A ZenCowboy exercise that inspired these writings was to finish in one sitting my thoughts or memory or nostalgia on one handwritten 8 X 11 page.
STORIES FROM 1993
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 ridin' wasn't exactly a ride, but every time I think about it, it seems like it was a ride, a very wonderful, beautiful, flowing ride. I was just a baby. But I remember it very well. I am almost old now, but like they say, I remember that first ride. It was 55 years ago...There was sun coming down through the leaves of the big old cottonwoods. The water was warm, and I was in my mother's arms, and we were in the river, the Arkansas river that flowed past our house. I remember the river sound. It was like laughter.
EVERY JOURNEY WILL CONTAIN BOTH SIDES OF AN EXPERIENCE IN A FAST/SLOW UGLY/BEAUTIFUL LONELINESS.
In the middle of winter, 1957. I wore a tee-shirt and a James Dean Levi jacket and a greasy duck-tail. I was cool. Very cool. I was so cool I even had horse-shoe heel plates on my black wedgies. Me and the Johnston boys would hang out in the entrance hallway of the Colorado Movie Theater. It cost twenty-five cents to get in but that day we spent our quarters on Lucky Strikes. We were all cool together. I remember watching the brand-new electronic temperature sign on the Skaggs drugstore. It said minus 20°. We stayed in the hallway until it was getting dark. We all had to go home to get supper. Go home through the cold in our tee-shirts and thin Levi jackets. The cars went by on Elizabeth Street, full of people being warm. It was twenty-nine blocks home and fifteen cents for a bus. We spent the money on cigarettes. There is not much heat from the glow of a Lucky Strike.
What is a journey? Does it mean you go someplace? But if you are still, someplace may come to you.
I think it was a steel horse. It might have been plastic, but it seems like it was steel. The horses that came sometime later were definitely plastic, but the first one, the one in the dark garage in our house down by the Arkansas River, sounded like steel. There was a slunk and a boing noise when it bounced on the springs. Plastic goes thunk. Also this horse smelled like steel, the way rocks smell when they are hot under the sun. The smell of this horse was not very strong though, because someone had knocked over a gallon can of red-oxide oil-paint and lead-oxide smell covered the dark. When the door was open, you could see the black horse paint was chipped where the steel let off little smells into the red-oxide air.
Time is a sliding thing on a ride, lake it goes very slow on the way to someplace and then very fast once you are there. But sometimes it goes the other way.
Red Cloud showed me the best way to go ridin'. We used to go ridin' on real horses. That was a few years after the plastic horses that went thunk and gronk at the playground of the Pueblo drive-in Theater. The real horses were a lot better and more fun, but they were scary too. The plastic horses were only scary when the frame bounced off the ground, or there was a monster movie like "The Thing", or "The Creature from the Black Lagoon". Mostly, the plastic horses did things only in my imagination. Instead of being where they were, in front of a big drive-ín screen, we were ridin' out in the desert, or up in the mountains, but wherever it was, we were always surrounded by Indians, or being chased by the posse. Also it was easy to eat popcorn, hot dogs, salted peanuts, and drink Royal Crown Cola on their backs because they stopped bouncing and going thunk, when your imagination left Indian country.
Nothing can prepare you for the loneliness of a journey except the willingness to continue...
Everyone may march to their own drummer, but when you go on your way, some people may call you names. Being called a male chauvinist pig didn't really make me feel good, but it didn't stop me from going the direction I was headed. That gypsy girlfriend. I got used to her. She had the most beautiful eyes and gentle hippy-girl ways. I guess after three years I was almost in love with her, so it surprised me when she wanted to do her own thing. Well, 1 got to missing my gal something terrible, so I limped out to California to see her. I bought a 1951 Ford pickup that had HOZ spray-painted on the doors, over the head of a Hereford bull. All four tires were bald, including the spare. On the Riverside freeway, during morning traffic madness, near Anaheim, the first tire blew. I put on the spare, which shed all of its rubber leaving only the cord showing. The cars, all six lanes, roared past me as I limped on the shoulder at 15 m.p.h.... I was with Jeanie for a week. Her Dad thought that was long enough. She gave me enough money to get back out of her life. I got to San Diego and got a job painting a merry-go-round. The money was enough to buy two tires and gas back to Colorado. The boss at the tire company looked at my old truck and put on four new tires!. "Send me the money when you got some extra", he said to me. 1 looked at him like he was crazy. "You see", he said, "one time about twenty years ago I went back to see an old girlfriend in Colorado, and well, it didn't work out and my old car blew.., and ya see there was this preacher guy', he bailed me out an' got my car fixed an' says "Send me the money when ya got it. Well, Damn me if! didn't lose his address, an all these years..." Jeanie visited me on the last day. We went to the beach and lay down. Swarms of flies flew over the top of us, all moving South. She got on the train back to L.A. We just looked at each other as it pulled out. Two weeks later I was a born-again Christian. Four months later I got roaring drunk in Durango.
There comes a moment in some journeys when life is too big, and you are too small..
Her name was Michelle. She was very sweet and round and obliging. I called her after reading the notice on the community bulletin board at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It said "Need passenger to share driving and gas to N.Y.C. Dec 1 1973." 1 called her and got very interested in her voice. The three day journey became seven because the gas crisis happened. We were stuck in Nebraska for two days. In New York, the ship I was scheduled to leave on was delayed as well. Every two days the departure date was bumped ahead two more days. Michelle showed me New York. Her family wished I would leave. Finally the 28th of December the freighter Euresthenes cast off for Halifax, where there was supposed to be enough oil to get us to London. The Greek captain argued for two days with the port authorities before he got the fuel. "Hah!", he said, "we got enough to get on to Antwerp where this old tub will be scrapped!". "Scrapped?" I asked. He smiled. On January 1st we were in the Atlantic and it was Force Eleven. The waves came in mountains sixty feet tall. At night it was solid black. The rolling mountains hissed long and shredding and I knew the fear of death.
