaper article called Banker’s Son Opts for Vietnam; documents with a US government seal stamped on the front and lines blotted out; an article in Spanish from 1981 called Habla la hija del Teniente; a 1982 press clipping from Stars and Stripes entitled Light Aircraft Goes Down over Hudson with Decorated Veteran; a US passport and death certificate with the same name.

Arthur got hold of Bruce somehow and said I can meet you with the money at such and such time in the Park Blocks on such and such corner. Arthur and I rode the bus downtown together and he went to the University Grill to wait for me. I went up the Park Blocks and saw the gray haired wolf up ahead sitting on a bench waiting for Arthur, his empty eyes fixed on a twirling falling leaf. I came round front of him and bowed into the camera so to speak with a wave of my hand. What a coincidence he thought at first I’m sure, but when I pulled the envelope out of my pocket and handed it to him, he knew he’d been set up. I got something for you was all I said handing it to him, sauntering off, listening to the sound of paper ripping behind me.
It was just a hunch, but we composed a simple note with Bruce’s real name at the top and Arthur’s illegible scrawled signature at the bottom. We never did see Bruce again.
Esteemed Christopher Wilkins III,
If you ever come within fifty yards of me or my property again, I will alert the Federal authorities as to your whereabouts and have you arrested.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Pyramid is Opening

Christmas 1975, Blaine, Minnesota

I had a few older cousins who were pretty hardcore city kids. The two I saw most often were Carrie and Chad, who lived with my Aunt Beverley Gstohl in Grandma and Grandpa Anderson’s house. We normally spent Christmas Eve at their place and then went to one of the Anderson clan households for Xmas Day, rotating each year. We all lived within an hour of each other, so it wasn’t like we never saw each other, they always came to visit us at the lake.

After opening presents, we separated from the adults and went down to the basement. Down there was Grandpa’s rumpus room, complete with full bar and card table, the smell of tobacco juice coming from the empty Ten High Whisky bottles he used as a spittoon. We went through the laundry room to Carrie’s little room.
A big poster of Ozzy Osbourne adorned her wall, and she had written I Love Ozzy in big black marker letters across his pants. The lyrics of Mother’s Little Helper in calligraphy on onion paper hung from a hook, and the big three foot red bong eeked out the smoke of a recent toke. In the corner, a life sized cardboard cut out of Bootsy Collins. She slipped a record on the turntable.

Parliament Mothership Connection. It was like some psychedelic black power comic book from the first opening radio monologue to the last chariot ride home. Our second generation Norwegian grandparents were singing Sue City Sioux around Grandpa’s organ while we were entering the pyramid, the wisdom of ancient Egypt coming down on the ONE.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Holy Modal Crabs

One rainy night the great musician Billy Kennedy told me the story of his early Portland days with Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel of The Holy Modal Rounders.
Lets trace the lineage: Greenwich Village 1961, Robert Christgau called Weber and Stampfel the only geniuses of folk music. Not even Bob Dylan was in this realm yet. They found Portland early on and became fixtures.
Weber called himself a hedonist, Billy said, and all he wanted to do was take drugs, play music and have sex with anyone who was willing. Still, one of the greatest guitar players next to Baby Gramps on the planet, and Stampfel one hell of a great songwriter too.
Kennedy was living in a place in NW Portland, and everyone got crabs. They picked off the little critters and put them in a little jar on the kitchen table. The collection was growing, little critters covering a half inch of a small vial, right next to the peaches and homemade bread.
Weber didn’t live in this place, but he came around a lot, even crashing on the couch. He didn’t really live anywhere, but he never slept on the streets. He got the crazy genius treatment.
Billy said Weber walked into the apartment late one night with no one around and saw that vial with the little black specks. He immediately dumped out the crabs and chopped them into a few lines, snorting them through a dollar bill. When Billy came in a little while later, he said he saw Weber sitting spread eagled with his arms across the back of the sofa. He was staring at the ceiling like there was something ready to jump down on him. Billy went to the sofa and Weber motioned with his bony finger to the kitchen table. Billy saw the empty vial lying on its side and the remnants of the little black specks next to an unfurled dollar bill.
Billy went to the table and picked up the vial.
‘ You just snorted three months worth of crabs Weber, you stupid fucking idiot! ‘ Billy laughed.
‘ Well keep going boys, that’s the best shit I’ve ever done.’

