THE STORY OF ME
Edited and written with
Dragon Voice Recognition ...
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The Family Portrait
When one begins writing a serious autobiography there is the frightening possibility you are confronting the reality of “He was a legend in his own mind,” and this is a feasible criticism of my meanderings to come, except for one great truth, that I am part of an amazing family, and have been comrades with incredible talented genuine friends scattered across the world, and without them I would have no story at all
As I have been telling this story, (I am speaking through WORD RECOGITION as opposed to solely writing it) I have purposely chosen to not follow an authors preconceived outline or chronological order simply because that is not the way I think, and it is not the way oral histories happen.
Oral story tellers from all over the world speak in the way their memory comes back which quite often visual stimuli or the interjection of the listener begs short antidotes that are just a small detail of a woven story blanket.
SHOES AND DOG BONES
OLD SHOES AND DOG BONES
0Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”
universal childhood rhyme
"Si los tontos pudieron volar, entonces usted no vería el cielo."
(If fools could fly, you would not see the sky.)
Spanish proverb learned from a beautiful Spanish woman in 1975
The computer brain has inspired me to tell the story of me, my family and a whole bunch people I bumped into along the way.
Little by little, my computer is learning my words.
Are you listening?
The machine is typing it all out, just like it knows what I’m saying.
I could start out with how I met the women, written about in my journals; tales of serendipity Romance and Adventure…
…From the very first instant, she dazzled my vision then only minutes later captured my imagination and made me a slave of lust. How did I meet this woman? Yes, here, begins the tale…
Just when that fancy VOICE RECOGNITION baby was beginning to understand me, what happens of course but my ==%$%$^&*^&()*(*&&*_()+ computer goes bonkers on me and next thing I know it can't remember anything let alone the sound of my voice...but tomorrow, yes tomorrow, the new VOICE RECOGNITION PROGRAM is arriving! HAH! I will tell this damn story of me yet...
Oh well, never mind, watch your step. I went off on a road trip about one of the women in my life, but all these years later, those memories seem like one big emotional scab that gets uglier the more you worry it.
I would rather have a good truck, a loving dog and a Harley Davidson.
Most of my life, I have not been a writer, but a maker of artworks, with pencils, pens, brushes, sticks, stones and anything I could find to create a visual object.
I am in my seventh decade and I have been creating Public Art around the world since my first decade. Most of that art didn't make enough money to keep a goat alive, but some artwork made me rich and famous...for a moment, in a place, in a time, but not everywhere all the time...
My first Kodak “selfy”
I lived in
Domaine Peraldi Vineyard, Corsica, 1984 24 X 50 feet
was only nine, when I created my first large public art work
and sixteen when I painted my first
commercial mural in
was born in September 1944, one month after my brother Ernie died in the
Ernie’s High School Graduation photo 1941 and mine in 1963…of all my brothers, Ernie and I look the most alike.
I was the last darling baby boy replacing the first son who was a four year letterman in sports, the valedictorian of his high school class and joined the service at the beginning of the war to become an officer. His official Marine Corps fighter pilot portrait always sat on top of the upright piano in the living room, with the look of eternal sadness across his eyes looking down on me.
He was only 21 and I had the same kind of eyes. They haunted me.
I was too young at the beginning of course to understand anything about my family. Like all kids, I was born into the world as it is. I didn't have a clue my family was any different than anybody's except for one big thing.
Ruby and me, 1946
It was the overwhelming grief my mother suffered from not only the loss of her first born child, but at the age of 44 and eleven babies, her body and mind began to run aground.
She developed rheumatoid arthritis within a year after I was born. By the time I was four, she would be bed-ridden for days, crippled to the extant she could hardly hold a cup in her hand or walk more than a few feet at a time. Her hands turned into knurled claws and her feet so misshapen she could only wear open loose sandals that the straps had to be cut so she could slip them on.
When Ernie was killed my
whole family came apart at the seams. Our oldest living brother Ivan, who
was just 15, ran away from home when he found out Ernie was dead. Our oldest
sister Ruby who was 20, joined the Navy when Ernie enlisted and she was
father Frank gave our Mom, Opal, a year to straighten her self out and
return to their marriage of thirty years. Opal was with six of us kids at
the condemned house on
Mom and Pop 1946
So it was two industrious brothers, three crazy sisters and me still with our mother, and Pop dropping in once a week to leave a few bucks on the kitchen table and talk about the Arkansas Valley Frying Pan Project developing on the land he bought. Mom was only concerned if we had food to eat and if the electricity and gas bills were paid. I would sit and listen to Pop and Mom talk but never heard anything interesting except how someone was going to give him a lot of money by building a new town in a frying pan. I figured it was going to be a tiny town. They told me their personal stories separately. It was many years later, that I discovered I was the only one of my siblings that knew about the two dead babies.
1948, Patty, Robert, me, Tommy and
I walked away from my desk for a moment talking to a little bird that had flown into the studio. I forgot to turn off the speech recognition again, so in between what I was saying to the bird, the squeaks of the floor plus desperate bird chirping, the computer came up with the stuff below…
“Holy mackerel to some kind of air station in my brain but the world of revolting arrivals is Iraq or never ending war… that... that…”
I must be crazy. It all makes sense to me.
Where did it come from? I mean me being crazy. It runs in my family. I am not the only certified nut. My sister Goldie was in the Colorado State Insane asylum for the first years of my life.
My sister Patty was a socially classified odd-ball.
My brother Ivan, who I have known as Red Cloud since I was three years old, is more than a triple authenticated whacko.
My Brother Tommy once held a 33 Winchester to the throat of his boss, and told him, “If I see your sorry ass here in another 30 seconds I’m gonna blow your god dam head off!”
The women of my family, 1951, left to right clockwise, Patty, Opal, goldie,Ruby and Doris
My brother Robert practices crashing small planes and limping away.
Ruby the eldest, joined the Navy and saw the world. Need I say more? Okay. She married Ed Lawler who was also a sailor and he drank a full bottle of whiskey every day of his life from 1944 to when he died in 1997. He should have donated his body to science.
The boys first portrait together 1951. left to right clockwise, Robert, Red Cloud, Tommy and me
My blessed sister Doris, was more like Mother Teresa than anybody I know, married a first generation Sicilian, who was not only an ex-Marine, who pulled gold teeth from dead Japanese soldiers in WWII, but was reinstated during the Korean “Conflict” as a Marine Corps, D.I. in Paris island, circa 1950-52. That’s when D.I.’s could legally beat the shit out of troops. I once witnessed him shooting three mule deer running up the hillside, a football filed away. Bang, Bang, Bang, and three does dropped. It wasn’t hunting season and hunters couldn't shoots does even if it was. Sometimes I wondered if Doris was nuts too.
Maybe it all goes back to my old man, F.E. as Red Cloud refers to him to this day. He has been dead since 1970.
Frank Elvin Wolverton was born in 1896, in southern Kansas. His father, Charles was a school teacher in one of those quaint one room school houses. My Pop, as I came to call him over the years, only got to the 8th grade, before he had to stop education and do what he could to help his nine brothers and sisters.
There's lot I don’t know where life took my Dad, but somewhere around the age of 21, America got involved in WWI. He was good with mechanical stuff, so the army in all it’s wisdom, made him a motorcycle courier, in the last year of the war, 1918, put him on duty for messages to the front lines, where most troops were dying gloriously with trench foot and mass gas attacks. He rode an Indian and it profoundly influenced his life.
Mom and Pop around 1921
My mother was not the only one with secrets. My father was really good at not revealing some things that will forever be a mystery to me.
For instance, at the age of 42, I returned from Europe after my self imposed exile of Nixionian America, for 14 years. and I met up with my Mom's youngest brother, Leo. Uncle Leo was delighted that I had lived in Corsica for three years because that is where he spent the last part of WWII in the Army Air Corps. Not only that, but their base was on the East side of the island, that had been a swampy mosquito infested malaria pit until the Americans came and built an air field where they could bomb the crap out of Rommel in the North African deserts.
It was called Ghisonaccio, where I painted a mural for a wanna-be Woodstock music festival featuring the infamous James Brown (Sex Machine) after his release from prison for shooting at his wife.
Uncle Leo says to me, “Did Frank ever speak French with you?”
I wondered if Uncle Leo had gone off his rocker too. “Huh?” I said.
“Well Kenny, Frank was stationed in Marseilles for two years after the war, Why yeah, he didn’t come home until 1920.”
That would have been two years before Ernie was born.
My father never once spoke one word of French to me, nor did I ever have the slightest idea, he stayed behind, when all the other troops that had served, came home.
So, that is what happened after he took the Colonel to the front lines when the war was over…
I heard the story several times over the years. It was the end of WWI, and the Germans had surrendered. The troops who had been on active duty were taken back to their base camps, and what equipment that could be saved was to be prepared to ship back home. My father had been a motorcycle courier for the last 12 months of hostilities, which meant he had to take hand written messages from back in the safe division headquarters to the savage front lines on a daily basis…no internet, no telephones, just carrier pigeons or crazy young men who would run the gamete of bombs, bullets, rain, sleet and slick muddy ruts that were called roads on powerful but fundamental motorbikes. Harley Davidson and Indians at that point were really more like bicycles with a thousand cc’s of power between your legs.
Here’s a little quote from the internet about motorcycle couriers in those
In WW1 the motorcycle was an important courier vehicle. This was before
radios were perfected and so a lot of messages were just that, words on
paper that had to be carried. You had all these stories about messages being
intercepted and all that. There were great plots in movies and books. But
the fact is messages were hand carried and a better way to do that was by
motorcycles because they could get to places and through places that a
4-wheel vehicle could not- especially in the rainy time of year in
My old man had an Indian motorcycle with a side car that he transported everything from officers to machine guns to carrier pigeons. But suddenly the war was over and Frank by now a corporal had just got his motorbike and side car all taken apart, wrapped up in burlap soaked in sticky creosote grease and packed in a shipping box when suddenly the army colonel showed up and asked for a volunteer to take him back the twenty miles of sloppy slime to the few remaining troops kept at the last frontline of butchery.
No one raised their hand so the Colonel being the Colonel looked directly at my old man being only a Corporal, and said, “You Corporal. You have just volunteered. Get ready. I must leave immediately!” When Frank tried to explain that his motorbike was packed up in a box unlike the other 5 or 6 that were still covered in mud and ready for the road, the kindly officer said, “Soldier, are you refusing? You know I can shoot you for disobeying a direct order!”
My old man knowing even though the war was won realized he had just lost the last battle. “Yes Sir! I will have the bike ready in 30 minutes.” The Colonel stood and watched as he ripped open the packing case and put the gummy parts together into what looked like three wheeled sewing machine that had a mishap with a molasses factory. Dripping with goopy black syrup, the Colonel placed a dry burlap bag in the side car, jumped in a demanded departure.
My old man said to me many years later, “I decided I was going to give that first class son of a bitch the ride of his life.”
So the story goes he did. For the next twenty miles, Frank slid around one terrifying curve after the other, through gulley's of shit colored mud, banged past bombed burnt broken branches of war destroyed fields and all the while the Colonel screaming “stop you mad man” while trying to hang on by grabbing what ever he could in the side car to keep from being pitched into the sky. Frank had on his helmet, goggles and gas mask feigning complete deafness to the officers shrieks of horror. When they finally reached the front lines, they were both covered with so much mud, a corporal could not be discerned from a Colonel. The Colonel jumped out of the side car screaming he would see this young Corporal again and blah blah blah as my old man turned the bike, wheeled a slingshot full of muddy sleaze into the officers tirade and drove off into the proverbial sunset…
Usually at that point in the story my father would laugh like a lunatic and say, “Yup, I’ll never forget the look of that sorry S.O.B.’s face as I gunned the bike and splattered him from head to toe. Yup that was sure damn funny.”
He never did tell me he stayed in France for another two years, and I guess I might know why now. Still, since I found out about him being in Marseilles until 1920, as well as being able to speak French (Uncle Leo saying, Yeah, your Daddy could speak real good Frog) I have wondered much, who did he meet, what did he do, who taught him French…things like that, but everybody who knew anything of what he did are long dead, and history is buried, at least that part of my fathers life.
Pop, 1918 somewhere in Kansas before he went to France
first started to write about my family and what happened to me along the way
in 1975. It was in one of my journals that I have drug around me since I was
18 years old. I got 100 pages written beginning with my mother and then
40 years later I have carried on doing what I have always done which is to make art with stories. Well everybody knows a picture is at least 1000 words, or in the case of me, it will be more than 1000 miles.
So here I am in the desert painting a portrait of Hawaii on a surfboard that was bought on eBay from Rhode Island, shipped by Amtrak to Albuquerque New Mexico, where I collected it and took it back to my studio in the Galesteo Valley, and when I finish the painting, I will ship it off 1,200 miles to Missoula, Montana. There, it will be delivered to a niece I have never met, the daughter of my sister Patty who died nine years ago.
Patty telephoned me about a month before she died. Something happened to my psyche that day and I reacted in an odd way. I made excuses I had to go someplace immediately. I couldn’t get off the phone quick enough. A vision of my childhood in relation to my sister bubbled up. Nothing horrible, just a scene of my two sisters Patty and Doris screaming and pulling each other’s hair rolling around in front of the heater in the front room trying to kill each other or at least it seemed to me. I was only four years old and the violence of their actions made me want to run away. Maybe it was because I already understood there was something terribly wrong with my sister Goldie and I came to the conclusion my other sisters were the same. So I had a knee jerk reaction that seems to have followed me through my life about women – my sister Patty was a nutcase and I would never understand her.
Then she died and I felt remorse for not facing a soul who had been in the beginning chapters of my life. The irony being between the two of us, I am the one with certified lunatic papers. That’s another chapter which will come in telling the story of me.
I returned to my computer with the new Dragon Voice Recognition program that arrived in the mail. Within an hour the program had learned more than the old program had learned in a whole week. The technology of voice recognition has come a long way, so once again I divert to whatever I was talking about…
What the hell was I talking about, before my computer broke down and couldn’t understand a word I was saying?
Oh yeah, it was about one of the women in my life…
Maybe this is where the story should start. But beware, nothing is linear, you know, going in a straight line from one point to another – there is always a meandering in folk tales, especially in one’s memory.
She told me the bullet missed her and bounced around the bathroom walls – then she saw it roll to a stop on the carpet in the hall. It just lay there, a little shiny lump of bent metal. It missed her.
I told her my first bullet whizzed right in front of my nose. The second bullet was somewhere out there in front of my face. But it was that third bullet that almost kissed the back of my neck, that made me realize, those bullets were looking for me.
We lay down in bed. She put her head on my belly, and began to wrap a strand of her long black hair around the arousal, so delicately, like tying up a Christmas gift.
“Are you hanging my little man?”
Through the tangle of that black waterfall coming down over ebony eyes, she laughed.
“This feels good. I like being here.” I said.
“Yes it is good. I’m glad you’re here.” She said.
We lay in the bed. 48 hour’s we would have together. One more time. The weekend. Two days of holding each other, making love, kissing all the way down, gently nipping, the tongue like a dolphin, leaving the sea, jumping to the sky.
Kissing slowly along the smoothness of belly, down to the tornado of curly black, wrapped legs and we took each until we exploded hot, like a white meteor out of an indigo sky.
We woke up the last morning together. I looked at her. Her eyes opened. She looked deep and smiled.
She laughed and I took her in my arms and we rolled in the bed until she straddled me, looking down, she pushed her hands up my belly.
“Your eyes, they are so blue.” She said.
“We can do things, you and me. We are still alive, and death did not take us – it missed you by one bullet, it missed me by three – even that truck last night couldn’t wipe us out when we were together.”
We talked about the night of Friday the 13th and us being stoned and crazy driving through the town in her black Mercedes listening to rock'n'roll– about the traffic light that neither of us saw until it was almost too late.
“Look out! The truck!” I screamed.
She slammed on the brakes. There was no screech, no sway, the Mercedes stopped. The truck, an 18 wheeler, huge, deadly, like an aluminum great white Moby Dick passed a foot in front of us.
We could be dead, her and me, dead for so many years, dead just after we first met – but death choose someone else that night and now I have a story that started and another chance to find out what this riddle of knots mean.
How did I meet that woman? My good buddy Glen Neff said, “Hey come on out and look at some beautiful women – it will get you over the blues!” I should have known better. It was Glen who introduced me to the woman from Italy.
He was right. This time the blues was for the Italian. And this woman, although the most fascinating of romances, was also the meanest woman I’d ever known.
The affair was a kind of an irony payment for me – I mean when she was mean to me, I accepted it as karma – I had been such a bastard to so many women for so long, it seemed like humanities tears seeped into my dried eyes. And so, I made up my mind to bear my penalty and try harder than I’d ever had, to hold this Italian bitch of thorns no matter what she did.
I did just that. For 2 years I took the whips, I accepted the punishment of heart I had agreed to. I can’t blame the Italian for being how she was, a man-hating pyscophrenic which is the most simple analysis of her mentality – but really it was me who kept going back to being beaten time after time – that is until the very last time when I knew I must unshackle the chains I had tied on myself.
I was about to call it quits when the Italian gave me the verdict. She said, “I’m involved with Giuseppe. He is 34. He is a good boy. You will never ever be in my life again. I would rather die.”
“Thank you very much,” I said. I got the verdict. So I had the blues about losing the idea of perfect love. I was delusional – but now it was over.
Then I walked into the The Mine Shaft Tavern with Glen. I was expecting to see young women who met every Thursday night bonding in the ancient ritual of belly dancing and titillating a few horny old men like me.
As soon as I walked through the swinging doors I saw her waterfall of jet black hair. It was the way she was sitting, even with her face turned away from me, I knew she would be beautiful. I walked to the front of the bar and turned around to survey the room to see if my prediction was right.
Beautiful was not the exact for this woman. She was gorgeous as the most cosmic gypsy woman who ever set by candle light while guitars hummed.
The exile of my journey was coming to an end, and in minutes a new obsession, a new fascination in the rapture of passion began. This gypsy woman soon would become my instrument to play, and me the possessed musician playing her strings like a cello of bell notes in a vast domed palace as we lusted inside our own music. A delightful madness swirled into my blood.
I would be infected, with the contagion of lust, of love, of wonder I believed not possible. I was leaving the dead life, the desert I had wandered into 40 times meaner than the wilderness of Christ’s 40 days-little tme compared to the years I was lost, betrayed and meandering into my own wasteland of heartbreak.
“I am falling in love with you,” she said.
“I want to put my tongue softly on your lips, let it open your mouth, let your tongue come, a delicious snake, it goes all the way in touching my throat,” I said.
“Yes, yes,” she said.
“Slow, deep, deep all the way up into you until I hear you moan your beautiful song.”
“Oh, oh!” She said
“Yes, my mouth releases your tongue, I slide down to your breast, I take your left nipple, bite gently, than a little harder,” I said.
“Oh, how you do that!” She said.
“We sing together, me so deep and twisting like the peppermint lounge dance, you biting, sucking hard on my neck!”
“Yes, oh yes baby!’ she said.
We talked like that to each other. It was hot. There are so many nights we had made love like that. When we were taken to other lands we would spend hours on the telephone replaying the lust that welded us together.
She was a full woman, a kind of brown Rubenesque woman, ample breasts, mother hips, big legs, a strong neck and muscled back.
Her hands were delicate, female. It was her hair I noticed first and still comes to my memory – so black, like coal. It was more like a mane than a fashion pelt. Like locks of a wild animal, an Amazonian just emerging from the jungle – it was the way it fell around her face and shoulders, tumbled curls that crashed along her beautiful wedged back, falling down to the top of that dimpled place, that delicious fillet of flesh.
A woman like her was made for love, was made for man to play like a divine cello, a loop of music, a master class in harmony, and resonance, the bell chime of the perfect note. In bed, her naked, lying like the instrument created by a craftsman given the wood of a tree that could give birth to absolute harmonics – an instrument lying in this case of velvet to be played by the musician, the songs of the God.
When did it all began to shape into a strange dream – when did my mind begin to lose grasp of anything solid? How does anyone guess where the cracks are when walking on a thinly frozen pond? It seems that way to me now – like the urge to walk on frozen water, to play a kind of synthetic Christ, waltzing over a little puddle we had seen on a summer day, and then in the winter of despair, it looks so inviting. Come walk on me, it calls.
And like a child, beckoned by those moments of magic, water that was fluid but now a sheet of glass – we are pulled out onto its surface, farther and farther from the good solid earth, and even when we hear the first creaking squawks of glass cracking, the splitting of molecules, of solid beginning to break apart, we walk on out to the place where we know, if we break through the illusion of surface, we will plunge into a cold bed of death – never returned to the wonderful hard ground, only a few steps away.
I knew she was just another variation of that beautiful crystal tight rope of frozen water. And still I walked on, even after I heard the sound of cracking.
Somewhere around that time, I wrote a poem on a scrap of paper which I found this morning while digging through papers.
Silken threads of black waterfall
fall against my eyes
deep into a velvet night
revolving in the circles of rolling cascades
into her dark wells
stories reluctant to release
knowing uncertain puzzles
a soul who wants trust
the warrior, home from the battleground
the one who has slain with no mercy
has drug his trophy in circles in front of the King
she asks me, the one of hard heart, to be gentle
I feel her breath, scalding yet soft
goodbye to comrades
never to kill no more, throw down the shield
to bathe under her ebony waterfall
clean in light
It sounds like the tragic artist, Modigliani, might have written it. At the time the poem seemed right enough, but looking back I can only feel the ridiculous romantic in my soul that wants to believe a woman will be my salvation.
I kept digging through the papers in the box of old dreams, old photos, dogs that died, lovers walked out in disappointment, broken dreams of lost days. Then, at the bottom of the box a wrinkled manuscript from a day I spent on the beach 50 feet north of Mexico.
The Great Tijuana Iron Curtain.
July 4, 1998
Yesterday my wife Chrissie and I went to the furthest Southwest point of our America, a 10 foot wall dividing us from the bullring and a beach where people made soft kisses, loving, lovers, their backs braced against an iron barrier, an irony of iron, a rusted ragged edged junk pile sloppily buried in free-form concrete, this creation by the richest most powerful nation on earth against a malnourished peasant country, a wall that is a joke.
The border patrol sat in their patrol SUV’s on the hills, the officers apathetic, laying down their magazines as we pass by on our walk to the beach, just down the hill, the last hundred feet of sand runs to the water’s edge, the red rest, tall iron pipes now make up the wall, where my wife stood opposite the lovers on the other side, she posed so I could photograph the tortilla curtain in the sea.
I laugh when we walked closer because as I say to her, “A skinny guy can slide through these pipes, no problem!”
We stand there for moment and I take a picture of Mexican families having a day on the beach in my vision of a vertical rusted cylinder wall.
We walked back up to the bottom of the hill to get out of the way and out of sight. The border patrol sit motionless in boxed air-conditioned-wheels unconcerned with our adventure on the last sands of California.
We sit down, looking and feeling stoned – how could this be? How can America pretend such a hard boundary? It is surreal. It is comic. It is tragic.
Then suddenly between the red – rust pillars slides a lithe figure. What, an old man, a girl? No, a young boy, 12 or 13 who is looking back up 50 yards of the beach, him, able to see the top of the border patrol car, perhaps even the driver. He hesitates for a few minutes and then casually like he owned the little parcel of earth, he walks in a straight line to us. When he is a safe 8 feet away he he stops, smiles and says, ”Buenes tardis.” I say, “Como esta?” He laughs, maybe at my bad Spanish, maybe because he is relieved we are human beings that might be friendly. He hovers at the edge of safety, ask us questions in Spanish, most of which I can’t understand or unable to answer. The words I knew 30 years ago, playing zip through the back of my mind.
So he talks and we listen. His face so beautiful. Hope. I ask what is his name. “Nuban,” he says. I stumbled through words trying to ask how it’s spelled, his name.
He came closer and sat down next to me. I could see every detail of his face, so young, so perfect, his profile and ethic blessing of mixes.
I pulled my sketchbook onto my lap. “Como…eh?” I wanted the spelling. He said, N… U… B… A… N… Nuban...
I put the letters on the paper in a scattered pattern. I was playing what I call the “name game”, a trick of drawing faces out of the letters in the name, something I had done in many countries where I didn’t understand the word. It was a way to communicate.
The name was laid down and Nuban wrinkled his eyes, confused but curious. I begin to connect the letters with a thick black line, like those old connect-the-dot pictures. He laughed, as he began to see a face emerge.
My wife Chrissie, came up and took photos of Nuban watching me, his smile a bar of light on brown skin. I gave him the finished portrait. He laughed and said it looked like a monster. He loved it.
I begin to draw another sketch of a cowboy on a horse, always a favorite subject for little kids. Then halfway complete in the drawing, there was an engine noise coming down the beach. The boy looked up, concern pulled onto his face.
I looked north of the beach into rich America, and there was another border patrol vehicle maybe 500 yards away. I said, you better split. Nuban understood the tone, he stood up and we smiled at each other. He was gone, not a panic, but a good fast pace to the 50 yards of the illusionary barrier of rusted pillars. He slipped through the sliver of space without touching his skin. It was an image from a Fellini movie. The patrol car turned suddenly east and disappeared just as quickly as it appeared.
I kept seeing the look of wariness crossing the boy’s face, but the casualness of his body as he walked back into his world said, “catch me if you can!”.
I looked down at my feet and saw he had left two rubber balls when he first arrived.
Damn, he had lost his game.
I continue to draw the cowboy, and in another few minutes it was finished. As if on cue, the boy materialized through the rusted tubular bells. This time we walked to him. I gave him the rubber balls and the sketch. He smiled and slipped back through the barrier. The border patrol was now visible upon the hill. They sat like vultures waiting death.
We could have been passing nuclear secrets, balls full of heroin, rendezvous plans for mass illegal migration.
But of course nothing was coming North. That was all the patrol was concerned with.
All we were doing was meeting a young beautiful human-being who wanted to know if we had a nice house, a car, was it really good on the other side of those rusted poles?
Perhaps that was a perverse passing of knowledge, because we were telling this young boy, yes we had all of those things, just like in the movies. We were normal Americans. Yes, we were on vacation, 1000 miles away from our home, a place called New Mexico. I could see in the boy’s face seeds planted for desire… Yes perversion, for now he would be even more dissatisfied with this comedy of border control.
We waved goodbye. Him back to Mexico. Us back to our car parked near the border patrol.
I walked near the officer, expecting a question.
None. I said in a friendly upbeat voice, “Hi, how’s it going?”
The cop looks stunned for a moment, then mumbled an awkward, “Eh, okay…”
Maybe he felt alien as well.
I will be repeating myself, but the story of me, really has no linear beginning, and as of yet, no linear ending.
So I was talking with a friend today, and we got to talking about Woodstock. Always the question where were you, at that point in history?.
I was at the Denver Pop Festival, 1969, the big rock event before Woodstock. Playing, top of the bill was Jimi Hendrix. Somewhere in line, was Three Dog Night, Johnny Winters, Joe Cocker, Tim Buckley, Arlo Guthrie, and several other bands super big at the time.
I was with my old army buddy, Fred Baue, who like myself, just recently got out of the nuthouse, another one of the collateral damage victims of an insane war… Or as we said in the Army, FUBAR…
There we were in Denver, along with 20,000 other hippie freaks, living in a gully, in the center of the city, that had a slimy black sewage creek flowing through the middle of it, and none of us gave a shit.
The Denver Pop Festival went on for three days. We arrived on the second day with riot cops spraying tear gas and whacking hippies on the heads with billy-clubs, but too late to see who was playing that day.
Where we camped was with the hippies on Shit Creek, as everyone had come to call it by then.
We slept in our car waking before dawn, we drove a couple of miles to a Dunkin Donut shop, and bought 10 dozen donuts of mixed colors. Someone took us there in a convertible, along with my little dog, I called Pig.
As the sun came up, Fred was on the banjo, and I was on my guitar, who I call Molly. Molly Gibson. We were tuned in an open chord, as we roamed amongst the sleeping hippies, the young girls who had taken us to the donut shop, passing out donuts to hippies as they woke up into the dawn’s light.
By the time we went around the encampment of 20,000 souls, everyone was clinking beer cans, rocks, sticks, anything that could make a clack as Fred and I rumbled our acoustic girlfriends through the mass.
Again that afternoon. Riot cops, SWAT teams, guys with badges who were general jerks, again spraying tear gas, whacking people on the head and yelling for us all to stop doing whatever it was we were doing… As we climbed up over the fences and scrambled into the auditorium, just in time, to hear Three Dog Night begin the afternoon music Festival – the Denver Pop Festival – the warm-up to what would be always known just as, “Woodstock”.
Three Dog Night, superb. Arlo Guthrie, Alice’s Restaurant, pleasing the born-again-country-kids, then Tim Buckley comes out on the stage, no guitar, no nothing, and begins to sing – beauty crystallized, and the roar of the crowd, went silent in awe witnessing the human soul flying through space.
And then, the mad man from Texas, Johnny Winters came on with his long albino straight strands of hair and rocked everyone out of the world.
In the middle of his set, a very familiar silhouette walked out in front of the band with his back to the audience of 60,000+ lunatics, standing there shaking his head, looking like for all the world, this man was thinking, How can I follow him next?. It was Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi came on. He played the tunes we knew about, Are You Experienced, Electric Lady Land, Star-Spangled Banner not yet born at Woodstock. But he stood like a puppet, no, a manikin, that look like Jimi Hendrix, making all the sounds we knew, but like a soul lost forever.
It was dusk by the time Fred and I got back to our sewer camp, where everyone was blowing circles into the sky of smoke from the best of Columbia gold.
As the sun began to fall under the horizon, I was laying on the bank of grass along with 20 or 30 other potheads viewing the reflection of gold on shit.
In front of us, 60 feet away, on the other side of Shit Creek, a completely naked hippie walked out into the middle of the slime. Everyone on my side of the grass mumbled something like what the fuck is he doing?
I too, watched as he got to the middle of the sewer pot flowing between us, then slowly bent down below the surface and came up slowly with two hands full of black green slime. He seemed not to notice any of us as he slowly looked at his hands, then up into the sky, as he smeared the shit sludge down his face.
Everyone on my side of the grass, was saying something like someone should do something, he might die if he swallows that shit. Me too. Yes, someone should do something about this, it was making me sick to look at him. I turned to see if one of my noble hippie friends would volunteer to go out and save this imbecile.
I can’t tell you how long I sat there waiting for someone else to be a hero. All I know is, I kept looking at this young idiot, wondering what the hell was he up to?
It seemed like a long time. Nobody was doing nothing. That’s when, I thought, “Ah shit, not me!
Next thing I know, I’m wading out into this slimy slippage to the middle of the stream, and as I get to him, his head was bowed, and completely covered all the way to the water, in seepage of a million diarrheic shits .
I reached and grabbed his shoulders, and said, “You must come with me!”
He did nothing for moment, then slowly raising his head, his eyelids arose exhibiting red rings around white eyeballs shot crisscrossed with crimson bloodlines and jet black pupils staring directly at me.
He said, “Out of the ashes shall rise…”
I heard the rest of the phrase in my head…a new civilization…
My hands dropped from his shoulders, I looked at his burning eyes, and said, “Forgive me.”
I backed off from him, going back to the grass bank of stoned hippies who were yelling at me, “Why didn’t you save him?”
I lay down in the grass and looked at the stars. I woke as the sun began to beam a new day.
Across the bank, stretched on the yellowish sand, looked like a black human mummy, or something that had been burnt to a crisp.
On cue, the figure moved, lifted his head, raised its shoulders, and began to wipe off the crusted black flakes. He turned and looked at me, and I looked at him.
He got up, just like it was another day and walked off asking people if they knew where his clothes were?
I lay there on the grass, wondering, what the hell was that all about?
The talk was Woodstock. Are you going to Woodstock? Can I catch a ride with you? When are you leaving? Can I bring my dog? How long will it take?
Fred asked me if I wanted to go to Woodstock, being it was my car that we would have to go in, a car that I traded my inheritance of 3 ½ acres, a city block of worthless land on the outskirts of Pueblo, Colorado. At the time, a plot of land only worth as much as a used car then, but all these years later I could get a brand new Porsche. It was the last few acres Pop had given each one of us kids, and the end of his dream of making a bundle out of a land speculation deal known as the Arkansas Valley Frying Pan Project.
I said, “Nah, I want to go back to Aspen. I want to see that little hippie chick Jeanie again. She sounds better than Woodstock to me.”
Fred didn’t have much choice, either way because he would have to bum a ride with somebody else and who knows what that meant. So Fred and I jumped in the used Mercury and headed back to a shack in the mountains were 13 other hippies were camping out. By the afternoon 20,000 freaks, less Fred and me were heading to Woodstock, New York and we were going near Aspen, Colorado to the Ajax Shack so I could see the little gal that had my heart.
Her name was Jeanie. The first time we saw each other was a fantasy out of a dream movie. I had never met a lover in such a beautiful way, nor anyone after has been anywhere close.
My sister Ruby had kicked Fred and me out of her house in Pueblo, because we were a couple of freeloading bums, eating all of the food in the refrigerator, making a mess in her living room and taking up all the couch space watching television all day.
Ruby said, “Kenny, I think you and Fred should go get a job and pay for your own life!”
“Okay Ruby,” I said. We packed up and decided to go to Aspen.
Fred was a real musician. He could actually read music as well as play several instruments, the guitar, banjo, penny whistle, harmonica, violin and a weird instrument called an Kentucky Zither in some places. Fred called it a “Gazornablat”. It was a box that had 32 strings on it, 16 he plucked and 16 he played with a violin bow. Fred knew how to play it really well and mesmerize bikers in beer bars.
I was just learning how to play basic guitar chords, but I had a really good guitar, Molly Gibson who I had bought on the street in Portland, Oregon for only 50 bucks. I knew it was hot, but as soon as I saw that Gibson, I didn’t care who the guy stole it from.
Fred and I took the back road to Aspen going up through Alamosa and cutting across the mountains to the west that took us to Independence Pass which is an 11,000 foot narrow road that drops down to the south end of Aspen. When we got to the top of the pass it was so foggy with clouds we couldn’t see the road so we pulled in to a parking area.
Fred said, “As long as we can’t drive, lets play some music.” He dug out his banjo I got Molly and we tuned them to an open G chord structure. I didn’t have to put my fingers into a chord pattern, all I had to do was strum the strings and Molly rang out beautiful bell notes.
Fred plucked out a melody as we walked off into the mist, following a small stony path that disappeared into the white vapor on the ground.
We came to a kind of little knoll full of rocks where the path seemed to end. Fred plucked a little piece of lyrical melody humming his gravelly voice with some kind of raga-like theme that followed the open note harmony I was banging on Molly Gibson. We kept hearing giggling, somewhere out in the clouds, Fred and I looking at each other thinking maybe the fucked up war and the nightmares of the Presidio nut house had followed us.
Then like the beginning of the movie, a shaft of light came down through the clouds illuminating a circle of gold around Fred and me, about the size of a small swimming pool. The laughing giggling sounds of women floated around us, until suddenly four young women with flowers in their hair, wearing long paisley Mumu's appeared within our ring of light. They joined hands and waltzed around Fred and me like they were our personal Angels.
The girls turned out to be human. They immediately invited us to come live with them with nine other hippies camped out in a log cabin called the Ajax Shack. It was an abandoned miners cabin deep in the mountains, about ten miles out of Aspen.
When we got there, much to my embarrassment, there was another little hippie chick I had had, a one night stand during the Denver Pop Festival. I didn’t really know what to say to her, as I thought I’d left her standing at her Volkswagen van and would never see her again, much to my relief.
But she was there, and took my hand, and seemed to think we would start all over where we left off banging in the back of her VW. That put a kind of damper on the thoughts that were in my head, because one of the girls on Independence Pass had danced around me, her eyes never leaving mine as they laughed hysterically circling the music of Fred and me.
The Ajax mining shack near Aspen
I never have been very good about dumping women, so that night in the Ajax Shack, there was a big community bed, where all 13 hippies slept together in one big communal puppy love sleep test. There was no light other than the fire that burned in an old cooking stove in the front of the cabin. No electricity, no flashlights. I stayed up late playing music with Fred.