When you start a journey it is a good idea to take aim at where you are going, because someone else's aim wí11 not be yours.
John Phillips and I pointed out brand-new French ten-speed racing bicycles South. We aimed to get al the way to Mexico City. It was mid-June in Phoenix and the temperature was already over 105 degrees. We weren't on the road very long before we realized that pedaling into a South wind was just as hard as going up a steep hí11. We were used to the desert, to the heat and dryness, but not like this. It was hot, dry, and hard. The first day we made it to Tucson, the second day into Nogales, and after that the distances were measured in how many beer pitstops we made in the heat. It was Guaymas where I had my first Margarita. It was San Bias where i took tequila straight from the poison bottle; bit the lime, licked the salt and bot thrown down a flight of stairs by the hotel staff after I got in bed with an eighty year old spinster. It was the wrong bed. It was somewhere after Mazatlan, I was going up and over a bridge when i saw the two boys sitting on the heaped pile of cabbages on the back of the truck. One boy smiled as he picked up a cabbage and took aim. It flew through the air almost in slow-motion as I watched it go into a high arc and come down slowly and hit me right square between the eyes. Good aim.
There are rides where everything goes against you and rides where everything just goes...
January in Britain and it was cold. That wasn't why I decided to get the four hundred miles to Scotland by my own power, nor why I bought the twenty eight inch Raleigh police bicycle in Oxford Like it had in Mexico years before the wind always seemed to blow from the South. This time though I was going North. I had a pack on the back of the bike that weighed about seventy pounds. It was nearly three feet high with my guitar on the top. The tent and the sleeping bag, along with each day's food were tied to the handlebars. Thirty-five miles out of Oxford, a hard cold gust of wind hit me from the side and blew me into the ditch. i reloaded my pile of belongings back on the bike and pedaled into the ugly little village of Wolverton, my name-place. I decided to find somewhere to pitch my tent. At the edge of the village was the church and what looked like a park surrounded by trees. It was getting dark and the wind was howling in near to hurricane force. The park turned out to be a graveyard. `Oh well, I thought what better place to sleep than the final resting ground of maybe some of my ancestors. I fell asleep with the rain slapping hard against the tent. T woke up somewhere around midnight. It was pitch black. The tent was flapping madly and the wind was alternating between an eerie screaming and a deep moaning. I fumbled for my flashlight and dug into my pack. I pulled out the silver crucifix and held it tight.
The strangest thing about arriving within a journey is that is the moment a dream ends and a dream begins...
James the Donkey. The outstanding symbol of a new phase of life in Scotland. It took nine days to cycle from Oxford to Edinburgh, a city that charmed me for the next five years. The Castle the pubs, the ten o'clock bell that signaled drinking up time and the King's Theatre where 1 got a job as a stagehand and learned to understand the thick Scottish tongue thanks to a comedian called Billy Connolly .... after two weeks of his show I understood every word. Some people 1 met were there just for me. Ann and Gen. One took me to bed, then I took the other one. ..both seemed to think I was a roller coaster. They introduced we to Theatre Workshop here 1 suddenly found myself teaching acrobatics to little kids. My party piece was a flying forward somersault, a bounce on the toes and a three sixty degree flip through the air. That was when Neil asked me `How would you like to go on a troubadour show with a donkey and cart, sleeping in tents, walking through the Kingdom of Fife.
If you don't like surprises, don't go on journeys and if you prefer straight lines, forget about ridin' the country.
I had it all planned. I was going around the world. It would be the first time. Wow! All those exciting places I had never seen - Paris, Calcutta, Tokyo. I had it very well worked out too. I had written from Istanbul to Honolulu promising to work with kids and other artists to create beautiful murals. The letters were coming in daily saying how excited they would b . to meet me and work with me. Also I had met a lovely Japanese woman who worked at the Japanese Embassy. She wanted me to stay with her family in Japan. It was great! I was liberated, I had money in the bank and people I could work with were lined up all around the globe! Then I went to a party. Somehow I wound up in the same bed with a beautiful artist called Chrissie. Somehow she was on the bus with me headed for the Middle East. Somehow we made it to Isfahan, Iran where a huge reception was arranged for us to meet the wife of the Shah and her friends. But when we turned up in the bright silk harem pants Chrissie had found in the market, all the servants started laughing, and we weren't allowed upstairs. We were wearing lranian men's underwear. Nobody would be seen dead in the same room as us. Somehow we convinced them to let us paint a mural with kids in a much poorer neighborhood. Somehow despite the ugly arguments, we persuaded our hosts to pay us... It was just enough to get out of Iran eight weeks before the revolution. Somehow Chrissie was five months pregnant. Somehow we made it back to Germany where we built cardboard monsters. ...somehow...somehow
When a ride makes you sad, try not to cry too much or your tears wí11 rust up the good-time wheel
Well, Chrissie was a desperate as me to get out of that mad insurance man's insane household. A color television talking to itself in every big empty room was too much. And us with a six month-old baby, sleeping in a broom closet....we must have been nuts! But anyway there we were in a silver van that had missing windows, and it rattled and roared so much we couldn't hear each other speak. Our daughter slept like an angel. It was when I heard the screeching metallic shredding sound that a large brown Lurd of doom grew like a mushroom right in the centre of my chest. I stopped the truck and said "Let's camp here!" "Here?" Chrissie said. The goddam coyote cackled all night long. In the morning we drove one mile to beautiful downtown Seligman, Arizona, where the transmission split its guts laughing over the coyote's jokes. This time Chrissie heard the crunch and her tears fell so salty and so fast that all four wheels rusted to the ground. A black crow flew by and squawked like a coyote.
If you try to understand what a journey is when you are on it, it is like a dream that escapes your tongue..