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cassandra Complex

Telluride Colorado 1989

On the road through the four corners in Hopi Land, seeing the Grateful Dead in Tempe, Red Rocks, Boulder, Deadwood, and finally going to hell you ride….. It was the Harmonic Convergence as well and Olatunji and the Drums of Passion opened up the three shows, as well as having a sunrise ceremony drum circle every morning for a week with masses of people chanting and drumming in the cup between those great mountains.

We rented a couple rooms way in advance, well someone did, and I went along for the ride. I don’t remember who drove, I had a friend who toured with an Eldorado, his Dad wrote the book on Merrill Lynch, but I’d be lying to say I went with him. I do remember being in the hotel room and taking somebody’s Darvon without asking, waking up to the sound of PoliceOpenUp and getting a flashlight in the face. They were asking us if we knew Richard Scott, our old friend who did the best Mick Jagger with us in the Sloppy Drunks, and would we go to the jailhouse and bail him out.

Meanwhile the drums are beating, it’s the morning of the Harmonic Convergence, the Mayan Calendar is at a juncture, the Hopi Prophecy of the Fifth World is coming to pass, The Chinese Newness Principle is being evoked….. I guess Rich and Jill had been pulled over with some mushrooms in the glove box and whiskey on the breath. It was only the road from the campground some two miles form the hotelapartment we had rented. They always say it happens closest to home… Down to the jail we went and got them out for a couple 100 bucks, they saw the next show with the best Scarlet/Fire into Terrapin StationDrumsEyes that we’d ever seen…and then later Mark, Jill’s husband, drove them both back to Littleton in his red Mustang to appear in court.

Rich said one guy got in trouble for signing his name Mick Jagger on the court form and the judge called him out in front of everyone, making him change it. All the the other deadheads, who had come from the same set of concerts, filled the courthouse with uproarious laughter as the little wizard looking guy raised his hand and said ‘right here your honor!’

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sheriff of Laredo

....a spontaneous unfinished play....

Fern Gibson
Sam Littlefoot
Barbara Mellowfield
Rushing Batewell

All stand in a curved line side by side, evenly spaced so as to take up the middle of the stage. There is no other scenery, and a ladder can be seen off to the side. A man whistles backstage.

They are holding the scripts, not reading them, but looking at them, eyes not moving, as the lights come up.

A few minutes pass and Fern starts to dart his eyes around at the others nervously. He fixes on Barbara. He gestures with his head…

Fern: Well go on then.
Barbara looks at her script and then at Fern.
Barbara: What?
Fern: Go on then, you’re first.
The others smile with relief, lowering their scripts to their sides.

Barbara looks down again.
Fern: Go on then. And stop that whistling will ya?
Whistling trails off comically.

Barbara looks down and begins to read after a couple seconds, addressing the audience directly.

Barbara: Under the vast sky we pull daisies in accordance with nature’s plan. We fill our woven baskets and sell what we do not need in the town square and transportation centers. It is to you, the daisy buyers, that I dedicate this song….

A piano plays an arpeggio and Barbara finds her note….

In the land of milk and honey
They say you got a lots a money
When the well runs dry what will you do??
Cause its all goin down
Yeah its all goiin down
Yeah its all goin dooowwnnn the tuuubeeeessss

Fern butts in suddenly, the piano crashes a note.

Fern: hey hey come on the people didn’t come to hear this doom and gloom, they want a snappy show, something to send them home with a little smile on their faces, right???

He looks out at the audience for support.

Fern: Okay so how about Sam, what you got there, I think you have the next line, isnt that right???

Sam looks right at Barbara as he begins, the two of them start acting… a man brings out scenery little by little as the scene unfolds between them….

Sam: And then you were a bird?
Barbara: Yeah, a big yellow bird flying over the city, it was amazing!!
Sam: Wow, where can I get some of that stuff?
Barbara: I don’t know, some guy just gave it to me in a bar.
Barbara laughs stupidly like a ditzy blond.

Sam: I see. Well anyway its nice to have such a cool new member of the Super Team.
Barbara: Super Team?
Sam gets out the newspaper and shows her the add for the room.
Sam: Yeah, like in the add. Looking for new member of Super Team. See?
Barbara: Sure, but I just thought…

Suddenly the other two actors burst in in their Super Team costumes, music crescendos.