When the fire went out, the one room shack went pitch black. The girl who was hoping we would start our love-fest again came and whispered in my ear, saying lay down with me. Not knowing how to say I’m busy, I said okay and followed her to somewhere in the middle of the three mattresses, where throats were already snoring. I laid down by her and said I’m really tired, good night, and rolled over in the opposite direction from her. I felt arms go around me that were obviously not the one I had turned my back on. I said nothing, but just lay there feeling soft lips that snuggled into my neck. I went to sleep.
When I woke in the morning I was laying in the arms of Jeanie, who opened her eyes and said, “I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you on the mountain.” She was beautiful and her eyes were deep wonders.
Suddenly the VW came back to mind. My previous encounter, I remembered was right behind me. I had a flash of guilt and turned to see if she saw what I saw. Apparently she did, because she was gone.
That was the beginning of the next three years I spent with Jeanie.
Thinking about the life lessons that have been passed on to me, I realize almost all of them I had to learn the hard way around---like me talking about falling into icy water a few pages ago reminds me of how I learned to swim.
When I was about four years old my brothers Robert, Tommy and neighbor kids went down to the Arkansas irrigation ditch running along the river. I vaguely remember them saying something like, do you want to go swimming? I must’ve obviously said yes because the next thing I remember we were standing over some muddy brown ditch.
I don’t know who did it, but someone picked me up and threw me into the murky water. All I remember is seeing the black sheen of water snakes circling around me, while I screamed help!
My brothers and their buddies up on the bank just stood there laughing and yelling, “Swim Kenny!”
I don’t know what I did, except thrashing around in the water and the next thing I knew I was actually treading the brown waves and swimming. They just kept laughing. Somewhere along that experience, my foot touched the muddy bottom and I stood up in water that only came to my belly button. But I learned to swim, for all it is, the hard way.
It seems like a metaphor to everything I have experienced since I was four years old. I don’t really remember learning anything much that came easy. Especially women.
Something happened, that made me one cruel man towards women that had never done anything to me. They were all innocent, and I was a jerk. Easy now as an old goat like I am, to look back and realize bitterness never works out for anybody.
In fact, I think I was almost 60 years old, before I began to see what a complete ass-hole I had been all my life about something that just was what it was.
I went to my 40th high school reunion, only because the famous cheerleader during my high school years who was organizing the event, promised me, the girl who had slain my heart would not be there.
I went there with a broken heart, this time over the nutty Italian woman, who had just told me she was in love with Giuseppe.
The reunion was wonderful, all of my old buddies who I hung out with every day in high school were there. The second night of the reunion, the organizer took me by the arm and said, "Oh come over here, there is someone I want you to meet."
When I went around the corner, there she was, Karen, the girl who I was going to marry, raise kids with, work in the mill, buy a car, get a mortgage, and be happy forever after.
My first thought in my mind, was, I want to kill you, you fucking bitch!
I looked at her for a split second, then I swear to God, I heard a voice in my head clear as a proverbial bell say, “Get over it Ken, someone had to do it to you the first time.”
I looked at her again and melted. Oh what the hell. I took her into my arms and we looked into each other’s eyes. It was like we were 18 and still in love. Except there was something really bizarre in my brain. How could I be having two heartbreaks 40 years apart at the same time?
There was the start of all my tragedies and at the same time the fucking Italian was bonking Giuseppe somewhere else in space. I felt utterly insane.
We stood there holding each other for an instant, and Karen said, "I am so sorry, you have always been the best man I have ever known.”
I didn’t even get a chance to say, “Karen, I’m so sorry I tried to kill you that night,” when someone approached us from the side.
“Oh,” she said, “let me introduce you to my husband.
“Hello,” I said, “nice meeting you, lovely seeing you again Karen. Oh, I think I left my drink at the bar,” and walked away.
But it was so strange, there for just a moment, I was 18 again and so was she and all the dreams still seemed possible. Of course, there wasn’t a husband back at the beginning of the dreams so what else could I do but go back to the bar and order a double shot of the worst dream they had?
Two years later, she called me and told me her husband died, and it would be wonderful to see each other again. I told her, yes it would be nice someday, but at the moment, I was living with Ruth, a beautiful woman who made me happy. She went silent, and we said goodbye.
Timing. What’s the essence of comedy? Timing!
Not the first time that love seemed to be some kind of stupid riddle that no one but Einstein and Timothy Leary might be able to put an equation on.
So as I was saying, I never seem to learn anything except the hard way around, including not missing water until it was gone, not understanding women until it was too late and not giving a damn after a lover gave up on me.
I blame some of my madness on women, life, Karma, what the hell, shit flows downhill just like water, but maybe it started way before my high school love drama.
I was only seven years old. I remember it very clearly. It was evening, the lights were on in the house and it must have been winter time, because I was standing in front of the tall gas burning stove trying to get warm. I remember an incredible dread of the future coming over me and I knew absolutely I wanted no part of it. I turned to my sick mother Opal who was lying in bed, suffering one of her the periodic paralyzing attacks of rheumatoid arthritis, and said, “I want to die. I don’t want to be here anymore!”
That is all I remember, not the reaction of my mother, or my brother Tommy, my mentally challenged sister Goldie or even Tippy the dog who never left my side. Maybe even Henry Kurtz, the Waltzting King was in the room, my mom’s cow-shit-smelling-slaughter-house-owner boyfriend. He very often was there, but none of that information has been retained. I just remember my stark serious statement. I meant it. I think it seemed to me in that instant of saying those words, I could actually will the final moment to come. If it did, it missed me and hit somebody else, but I don’t remember that either.
Perhaps I only had the first massive attack of guilt in my life, for I am not sure if it was that day or even weeks before, but with that memory of wishing for death, also lingered the very sad understanding that I had murdered a little lizard that I kept in a box. It was my first experience of being an assassin. I stabbed it with a very long hat pin, that had a phony plastic pearl on the end of it. Curiosity not only killed the cat, but it also killed my lizard, though satisfaction was not his answer, nor mine.
I have been thinking about why I am not telling my story like, “I was born in a small town in 1944, blah blah…” Somehow it seems stupid to me because that’s not how one meets people, and how you get to know them. If you say anything about your life, it is because they said something that you can relate to like, “I was there to back when…” and so on.
But then again if I did start my story, of how it all began, it is from the first entry of my Zen Cowboy Stories:
“I was in my mother's womb the first time I went for a ride. I don't remember it...
What I remember the first time I went ride’n wasn’t exactly a ride, but it
seems like a ride, a very wonderful beautiful, flowing ride. I was just a
baby but I remember it very well. There was sun coming down through the
leaves of big cottonwoods. I was in my mothers arms and we were in the
Maybe that is why, I have always loved the statue of the laughing Buddha because it reminds me of my mother holding me in her arms as the water passed by and the light opened my soul to something that would always be alive and bigger than me.
My Mom wasn't a Buddhist. She was a Southern Baptist, the Hellfire and Brimstone division, but I never ever heard religion from her, only her singing gospel tunes like "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Beautiful Savior". She had a wonderful singing voice and probably it was her singing that eventually led me to buying Molly Gibson and trying the folk club circuit for a few years. But Mom was a simple kind of woman, the second oldest of nine kids, she had to quit school during the 6th grade to help raise her brothers and sisters.
The reason my mother had to quit school was because my grandpa, her father Oscar Hendricks, made his living by being a moonshiner, except at that point he was in jail for getting drunk with his brothers and nearly trampling a preacher to death as they rode their horses through a church on a Sunday morning pulling over the pulpit and causing absolute mayhem amongst the congregation. The law caught up with him and he was sentenced to five years of hard labor busting rocks in a prison somewhere in the Ozarks.
My mom told me no one knew where he was for those five years except that one day she heard some footsteps on the wood porch and then the screen door opened up and Oscar walked in and sat down at the kitchen table and asked for a cup of coffee.
My grandma must have been small, because her nick name was Tiny. She didn’t say a word but went to the wood stove poured a hot cup of coffee and brought it to him. Mom said they just carried on like nothing ever happened.
I only saw my
grandfather Oscar once. In 1948 Mom took Tommy and me on the train to
There was a lamp by a bed that was covered in a long white sheet. There was an old man whose skin was nearly as white as the cloth on the bed. He turned his head and looked at me. There were a lot of voices around me and someone led me out of the room.
I think he died when he saw me but I will never know for sure. Anyway that was the only time I ever saw any of my grandparents. Oscar died when I looked at him and the rest were already dead. My mom always told me Oscar’s father was in the civil war and the surgeons had to cut off his leg with a meat saw. He was married to a full blood Native American who was over six foot tall in her bare feet and weighed 250 lbs.
My Mom is the little girl in right hand corner and my Native American Great, Great Grand Ma is in the upper left hand corner.
That’s about all I know of my mom’s side of the family’s history except that one of her cousin’s Arthur Beard was a member of the infamous John Dillinger Gang of the 30’s. I know that because once my Mom took us to the Colorado State Fair, where the sedan that Dillinger and his partners were shot to death by the cops was on exhibition. The old four-door Ford was full of holes and my Mom said she always wondered if Arthur was in that car.
AP photo of John Dillinger in court, mid 30’s
Opal was born in 1900. She'd run 11 babies through her body by 1944, developed acute rheumatoid arthritis at 46, got divorced from my father after 27 years in 1948 and died as an invalid in a nursing home in 1969, with only my brother Robert there shortly before she passed. By then she had lost most of her teeth, could barely see with thick glasses and had lost all use of her legs and could not hold anything with her hands. The only thing that still worked in original order was her mind and sense of hearing.
was the last time I saw her, she asked me to play a song on the first guitar
I had, which was a small sunburst
My mom with Red Cloud, Margie his wife and 3 of 4 kids, Holly the oldest, Kip and Wendy the baby. Tammy must have taken the photo, 1968.
I have only visited my mother’s grave once. I don’t remember at which time I went home, when I asked my brother Robert where her gravestone was. But I remember the day I was told she had died.
I had gone to southern California with Jeanie, to her family for the holidays. We had been shacking up in Eureka, California where we were both students at Humboldt State and both working for Ed Hanlon’s EPICUREAN delicatessen making 101 sandwiches of any design you wanted.
Jeanie and me with members of her family 1969.
I was sitting in the front room of Jeanie’s parents house overlooking Fullerton, California, in Orange Rich Republican County. Suddenly an overwhelming sense of guilt came over me, about not helping my mother, or loving my mother, or even visiting her. I had not called her or stopped at the rest home the last few times I had been in that town.
All I could think was, Mama, I am so sorry!
I didn’t know what to do so I went over and picked up the Bible and flipped it open.
I looked. Psalms 23, “Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me…”
I picked up a notepad and copied Psalm 23, then wrote at the bottom of the page, “Mama, I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I love you, your son, Kenny."
About a week later, Jeanie asked, “Do you have a brother Robert?”
I said yes, and she said, “Well he’s on the telephone, and he wants to talk to you.”
Okay I said. “What’s up Robert,” I said.
“Kenny, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Momma died last night.”
My mind went blank for a moment and then I said, “Robert did she get my letter?”
“Yes Kenny, she got it and she read it and then sometime the next day she died.”
I didn’t know what to say. I said, “Okay Robert, thanks for telling me, goodbye.”
“Okay Kenny,” he said, “are you all right?”
I don’t know what I said. I think I hung up.
I stood in an absolute daze. Jeanie said, “What happened?”
I said, “My mom died.”
She said, “Okay. What can I do?”
I said, “I want to go for a walk. I’ll talk to you later."
I left the house, and walked a quarter mile down the hill to the private lake that was surrounded by three million-dollar houses. It was Christmas scool holiday break 1969 but no snow or cold weather in balmy southern Cal.
I got to the lake. I walked around it and watched ducks and swans gracefully glide through dark water.
All I could think of was what was going on in the sky. Jetliners going around and around in circles roaring.
The fucking sky was roaring. In Los Angeles the sky never stops roaring.
I didn't know what to feel. I kept walking around the pond cursing the God damn sky and watching the stupid ducks and the fucking swans screw around in the water. I felt like an empty glass.
I walked back to the house. Jeanie greeted me at the door. “Are you okay?”
I looked at her blankly. “I’m fine, that’s life!”
She asked me if I was okay several times but I just twirled it off my back, off my mind and said something like, “I’m Humpty Dumpty.” She was kind of crazy herself in a poetic way, so understood and left me alone with my mother’s death.
It was 5 years later, I was sharing an apartment with a bunch of students who went to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I came into the room which cost about 10 bucks a month in today’s cost. I looked out the window. It was late in the afternoon sun, pure under the Paynes Gray Scottish clouds turning everything gold. That’s when it hit me.
Profound grief that kicked me in the ass.
I started crying, feeling so absolutely despicable. My mother had given everything to me, and I abandoned her. I don’t know how long it went on. It seems like days. Perhaps it was only hours. All I know is I have never felt more pathetic and sad and lost and lonely and deserted and hungry and regretful in my whole life.
It took five years for me to cry about my Mama dying.
I’m 70 years old now having outlived her by 1 year. The 11th child. I think about her often.
My Pop carried on with several women after the divorce until he started baby making with his next wife Anna, who was younger than my oldest sister Ruby. At the age of 62 he had his last child, that is, as far as I know, for I often wonder if there are Wolvertons walking around the shores of southern France. But anyway, the last child, number 12, is Phillip, officially my half brother. I haven’t seen or talked to him since 1986.
Pop with Phillip on the left and his last wife Anna two of 5 children from her first marriage. 1964.
The little I know about the history of my family is what Mom and Pop told me and incidental tales from my brothers and sisters. The stories of my Mom were mostly about hardships. It could have not been much fun pumping out 11 kids, especially during the Great Depression.
Death takes everyone. My brother Ernie dead 1944, Mom gone in 1969, my Pop 1971, then my sister Doris, 2004, next Patty 2005, and only two weeks after my 70th birthday, 2014, my oldest sister Ruby passed,
Goldie in southern California in 1954
I don’t know if Goldie is alive or dead. The last anyone knew about her was 1963. The four of us boys are still here. Red Cloud is 85, Robert 77 and Tommy is 75. How much longer for us?
That is my family, they are damn unusual. We are all products of our environment and genetics. Of course, my story is only part of it.
Frank and Opal got married in 1920 in Kansas City. I have never seen wedding photos of them. Not long after their marriage Ruby was born, then Ernie. Next came my brother Ivan or Red Cloud as I have always known him. By then it was the beginning of the Great depression and they moved to Evergreen, Missouri to be tenant farmers. Goldie came next, then Doris followed by Robert and Patty. Last in line was Tommy and finally me. I’m pretty sure they never planned on Tommy or me. Enough was enough, but condoms and parent planning wasn’t a big thing in the 30’s and 40’s.
They lived in Kansas City through the “Roaring 20’s” where Frank had a job as a streetcar conductor. That’s where he met Opal. She was a waitress working in a small café next to the streetcar headquarters. Frank went there for coffee at first, then kept going just to see my mom. She told me often that all of the people down on the farm always said she was the prettiest gal in Miller County. I am pretty sure Opal was sending money home to help raise her 8 brothers and sisters who were still home. My Grandpa’s occupation being a moonshiner got risky because of prohibition and he drank as much as he was able to sell.
My father always loved women, even as an old man. He was notorious flirt in a very nice kind of way. He called every woman he met either Honey or Darlin’. I don’t ever remember him being outlandish or suggestive in a vulgar way, but he had the gift of gab. As far as I know there was no Irish on his side of the family.
On my mother’s side there was one grandmother whose maiden name was O’Sullivan. Sounds Irish to me, even though Mom always said she was was Dutch German whatever that is supposed to be.
I asked my mom many times about where the family came from and her answer was always the same…the Ozarks. If it ever got any more detailed than that she said, “Well we don’t know much about that because the Miller County Courthouse burnt down when I was a little girl and what records we had all got burned up.”
My mom’s family, the Hendricks and the Horton's 1907 in the Ozarks of southern Missouri
Being that we had an Native American grandmother back n the 1860’s says a lot about the roots of my mother’s family. As I got older I realized her saying she was Dutch German didn’t make much sense even though that may be the origin of the Hendricks name. For one thing her family were what many would label as hillbillies. Most of them lived in the mountains of southern Missouri and Arkansas.
The grandfather who got his leg shot off in the Civil War the best I can figure out was in his 30s or possibly 40s, which means he would have been born in the Ozarks as early as the 1820s. There were not many “white” people in those mountains then except for what we call mountain men or trappers. There is a large possibility that those mountain men could have originally been of French origin being that all of Louisiana and even Saint Louis, Missouri was nothing but French at that time and trapping was one of their main occupations.
The one thing I know for sure is that the Irish and the French were not too particular about bedding down with native people. The O’Sullivan grandmother is the only connection I know as Irish but being all of the records of the Hendricks origins were destroyed around 1900, my mom’s side of the family will be forever a mystery.
So…her saying she was Dutch German? Germans, Dutch and English people were never big on having weddings with indigenous people let alone sleeping with them.
The Scots would breed with sheep but most of those strange clans stayed in the far north, Nova Scotia and Canada. The French, if they can’t fuck it, will eat it. The Irish as we all know are just simply nuts. As for Italians, they didn’t sneak into my family’s tree house until after WWII.
My father’s family tree shows Charles Wolverton coming originally from England to America in 1667. Then there’s several Charles Wolverton’s from there on. My father’s side was mostly English, being there are three villages in England with the name of Wolverton.
My brother Tommy was very disappointed when I told him our family name didn’t come from an ancient tribe of wolf hunters. In old English, a Wolver was some one who sheared sheep and a village called Wolverton was where they brought herds for shearing, slaughter and sales. A sheep station in other words.
Most of the Wolverton clan were educated at least to a small degree and at the beginning obviously had some money. The first Charles Wolverton bought 1600 acres in Rosemont, New Jersey. If there was money by the time it got to my father’s father, another Charles, it was all gone.
One of the stories after Frank and Opal had several kids and lived in southern Missouri, was them going to Kansas City at Christmas time to buy gifts. They had a model A Ford and the left all of the gifts in the car while he went into a restaurant to have a bite to eat. When they came out someone had broken into the car and taking every gift. No one had any thing for Christmas that year which was new clothes and shoes for the kids. My mom told me the story many times. She felt so sorry for the kids but never mentioned that she and dad didn’t get anything too. Still, they had some food on the table because they had the small farm.
Dad, Mom and seven of the eleven Mom pumped through her system sometime in
1939 on their tenant farm in
Sometime in the late 30s during the depression they managed to have a good harvest on the farm where they were sharing the profits with the owners. One night they woke up to find the barn was on fire with all their work horses, chickens, milk cows and the year’s harvest. Everything was killed and the barn burned to the ground. They were left with not even anything to eat let alone the small amount of money they would have got from cash crops.
It was shortly after that my father decided to move out to Colorado and live with my father’s father whose name was Charles as well. It’s in the San Luis Valley near Alamosa in Colorado.
My mother always told me the mountain pass between Walsenburg and Alamosa was just a dirt road going high into the mountains. It was so steep the Model T one ton truck couldn’t go up frontwards and so pop chose to go up in reverse gear, which says something about the tenacity of the Wolverton tribe. She was so terrified that she got out with all of the kids and walked up the entire pass to the top and all the way to other side.
They stayed in the San Luis Valley for a while with my grandfather. There is a photograph of my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and my uncles, aunts and my grandfather who was on a ladder going up into an apple tree. It’s only photograph I’ve ever seen of my grandfather Charles.
They stayed for a while and then my dad decided to go back to Missouri to collect some of the articles they left behind and then returned to Colorado. When they got to Pueblo the old truck broke down and they didn’t have enough money to go on. That’s the reason everyone stayed in Pueblo, Colorado and why I was born there.
All of the children except me were born at home. I was born in St. Mary’s Corwin hospital in Pueblo. My mother was taking a bath and when she started to get out she fell down and broke her leg. They took her to a hospital and while putting traction on her leg to get it straightened out, I was born. The picture of my Mom to the left was a few months after I was born.
I’ve always had a picture in my imagination of her legs in being strapped up and me just plopping out like a big turd.
I woke up last night thinking about my father and Henry Kurtz. Henry was the man who replaced my father when my mother decided she wanted a new life after I was born. Henry held me a lot in his arms. I remember it so well because he always had coveralls that always smelled like cow shit. I only remember one time my father holding me. I was about four years old, probably shortly after they got divorced. We were in front of the Colorado Theater in Pueblo watching some kind of parade go up the street. Pop was standing and I had my legs around his neck sitting on his shoulders. He might have held me more than once but that’s only time I remember.
About six months before Pop died my brother Robert called and said, “Kenny you should go down to Phoenix and see Dad. I don’t think he is doing very well.”
It was August 1971. I was going to Humboldt State College living with Jeanie in Arcata, California. I didn’t have a reliable car so I decided to hitchhike. I told Jeanie my dad was sick. I needed to get there before he died. She said that was a good thing to do. It was only nine months before my mom died while we were in Las Angeles.
Me and Jeanie, neighbor
kids and my favorite dog of all time, Grafittus Melon Pig on my 1947 school
bus home, in
I’ve hitched hiked a lot in my life but this was one of the more memorable journeys on the road.
The first ride was an ex-Army “LRRP” which was an acronym for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol”. We called them Lurps. He was one of those guys that parachuted into enemy territory living on snakes, bugs, whatever that didn’t poison them while assassinating Vietcong in their camps as they slept. He told me the gory details of what he did in Vietnam and what he was doing now which was quitting the Army because he decided he was gay and he was going to live in San Francisco.
I didn’t know if the guy was crazy or telling the truth but I wasn’t gay and I didn’t feel like joining his exodus.
He dropped me off in Berkeley in the late evening and I went to the town Plaza and played my guitar. I wasn’t there more than a half an hour when a young gal came by and asked me if I wanted to stay at her house that night. She was cute so of course I agreed.
I get to her house and there is another guy waiting. She casually introduces me to him and says all three of us can sleep together. I hadn’t done that for a long time so it seemed a variety in pace. Jeanie and I had been at odds for a few weeks, so I was more than a little horny. However, the Berkeley gal was into being a voyeur and more interested me having sex with the guy than with her, which was not my thing. I went back out on the highway heading south and stuck my thumb up again.
Sometime late in the afternoon the next day, after several rides, a car stopped with an old guy with a beautiful woman in the front. He told me to get into the back seat. As we’re driving away the good looker leaned over the seat and began whispering to me, telling me the guy was a complete drunken maniac and as soon as we got to the Barstow, California, she would lose him and I could stay with her for the night.
In 1971 free love and Flower Power was in full force. It didn’t strike me unusual that in two days I got hit up three times. She was gorgeous. It seemed like a good idea once again.
The guy takes us all the way to Barstow. When he gets to her house expecting to be invited in, the gal jumps out of the car and starts screaming at him and telling me to grab my bag and get out. Then she picks up some rocks and starts throwing them at the car. The guy screeches out of there like he couldn’t get away fast enough.
“That will that fix that son of a bitch,” she said, “lets go in the house and I’ll make some food. You can stay the night.”
Whoopee I thought. Things were looking good.
When we get in the house she starts telling me that she’s married, but her old man is in prison, because he’s a Hell’s Angel convicted of double murder.
Things weren’t looking so good after all. I kept thinking what if this guy escapes and comes to the house and finds me with his old lady. I had already been in a scene like that once BEFORE (see writing-THE ASSASSIN'S ANGEL) and it didn’t seem like a good thing to repeat.
She made something to eat and we had a bottle of wine, and said we could go to bed time I wanted to. I told her I would sleep on the couch, because I would be more comfortable that way. She kept saying but the couch was so lumpy and hard and her bed was nice and soft. I told her I liked hard lumpy couches a lot.
I took my sleeping bag out, rolled it onto the couch and lay down. In about 10 minutes she came out of her bedroom in a sheer black short négligée, and said, “Are you sure you want to sleep on an that hard old couch? It is so horrible.”
I insisted I really loved uncomfortable horrible couches and I was absolutely fine and she didn’t need to worry about me. She signed a little bit and said, “Oh well, if you change your mind you know where I am.”
When the house got very quiet somewhere in the middle of the night I got up very softly, put my clothes on and tiptoed out of the house onto the road. The idea of the murdering Hell’s Angel in prison getting loose for night inspired me.
I don’t know how many rides it was but sometime in the afternoon I got dropped off in Needles, California. It was mid-August and the temperature was 120°.
I walked to the edge of town and stuck out my thumb. There was no trees or shade of any sort except for a big Welcome To Needles billboard that was next to the highway. I stood in the shade until I saw a car coming, then I would step out into the street put my thumb up hoping to get a ride on out of that hellhole of hot burning desert.
I was only there for about 10 minutes, when the Nazi-looking city cop pulled up next to me. The officer rolled down his air-conditioned window looked me in the eye, and said, “If I see you here in another five minutes I’m taking your ass to jail! Understand?”
I said, “Where my supposed to hitchhike out of this town?”
He said, “If you walk on another mile you’ll be out of the city limits.” He pointed to the wavering blur of asphalt that went out into the middle of the blazing desert where there was no shade whatsoever. I informed him that the desert was very hot and there was no shade out where he pointed to. He asked me if I was arguing with him. I said no sir, and begin walking.
As soon as I got away from town, I realized I only had about a half a pint of water in my backpack and I was sweating like crazy. What a son of a bitch the cop was. 1971 wasn’t a good time to be a hippie out the middle of a redneck California desert.
When I got out of the city limits, I stood on the road lifting alternate feet off the tarmac because it was so hot. I had heavy boots that were on fire.
I only stood there about five minutes, when a pickup truck with two young guys in a pulled up to me and they said jump into the back. I couldn’t believe my luck.
They drove about 20 miles out into the desert south of town. When they got to an intersection of a country road they stopped. The driver yelled at me, "Get out you fucking hippy!”
They had to be joking but it wasn’t very funny. I looked at them saying, “You can’t be serious right?”
Then both guys get out of the truck, one has got a crowbar. “I said get out you motherfucking commie bastard or I’ll knock your head off!”
I couldn’t help but agree.
I got out of the truck they jumped back in, spinned around in a circle and headed back to Needles. I could hear them both laughing like that was the funniest thing they had ever done.
It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and the temperature maybe cooled down to probably 110. Whatever, it was still so hot it was scary. I didn’t have much of an option. I could walk back to town, get arrested by the goon cop and God knows what would happen to me in jail. Having been in jail once, once was enough, especially by a psychopath who had a badge on. Or I could meet those two lovely gentleman again with the crowbar.
Another option was I could stand there waiting for a lovely person to come and save a long-haired hippy in the middle of the redneck desert that was hell on fire.
I looked way down the street highway as far as I could see and there was no shade except for what looked like a crossover road that went over the highway. It looked like it was about 4 or 5 miles away. No shade anywhere else and I knew for sure I wasn’t walking back to the welcome sign of Needles.
What the heck. It was the bridge over the highway or nothing. Maybe some one would pick me up before I got there. I started walking and no matter how fast I went bridge seemed to see the same size for hours.
The sun was beginning to go down and thankfully the temperature dropped enough that wasn’t dying of the heat but by then there was only part of the slurp left in my bottle.
As I came to about a football field away from bridge the sun was going down and looked absolutely gold with purple mountains beyond. Underneath the bridge I saw something move suddenly and then I realized it was a form of a human. It stood out in the highway and looked at me as I looked back. It was a black silhouette. A half of football field away the blackness of the silhouette remained the same. I thought it was odd because it seemed like it should have some gold on it like the bridge.
As I got about 50 feet from the bridge the black silhouette stepped out from underneath the bridge shadow and much to my surprise the shape remained absolutely black. It was only when I was 30 feet away I realized I was looking at a very black black man.
I yelled at him, what the hell are you doing out here?
He looked at me for a moment before he answered, "Hey man two crazy rednecks took me out into the desert and dumped me. What the fuck are you doing here?"
"Hey, guess we found the same friends who don’t like strangers in their town. Have you got any water?"
"Not much man, only about a quart left."
"I'll give you a dollar for a couple of drinks."
That’s where we stayed for the rest of the evening under the bridge. Cars passed us every few minutes, and they would look at a black man and a long hippy then hit the gas and speed on. Just before it got dark, a psychedelic painted school bus went by full of long-haired hippies, them all looking at us as we looked at them. They passed on just like everybody else.
I think his name was Bert or Bob. After all these years can’t remember for sure. But when the hippy bus passed I know one thing we both did was jump out on the highway screaming fuck you and blowing them digital French kisses.
The sun went down, and much to our discomfort, we found out the desert gets incredibly cold at night. Bert/Bob had only had a black T-shirt on. He didn’t even have a bag. I had my backpack that held a jacket and sleeping bag.
We took turns standing out on the road every time a car went by to hold our thumb up. But the same thing all night long. Every time a car size it would just speed up and go one. Bert/Bob was so damn black people couldn’t even see him.
By midnight no cars at all were coming and the temperature had dropped at least 60°. Both of us were getting very cold after such a damn hot day. I offered my jacket to Bert/Bob, but it was way too small for him so I let him wrap up in my sleeping bag and I put my jacket on. He went to sleep almost immediately.
I was so cold I couldn’t sleep so I jumped up and down to keep warm. When a car came by, I'd run out in front of them to make it stop, but they'd drive around me by going into the middle division. By that time Bert/Bob and I had drank his quart of water and as morning came, my mouth was sticky dry cotton.
Just as daybreak began to lighten everything up, the first car in hours was coming down the road sounding very loud like it had no mufflers on. When it was about a quarter-mile away from us, it the guy downshifted and the motor was popping as he was slowing down.
When the car got close enough I could see it was a 1955 two-door hardtop Chevrolet. About 100 feet from us he downshifted again and slowed to a slow rolling speed. When he got to us he looked out the window at me and Bert/ Bob and kept on rolling very slowly. He put it in gear and sped on down the highway.
At this point, I was ready to say to Bert/Bob, gimme my sleeping bag back and you walk on down the road I’m staying here. I was convinced it was him why no one stopped. I mean, he was big, looked like a convict and in the West, black is not the favorite color. The funny thing was Bert/Bob was about as sweet and nice a guy one ever meets, except he wasn’t helping me get a ride and all.
Down the road the 55 Chevy was speeding away. Damn! We could die out in the fucking desert. We were about 100 miles away from Kingman Arizona, which was the closest town to us. Between us and Kingman was absolutely nothing but more desert.
Just as I was about to tell Bert/Bob to get lost, the 55 Chevy came from the opposite direction on the freeway, slowed a little bit as he passed us, then put it in gear and sped on up the highway. He went up about a mile and crossed over the freeway on a turn around and headed back our direction. This time he did the same thing downshifting. As he got up to Bert/Bob and me, he yelled at out the window, "Jump in! Run as fast as you can, I haven’t got any breaks!"
I grabbed my bag as Bert/Bob and I chased after the 55 Chevy pulled the door open and managed to get in as it was still rolling 10 or 15 miles an hour. When we got into the car, the guy told us he just got out of jail. He got the car from his girlfriend. He didn’t realize the car had no brakes until he was on down the road, but he was going to Kingman if we wanted to go there with him.
You better believe Bert/Bob and I were not going to disagree where ever he wanted to go as long as it was out of the desert.
He said he just got out of jail in California. I had a horrible moment thinking possibly he was the Hells Angel where I slept in his old lady’s house the night before. No, it just turned out he was another poor slob they had encountered the political machine of dirty cops and bad luck. Plus his old lady ran away with his best friend, bad luck all over the place.
I never once thought about the fact he didn’t have any brakes on his car. I was so damn happy to get out of the desert plus he had a gallon of water in the backseat. We talked like old buddies for the next two hours.
When we got into Kingman he said he was going through to the other side of town, as could kept watching the traffic lights, downshifting, speeding up, downshifting managing to go through the all lights without stopping. When we got to the center of town he said he was going to come to a rolling stop where there was a hill. The car stopped. Black Bert/Bob and I jumped out and thanked him for saving our life. He said, "You guys will deliver somebody else someday," and sped off.
I looked at Bert/Bob and said, "Where you going," and he said, "Keep on walking. I’ve been in this town before and they don’t like black people here." I wished him good luck and said goodbye.
I had 20 bucks on me and I was hungry. The nearest café restaurant was across the street. When I got to the front door a large sign was posted, NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO HIPPIES. Son of a bitch, another town like Needles. Down the street was another small café and when I got to it, no anti-hippie poster on the door. I had breakfast. No one said a word except ask what I wanted to eat.
By 10 A.M. I was back out on the road. The first ride was a rancher, a real nice guy that didn’t say anything about communist fag homosexuals, unclean hippies or perverts, just a nice man going back to his ranch. He took me about 30 miles and dropped me off at a service station.
Out on the road again, my thumb up for about two minutes when a brand-new blue Oldsmobile convertible, pulled up with a beautiful woman behind the wheel. I was dreaming. She said jump in. I didn’t jump in. I levitated into the car.
We got to talking and she said she just left her boyfriend. He was a jerk, a woman beater, a womanizer and a 100% son of a bitch. I said I’d met some people like that. We were having such a good time I thought things would work out just great somewhere, somehow, until she said, "Oh my God!"
"What’s the matter," I asked.
She said, "Look at the temperature gauge."
The needle was going quickly up to the red. I asked if she had any water as steam started pouring from under the hood. She said, "I don’t know maybe there’s some in the trunk."
"Better stop before you burn the engine up. Turn off your motor," I said.
We stopped where a bridge went going over a dry Creek. We got out and opened the trunk to discover there was nothing like water or fluid of any sort. By this time we about 30 miles away from the service station. As far as I could see nobody lived around. I walked over to the dry creek, and much to my amazement directly under the bridge was a big slimy puddle of water. I still had my empty water bottle and she had a small jar in the backseat. The two of us went down to the puddle and filled the containers with sludge from the puddle. Something was better than nothing.
After a few minutes the car cooled off so we could open up the radiator and pour in the muddy water. After 10 trips down to the puss-hole we managed to get enough brown goo in the radiator to where it was full. I had no idea what that sludge would do to the Oldsmobile's engine. We took off and it seemed to work just fine.
We had only gone a few miles down the road when who do I see on the highway but my good old buddy Black Bert/Bob. She looked at me and asked, "Do you think we should pick him up?"
My first impulse was to say, "No! Fuck him! Speed up," But of course I couldn’t do that and said, "Yeah, I know this guy. He’s okay."
Black Bert/Bob gets into the back seat and starts talking like he’s known me his whole life, and all I could think was, Dammit and I was doing so good with his beautiful woman with a brand-new Oldsmobile convertible.
We get to Phoenix in the late afternoon and she drops off Black Bert/Bob down on Buckeye Avenue, the black side of town. Then she took me on down to my dads house.
I directed her to my dad’s house down on south 12 street. My dad was standing out in the front yard, looked up and said, "Well, Kenny where have you been?" He invited the young gal into the house for a cup of coffee. She came in for about 10 or 15 minutes then said she had to get on her way to Houston. I thanked her very much for taking me out of the desert and wished her luck.
She seemed in a daze like she didn’t know what she was doing. She looked at me intensely for a small moment then said, "You know, you’re a good guy. Don’t ever be, son of a bitch." I said, "I'll try my best." I felt guilty.
After she left, Pop said, "Kenny, better you kept that good looking gal around. She seemed like a real nice girl."
I looked at my dad, and wondered what my brother Robert had been talking about. Pop looked as fit as he always did.
"Well Pop, she has places to go and she has a boyfriend anyway."
My old man is looked at me. "Too bad Kenny. You need to find a nice girl like her."
I told him I had a nice girl up in California. For the first time since I’d left Arcata, I thought about my girlfriend Jeanie. We had been together two years by then. I was happy nothing happened on the way down to Phoenix but even so, if the gorgeous broad in Barstow didn't have a killer husband or the babe in the Oldsmobile wanted to take me for a little dillydally, I’m pretty sure it would have happened.
"Well Kenny, if you got a good woman you better do something about it," my pop said.
In 1971 there was no cell phone and finding a pay phone was not that easy so it didn’t occur to me to try to call Jeanie. Anyway I had only been gone about four or five days.
My dad looked at me in a kind of funny way of like he was wondering how I could have such a good looking woman in a fancy car bring me to his house, when I’m pretty sure he was convinced I was gay and there was nothing I could do about that.