To tell you the truth I can't really remember why James the Donkey is so symbolic. I can still see him, slow and stubborn, lurching in front of the cart on our journey through the ancient kingdom of Fife . One time he got panicked by a big truck and tipped the cart over on the road. Nine days, and nine villages, eight of us walking along, then setting up small theatre space in the village square or park. What was it that was so magical? Maybe l sensed the sound of the bagpipes in the stone walls that kept us on our path, or maybe it was in the wet smell and the green of the fields or perhaps I caught a glimpse of the folk legend king and bandit, Rob Roy. Or maybe it was the stories Neil and Mike told of their journeys in other countries, but I'm not sure. I can still hear the scooting click of James's small hooves on the asphalt , mixed with the rattle of the pheasant cocks p the bushes. I still laugh at one unsolved mystery. Neil had to go to a village doctor with his infected arm wound, and when the old doc insisted oil giving him a shot in the buttocks, Neil was exposed, wearing black lace ladies panties.
Beware of ridin' a hard journey going uphill for you will discover that path was the easy part...
Let's go saltin' up on Baldy Meadow!' said Red Cloud. That meant we were going to take twenty 50 lb salt block licks for the cows. I went down to the round corral where the two guilt workhorses were batting flies off each other's noses in the soft June mountain heat. The snow had been melted off for over a month, and grass and flowers covered the summer pastures of the Antler Ranch. Red Cloud hitched up the horses to a tiny cart with big rubber wheels. They looked ridiculous, those huge Clydesdales, next to the teacup-sized wagon, but Red cloud said it would be tough with a thousand pounds of salt. He was right. The mountain path turned into a track that turned into a rut that pointed straight up to Baldy Meadow. At the top Red Cloud couldn't find the path back down. "That's alright" he said, "we' ll just foller the creek -bed down. That was the first case of horses going white water rafting.
Enemies at the beginning may be enemies at the end, and then, maybe not..
I answered the front door bell and told the City dogcatcher "Why, yes, we do have dogs here, in fact I think we have twenty-two dogs." The house was served with a warrant for the arrest of fifteen dog-owners, and several other notifications having broken every city code known. I think the whole place evacuated shortly after that. Rent was overdue six weeks. Jack and I wound up somehow in a skid-row flophouse hotel owned by Organic O1ly, with his menagerie of down-and-out prostitutes, probation dodgers, and old Scotty who drank a whole bottle of Scotch every Saturday, played his fiddle and danced on top of his kitchen table. He was eighty-eight years old and had come to America when he was twenty-one. He was from Glasgow. The steel workers drank at a bar across the street. They hadn't tried to set us on fire yet, but they would soon...
Being on a journey is all about choice.. the hardest part is knowing when to start and when to end..
Organic Orval was an old weirdo. He had worked on the railroad for thirty years and he bought the dilapidated East River Hotel to make his retirement fortune. The only trouble was, none of the ten or so people who lived there could afford to pay the rent. When Jack and I got money ~~ e either bought marijuana or wine. So did everybody else. Organic Orval hated vice. Usually we hid when he was around. One weekend when he was gone, Jack and I decided to have a nice dinner and a bottle of wine. I walked across the road to the steelworkers' bar. That was a mistake. "Aín't she pretty!" one of them yelled as soon as I went ia the door. "I'm gorna cut this little pussy's curls off!" After rescuing my hair from one of the ogre's hands and knife, I managed to get back to the hotel with a bottle of bad red wine. Five minutes later, the monsters were banging on the door. Then I saw the flames leap up by the window. Something snapped in me. They were still hammering on the door. I picked up the hand-axe and swung the door open. "Look, I am bored with this!", I said to the steel man the same guy that had grabbed my pony4aîi in the bar, "Do you understand?" He was suddenly looking into n mad eyes and backed off nervously - "Hey, wait a minute pal, we weren't really going to burn your place down. I wuz jus' jokin" I screamed "Fuck!" and slammed the door in their faces. Then: somewhere out in the vacant lot I heard screams and thuds, so I looked out the vindo to see these three goons pounding each other senseless. "They're goddam insane.", T said to .hek. 'e drank our bottle of red wine, and the rest of the night was quiet. In the morning we were having breakfast when I heard a timid little tapping on the door. "Now what?", i said as 1 opened the door to the same guy who had started the hassle the night before. Both of his eyes were black and blue and il looked like his nose was broken. He was carrying a set of bongo drums. "I'm sorry about !ast night," he said. "I had to beat up my friends, and, well I jus' wanted to give you these drums and T hope you ain't mad at me!"
Once in a while, ridin' into a journey you meet a friend who is more than human
I met Molly for the first time in Portland, Oregon. That was thirty-one years ago and she is still with me today. I guess all those years I have been afraid someone would steal her from one - after all that is how she fell into my hands. I was walking down the street worrying about the beautiful young girl lack and I had just spent the night with at the East River Hotel. I had just collected my last unemployment check, about a hundred bucks. l got to a corner and was waiting to cross when a suspicious-looking, long-haired dope-fiend came up to me and said "Psst! Hey man - you want to buy a guitar?" 1 looked at the big black guitar case he was carrying "Well, how much?" "Fifty bucks, man". "What kind is it?' I asked. "Well it's got six strings," he said "Wanna look at it?" He put down the case, looked up and down the street then slowly popped the lid open. There, in a lied of beautiful golden kit, lay Molly, an immaculate, perfect, female-shaped love-affair. Two days later, overwhelmed with fear of the beautiful girl's horse, and really on a ranch. Christy was a big long-legged desert horse. He was eighteen hands high. That meant I had to stand on a 5-gallon drum before I could reach the stirrups. It wasn't really that much different than it had been in my imagination, bouncing on the plastic playground horses, except this horse I was on now had his own imagination. Also he knew the size he was without a person on his back. He could estimate the width of two trees minus my knees. He knew where a branch would scratch his back without me on him. I ducked down to miss it but I got whomped hard. I turned blue. I couldn't breathe. Red Cloud took me back to the summer camp and made me lay down on the floor. He popped my back and rubbed turpentine on my chest. It burned like hell.