Rushing, dressed as Super Jinx Man, comes to the front of the stage and addresses the audience.

Rushing: I, Super Jinx Man, come to your fair city in good faith, do not misunderstand me and my ways. They are old and steeped in a long tradition of martyrs and saints, shamans and half man half wild boar people. Your only option is to submit to my spells of dexterous impediment if you indeed are of the criminal mind. You shall stumble and fall into the pit of hell….

Fern, dressed as Super Sticky Man, pushes Rushing to the side and begins his own address…

Fern: I, Super Sticky Man, shall foil the sinister elements of this fine city by plastering them in their tracks with my super sticky sleuth goo.

Fern, laughing, acts like he is squirting them with a sleuth goo gun.

Sam, sitting at a small kitchen table now, rubs his eyes of the tears of laughter.

Sam: Oh dear, this western life, oh dear.
Barbara: But we’re from the East.
Sam: What you mean?
The super men come to the table and help themselves to the coffee. Barbara begins…

Barbara: From the East, apparitions, ghosts. That’s what we are. We are products, manufactured, don’t you get it? We are made!! We from the East are made for those in the West, that’s the idea, I think.

Sam takes a bite of a donut.
Sam: So let me get this straight, we are made. But who made us? Can we meet them?
Barbara: You will never meet them, not really. Not unless you go nuts.
Barbara shrugs as if to say she had seen it happen before.

Fern: You mean?
Barbara: I was at The Met, Troilus and Croissantia, and Brutalus literally went off on his soliloquy about how he wanted to fuck the pope and all kinds of stuff. Stage hands had to cart him off…

They all look at each other in fear.

Barbara: But hey don’t you all worry, I’ve seen this kind of set before, its one of those mimimalist plays, I cant see there being any violence or pain for you to worry about for the next hour or so. I’d say be prepared for anything boys!!!

Barbara quickly gets up and walks across the stage and exits. The others sit at the table in disbelief, looking after her. They look over at the fallen scripts on the floor in the middle of the stage. Suddenly they get up and run for them, fighting over the scripts and then quickly perusing them for any bad stuff…..

Barbara comes back in dressed as a film director. She has a quick meeting with them to explain the shot. As she talks to them, a campfire scene is set up like in the old west. Sam stays behind while Fern and Rushing leave the stage after Barbara finishes the little meeting huddle.

Barbara: In this, the campfire scene, the cowboys are beginning to feel lonesome. They have been on the trail for many moon, killing buffalo and Indians until they are piled up in mounds. They begin to think there must be something more to life than rustling, eating beans and massacaring villages.

Barbara motions for Sam to go sit by the campfire and the other two exit. Barbara assumes the Director’s chair and gets ready to call Action…

Barbara: Action!!

Sam sits alone at the fire, poking it with a stick. He begins to hum Home on the Range….

Sam’s soliloquy:

Would that this fire keep me alive in body but dead in spirit, her flames lick my brain and scorch my heart, leaving me the shell of a man. The fortunes of men depend on my killing spirit, the destiny of a country on my willingness to become an animal.

Fern enters, zipping up his pants.

Fern: Ahhh I think that little Pocahontas is starting to like it, ha haaa….!! Say partner, what’s on your mind, you look a bit melancholy.

Sam: I’ve just been thinking, this is no life, I’ll never be able to wash the blood off my hands.

Fern, lighthearted and more brutal, sits down next to Sam, and puts his arm around him.

Fern: I still got some of that powder the old woman gave us, you know, makes you feel like you are a big yellow bird, flying over the prairie? Come on, you remember what we saw last time ??

Sam: No thanks, I want to keep my wits about me this time. I’m gonna talk to the trail boss tomorrow, see if I can get a different assignment or something, plate washer or bean cooker or something, maybe just help stack all the skulls…..something different.

Fern: Suit yourself, tonight I’m flying over the camp and seeing who’s doing who!!!