Pop and his last kid, Phillip,1964
I remembered, when I was living with him nearly 8 years before, I was still going through heartbreak, about my first girlfriend shredding my soul into a million pieces (The Assassin's Angel) . The year I lived with him and his last wife Anna, I never once went out with a girl. In fact the only friends I had were kind of effeminate artistic type buddies. I remember Pop asking me how come I never had any girlfriends, and I would simply say, "I just like to talk to my buddies and hang out." At the time, I was working as a bus boy in a fancy restaurant in an uptown motel. I shared tips with the waiter staff as well as getting my wage for being a bus boy. I was saving my money, to buy a bicycle so I could write off to Mexico with my friend John Phillips.
One day my old man, found a big jar of money I had stashed in the closet and made some quick assumptions. The next morning at breakfast, my old man seemed to be very upset and pulled out a newspaper with the headlines, Two Bank Robbers Pull Another Job. He stamped his finger into the headline and said, "Kenny you see that?"
I looked at the paper and said, "I see. So what?"
He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Okay, the description of that those bank robbers… I mean… This is an absolute description of you and your homosexual friend Bob."
I looked at him in amazement. Bob, one of my friends was an actor, but as far as my old man was considered, Bob talked and acted just like a god damn queer. Bob was anything but a homosexual. He had so many girls chasing him he didn’t know which one to pick.
"I looked at my dad and said, "Pop, what you talking about?"
My dad stammered for a minute and said, "Well… well… well, you and that good friend of yours, I’m pretty sure, you are the ones robbing the bank’s. You are nothing but a couple homosexual bank robbers!"
My mouth fell to the floor. "Pop how can you possibly think that?"
That’s when he told me he found my fortune in the closet, which was a colossal 500 bucks that I saved in a year. When I showed him all of my paper receipts plus told him I got part of the tips of the staff, he still didn’t believe me.
So there it is 8 years later, and my old man is looking at me shaking his head, wondering how I could let such a good-looking young woman drive away from me.
That night I called Jeanie and told her about it and said I missed her very much. She thought my dad was hilarious. She asked me when I was coming back, and I said I didn’t know. In the back of my mind, I had another mission when I came to see my dad. The woman who I had been in love with when I was in the Army in Germany, (the first girl I truly loved 5 years after the heart break) now lived in Tucson. At least that’s where she was the last time I was in touch with her, which was about a year before Jeanie came into my life. I had to find her if I could.
My dad seemed to be absolutely fine and nothing had changed from 8 years before. If he did have health problems he was the last person you would ever hear of it. If you asked him, Frank how do you feel? He would look you in the eye and say, "With my fingers and as often as I can." Or if you said how are you doing, he would say, "Anyone I can and the easy ones twice."
I thought I would stay for few days and look up some old buddies. After that I’d hitch-hike to Tucson which was 90 miles away. I found out all of my friends, were in other places, so there wasn’t a big reason to stay. My old man had a full house with his last wife, her three kids and my half brother my old man decided to make at the ripe age of 66.
The next day my old man was kind of funny. He kept trying to say something to me, begin and then stop. I thought he was going to lecture me about being a homosexual bank robber again. Then after the third or fourth time, Pop said, "Kenny, let’s go for a ride". I had a bad moment thinking, Oh no, he's gonna drag me to junk shops again. My old man loved to go to absolute junk shops. The junkier and trashier and more useless the stuff was, the better he loved it. He was the kind of guy, that would buy 15 old toasters for dollar each, tear them apart and put one back together, that would burn the toast to a crisp and then eject it through the ceiling, rather than buying a brand-new toaster for $15.
I was 20 the year I lived with him and his new family. I spent many a Saturday going from one molding dusty old junk pile to another with him. I would’ve much rather have been lectured on getting over being a gay bank robber.
We got in the car and the first thing he did was drive to a gas station and fill up the tank. Then we just drove around and around, him to starting to say something, then stop.
Finally it came out. He told me the whole story, about my mom going nutty after Ernie died and then I was born a month later. He told me about her meeting Henry Kurtz, the Waltzing King of the Elk Lodge who she fell madly in love with. He told me he gave her a year to figure out what she wanted in her life, he told me all about all of that stuff, and how he had not been with any other woman, for that whole year, and just let her do what she wanted to do, while he continued to give her a house and money to raise the six of us who were still home. He told me that he loved my mom, and that if is what she wanted to do, he agreed. It was a long rambling story that stopped and started like he really wanted me to know something that had been deep in his heart. He said after one year, she wanted to stay with the Waltzing King, and so he filed for divorce and found another woman.
Then he began stuttering and stammering again, and kept trying to say something that couldn’t come out until finally all in one big gush of words. “Kenny I am just so sorry I was never a good father to you, and you never got the love and bringing up that all your brothers and sisters got, I’m just so sorry you were left out in the wind and didn’t have the love you should’ve had from two parents.” Then it stopped and he just went silent.
My dad had never ever talked to me about anything that had to do with his emotional side, and he never made excuses about anything thing he did one way the other. As for me, my life was just my life, I grew up the way I grew up and really I never once thought that I didn’t have what the other kids had from their fathers. To me, my dad was Frank, who was always Frank, and was no other way. He never once in all my life ever mistreated me, for that matter. I could never see anything he had done bad to any of the other kids. He was just my Dad and how I thought dad’s were.
I told him that. I said, "Pop, you always have been good to me. I don’t know what to talking about." We both went silent at that and went back to the house after driving around for several hours. We didn’t discuss anything more that evening.
In the morning I decided to hitchhike on to Tucson. I thanked Pop for putting me up for the night and telling me all the things he’d told me the day before. I asked him, “How do you feel?” I got the pat answer back. “With my fingers buddy.” Pop wasn’t big on hugging. We shook hands and I walked out to the highway.
Her name was Bobby Jo. I met her in a place called Aschaffenburg, Germany. I met her because Denny Wax, who was my best friend for the year and a half I spent in Germany. I was his right-hand man. As it turned out Bobby Jo was his girlfriend. I was the third member in his private club during that time in the Army with Denny.
Denny Wax is a whole another story, which will come about somewhere in this rambling memoir. In short we lived through certain death twice and not being thrown in jail for a long time three times.
I joined the Army February 23, 1967.
I was in my fourth year at Portland State College in Portland, Oregon, flunking out of every class.
Our fall finals were coming up and I went to the student lounge to study. For some reason I was taking Chinese history, philosophy, English literature and one course of chemistry that was required. My Chinese history final was coming up in the afternoon at 4 o’clock. I sat down in a lounge chair with all my books at the side of me and picked up the big book of the world of China.
I looked at the book for a moment and suddenly felt incredibly sleepy and thought well I’ll just have a little nap. I closed my eyes and when I opened them I looked up at the clock and it said 5:00 PM. The Chinese book was still in my lap, and all of my other books were at the side of my chair. I looked at the book in my lap. I looked at the books on the floor, and realized I just flunked that test. I stood up, looked down at the books and said goodbye. I walked out of the student lounge leaving the books in the chair and on the floor knowing I was never going back there again.
It was the time of the draft lottery system that was going on and if you were in college you were safe but if you were flunking out of college, you had about 30 days before your name came up on the lottery, which meant I would be drafted, more than likely be put into the infantry, and guess where I would get to go? Easy answer, Vietnam in the Mekong Delta killing those dirty commie evil yellow bastards. Somehow it just didn’t sound appealing to me so I decided after thinking about it considerably, maybe I should join the Army because the Army campaign for volunteers said if you joined you could go where you wanted to go. Those lying son of a bitches!
The thing is, I started to tell a story about Bobbie Jo and Tucson but realize every story is woven into another story which is woven into another story of all connected lines to the none of them that make any sense because none of it is linear. It is just one great big checkerboard of experience.
It so happened why I couldn’t study very well is because I was never going to bed until four or five in the morning, and my first class at 8 in the morning I felt like a zombie.
The reason I never went to bed before for five in the morning was because I was working in the strip club, and living with one of the strippers, Sue Accardi and unfortunately sort in love with her. Later I knew I had only been in LUST with her./
Sue Accardi in 1966. She died February 2014 of pancreatic cancer.
It was the Stripper (see: THE ASSASSIN’S ANGEL/kewolve.com) who I found myself hiding in a closet without any clothes on while her husband was raging in the next room with a 45 caliber screaming I know you got a man somewhere and I’m gonna kill the little motherfucker, and her telling him you silly bastard, sure I got another man and he is in the other room hiding in the closet without any clothes on! Why don’t you go in and kill little fucker.
I couldn’t believe she actually said that. She said I was in the closet with no clothes on, and her old man was yelling I’ll kill you and kill him, and all I could think was oh my God, this is the end, I know it’s the end, it has to be the end.
The next thing I could hear was him a sobbing and crying oh please honey please don’t leave me I don’t know what went on in my mind I know you been good to me, and she’s screaming at him, get out of here you stupid bastard how dare you come into my house with a gun, and the more she screamed the more he sobbed and cried and said the baby I love you I love you.
The door slammed and the stripper came back in the bedroom with the other stripper who was hiding under the bed covers where the three of us were about to do a sexy sandwich.
The Stripper I was in lust with told me and the other stripper she had got rid of the stupid prick, so next we go to the little dump where I was living and all three of us jumped in my little bed. I was just 21 and I wondered if this was life when you grew up?
I will tell the story in more detail later but at the moment I want to get back to Bobby Jo who I was hitchhiking to Tucson to see, who I had met while in the Army stationed in Germany.
I believed people in authority didn’t lie to young men, and knowing that I was flunking out of college and would be drafted, probably made a Combat Medic and sent off to Vietnam. Trying to plug bloody holes was a constant nightmare. That’s why I decided to believe the commercials about joining the Army for three years and choosing your career.
I found myself at the Portland Post Office talking to an Army recruiter asking them what kind of careers were possible for me if I joined the Army.
The first thing I asked him was if could I be an artist in the army because I was an artist already.
He looked at some papers on his desk and said all of the artists slots are already filled but he had a couple positions still open if I wanted to join.
"So what’s available," I asked naïvely.
He said, "You can either be a shoe repairman or a dental assistant if you join the Army today."
The idea of looking down someone’s mouth didn’t really appeal to me but working on someone’s feet didn’t seem much better however I like leather so I said okay, how about the shoe repairman slot.
He shuffled the papers around his desk and called somebody then turned to me saying the shoe repairman slots already filled. "The only thing we got here is a dental assistant," he said.
What happens if I’m a dental assistant and they still send me to Vietnam?
He looked at me very seriously and said, "Saigon is a really sweet town, and you will be in the main hospital there and you won’t ever have to go out into the country. You’ll be a nice safe place. On top of that you learn a serious profession that pays great in civilian life."
That didn’t sound too bad so I said, "Okay that sounds good to me. What do I have to sign?" of which he immediately threw a bunch of paper on the desk and I signed my signature on the X lines .
As I said being a young man I believed people in authority, especially a Master Sergeant with a bunch of stripes on the shoulder would never lie to a young man like me, so I didn’t even question it when he wrote down next to my name, 91-A10, Medical Corpsman.
As I found out 13 weeks later when I was being briefed by the company clerk in Boot Camp of where I’d be going next next, I would be going to Fort Sam Houston San Antonio Texas to be trained as a Combat Medic.
You’ve got it. 91 A-10, Medical Corpsman, translated in Army jargon, is a Combat Medic, out in the front lines with all the soldiers shooting at people who were shooting at them while I would be trying to plug the holes that got poked into them.
The lying dirty son of a bitch. The very reason I joined the Army was because the worst fear I had was to become a Combat Medic running around in the jungle with a red cross on my helmet that made it very easy for someone with a sniper rifle to plug you in the head.
I looked at the company clerk and said, "You’re joking. That can’t be true. I’m a dental assistant that’s why I joined the Army! I know for sure that’s why joined Army because I’m a real dental assistant!"
The clerk looked at me and said, "Is that your signature?" poking his finger on a standard Army sheet. I said yes that’s my signature, and he said do you see that number next to it ,91 A-10, and I said yes I see that number next to it, 91 A-10. That’s when he reached under the desk and pulled up a giant book called the Army M.O.S. BOOK. It’s about the size of 10 encyclopedias all put together.
He slammed it on the desk and opened it up and in I could see his finger ran down the tiny print upside down 6 feet away, and the print looked like it was like a billboard 20 feet high.
Finally his finger came to 91 A-10 upside down perfectly clear like it was a billboard and I could read for the first time in my life upside down perfectly clear as never could read before upside down and found out I had a skill I had no idea was in my brain.
It read: 91 A-10 – COMBAT MEDIC.
I have never been faint of heart or passed out without the aid of a whole bunch of alcohol. But for the first time in my life I nearly fell dead on the floor.
No it couldn’t be true it couldn’t possibly be true. Not me. Not a Combat Medic.
16 weeks later I graduated from Combat Medic School, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.
What can you say, what can I say?
I was talking with a friend about our mutual lady problems. I said, “Lovers are like personality barometers. I look back at lovers I’ve had and how I was with each one of them, which was mostly a bastard. But you what’s funny? Each one of those women changed me.”
In fact the friend I was talking to was the ex-husband of one of my lovers. He gave up on her years before me for pretty much the same excuses I had.
“You know I learned a lot from Laura,” I said. “When I met her I was almost 60 years old. I realized I had been blaming women all my life that they were the problem. But by the time I got to Laura, I realized I was a first class jerk and it was them that always left me for good enough reasons. So when I met Laura I decided for the first time I’d be the best man any woman could ever want.”
Cut to the chase the short end of a long story is I couldn’t be any better than who I was, and as they say you just can’t cure stupid.
But to get back to Bobby Jo, I got out to the highway and in short order was in Tucson. I had no idea where Bobby Jo lived except I knew she was going to University of Arizona. I walked around the campus most the afternoon looking for her ever step but nowhere she was.
The sun was going down so what else to do but stick my thumb out and head back to California. I had about five bucks left, so there wasn’t a big option of traveling in style.
I was thinking about the long damn trip back to a woman who was really good and even thought I loved her because she was the most beautiful woman who had ever been in my life. She was a really lovely human being too. Things like that were going on in my head.
I wandered around the student union one more time looking at a thousand unknown faces. Nowhere was the face I wanted to find.
Near the main gate I came to a large circular fountain with benches around the perimeter just as the sun was going down between the palm trees on the main avenue coming into the University. I was feeling more than strange, mostly lost.
The woman I’d hitchhiked to find was a phantom. Only three years before I had written her a letter saying please come back to America, be my wife, let’s have kids, buy a house and be happy forever after.
She didn’t write back for a long time and when she did she said, "You scare me. You are too crazy. I’ve met Bob who lives in Montana where he’s raising dental floss..." I’m not sure she said the last part. It didn’t matter, she was in love with Bob in Montana and she wasn’t going to marry me.
So here I am three years later sitting by the fountain thinking, Damn this was sure long way for nothing.
I look up and as the sun is shimmering on the sidewalk to the west of me from the fountain and I see a woman with a golden halo around her wavy hair walking towards me. I keep looking at her as she keeps walking straight to me. You guessed it!
Out of nowhere Bobby Jo just suddenly appeared right in front of me and she said, "Ken where have you been?"
I was just 27 and here was the woman I wanted to marry and have children with and be happy ever after and she was more beautiful than I ever knew she was and I had not the slightest idea what to do.
We walked around and talked and at some point she said come back to my house you can sleep with me tonight.
Once again things were looking up. On the road for only five or six days, I almost lost count of the times of the opportunity to fall in bed with a beautiful woman or some body… But it was more than that, because I was still in love with Bobbie Jo, which was the problem between me and the beautiful little gal up in Northern California who was waiting for me to come back.
We went to Bobby Jo's student apartment. I can’t remember if we drank any wine, but I don’t think we did. We both got tired of talking and she said, "Let’s make a bed and hold each other anyway…" In bed she told me she was in love with Bob up in Montana and she wanted to see him soon because she was pregnant. That's a fuck killer if anything is.
I said, "Okay, that’s fine by me because I am in love with Jeanie in California, I don’t think she’s pregnant but she’s a really good gal and I love her anyway even if she's not pregnant, I mean really really in love..." I was lying my teeth out and my heart was in a trash can again.
Bobby Jo cuddled into my arms and I held her until she went to sleep. I lay there looking at the yellow ceiling of her apartment thinking, What the FUCK?
I couldn’t sleep. Life seemed absolutely crazy to me. How could she love some idiot when I was right in her arms, and I wanted her babies to be my baby’s. Everything seemed so absolutely wrong.
Somewhere around 4 a.m. Bobby Jo was asleep or acting like she was asleep as I got up quietly, picked up my guitar and my backpack and slinked out the door and walked out to the freeway sat down and played the blues on Molly Gibson until the sun came up.
I can’t tell you how many times Molly Gibson has heard me play the blues over the women who have walked through my life. But if Molly Gibson could talk, it would be another story.
I can’t remember how I did it, but I got to Los Angeles, and looked at my Army buddy Denny Wax who was working as a stockbroker at the time on the 27th floor on Hollywood and Vine, except he got fired about three days before because he answered the telephone and he couldn’t stand the person and threw the telephone out the 27th floor window.
I was staying at his little place on Manhattan Beach. Denny said, "Man, you know what’s really fun?"
Take a golf ball and just knock the fuck out of it to into the middle of this fucking shit hole.".
Here we were, right in the middle of a huge population and Denny bend’s down, puts a golf ball on a tee and whacks it with his distance club probably 120 miles an hour and who knows where it landed?
Denny was glad to get rid of me after two days and me standing around, moaning about lost love that was his old girlfriend Bobby Jo who was pregnant by Bob in Montana who was raising dental floss, so he bought me an airplane ticket to San Francisco to get phantoms out of his life.
I hitchhiked from the airport into the inner city of San Francisco expecting all the good things that always happened to me before when I walked around with my guitar.
It was raining it was cold. It was miserable. Nothing at all occurred that always occurred in San Francisco meaning someone would take them home, to their beautiful place, I get drunk, I get stoned. I get laid maybe even. None of that happened I just walked around for hours and hours and hours getting wetter and wetter Dead broke, I mean not even a nickel and I was too proud to panhandle, and it was too wet to pull Molly Gibson out of her case and screech on Union square.
Somewhere around 2 in the morning I realized the gig was up. I was beat and my hips and cold and miserable and I just want to lay down and go to sleep. I was on North Beach where all the strip joints, jazz parlors and whores hung out. There was a Laundromat open 24 hours a day. I saw it from about a block away thinking, At least it’s dry.
It was completely empty. There was a long table in the back of the Laundromat that had a shadow under it. I thought, That looks like a place I can lay down and at least sleep for a little bit.
I lay down under the table and cried my eyes out until I couldn’t cry anymore. What the fuck was my life about?\
When I woke up, my back was aching. I could see sun shining daylight in the windows but more than that there was something odd. There was a strange weight on my stomach and legs. I looked down and there was an arm over my stomach. I poked my head up and look down at my legs and there was another leg over my legs from the opposite side. I looked to my right and there was a grizzled old homeless bum snoring in my ear. I looked to my left and there was another grizzled old homeless bum slobbering in my other ear.
All I could think, So this is what life has brought me, sleeping under a Laundromat table with a couple of old bums cuddled up next to me. If there ever was an appropriate moment for shooting myself with a gun, this seemed like the time except I didn’t have a gun. I only had my guitar, so I got up pushing arms and legs off me. Neither bum woke up and I walked out of the Laundromat and hitchhiked back to Jeanie Northern California.
Jeanie and I lived in California for another six months and I never once again thought about Bobby Jo who was having a baby with her boring boy friend Bob in Montana where they’re all cutting dental floss together. What hit me was the irony of how girlfriend number one made me so pissed off I completely mistreated the next girlfriend and the next girlfriend and somehow never made any sense except I was with a lovely little gal who didn’t know what a jerk I was.
Three months later my brother Robert call me in the middle of night, and said, "Kenny Dad died."
I just sat there with the telephone in my ear for a long time and didn’t say anything until Robert said, "Are you okay," and I said, "Yeah, I’m okay," and I hung up. Somehow it was okay, because I knew my Dad was okay.
Northern California. I went there because of Jeanie, because I didn’t go to Woodstock, because I was with Fred Baui who we went to St. Louis Missouri, because we went back to Aspen where we met a guy who had just been released from a Mexican jail, because the authorities accepted 1 million of the $2 million inheritance he was getting and on his release went back to America where he bought a brand-new white Riviera and thousand dollar white linen suit and built the jail house guitar of his dreams. I never saw that guy again, but I wound up in Northern California looking for this little gal that said to me, " I was in love with you the first moment I saw you." At the time, nothing made sense...
But this part of my story is about Mel Flemming who I had never seen before in my whole life, until one day hitching into Eureka to get a job with the longshoremen loading whatever onto cargo ships going to Japan.
An old yellow 56 Ford pickup pulls up in front and this black guy with a sock hat on rolled down the window and asked was I looking for job, and that was the beginning.
I don’t know what I said, but okay, yeah sure...
Mel Fleming. If there has ever been a human being in my life who inspired me until this day, it is Mel.
I get to Northern California, and Mel picks me up on the highway where we go to the longshoremen dock loading hundred pound sacks a sugar onto pallets which were picked up by a crane which went up a hundred feet then swung over and came down into a hole where our crew unloaded them. Mel said, "Gotta watch out for them in the afternoon. They get so drunk gets crazy around here!"
Flemming, 1973 with his two sons in northern
Mel was 15 years older than me. He had done almost everything anyone could ever imagine having done, except for most people never have done anything but imagine. Mel was a happy man. He could see how strangely tragically funny life was and still have the joy to create something completely new everyday without a care of where it was going.
Mel always repeated two things: Suffer Baby and Nothing Stays the Same. That was the Mantra he gave me.
I repeat, two things, suffering and change. Baby, you got it for less than a nickel.
I don’t really know much about Mel except for how he was when I first met him and his beautiful pregnant wife 20 years younger and their 4 year old son Cody.
But these are the things that Mel told me.
He was in Southern Baptist seminary school to become a minister in 1944 when he realized he could never be a minister. He quit the school and joined the Army.
Mel was black. He joined the segregated Army. The White Drill Instructors and White Officers in Boot Camp told all the black recruits they were going to the South Pacific to fight the Great Yellow Menace.
Sure enough they sent him to the South Pacific.
They sent him to some tiny island where thousands of Marines had been slaughtered trying to save it for the Army. The Army infantry was given a makeshift fort on the beach which had hills around it completely filled with caves that were totally full of very pissed off and fanatic Japanese suicide squadrons. The first night Mel was there, he was sent out of the base camp parameter on a search and destroy mission.
Right away he knew something was wrong.
When they marched out of the gates into the darkness he took 21 steps and emptied his M-1 Carbine on a deadly enemy.
The whole squad hit the ground. The squad leader sergeant screamed, "Fleming what are you shooting!" and Fleming said, "I got them Sarg! I killed them all, I'm sure!"
The sergeant sent a scout to investigate the enemy territory out in front of them. The scout reported back that Fleming had just massacred a giant Hibiscus.
This Sgt. screamed into the indigo night, "What the fuck kind of Jap is that?"
The scout yelled back, "It's a mean looking looking flowery bush, Sarg…nothing else here..."
The Sergeant went psycho and screamed at Fleming again, "Flemming, don’t you know where we are?"
Mel looked back at the gates 40 feet behind him and said, "Yes Sarg. We're in front of the camp."
The sergeant screamed again, "Flemming what the fuck you think we're doing?"
Mel said with extreme slowness, "We are fighting the Great Yellow Menace in front of our fort on the beach Sarg..."
Mel spent the last few months in the South Pacific, peeling potatoes and cleaning shit houses, but he was never sent out of the gates again to kill anything.
Mel Flemming playing the
wash tub base in one of his back yard jams, 1969,
When I lived in northern California I was around Mel almost every day for those two years. For six months I lived in the redwood forest at Moonstone Heights where he had a house. I was living in a 1947 Chevy school bus that was painted is gray as the ever present skies of Humboldt county on the coast. Even though the weather was always gloomy, being around Mel never was. He always had a bottle of wine, a joint rolled and you knew for sure someone would be playing music soon.
Mel played as much as he worked. There wasn't a day he didn’t create something or fix something that was amazing. He would take an old table and make it look brand-new or take a brand-new piece of furniture and make it look ancient. Mel was generous with everything he had, money, booze, pot, tools, even his home. Whatever he had was willing to share it with anyone.
Mel liked everybody but everybody loved Mel. He was truly a man without any an agenda of vengeance, hatred or prejudice. But Mel was no idiot and knew when people were scumbugs, but he didn’t let them get to his soul.
I’m not sure how Mel got to be that way. What little I know he told me in between work on the docks, crazy parties and good times we had together. For instance in the early 1950's he was married to one of the top models of Vogue Magazine, in fact the first black model. I’m sure if I Googled that, I could find her name but I don’t really care because that was Mel of another time.
Somewhere in the mid 60's having all the good things that one can have, he no longer wanted to share the life of the black New York City Supermodel. I’m not sure where the transition happened but it did. Mel met Joan, a Jewish woman, 20 years his junior. They decided to run off to San Francisco and be hippies in the flower power generation.
They lived in the Haight district of San Francisco for a while but discovered it was too much like New York City, full of crazies that had no life. Someone and told them it was beautiful up in northern California. They decided to get out of the city for once and all. They had been in Moonstone Heights near Trinidad, California for five years before I got there.
Mel wasn't an ordinary artist because he wasn’t ordinary in the ways of anybody. Whatever he created was like a work of art that came out of a primal village in the dawn of man. It was always original.
What I loved about Mel was his willingness to share his life experience of things he’d done and willing to tell you how to do the things that he could do so easy, so willing to share his gift of creativity, to share his life in a time that was nothing but rock ‘n roll in the days of free love and rolling hippies nation to nation.
Mel never smoked pot or took psychedelic drugs until he arrived in San Francisco at the height of the days of LSD and the whole hallucigenic psychedelic experience of being in another mind in another world. He wasn’t really interested in psychedelic drugs because wine did for him just as good as any drug can do any body. Wine allowed him to jam with any musician – all the way from 12 bar blues to John Coltrane to progressive jazz to Dixieland or just beautiful ballads someone had improvised out of their heart.
So, for six months on the edge of Mel’s property where I lived in my 27 passenger 1947 Chevy school bus.
I had no electricity or running water. I had a potbelly stove I could cook whatever I had on the top. When I needed the toilet I would go deep into the redwoods and do my duty. once a week I would take a shower in Mel’s house. I wasn’t the only one that cleaned up at his house. Almost every day there was someone in the house either getting into the shower before me or just out. There was a small colony of people that lived around Mel and borrowed almost everything he had. Me too.
One day Mel picked me up to go to our frequent work as longshoremen on the Eureka docks. He told me he’d had a very odd experience the day before when someone had given him a tab of LSD and he decided to take it on his way home from work.
He thought nothing was happening since he had taken the potion even though he had been warned it was very strong. It seemed nothing occurred whatsoever. He said he went home, had supper with Joan and the kids played some music and then decided to go to bed. He woke up in the middle of the night with someone beating on the door, then crashing the door down and policeman in black uniforms and goggles and helmets rushed into his bedroom. The cops pulled him out of bed telling him they were taking him to prison for a crime he had no idea of, and then it happened to him.
He suddenly came to consciousness in his old yellow truck driving home from the dockyards and he had only gone less than a mile from where he last remembered driving the truck thinking had gone home and gone to bed and arrested in the middle of the night. It was all just and hallucigenic experience that went on for hours in his mind but less than a minute on the highway.
It was an interesting experience for someone 15 years older than me, a World War II veteran, a man who drowned in the fashion circles of New York City and as black as the proverbial Ace of Spades. He was more of my own blood and my own mind than anyone in my whole family. He understood me and levels that I didn’t even understand myself but accepted all the things about me that were plain lame. The two years I spent around Mel was the experience of finding a real human who was more of an artist than I had ever known I could be or hope to be. He became my mentor and spiritual guide. Mel gave me the sense of human dignity, awareness, healthy skepticism to be able to look at myself and laugh knowing life wasn't so bad.
More than once I remember I would be telling Mel some kind of tragic angry disappointing experience that occurred to me and see him with a rye smile, then he would say with no meanness whatsoever, "You Americans."
He had stepped out of America and would never step back and even though he lived in a healthy fat heart of California.
If his recognition of my Americaness did not stop my fragile little light of disappointment , Mel would calmly say, "Suffer baby," followed by his hearty laugh of which I had no choice but to laugh at my own pitiful circumstance.
I was around Mel from 1969 to 1971 then I moved with Jeanie to Colorado and never got back to northern California until 1978 with my Scottish wife Chrissie and ten month old daughter, Rowan.
When we got to the small
He invited us into the house to greet Joan and their two sons as well as a number of friends hanging out as usual.
told us a how they got the house which was a typical story of his genius.
They had moved from
By some hook of fate they found an abandoned house the Hells Angels had lived in for several years. When they saw it for the first time it had no windows or doors and the entire house was shot full of holes by various weapons the Hells Angels used, shotguns, revolvers and machine guns.
The house was basically
a two-story wreck with a basement. Mel said the ground floor had a huge hole
in it filled to the brim it with empty beer cans. The first thing they did
was to take all of the aluminum cans from the basement making enough money
to buy gas for their pickup truck and a supply of wood and broken mirrors
from a nearby junkyard. It was near Christmas. The house had been for sale
for several years
with only a $5000 down payment but as usual Mel had no money. His plan was
to make small artworks in volume so they could get the money together. Him,
his wife and Chris Scoggins, a close friend who also had lived in Moonstone
Heights began making little hand
mirrors, painted and carved using broken glass they could sell for five
dollars each. They went to work and within one week had made 1000 mirrors.
They loaded them into the pickup truck and went to
By the time I arrived a year later you couldn't find a hole in the house and it looked as beautiful as any home as you could ever think of having. Mel and Joan were as happy as they could be. At last they had a house that was their very own and they had the whole bright future in front of them.
only stayed a few hours with Mel because I wanted to go on to
I remember standing in front of Mel's new home in the afternoon looking at Mel and him looking at me like there wasn't too much to say. We knew each other with love and that was special. Mel took me in his arms and held me like a father hugs a departing son. In my heart I knew how good it was to be with him again, but somehow I knew it would be the last time we would see each other. He said, "Ken, how I hate to see you go,” and all I could reply was, "Suffer Baby!" We both laughed.
I never once felt Mel was mocking or belittling my misdirected youth no matter how large or how small my kind of trouble was. More than anything he was a dark mirror of my young world who reflected back a sense of release. To this day I think of Mel and wish he was still in this world so I could say how much he helped me get through all the shit holes I put myself in.
Mel Flemming. I don’t know where he will appear again in this memoir but he is always with me as a living spirit. I look up into the sky sometimes and say, " Mel I miss you." I see him in the dome of blue or the blackest of nights.
Mel died in 1997.
Real friends are the people you take through your whole life no matter if you never see them again. That's how I feel about Mel Flemming, and it's the way I feel about several other friends who filled the lonely spaces my life through experiences I never had with anyone else, anywhere, anytime. I am referring to one person in particular when I say that, Denny Wax (not his real name just in case some day his wife or the authorities read my indiscretions). We lived through almost certain death twice and had the authorities caught us in three other escapades we might still be in jail.
I met Denny in the Army
when I arrived in
I was sent as a combat
medic which to my horror was the worst situation to have even though I was
The next day I arrived
I kept telling the sergeant, "But I'm a medic. I'm not a tank mechanic." The sergeant said there were enough medics and what they needed the most was mechanics. As little as I wanted to be a medic it was a lot easier than trying to grease a 1,000 pound piece of tank track laying on my back with oil dripping in my eyes.
I had been there only one day when I had enough nonsense of the Army, first by joining to be a Dental Assistant then becoming a Combat Medic, then made a Tank Mechanic without any experience whatsoever.
It occurred to me the best thing to do was to complain to the First Sergeant and tell him I was an artist and I would be a lot better off if they had me doing artwork instead of being a medic or tank mechanic.
Being only a private with no real experience of the real Army yet it seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea to state the facts of my existence to another human being. I should've known better, being in boot camp a sergeant asked me who did I think I was, an individual?
But ignorance is bliss. I went to the orderly room where First Sergeant Hill, a very big black man was sitting at his desk. I said, "First Sergeant I am an artist I'm not a mechanic. I'm not even a very good medic, but I am an good artist and I have a portfolio with me which I would be happy to show you to prove that I am a good artist."
First Sergeant Hill looked up from his desk with a peculiar scalding puzzle on his face and said, “What did you say?”
I started to repeat myself when the 1st Sergeant said, "Get out of this room right now and back to the tank park or I'll bust your ass to a private!"
I tried to explain to First Sergeant Hill I was already a private but that didn't seem to get through his thinking order and he screamed, "Well then I'll give you an article 15 private! Get out!"
I'm possibly not the smartest person because it didn't occur to me not to argue with a 1st Sergeant as a private. In army classification I was an E-1 and a 1st Sergeant Is an E-8, in other words, 7 times bigger and badder than me.
One thing however I had learned in the Army was if a soldier requests to see his commanding officer, a higher ranking sergeant couldn't deny you that request, and so I said to 1st Sergeant Hill, "I request an interview with the Company Officer, Sergeant."
"What!" 1st Sergeant Hill screamed.
I repeated myself. The first Sgt. looked at me like he could burn my eyeballs out with his eyeballs but I stood my ground. So without further ado 1st Sergeant Hill knocked on the company commander's door softly opening it saying, “A soldier requests permission to see you Sir." I heard a soft murmur in the room and the sergeant turned looking at me with the color of purple fume coming out his ears, eyes and shirt collar then swung the door open.
In the room I showed the 1st Lieutenant Zierdt my portfolio and he was impressed. The next thing I was walking across the compound to the battalion headquarters and placed in front of Colonel Whally, the battalion commander. Colonel. Whally looked my work in great appreciation and said, “Private Wolverton I think we can use your talent. As it is our Battalion Artist is being transferred to Division Headquarters soon and you would be a damn fine replacement son. I’ll transfer you to his section right now and Specialist 1st Class Salazar can show you the ropes.”
“Thank you Sir, “ I said, walking out of his office feeling very smug indeed, having no idea I had just created the worst possible enemy I could have done in my own army outside of the Vietnam war, my very own 1st Sergeant Hill.
I would not know the full extent of Sgt. Hill’s fury for another 6 months because that afternoon something else was about to happen to me.
Lieut. Zierdt walked me
over to the battalion workshops. It was there that I would meet Rudy Salazar
who was the battalion artist who was going to show me the ropes. Rudy was
In the next year Rudy and I would become friends and hang out quite often and I’ll tell you about him as we go along in this story. But it was that day I met Denny Wax.
He was the battalion
carpenter. Denny was from
I had got married to the striptease dancer one day before I joined the Army (see WRITING/ASSASSIN’S ANGEL). I was just so grateful to get away from her I was willing to do almost anything she requested.
Marriage was one and another was to sign a little sheet of paper that gave her three quarters of my Army paycheck. As a private I got $100 a month which $75 was taken out of my check and sent to her. I got 25 dollars a month of real money in my pocket.
Denny Wax found out about that right away. He was more than generous in buying me beer, coffee, cigarettes and paying for meals we ate when we ran around off duty.
It was Denny that introduced me to Frank Zappa and Joe’s Garage. I had never heard of the Mother’s of Invention before Denny. It was also him that informed me about the Golden Shower. I was completely amazed the people did such stupid things to each other in the name of kinky sex.
From early September 1966 until Denny had finally completed as his tour at the end of February 1967 we were inseparable especially in the evenings when there wasn’t anything else to do but to run around and act like we weren't in the Army. Denny had a beat up 1954 Volkswagen, and it was our vehicle of escape.
Grant and Annie near the mote around the Castle, 1966,
Most evenings we would
go down to the 16th century
Another mutual Army friend, Gary Pogue and his wife Jill, usually joined us in evening. We would sit around complaining about the Army, drink beer and smoke hashish.