Red Cloud used ta trick me when we went ridin'. One time we were up on top of a mountain which was the Antler Ranch summer pastures. Even high Rocky Mountains get hot in the summertime, I guess being so close to the sun helps... and when you have been in the trees on a tall horse, chasing cattle that make rattle and knocking sounds as they crash through the aspens, and you've been yelling and hooting, just like you are a real cowboy, just like Red Cloud, well you get awful hot and dusty. That was how I was when Red Cloud said "I'll race ya to Little Dollar Lake, and the first gets his clothes off and in the water is the winner!" He didn't say winner of what. My horse somehow was much faster than his, and somehow I got my boots and Levi's off much faster, and I could jump of the leaping rock even faster and discover that high mountain lakes stay ice-cold in the summer. Red Cloud laughed.
Red Cloud and I used to go ridin' with a big red dog he called Dempsey. I guess he named him that because he was part boxer. We often left camp at dawn and wouldn't get back until the sun was getting low. If we rode forty miles, Dempsey would have run eighty... always a few hundred feet off to one side of us, or the other. Sometimes a half-mile to the front or rear. He was like a scout searching out the desert, seeing if he could scare something up from the brush. Usually it was just big high-desert jack-rabbits. They get big out in Eastern Oregon., with long legs and can run at forty mile per hour. Dempsey gave `em hell. I liked watching that dog weaving patterns all around us. Once he flushed a coyote and the two of them made trails of dusty figure-eighty around us for the next mile. One time we got back to camp after dark. Dempsey nowhere around. The next day, about noon he limped in. The pads were wore off on all four bloody paws.
The high desert of Eastern Oregon is a big empty powerful country. You can find ancient obsidian arrowheads after every windstorm. There are ranches out there like the ZX, that measure their size in millions of acres, pastures in hundreds of thousands. It takes five hundred to one thousand acres to keep one cow in grazing grass for one year. It can freeze right in the middle of summer any night you pick. At noon you can die out there of heat-stroke. I have seen dust-devils dance two miles up into the sky. The quiet there is so quiet, the rustle of your clothes seems noisy. Red Cloud sent me up there to chase a hundred head of cows and calves back to Domino camp. Cows move as fast as they want to. I was whooping and hollering and yipping and hootin' just to make sure I sounded like a cowboy. The sun was up and hot. Muskrat's neck was wet, my throat dry, my tongue glued with sticky cotton. My lips cracked... The cows began to run. Ahead, a stock tank, a hole in a lake-bed, a puddle of yellow-white water. The cows waded in to their knees. Water went in their mouths, and piss out their tails. "Damn", I said. But that water sure did taste good.
Red Cloud was fifteen years old when I was born. I don't really remember him before I was four or five years old. I don't think he came home very much until he knew he was a real honest-togoodness dyed in the leather buckaroo, and wouldn't have to take any guff from our old man. Red Cloud called him Mr. W., but I always called him Pop. I used to go ridin' with Pop on these long weird rides, where he would tell anyone who was in the car the entire creation of the world as he saw it. I guess Red Cloud had been trained by Pop, because later on when I was nine or ten and went ridin' with him, I got up-dated information on world news. Once we were in Red Cloud's 1947 International three-quarter ton pickup. You could crank open the front windshield with this little handle on the dash. I did that as we were going down the road and the wind coming in made a strange whistling, warbling sound. "That sounds just like Margaret Truman", Red Cloud said. "Who's Margaret Truman?", I asked, "That's the president's daughter", said Red Cloud. "How come it sounds like her?", I continued. "Well, cuz... she sings opera!", he said. "What's Opera?", I puzzled. "Well it's uh... kind of- what cowboys have to learn, to whoop `n holler so loud that on a trail drive ole cows can hear ya singín' all the way from front to back", he explained. "Oh, yeah!", I agreed. I understood, perfectly.
Red Cloud said "Let's head on towards Last Chance Lake." " Where's that?" I asked "Oh it's just a few miles..", Red Cloud said, looking off towards some distant red sandstone buttes. It was mid-July out on the high-desert of Eastern Oregon and the temperature was getting up to a hundred degrees. The horses and us hadn't drunk any water since about sunrise, and the sun was right at the top of the sky. I was only twelve years old, but I knew without a clock it was lunch time and I was hungrier and thirstier than I had ever been in my life. "How come it's called Last Chance Lake?", I asked Red Cloud. "Oh cuz when it gets good and dry out here, like 'tis now, it's one of the last places ya can find water...." I gulped and hoped there was some water in that lake. because there was nothing but cotton in my mouth. Well, those few miles turned into about ten, and my mouth was so dry I couldn't even ask Red Cloud any more questions. Pretty soon the horses started snorting and they kicked into a high trot on their own. We came up over a hí11, and there at the base of Frederick's Butte was the most beautiful little lake I ever saw. Red Cloud let out a loud "Whoopee!" and we kicked the horses into a gallop, and when we got to the edge of the water those critters just kept on going. Red Cloud and I were laughing like crazy, hanging onto the horns of the saddles as the horses swam to the other side of the lake. That was the first time I was at Last Chance Lake. I sure thought I knew what the name meant...
I guess I've been an insomniac for years, but when I was young I used to go ridin'. Now I write or read or look at the patterns on the ceiling. But once at a traffic light in Phoenix a Rolls Royce stopped next to my beat-up 1947 Chevy coupé. It was a Silver Cloud. I was amazed. It was the first Rolls I had ever seen. I was even more amazed when I looked at the driver and it was Pat Boone. He looked at me, very nervous like, and then looked back at the red stop light. My mouth must have been open. When the green light came, the Rolls just seemed to blast off, making a very quiet szhuuu sound. I was there with the famous and the rich, and all he did was blink crazy eyes at me, but somehow I felt blessed. Very impressive to be hub-bubbíng with the Jet Set before you are twenty years old. That was in 1963. I wonder if Pat Boone is still an insomniac too?
