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.