Pogue and his with Jill,
Gary Grant was an artist
and Gary Pogue was a poet. We were good company because we could talk about
art, literature and anything that was creative in the crazy beatnik world we
idolized. Denny wasn’t an artist as far as visual or literary skills, but he
had great ambitions to create the most unique restaurant in the world and
would fantasize about how it would look when he got out of the Army. His
parents had one of the biggest restaurants in
Because our unit was
such a war-ready section of the Army we had to be back at our barracks
There was a thing called BEDCHECK. Sergeants would go around and make sure
we were there, just like prison. That meant we always had to leave
Denny grew up in
It had snowed heavily that day and the temperature had dropped down below zero. It was the time of year in Germany of Fasching which is their version of Mardi Gras and the beginning of Lent. Most of the little villages would have some kind of celebration with dance bands and big wooden barrels of wine and beer.
Denny wanted to go to a little village up in the mountains where we had gone a few days before and were nearly carried off by a 6 foot 300 lb. Brumhilda. It was one of the few times that Germans actually liked American soldiers. The little town we were stationed in was completely flattened by General Patton in World War II except for King Ludwig’s castle which was full of stolen Nazi priceless artworks.
On this fateful evening we took off in the old Volkswagen heading to the mountains. I kept yelling, “Denny slow down and for God sakes quit slamming on the brakes.”
Denny was pretty sharp at most things but he didn’t get driving on icy roads. Every time we got to some icy place he was driving way too fast. Instead of pumping the brakes softly he would mash his foot down sending us into a slide. One would think after two or three times that experience he would get the lesson but not Denny.
We had gone and up over the top of the mountain and were coming down a long steep slope and all I could do was scream, "God sakes Denny slow down!"
In front of us was very sharp curve I could see a football field away. I began my mantra again, "Denny don’t slam on the brakes just pump very, very slowly very gentlemanly," but what did he do when we got to the curve? Yup, he slammed on the brakes.
The car didn’t even bother to swerve it just went straight on right through the curve and flew through two giant trees to a dark edge that was completely black in front of us.
There was the sound of crashing limbs of the giant trees as we narrowly shot through them and gushing of air into the blackness. The Volkswagen's roaring engine having no traction whatsoever on the whirling wheels was the only thing real in those surreal split seconds that seemed to go on forever.
The Flying Volkswagen, Bavarian woods 1967
Then an almighty WHUMP and everything was silent. All of the windows in the Volkswagen were Golden. I sat there for a moment thinking maybe we were dead. Stunned beyond belief I could still feel my legs and the seat underneath me then began a panting breath from Denny.
I turned to Denny slowly and said, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah man, are you okay?”
We sat like frozen idiots looking at the strange golden glow on all of the Volkswagen windows.
“What’s that gold color?” Denny said.
“Yeah it’s totally weird. It looks like snow.” It dawned on me it was snow. I rolled down the window and snow fell onto my lap. The full moon shined down on the snowfield we landed in. Denny rolled down his window leaving a smeared slice of snow showing only 4 inches of indigo sky. We crawled out the windows because we couldn’t open the doors.
We got onto the roof of the Volkswagen to see the moon glowing on a large field where we landed. Only the top of the beetle was visible but the headlights were shining golden ribbons four feet under the snow.
Denny and I stood looking around wondering what the hell just happened. There was laughing off in the distance. Half a football field away were two dim lights from what looked like a tractor. We could hear talking and laughing. One thing came out very clear–"Das ist eine fliegende wagen!"– Then the voices would laugh again. The tractor's engine started and we could hear metal whining as a small black figure came into the snowy field inching its way toward us. When the silhouette was about twenty feet away we could see it was a man wading waste deep through the snow pulling a cable behind him. He kept speaking German to us, laughing then repeat what we heard from before, “Das ist eine fliegende wagen!"
Denny and I just looked at each other wondering what the hell he was saying.
The man disappeared below the golden snow at the front of the Volkswagen clinking metal on metal. Then he stood up and shouted, “Ja, es ist gute jetzt!”
Denny and I nearly fell off the Volkswagen when it suddenly jerked forward pushing waves of snow as it was pulled towards the tractor. The man jumped on the hood of the Volkswagen and kept repeating over and over "Das ist eine fliegende wagen!"
When we came to the tractor there were four men standing around it and one was in the driver seat. The man nearest flashed a light onto our faces and turned to the others shouting "Sie sind amerikanische Soldaten. Natürlich sind solche Idioten!"
"Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" The flash light man said to us.
had been in
"Natürlich, is gute I speak gute English, ja? So, you pilots of das Fliegende wagen, ja? Jetz we make celebration for big crashing in snow, Ja!"
Two of the men pushed us back into the Volkswagen and pointed for us to follow the tractor back into the village a quarter of a mile away. We were taken into a small tavern where the English speaker sat us at a table while yelling at the bar keeper to bring a bottle of the best Grappa. Within five minutes Denny and I were completely drunk on the 80% pure alcohol. We were toasted "Prost" over and over with the farmers who delighted in telling everyone the story of the flying Volkswagen that had sailed off the 150 foot cliff at the edge of town flying a complete football field through the sky to land in the three meter deep snow drift in the tractor man's hay field. Within another five minutes we were speaking German as well as the man who "spoke" English, laughing like lunatics about our miraculous journey through the heavens.
Without warning suddenly the tavern keeper slapped his hands and turned the lights out and bellowed, "Die Nacht ist vorbei, und sie sind alle betrunken. Gute Nacht und gehen Sie nach Hause!" which roughly translated "You're all drunk, go home!"
The next thing I know Denny and I are back in the Volkswagen, him slamming on the brakes at every curve through the 30 miles back to barracks gliding through the post gates only three minutes before the bed-check hour. By the time the night sergeant checked filled bunks, we were snoring peacefully sedated by grappa.
Three days later the roads were still packed with glazed snow when Denny wanted to go to Frankfurt and see if we could find a couple of cheap whores who hung out near the train station. I had no money as usual but Denny said it was his treat.
On the off ramp leaving the Autobahn the road swept up a high arched bridge going over rows of train tracks near the center of town. Too late I realized we were on black ice and Denny doing what he always did, slammed his foot on the brakes spinning us around and around and around following the curved highway across the top of the bridge. Slowly we slid towards the guardrail 40 feet above the tracks below. The Volkswagen made a gentle bumping sound as it came to a dead stop facing backwards down two narrow bridge lanes. There was only a few seconds to be thankful we had not shot off the top of the viaduct when to our mutual horror we saw coming at us full speed a double-deck German tour bus being passed by a huge European 18 wheeler. We just sat and watched death coming to collect us, again.
At the last possible moment the 18 wheeler cut in front of the tour bus missing the Volkswagen by inches, making it rock from side to side as if hit by a hurricane wind.
We just sat for the next ten minutes watching traffic carefully negotiating the space around us as the drivers gawked at two inanimate life forms gawking back. It was though nothing could kill us after what had happened in the last three days.
It was with this attitude Denny and I survived the last 6 weeks together, which took us to several more episodes, if not death defying, most certainly lawbreaking heart-thumping experiences.
was a strange time being in
can take hatred only so long before one starts returning it in the most
adolescent manner. Many times this is what Denny and I would wind up doing,
running around like a couple of dysfunctional juvenile delinquents taunting
jeering and playing booby-traps on any Germans we saw. I won’t go into great
detail of what we did, being it’s very embarrassing for me now and would
certainly be embarrassing to Denny if anyone found out in his professional
life he was such a malicious young punk being an Ugly American in
late January we had a 10 day Army leave.
Denny was due to finish his two year draft obligation with the Army
by mid-March so he wanted to see a little more of
skip most of the high jinx we got up to in our ten day keef-smoking
hooliganisms which included embezzling a couple of southern belles from
the last evening there Denny had run out of money, or that is, just enough
to get us back to
were down at the bottom of the Ramblas which is the commercial central
We sat at the bar, me with my sketchbook doing quick sketches of her and several other barmaids. They were delighted and kept pouring us beer, bringing oysters, octopus and bar snacks. After a couple hours of boozing it up and eating food we decided it was time to go back to our bed-and-breakfast pension. As we approached the door, the barmaid said, “But what about la quenta? We need money!” Denny looked at me. I looked at him thinking, this didn’t work. Denny bolted out the door and I was right behind him.
We had only gone 20 feet down the street when we heard the whistles of the fascists Spanish La Guardia, them screaming alto!
We ran like a couple of terrified cheaters through the crowds on the narrow avenues looking back occasionally to see not only one but several La Guardia pursuing but we just kept running. Somehow we slipped them by going around in circles several times and following the cops. They never thought to look behind them which was lucky for us.
That was when the night got very strange because we found ourselves in front of the Pam Pam Club, which was the biggest strip joint and whore house at the bottom of the Ramblas, next to the harbor.
It was on the second floor of a big hotel, which the well-paying customers used the empty rooms for the girls they would pick up in the club. We sat down at a long table with a few other Americans and instantly girls were around us, competing to see who could score a Yankee dollar and John for the night.
One of the girls was very beautiful, and I asked Denny if he was sure he didn’t have an extra 10 bucks, but he said he didn’t. There was nothing to do but sit and act like we were taking our time making a choice. That’s when Papita arrived.
She sat down next to me and said quietly, “You don’t want this girl Signor, she is dirty. She will give you a disease.” She pointed at the beautiful girl who had found another man sitting at the bar. She snuggled into me and whispered, “You know, I love a man with red hair. My name is Papita.”
Papita was attractive, but at the time she seemed old to me, like she was maybe 30. Her English was excellent and she continued telling me things about herself and how she would love to be with me for the night. I couldn’t lie to her. I said, “Well honey I wish I could be with you, but you see I don’t have any money and neither does my buddy.”
She snuggled into me, looked around very carefully to be sure no one was listening and whispered again, “It is okay, I don’t care about money. I like you. You can stay with me for free. I love your red hair and blue eyes.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was convinced it was some kind of trap if I got anything. But before I could say anything else she took me by the hand and said, “Come with me now and I will show you the best time you have ever had.” She looked right into my eyes and I couldn’t help but believe. She seemed so sincere. Men, the oldest fools in the world.
I left Denny sitting at the table in the Pam Pam Club, thinking I’d be back in a few minutes. We went out of the building and down the street to another building.
She took me to a caged elevator and we rode to the seventh floor. She unlocked a blue door and we walked into her life, of lace and carved tables and silk drapes hanging from the ceiling in a red room. There was a big brass bed with a pure white embroidered cover and Persian rugs scattered across the floor. A small lamp was next to the bed, but she lit candles, turned off the light and opened a bottle of wine.
went to the bed and made love I have seldom known since. We talked in
between lustful sessions and she told me that she was once in love with an
American soldier like me, who had red hair and blue eyes. He looked like me
except he was a little taller and fatter. He died in
When the light came in the morning Denny and I were supposed to be on a bus to return to the Army. She saw it in my eyes and kissed me gently and said, “Before you go I will make you a good Spanish breakfast.”
There were several moments that morning I wondered if I was doing the right
thing, to actually go back to the Army and most likely Vietnam any day after
my return. I more than liked Papita. I almost thought I could be in love
with her but one thing was in my mind. I’d left a whore like her in
Ungallant yes. But there have been many times in my life it has occurred to me, possibly I made a very big mistake and might have actually been happy had I stayed with Papita. I mean happy, not how I have been, which has been simply to accept being a survivor who believed in few things, and happiness above all, just a childhood fantasy. Yes she was a whore, but she was beautiful, kind and she believed in a dream.
don’t know what would’ve happened with Papita’s dream had I stayed, or for
that matter what would have taken place if Denny and me had been caught by
the Spanish La Guardia. But it wouldn’t have been good because it was
I’ve only seen Denny a few times over the years since then, the last time in
To give you a little insight to how I was as a young man before the army, I am going to include a mostly un-edited transcription from my journal between the age of 20 to 22. Mostly it is just that, the ponderations of a very young man discovering the vexations of this long and hap-hazard veil of tears...plus a few sketches from those times I drew in the journal.
note: highlighted sentences, paragraphs are comments I have made going through this text...it begins with me and my buddy John Phillips riding bicycles from Phoenix, Arizona to Guadalajara, Mexico, then hitch-hiking and taking buses to Vera Cruz, then back up to Chicago where we parted company and I hitched on to Buffalo, New York and eventually to Oregon...
Eighteen days to go. That's not long at all. Even so, I wish that we were going right now. I'm thinking about a lot of things at once, and they are sort of bugging me. I'm just anxious I guess.
…I’ll say I was thinking and anxious. I had just got my first lay and two
weeks later she comes to my old man’s house to tell me I had knocked her up
and what was I going to do? Huh! I knew what I was going to do. I was going
over to see my buddy Gerry who every time we got drunk would say, “Let’s go
John and I are now about to flake out. We just got through eating a fantastic breakfast in a lopsided café. I blew my eating money for the day, $1.40---I got my stomach full. When we wake up we will be on our way to Guadalupe.
We are in Casa Grande now. Traveled almost 70 miles today and beat on our ass. Long haul.
Right now we are camped out watching the blazing sun go down and listening to the sounds of a train off in the distance.
I’m tired and so is John, but I think we both feel like we are doing something, that is, something worthwhile---I mean, to us anyway.
We stopped at a store and bought some cheese, wine, bread & pork & beans. Got full and now John is going to get something to drink---BEER. I guess maybe we will get drunk.
Back from Casa Grande. Now on the road just screwing around waiting for traffic to settle down.
I think the trip was worth the time. We covered more than 100 miles in two days and we saw a lot of pretty land, almost every inch of it---Anyway we had a few discoveries---one, on how to carry the water and how much…how to pack and other stuff like that.
One thing I noticed was the contrasting colors of the country. There were a lot of golden wheat and barley fields and the purple violets of the mountains in the distance---made a beautiful sight. I really had an urge to paint the scene---I don’t know---maybe it is better just the way it is.
…my first drawing of John on the same page…
The heat of the day is gone---the easiness of the night is coming on—that is, I hope the ease of the night will be easier than this day.
It has been one of those days that I got all wrapped up in my damned emotions. God, how I hate to do that, but so hard to keep away from---anyway…easiness of summer is almost here---five days to be exact. Then, maybe, I’ll be able to take my father’s mirror away. I get sick of seeing myself.
On days like these my confidence in myself really falls apart.
At any rate I will find out something about myself this summer, one way or the other.
[oh yeah, I sure was going to find out who I was …and who I wasn’t, but then you’ve been there. You too, once young with limitless possibilities…]
our way to
Last night we warned about snakes in
Our first day on the road was a pretty good day. Maybe we spent a little too much money. We woke with great spirits knowing we didn’t have to turn back. Yeah, we keep going south.
changed our minds. Going for
Also decided today that
So funny that forty years later I graduated Magna Cum Lauda from U of A with a journalism/creative writing BA
Once again the slight hand of fate has changed our destiny. John called some
friends last night and naturally it was only right that we go have a few
beers with them – so we did. Now we are still in
Yesterday was quite a day. 300 miles and biking, that's something. Of course we cheated a little bit and hooked a ride with a fellow. What a ride that was. I swear this guy was the Sterling Moss of Mexico. Driving a truck and being that is quite an accomplishment. Anyway he would take us about 40 miles and then dump us off. He would visit relatives or something and then maybe an hour later he would pick us up. I think we got off and on the truck four times.
Now we are in Guaymas .
I remember kids on top of the loaded down cabbage truck and one threw a cabbage about 50 feet after they passed and it flew way up in the air and came down and hit square between the eyes…the kids laughed so much they almost fell off the truck and I almost went off the side of the viaduct…
Beautiful town and the people are great. God you would think that John and I were three ring circus. Every time we stop someplace we draw crowds like flies – and the way we smell, we do draw flies – last night we slept in some damn scorpion infested Gulch. I don’t know if there were any there but it I didn’t like the looks. The kids are really something here. Man, they are fascinated by the bikes. I guess the have never seen anything quite like it. Every place we go people stop and stare at us and I suppose they think that we are really a couple of Loco Americanos. I think we must be mad.
Illustration – building in Guaymas
Missed two days. Not too much to say about those days except we went out on
there was a funeral that day.
Illustration – a statue on top of a building
When I was drawing this picture about 20 kids gathered around me, acting
completely fascinated in what I was doing. Then I asked one of them what his
name was. Juan I think. So I started with my little letter game and drew a
funny face using his name. About 20 more kids came and they really got a
kick out of it it made me feel real good in doing it – not a righteous
feeling – just good. I think I could make as an artist very easy in
Now I am in the church that I drew the picture of – a very beautiful church. Old and decrepit – but pretty. There are hundreds of flowers at the altar and several people kneeling in prayer. Strange me being here. I feel no great spiritual movement or any of that jazz. It’s just a building with high arched ceilings nothing more. I suppose I should think somebody for the luck we have had on this trip. But I don’t know who. Maybe I should just think the wind and my gratitude will be carried on to whoever’s in charge.
Missed another day. It was lousy because we were stuck in Guaymas. Now, finally after all of that junk we are on our way again. We are going to take a train from him Empalme to Matzatlan that will be about 400 miles we wont have to peddle.
Not really much has happened in the last few days. John still hates answer and I still don’t care, and for the most part – it has been boring. I will be very happy to get to Mazatlan.
is dusty or than hell today. The wind is blowing and all you can smell is
dead fish and outhouses. That is one smell that I haven’t noticed every
since we have been in
I guess the Mexicans grow up with it and it doesn’t really bug them too much.
as anyone can tell by my writing I am now on the thrackecty-thrack-track express. Well what a way of traveling.
Illustration – there was a lot more excitement than this. I didn’t take the time to get it.
are getting into the heart of
This time we have our bicycles on the coach with us. We paid some guy 20 pesos after he had helped us get on the train. I still don’t know what it was all about.
There also is another guy that we met in Wyman’s. Larry Ingalls was his name. I guess he is a professional guitar player. Classical Spanish. We messed around with him for a few days. You play the guitar beautifully.
still on the train. This track must be rougher than usual my writing is in improving any so I had better quit.
Illustration---drawn on moving Mexican train it is very hard to draw on a moving Mexican train.
Days slip by.
I think that was the place where we heard the puppy squealing before the guy served us a 4-legged chicken…there also was that big village that the houses were card board boxes and sticks...
Our bikes are still the big deal and everybody crowds around to look.
Must be in the tropics now everything looks bushy and green. About 60 miles out of Mazatlan.
I think today is the 20th but I am not entirely sure. Days keep going by strangely. Not fast but somehow they just seem to lose themselves.
Today we are at San Blas. It is the jungle. We dropped about 5000 feet when
we left the highway. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of here. I know
I don’t want to peddle that bike out and neither does John. Maybe we’ll take
the bus. We are both sick of the muggy beach type weather. Anxious to get to
This part of the trip hasn’t been too enjoyable. The night before last we tried to camp out, but we were chased off by about 1 million mosquitoes. So we ended up by peddling most of the night. Really it was miserable. They even got John.
John kept saying bugs didn’t
bug him until that black swarm hit then he took off down the highway at 90
Illustration – as for the usual – the people gathered around for this silly sketch. Seems strange. Guess they don’t see too many people draw
Blas is okay I guess –
don’t know. I don’t have much of a feeling for it. The weather has been sort
of bad. Cloudy and muggy. Coming from
. Once again we seem to be coming to a drastic shortage in money. We call last night from money but it hasn’t come in yet. I’m sure we can get by the. Americans can’t starve although in some cases they have been known to be alive by mosquitoes
11 AM didn’t come in guess I will have to don’t have to sell my hatchet. Illustration San Blas at the telegraph office.
Illustration sort of a tortilla machine in San Blas
Illustration – the old man who nearly killed us
Illustration – the old man and his wooden leg in San Blas in a pool hall I started to draw this man. He was a very dark eyed Mexican with a wooden leg. he looked as though he was a pirate in San Blas history. He became sort of indignant about me drawing him I guess he thought I thought that he was a freak – I tried to explain why was drawing him. I don’t think he understood but he laughed it off as a joke.
I shouldn’t draw when I don’t feel like drawing but today is 21 June and the longest day of the year. It would be a long day especially after last night we drank a little tequila and I believe it will be the last time. Terrible stuff no wonder Mexicans are such crazy bastards.
Yeah, and that is the day I went into the old ladies room by mistake because I was so pie-eyed and the staff threw me down the staircase just as John and some guys were coming into the hotel…no idea what would have happened to me if they hadn’t arrived just then…
Illustration –San Blas--- I dislike putting 1 million leaves and branches when I am using only one medium a pencil
the train station in
The Indians all slept on the floor wrapped up in blankets and the everything. Just like they were camping out. The Mexicans and us slept on the benches. That was kind of hard to do because the benches had armrests about every foot and a half. We could stretch out on the benches by slipping under the armrest, but then you just felt like a sardine and the benches were harder than stone so it wasn’t really too comfortable.
The station was real nice but nobody seemed to mind if you were wanted to sleep there –
Illustration – the train depot the woman had a sad beaten look. I don’t think she recognize any of that.
I’m skipping pages because this book is falling apart. I don’t feel like writing tonight although there is plenty that has happened. I’ll wait to some other time.
today we are going to get rid of our bicycles. Shipping them back to
bikes gone will be a big way off our shoulders. Hitchhiking sounds about the
best but I don’t know how fast it is. The night before last we got into one
We tried sleeping on park benches first but the rain really started to beat down on us so we had to find some other place. We had looked all over for a place to camp but there was just wasn’t a thing. Finally we decided to stay by the side of some buildings were there was an area about 2’ x 10’ that was dry. I pulled out my sleeping bag and John and I wrapped up in it and racked out right there. Must have been quite a sight. I imagine we look like a couple of winos passed out on the street. I remember several times people walked by and gave us very strange looks. I suppose we were sort of funny looking.
Illustration – a sleeping on the streets
June 24, 1965 Vera Cruz, Mexico
We have been gone 20 days. It seems like a year. It’s not that I miss anybody, it’s just that so much as happened in each one of those days.
feel kind of disappointed about the whole damn trip. We haven’t done
anything that we wanted to and how I guess we are going to pull up and go
back to the states. I don’t know, maybe I should stay here? I didn’t get to
other night we got a ride with a guy for about 500 miles. He was on his way
Most Americans we have met have to most part fallen into categories. Idea
they were in the arts and taking in
course there was another class but I didn’t get to talk to them much. They
were where the touristas of
In Vera Cruz today we met two more Americans. Maybe I was to ration the classifying Americans. These two seem quite normal and were pretty good guys.
our way to
far in this messy piece of writing I haven’t said much about how I feel
bus got to shaky I don’t really know what to say about
Illustration – a bus driver looked at the road occasionally
– Tom mix no Poncho Villa – Vera Cruz
– had a good face I seem to be pleading – out of Vera Cruz
Illustration – this is the kind of machinery that hells of a lot of Mexicans
have to work with – a bull on the coast of the
Illustration – on
bus. The country is quite beautiful. The last hundred miles to land has look
Illustration – he look like one of those ranchers in the movies that are always being rustled, hustled and generally run a business.
Have been in
Three days to get across
25 bucks for and expect to go to
a bunch of wonderful people since then back. I think
Gradually and ideas coming about what to do this fall. I will think on it for a while. Has to do with drama – maybe it will be a big change in my life maybe not?
Illustration – portrait of John Phillips – maybe I will catch up with John in 10 years.
John didn’t care much for
The day after the Fourth of July. I have no hangover and I don’t feel ill – I don’t even have a guilty conscience. I guess the main reason for that is that I just didn’t do anything. Not anything! July 4 is still a special day to me, perhaps more now than ever but it seems I never do any special celebrating. Of course that isn’t really too bad, but it seems to me that it is almost traditional to get bombed out of crack once a year. After all, that’s probably one of the reasons the Constitution was written. Thomas Jefferson probably had a nagging wife and he couldn’t stand.
told John if we make it all the way to new
Illustration – New Yorker bust?
funny thing about this trip is that we took about a 3000 mile detour to get
The sun just went down was sort of a iridescent orange color towards the top and kind of a smoke blue color on the bottom. The color in the bottom seem to creep up around the top mother out orange altogether. Look like a top-heavy girl putting on a skintight sweater. Yeah I sure do like to see the sun go down. It’s almost essential thing with me. Never can get over how the sun looks like it is grasping for its life trying to put out its last ounce of brightens, but as always losing to the stable indifference of the horizon. Sort of worried – but that’s how I feel about it.
strange how much things may change in a few days, a few hours. I’m off for
We sold the car for 10 bucks. I guess we kind of lost on the deal but I doubt if we could have done much better. It was taken too long for such a large cash transaction!
Right now I just hope I can make it to the big town. I don’t know after that. Maybe I’ll get a job there and stick around for a while.
got three rides kicked off the interstate and the toll road and I have come on unbelievable 60 miles. Well… That’s about how far I would have come if I still had my bike. Still no hurry so it doesn’t matter. As a matter of fact as far as I’m concerned nothing matters.
Illustration – I get in such a habit sometimes caught myself sticking out my thumb when there wasn’t anything coming.
slept in a park last night. Of course one damn dog you had to wake up the whole neighborhood over the deal. Got up about for some reason both of my legs ache like the devil. Used to call it growing pains when I was a kid. I don’t know what to call it now.
a place called
Finally got a good ride. Was most enjoyable. Got to see a lot of country that I have seen in photographs for quite a few years. Very pretty but still raining like hell. I don’t know whether to get a room or try to hitchhike some more. I really don’t feel like standing out in the rain – but then I hate to spend three dollars or more for a room. Maybe I’ll take a bus?
guy that brought me here was a pretty good guy. Ken Yoder was his name.
Lives in a small town in
Crap! First I slept through the only
eclipse I’ll probably see, then I glide through
Hell I just don’t know what to do. I think I’m through hitchhiking in the east. Too hard. Christ I’m a failure. I can’t even shoot through the things I want to do the most. What I’m doing is the practical thing to do but God do I hate the whole damn thing. Oh man I am disturbed. What a screw-up.
Illustration – at least no north-south conflict at 330 I decided to don’t my mind was a good movie – what’s new pussycat!
Illustration – map of travel events over the last two years
This drama thing is still on my mind.
– picture of
still here and getting so jumpy that is hard for me to sit still. I want to leave or something. Maybe I should get a fifth of Jack Daniels.
I read a couple of James Bond thrillers. They may feel more disgusted about myself. Guess me and 20 million other men want to be James Bond. What a dream that is. Saw Jack Piper again. The same. His artwork is more fantastic than last year. Too unreal for me. But good – damn good. Plus he is serious about it. That is more than I can say about myself.
Illustration – picture of a Mexican hut with Pepsi on the side.
I never did write anything about the sand crabs of San Blas. Strange little fellows that lived out on the beach. Belligerent as all hell. The funny little guys with pencil heads followed every move I made. And if I got too close they would either charge with the courage of a Wolverine or they would scuttle off sideways or backwards – and all of the time giving me a disgusted look.
John and I found a couple on the beach and put them together hoping they would fight. I didn’t really want to see any blood but I think we got a little carried away – I detest myself when I become that animalistic. I hate it!
– a thing about
July some time at night.
Tonight I sense my background more than I have ever before. I feel as though my whole being has evolved from a tribe of warriors in service. The strength and power possibly ingenuity of a staunch man tried and the ignorance and spiritualistic fear of the woman tribe – not meaning that I am the combination of a masculine and feminine characteristics, but I am the sum of generations of primitive ritual all assembled in my body and mind. I find myself trying vainly to break away from the gross crudeness and barbaric traits of the man tribe and at the same time hating the mushy weakness of the woman tribe. Next I am in the middle hating them both but finding the only way that I can draw conclusions on anything is by pulling or subtracting silly maxims from one or the other and then finding that they are both – one.
How do I present myself to the world. I am the warrior of this primitive calling or am I the dogmatic thinker of the two with all the wariness of blissful fear. Just how? Still I find that I’m asking only myself these questions.
Am I the total sum of my ancestral organisms or am I just the first cog on the wheel? I don’t know – if I am a conclusion to an era, what or where do I go from here. I don’t see my life as one huge existentialist void, but I can’t see it as coal that turned to a diamond either – what? I hate muscle and I hate meekness. I admire and desire a wheel or fortitude of mind and body – I must be completely insane! Maybe I’m approaching the boundaries of sanity – maybe the perimeter of hell – maybe I’m just mumbling and drunk.
Illustration – two bulls one on a yellow background
Illustration – I’m trying to think of something to paint. I guess an Arab deal isn’t an idea I want.
Nothing has happened since I have been back except I have developed a tremendous taste for beer again. Mexican beer was so horrible I thought I could never like it again. However the American brew masters have reestablished my faith of sensual capacity of beer.
I painted a watercolor the other day. It wasn’t too good. Was a pregnant woman but it just didn’t have anything in it. Now I have to paint a picture for Kandi. I can’t think of anything to paint.
Yesterday I saw kid that I used to go to school with – as a matter fact he was a kid that I got in trouble with. Is blind now – blind – crap 20 years old and is blind – shit – still it might’ve been me…
(We shot out windows about $2,000 worth of 1957 money, and at 17 he joined the army and got blown up in Vietnam)
Kandi was married today. Such a deal. The biggest hustle in the world. Also glad that it was her and not me.
today I finished two paintings. One
I was supposed to paint for Kandi and the other was a portrait of
Illustration – Mexican bandit holding a pistol looking at you…
Tomorrow I shall leave and I feel sorry. I hate to leave and I have a crazy
feeling I will never see it
This is the time feeling
I have found feeling
I have found feeling and loving
but how am I leaving it behind
Miles will pass like time
and I will have left
love and feeling behind
I am not searching for soul
I am not searching for anything
I am just leaving all this behind
and tomorrow the miles
will pass like time
I wonder why one is always drawn back to his place of birth. The magnet of your soul. Seems no matter where you first sucked air and wet your pants – you always want to go back. Strange, I think I never particularly liked my birthplace but I’m always back. A perennial pilgrimage to the place where I used to throw rocks at Buddy Ikelman or broke all of my mom’s Christmas tree lights, learn to ride a bike, build dams and 16 Street, walk around the ledge of the Scottish Rite Temple – where I was a kid, a child, a baby – even thought – how come?
Been on the bus all day – I’m beginning to dislike traveling on buses very much – especially when I have to pay $40.
It seems like since I have been writing in his journal, the only thing I have known for sure is that I don’t know. Again.
Illustration – he didn’t look like a plantation owner at all
I don’t see how it’s possible to sleep as much as I have and still be so blasted tired. Well only a few more hours.
a couple of old ladies talking on the bus. One says, “My poor son is just falling to pieces. Always working but always so tired. Poor guy is having such a hard time. Such a pity for such a young man.” The other, “Oh, that’s so terrible! How old is your son?”
I smiled and a girl across the aisle smiled. You know there’s a point of view for everything.
all the bus drivers to have from
Looks much the same as it did when Soot ( my dog) and I were here. I was only 16 them. 16 and almost as innocent and naïve as my dog Soot. Only four years ago, but I swear it seems like 100 – a person can become a monster in four years. A monster because you come aware of your mind and learn how to manipulate yours against others. You learn how to tear apart other minds and digest them properly. You can learn how to be cruel and insensitive in four years. But more than all, you learn that maybe the world could be a lot better if you could live with that young boy and dog again. Just maybe…
Can see the Cascades again. They look damn good. Still packed with snow. They always have snow on them. I wonder if there were ever be a time that there’s no snow on them.
Wednesday – sometimes…
I have been here about 24 hours and I met about 1000 friends. My hand is shaking now for no particular reason. Kind of nervous I guess and still sort of afraid of how things are going to turn out. A year is a hell of a long time. More than I realized.
Janet is wonderful! I really feel a great deal for her. But…
Sometimes 24 hours brings a year to almost an abrupt end.
Illustration – no Ray Charles here…
English composition 113… Three hours
geography 202… Three hours
Art appreciation… Three hours
fundamentals of speech 111… Three hours
French… Three hours
P. E.… Two hours
world literature… Three hours
crap! I have about 100 hours to catch up on – and about thousand to go…
it’s been a long time. As usual – a lot has happened. I still feel strange
about being back in
Illustration – Phaedra depresses the hell out of me. This was the movie with Melana Mecuri and Tony Perkins
it’s a bad day very bad.
it’s been a long dusty day and a short sweet bitter night. About now and I feel bloated drunkard and… Is sort of a lonely melancholy feeling. Same as always when I drink too much.
Less than a month to my birthday – I’m scared. I don’t want to be 21 – on ever! I have been responsible for myself for a long time but I still don’t want to be 21. I still feel like I’m about 17 or 18. 21 is too damn old.
Three days ago I got sort of tight and I happened to look in a mirror. I thought how disgusting I looked with a mustache. So with about three or four good wacks it was off. Sprouts! I still look disgusting and what’s more, now I feel disgusted. I was getting to the point where I really liked my mustache – and not only that but I think it gave me a certain touch of class. Certainly it made me a little more distinctive (Hah!) Now I look like everybody else – but one thing for sure I’m not going to get a damn haircut for a while. I don’t really have any specific reasons for hating haircuts and shaves but it seems like such an idiot thing to do – for me.
A time for living
a time for dying
time for deceit, line, and crying
but baby –
I ain’t got time for you
I treat you like a queen
but you jacked me around
if the sky turns red
if the moon turns blue
but baby –
I still ain’t got time for you
hopeless for love evermore
was alive just like before
should’ve known it be the same
nothing but a child’s game
so baby –
I ain’t got time for you
a time for living –
a time for dying
time for deceit lying and crying
so you go on now and have your fun
and sometime when you’re on the run
think of these words I say to you
baby – I ain’t got time for you
Old crazy Dave and I composed this masterpiece in the key of D
I forgot to mention about the rodeo yesterday. It was sort of nothing though. I didn’t enjoy it much. Today was different. I messed around with this 15-year-old girl all day. (I was only 20 at that time so now that doesn’t seem so bad tom me and anyway, she was WAY grown up…also it may sound like I got laid, I didn’t even try…) She was a cool head for a 15-year-old and all – besides what difference does it make? I had a good time today. I guess she figures that I am an interesting fellow and I have much more mature manners – a certain class that one attains only through years of hardship and experience. And of course she figures that I am an experienced older man. Christ! The whole damn world is insane. Really bats! Why can’t dames my age fall for me? Crap! Just kids and ugly ones with no personality. I must really be a winner.
Illustration – I still love the West but these damn cowboys never change – one of these days I might make a drawing that looks like someone older than eight did it too!
Illustration – I guess I’m quite a lot like that Holden call Phil Crump – even if he is rich. God, always fall about half in love with the Daffiest Dames.
I start making plans and everything. Only know that crap works out. People always bother me too. When I try to make a good impression always blow it. It always bugs the hell out of me. I mean I don’t like for some people think that I am sort of a creep. I don’t like creeps and it would really bug me if I thought I was a creep. I try to act cool but always blow it. The only people that I ever impress are the ones that I don’t really give a damn about one way or the other. They are always the creepy type anyway.
Dammit. The older I get the crazier I get. I swear I’m going nuts. The whole
damn world is insane and I’m king on the mountain. I’m the head peanut.
Insane! Wow what a thing to come to after 21 years. Maybe I should go to
Exactly one year ago today I had appendicitis. Today I had to stack hey. All day. Tonight I am listening to the Carmen Suit, Bizet and I really feel okay. I mean I am really in a good mood. I can’t think of anything bad tonight. I must be nuts.
Tomorrow night I’ll probably be all pissed off at something or the other. I feel good now.
God, is it ever peaceful on the ranch. After
Yesterday I was sicker n’hell. Christ, that wasn’t so bad but I got so depressed it was horrible. Ha, I’m beginning to sound like Salinger.
Eight days till I’m 21 years old… Then what?
Today I rode in the hills. It was good to be by myself for a while. I didn’t think much about anything except what I was doing. It was really nice just to sit on that old horse’s back.
Past the first bend in the river
Is there a bend that I can’t see
it’s that bend in the river
that’s calling to me
11 days then school. 11 days then I start once again to put my brains full of kinds of fantastic knowledge which without I would not survive in this cruel old world.
Illustration – craplizt! – (Symbol of soldiers black on yellow)
It is almost impossible to describe or define the absolute fear and sense of surrealism the time of Vietnam brought on to all young men who were being drafted daily to go fight an insane war and the daily hundreds of body-bags being flown home and reported on the news like the price of stock yard beef...in short as in army terminology, FUBAR (fucked up beyond all reason) and reading my thoughts then I remember the contradiction of the mind set I had coming from a very honorable military family tradition to my suspicion this war was not right in any sense of morality.