Ian Islander. He was the last crop of Beat and the first wave of Hippie. We used to go ridin' sitting still, pretending that the small silver trailer was a spaceship. That was in Phoenix in 105°, sitting in front of a leaking old-fashioned water-cooled air conditioner. We drank wine sometimes, sitting at a table in front of the fan vent, until we were soaking wet. Ian was a budding Buddhist mystic. He was trying to turn a black room light, or the opposite - look at the single glowing light in the trailer, look at it until the whole trailer was in the dark. He said sometimes it worked, but only for a second or two. Reality was too powerful, he said. But once, while the condition of opposite was being attained, he said he saw something else in the trailer. He didn't know what it was, but he decided to stop messing around with the light-dark, darklight. "Too freaky!" he said.
There is no point going on a journey if you don't want the dreams that go with them...
Independence Pass. I think that is the name of the mountain pass that comes up over the backside of the Rockies and drops down into Aspen. Fred and I were ridin' in the 1964 two door red and white Comet I had just traded my inheritance of a city block of land for. Some trade - the land still sits derelict and undeveloped out in West Dog patch. Later I traded the Comet for a 1947 Chevrolet school bus. The bus was traded for a 1958 Chevy Station wagon. The wagon was traded for a broken stereo. The stereo and six Blue Cheer albums were traded for a huge tobacco pipe carved with deer and trees, made in Oberammagau, Germany, and that I still have on a wall, reminding me it is worth a city block of land. But Fred and I. He wore a ten gallon Texas cow-puncher type western sombrero. We got out of the Comet up on the pass. He played his banjo, and I beat on my Gibson, and three girls came running over the top of the mountain, in the clouds that were hanging on the ground. They all wore flowers in their hair, came from California, and were beautiful. Jeannie, the gypsy-looking one told me later, "I fell in love with you the moment I saw you!" We were together for three years. When she left she called me a male chauvinist pig. I heard she married a dentist.
Everyone may march to their own drummer, but when you go on your way, some people may call you names. Being called a male chauvinist pig didn't really make me feel good, but it didn't stop me from going the direction I was headed. That gypsy girlfriend. I got used to her. She had the most beautiful eyes and gentle hippie-girl ways. I guess after three years I was almost in love with her, so it surprised me when she wanted to do her own thing. Well, well I got to missing my gal something terrible, so I limped out to California to see her. I bought a 1951 Ford pickup that had HOZ spray-painted on the doors, over the head of a Hereford bull. All four tires were bald, including the spare. On the Riverside freeway, during morning traffic madness, near Anaheim, the first tire blew. I put on the spare, which shed all of its rubber leaving only the cord showing. The cars, all six lanes, roared past me as I limped on the shoulder at 15 mph. I was with Jeannie for a week. Her Dad thought that was long enough. She gave me enough money to get back out of her life. I got to San Diego and got a job painting a merry-go-round. The money was enough to buy two tires and gas back to Colorado. The boss at the tire company looked at my old truck and put on four new tires!. "Send me the money when you got some extra", he said to me. I looked at him like he was crazy. "You see", he said, "one time about twenty years ago I went back to see an old girlfriend in Colorado, and well, it didn't work out and my old car blew.., and ya see there was this preacher guy, he bailed me out an' got my car fixed an' says "Send me the money when ya got it. Well, Damn me if l didn't lose his address, an all these years..." Jeannie visited me on the last day. We went to the beach and lay down. Swarms of flies flew over the top of us, all moving South. She got on the train back to L.A. We just looked at each other as it pulled out. Two weeks later I was a born-again Christian. Four months later I got roaring drunk in Durango.
For every person that will talk you into something, there is another person somewhere to talk you out of it
After California, HOZ was about the most colorful thing in my life. ..HOZ sprayed bright red onto the original grey-green which was faded so much you could see two layers of red oxide undercoat. HOZ had obviously been in a crash one time. Both front fenders were gone and the doors were replaced with bright yellow ones, on each of which a big plastic appliqué Hereford Bull had been plastered. Before I went to California I had to legalize old HOZ, so I looked around and discovered and old Ford pick-up at the Telluride dump and gave HOZ new front fenders. That trip was a waste of time and a week later I found myself back in Colorado, feeling real dejected and demoralized over losing my little gypsy gal and I bump into this nice-looking CHURCHWOMAN and she convinces me what I need is the LORD... Sure enough, in no time at all, I get in front of BROTHER AL, and he's on fire with the spirit and it all comes like a bold of light. Next thing I know, I'm a born-again CHRISTIAN, and I go off in pursuit of evangelizing all my hippie-friends, all except Dick and that is because he was thrown out of a Baptist Seminary. Four months go by and a church-elder slips up to me and says "I sure hated doing it, but I had to shoot my dog! Darned if l wuz goin' to pay a license fee!" He was protesting a new town ordinance. I looked at him blankly as the spirit of the Lord evaporated. I found Dick and aid "Let's go get drunk my friend and talk about the spirit of the Lord! ". ...
Sue the Stripper and my `57 Rocket 88 Oldsmobile had a lot in common. They came into my life at the same time. They both were kind of old, but hot looking. They both could go from naught to a hundred in next to nothing. And they both had been around... Tom the Buckaroo gave me the Rocket 88 after he bought a brand new pick-up truck. Sue had just abandoned her sixth husband and was ten years older than me. My patrons who had foolishly lent me their house were still in Palm Springs. "There's a great fireplace and a real grand piano!", I bragged to Sue. We rode up the winding street to the hills overlooking Portland where the big house was. Looking back now, I realize Sue had won the contest between her and the five other strippers. "WHO CAN LAY THE KID FIRST?" it must have been called. Later on, Sue's enraged husband Nick tried to poke my eye out with a lit cigarette, and I had to hide in a closet with no clothes on while Sue told Nick to stop crying in the other room. After Nick kicked her out, we had to sleep with Lola the Snake Dancer. Hard to sleep between dancers. My only option for escape was to enlist in the Army.