Fern takes a bit of the substance and kicks back as if waiting for the effects. Sam goes back to poking the fire. We hear the hoot of an owl and the howl of a coyote as the two sit silently. Slowly from backstage, a rumbling like thunder begins and they look up at the sky. A few flashes of light come from back center stage and a bit of dry ice smoke starts to come out of the back curtain. They get up to look at it, backs slightly turned to the crowd. They watch as a large Indian wearing a poncho comes out of the smoke, on a conveyor belt, head down to his chest like, looking like a cocoon. The cowboys draw their guns and fire a few times but we hear the ricochet of the bullets as they spend all the cartridges. The apparition laughs loudly and throws back the poncho to reveal a gold plated suit, like an old sci fi movie astronaut suit. Four lights come out on either side of him like the lights on Pl Espanya.

Indian: The four winds now converge on your twilight prairie scene, conjuring the demons you have created. They are thirsty and seek vengeance but they are sly. That is their nature, and patient too. They will not settle for a the blood of a few hapless cowboys, they have devised a bigger plan for you two…..

The ghost points his long bony finger at them and the music crescendos, tympanis pounding like thunder.
Fern, tripping by now, is on his knees in supplication to the Indian ghost, folding his hands in front of him on the verge of tears. Sam stands defiant and interested, unafraid of the ghost.

Sam: This plan, oh great one, does it…..hurt?
He winces a bit…

Indian: Only a little, but be not afraid. Your destiny is mapped out, you have only to step into these boots and you shall be……Sheriff of Laredo….

A pair of new boots comes out of the smoke on a mini conveyor belt, resting in front of Sam.

Indian: Go on then, put them on.
Sam: Hmmm let’s see if they fit.
Sam puts on the boots while Fern cowers on the ground in fear, not taking in any of this, but tripping like crazy. Sam gets them on and gives the ghost a satisfied look.

Sam: It be true, oh great one, I heard tell old Bill Middlestone was running for re-election, but his recent scandal with the Jimson Gang has made people a little suspicious of his criminal ties. Fifteen years of Middlestone style sheriffing could come to an end--the whole history of the west could change if someone could wrest power away from that one man…...

Sam is pacing around a bit, thinking over the possibilities, looking up at the moon, he begins a short soliloquy….

Sam: These winds do blow good news! Swept up in her current, I will sail over the grasslands to my glorious project. There, in Laredo, at the crossroads of East and West, the power center will shift. And am I not worthy of this destiny? True enough my daddy was a blacksmith and my mommy was a whore, but this emptiness never sat comfortably in my soul, I knew there was something more. Marauders come and go, and slaughter loses its appeal on such a small scale. These winds blow me to greater battles, into the memories of the Seven Generations, into the myth realm of collective consciousness. If Middlestone can be ousted, oh great one, then these boots shall be enshrined in glory and fame.

Indian, pulling his poncho closed, begins to recede into the smoke…

Sam looks down at Fern, lying on the ground still.
Sam: oh hey great one, hold on, what about him??
Indian: oh, he’s gonna be your deputy, of course!! So it shall come to passsssss……

He disappears backstage…
Fern slowly rouses himself, looking really disoriented.

Fern: Whaaa….what happened?? I was flying over the wagons, I saw Billy Boy and the Big Russian, then whamO I don’t remember a thing, how long was I out??
Sam: Ten minutes? I don’t know, it was more than a lifetime to me. We must surrender to our fate, soon you shall see the trail that has been mapped out for us to Laredo…
Fern: LarEdo??? Whaaaaa????

Barbara, who we have forgotten about, suddenly stands up….
Barbara: Cut!! Print!! It’s a wrap, ten minute break….
They all come out of character, mumbling and walking offstage.

The curtain closes……Rebecca Enters from the side to address the audience in between and two.

Rebecca: hello everyone!! This is not an intermission, they’ll be back in a second with Act 2, at the saloon in Laredo, so hang on…I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like the theater you know, just between you and me, it’s a bit pompous. People who go to the theatre are kind of well, stuck up and think they…ahh sorry not you all of course, no I mean, this is alternative theater, independent theater, you all are very cool for coming…..but anyway I have no idea whats going on in this play, they just wanted me to kill some time in between Acts, I think I do this between every act, ah we’ll see….

Anyway, lets recap…the cowboys had a vision and one of them is somehow going to be the new Sheriff of Laredo. Hmmm something sounds familiar about all this, I’ll have to think about my old lit classes from college. Hero journeys and stuff like that, perhaps they are metaphors for something else, who the hell knows!!! In any case, its kinda zany, you never know whats going to happen, so that’s better than those slow drawn out dramas people seem to go for these days….gimme something with a little variety I say….besides, we’re all friends you know so im just trying to help out….ta taaahhh!!