Saturday. In two days – just two days. I don’t really care now. Just that I kind of wish the goddamn thing was past. It’s getting to be a bore now. I mean, worried about being 21 and all – hell everybody’s 21. I think I’m the only one around that’s 21 – only I still feel like I’m 17. Christ what a kid.
I’m tired as mud. Had two drinks and feel half plowed. I figured since it was Saturday night I should have something. God if I stayed on the ranch all this time I probably quit drinking –huh! I just happen to wonder… I mean I wonder if anybody will be reading this crap 100 years from now?
Happy birthday to me! I am now officially legal. I can go out and do anything I want and suffer the full consequences of it. I can’t pass the buck anymore – but hell I still don’t feel like I’m 21.
in a forest up above the ranch.
It’s quiet up here on the mountain. The road is seldom traveled and there are no ranches close. If on a day like today you sit down you can hear the wind sifting down through the trees. Camp Robbers and some other kind of bird jackstraws or something yak and squawk up high in the trees. Once in a while you even hear an old owl hoot to let everybody know that he is around. Chipmunks run between the stumps and trees carrying all kinds of junk. I just saw one coming down a tree holding onto a pinecone. Everybody always say that they scramble up and down the trees. I guess I’d say that to only sounds kind of corny and besides that it looked to me like the chipmunk was sliding down the tree. Didn’t make scrambling noise either – sounded like sand paper scraping something.
Anyway I’m sitting in the shade here and it’s pretty cool. Maybe even chilly. It’s just real fun to sit here and act like I’m part of the forest. Acting like I’m some old burn up stump or something. I guess I’m not fooling anybody---all the animals act like something is fishy. Probably think that any moment I’ll jump up and blow off their asses with a shotgun or something.
Damn men are always doing things like that.
I wonder if I sat here for a long time, the animals would start to think that I was an old bush or stump?
Illustration – drawing of the Jeep I blew the motor up.
went to the local joints in Prineville and had a few snorts. Man if you ever turn 21, be sure you are in Prineville and that it isn’t Monday night. Christ we finally gave up our extravagant night clubbing and went bowling instead. That was with my brother Red Cloud, his birthday was the next day…
September 26 or 27th 1965
today I started school again. Man it is great here. I love the hell out of it. I really dig school now – and this time I’m going to do something with, maybe I’ll start going with a girl again – more than likely it will get all screwed up again – got I have more trouble with girls!
Illustration – drawing of me looking at Barbara Foot.
Lovers and mad men
have such seething brains
such shaping fantasies apprehend
more than cool reason comprehends
the lunatic the lover the poet
are of imagination compact
the kinder we
to give them thanks for nothing
Illustration – this goddamn country. I don’t know whether I love it or hate it. My mind is like a damn rock rolling down the hill. Bouncing and bouncing and throwing debris and causing sparks and noise – and all it ever does is wind up at the bottom of the hill.
I feel utterly disgusted tonight. I don’t feel like I’m half a man – the God I am… I have the feelings that any other man has – maybe even more so. Oh how I wish I could just act like a man. A man and yet not a madman – Christ I wish I could get along with girls. I never do. My fault, but I just don’t know why – I just never get to know anybody – and never allow myself to know anybody. Girls especially – I have really been messed up the last five years – everybody… Oh God I see some girl and I just want them to like me a little bit, but I’m such an ass I really blow it. Sometime I’m too boisterous and the next time I act like a catalyst (I think I meant catatonic)– the girls that like me I can’t stand. Christ I really must be about half batty. I should know what is but…
I feel strange tonight. I wish that I could feel like maybe there isn’t something really wrong with me, but there is. Sometimes I get in such a depressed mood I think that I am going nuts for sure.
I am beginning to feel like I am not communicating with anybody at all – that it’s just a bunch of noise going on. When I started running around with Robert (Bob) Desman I lost that feeling. He had an active thinking mind. Same with my friend Amil.
I’m tired of talking about beers, cards, and girls.
Tonight I got plastered. I mean really blasted! I really racked it all up and everything like I always do when I get smashed. I was really feeling good when I came home because I thought I was such a smash with society you know… Then when I got home old Red Cloud told me that I had just got a long distance telephone call. Well that kind of depressed me and all because it kind of made me think of Janet Chandler. Then to I started reading through CATCHER IN THE RYE again and I find out that this Holden Coffield is a rich kid. That really depressed the piss out of me because all of the time I associated myself with old H.C. That part tore me up. The son-of-a-bitch was rich! So I was sitting there getting more depressed and real serious when my niece Holly sort of says in a real intrigued manner – “There are 22 flies on the ceiling.” That cracked me up. Funnier than hell. All of a sudden nothing in the whole world seemed to matter because there were 22 flies on the ceiling.
I feel pretty good today – for change things are starting to go my way. I have been broke now for about a month, and making all of my friends mad. They think I’m a leech – Goddamit. I spent money on them when I had it and they didn’t – but anyway – I feel good. School has been going okay – swell, okay I got “A” in the Shakespeare midterm last week and last night I climbed out of my hole and went to a dance. It was a lot of fun mainly because I forgot that I was supposed to be different from the phony people. All pretenses were dropped and I had a great time. A very pleasant change. Christ a person could flip if he went around feeling the moral slump of mankind all the time (perhaps as my own moral slump). Anyway I’m a bum. Dave says so… But one of these days I might get a job – I could use the money for sure.
received all of my paintings and junk from
I wish I could write effectively. One these days I want to write a story about a complex thing. Life. Not mine necessarily – but a story that smells, wreaks, vibrates, describes a story of life. I will have to take a great deal from my own observations but God it seems like it would be boring as hell.
…Kenneth James was a truly a boring person and most things about him were rather worthless – he was a student, not a good student…but….
“One measure of artistic excellence is the ability of the artist to rise above the limitations of his own time in place”
God – another week started I guess I got a couple of things done this weekend, but they weren’t the right things. Painted a couple of pictures. One was Hank [Shipman]. I should do more on it, because it’s lousy. I didn’t study a bit of Shakespeare or anything else. I felt stupid as hell in class. I couldn’t answer a thing –
Christ! Christ! Christ!
Maybe I should pray. Ha! God my feelings are the most chaotic neurotic spectacle of anybody’s in the whole goddamn world. Quagmire! – Goddamn quagmire that’s what my feelings are like. Deceiving, looking solid but in actuality a mass that tremors and collapses under the slightest pressure. Sucking in a mere straw of weight – holding, surrounding, impregnating it with an empathetic amount of emotion. Turbulent shaking muck. Goddamn quagmire that’s what I am. What a boob.
Give me that straw and I’ll grasp it with all my life. Give me a ton and it will sink into my world too. But for Christ sake make sure it’s a goddamn straw, because I’m discriminating quagmire. I just don’t take any old straw.
I’m lucky that I don’t live in
Would you believe it? I’m Michelangelo – Mrs. Jones said I had definite tones (undertones) of Leonardo/Michelangelo. I can call them L.M. because now we are contemporaries – Mrs. Jones said so. I’m thinking of doing and modern version of the Pieta, only I’m going to chisel fuck you under Christ’s nose. That will show her for sure. Yep I’m a regular Michelangelo… How come I’m broke?
I wonder what I would have been typed if I had worked in one of Shakespeare’s plays… A melancholy intellectual, a rustic or what – more than likely a fool – a fool playing the fool’s part.
Barbara foot came over this afternoon and I started a painting of her. I’m not too sure how good it is going to turn out. Wait and see.
Barbara is really okay. She thinks pretty levelheaded about most things. I wish it was so that I could get something going with her – pretty rough row – because she’s not like most girls. I think she looks for more than good looks and popularity of a guy – I don’t know. I think she’s way past that.
I must be a manic depressive – ha! Shit education makes me sick. One of these days I wish I could be just halfway normal about life. I tend to screw up every simple thing I run into. I take nothing at face and I worry about everything.
Christ one frustrating thing after another. I no longer wonder what life is for I have accepted it for what it is and what it appears to be. I anticipated Khrisnamurti’swisdom, “Perceive what is” What I want to know now is how am I supposed to act in life? But I didn’t anticipate his other gem, “The observer observed” Just what and how am I to be? Foolish questions. Always have so many foolish questions. Philosophy of essence – I don’t know – at times I wish that I could be a man who enjoyed his meat and potatoes. Why do I have to curse the very reason for my physical existence? I am aware of suffering physically but I don’t really know that I am in pain mentally. I can’t help but feel that it is almost a self-inflicted thing with me. I torture myself out of self-pity. I want to be an artist. I mean an artist! Not just of brush. I want to know what spiritualism is. I want to know what faith is. I want to be able to smell the earth and see the stars. I want to be an artist of mind and nature. I want to be able to do more than rub my damn belly when it is full. I want to find a place in this world and know what it is. I guess I will have to know and know and know and know…
You know what I want to do? I want to stand on top of the mountain in the middle of a blizzard. I want to have snow and ice in my hair and have the wind blowing from the ice of hell and I wanted yell and scream to the stars that I am a man. I want the sky to roar in the wind rasping at the ice on my face. I want to scream until my chest burns with pain. I want the stars and God and everybody else up there to know that I am a man. If I ever die, I hope it is up on that mountain. I want to know on that mountain – or die!
This is the last week of school before finals. I’ll be so damn glad when it’s over – a little break is going to be good deal – more than necessary.
Christmas, New Year’s, and,
School starts again tomorrow. I suppose I should say I’m anxious but I’m
not. As a matter of fact, I’m kind of sick of school. The only reason I’m
going back is because I think it will be different this time.
Sometimes I really get confused – over absolutely nothing. Most people look like they get through life pretty easy – without getting bogged down. Maybe it’s an illusion. The funny part about me is the life I have got to is the place that I have wanted all along – and I feel terrible. Maybe I am lonely. I guess that is probably it, plus I’m sort of homesick! Hah! That’s crazy! I’ve hardly had a home the last three years and now I am home sick. It is about the first time I have been completely by myself except for last summer. I didn’t like it then either. All a guy needs is one friend along with him, then it doesn’t seem lonely at all. I’d sure like to have a friend here now. I was thinking about Bob Desman and John Phillips who had been big in my life up to then…
Another strange thing. It just occurred to me today. I cannot concentrate on an academic schedule and paint. I can’t concentrate on painting and pull good grades in other subjects. It seems if I get into painting, that is all I want to do. When I study a lot, it is an effort for me to start painting, simply because I hate to get into something that I can’t quit.
It doesn’t make much difference about school though. I guess I will just go on. There’s not much else to do. Maybe the Army – it’s getting to the point where it really doesn’t seem so bad. Last year it did. That’s a foolish thing to think about. I must take up netting – then I can just watch the sticks. Vietnam was in full throttle then and I was feeling guilty about my duty to Country and God having come from a family with war veterans/heroes, my brother Ernie, brother Tommy and Robert, sister Ruby, my father, my Uncle Leo, my Mom’s grandfather (his leg shot off during the Civil War)
You know, I guess what really makes me feel so bad about this place is that it makes me think of all the good things I have had in life. Especially the good friends I have had. If I never get anything else to the rest of my life that least I had the most precious thing in the world, good friendship and comradeship. I have had the best friends a person could want.
Another cycle. Now it’s another girl. Good Lord, I wish I had some sense about girls. Christ, if I keep this up I’m going to have a book of confusion. Maybe I can write my doctorate in confusion. I seem to be well acquainted with it. Anyway it’s Linda McPhee this time. I can actually talk with her. She towers over me, but I don’t feel self-conscious at all around her. I never am self-conscious about my height except when I’m around tall women and that’s only because I like tall women. Short women are all right but tall girls – well. Linda is exceptionally smart – or maybe it’s that she thinks like me in many respects – with my super ego, that’s probably it. Barbara Foot is smart too, but maybe she had too many people chasing her or maybe she is confused too. Linda reads a lot and she understands a lot. Only that she levels with you. I honestly feel that she always tells you the full truth. I mean I don’t get that strange feeling about her. I usually have got a sneaky suspicious feeling when I get acquainted with other girls. I have become very sneaky and deceitful myself in the last couple of years. Funny. Really funny, but with Linda, I don’t feel like giving her any lines or half truths. I guess most people exist by half truths, but talking to lenders like – well it’s just a good clean feeling. Like your little kid and you haven’t found out about lies and bad guys yet. She has little girl eyes. Sweet and innocent and when you talk with her you feel like it’s really true. She could talk about anything and the more she talked the more you would feel that she was the mystical mist of sweet innocence…trite truths.
The moon was out full this weekend and it was shining on the waves in my ass really got cold but I’m glad, and I’d have another week and like it the rest of my life – if I could live through it.
I don’t think I have ever spent a night and a day in such a beautiful way. I got sand in my (pubic) hair – I saw the moon on the waves. I scratched a name into the sand – I melted in to a tired wonderful bliss – I talked for a while and left the rest – what was so goddamn wonderful about it was I found out a secret about fear and perseverance – one lost over the other.
This is the very first time I had a real sexual experience with a girl I met
Sometimes letters and words are just too inadequate. It’s like trying to tell someone who has always been blind how beautiful a painting is. You have to know how – you have to feel it. You have to know.
The other night I was walking home and my heels were clicking on the boardwalk. I really notice it so I started walking harder and make my heels click harder. It seemed great to hear my heels click – but well – I guess it’s sort of silly to say that I get all excited about hearing my heels click – but I do. It’s like when you are a little kid and you’re on a stick down a picket fence only now I’m grown – and it’s better.
Last week I started cartooning and artwork for the paper (the Vanguard) it’s okay because it’s going to pay for tuition next term.
I walked down the hill in the morning. I go to class part of the day. Really miss one, but no scholar. I see people – I talk to girls, teachers, friends of all sorts. Think about the smells and gravel in the morning. I look at Mr. Witt’s nose. I sit in the cafeteria bumming cigarettes. Conning myself – people. I have some sort of strange relationship with the Gretchen and Shakespeare. I babble in audible French with Mr. Turney. I went to Libby’s and had Liz rub my back. Maybe sometimes I paint after four – sometimes I go over to Betsy and the Dallas.
Then I walk up the hill. I sneaks through the house. The kitchen I get something to eat. I watch television. I think about my term paper. My paintings.
My paintings – they are driving me nuts. I’m a lousy painter. I’m irresponsible. I’m a shell. A crust of an illusion gripping it on a cob. I smile of the idea – the thought – I think wife, children, house and the hill, wine in the evening, coffee in the morning.
I’m a scoundrel. I’m robbing my own garden. I’m throwing away the vegetables and keeping the weeds – I’m not really unhappy about it. I don’t care – but still – oh Christ what to do – when?
There is a time, a place –
a time for living and there’s
the time to die –
Never enough time to find out why.
There’s a stranger lurking (Hah – Lurk – Lurk) in my garden. The damn guy is out there lurking all over the place – – Lurk – Lurk.
When I was 21, I was 18-year-old seven-year-old.
Illustration – I had my haircut yesterday. Betsy did it. So imposing in a classical self-love typos.
Finals next week. God will I be happy when this term is over. I’m always glad when school is over. I looked around for a job the other day. I went to a place but I’m made the mistake of walking about 15 blocks in the rain – and in not being persistent enough – another thing is that I’m always too damn honest with people. They asked me a question about my experience and I always tell the truth – (Hah?) Just when I think I may get the crummy job.
I met am artist in a go-go striptease joint.
God how utterly crazy life is. I make $20 a night drawing studies of nudes on stage. It really is an experience in more ways than one. I brought one of the models home with me the other night. I don’t know what to think about all of it. I enjoy the work and I make a lot of money but I have become lost – completely disassociated with art. I have no real feeling as an artist. I feel like so much is just slipping by and I can’t even see it – well I don’t know what to do – perhaps… The girl is 25 – tall, not beautiful, but something you like to look at. She’s married. Maybe I’ll get my butt blown off. We stayed out all night – driving around – then came home and built a fire in the fireplace and talked about a few things. I figured on nothing. It’s better that way. But more than nothing happened. I took her home at three that afternoon.
It was a good time. I learned a couple more lessons on people, but I don’t know if I like it.
Last night went to work and watched her. I got sort of charged up looking at her. Can have to keep the light reign on all the time – otherwise I’ll run myself to death.
Almost a year since I started this crazy book. Ha! A whole year in 50 or so pages. God if I wrote about everything that has happened it would have taken 20 books this size. Not that I lead such an exciting glamorous life – but well everything that happened to me is really strange.
I met Sue’s husband and he snuffed a cigarette in my face. I couldn’t get mad at the guy – I am completely in the wrong. I would’ve done the same thing, only probably more. I make a lot of money here – but God, what a crazy life. Sue’s husband is a Negro. I didn’t have any idea. She says she loves me but it’s nothing. Only sort of a physical thing and has no meaning at all. I think it is better that way, the whole damn thing seems so futile. Got it’s like a three ring circus. Furthermore I am about as far away from love as possible. Physically – or sexually I am satisfied. I’m completely confident of my masculinity but funny… I’m still sort of – well frustrated. I really wish I had the feeling for painting that I had last year this time. I don’t have any problems – but am always got this feeling that something is completely wrong –
illustration – line drawing of the Broadway and dancers.
School has been going for two weeks and I have gone to only four classes. God – I just can’t get with it.
I am completely bored with school. I wonder what I will be like if I get drafted. I’m not sure of my bravery. For that matter my attitude towards the military is really bad. I don’t hate it, but I am at a point where it would be very difficult for me to take orders – people that are in the service are very strange. I wouldn’t get along with that sort of organization at all. Since I have been working at the Broadway end, my ideas about a lot of things have changed. I am growing old at a suicide pace.
Now I’m in a Shakespeare class, one of the few classes I’ve been going to in school. Midterms next week. Already have gone.
It’s April 15.
I am living with Sue. I hope it works out.
Illustration – portrait of Sue Accardi
Anyway – I’m painting again. Oh God what joy. I’m painting! The feeling has come back. Shit, I almost went crazy for a while – but now I can paint – oh I’m in love with life – I can feel it in my fingers again – man I got miles of canvas ahead of me – I’m going to do something with it this time – fuck the draft – the most important thing now is to produce – to accomplish something.
Ha – my painting lasted for about 2 ½ paintings – then bam – nothing – one thing though, I finally did the thing that is original – I mean it doesn’t look like anybody else’s work – well it’s some sort of I start.
It’s June 17 – these days and months to follow – I don’t know – I don’t think much about things in the future – I seem to be going from one day – never knowing or feeling too much.
Haven’t painted. Done nothing. Working as a window display man.
I got a job with Nordstrom-Best in down town Portland working for a guy named Ken Grant who was about 28 and an amazing artist.This was sometime after my 22nd birthday.
Sue is with me. I’m happy – sad – a lot of both.
1966 – sometime after my birthday
A shit! – got I’m so damned expressive. I’ve been reading through this stupid piece of trash, and realizing what a stupid bastard I am. It’s a wonder I’m alive am so smart. And 22 now. Rapidly approaching the elder set. I have really been depressed for about three weeks. Sometimes I wish I would get drafted – not that anything would be better – more than likely would be worse – oh shit – I’m stifled and suffocating in this goddamn nest.
Some people just never know what they want or need and I’m one of them. I can’t believe it. I have over 100 pages of unfaltering depression. I suppose one never really comes to a point where he feels content. Maybe I’m fooling myself. I wonder what content is. Not money – not sex. Not even love – at least from another. That part is far too shallow and the love of another person isn’t rewarding enough by itself. That feeling only produces a temporary satisfaction – the satisfaction of knowing that somebody cares about you – can sometimes be a very limited thing. I mean you (I) have to have more than just unneeded feeling. Love is just a feeling (for another) that is meant only to reward yourself – I guess I’m not making sense – love in a way is selfish – because the pleasure of love for another life to the most part is nothing but a giant meat market. Is only an attempt for one to push away and overpower the inner emotions of insecurity of oneself. That is – just for the satisfaction of an ego thing – yet love is not selfish if it occurs in a proper manicured situation. Each partner has to be able to look around corners at themselves – the love doesn’t occur because the situation was pampered before it (love) happened – but if it is trimmed and dressed properly when the process is going on – so then in effect, what I am saying that the type of love is good is the love that is developed around a person instead of the love that is brought on for something with somebody – when all sides are known for the X factor vanishes and one doesn’t need the love that fits his ego needs.
Illustration – the X factor of love
I’m a living wonder – number eight. Such a scholarly chap – a bloke like me to be big time… Ah, but the misfortune of knavery – I have been played adrift.
Maturity piled on maturity. Sense and logic piled on a human body – such nonsense. The designer was a practical joker
Life to the most part is nothing but a giant meat market. Each person standing in line, dribbling desires, scheming on just how you should cook the part of meat. Seasoning is important. Raw meat. Damned cannibals looking through the galleries of human flesh – punching, poking, squeezing portions – as if it was a big tomato heap. “There’s an ankle, isn’t it divine? Oh and noticed the smooth grain of that thigh! My how extravagant the market is now! Oh but it’s so boring – so terribly the same – I do believe the inflation of logic and reason has gone completely out of proportion.”
This is the end of my journal for 1966.
Sue Accardi died February 2014. Six months before she died we posted each other briefly on Facebook, and her last communication was, “My thinking is shit. This pancreatic cancer is kicking my ass..
surprised me re-reading the journal going to
What surprises me most is how little I have changed since I was 20.
What happened to me? Where did I begin to change from believing in something to believing in very little?
There are two significant points I remember vividly where things seem to go in a oblique direction.
When I was nine or ten years old I fell on my head.
Every morning I followed the routine. Robert first, Tommy second, then me hopping up and down on the bed jumping through the air grabbing the door seal swinging to the steps and down to breakfast. Only this morning when I jumped off the bed and swung on the door seal, my hands slipped, my head went down, my feet went up and bam I crashed into the floor directly on my head. I don’t really remember if I passed out or what. All I remember is slowly getting up feeling very strange and deciding to go back to bed.
My mother kept calling up the staircase, “Kenny are you coming down for breakfast,”
I would scream back down, okay just sleepy and stay in bed. I think I stayed in bed most of the morning and my mother kept coming up to see if I was okay. I didn’t tell her I landed on my head. Maybe the one reason I didn’t tell her is because my brother Tommy had a head accident that summer and had gone to the hospital. She was terrified that he was going to die. He had a brain-concussion. The very same year one of my friends in my third grade class had a brain-concussion and died. It scared me too. The thought of my brother Tommy dying was more than I could bear. So I didn’t tell my mother I’d hurt my head.
Soon after my head wreck everything else seemed to change. Patty and Doris got jobs and found their own apartments, leaving only my mentally challenged sister Goldie to take care of Mom who was getting so invalid with rheumatoid arthritis she could barely get out of bed. Robert joined the Air Force and was gone from the house ever after. Tommy got an old 1948 Ford business coupe. We wound up pushing it almost all the time because it would never start. Tommy got a girlfriend. He would take me on dates to the drive-in with me sitting in the back seat and his girlfriend next to him in his car. But somehow Tommy and I were not the same as when he only had a bicycle.
Then Tommy got old enough to join the Marine Corps. All you had to be was 16
years old and weigh more than 105 pounds. Tommy just barely made it. He was
always in trouble with school and flunking out. Our father thought the
Marine Corps would be the best thing for him. Make him a man. This was 1955.
Nearly 10 years before anything would bubble up with
I was 11 when Tommy joined the Marine Corps. I was sad to see him go but I would have the whole bed to myself because Robert had joined the Air Force a couple years before. It was only when Tommy was gone I realized how much I missed him and everything we did together. I missed riding on his handlebars as we delivered newspapers for the Pueblo Star Chieftain to some of the swankest mansions on Elizabeth and Grand Streets, of which later I would make front page in the same paper as a Malicious Vandal, shooting out Christmas tree lights, windows and pets running around inside houses. That’s when the trouble began, Tommy leaving, and me taking up with three psychopathic cruel little bastards, the Johnston Brothers.
That’s when the
was the oldest and the leader of the pack. He’s the one that had the
connection with a janitor at
Ray was the one that told us where to find empty bottles of wine and beer and whiskey behind the Coors tavern. We would pour all the drops into one bottle so there was enough for a slurp or two.
three boys smoked and they taught me how to smoke. When we had a quarter we
were go down to the
We did more than minor illegalities and smoking. Mostly we would take off on our bicycles and be gone all day. Pueblo had no off limits turf to the Johnston brothers, as they were mean enough and had strength in numbers to scare the crap out of most normal kids all over town, even in Bessemer which was mostly Italian or Slavic people who worked for the steel mill, Colorado Fuel and Iron known by most as CF&I.
would go down to the
would go down to the ice house under the
We would go back to the train yards where there was a huge metal silo up 40 feet off the ground. We had to climb another 40 feet on a rickety rusted ladder on the outside where we pull open the door and climbed down into the inside of the coal cylinder. It was until 1952 the steam locomotives would roll next to it and be delivered tons of coal that came down a shoot. It was almost totally black inside of this thing except for a few tiny pin holes around the top letting in little daggers of light on to us and what coal was left. Once again I’m amazed we were never fed into the coal hopper.
Sometimes we would bicycle out to the
times we would go out to what we called Big Hill where there was a lot of
bicycle and motorcycle trails. We would go down a 75 degree hill about a
football field long then follow the path up and over a bunch of small hills
and down through a gully. Going down the steep hill was the scariest because
it was so rutted and bumpy it was hard to stay on the bicycle. One day
everyone went down the hill up and down the small hills and down over the
into the gully and disappeared. I was the last in line and when I got to the
gully to go down the ramp all three of the
Another favorite game was to take the pulley cart across the river before the bridges were made. It was on a rusty old cable that was only supposed to hold two people at most. Four of us would climb into the car let it slide off the tower unaware with the weight it would come to a dead stop in the middle of the river. We would have to grab the cable and pull ourselves to the other side of the river. It was always tricky because it was very easy to get your fingers caught between the wheel and the cable. Once again no broken bones no cut off fingers and the cable never snapped.
Sometimes we would go to the state mental institution farm, and steal
pickles from the huge vats, or go to the cow pens where they kept a very
the most fun that we ever had was to go out to the state mental asylum on
worst experience was one day when we decided to ditch school, and go out to
Big Hill where the channel 5 TV tower was placed. The tower was over 200
feet tall and you had to scale the first 12 feet by climbing up the base
struts. Ray was in the front raced all the way up to the very top of
the tower and like a trained monkey I followed whoever was third in line.
When we got to the top Ray yelled, "Let’s go down." I looked down to see
what we had just climbed up. Fear and terror struck me like I had never
known. Every muscle in my body froze. The boys were all yelling at for me to
go on down the ladder but I couldn’t budge. I felt so dizzy I thought it was
going to fall off the tower. I vaguely remember them climbing over the top
of me to go down the ladder. I have no memory whatsoever of how I got down.
Obviously I got down but how I did it still remains a mystery. Since then I
have always had to work very diligently to stand on something higher than my
head, which being a muralist for years has plagued me in climbing
scaffolding. That fear all came back to me when my little girl Rowan wanted
to go to the top of the
was just the innocent stuff I learned from the
The first thievery we did was steal bicycles, which I thought was pretty cool, being I was very jealous of the rich kids who had brand new Schwin's which they were stupid enough to leave unlocked outside the Colorado Movie theater. Also we got 5 bucks split 4 ways which $1.25 was a fair chunk of change for a ten year old in 1954.
The next thieving wasn't so good being it was my Dad we robbed. We bicycled out past my Pop's house to steal pickles out of the vats at the state nut house farm. We got chased off when one of the nuts saw us in the pickle shed and while escaping I tripped over a barb wire line and ripped a big hole in my leg. That should have warned me things were turning as sour as the pickles.
On the way back home we passed my Pop's house again and Jackie asked me if my Dad had any food in the house. We were all starving like most little boys are all the time, and the question sparked the memory of the big bag of oatmeal cookies my Dad always had. Next thing I know, I'm climbing through the kitchen window.
at once the three
Sure enough, he holds up his hand in the sun and we can see the light through it. Luckily I missed the bones, cleaving a quarter inch hole right through the fleshy area between the thumb and hand bones. I grabbed the gun and took it back to my Pop's cabinet pulling the the window and doors shut on my way out. We all expected the cops any second because the pistol seemed to sound like a canon when it went off. We biked on home and I never heard how Johnny explained the hole in his palm, although my Pop later on said he thought some kids broke into his house because they ate all of his cookies. I don't know if he was letting me know he was onto me, but Johnny is the first and last person I have ever shot...yet.
seems to me it was Jackie and Johnny who convinced to me to climb through
Mrs. Stage’s open window in her house, I was small enough, go to the kitchen
cabinet, get the gallon glass jar that had collections from the Church of
Latter Day Saints she was the minister and her weird nun-like sister, Naomi.
There was enough money in the jar for us to go down to
just turning 12 and my Mom and I moved out of
bounced around town several times, the first place down on
When I got home I could hear my mother crying. I went in and she was completely naked in the tub. She left her clothes hanging on the door. She couldn’t get out of the bathtub to get them or climb out at all. The water was lukewarm and she was shivering as I help lifted her out of the bath.
It was after that we moved from 8th street to somewhere on the East side, where for the first time I experienced being a new white boy, that instantly all the Hispanic, but as I knew them then, Mexican kids decided to pick fights with me.
no idea how privileged I had been to going to Thatcher grade school next to
I hung out with Frankie because he would bring tamales to school, something I had never eaten and share his lunch with me. Occasionally I would go back to his house across the tracks over the river where his mother would give us real Mexican chili and tortillas and things I had never eaten. Frankie’s mother didn’t speak English but it seemed normal to me.
I hung out with Johnny Fuentes because he was the best artist in school. We were rivals and had competitions almost daily in class. We would challenge each other who could copy whatever picture the best. One day Johnny brought a dollar bill to school and challenged me to copy it is good as he could. I think he won that contest. At any rate Thatcher grade school was a haven from the insanity I would soon be joining.
moved back to the west side of town and trouble on
That’s when criminal aspects bumped up a notch or two. From stealing bicycles we went to stealing cars. From collecting drips of alcohol in bottles down behind Coors Tavern we got bums to buy us full bottles of wine and having parties where we brought barely pubescent old girls for Jerry Nixon to molest. From stabbing pigeons and lizards on the chicken house roof I went down to Union Avenue and watched Jerry beat up homeless men, or driving with Jerry Nixon in a car while Bobby or Jack slammed the door passenger door into innocent people standing on a street.
I was only 12, and really didn’t like any of the things we were doing, except I felt needed because I was the artist. Somehow we collected enough money to all have black motorcycle jackets. I think I bought mine at Penny's. It cost $14.95 in 1956. That was a lot of money, and I’d saved it $.25 to the time by not spending my lunch money my mother gave me every day and putting it in a jar behind the toilet. Originally I was going to buy a pair of cowboy boots, but then I became the artist for the Aces, the gang who Jerry Nixon was our benevolent leader. I felt important because I was only 12, Bobby Turner, Jack White, Tommy Cisneros, were 14 years old. It was a big deal for a 12-year-old be hanging out with 14 year old boy’s who were hanging out with a 20-year-old. I was a baby I had no idea what I was involved with except it seemed cool.
And that as the saying goes was when things began to fall apart.
One night Bobby Turner came over with Jack White and said, "I've got an idea, let's go shoot everybody's Christmas tree lights out." Talk about cool. That seemed really cool because we could barely afford to have Christmas tree lights on the Christmas tree inside the house let alone streaming big lights all over the outside of our house like the wealthy people had up near Big Hill.
So off we go into the night, at first shooting at innocent things like garbage cans street signs and random invaluable objects. But then someone discovered what an amazing sound it made when you shot someone's car, or better yet the windows in the car which not only made a nice little tick kind of sound, but also if you hit it just right it shattered the window into 1000 little cracks, and occasionally the whole windshield would fall onto the dashboard.
By the time we got close to Big Hill the Christmas tree lights and decorative objects of our desire started appearing from house to house. At first we just shot the individual lights out on the trees or on Santa Claus in the front lawn or lights strung along the house. But one thing led to the other and soon it turned to more than mischief.
One of the boys discovered how cool it was to shoot at dogs running around inside the house barking at us behind full picture windows. I didn't like the idea of shooting at dogs even though our pellet guns were not strong enough to go through the glass so I wouldn't shoot at them, but I'm sure I shot the hell out of a lot of lights and quite a few windows.
I think it was a Cocker Spaniel that was standing in the full glass double door yapping away at the little picking sounds that hit the window, when suddenly a man and a woman came into view and opened up the door and yelled out into the night, "Hey you!".
We instantly ran away and got two or three blocks from the house and were laughing about how funny it was to scare the hell out of people in those big houses, when slowly behind a car came along. We just played it cool stuck our guns inside of our jackets and casually walked on down the street as the car came up to the side of us and stopped. A woman rolled down the window and said, "Boys have you seen anyone shooting at houses tonight?"
We all answered in unison, "No Mam, we haven't seen anybody at all shoot at houses tonight." She said, "Thank you boys," and drove away.
It never occurred to me that night that the three of us were walking down the street with absolutely clear blazing billboards on our backs proclaiming the name of our gang in capital letters, THE ACES, of who I, being the proud artist had painted not only the lettering but the four icons, clubs, diamonds, spades and hearts, the full hand of aces.
Mr. Stewart, the principal turned to officer and said, "I think that would be Bobby Turner and Jack White." Whoops I thought, I just ratted on them by mistake, but I knew it was too late because we were all in the shit.
So we got busted big time and the newspaper proclaiming us as Malicious Vandal's said that we had shot out over 3 1/2 thousand dollars worth of windows, that in 1957 terms would be probably $20-$30,000 now, and that was just the people who reported their window's shot – because I expect we shot out probably at least double if not 10 times the amount reported.
Because I was only 12 at the time I don't remember having to go to court but I was put on probation and had to go report to Officer Choric once week. I also had to pay one third of the total damage we cost. If it had not been for my brother Tommy I could've never paid it off. Out of the goodness of his heart after he found out what I had done he gave half of his Marine Corps monthly paycheck to the authorities until the damage was paid. That meant he had less than $50 a month to spend on his own life. It must have taken him a little over two years to pay my bills, and that's who I call a brother.
But what surprised me the most was after I was featured on the front page of the local newspaper how immediately everybody changed in my life, meaning all the teachers I had and all of the kids who had been my friends up until then. The teachers treated me like I was a cockroach and my friends wouldn't even talk to me – that is my nice friends because the bad kids were more than happy to have me still in their club.
I was in the eighth
grade when all of this happened. That's when my family decided the best
thing that could happen to me was to be shipped off to
One, I worshipped the ground Red Cloud walked on. I wanted to be a cowboy just like him. And two, I was absolutely completely and totally embarrassed to be known as nothing but a juvenile delinquent. Being a Malicious Vandal gave me no sense of honor.
I wound up going all the way through high school from the ninth grade to my senior year in Bend Oregon, and I never once told one living soul in Bend a word about who or what I had been and done in Pueblo, Colorado..
Red Cloud, AKA, Ivan Wayne Wolverton. I was four years old in 1948, when I first became aware I had a big brother called Red Cloud. More than likely it was my brother Tommy who let me know Red Cloud was coming home.
We were living on the
west side of the
From that day onward red cloud was the greatest hero in the world. Sure enough he was a real cowboy who wore big black hats and high top boots that practically came up to my crotch when I put them on. He never knew it but sometimes when he left his cowboy boots behind, in the bedroom where Robert, Tommy and I slept, once in a while in the middle of night if I had to go to the bathroom I would pee in his boots. They were magic boots because in the morning when I looked into the boots the piss was gone. Of course I was just a little kid and it never occurred to me that piss just soaked through the boots and down through the wooden floors. But I bet you red cloud wondered why they stunk like a urinal if he ever put them on again.
cloud would be at our house
for only a week or so, and then he would get in his pickup truck and go off
to another cowboy job somewhere in the West which was usually
That was how I knew red cloud until I was about 10 years old when he got married to Margie. It was that first year they were married and had their first little baby girl, Holly, that I went to stay with them for the summer at the hatchet Ranch summer meadows, high in the Rocky Mountains south of Pueblo. It was the first time I remember being on horses, also my first horse wreck and the beginning of my experiences of living on a ranch. I loved being with a real cowboy on a real ranch and it was my dream to become a cowboy when I grew up.