Sergeant Gomez asked if there were any artists when we were in morning formation. No one said anything. "If so", he continued "I need a volunteer!" I raised my hand, and I heard the sickening whispers immediately. "What a chump!", "What a dope - ha ha how many pots wí11 he have to scrub, hee, hee - the guy's a idiot!" There was an audible chortle of laughter as Gomez saw my hand and bellowed in his foghorn voice, "Report to H.Q. right after formation!" "What have I done this time?", I thought. "God, why did I have to raise my hand?" In fifteen minutes I was in the warm dry cozy empty orderly room, looking out the window as the whole battalion in full battle gear and backpacks double-timed out of the compound in the freezing blowing, hard February rain of Fort Lewis in Washington. I could see them scowl at the window as they ran off into a forty-eight hour field exercise. Just me and Sergeant Gomez were left at H.Q. I had to draw flowers on an invitation card that the Colonel's wife wanted. We had the whole weekend together, the sergeant and me. At some point in that two days I asked Gomez "Sarge, how come the Viet Cong keep fighting?" He just looked at me like I was an idiot. "Cause they're just a bunch of stupid gooks! They just do what they're told to do!", Sergeant Gomez said.
Max was crazy. He was the original Mad Max. I used ta say "Max, for heaven's sake slow down!" or "Max, look out!" or "Max, there's ice on the curve!". That is what I said on one of our death defying rides in the mountains of Germany. "Max, ice!". Max was from Los Angeles. He didn't know about snow or ice. The VW came to the curve at sixty. Max slammed on the brakes. The VW went straight out of the corner, and we flew off into a black night. I remember the sound of wind, and tires whirling on air. It was a long ride in the sky. Then there was a soft "Whumf!" and nothing but white on the windows. We crash landed. in a ploughed field covered in deep snow. German farmers had seen us land. They thought we were stuntmen. They were amazed VWs could fly too. They took us to a Gasthaus, and laughed about flying lessons.
My old Pop used to love to go to junk-shops, flea markets and thrift stores. "What a deal!" was his classic phrase every time he found a new bargain. He was the kind of consumer that if he needed a toaster and had a fifteen dollar budget - instead of buying a new one - he would hunt down fifteen one-dollar toasters, tear them all apart and put one that worked back together. He was one of the first ecologists I know of. The only problem was the toaster he'd fix would usually burn the toast and then eject it through the ceiling. Pop was kind of stubborn about doing it his way. Once he decided we needed an air-conditioner, so he went off in search until he found a "deal". It was a factory type industrial cooler, that was about six feet by six feet with a giant barrel-fan inside. "But Pop, it doesn't have a motor!", I objected. "Thas' all right, got one already", Pop said. Sure enough he did - a five horsepower electric motor - only four and a half more horses than he needed. He got it hooked up. "It's on backwards!", I ventured. "No's not!" Pop replied. There was an amazing sucking sound. "Guess it's backwards!" Pop said. He turned it around and said "Go inside, Kenny an' see what happens!" Well I'm in the house when he turns it on. First there was an incredible vibration, then tornado winds with clouds of dust came blowing out all the air vents. Pictures fell off the wall. "Guess that motor's a little too big," Pop said.
"Let's go for a ride, Kenny!" Pop said. Oh god, I thought, more junk shop tours. My old man's back yard was already so full of broken, bent, slightly used washing machines, refrigerators, lawnmowers, typewriters and cannibalised automobiles. I couldn't see that he had any more room for one of his "deals". Oh well, no point arguing with Pop. I had hitch-hiked down from California where I was living with my gypsy gal in a refurbished chicken-house. My brother Robert had called and said that Pop was kind of sick - maybe it would be good to see him. The hint was taken. Pop was in his late seventies. "Well now, Kenny, I wanna talk to you a little", Pop said when we got in the car. Uh oh, what have I done now, I thought. He began to tell me a very long story, about how it was when he first met my Mom, and about all the years they had together, and what led up to them getting a divorce when I was just a little kid, their eleventh child, after nearly thirty years together. It was the first time my Pop ever talked to me about anything personal in his life, and I kept wondering when we were going to get to the point, which would obviously be a "deal" at a junk shop. "An', Kenny", said Pop "I'm just sorry I couldn'ta done more for ya!" We drove back home, and I was confused. I didn't know what more my Pop could ever have done for me....
I hadn't seen Red Cloud for over five years. I kinds got detained by a whole series of events that held me in Scotland for all those years, so I was even more excited than my new wife Chrissie to see my eldest brother again. I expected him to look like he always did, which was pretty Western - the image of a genuine cowboy, wearing a battered sombrero, made by Valentine the hatter of Los Angeles; Blucher boots from Olathe, Kansas; regular Levi's; a pearl-snap-button Western shirt; probably a red silk kerchief, and if he was sitting astride a horse, he'd be on his Hamely's saddle from Pendleton, Oregon with Crocker spurs on his boots, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. My lovely wife and little baby were with me. Chrissie had never been to America before and I wanted her to meet Red Cloud. So we get to this place called "Apache Junction" about ten o' clock at night and I discover it's like an old army stockade back during the Indian wars. I push a huge gate open and I hear the tinkle of a honky-tonk piano, and beer drínkin' laughter. We walk up to the "Long Branch" saloon and there is Red Cloud and his wife and about forty other people dressed up like i 880's gunslingers and painted-tainted women. "Kenny, sure is good to see ya!. Boys, let's show his little woman a real honest-to-goodness gunfight". Red Cloud said. They all ran out the door and started shooting at each other. Red Cloud had always said he thought he was born a hundred years too late, and here he was in "Apache Junction", dressed up like U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp, with two "six-guns" - blazing away with blank cartridges at a bunch of bad desperadoes in the middle of the street. Chrissie stood frozen, her mouth open, her eyes popping at the spectacle of a Western shoot-out. This certainly verified all the wild stories I had told her about Red Cloud. I thought all those years smoking dope had done my brains in, and I was having a first-class hallucination. Red Cloud was about fifty years old, and had been a cowpuncher for the best part of thirty-five years. Now he was a drugstore cowboy! I just couldn't believe it. "Well, Kenny, kinds got tired dom' what I was dom' - thought I'd do sump'n else", Red Cloud said.