Rebecca begins exiting the stage as the curtain opens on the saloon scene. Honky tonk piano chiming in the background, Barbara as the Madame, Rushing as Sheriff Middleton

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Another Rude Awakening

Summer 1987, Portland, Oregon

My housemate and I started a painting business together and we needed a nice truck to haul around the paint and supplies. John was a firm believer in visualization, and he said if we visualized a nice new truck floating down to us in a pink bubble, bursting softly at our feet, we would get the truck. We did this for about a week, egging each other on, and one day a neighbor made us a deal on a Toyota SR5. It was practically brand new, and we got it for $750, a really good deal.

We were working a lot and the truck became indispensable. I got a really hard job demolishing someone’s chimney, and after ripping out bricks with a crowbar, I was ready to get drunk. I went to the bar and had some Bushmill’s with beer backs and then drove home. I made it home no problem, parked the truck, went upstairs and went to bed.

The next morning, my housemate came and woke me up. He asked me where I had parked the night before. Maybe I had left the truck downtown, but I assured him that I had made it home. He told me the truck was not parked out front anymore, where the heck was it?

I was still wasted from the whiskey the night before and slowly came to my senses, thinking I should roll over and look out my second story window to the street below and see for myself if the truck was there or not. I tried to push myself up to the windowsill but a sharp pain shot through my neck and right shoulder and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even turn over in bed. I had wrenched out my back in the chimney demolition and now I was completlely useless. As I would learn a few days later from the X-ray, my second vertebrae in my neck had unhinged itself somehow from my spinal column, pushed forward so far that the radiologist told me it was worse than if I had jumped off suicide bridge and survived. Five years of ramming into big guys with a football had finally come back to haunt me, and I cursed Coach Tryon for sending me back time after time to that bloody field.

We tried to figure out what could have happened to the truck, I was sure I had parked in front of the house. The phone rang. It was the police telling us that they had found it. A 16 year old had stolen the truck, gotten drunk and taken it for a joyride. Ten miles from our house, he had run a red light and T-boned another car, both cars were completely ruined, totalled as they say, but luckily no one was hurt. My housemate went to the scene of the crime and verified that yes indeed that was once our indispensable Toyota SR5, the front all crumpled and the engine spewing out steam and leaking fluid all over the road like blood. He said he cried in front of the policeman.

I wanted to get some kind of revenge on this teenager, but we knew we would never see the kid or get any money out of him. I finally made it out of my room, down the stairs, and spent three days on the couch until I could see a chiropractor and get my back put into place again.

My theory was that I had thrown out my neck when the kid was stealing the truck. It was right under my open window and I’m sure part of my sleeping drunk brain heard him breaking into the SR5. I probably jerked up to look out the window and screwed up my neck because I was too drunk to completely wake up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Peter at the Cathedral

Thing go in cycles
I’ll tell it straight
Today I saw Peter at the Cathedral.

Playing Mendelssohn
His arms were dancing in the sacred air
Gently holding the bouncing mallets
While striking the strings.

Back home
He hung up his red sauce pan
Summer hot in the city every year
Went into his Rambla de Raval 4x4 room
Put on the TV a foot from his face
Laughing out loud and eating the chicken stew.

His wife in Belarusa was a bit ill
But they were building a house for the kids.

---Summer 2006, Barcelona, Spain

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don Moíses

1996 Temixco, Mexico

I went to say goodbye to Don Moises, lying on his deathbed. I had helped Tony carry the bed over for him the previous day, and now he was hidden from view behind a large curtain in the main room of Tony and Sandra’s little square concrete house.
I slid the curtain aside and caught him frozen in mid-reach, trying to pick up something on the bedside table. He didn’t notice me as he struggled to turn onto his left side, and now I was standing right over him. I whispered his name and he jerked back down onto his back, looking first at the ceiling and then at me, slowly focusing with wide eyes. After a couple seconds he gave me a smile of recognition.

I shook his hands and told him it was a great pleasure meeting him, that I would be leaving for D.F. in a couple hours, heading back to Portland. He nodded his head affirmatively, nose all plugged up unable to breath, his cavernous mouth hissing out an unintelligible response. Then he started to cry, loosening his hands from mine and grabbing his face like someone who has a terrible toothache, but with both bony splotchy hands, weeping uncontrollably.
I said oh Don Moises don’t worry, we’ll see you in the future, everything will be allright, as I reached for his shoulder to offer some comfort. His mouth opened and closed, the air passed through, the eyes searched the ceiling for something, but the words didn’t come.