I only got to see
cloud and Margie once or
twice after that until they bought a ranch west of
cloud and Margie ran out of
money, and he had to take a job with the ZX ranch based out of
One of Red Clouds times
with the ZX chuck wagon during roundup on the high desert of eastern
He got the job because he knew how to drive mule teams, which was what ranch used in those days to pull the mowers and buck rakes to get hay as well as the chuck wagon used for the fall and spring round-ups, which he drove. But his dream was to be a genuine buckaroo. I’m pretty sure, red cloud lied about his age being he was only 15 at the time. But it was on the hay wagon he got his nickname, red Cloud.
At the end of a very long dusty day just as the sun was going down, my brother was standing in the wagon holding the reins to the mules, with the sun behind him, when two of the Native American (Paiutes) crew using pitchforks to throw hay in the wagon looked up to see the sun right behind his head. One of them called out something to my brother in the Piute language then said in English, “We see you! You got Red Cloud around head!” It was because the sun created a glowing halo around his head with his long red hair hanging out of the hat. So it was from that day the other crew members always called him red cloud. He was very proud of his new moniker being he never liked his own name, Ivan. I suppose he also knew red cloud was one of the most famous names of Indian chiefs. Anyway, from my earliest days, my oldest brother had the best name and in the world as far as I was concerned, even though I didn’t know anything about famous Indian chiefs.
Red Cloud was a natural born bronco rider and so it wasn’t very long that he was promoted from being just a farm hand on the ZX ranch to being a wrangler on the roundup crews, then to being on the regular buckaroo crew. Being good at riding bucking horses was a standard skill needed by all of the cowboys who worked on the ZX because almost all of 12 or 15 horses each cowboy got for his string were invariably green broke or just plain man eating killers. If you couldn’t handle your horse then you had no place to be on the ZX. I once saw Red Cloud rope one of our lazy old dogs that didn’t want to leave camp, but then ran between the horses legs and naturally the horse as the cow-punchers say, “blew his cork” and bucked around in a big circle about the size of a rodeo arena, with the poor old dog being bounced around the ground the whole distance, but Red Cloud stayed glued like a baby to a mommy’s titty. At the end the horse stood there quivering while Red Cloud got the old dog loose and luckily was unhurt except for his dignity.
In the summer of 1957 my mom and I arrived by Greyhound bus at Hampton Butte, Oregon, where there was a motel and a gas station. It was only a few miles from the Zx summer base camp called the Dominic. Red cloud arrived in an old Chevy truck to pick us up, but the first thing I had to do was help red cloud fix the brakes which took most of the morning.
Red Cloud at the winter
headquarters of the ZX ranch in Paisley,
I didn’t care what he wanted me to do and was more than willing to try to handle any task he set in front of me. Most of what I had to do, was to go on all day horse rides with red cloud to check out the half million acres of his line camp keeping the fences fixed, sick cows doctored, lost calves returned to their mamas, and check the waterholes for cattle. Sometimes we had to move a couple hundred head of cattle from one water hole to the next if they went dry or if there wasn’t enough pasture for them to graze.
Quite often we would get up and be on horses leaving the Dominic camp before the sunrise, and be in a high trot all day and get back to camp, just as the sun was setting. The first few times we did that, I thought I was going to die before we got home. But as the summer wore on I got to be a pretty good rider and didn’t feel so bad at the end of the day.
Some days red cloud would leave on his own or would be working on water pumps or something that he didn’t need my help which would leave me to go roaming out on my own with his big dog called Dempsey. Neither red cloud or Margie ever seemed to worry I might get lost out there in the middle of nowhere, and the things that Dempsey and I got up to it’s a wonder I didn’t break my neck or get eaten by a pack of coyotes. But it is the only point in my whole life I would gladly relive a 1 million times. I was in heaven. Mostly, I loved sitting on the back of a horse talking with red cloud, riding 20, 30 or 40 miles in one day.
My only problem was I was so small and the horses were so tall I had to stand on a 5 gallon can to even get my foot barely in a stirrup, then I would have to pull myself up into the saddle.
At the end of the
summer, my brother Robert arrived from
My Mama never told me
the plan. As soon as school was over in June 1958, once again we got on
Greyhound buses went to
RED CLOUD to be continued next week, but carry on
to new part of Iran story...
RED CLOUD to be continued next week, but carry on to new part of Iran story...
I don’t even know where to begin the last 72 hours let alone the last 70 years. On one hand I am overwhelmed in how blessed I have been with everything my whole life. And the other hand... I feel so alone and completely lost at times, erosion at the foundations, a sense of looming doom. And yet... in between the hands is what is left of my mind.
That mind at most times goes around in circles leading me back to unrelenting guilt and wondering how I got in life this far.
And yet... I have things to do, people to see, places to go. I have 13 acres of beautiful land. I am the caretaker who can take anything he wants from this reward and do something with it.
This is not a new thought, however in the last 72 hours, the death of a dog, and finding bones of an older dog in the grave for the dog that just died made me wonder.
Crazy Man lies in State, waiting for the final goodbyes. ...and old bones found on digging the ground for him...the thing to do is honor all the creatures I have buried here over the last 20 years...
I decided it was an omen in the most graphic way. I should make a shrine of not only the new dead dog, but the old dead dog too who were lying with five other four-legged friends of mine plus a sweet two legged chicken and the last surviving duck, of which in most cases two legs is all they got.
Thinking of shrines I realized all of the land I have is a shrine and everything is sacred. So with what strength I still have I am going to attempt to make a garden full of Shrines.
got me thinking about shrines is what happened in the last few months, most
especially the death of my last living sister, Ruby. That is, the last
living as far as I know, being no one in my family has ever found out what
happened, to Goldie, pictured above on the far right top. Patty is on the
upper left, and
Ruby was 93 when she died
What made it even more ironic in a kind of serendipity way was that very morning I decided to clean up my studio area where many years ago I had built the Shrine of the Unknown Artist. The area with the shrine was completely overgrown with grass, tumbleweeds and flowers completely dried out; ready to burn with the slightest spark – and that is what prompted me, fearful that my studio could very easily catch on fire at the speed of the wind going through the dried undergrowth.
I used a weed-whacker and cut everything down and was in the process of slowly raking it up when I started thinking about the fact it was the Shrine to Mutiple Things that had passed in many ways, but had been started when a man named Walter Baca died almost 20 years ago.
Walter Baca was a
As time passed I became involved with the center and wound up painting a mural on the opposite wall from Walter Baca. Then one day when I was in the center attending some office work a very large slovenly man wobbled into the building and asked if the director was there. He smelled like urine and filth from sleeping in his clothes longer than one could guess. Nevertheless I pointed him back to the rear office and he wobbled away.
A few minutes later when he walked from the office I could see him sticking three or four dollars into his pocket. He didn’t seem to notice me. His eyes were focused on the beer joint somewhere down the street or the junkie dealer somewhere under a rock.
When the director came out she walked up to me and said very quietly, "It’s so sad to see such a genius as Walter become what he is now." I asked, "That was Walter Baca?" She nodded her head and went back to her office.
The sight of him somehow scared me, thinking that could be me.
About a year later, the director came up to me and asked did I hear what happened to Walter the night before, I shook my head no, she went on, "He stumbled out backwards between cars on a busy street and a car hit him. He was killed instantly."
I felt like it was the loss of someone I did nothing to do to stop and yet what could I have done?
Another year passed and the director told me that the center was going to be torn down and they were going to build a new one. I asked her what would happen to Walter’s mural, and she said it will fall to the ground like the rest of the pumice block. I asked her to please let me know when they started demolition as I’d like to photograph or maybe save some of the bricks. But as things turned down I was gone when I found out the building had already been torn down. When I arrived on the scene there was nothing but piles of rubble.
The building was gone along with one of the most beautiful murals of original talent I’ve ever seen. I decided to do what I could and grabbed about 10 of the blocks that had small details of what was left of once a huge mural, 14 feet high and 100 feet long – 10 little bricks not even the size of a child’s drawing with distorted broken layers of paint.
I kept the bricks for several years thinking that one day I would build something with the bricks and make a little shrine. But I didn’t. The pumice blocks measuring 6 x 8 x 16” were in my yard for another two or three years before one day I decided it was time to do something with them. So I lay them in a circle around the bottom of a huge mask I had once made for a Drag Queen Ball in Seattle, Washington – the huge surreal mask of Vincent Van Gogh, with two oversized large ears, I mockingly said was his redemption.
From that point on I started adding things that were broken, or objects that somehow lost their use like old shoes, paint brushes, coffee cups, hats, dog collars, pet toys, anything that had once been in my life but still held a sentimental value.
When Ruth moved in with me, as things were broken by the cats, or I clumsily broke while cleaning the house, they would be added to the shrine. It was only much later Ruth said it should be called the Shrine of Broken Dreams, which seemed a suitable title for me, because that certainly was the theme of Walter Baca and Vincent Van Gogh – broken dreams.
There I am October 4 in the late morning cleaning up my yard to keep my studio from burning down thinking about the passing of Walter Baca, the tragedy of Van Gogh, all of the objects that had once been very valuable or belonged to one of my pets, all broken, cracked, in other words completely dead and gone – and me thinking it was a good time to clean up the shrine and honor all of the living things and objects that had value in my life – when the telephone rang and I was informed of my oldest sister's passing.
After I got off the phone I looked around my shrine of broken dreams and realized I had been contemplating death and death unknown that was coming my way – it made me more determined to not just clean the yard up but to turn it into something in honor of all of those died in my life, strangers I had never known such as Walter, and people that had been in my life since the day of my birth, my sister Ruby.
I spent the rest of the afternoon manicuring the shrine area. I decided to ring the large ship bell that was on my studio fence as my tribute to my wonderful sister who had been more like a mother to me. I would ring it 10 for October, 4 the day, 14 the year.
Somewhere in the ringing of 14 I got confused losing count, and clumsily clumped out the last bumbled vibration. I felt bad. I wanted it to be perfect for Ruby so the sweet beautiful bell notes would rise into the heaven. I wanted them completely round and sweet and I ended with a clunk. I felt like I’d failed Ruby. I turned my head to the sky and whispered, "Oh, I’m so sorry Ruby. I wanted it to be beautiful." And right at that instant the wind took the rope from my hand and swung the hammer on to the bell making the most beautiful ringing tintinnabulation – I said, "Ruby thank you," because I was sure she was with me and gave me grace.
About this time 41 years ago I was finishing a commissioned mural. For the first time in the years I’d been an artist, I was being paid a lot of money, a bit over $3,000.
Tribute to Botticelli… The Princess Mural 17 X 35 feet, acrylic on canvass, curtain drop for movie screen, Princess Cinema, Crested Butte, CO, 1973
The mural was for the
Princess Movie Theater, in Crested Butte, Colorado, the cinema franchise
entrepreneur Bill Pence had just restored. I had done another movie theater
for him, The Opera House in Telluride,
The stage curtain for the Opera House in Telluride was originally Painted in 1907 by an Italian Artist and had been rolled up and stored in the basement of the theater since the 30’s. It had a brown stripe that went through it every 20 inches from laying in a pool of water. I discovered it had been painted in water-based tempera, so I had to scrape off the old paint in six by six inch sections and repaint the surface to match the undamaged sections. The faux curtain around the central scene I had to completely scrape off and repaint because it was totally destroyed by water. (17 X 35 feet)
But for me, $3,000 in 1973 was a fortune. I had been in Telluride for two years camping out in my 1948 Ford two-ton utility van living on my skills as an artist, bartering for food, booze and gasoline. I had an open account in every restaurant, bar and gas station in town, trade for their services by doing menus and signs.
At one point I
counted up the actual money I had in my hand for a year---the total sum of
$24. With $3,000 in my pocket I could go back to
Bill had promised
within six months he was doing another theater in
The first time I was
After completing the
mural installation in Crested Butte I called a travel agent in
A young woman called me and asked me when I wanted to go. I liked her voice. I said whenever she was ready so a day later we met.
Her name was Michelle (my belle) and had a big Chevy van. We talked for a few hours then drove up in the mountains and made love in the back of her van. During those times it was ordinary to meet someone you liked, then to go to bed. This was at the end of November in 1973.
Just at that point in
history there was a world oil crisis. Refineries ran out of crude oil,
causing a delay in delivery to most gas stations. What was supposed to be
only a four day trip to
When I called the
shipping company to confirm the sailing date for the Eurythenes I was told
they had no oil for the ship to across the
As it turned out the ship was delayed week after week. I wound up staying with Michelle for the whole month of December. The problem was her mother had been sent to the hospital for a heart condition so Michelle and her brothers were supposed to take care of financial obligations.
When the mother found out a freeloading hippy was living in her house she blew a gasket and informed Michelle I should leave immediately. She ignored the mother and I continued to stay, but I felt so guilty about being a family burden I kept buying groceries and taking the Michelle to meals and doing what I could to pay my way. The money in my wallet disappeared rapidly.
I made a few journeys
I began my odyssey of
the city walking around
I was near
There were a lot of people nearby. I got my first experience of the NYC attitude, “It’s none of my business and I’m out of here.” No one was looking in the direction of a man screaming for his life, because their eyes were straight ahead going where they had to go.
I thought of going over and interfering but the obvious occurred---there were four huge men holding one little man down, and it wouldn’t any trouble for me to be on the hood of the car with him. So just like that, I became a New Yorker and walked on minding my own business.
The next thing was pure comedic street theater---not very far away from the beating.
Standing near a subway entrance I heard the footsteps of several people running. I looked down the street to see three young men running as fast as they could directly towards me. I was alarmed, trying to decide whether to run myself or go down into the subway. When the young men got in front of me, one by one, they grabbed the light pole at the top of the stairs and swung like monkeys then letting go and landing on their feet at the bottom. Just like that, one, two, three, they disappeared into the subway even though I could still hear them laughing like hyenas as the pattering of their footsteps echoed down a long tunnel.
I was wondering in amazement at how quickly they had managed to get down the staircase, less than five seconds completely, when a big black Ford sedan came screaming around the corner and jumped the curb up to the subway entrance slamming on the brakes skidding to a stop at the top of the staircase.
For a moment the car wobbled back and forth then all four doors popped opened. Four guerrillas in long black trench coats got out of the car like arthritic ogres then bumped towards the subway clomping down the staircase at the speed of crippled hippopotamuses, while cursing and screaming, “Those goddamn little Puerto Ricans! We’ll get them this time,” and flashing weapons pulled from under the trench coats.
By the time these four undercover cops – gangsters – whatever they were, got to the bottom of the stairs, the little Puerto Ricans would be at least a mile away. The whole thing was a farce. I felt slightly better about leaving the man on the top of the hood. All I could do was laugh.
I had enough and looked for a place to eat then get on a subway and go to
I found a café full
of hookers, gangsters and street people on the corner of
I was on the train for only a moment before I realized I had left my case placed next to my feet under the counter in the Café full of hookers, street people, gangsters and a bunch of suspicious people.
In other words not the kind of crowd in a café where you should leave your briefcase you put next to your feet, under the counter that had all of your money, plus your ticket on a boat, plus your passport, plus everything you need to survive – oh shit – I had completely screwed up.
There was nothing I could do but get off the train as soon as possible, go back to discover my briefcase I’d left by my feet, underneath the counter in a café full of crooks was gone.
I had no money so had
to walk back to
I went directly to where I sat on the stool, where next to my feet, under the counter, I had set the briefcase.
Naturally, it was nowhere there or anywhere – my heart fell through my asshole – even though I had already prepared myself to see the worst – it was worst worst worst – and I stood there like a zombie with my mouth below my asshole.
One of the old time waitresses came up to me and said, “Honey I sure am glad you came back because you left that case that you put by your feet under the counter here!”
“Did someone take it?”
“Oh no, honey, we just put it back in the kitchen. I’ll go get it for you.”
I couldn’t believe it was still there but I was convinced nothing would be inside when I opened it.
She brought it and I opened my old brown schoolboy briefcase that had my entire world inside – I slowly unzipped it expecting the horror of horror – to discover – everything was still there. Unbelievable miracle of miracles. $900 in money order checks, a hundred bucks and in dollar bills, the ticket to the boat, my passport – everything was still there! Hallelujah!
A Cunard Line passenger/freighter similar to the Eurythenes
I could not get to Staten Island quick enough and get on the ship and never ever again get off until it pulled out of the harbor and I got to where I was going – well, that was the idea.
The only actual picture I have of the rusted old Eurythenes the day I arrived was the gangplank to access the ship- hardly the staircase passenger ships normally have. After a week on the sea, the Captain said the ultimate destination of the ship was Rotterdam, where it was going to be scraped for metal because of too many mechanical problems and it was leaking---not a very reassuring note…
However the ship did not leave that day – nor did it leave for the next 10 days – the oil crisis of 1973 and it was oil that made the Eurythenes go forward or backwards. 10 days of sitting on the boat, drinking one $2 beer an hour equals a lot of money of which my hundred dollars in dollar bills disappeared as well as several money order checks.
Finally on December
30, a full month after it was supposed to sail, the Eurythenes moved away
from the docks and headed out into the
We sailed through the
night and in the morning docked in
After 6 hours of
screaming and negotiating the Greek captain told us passengers he thought we
had got just enough oil to almost
I had heard the word Gale of course, meaning a very strong windstorm, but had never heard of the term, Gale Force with a series of numbers.
The First Mate informed me the numbers indicated the ferocity of the storm 1 to 12, one being a moderate storm, and 12 being pretty bad – so I asked the obvious question, “Is there something after 12?” of which the captain interrupted and said, “Yes – it is called chaos!”
What was supposed to
take one week to get to
One good thing about the Gale; it was coming from behind us, helping push the ship towards England – of course the Gale was also pushing the sea – which meant the Eurythenes which was the length of nearly two football fields was like a tiny petal between the great walls of water we were waddling through – behind us were constant waves 60 to 70 feet of roaring death going faster than the ship.
The waves would catch the ship like a surfboard and for a moment it seemed as though we were rocketing through space, until the wave would pass and leave the ship’s propeller dangling in the air for a few moments, rattling the entire ship with vibrations until the aft would drop into the sea and the Eurythenes would start sliding backwards down the wave that had just passed us – in other words it was like two steps forward and one step backwards constantly for 12 days.
When I bought the ticket for the Eurythenes all 28 cabins of the passenger/freighter had been booked, but by time we left almost a month late only five passengers remained.
One; an English
doctor’s wife. Her husband had to fly back to his surgery schedule in
Two; a young fat girl
Three; an older
Jewish businessman from
Four; a cranky World War II veteran named Frank, who had just got divorced from his wife, sold his house and car and decided to go to Europe on a ship just for the experience of it.
And five – was me;
who decided to do a dream that I had for many years to go to
Getting on the ship
was the beginning of my education in the
I had my own private cabin, full use of the plush lounge which was usually empty except for the English gay concierge, Ralph, and me throughout the day, plus three meals a day taken in the officers dining facility, prepared by a very competent chef.
The passengers got to eat with the Captain and the officers of the ship. I rarely saw any of the working crew which were Filipino. The most contact I had on the ship was with the Captain, the first mate, and Ralph the Concierge.
I sat in the lounge throughout the day and scribbled in my journal writing what would ultimately become a part in the third book of THE GYPSY MOON TRILOGY (http://www.kewolve.com/Writing2completeworks.htm) and drink beer plus worry about my constantly descending bank account.
The first day on the ship all of the passengers got seasick except for me. I’m not sure why didn’t get seasick except for one thing.
Before we even went out of the harbor I was talking to the First Mate up on the bridge and I asked him how did he keep from being seasick. He told me all you had to do was to look at one thing that was steady like a plug in the wall or a knob on the cabinet or anything that didn’t move on the ship and stare and concentrate on that tiny area. Above all, don’t think about being sick.
So that’s exactly what I did as the waves got bigger and bigger the first day out at sea. I would look at something on the ship and the although the queasiness came, it stopped at a certain point that I got used to.
Frank the older American was throwing up outside over the rails every day. It pissed him off so much that I didn’t get seasick he started to throw up next to the porthole of my cabin, regurgitating in the loudest noise he could just to see if he could get me to throw up as well.
businessman would come into the lounge occasionally and talk about all the
cities he had seen throughout the world.
I realized he had seen very little of anything for he only got off
the ship to take a bus around the town for a couple hours then get back on
the ship – he did see many cities in the world and his conclusion was there
was no city like
In comparison, all
the rest of them stunk. His two hour inspection of every major town such as
The fat girl from Nebraska tried her best to get me interested in her, and perhaps if she had a half a brain I may have given her a little more opportunity, even though she was enormously fat and basically unattractive---hey, I’ve bedded down a couple of women like that who were damn nice, – but it was just the thickness of her thinking that repelled me.
The doctor’s wife who was only a couple years older than me was attractive and quite intelligent, and had the circumstance provided we ever had a conversation perhaps something might happened – but the very first hour she was on the ship she was basically confiscated by the captain who was the very handsome dashing buccaneer type. I don’t think she lasted more than one night before she was in his cabin and stayed there the rest of the journey.
Meanwhile out in the
Somewhere out in the
I was glad I was on the Eurythenes even if it was like a slightly larger leaf compared to those monsters rolling past us.
It was night time that was the scariest – I have never experienced such utter blackness my entire life. If you stepped out onto the deck at night near a window a wedge of light would fall onto the deck but if you stood right next to that glimmer and put your hand right up next to your face, you would not see a thing but the blackness of the night.
What was worse was the sound of the mountains rolling and crashing – the roar that would come from behind as the ship would rise with it. It was too horrible to bear for long and I would have to run back into the lounge and order a beer or two or three before I would collapse in the cabin.
We celebrated New
Year’s a day after we left
I believe it was this technique that must’ve aroused the doctor’s wife – other than that the captain spent most of the time talking about his mother-in-law who was the most terrible woman in the world. Once in a while he would tell us what happened in some of the gales he experienced.
He said it wasn’t the first roll on a ship that one should be afraid of – it was when the second roll came sometimes the ship would capsize – he emphasized that the first roll was never the one, no-no never, always the second roll that was the killer of ships and men.
The stories would come when were having meals and the ship was rolling so much the plates would slide back and forth on the table so you had to hold on to them to keep them in front of you.
Somewhere out in the middle of the Atlantic one day the captain was once again cursing his mother-in-law when the Eurythenes tossed so violently that the plates flew off the table and crashed into the wall – what was terrifying was the captain quit talking for the first time since I’d been on the ship and grabbed the table as the ship rebounded from its first roll into the second – but what was even more scary was the captain’s face that went as white as the whites of his eyes that were the size of the Greek dinner plates – with his mouth open and the plates sliding back across the floor to crash into the opposite wall, the ship leaned until I felt I was lying on my back.
There was a moment of absolute silence as we waited for the Eurythenes to either keep rolling or come back to its natural glide – that moment seemed to last forever.
When it did gently roll back into a normal level and the Captain resumed his dissertation of the worst mother-in-law in the world.
Normally the ship rolled with a steady kind of rhythm like going through a giant spiral leaning to the right then rolling to the left and slowly rolling back to the right – a very elongated giant spiral which I can still feel 40 years later sitting in the chair I am writing this story.
Occasionally the role would be a little more harsh, usually when the Captain or the First Mate up on the bridge got involved in some kind of conversation or somebody’s wife and forgot to keep the Eurythenes in a cross pattern with the waves. As long as the ship was cutting directly through the waves everything was fine. It was a wave either diagonal or perpendicular to the ship the danger of capsizing was real.
One night in my bunk I was awakened when the ship rolled so violently it slammed me against the wall. I thought to myself oh my God, the second roll is going to be horrible as I grabbed on to the edge of the bunk nearly being thrown to the floor. Next came an unbelievable crash against the wall that cascaded down the hallway and passed my door. I looked at the door of my cabin expecting any moment water to come roaring into the room.
The Eurythenes settled back down to its normal roll while the sound slowly chinked and chimed outside my door. Hanging on to the edge of my bunk, I opened up the door of the cabin expecting the hallway filled with water but only to discover hundreds of white plates along the hallway, perhaps 100 feet of sliding and crashing plates, cups, saucers, platters, pots and pans completely covering the floor.
My cabin was right next to the galley where all of the dinnerware and cutlery were stored. What had happened was when the ship rolled so hard the plates hit the doors of the cabinet so violently they burst the locks and all of the dinnerware crashed to the floor and spilled out into the hallway like a waterfall. I had never seen such a Greek dinner party.
By the time we were a day or two away from London I began to worry quite a lot about whether I would be able to even get into the country because my money had dwindled down to the equivalent of 200 English pounds and at that point I was told one needed 1000 pounds at least to have a visa.
I devised a plan by
making entries into my checkbook of deposits that showed several months
previous to my visit, totaling $10,000. I was going to tell the custom
officers when he asked me how much money I had that it was mostly in my bank
and I would show him my deposit book. I had no backup plan to that being no
The only thing that would calm me down of course about my money situation was to drink more beer – at two dollars a bottle my money continued to plummet.
When at last we came
around the South of Ireland the seas began to flatten and the gray sky
turned blue. The night we began our journey into the
It was this night which was absolutely the most mystical and déjà vu experience I have ever had, meaning not just a momentary sense of being there before but for the two or three hours we went up the Thames following the Moonbeam I could’ve sworn I had done the very same thing many times before in my life. When we went passed the White Cliffs of Dover and I saw them reflected in the full moon I was convinced I had seen this very thing many times – I don’t remember ever seeing a movie or photograph of the Cliffs of Dover reflected in the dark night of the full moon – but there was something in me the said, “You are home, you have come back.”
On the ship that day waiting for a customs officials, I wrote a poem of the night.
The night the moon was my welcoming committee
standing to the front of the ship
mast forming black rockets
the moon smiles the puzzle
down over a lacework highway
the vessel glides the silken Road
of golden waves
to the left the
all around little gem lights
painted jewels is where
the sky finds the sea
a soft crown of tufted clouds
velvet and deep blue
ride to the top of heaven
the moon dims it’s shy face
now and again
behind drifting sky work
to come and say hello stranger
soon it says
your feet will touch the ground
and then you will be home
long lost and lonely shores away
are only sweet dream reflections
your time is new the celebration begins
the waves play serpentine games
light and moon quicksilver thick
restless patchwork here and gone
White Cliffs like a long dinosaur
spotlighted by the moon
this land says hello
the stars are out too
I feel like I’m really famous
this all seems so familiar
did I sail through here long ago
or was it some war movie I saw
now a long line of electricity
points the way to
ornaments of the 20th century
still outshined symbols painted real
the moon the stars the sea
the moon has grown opal feathered wings
it will fly away slowly
I wrote the poem
sitting in the lounge alternately thinking about the night before and
whether I would actually be able to step on the
Finally the Custom
Officer came. He grunted several times looking at my checkbook listening to
my excuses of why I only had 200 pounds in my wallet and without further ado
stamped my passport entrance a six month visa – I couldn’t believe my
fortune. I could stay in
I didn’t even think I would be there six months – after all, Bill Pence promised within three months I would have a first-class ticket on my way back to America where a big fat job would be waiting for me in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I got off the boat
that morning with the doctor’s wife to share a taxi into Paddington Station.
We got there said our farewell and I went to buy a ticket for
I had thought about
Being just a little boy, I could not figure out why something like a granddaddy clock would be the featured entertainment – when I suddenly heard screeching and rat-tat-tat of an amazing sound, the white rodeo gates opened and out marched drummers and pipers dressed in the green tartan and black busbies, shivers and chills ran up and down my spine. The haunting sound of the bagpipes echoed something ancient in me. I knew I had to go to where these people had come from someday
A year or so later
Walt Disney made the film Lassie Come
Home. Not only did I love the dog but the countryside and the people
were the very image of what
Nevertheless in my
childhood and youth
But my friends would
never accept that answer. They would look at my fair skin, blue eyes and red
hair and say, “You must come from
So that’s how it went from my seventh year until my 27th year – me thinking someday I must get to Scotland, and even planning a journey there five years earlier, when I met a character named Fred Baue in San Francisco while getting out of the Army.
Fred was a musician
and in the course of our friendship we toured as folk musicians around the
Western parts of the
But back to the train going to Oxford, it occurred to me that I had less than 200 pounds of English money – it also occurred to me that I did not know a soul except for Hans and Sally, who were not really friends but just had been very amiable landlords for the year I rented an apartment in their house. I hadn’t been in touch with them for months so I didn’t even know if they were still where they said they would be – I was beginning to panic wondering how the hell I got there and how was I going to survive?
I vaguely remember meeting a very attractive young gal on the train who seemed to be curious about me and asked me questions but I was so terrified of my reality, being lost in space, all my insecurity about women in general jumped out and I bumbled words like some kind of lunatic and chased her away.
Much to my relief
when I got to
The second day there
I came across a junk shop where I happened to see a Raleigh bicycle, and
being told by the proprietor that it was an English policeman’s bicycle the
typical kind they use for duty. It was a three speed standard 28 inch black
The bicycle, taxi, train tickets and food brought my bank account down to 150 pounds, about the equivalent at that time of 300 American dollars – my total and complete life savings and theoretically what I was supposed to exist on for the next three months – somehow I managed to have 10 times less than the beginning of the journey, that is from $3000 to $300 in a little over a month. There I was, almost broke
The one good thing about being broke is getting over the fear of it –and I mean not a damn penny in my pocket. There had been many times in my life being penniless in some strange city wondering what was going to happen next. Being broke doesn’t necessarily mean you will die, but just uncomfortable until something happens or you get up off your ass and make something happen. Being broke had never killed me, yet, even though it is something ugly you don’t want to bring home to mommy.
And so there I was in
Han’s and Sally’s house getting my bicycle in shape, figuring out how to
pack 60 pounds of baggage on the back of the police bicycle plus an old
guitar I had bought for 3 Pounds at another junk shop. The morning came for
my departure and I waved to Sally and Hans as I wobbled off towards my first
objective, the town of
It was Hans who informed me there was a town called Wolverton where British rail carriages were made. It stroked my curiosity to find a town of my name.
30 miles is not far
to go on a bicycle in one day, however it was the 15th of January in
The sky was incredibly dark. It was best to find a place to camp as soon as possible. Along with the books, clothes and guitar I had an Alpine camping tent, sleeping bag and assembly of high country camping equipment – remembering the mantra of the Boy Scouts, be prepared, I was. What was coming my way was one of the worst winter storms in British history- in fact a hurricane in the middle of winter.
A gravel track led a couple hundred feet up the hillside where I could see a stone church standing amongst a grove of trees. Next to it was the manse. I could ask the pastor if I could camp on the grounds.
By the time I got to the manse the sun had obviously gone down. I knocked on a glass paned door and could see into the house. I heard voices and I saw a figure walking around in the darkened room so I knocked louder on the door. After several raps no one had come. The wind was howling and there would be only a few minutes until it was so dark I could not see how to put my tent together.
I went to the opposite side of the church where I was out of the wind and it was fairly protected. Within just a few minutes my Alpine tent was up with the sleeping bag rolled out and my belongings safely tucked away. I leaned my bicycle next to the wall of the church and got into the tent just as the winds tripled. The night turned black as it had been on the ocean during the height of the force 11 Gale on the Eurythenes.
The sides of the tents were slapping so violently I was afraid it may be ripped off the ground and blown into the sky. It was an amazing tent made for easy assembly and completely watertight or so the advertisement guaranteed – but didn’t say anything about being in hurricane winds.
Although it was
January 15th the temperature wasn’t that cold compared to the
high mountains of
The winds were
screeching with such incredible force I began to worry one of the trees may
fall on me or worse, one of whining electric lines directly above the tent.
Trying to sleep the howling continued to sound like a demon from hell. I
began to think perhaps it was the devil and the more I thought about it
being Satan I remembered a lady of the
In the morning light the wind had stopped and the world was quiet around me. I popped my head out of the tent to see what havoc had ensued. I was in the middle of a small pond that was right up to the six-inch waterproof floor lining of the tent but good to the factory guarantee, the tent was completely dry inside.
When the sun came out I took my tent apart and hung it on the trees until it was dry enough that I could pack away with the rest of my equipment onto the bicycle.
I went back to the house to thank the pastor for letting me stay the night, once again knocking on the door hearing voices and movement inside and no one coming to answer. Perhaps they thought I was the devil.
Being only a short
distance from the town of my name I wanted to complete the fantasy I had
while pedaling from
Many towns in
I want to take a
brief detour for a moment about that crucifix in my backpack which as I said
I got from a church lady in Telluride
How I got to Telluride is a story in itself but it was after I was in Telluride for almost a year that I got the crucifix.
In 1971 I was living
Being a veteran I discovered the VA would pay for me to go back to school to learn of vocational trade at the Emily Griffith School of Opportunity – an institution for skills such as electrician, plumber, carpentry, auto mechanics and one thing that interested me – cobbling and shoe repair. So that’s exactly what I did.
For a year I learned the craft of being a cobbler shoe repairman, and during that time I came up with a plan which in a way was a round about idea that matched my thought of being a troubadour and traveling the world.
In 1971 I bought a 2 ton 1948
Ford delivery van and turned it into a RV. I placed shoe repair equipment in
front area. My plan was simple – live in the truck, travel
We got as far as Aspen together when after a huge fight over the breaking of some of Jeanie’s most favorite dinner plates, she called me a son-of-a-bitch got in the car of her sister who was visiting us and split for California – of which my retort to her was don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out as she disappeared on the horizon.
The fight was stupid but there were obviously much deeper underlying problems of my relationship with Jeanie, one of them being her father telling her I was a worthless no good hippie and she could do better than me.
Just a few months before this, her father had persuaded her to have an abortion – she was two months pregnant – of which I mistakenly believed it was not my baby, but by young man she had got very friendly with for a while – of which 20 years later it finally occurred to me the baby had to be mine and I had been one first-class asshole about the whole thing.
of the mobile cobbler home, arrived in Telluride, with my dog Grafittus
Melon Pig (in foreground) and Mezzie, (on the right) Jeanie’s sister’s dog
she left me when they went back to
When I first arrived in Telluride, I set up my shoe repair and cobbler shop in one of the local clothing stores. Within a week I had at least 50 pairs of shoes to be repaired and more coming in every day. I worked like crazy for about two weeks trying to catch up with all the demands but then an accident happened that changed my destiny back to where it started. I went to pick up a very heavy electric motor but somehow it slipped out of my hand falling on my fingers and crushing three of them – as soon as it happened I knew it was the end of my shoe repair career and exclaimed, “that’s it I quit this fucking stupid shoe repair crap!”
When I was taken to the doctor and my fingers were stitched and bandaged I realized the only thing I could do was to return as an artist. The next few weeks every time I saw a local they would be ask why I had stopped being a shoe repairman because they needed their shoes fixed. I was no longer a cobbler but an artist, again, and the rest of my life staying alive by doing art.
I called Jeanie every
few days me missing her more than I could believe. I made a big mistake
losing Jeanie, the girl in
As most men, we know
nothing about life especially women and so there I was stuck with my fantasy
with two dogs in an old van in Telluride, Colorado missing the little gal
who once said to me, “I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you!”
Just as my first Telluride winter was coming on I bought a 1950 Ford pickup
with four bald tires and left to
I called the pickup HOZ – the initials someone had sprayed on the hood became its name. It had a spare tire, but it was balder than the tires on the truck. I blew out the first tire in the middle of the Navajo reservation, blew out the second one on the Riverside Freeway, 50 miles from Jeanie’s family home in Fullerton, and blew out the third tire limping to her house the last five miles with the two year tires throwing rubber along the road.
The visit didn’t work out. Jeanie’s father still hated me. I had to borrow 25 bucks from Jeanie so I could buy two bald tires to get out of town and went to San Diego where free loaded on Jeanie’s sister Barbara for the next 10 days – trying to make enough money to get back to Colorado – the big problem was I had four bald tires on my truck (again) and I was returning to the snow-covered Rocky Mountains – so not only gas was needed but at least four good tires to take me up to nine and half thousand feet on roads covered in ice and snow.