I was twelve years old, living with Red Cloud out at the Domino camp on the ZX ranch in the high desert of Eastern Oregon. One day we rode off to a place called Big Benjamin Lake. Well, it wasn't a lake. It was nothing but an expanse of baked cracks spread across a white alkali flood plain. A soggy circle of a water mud-hole lay in the middle. We get there and Red Cloud says "Kenny, you just wait here, an I'm gonna lope out a ways an' see if! can chase up a few cows". It was about as hot as hell, so I found some shade under a juniper tree where I could lay cool. The sun was right up at the top of the sky and there wasn't a bit of air moving except for the occasional distant whirly wind that shred away the silence - a silence as immense as the desert. I was just sitting and waiting and watching when I saw a dozen antelope at the far end of the dry lake bed thread their way up to the water. They quenched their thirst and then lay down, and basked like tourists at a swimming pool. They were a half a mile away and I stayed as motionless and a quiet as I could be. There was something sacred - seeing them in such a private moment. I kept watching a the more I concentrated, the sharper my eyesight and hearing became. It seemed like I could see the individual hairs on their backs, and hear their quick panting breath. I don't know exactly what happened but suddenly I got smaller and the desert got bigger. From somewhere I heard a loud bump. . .bump. . . .bump. I thought the ground was shaking and I became rigid with fear, but I still couldn't stop watching these antelope. All the while this bump, bump, bump sound grew louder and louder until it felt like the noise was inside of me. The a very odd thing happened. My mouth dropped open as I realised it was my own heart that was making the bump. ..bump...bump sound, and at that moment of awakening consciousness, the antelope exploded from the ground and disappeared into the desert, leaving only a few smoky dust clouds drifting slowly over the dry lake bed. When Red Cloud finally showed up I asked him "Do you think antelope can hear your heart beat. Red Cloud gave me a funny look, like he didn't recognise me, then after a long moment said "Well, Kenny antelope are pury high-strung critters...."
Last Chance Lake. It sure was the most beautiful memory I have of 1958. Thirty years later I took Chrissie and my daughter Rowan back out to the ranch country of Eastern Oregon -, the high desert. We went to see my brother Tommy who still lives out there. He has a little spread, runs about four hundred head of Hereford Morna cows and on a good year he can just about make a h vin'. Well when we went to see him wasn't one of their best years. Some city folks out deer-huntin' had decided to practise their aim by shootin' six of Tommy's cows and one of his expensive breedin' bulls had just plain disappeared. Worse than that though, there had been a pretty severe drought for three whole years. None the less Tommy and his a were still hopeful folks. "Kenny, let's go on a picnic - you have any place you'd like to see again?" Tommy asked. "You ever been to "last Chance Lake" out by the Domino camp?", I asked. "Noge", was the reply. So I proceeded to tell him all about the most beautiful natural reservoir in the desert. In a couple of hours we were bangin' down a jeep track behind Frederick's Butte. I could hardly wait to get over the crest, so Tommy and Beverley would see the jewel of the desert. They sure needed some cheerin' up. We come over the top of the ridge and there before us, just where it used to be lay "Last Chance Lake" - the only problem was it was kind of small - a puddle six feet wide and two inches deep. "Been kinds dry out here!", Tommy said.
LIST OF STORIES TO YET TO HAPPEN.
The following numbered stories I wrote in December 2009:
2.May 1,1977 there was a political demonstration that got out of control and several people were killed by Turkish police. When I arrived May 2 with my Scottish girlfriend, we were greeted by a group of young actors I had met in Hamburg, Germany during a theater festival. They told us things had become very ugly with police brutality and that we should be very careful. As far as I could see, the street vibrations were no worse than any big city I had been in, but took their advice and only moved around the city with one of our hosts guiding us. We were to be in Istanbul for ten days, performing in several theaters and schools, doing our show, THE LOST CLOWN. Our hosts took us everywhere, treating us to dinner parties, insisting we eat until we popped. In the process we learned a few words of Turkish. My favorite phrase, spelled phonetically was: Ya Poosh, Ya Poosh, Ya gibeebee beire besh, meaning, I'm thirsty thirsty, please give me a beer. My girl friend learned another phrase once again spelled phonetically: Ya Dolmoose, her thinking it meant "I'm full," (of food). Each time she said it our Turkish friends laughed and insisted she eat more food. The phrase did mean to be full, but not of food...it meant to be full of child. We still did not know we had made a baby.
8.Real friendship is born with many miles of journeys together and love is remembered in miles apart.
Many years have passed since the
last time I saw my faithful pal, a little grey mutt that followed me
everywhere for five years.
7. Painting the town red is not the best way to have a colorful holiday. (Part I)
3.The pen is mightier than the sword and is a lot easier to carry on a road trip.
4.Taking a long shot is not always a good idea following a narrow path.