For over forty years, Don Moises had squandered most of his money on prostitutes. That may be common enough, but these were HIS prostitutes, he owned a large fairly high end brothel in Cuernavaca with 25 women and a couple floors. You might think the pimp always gets if for free just because they are the pimp, but Don Moises was a romantic. He gave them elaborate gifts and took them out to dinner so they would love him and gladly offer themselves to him whenever he felt like it. He didn’t force them into anything, and most of them stayed on for longer than average. He was the Duke Ellington of whoredom. Meanwhile his seven kids and wife were left to fend for themselves. Not to even mention a couple mistresses and other unclaimed kids, par for the course. Now as he lie on his deathbed, it was family payback time.
Sandra was the youngest daughter and so it was just assumed she would deal with Don Moises. After all, she had been doing all the work for her brothers since she was eight years old, cooking, cleaning and babysitting. I was helping her get the bed because she didn’t want to talk to Tony anymore, they had had a fight at the hospital earlier in the day while they were getting Don Moises. I guess they were carrying him in his wheelchair down the hospital stairs and Tony said she wasn’t carrying her weight. He snapped at her, making the effort all the more difficult and dangerous. At the bottom of the stairs they had it out and their argument echoed down the sterile hospital halls.

Sandra said that in her culture the men are machos, its true, but that’s good cause that means that they help the women more. I don’t know why Tony don’t help me more, that’s the problem, he too lazy.
We went to Reina and Elisendra’s house up the road to get the bed. Sandra carried her brother’s machete, clearing a path. She chopped down one weed and held it up to me. She said this is the Bad Woman plant, you must always kill these when you see them or it is bad luck. We both laughed in a groaning way, unable to fathom the depths of lies people had to live through. Suddenly Tony’s cherubic face poppep up between the fence posts, a smile offering help, as if he had heard Sandra’s complaining. Then he and I huffed and puffed up the road and put the bed in place. Don Moises waited in his wheelchair and we put him into the bed and closed the curtain.
Sandra said Don Moises would cry a lot over anything after he had the stroke last year. He was now too proud to ask for help from anyone, and actually no one offered so he was left to die in the home of the daughter he knew least, with the granddaughters and grandsons who only knew him as a sweet old half senile papa and weren’t privy to tales of the brothel he had sold before they were born. He kept himself behind the curtain while everyone stood around in the kitchen, occasionally looking in on him and asking if he needed anything.

Only two weeks before we saw him sitting in his usual spot in el Zocalo of Cuernavaca, just across from the fresh juice stand, sitting in the shade. Airam and Lluvia said we would probably see him there and sure enough there he was, big kisses for the abuelo. His bony splotchy hands were placed neatly on the cane he balanced between his feet. He proudly talked to his granddaughters, stroking their hair and grabbing their faces to get another kiss. He told me he walked from the day house everyday to watch the people go by, it’s a beautiful place to spend your days, and he kicked a pigeon away from his feet.
Now on the other side of the curtain, Lluvia quietly cried for her dying grandfather. She had never seen him so bad, not even after the stroke, at least he could talk and knew what you were saying. Now he was like a living skeleton, and was left abandoned by all her aunts and uncles and she didn’t know why.

No one else offered any help. Out of spite they said let the old man die, he never did anything for us. Sifran showed up a couple times, having a word behind the curtain with Don Moises before meekly saying goodbye after a cup of coffee with all of us. He neglected his wife Reina and his four kids to be with his girlfriend. He said he would come back but never did. Juan the oldest brother was some kind of cop, and Tony told me he had a bad reputation in the family for being corrupt. One time he put the finger on some big time drug dealer and some other cops just busted him out of his apartment and shot him in the street. He was the only one in the family with any money, but he didn’t offer any during his one hour visit.
A couple other family members came to pay their respects and say goodbye to Don Moises, but no one could or would do anything.