I found a tire shop that was owned by giant of a man who had a crew cut and a Marine tattoo on his forearm. He scowled at me with a look that I was familiar at that time – there was a generation gap with a lot of people, especially between the military and hippies, so it didn’t surprise me the odd look he was giving me.
I told him I was
going back to the mountains of
The ex-Marine started
the process then stopped and came over to me and said, “I tell you what I’m
going to do. I’ll put all four tires on your truck and when you get the
I looked at him with amazement because I couldn’t believe a man who apparently didn’t like me was willing to have such charity so my response was obvious, “But why would you do this for me?”
He told me one time many years before he had gone out to Colorado to see a girlfriend that didn’t work out, and on his way back to California his car broke down – a minister in a car from Colorado stopped to help him out – the minister gave him the money to get his car fixed and told him when he got the money he could send it to him. The Marine with a crew cut said, “dammit I lost his address and I’ve felt guilty about that for the last 20 years – this is the way I can kind’a repay the minister – just send me the money when you get it.”
His story was my comedy in reverse. We had switched states, girlfriends and do-gooders, but it was essentially the same story spread over 20 years about a man trying to make something right with the love of his life – and everything else worked except love.
The Marine didn’t
request the 50 bucks for the two tires I was going to buy, but I gave him 50
bucks anyway and said I would send him the other $50 as soon as I got it. So
with four World War II Jeep tires that fortunately fit HOS in mid-November
and I was on my way back to
I got to the
When I got to
I was beginning to wonder why the religious crap was swirling around my life. First the Marine and his story of a preacher’s goodwill and then three after him repeating themes of Jesus’s love…all it did was make me more depressed and feel like I was completely lost in the world… perhaps I did need something I could believe in – everything I had followed so far including love had been a spectacular failure --- maybe Jesus was the answer...
By the time I got to
the mountain pass going up into the high
drove into the center of Telluride and slowed down as a man was crossing the
street. It was Brother Al who was the Southern Baptist minister at the
church behind the post office. I rolled down the window to say hello and he
smiled and stopped me with a wave. He said, “Well dear Lord! Halleluiah!
Hello Ken. I’m so glad to see you back in town. We were worried about you.
Why don’t you come up to the church and have a meal with the congregation –
we’re having kind of an early Thanksgiving dinner?” Most of the locals knew
me because within the first few months there, I had painted a sign or a
mural in every café and bar in town. The story had been well circulated
about me leaving for
Photo to the left Brother Al and my Scottish wife, Chrissie, Rose my daughter Rowan’s Cocker Spaniel we had taken to three countries and me, in front of the Opera House, 14 years after I left Telluride.
So there it was, a promise I said I would do had come to me – I would go to church. I just had no idea how much I would go to church because that evening, something came over me and I was saved by Brother Al. Overnight I became a born-again Bible beating Christian. For the next four months of my life I annoyed everyone trying to convert them to Jesus.
Being a “born-again” Christian was an interesting chapter in my life and I have to admit for a while I felt I had found the answer. A lot was because of Brother Al and the people of the church I got to know in those first few months. They made me feel like I had a family and I was important to them. But more to the reason of my brief flurry of religious fanaticism was the manic depression that followed me since I was a boy.
When Jeannie left me
One other thing about
my conversion to holy rolling was probably my mother. Since she had died I
thought often about the fact that I had picked up the Bible copied the 21st
Psalms and sent it to her the week she died. When I was a child she always
sang The Old Rugged Cross and other gospels that she had learned as a child
– it was because of her my brother Tommy and I were sent to Sunday school
which was right next to her house on
4 panels, 4 X 7 feet, oil on plywood, painted from November 1972 to April 1974
1.Miracle of walking
on water, 2. The baptism of
Jesus by John, 3. Temptation in the Wilderness and 4. The Sermon on the
Mount. The panels were returned to
me in 1996 by Bob Garber, one of the original entrepreneur architects
re-establishing Telluride’s destiny and disappeared years later when I took
them to Jim Ray, an early young millionaire friend in Telluride. I left the
panels at Jim’s mansion on Capitol Hill, in
Anyway…starting November 1972 I became a “born again” man in the next four months with complete new found belief as well as painting four Christian themed panels for the Southern Baptist Church. Then two things happened that changed me overnight.
A young gal about my age also a member of the church became physically involved with me – it seemed ludicrous we should be praying together thanking Jesus and getting turned on at the same time – there was some kind of human physicality that just didn’t make sense with the philosophy of born-again fanaticism. The juxtaposition of being pure and being human didn’t equate in my thinking at that point.
Then was the assassination of a dog. One of the elders of the church had a big beautiful beast; a cross between a malamute and golden retriever. He looked exactly like Old Yeller in the famous movie. The beast was absolutely beautiful and friendly to everyone especially children. I was in the church one morning sitting next to the elder when you said, “I had to shoot that dog. I just wasn’t going to pay for a license to have him. It would mean I’d have to keep him penned up, so I just shot him.”
I looked at the elder not knowing what to say other than the one thing in my mind, “You dirty rotten son-of-a-bitch !” which I didn’t say. I stood up and walked out of the church in a complete daze. Just as I got to the corner a Mercedes Benz pulled up driven by the local lawyer, Dick Unruh. He rolled down the window\ and said, “Are you ready to leave the church yet?”
I said, “You know Dick, I sure as hell am ready to leave.”
He said, “I was just
going to go down to
“You bet your sweet ass,” I said. I got in the car and turned my back on the four months of being a devout Christian and jumped back into my true religion of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, which I have rarely left 40 years later.
And so that was a
long detoured story, but the
crucifix in my backpack was the remnant of one of the illusions of life,
that a belief in ideology can fix everything for you – of which I have to
say sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. But there I was in a little
town called Wolverton on my way to
The storm that
occurred on the first night was a freak. For the next nine days other than
being cool with a few gentle showers it was like a
On the seventh day I
was somewhere in northern
Dropping out was exactly what I wanted or at least dropping off the road. I was beat. The proprietor, a woman in her mid-50s told me her husband had died and she was now managing the place on her own. She offered me a very good deal with dinner included and breakfast in bed.
When I got to the room it was exactly the place I had dreamt about several times since I’d left Telluride – a big four post bed, French doors looking onto a pasture of large oak trees and sheep. Also in the dream was a silver tray with a silver teapot and white china cups which the proprietor brought, doing her best trying to seduce me – I thought of it, but I was young. A woman in her 50s seemed old. Ah, looking back at foolish youth…she probably could have taught me what I needed to know.
I was near Scotland
is so being refreshed from a night in a real bed and shower I bicycled on
determined to get to my final destination. The last hump would be going over
the Cheviot mountains which lay at the border between
Some things that have happened to me, even though I know were real, sound like lies to me, and what I’m about to write, sounds like a big lie.
As I got to the
Coasting 30 miles an hour down the mountain and into Scotland, I was overjoyed in the beauty of not only arriving in Scotland but the absolutely fantastic view around me – the bicycle was cruising like a motorcycle down the mountain, when suddenly there was a tremendous smacking thud. The bike started wobbling all over the road but I managed to stop without wrecking. On inspection, I discovered that three of the back spokes had broken from centrifugal force and weight.
It was only an hour before dusk and I looked around for some place suitable to camp – off to my right there was a giant oak tree and at the very moment I saw a beam of light cut through clouds showing a golden space right around the tree – almost as if the universe is said this is the spot.
I set up my tent,
rolled the sleeping bag out and got cooking gear together. Once I was
settled in I turned on a small FM radio I had bought somewhere along the
journey. When the sound came on it was a language I had never heard before.
Music between talks sounded like Irish and Scottish music – but each time
the announcer would come on I couldn’t understand a word. As dusk came the
announcer on the radio suddenly switched to English and said, “This
I had no idea at that moment how incredible it was to arrive in Scotland on the birthday of its most famous poet – Robert Burns – let alone to have been blown into Scotland by a warm wind – and there, I would be remain for the next 10 years of my life where Robert Burns words would punctuate my life more than once.
But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize is the flow’r its bloom is shed,
or like the snow falls in the river
A moment white – then melts forever;
or like the Borealis race,
that flit ere you can point their place;
or like the rainbows lovely form
anguishing amid the storm
Nae man can tether time or tied
Then catch the moments as they fly,
And use them as ye ought man
Believe me, happiness is shy,
And comes not aye went sought, man.
Little did I know how
much Robbie Burns would be part of my life in the coming years. But on my
first morning in
While I was there I
started a conversation with a young man who was from
His apartment was a
typical dwelling for many people I would get to know over the next few
years. He lived on the fourth floor and so worried about my bicycle having
no lock or chain I carried it to the landing outside of his flat. My
beginning with everyone in
Over the next few
days I bicycled all around
Having spent very
little on my ten day journey to
I put the jacket on and looked in the mirror instantly in the love with its fashionable cool look – if fit me perfectly. I decided to buy it even though I had so little money left. I noticed there were two more jackets cut exactly the same way, one black and one gray. I tried them both on to see which one of the three looked the best, but it confounded me even more. I looked great in each color. The clerk asked me which one I preferred.
Without even thinking, the words popped out of my mouth – “I’ll take all three but wear the green one now.”
I couldn’t believe I had just said that, but did not hesitate to pay when he added up the bill, 99 pounds. I had exactly 11 Pence left in my entire world--- just enough in 1974 to buy one pint of Belhaven ale. I walked out of the door of the shop seeing myself reflected in the windows with a great jacket on holding two carefully wrapped parcels under my arms. I felt 100% relieved. Nothing to worry about slowly going broke – I had arrived in a miraculous instant. The future could be no worse than the past. As a famous country western song goes, I was young, ten foot tall and bullet proof.
Just up the street
from me about four city blocks I had noticed an interesting vegetarian
The restaurant was
owned by the
The only obstacle to find out now was how much was he willing to spend and how big of a painting it would be – the wall itself wasn’t that big as far as mural school but would accommodate a 4 x 8’ panel without much problem – that establish the final deal was how much. Once again it wasn’t so much a matter of how much money but just get some money and get my name out in public so people knew I was in town.
Nick said he would give me 35 pounds plus I could eat in the restaurant one meal a day I was doing the mural. He would give me 10 pounds to begin with and I could start eating whenever I wanted to. So once again I was in the position of having some money and a little food to eat and it seemed like all was going to work out. Over the next couple days I found a hardware shop where I could buy a sheet of plywood and an art store where I bought enough of the primary colors to begin the oil painting. The cost of the basic material was 9 pounds and £.50, so once again I was back to almost square one being broke but at least I had a job.
The hardware shop
delivered the panel to my flat on
The seven students
who lived in the flat never seem to be too short of money, and at the end of
their school day they usually would go to a pub drank a lot of beer and on
our way home by fish and chips or baked potatoes. I discovered at the end of
I’ve ever evening there was an enormous amount of wasted food in the garbage
can – half of baked potatoes bags of French fries, sausages half of fish –
in short just a lot of food was being thrown away, so I began every evening
after the students had gone to bed carefully go through the garbage can and
pull out food it was still edible. So it was in this way over the next few
weeks with my one meal at
When day when I was
going up to
I got on very well with everyone working backstage and basically went under the wings of one Scot who had been working at the Kings for 10 years and he was amazed I was an American and had grown up on a ranch and so we always called me cowboy. He basically told me when to move and what to do and without his help I no doubt would have been fired the first evening.
The show I learned
the most was
THE BIG YIN starring Billy Connolly who at the time was an up-and-coming
famous Scottish comedian from
It wasn’t just Billy
that I couldn’t understand. Several of the stagehands had accents of thick I
would have to say what several times and in finding just give up and sort of
indicate I comprehended – even so the dialect English dialect in
Meanwhile daily I
would continue painting the panel for
Nick occasionally would come down to the flat to make sure I was actually doing a painting and not getting my food at the restaurant for nothing. So in the course of painting all the people he was featured as one of the people in the very front along with his sister Kate and brother Peter and Oliver in the central groups. What I thought was going to take only a few weeks painting the mural continued for over three months and during that time I continued working at the King’s theater moving sets backstage.
Many of the people who were performers and famous actors while he was working at the King’s I asked if I could draw them and use their faces for portraits in the painting I was doing and Henderson of which everyone agreed. So by the time I had actually finished the Henderson’s mural, every person who was in the painting I knew personally that had made a small sketch that was later transferred to the painting itself.
When the painting was finally installed after three months Nick had a special opening evening and all the people I had met in the course of completing the painting were at the unveiling and party. In a way my painting for Henderson’s restaurant was like my introduction to the society of artist musicians and writers in Edinburgh in the work I would do for the next 10 years.
The irony of course was that while I was doing the painting, I had been planning on going to America where I would paint the murals in the Atlantic theater in Santa Fe New Mexico – the three months had elapsed that Bill pence said it would take to set up the job and I had finished the mural for Henderson's Restaurant. Any day it was going to come, my first class ticket going back, and so I wanted to see a little bit of Europe before I returned to America.
Several important introductions to people came about while painting Henderson’s mural – the first was meeting a beautiful young woman called Eva Parson who was Danish – her home was Copenhagen. She worked at the school for the victims of thalidomide – children born with no arms or legs – a result of a bad drug given to their pregnant mothers. Eva had an incredible dark sense of humor because of her work. She liked me because I was an artist but mostly because I understood the Scottish dialect. Eva couldn’t tell what people were saying. I’m not really sure how it came about other than lust being in the picture once again but during those three months we became lovers – she was 21 I was 28, and we didn’t have anything in common other than sex. She was torn about our relationship and I was infatuated.
The next significant
meeting of people with two other young women, Gerri Lange and Patricia
Smith. They were both school teachers who had been friends with students I
lived with in
She knew how poor I was. Mainly it was because she found out that I had been an acrobatic in my youth and was good in gymnastics tumbling and basic techniques – she said they were looking for someone to teach acrobats.
Eva was going back to
Copenhagen in a few weeks, and I had a couple of weeks free being there was no
show at the King’s theater – so I decided to see a little bit of Scotland before
I traveled with Eva to Paris and on to Denmark. I decided to take a train from
from 1974 – 75
Text in Italics: further explanation or description written December 2014.
I kept a journal from the time I got off the ship in January 1974 recording events for the next eight months – so much happened by then… a hitch-hiking journey to Paris and Copenhagen with a Danish girlfriend of the time, Eva Parson, as well as writing about my beginning with Theatre Workshop Edinburgh which would be the principle reason I stayed in Scotland.. A year or so later I lost that journal and so now I have to rely on memory to fill in the gaps of this memoir – I begun another journal with the following transcript in August 1974 with comments and details of many characters, who were profoundly influential in my 14 years in Europe. I have never bothered to go back and read this journal until I begun writing Old Bones and Dog Shoes – at the age of 70 my time is limited whether it be one year or 20, so little time left to pay tribute to the friends I found while following the guiding philosophy of my life, Romance and Adventure.
journal contains poems and drawings– a journal of thoughts and
observations on the first year in
My visa was for a six-months
and that was the primary reason I journeyed to the continent in June with Eva
Parson so that if I did return to
Sketches, photos and poems sometimes relate to the text and sometimes not. Several in the beginning are of Eva… The book itself was an old diary I found from 1967 that was almost blank aside from notes and typing graphics.
“Well, of course there is no formula for success except, perhaps an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings… Ironically success brings an element of dullness… But of course I love my audience and every time I tried to give them something special, something which reflects my life and experience. If they listen I hope it is because I can tell them particular, in individual things. You see, a certain quality is added when you have lived.” Arthur Rubenstein
I was 28 years old when I
copied the quote above – and now at 70 Arthur Rubinstein’s words ring more true
than ever… In the first few months I was in
Museum of childhood in
The Cosmic/Comic Light. “Nature, a vast set of conventions, totally arbitrary, patterns and stresses that come into being each instant, could disappear totally any time, and continues only as a form of play.”
“That which includes all change never changes: without change time is meaningless, without time space is destroyed. Thus we arrive at the void.”
“Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man that wasn’t there
he wasn’t there again today
I wish the man would go away”
“To smile and jest, at the thorn in another’s breast is to become a principal in mischief”
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.”
looked for the loonies in
On Wednesday we start rehearsals for the traveling troubadour show, THE BLACK THIEF.
This was a “comedia del arte” style traditional gypsy/troubadour road show, directed by Neil Cameron and a troop of 9 with donkey and cart, we walked in The Kingdom of Fife, through 9 villages in nine days, sleeping in a army bell tent, staying in costume as well as character whenever we came across the public.
I just went to a sidewalk display of art – it depressed me some. Probably because so much of the work was so boring, but more, it is such a shabby way for serious artists to sell their work – a combination of public humiliation and just the plain fact of the difficulty in surviving as an artist. Perhaps I am far too serious about it.
was one display of small framed photos of a fellow that had a picture of himself
in front of the local post office box, a postcard with stamp and date of over
1000 villages with names from A-Z all over
arrives today (1st sketch of
Eva on her return from
I saw a scene this afternoon while I was worrying about how I was to survive, make money, etc. It was a very old man and a very old woman sitting on the steps of the building. The woman appeared to be feeling very ill and the man had his arm around her, hugging her very affectionately. It occurred to me that maybe they had known each other, loved, lived and now she was dying. The drama made me feel small and stupid.
waiting for the train
you wont believe
how the old town’s changed
they have a celebration on
it must be for you
perhaps we can sit
and have dinner
now there is more to talk about
or we can be silent
hello glad you’re home
You’re not on the damn train
or the next
or the next
do I feel stupid waiting for trains?
you are everything
that’s worth waiting for…
2 sketches of Eva
Tree of life
of hearts and parts
hard to accept
knowing that truth
mainly what I need
more than anything
to work hard
this sitting on my ass
is destructive inactivity
the mind bends
the brain strain
traction in self excrement
tired of nonsensical meetings
would think all was a hopeless plot
it’s not that at all…
placement in the patterns
chaos of the tattered flags
fly the high wind torn
battle raging of songs born
purpose not forgotten
only the dead life rotten
the day ran amok
or so people say
we use words as such
I’m beginning to feel…
Winds of schizophrenia
no use to expect or predict…
better to answer questions
written in letters than to speak
two ears that aren’t there
something moves in the shadows
cautiously it approaches
tonight the tattoo – a military celebration
this afternoon – the Electric Polaroid Nickelodeon
what a good show
alas poor actors suffer at the hands of the envious
later the military marched
I had to take a long piss
three beer pints in one bladder
mostly now anger frustration
What’s new Charlie Brown
the cosmic opera demands respect
balls and stains
Hell and God
damn the sinners
what good is it
I say to myself…
Self why don’t you try
to make sense, or even cents
The workings take their own good time
indeed it is lunch time
truly I seem to be
what can a scoundrel
like me expect?
beggars can’t be choosers
if wishes were horses
beggars would ride
but God… I wish,
I was better at understanding games…
Illustration ponderations on tree of life
Saw a horse being led down the street and thought of what my brother Red Cloud used to say about them being creatures of habit – “They just get used to being led…”
Saw an exhibition of Paul Klee – yesterday – the Edinburgh museum of Modern Art – not really impressed except he maintained the attitude of a child who continued to play…his work is clean – deals in simplicities I should take note but most of what interested me was that poverty was no obstacle to him – painted on cardboard, bedsheets, newsprint – voilà an artist!
it takes too long
to say a half-dozen
that connect to
one million meanings
it’s short enough
to know sometimes
long spaces too long
put on onion rolls
seasoned Danish breast
I wanted to say something to Eva
or maybe it was I wanted to hear
I sat on the chair
The look expectant
not knowing what to say
a flash of insecurity because of…
As always, nothing
my mind swims in its own
what a glorious day
the sun is shining
and skinny for
what a special thing
Eva’s eyes looked very green
freckles on her nose
three paintings tonight
a cardboard cubist Braque-Picasso
three faces in a self-portrait
a laced bed scene
green man orange woman
I have conviction that I know how to paint but without any obvious identity of self – collected ideas a conglomerate of styles done before and done before on the radio of prayer, “What good is faith without good works or helping others?” I’m a lousy Christian still feeling guilty about my selfish lovemaking with Eva. I am pulling her down neglecting truth or decency, guiding her towards destruction, I must try to change…
At this point in my life, I was still very torn spiritually about having been a devout “born-again” Christian, and although I spurned any form of organized/institutional religion, my belief in Jesus Christ not so much as “the Son of God”, but as a true altruistic philosopher and humanitarian remained deep in terms of my own conduct.
August 30, 1974
hard to write
until it stops
but then I know
it will soon
and the hardships
of the pen
I was in the middle of dress rehearsals. The show was called The Black Thief written and directed by Neil Cameron, along with Mike Rowan, John Bolton, Paul Kirk, Mulata Marcie, Jo Jo, Marcie’s little son, Dawn Archibald, Bethan Elsdale and James the donkey, walking from village to village for nine days in the kingdom of Fife – starting near Petlessie/Auchtermucty and ending in St. Andrews. My part was to be an acrobat, musician and some kind of clown. Theoretically I was the one supposed to know the most about donkeys, having grown up on a ranch with horses – I didn’t know a damn thing about donkeys.
more rehearsals… I have no business being an actor…
try to get exhibit
make rent money
to start writing incoherent
ramblings on buses
on coffee tables
on park benches
assume some responsibility
stop taking for granted
I am alive and walking
rehearsal, the first for the Black Thief – the morning is covered with fog.
complexities of the Bingley and Brantford building Society (in
another book I had some kind of fictional story going on and I was using the
title of the old diary as the title of the story which was the Bingley and
Brantford Building Society) – still circulating from the back to the front
of my mind. Bingley is the hero –
Nerves jangled – Bennett’s for a half pint. Listening to drinking shop talk – by Gar by Gar – what pointlessness… If there is a plan it is well hidden…
a little shovel
digger we hold
look for the spec of Gold
these actors are acting
shivering in the long dark cold
Stop this mind blabbering
nothing to say
People sometimes get on my nerves but then I know it’s not them so much that I get upset about but more to the point I am unbalanced and unjustified to myself – in short, dissatisfaction and disappointment in my own worth… cry cry cry again the hand of cosmic mimicking conducts between the strong you and the juggling hippopotamus
We had started the actual show at this point…
and Dawn Archibald have sore throats – the giant is out of the show – Neil
became King Conal – but tonight we stay in a nice dry warm building although I
don’t mind the tent – it’s home. Mike asked me if I want to go with him, Neil
and Paul on their journey from
integrated by whispers
behind the wall
an empty hall
Leonard Cohen songs
not going to rain
of course not
I feel the loss of words
the loss of eloquence
the power to describe
Points… Parts… Planets
sweet spirit forgive my bluntness – my transgressions too many to mention – memory too complex to sort, evil from good.
Patterns… Passions… Pastors
cryptic temptress forget you know me, my vice embedded below the skin, experience too sordid for thought, flesh and vapors.
I want to say something…
Okay what’s stopping me
what, if anything
does a bit of diagonal
bit of consciousness
mean on a strip
of pulp turned to paper
too much hesitation
Too afraid that perhaps what is said is not good or important enough to say but I know this is my book and my story even if it doesn’t matter a damn. If it does make sense, I want to make a point, about life about what we all see together…how each of us interprets his own unique picture-making-machine-puzzle and spits out his own distortion in misleading phrases and clichés – know I should not repeat the long time mistakes. It is important the story takes shape, that personalities be reborn, that old phantoms should write again and that the lesson of living should be illustrated once again. But God, it’s repeat, repeat and on the painted ponies turn.
in pine forest
cut wheat and barley
feel and smell
in the wind
telling the earth and animals
the world is ready to change
a morning highway
balancing the brilliance
of the last summer green
In a single second the stage becomes a dramatic one – James is frightened by JoJo, the small child of which I have a hard time trying to tolerate – James began to rare up – Marcie panics, the cart hangs onto the road – in an instant it turns over and we begin to load the car again.
An illustration with notes: JoJo running back to make the donkey explode – at this moment the donkey freaked out in the middle of a delightful little country passage, backed into the cart then jumped out of its harness and tipped the cart over…everybody screaming and running after James. He just went more nuts until I got him by the halter and talked him down out of his panic…
This was the beginning of the tour and it rained on us almost everyday, and the 9 us trying to stay dry and warm in the bell tent which got soggier and heavier everyday, while all of our clothes, sleeping bags got slimy and soggy…Neil and Dawn were getting colds and James was getting crankier by the day. But surprisingly, the shows always seemed to happen just when it stopped raining for a bit and the audiences always appreciated our efforts of entertainment in each village, although granted, it was mostly children and the adults obviously not the most sophisticated clients…
Dreamed about a multifaceted painting with paintings on inside and out, with panels that revolved. In the dream there were 28 paintings – I was asked by a lady how much I wanted and said $500. I worked too cheap even in my dreams.
Eva is a constant I would rather be with her… tired of this rambling adventure… tired of waking in a solo world… sure there is more to it than that.
you are much like me
we both have our weaknesses
perhaps we will get better…
How, I need you
as always I will need you
morning is gray – my throat is sore, my hair is stiff, my body stinks – it’s the
sixth day of rain – what to do when we return to
Last night the rain came – and a dream of music – the Star-Spangled Banner and another piece of music I can’t remember – I played the guitar with some sort of electronic distortion – it was beautiful– the guitar laced the world together.
morning the rain continued, everybody’s sleeping bags were soaked but a good
spirit remained. I was depressed for a while thinking about money, about
painting, about life – brothers, lovers, friends and lands – the totality of
everything was too much – oh shit the miracle isn’t so apparent, until… This
afternoon I started thinking about
So the show was great today. I am convinced time is too valuable, that is, to walk around doing entertainment for children – at least the type we are doing, is a waste of time – a waste of talent if I have such, a waste of vision, a waste…
I think of the truth between Eva and me. It is small for the time, but we have a chance, I believe more than most people – I am too much of a total optimist – but how else can I survive – or us – it depends on trust – the one thing I have always lacked. Trust. What a magnificent idea.
Rereading these entries concerning Eva I am surprised, as I was much “needier” than I remember, but more so because she played only a small part in all of the events that went around me at the time and quite frankly forgotten much of whatever our relationship seemed to be…mostly in my mind as it looks years later as she obviously was not that concerned with me…from my viewpoint now, it is so obvious how lonely, homesick and isolated I was feeling within, and was missing the embracement of being part of a family and mistaking the minimal affections of an odd-duck relationship, wanting it to fill the emptiness…
has returned. We are settled in a youth hostel. James the Donkey is in his own
field. There was talk of a football match – a trip to Spain – ideas on a cart –
or horses – ideas of nonsense and seriousness – vegetarians abound and we are
served a sticky meal of macaroni and cheese – I am too spoiled. It was terrible.
I keep thinking about cheese and Eva from
Neil and I talked about women and settling down. Decided nothing except to not worry. The show today was good. We continue to laugh.
lessons of cruelty
I am cruel
the punishment is my example
taking for granted
I should be appreciated
makes for selfishness
on to others
on to me
the wheel of Mandela
takes a short roll
I deny you too much
to be prepared to die
the passion of dedication
how does man attain
such a fanatical pinnacle
of will and penetration
we that are alive remain
those that are dead are dead
when the question must be resolved
to remain intact
among the destruction
at the side of agony and distortion
those that are left alive
will live out the hand of death
Holocaust rumbles in the background
singing birds at the surface
those that have not pondered
will find little time for decision
their minds will lead them astray
their emotions will pull them to the ground
they are you and me
the problem remains
rainbows will find a place to blind
the root of green will find a crack
to be prepared to die
When I left Telluride almost
a year earlier, I was more than pissed off with Nixon and the insanity of
following across strips of green
through the white crisscross
of the window frame
stock of dead flowers
quivering slightly in the wind
I hear the news
Nixon is pardoned
floats to the bottom
the radio buzzes
about sports and death
another American farce
I don’t care
I was reading
Herman Hesse last night
his sad poetry
he couldn’t believe
that love could die
I looked out the window
morning gold light
quivering dead flowers
yes it is very sad Herman
the single word
that tells 1000 stories
We sat drinking
under the tones
JoJo up to pranks
with words like
a lute on the wind
that’s my son you’re talking about
there is that jet again
ripping the sky
outside golfers swinging
just like they know what they are doing…
There was a Royal Air Force airfield nearby and it was quite a contrast from the very quiet countryside to every once in a while a screaming roar coming out of no where…
I’m being amused like when I was a toddler…how a line comes out of the tip of the pencil. To scribble, to write seems to be a natural occupation or at least something to fill in gaps.
I am totally anxious to see Eva – keep thinking I should ask her to marry me… ho ho, would she take a man like me? It is a quick sand thought – was going to say, am I ready, but it sounds like the wrong idea.
Letters… From Emily Haines in Telluride, who gave me the silver cross. What a good person she is. I am more than fortunate to know her. Also a letter from old Telluride buddy, John Mansfield. Sounds like he is becoming an artist at last.
Sure is hard
to write in small books
in big bumpy buses
desolated planes of self-discovery
man walks up on his own bones
and these bones crack brittle
in the field that is over the fence
a grown man flies a kite
lost from the style he had as a child
did Christ ever fly a kite
or was that for Chinese only
two or 300 years
down the line
it’s sitting in an empty room
classical music on the wireless
that creates these strange thoughts
alone in this room
with that day’s work facing me
staring at myself in the images
of this scribble work
is what makes this weird condition
snakes and Tigers trace across my mind
just names with no meaning or cause
the power of the pin pushes on the page ends
The second time to Paul Klee’s exhibit. Thank heavens I can see better this time but still impressed by his simplicity – yet perfect awareness of complex balances – one thing again – is his careless childlike approach – irresponsibly playful – it seems to me that each work was an act of the most serious kind of meditation – one where you are what you do – active passivity. I think he must have been as neurotic as I am – only one so hounded by blatant insanity is capable of or that is forced into this sort of work therapy meditation.
I sold the two clowns to Nicholas Henderson yesterday. 30 quid – he got a very good deal so did I. They are good paintings in that they are two of the most free accident plan works I have done for a very long time. Hallelujah the Lord has come through again. Thank you! The tree paintings are progressing daily…
If I could ever change
it would be because
yesterday’s been my friend
lacking anything to say worthwhile
I entertain myself
by drawing from line to line
into cartoon substance
I can hardly believe what I am thinking and what seems quite obvious – perhaps I’m being paranoid – yes that is quite possible – or that I have given up in trying to attain trust – but of course I am such a weak sad sack – but it appears that Eva wants to be free – of me – of what might be – there is nothing I can do. I could try – but then something must be wrong if I have to try so hard to do something that should be perfectly easy – and it was for so long – but now – we don’t talk – our lovemaking is only me sticking my penis in her vagina – fucking, not lovemaking – yes, of course I know how insecure I am and maybe it is all in my mind – but I am not so stupid to know that Eva can no longer act… What?… Concerned? Affectionate?…
Yes, bullshit – I don’t know, unbelievable – after all we have done together – after being so close that it can come to an end – we have stopped laughing – yet that is so simple to say. I’m sure people that really love each other don’t have to be laughing all the time. Our time together seems to me nothing but confusion of words and thoughts – I say something to Eva and I feel that it is the most stupid thing possible – she says something to me and I feel indignant, hurt, left out and crazy. What is it? Disappointment to gain success as an artist or that I am too short, too poor, too obsessed, too demanding, too jealous or what? What is there that makes me think she is worth the trouble?
So many in and outs and all I can come to; I am a human prone to being clumsy and mistake bound and full of strange habits… A stupid girl of 21 thinks about nothing, full of bad habits, selfish and stormy, ill mannered and silent and a bit of a liar – in short a human just like me.
Illustration, Waverly Station in Edinburgh, the train to
“She’s a dream factory…but good as gold… don’t get me wrong about my wife,” he
said. “Dream factories are
Quote overheard on the platform…
What is it that I want so badly? Who? Jeannie… Eva… Sue… Janet… Bobbi Jo… Angie…my mom… The Phantom… I don’t know. I need someone – like everyone else. In the back ground, the live entertainment, Robin Harper begins…
Robin Harper in those days was one of the regular musicians, who 25 years later would become one of the First Members of the newly created Scottish Parliament.
Somehow a flamenco guitar in
Now is the time to bring up merits of the other matters – sick of this self involved wonderment.
A little story just for my own distraction…
Once there was this guy named Peter Alamedas that always wore a rust colored suede jacket, a black sweater and checkered pants. He had other clothes but he didn’t really feel like it was him when he was out of his chosen uniform. Peter didn’t really have much going for him. Mostly he came to restaurants and stared at people, trying to figure out what it was that they did.
He knew he was one of the few people in the world that was a professional restaurant sitter specializing in staring, but it didn’t really bother him much. At least it was something.
He had enough money to eat and chew. That was his other profession – that is, chewing. He took considerable pride in the way he chewed and he made sure that each time he stuck a tidbit of one sort or the other in his mouth, he was totally centered and concentrating on that tidbit until it was completely down the gullet. One might think that he would be a fat fart if he took so much interest in his food – but on the contrary, he was quite slim and even healthy looking.
Of course eating, that is chewing was really very minor in comparison to his real profession, sitting in restaurants and staring at people. I won’t bring it up again. You might as well forget I even mentioned it, although that was how Peter Alamedas was; unusual. Odd, would be another way of saying it.
Now this is what I want to talk about Peter – his oddness – for there was one thing specific in his profession and that was to spot people he thought were unusual like himself and then test them out, although he was quite convinced he was the only one as unusual as himself. All the unusual people he tested, turned out to be quite usual, that is to say, normal.
This is the way of testing people to see if they were authentic unusual people:
First he would ask the person, “Are you going to
He would then go back to his table and sit down and wait for the next usual person that might be really unusual.
I was obviously very bored pondering myself…
attack and defense
Eva sits across the room – silent
earlier we had dinner with
a few words like:
but of course
And that’s as much humor and joy as a dead sparrow in the winter snow. Then later we had drinks at Bennett’s, then went to one of her friends – Douglas, a fast talking slick walking candy stick sort of S.O.B. with snakes in one hand and trinkets in the other. Words… I was drawn into a mirror like when two eagles repel from their own image. Foolishness – but I felt compelled to yap on, if nothing else but to keep the wolf from the lamb.
Had dinner with Paul Kirk and Marcie. What a genuine evening it was. Marcie read poetry from William McGonagal – a lunatic Scottish poet. We all fell over laughing. Come home to the flat and thought about the stupid woman Eva… Will she ever make up her mind or will it be that I have decided to go away?
So it is. I am 30 at last – perhaps now the doom will lift off my shoulders – been too long.
I keep thinking Eva should make up her mind that she no longer cares – it is very sad. I think sometimes I should go ahead and destroy the affair– but that makes me sad – I can’t bring myself to stop loving her – she is completely unsympathetic and different in every way from me.
Time will tell… to sleep… to sleep…
On cardboard panels – the progression of the tree of life, seven paintings coming along good. So far all have completely different characters but each a separate statement about the same thing. Seem to be going in the direction of landscape more and more because the pure geometrical flow to the paint and contrast of form.
– in a way – a blessed simple kind of day. In a way, a twisted piece of confusion. I lay in bed at this moment trying to make up my mind. What should I say? Eva, I can’t take your indecision, which really means, I can’t stand being unsure of myself…
Graham Raynham has been really kind – gave me a pair of sunflower sunglasses that look like they came off some freak from Pershing Square, two Marvel comic books and a chocolate cake. Eva brought a bottle of wine and some glasses. I was slightly drunk and persisted in trying to make her commit herself – force is a stupid thing. She can do no other thing then resist – but my patience is growing less. I know I would not think about love so much if I were really hungry – the luxury of being well fed….
wind rumbling the window frames
a letter from Mansfield
asking friendly advice
me – of all people to ask advice
mud and coffee
in my mind
the urge to disappear
to move on to new dimensions
but first I must
finish the painting’s
it is between Eva and I
she dominates my thoughts
too weak to resist
Still this time in Edinburgh to gravitate to an appropriate understanding – too many people I haven’t met – too many friends I let slide by – and being selfish and missed the opportunity of seeing the world more for what it is – the apocalypse is obvious – distraction, distrust, dismay, on every corner of human understanding – but in a way I refuse to buy the package of negativity that is so easy to sell yourself – in a way I prefer to believe in an evolution of mankind towards what? Towards each individual – liberation including me – as always, to be set free of questioning – free of guilt – freedom.