I stayed in the Hotel Monte Carlo room 201 for a couple days in Mexico City before going back to Portland. I was sitting and writing about Don Moises and honestly my door swung open for no apparent reason, like someone had shoved it open. I was scared, but then I heard a faint whistling in the hallway, so I ran out to look. Spiraling quickly down the stairs, I saw a young woman, her bountiful hair was pulled back into a bun, clickety clacking down the steps, the sound of her heels landing on the black and white checkered floor of the lobby at the bottom. I watched from above as she left the hotel, her song fading away into the traffic noise.
Maybe Don Moises had just died? He sent a messenger to me, a happy messenger to tell me he waited to die until after I had left, and that he was now out of pain. He only wanted to die amongst his family, with no strangers around.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Nirvana ‘blown-out’ Guatama
Eight Fold Path—right views, aspirations, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, meditation, rapture.

Avalokiteshvara who regards the world in mercy

Yellow river fable
Swift horses and arrows
No religion

Boddhisatva appears with a basket full of willows and fish scales.
He who can recite the sutra of the compassionate Kuan Yin she will marry.
Mero is left to find her footsteps leading to the sea.

Fall 1985, Iowa City, Iowa


I have realized the relationship between the reader and the poet:

One must not leave out too much or there will be danger.
We speak of the poet’s duty, and that it mingles with art.
This craft is an illusion when images float on psychic energy.

Peter Blue Cloud who came traipsing in with winter crows in the hour of Coyote could not be found in an intellectual shroud.

Summer 1984, Iowa City, Iowa

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fourth World Blues and Southern Hospitality

Spring 1997, Greensboro, Statesville and Wilkesboro, North Carolina

I took the shuttle from the airport to downtown Greensboro. I had tickets for the 12th annual MerleFest Bluegrass Festival in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, but had no idea how I was going to get there from Greensboro. When my folks bought me the plane tickets to visit them in their new snowbird home in Florida, I added an extra sixty to get me to the four day festival of my acoustic music heroes.
I was traveling light as usual, just a big hiker’s backpack, so I find myself in downtown Greensboro. The only person I know from there I don’t even know and his name is
Dr. Eugene Chadbourne. You may have heard his great records like Chopping Down Weeds, or Big Boys With Little Balls. He played in Bongwater and Camper Van Chadbourne. A true legend and his name just happened to be in the phone book.
A woman’s voice. Hi you don’t know me, I say, but Im jus whistling through town on the way to MerleFest, y’all going? Eugene was in the studio but his wife said call back later, maybe their daughter is going with a bunch of friends.
I thought of a carload of southern Jewish southern belles leading me to four days of high lonesome paradise.
I still had to find a place to stay for the night. As I hung up the phone to the Chadbourne’s for the second time (no news yet) a man approached me with a half smile and a slight lifting of the chin that made me suspicious. I don’t think I was suspicious because he was black, but I couldn’t be too careful, so I acted friendly.
He wanted to know if I had somewhere to stay and suggested the shelter in the church where he was a member. We walked the ten or fifteen blocks across the bridge together to a large white building with an empty parking lot. He was an honest person. I checked in, got a bed in the large room and stuck my head in a book, not talking to anyone. After resting a couple hours and realizing this was no place to find a ride to a bluegrass festival, I left stuff safely there and went back to explore Greensboro.
No luck on the streets after a couple cafes and bookshops asking around, even calling a pottery place in Asheville thinking there would be a ride. Back at the shelter, the junkies told me they would give me ride for fifty bucks, a lot less than a taxi, which would be close to a hundred. I told them I would think about it, picturing my decapitated head and my fifty bucks going into their arms, then discreetly finding out the nearest town on the Greyhound Bus and bought a ticket to Statesville.
The afternoon is quiet and the little church shines at the edge of Main Street. Men’s chins seem different than I have seen before, even the young and fit have a flap of skin, and all appear to have buck teeth, vestiges of clever selective breeding.
There’s a pizza joint advertising all you can eat so I go in. Hey Baby, they all look up at me, the waitresses on break with the place empty. They say are you hungry Baby and point to what’s left on the steaming buffet. I put my pack down and dive in. They said they weren’t into bluegrass but they would give me a ride. We went to their house and did bongs, listened to Kid Rock first and then drove the convertible down Highway 12, one of them saying good thing they were giving me a ride cause right down that road is a town where they outlawed glass bottles on account of too many people getting cut up in bar fights. If some one of them guys picked you up hitchhiking, no telling what they might do to you.