September 23, 1974
starting work again at the King’s Theatre.
Cambridge Theatre Company – it seems odd to be back at the Kings Theatre… almost a time warp – as if there has been no time in between, Eva, the Isle of Jura, France, all of those days into a dream – but the reality is obvious – here I am.
author’s note: Jim Ray, my American millionaire friend in Telluride had given me the introduction to Mrs. Nelson, who owned most of the island of Jura, on the western Scottish coast. I went there meeting with Mrs. Nelson, staying for about a week. I would go back to Jura a couple more time in the next ten years, but originally went with a Geri Lange, a young Scots woman who with her buddy Patricia Smith had befriended me, buying me meals when I was starving in Edinburgh, and introducing me to working with children for the first time at THEATRE WORKSHOP EDINBURGH, when it was next to the castle on High Street and the director was a young English man, John Green, March/April, 1974
I look at my fingers yellow with nicotine – a flash about the black faced old drunk I saw today – stumbling down the street with a camera around his neck like an American tourist – then later wobbling across 5 o’clock traffic with a delivery bicycle – riding in the eye of speedy autos like he could die or didn’t give a damn and me walking by… a recorder of disjointed figures and walking nightmares… thinking earlier in the afternoon that television isn’t the villain, but electricity is the criminal – indeed without that pulsation, TV, autos and the technical deviations would be gone, then too – what if all electricity were gone? The human heart would stop – so man’s discovery of the miracle of life, energy is just another relative matter.
Play at the Kings now is a classic, “School for Scoundrels”–18th century? Reflection of the people of that age; they seem far more depraved then we – just not the velocity of high-powered motor machines – the circle tightens. I should begin anew – a promise to myself nearly every day because nearly every day I perpetuate the same mistake over and over – brotherhood of folly with my myself.
At this point I was making only 8 Pounds a week while rent had gone up to 16 Pounds a month, so I was eating out of the flat’s garbage can and baked potatoes bought at a shop near the Kings, which cost only ten Pence, but a pint of Belhaven’s was still only eleven Pence…
Three things are heavily on my mind now – the first is painting; confidence is returning – lack of comradeship; no recognition is a humiliating continuum – I’m tired of eating baked potatoes; feeling dirty, worrying about paying the rent – but that indeed is foolishness – potatoes are much tastier than tree roots, as in Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Bangladesh, Honduras or half of the starving world… feeling dirty only because there are so many over washed humanoids around me – a bit slovliness on my part and the rent is always due even if I have money to pay for housing – life demands its bounty – so I am exactly balanced in some respects – however I must find other paintings – I need dialogue.
Thought fluctuates between Eva or whoever it is she represents… perhaps her personality is a stand-in to a dominant need I have, yet she is only a mirage – what/who I need has to be more tolerant of me or I need a woman that measures my depth by her own.
The advancement of Bingley and Brantford – a complete story grows stronger every day –I believe it is a unique story about – what? – weakness to strength? – or the blind to see? – or maybe the ability of a person to believe in something that doesn’t exist and through that belief how non-substances is born – the magnificence of an idea in the divine creation of man –
“What are you writing?”
Yes, that’s what I’m writing – a synopsis…
Everything in my mind says, “Go to Paris! – stop wasting your time here!” – but of course Paris will be there in December or January – and perhaps I can go with more than 3 pounds – or perhaps less. I have more thoughts about Eva – a very strange one yesterday and for me, the thought is absurd – but I thought she is having mental problems – her ability to change character overnight or even in a few hours; her guarded secretiveness; her cruel insensitivity, but mainly her accusations of my deficiencies, more her problems than mine – it is utterly preposterous that I should think anyone crazy but myself – yet she has carried a schizophrenic love and hate towards me since the beginning.
It is ironic because that is how I have been in the past. The wheels turn. Anyway the divine comedy of love bares another facet. And another thing – even though I have tried to be honest to this woman, I know and admit – at least to myself my wretched dishonesty – it is an almost impossible task – still it seems valid – perhaps the next time if there is one.
One thing that has been an incredible problem between Eva and I is sex. I am obsessed with comfort and friendship and sex is the common denominator. True enough, I feel slightly guilty about my lust. I know it is a constant need. Sex is one thing Eva pretends not to appreciate – I say pretend because now she says it is not important – yet that was her only way of communicating to me in the beginning – what seems evident; I cannot satisfy or keep her curious or find compatible grounds with her in bed – I know I haven’t really been able to love her in a more delicate and sensitive way – but at the same time she hasn’t intrigued me sexually other than simple stupid things like she has nice breasts and long legs – This is beginning to sound like romantic confessions.
What I’m saying is sex; the most common ground between a man and woman is in a terrible state of confusion and on my part, irresponsibility. Well, at this point, it is hard for me to try to continue to think but what is going on. I have come to the place where I can no longer try to make this emotion work – that is, whatever it is between Eva and I.
I must out of selfishness and safety towards my own sanity stop this game – and indeed pathetic as it is, our time together has become a strange kind of flogging game towards each other – where each of us tries our best to convince the other of their wrongness. Well I stop, and in stopping accept what has been a good time... Eva apparently has her own way and is no longer part of mine.
I’m trying my very best to come to a logical answer to this drama – the paradox, it seems that if I continue to hang on and be considerate or what ever – my demanding will surely make Eva hate me – if I break loose from her to conduct my own life then I shall fail to feel anything towards her. Once again I tip my hat and smile goodbye. Goodbye it is then. Seems so damned final, so damn sad – but I am in the corner – I can no longer tolerate being made to feel so inferior – not that I have to be superior – but at least equal. Sure I know there is her side to this, yet I wonder how far do I have to go? She has tried to tell me but I have failed to understand what she says except I am selfish – granted – I am – and selfish I suppose in some ways I will always be – well… What can a person do? I smile, then say, hello, goodbye.
One more thing, just for self-defense which should be understood – but only 1/10 of what goes on, is put in this book – so many interchanges, too many flickering thoughts – conversations impossible to remember or time to record honestly offer only a crack in the doorway-view. That’s how it is, like a broken gramophone– mundane and out of date… still… I wish I had the energy to put it together in the form of words at the end of each day – sometimes at the end of each hour… You see only the tattered remains…fragments… a hand full of pieces we are all given.
September 24, 1974
I worked until 1 AM last night and walked home through the grass market. Quiet – few cars on the street. Earlier in Bennett’s I had a beer and was temporally rude to a couple of young American girls because they were American. They had that funny North Country accent.
This morning a letter from Eva telling me she is spending her off day with Martha and their friend Bell. She is dealing cards and I have a bluff game on my hands. Still she is a great friend so I have no holds on her. She is free – no question of that, and I can do no other than let it be.
original illustrations of Billy Sundown
Authors note: it was on this date I began to write The Lustful Admiration of Billy Sundown which covers the next several pages in my journal and a few sketches – and it was the finding of a bunch of photographs on the street of a kid named Johnny who was kind of simpleminded and who had befriended me while I was working at the King’s Theatre.
September 27, 1974
I did it or we did it – however it has come about – Eva and I have gone apart – I thought it would be easier, that I could be cruel and cold – and I suppose I was, but Eva is not one for being put down – she was ambivalent as usual and seemed natural about the conclusion. Still I wonder – if only it is because she chooses not to show emotion – either way. I could’ve cried but what is the use… I’m tired of these melodramas and tears are the wrong sentiment at this point. Truly tears are needed but not over this kind of suffering – it was completely self inflicted torture – there is no point for my self-pity. Still honestly, I feel incredibly heavy and sad that we have ended over, what?… Love? Friendship? – but a man and woman together, no – I’m indeed very sorry – for her, for me.
I suppose it is natural to say things like, “life will go on,” and, “there will be someone else,” and “we didn’t really know each other anyway” – but I am beginning to feel – that man and woman really never do know each other – and it is rare to find someone at all even though of course life does go on. It seems to me all there ever is, is the potential to live life together with the person you happen to be – there is only potential for trust – and that is what is so sad – for we, Eva and I have lost that gem of possibility. Oh God what losers! Is that what Leonard Cohen met in the Beautiful Losers?
We have loved each other for we have hated too… that seems to be a clue to partnerships of any kind – the necessary finishing effect of a good dose of hate – or at least anger – that we have had too. I wish I could understand – myself – Eva – but I can’t. There are so many things that add to the destruction – yet it takes so little in creation. Initially all we did was to look at each other and silently say yes to sex urges. The beginning was so beautifully simple – as it continued to be for quite a long time. I feel that I have failed – that is, I lost the chance to build a union that was possible – my lies caught up with me – yes, yes what a stupid man I am – and Eva, well she is learning her own solitary walk. How cool it is to reject those that love you and how pathetic it is to feel rejected. The Divine Comedy. Justice has made its full circuit. I now reap the rotten seeds I have sown.
I made one more attempt to speak to Eva tonight, but she was more finished than me. Now we are the same – done. So, this little romantic adventure ends. Next!?
I dreamt about Mama last night. She was sitting in a room, a circle of chairs, some empty, vague images of people around her. She was so real – I was standing there and as I began to look at her, I believed I was really seeing her or her spirit. There was a feeling of happiness because I was seeing her alive – sadness – that unbelievable way of guilt and unanswerable grief – she looked at me as if she too was seeing me – as if I to wear real to her – as if I were a dream within a dream – the dream of my mother spirit somewhere in time and place. I began to weep to cry and say, “I’m sorry mama.” I remember plainly – she gave me a strange look – a look that seemed to be saying I was doing something wrong. Then I woke up – sharply – startled.
The dream. Are there sacred guarded grounds that should not be approached by the pains of this living flesh and emotion? For whom I felt this twisted sorrow of past and present last night? – in the dream – and tried to pass it to mama – I was thrown back immediately into the consciousness of this world. Before I went to sleep the earlier in the night I repressed the urge to cry. I wanted to cry more than I could stand. My logic stood in the way. Dreams are for crying, apparently.
Now tonight – two times during Hamlet I have stopped myself from being emotional, burst into tears. Perhaps on the walk home – the night and I can join atmospheres by the moistness of my tears. O Shakespeare – old son of a gun. How much did you have to cry?
September 28, 1974 Saturday
Bright clear autumn morning – sun shining as if it was not Scotland at all but another distant land. Got up early found a letter from Eva. After our talk on the telephone she is going to talk with me again. I must confess – I’m in love with her and it is too hard to remove her from my emotions. I hope we can meet for the first time again – but really there are no expectations. I can no longer make any demands of her – but in fact I feel quite free – good I suppose – a new breath.
Something is coming, I am confident of that now. Worlds are brewing and soon a new phase will start its action. Yesterday and today I met young Scottish artists. One, Robert McNeely is potentially a great painter. We talked but I did not get off the ground. Another, Peter Gibb was more spontaneous and lively to speak to. We shall get together soon – also to tried to find Andy Lowe.
Illustrations: Edinburgh Castle and Hamlet on stage. I wrote “Opal sky – salmon orange – violet – Siena light reflection ” on next page sketches of actors in the School of Scandal by the Cambridge Theatre Company and following pages more sketches of actors that play – the following pages concluding the story of Billy Sundown. Also comments from the London Festival Ballet – said by the male the dancer – “This is a load of fucking crap” and another dancer said – “There’s a picture of Jim Brown in Playgirl – yes in the nude!” Response was, “Who’s Jim Brown?” Answer “That nigger!”following pages sketches from London Festival Ballet sketches of one of the dancers I believe that I was infatuated with…
A week to myself to paint. The pains of Eva have subsided only to be replaced by alternate anxieties. A decision of direction whether to stay and try in Edinburgh for a while longer – perhaps until Christmas or to get up and go to Paris immediately. My guts are telling me two things at once so the choice is complicated. I have not tried to be accepted in the circles of art here – if I leave now, then it will be only the act of escape – and not just to depart to a more full experience. My fear and guts tells me to go to Paris – but my thoughts say I should stay.. The compromise. I will stay until Christmas. If nothing significant has happened by then, I shall go to Paris. That is fair compromise between guts and mind – reaping the benefits of both conscious and unconscious. I detest leaving actions unfinished. If I left now it would be exactly that – an unfinished work to haunt me for life. December will bring about completion.
October 9, 1974
Well on the way with two paintings in the “Tree of Life” series. I am repeating accidents and forms I first discovered in Germany in 1967. This time the effort is deliberate and conscious – in 1967 it was completely the act of inspiration through frustration – a painting that I covered with all the paint I had at hand, then beat it nearly to death with a broom – formed itself through madness. Now I am fully aware of the patterns of accident and attempting to place them together by the thread work of organic and geometric formations. The effort is proving worthwhile although still a long ways from the visions I had in 1966. I suppose it shall take the rest of my life to even approach the margins of those visions. Still, what is coming about now is good in potential. The paintings seem quite familiar as they approach completion – the return of the unconscious is happening.
But… For what has been happening the last few days… Mainly painting – depression and loneliness in the evenings – Eva came by Tuesday and I was completely unable to talk to her. It is too difficult just to be her friend. I’m afraid I am too selfish – it must be that she either has to decide to be with me or nothing at all. Right now, I prefer nothing at all. I’m tired of trying to understand the workings of another souls mind. My own is far too confusing. I have had a great urge to leave for Paris immediately but so far have resisted… How long I don’t know but I must finish the paintings. It is the only calling card I have for Paris. I’m tired of living this hand to mouth existence yet I am grateful of my freedom – if that is the price, then so be it. I refuse to work at stupid mindless job just to stay alive. It is not worth it. So it is I am forced to be an artist – at last the pretense of madness has turned into actual reality… Progress in the “trees”. The one that has female form is becoming very powerful with color – the subtleties are light instead of the dark forms that exist in the other “trees”.
Talked to people at the Traverse Theatre. Possible to have an exhibition there sometime in December. Also became interested at last with Theatre Workshop Edinburgh – although the prospect of working with children still isn’t that appealing. I don’t have that much appreciation for children, but I’m beginning to think it will be a good learning experience for me. I hope I’m able to teach or give them something…
Impressions of the ballet keep returning – scenes from the fairies kiss. What beautiful imagery there was in that piece – the movement of the dance remains. It would be nice to do another series on ballet – but Degas and Toulouse Le Trec pretty well covered the subject. Not too many thoughts of self today. A welcome relief. Autumn in Edinburgh is very subtle yet the days linger – a gradual change. Tonight perhaps to get drunk – outrageous.
October 11, 1974
Have had some interesting meetings in the last couple of days. Talked to Di Evans, showed each other slides – went to a party with him and one of his teaching colleagues – Di as a very nice person that seems to be genuinely interested in other people and not a big head about who he is. The party was odd. Some artist that paints very bad cowboys/Indians stuff and other British pretensions. A good technician but caught up in imitation of Rousseau jungle like scenes, and Hollywood images of American Indians. I felt indignant about his work. Di paints very nice stuff f out of his own mind but reminded me of the American realist painter of the 30s can’t remember his name – did farm houses in the middle west – and stormy skies maybe Thomas Hart Bentley? – anyway, Di’s work has originality plus simplicity – it reflects what he is as a person – very believable and human.
It has happened – that is something has finally come of staying in Edinburgh although it means that now I am off to London for a period. A fellow named Ian McPherson, a businessman saw the mural in Henderson’s so he wants me to do a panel for a restaurant in London. I’m very curious to what it will be and what will come of this adventure. I can continue to paint on the trees at night I suppose – also look into the possibilities that exist there. I need a studio to work in. I am frustrated at living and painting in a room while having a room mate at the same time. Still, I am able to continue and I know it is possible to paint wherever it is – but a studio would be a blessing beyond belief – I’m not complaining as much as wishing for a more satisfying the environment – to where I could work on larger pieces perhaps get my feet back on the ground.
As for the moment, I feel good about going to London… curiosity will never end. I have been rather stagnant in some ways, mostly social – for quite a while. Isolation has run its course, now it is time to jump into society – if at all possible. It scares me in many ways – severe competition – the chance of winning and losing brought to full focus – not the fact that rejection is possible, but just the mundane day to day struggle to continue as an artist. London has infinite possibilities, also it is only a short hop to Paris. Whatever – it has brought a change in my plans to stay in Edinburgh to December – even though I will be in Britain. I am not sure how long the panels will take – apparently he wants me to do scenes of Scotland. How completely ironic and bizarre--- me an American doing Scottish historical panels in England. Well I have lived in Scotland at least and of course I do look Scottish. I must learn to roll my R’s.
October 15, 1974 London
Last night Eva came and prepared dinner before I left. I was rather hypertensive – about leaving even – still I suppose I left on a good note. Too difficult to feel easy about her – although the love pains have been forcibly dulled… Now, I do not want to start again with her. If the illogic of love follows suit, she will probably decide now she would like to be with me. Too late.
bus ride was a quick 11 hour journey through fields of uncertainty and at the
same time a positive force overlapped. There is no sadness and leaving
I am likely to be completely shocked by what comes next. The cards have been dealt, the game is on. The mystery of God makes a move again. Yesterday I had a very good talk with a Scottish painter – George Wright Hall – the director of Edinburgh City Arts Center. What a character he is – an older man – 60s or 70s gave me good advice and possible galleries to inquire about – mainly he boosted my ego – it was very strange– on the bus last night I realized it was a déjà vu experience.
October 16, 1974
What a year of justice… full of ironies and warped reflections of what I have become as a person. The restaurant I am about to do is a piece of work – is called the House of Scotland – owned and operated by an Italian, Luey Scarlatti that changed his name to Ian McPherson. The chef is from Italy as well the maître d’. The waitresses are Norwegian and Swedish. There is no kitchen in the restaurant. The food is cooked in the House of Scotland Hotel, hauled across the city in a VW bus. Ian McPherson (Luey Scarlatti) is a character from a book like Steinbeck’s Cannery Row; an eccentric that is flat broke, owes everybody money, has a Rolls-Royce ordered from a showroom, plans to start a Jacobean restaurant, says he’s really an engineer, is closer to a mad man, a driven person with 10 fingers in 20 pies. He is like London. A collage of images noises, schizophrenic chaos, possessed by the thought of getting to the top of the dog pile. I like him…
I will be surprised if I actually get through the madness of it all or if I get anything other than the experience of painting one more painting and living in the history of London for a while. At first I thought I would take as long as I could to produce a good painting – but it appears that I would be wisest to complete it as quickly as possible. I walked around a few of the streets and looked into a few of the galleries – but I am at this point basically repelled by London. It lacks the charm and class, finesse, poetry, imagery, mystery, poverty, permanence, perfume of Paris! If I’m going to be a stranger I would rather be a stranger in Paris… But of course I’m jumping the gun, condemning far too much in advance and more than completely ignorant of what goes on in the city. I have yet to discover why London is the powerful place that is or why there are so many talented people here. The villain time will tell.
October 17, 1974
When it rains it pours. I shall have to be more careful what I ask God next time. The last three weeks I have been complaining and grumbling about not having a studio being sick and tired of living with people. In a very cerebral way I have been asking God to do something about it. Has God ever not brought what I have asked for? Well if he hasn’t, I’ve forgot about it or it must still be on its way – anyway – I just realized 10 minutes ago I have been looking at my studio for two days –– however temporary, it is my studio for the time being.
Not only am I living in an empty luxury hotel but I have probably the best studio – or room to paint in anyone has ever had – including Picasso and Rubens – it is a fantastic room. Two big windows that seem to be north although I haven’t a clue where the sun is being the London sky is gray concrete but it is – a spacious room, with high ceilings and wall-to-wall carpet. The room has violet walls, a purple ceiling with a gold center piece and border. The carpet is red and green of the McPherson clan or so Luey Scarlatti says... It’s outrageous. There is a heater right behind the easel – a giant neon light right exactly in the right place – and best of all no one at all to bother me while I’m at work. If this is not a good painting it is because I can’t stand luxury. The canvass is stretched, painted the undercoat– about 4’ x 6’ – no reason I shouldn’t start immediately – except for no enthusiasm – tomorrow is the day.
October 19, 1974
Undoubtedly the studio lasted the shortest length of time of any I have ever had. Today I’m on my way back to Edinburgh. McPherson is a madman no doubt – as I must certainly be to get involved in such a setup. He thinks it would complicate his life too much if I were here, as I think he is bonking all of the waitresses who also live in the hotel and he appeared very jealous they were talking to me and invited me into their room – so the deal is he wants me to go back to Edinburgh to do the painting. He says he will give me 150 Pounds, but I sincerely doubt that. It appears that I have been taken for a ride again – what are you doing God? Well, at least I saw London for a moment – a free trip and perhaps some sobering experience. My life is nothing but haphazard and I don’t seem to alleviate it. There’s a slight nagging to go on to Paris and have this game behind – but for once I must try to get down to practicalities… Ho ho ho
11 PM – London
Screw of this! I just bought a ticket to Paris. The plunge – what will happen I have no idea except to try to find a place to paint to live. I could have gone back to Edinburgh easy enough but I feel like the lesson is over. I have lived in the experience to a degree of what Scotland is – I suppose I will return – it is still one of the best places I have known…it is the question of whether I can last any length of time in Paris. Who knows? I have a little over 3 Pounds – a backpack full and no addresses at all – whatever kind of situation will come, it certainly will be necessity. I am frightened, nervous and very uncertain of the practicalities I have come to. It seems if there is anyone crazy it is me – it is an adventure to Paris, indeed also romantic. I’ve thought about how the young draftees must have felt going to Vietnam – by comparison, Paris even in uncertainty and no money will be cozier than Nam. The worst may come but I will stay alive. At last a real adventure in the completion of another longtime curiosity and dream. That’s what it’s about.
Authors note: while I was in Victoria station waiting for the night train to Paris I carried on writing the lustful admiration of Billy sundown which goes on for the next few pages.
October 20, 1974
was sitting in the Europa Bistro at
When the gentleman departed I began to think about what he said, about why I had
agreed with him. At once, I was in paradox of my words and thoughts. I had just
written to my friends in Telluride,
the reason I was going to
put a twist on the journey to
So the conclusion. I went back to ticket agent and got a refund on the ticket to Paris – spent most of the night walking the streets of London, spent a couple of hours sleeping in St. James Park in the bushes outside 10 Downing Street and this morning I am waiting for the bus back to Edinburgh. It may be painful but I feel I have done the right thing – whether the madman actually buys the painting or not I have done the right thing. I must finish my time in Scotland – and what could be more fitting than to do a mural of the Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle for the House Of Scotland restaurant in London? Tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!
It was a very difficult decision to come to – I sincerely wanted to go to Paris – everything in my guts said go to Paris – stop wasting your time here – but of course Paris will be there in December, or January – and perhaps I can go with more than 3 pounds – or perhaps less – at least I will arrive with no regrets of Scotland. I didn’t know whether I was right or wrong last night about the decision until I started walking around London – suddenly I felt very light hearted and London look quite alright – even if I did have to sleep in the bushes. One thing I am learning: look neither to the right or left but straightahead. Beggars and kings have nothing on me.
October 23, 1974:
Back to scrambling in Edinburgh. As it has turned out I was right about coming back. Got some work from Henderson's again, got the art sessions back at the workshop – met an artist, Gordon Straken – a minister that does symbolic paintings. I first saw his work last spring and was very impressed about it – as original of work I have ever seen – he is completely conscious of the accident of creation. We had a very good talk the other day. Also I have an exhibit at the Traverse and possibly one at some point in the future – so things are good.
I have moved in with Neil and Mike and have a fantastic room to paint in. God sent messengers and for once I listened. I look forward to speaking to Gordon Straken again. I feel he can teach me some things and answer a few questions.
October 27, 1974
What has happened in the last 10 days makes my head spin – almost as if between a madness I imagine and realities that would like to imagine but did happen. I was laying in my bed the day after one of those horrible nights making a fool of myself – got way too boozed up disrespecting myself as a human and naturally other humans as well – laying in bed with a throbbing head thinking over moments of my drunkenness being a howling lunatic, when a young woman, Tina, walked into the room. I met her while I was in my roaring condition. It turns out she is the daughter of a professor of Icelandic Literature at The University of Edinburgh. She stayed for the day, then for the night – I tried not to be swayed by lust but lost. She was far too beautiful to say no...
October 28, 1974 Working at the Kings Theatre again…
Tonight the first show of the Scottish comedian entertaining Billy Connolly – the company is not a lot together – signs of confusion and breakdown in mutual respect, though individually they seem to be nice people. Funny about the show… Connolly opens with a satire on Christ. I guess Christ can take a joke but of course I wonder about the people. They laugh so easily as if… Christ was just some poor bum can that was nailed to some wood by mistake… I don’t know – I see myself drowning in my own excretion, leaving the gospel behind and yet the Lord constantly tries to revive my interest.
I remember feeling sacrilegious watching the show. I was not yet quite out of the “Born Again Christian” experience, although at that point I did not even talk religion with anyone I knew, and my own intellect was returning rapidly to my earlier philosophical stance on all religions, that being certain, they were all bullshit.
Lately – no, not lately but for a long time, I have reverted to the mistakes of the past. I’m aware of my own trickery and at the same time try to forget…I live in lopsided selfishness – it is unrewarding yet at another point, the experience is the truth. I find myself returning to existential thoughts as well as being… I’m reading Gogol and Albert Schweitzer’s book. seems as contradictory in literature as my life…
you poor young sod
the hopelessness of the lost
has no comfort
to come alive
with veined eyes
it means to stand
give up to the philosophical answers
the answer is work
use your muscle strength
your frame of mind
an awkward coward
hides in the shadows
writing coded inscriptions
across the face of man
tortured eyes shine the light
instead of vacuum holes
that pull the innocent and ignorant
to a swift humiliated end
awake I say awake again
you can’t afford this lavishness
of sleep that threads its way
two such a timeless death
November 1, 1974
At this point I began writing THE BEAST OF 1967, a short story which was a satire of alienation and loneliness – but I was having fun playing with the concept that a number of a year could actually be an entity of a human being…I undoubtedly was very influenced reading Nikoli Gogol’s novel, DIARY OF A MADMAN. I had also seen a brilliant one-man adaptation of the book at The Church of Scotland’s Netherbow Theatre.
I was on the troubadour tour doing THE
BLACK THIEF with Neil Cameron he
told me about the work he was doing for
Theatre Workshop Edinburgh (
were two communities that
Pilton’s “Adventure Playground” an asphalt parking lot that was the land of ten thousand broken beer bottles…1974
time we had finished THE BLACK THIEF
said all I had to do was get to the housing estate. One of the leading women in
Pilton had everything I needed to start a mural with the children at a large
area, called the “Adventure Playground.” My
transportation was by bicycle or the city bus system.
When I arrived and went to the house where the lady had all the material I would need. She lived in a third floor flat where the stairwells smelled like cat piss and drunkards vomit. I knocked on her door and someone yelled come in. I discovering her flat did not smell much different and was icy cold except for the one room where the lady and her obese daughter were sitting in front of electric heater.
I told her who I was there to collect the material to begin a mural. She told me the paint was out in the hall I just walked through. When I went to collect the paint I look for buckets of assorted colors, brushes, rags, rulers and a dozen other things I had put on the list needed to do a workshop with kids.
In the hallway there was one 5 liter can of mustard yellow highway centerline paint. When I asked where the rest of the paint was, I was told that’s all they could get together. So with my can of mustard yellow paint I went back out to the “Adventure Playground” where I told was told the children were coming to meet me.
It was no playground at all but possibly a lot of adventure in a large asphalt parking lot that was completely covered with broken glass, rocks, condoms, beer bottles, whiskey bottles and other pieces of broken junk. I did not see a child anywhere even though it was in the afternoon, the time arranged to meet.
All around me were three-story tenement buildings except for the far south which was a long warehouse building 20 feet high and over 100 feet long with a solid brick wall facing the parking. The whole area was about 3 acres of land, much of it covered in asphalt and broken glass except for an area of rolling grass mounds next to the long brick wall. The can of mustard paint was more like wet cement than paint so one had to dig it out. I had no brushes to paint even if it was paint.
standing thinking, so this is the great
theory Neil was telling me about.
No kids, no brushes no paint or anything resembling a playground. The whole idea
seemed to be a complete waste of time and all I could think was how the hell
could I get back to
But that day I turned to the boy and said “Well, the first thing we’re going to do is make some brushes for this very thick paint.”
showed him how to take a stick and rub it on the asphalt until the end was all
bury. Then I got him to dip the stick into the yellow gooey mush and dribble it
in a pattern on the asphalt. The boy asked what we were painting. I said, “In
“Oh aye, snakes and ladders! I love that game,” he said. So in short order we were making too long meandering yellow lines that we put cross struts over that resembled a wiggly railway track. Then out of nowhere suddenly eight or 10 other small kids showed up and asked what I was doing. I told them the little boy and I were making a snakes and ladders game on the asphalt. I told them if they would find cans and some sticks I would show them how to make brushes and give them paint and they could help.
Within a minute they were all back with empty cans and sticks and I showed them how to fuzz out the stick on the asphalt. I got them to put the cans down in a circle and told them no one was to paint until I showed them what to do. I thought I really had it under control.
I said, “All right, everyone wait while I pour the gooey paint into the cans.” They all stood looking at the cans until I said, “Okay now this is how we take the can and…”
kids grabbed the cans and ran in every direction to the nearest wall they could
find and begin dabbing graffiti on everything I could see. It was a complete
disaster. Whatever our project I was going to do turned into mass graffiti
smeared vandalism from one end of the housing estate walls to the other. This
had to be the beginning and the end of my Community Artist role in
I have to say I was completely bewildered in what to do especially when I saw several of the children write out misspelled obscenities on every wall of choice. Like fuk yoo.
when I’m writing about stuff done in
10 years there was full, but something else I’ve always said, it was the
Artists, to me, were people who did something unbelievably monumental and in most ways bigger than life. Real artists were in museums. Artists were so great, one heard or about read about them since childhood. Artists were people like Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Rubens, El Greco, Van Gogh and yes of course, Picasso.
When people asked of my profession, I’d tell them, “I’m a painter.” They would say, “You mean a house painter?” My answer was, “No, I paint pictures.” I considered myself still “practicing” to someday be a true artist by my own definition which seemed so far away, being I was no where close to ever creating something truly bigger than life….
there I was with snot-nosed little ghetto kids in one of the most impoverished
meanest working class housing “projects” in
Even the socialist government had built them houses with cruel flat roofs. I ask you, flat roofs in a land that rains 300 days a year? There wasn’t a building in Pilton that didn’t have slimy wet walls most of the year; due to the leakage of those brilliant paper planned flat roofs.
there was the mysterious evaluation of the spoken word. Even though the housing
estate people of Pilton and Craigmillar were white in a predominant white
society; their working class accents automatically revealed them as the
But there I was in Scotland, on the Adventure Playground, an asphalt covered parking lot full of broken beer bottles and used condoms with 12 little kids looking at me, asking, “What we doing today Mr.?”
the kids found out I was from
So, from that day on through the next three years, every time I got to the Adventure Playground, some kid would yell into the jungle grapevine, “Cowboy is here!” The ghetto-jungle message system worked instantly and within 5 minutes 12 kids were asking, the inevitable question, “Wh’t ‘weh do’n t’day Cow-boy?”
I had to move on to something else after the disastrous beginning with FUK YOO written on every wall in Pilton within 200 yards of my yellow mustard can. I decided to do something slightly safer. I decided to work on something a little less liable to go in every direction.
The “cultural workers” before me built a large wooden swing for the children. When the swing was finished the children swung on it and the cultural workers photographed them. They drove away very happy accomplishing the day’s work. The children came back and burned the swing down.
What was left of the swing when I arrived on the adventure playground was large poles in the ground and a large beam across the top, being so profoundly massive the children could neither chop it down, burn it down or knock it down. The moment I looked at it, I saw a dragon.
When the kids asked, “Cowboy, what we going to do today?” I said, “Follow me everybody! Were going to find the material to build a dragon!” The children followed me down the abandoned railway tracks going out of Pilton which had turned into the city dump for the housing estate of 40,000 people.
Earlier on I had bicycled around Pilton and out of curiosity I gone down abandoned railway that went to the bay. All the steel rails had been taken away although the cross struts were still there. But with the on-goings of civilization, the railway became a collection ground for burnt mattresses, refrigerators, broken chairs, baby carriages, lamps, tables, worn out tires, dead cars, dead dogs, string, wire, tin cans, bottles and everything you would find in a dump, however no one bothered to cover it up. Anything that was burnable had been set on fire at least once, most of all, mattresses, which left a cornucopia of coiled springs and rectangle frames. In short the whole area was a warehouse for mixed metal pieces and unusual objects.
I came up with a plan to collect the burnt bed springs and mixed unburnable objects and carry them back to the Adventure Playground. The rusted bed springs could be wrapped around the huge two posts in the ground with a large crossbeam, which would serve as the armature for creating a large dragon.
That was the beginning for the next year, bicycling to Pilton and going down the tracks collecting stuff. I was the Pied Piper with my 12 little ruffians following along. Mostly the gang was boys but once in a while two or three little girls came along. I was the “Cowboy Pied Piper” with a dozen little devils, but under the toughness were absolutely little angels.
One day a little boy named “Wee Jonny’ decided to set me on fire. He had a squirt bottle filled with gasoline and a Bic lighter. He chased me all around the playground squirting gas at me and trying to catch me on fire with the Bic lighter. I was terrified that any minute he was going to explode. Wee Jonny didn't have the slightest idea he was carrying a bomb in his hand. Fortunately “Wogo” my eleven year old bodyguard showed up and promptly beat up nine year old Wee Jonny. Wogo told him to do whatever Cowboy wanted him to do.
That episode all started because Wee Jonny came up to me one day and said look at me and when I did he spit in my face. What I did was natural thing to do out of my ranch boy upbringing. I spit right back into Wee Jonny’s face, a great big gob. And so the next day is why he arrived with a bottle of gasoline.
Wee Jonny in the yellow and black sweater
“Wogo” was the older brother of the little boy who first showed up on the playground to help me paint. Because I was kind to the little boy and took him under my wing, Wogo elected to be my bodyguard. He was an eleven-year-old thug that by the time he was five, his nose was already flattened across his face. Wogo was a natural born thug and his father was a thug and his mother was a thug and his whole network of humanity were thugs. That’s how things worked in Pilton. If you were born in brutality then brutality was a way of life. Anyway, Wogo by default was my right hand man and “Wee Jonny” never chased me with a Molotov cocktail around the playground again.
Over the course of the next few weeks the children and I completely wrapped the remnants of the wooden swing with poisonous jagged rusty terrifying pieces of lethal stabbing cutting steel. The thing grew to 30 feet long, 8 feet high and 12 feet wide, but was a booby-trap every inch where little kids could fall through, break their legs or impale their eyes with the spikes sticking out. I’d gone from the disaster of the FUK YOO’s written on every nearby wall to the possible maiming of every child who mounted the metal manifestation of a dragon. It would have looked great in a museum, but not such a good idea for a children’s playground.
I came up with the idea of making a great looking dragon was by visiting the
Tate Museum of Art in
Fortunately no one had yet been killed or maimed.
more fortunately I was working with the other creative maniacs of Theatre
Workshop who were doing things just as dangerous with children, like blowing
fire over their heads, getting kids to stilt walk down slippery staircases or
igniting exploding boxes in the middle of family circles. It was also a long
time before Lockerby or 9/11. The edgy actions sometimes were reciprocated by
the ghetto children with retaliation of broken glass shard mud balls who the
kids could hit you within 30 feet. None of my team mates complained about me
building a kiddy-eating-monster. It was a tough life in
at the time I got to know David Harding
who was the renowned
Father of Town Artists
not only for
very first day with David Harding helping to build one of his mushroom
sculptures, I nearly blinded his assistant Hugh Graham by accidentally throwing
sticky cement straight into his eye. I was beginning to think things were not
looking up for me in
Hugh Graham 1975
My misfire beginning with David Harding carried on and he is one of my dearest friends in the world some 40 years later. Needless to say David managed to get over my ineptitude the first time we met. But he showed me how cement could be used in a free-form fashion.
Exploring a fine line between stupidity and genius. That’s a phrase I heard today that was the bio of a band call the El Bendejo’s.