"But, honey he's a boy dog, and Rose is a girl's name," I said to my four year old daughter. "I don't care. He is Rose," she retorted. And so the little English Cocker Spaniel puppy was named and became a very important member of our family. He turned out to be as beautiful as his Westminster champion pedigreed parents. Between buying him for a Christmas present, veterinary bills, airline tickets and just plain trouble he created over the years, the total came to over three thousand bucks by the time I buried him in our back yard 13 years later. He was worth every penny and if I could bring him back to life for another three grand, I would do it in a heart beat. But he is gone. Quite often I stand at his grave and talk to his spirit memory. We lived on a Scottish wheat farm the first year we had him. The farmer was a rogue bachelor, who loved skiing, yachting and pulling practical jokes on his cronies. He had an odd sense of humor which was probably why he allowed us to live in a cottage on the farm. He had a little female dog who was testimony to his quirkiness. She was without doubt the ugliest dog I had ever seen, looking like a mixture between a wild boar and a hyena. Her tongue permanently hung out of her mouth, was blind in one eye and walked a crooked gait because of a birth defect. She was nearly ten years old and the farmer loved her dearly, but not as much as our little boy dog. It was love at first site for both of them. What is more than odd was her name, Boris. We all thought it hilarious, but the farmer even more so, because he said Boris never ever ever allowed any other dog near her. Not only did she let Rose near, but she went into heat for the first time in her life. Rose stuck to her (tail to tail) for over a week. I wish I could make this a happy story and say they had beautiful children, perfect in every way. Not so. Boris delivered two little shriveled lumps that looked like furry toads, dead at birth. All the same, it was a ironic reversal of names and looks. The love affair of Rose and Boris will go down as the one of most unusual between the Beauty and the Beast.
14. On the road, there are warning signs of crooked corners and falling rocks, but omens of treachery fly over your head.
I wasn't exactly stranded or homeless when I was in
15. A Mexican Christmas can happen in the land of no borders and eternal time.
It was Christmas Eve in 2001, when my Italian girlfriend dumped me. Heartbroken and totally crazy, I took off for Arizona, where I was going to be the care-taker at my brother Red's horse ranch. I was driving a beat-up 1976 Dodge van, pulling a 81 Toyota pickup with my motorcycle in its bed. In Albuquerque the hitch broke. After a couple of hours searching for a mechanic I found a great guy who worked for several hours, and rebuilt the whole thing. When it came time to pay, he only asked for a few dollars and told me I could do a favor for someone else down the line. Just on the other side of Deming New Mexico, at sunrise on Christmas morning, with the temperature well below freezing I saw two illegal looking immigrants with their thumbs raised. I muttered, "Fuck 'em" and drove on. My broken heart had turned me hard, but I kept hearing the words of mechanic "You can do a favor for someone else down the line..." I went on another 20 miles but felt guilty as all hell. shgrI went back. When I stopped for the Mexicans, suddenly there were several. A man came to the window and begged for a ride just to the next town. He looked frozen and as he spoke he pointed to a group down off the road. Altogether, there was 11 of them, including two little girls. My heart melted. I took them all the way to Phoenix, which was 200 miles out of my way. They had a friend there who was going to take them on to Denver, where jobs were waiting for two of the men, who led the group walking at night, 40 miles across the desert. This will sound like a lie, but I swear on my life; the name of leader was Jesus, and his co-pilot's name was Abraham. Two years later, I got a telephone call. It was Abraham, who had learned English. "Meester Keen," he said, "Wheen you come Deenver, you have no worries because we weel never forgeet what you do for us." Before I left them in Phoenix, and got back into my van, one of the young men came up to me and said "Mi corazón para usted, que usted."
He gave me a pair of motorcycle boots, which were brand new, except for 40 miles across two nights of frozen desert. They are just about worn out now, but I will never throw them away.
16. On a sentimental journey you meet reflections of souls who traveled before you.
You don't miss the water until the well goes
dry...that was the phrase going through my mind as I watched my little
hippy chick disappear over the horizon. The thing was, I thought that
was what she would think. Her parting words so dear, "Fuck you, you
Wow!, I didn't know she loved those plates that much...40
years later I realize the plates were the proverbial straw... Okay
admitted, I wasn't the most considerate young man. Yup, severely lacking
in my sensitive female side. In short, I didn't slow down on a bumpy
jeep trail in the hippy bus we were living in, after my little gal
screamed, "The plates are are all falling out of the shelves." Most of
them broke and she stormed off after leaving her choice words. I watched
the road for an hour believing when she came to her senses, she would
come back. Two hours, then three, and on and on and she did not return.
By that evening I knew I had blown it. My heart was gone. A month later,
I gave up my pride and telephoned her parent's home in LA. She said she
missed me too. I promised to come see her as soon as possible. I was
living in a ski town in the mountains of
17. To travel in a world of turmoil, a place of peace and comrades unknown will come to you.
I joined the U.S. Army in 1967 because I was flunking out of college, which meant at the ripe old age of 22 my draft status would go right to the top of the list. I was terrified I would be made a medic and sent to a war that made no sense. By absolute fluke and good fortune, near Christmas of 67, instead of Vietnam, I was a combat medic in Aschaffenburg, Germany. My luck continued. The commanding officer of my battalion made me his special artist, giving me a huge studio space on the fourth floor of my company barracks. My best friend, Dennis Max, was a rich kid from Hollywood, who was the battalion carpenter. He had his own woodshop in the basement of the barracks. That was one of the reasons we were friends, because both of us knew we had a special of angel watching after us. That was further confirmed by almost dying together one night when we flew off a cliff in his Volkswagen landing without a scratch on us or the car, 300 feet away in a snow bank. From that moment on, we were inseparable. Our favorite hangout after duty hours was a tiny wine cellar in the middle of town. The main reason we went there, was because it was one of the few places in town the proprietor allowed American soldiers. Most locals hated us, not just because the Vietnam war was protested in Germany, but because our regiment had some of the craziest bad asses ever in a uniform. One night, two drunk GI's managed not only to get a 50 caliber machine gun out of the armory, but stole a 50 ton M60 combat tank. They drove around the city, running over cars and parking meters, being chased at a distance by German polizie and military police until they ran out of gas. No one knew there was no ammunition in the machine gun. The wine house was a refuge for many anti-war people. The old proprietor liked Max and me, because we never complained about his vinegar tasting home made wine. We loved him because he recited German poetry in the dim light of a 25 watt lamp sitting on a wine barrel. It was a zone of sanity in such a crazy world.
18. Big cities are labyrinths so it is best to unwind a ball of string to guide you back in the night.
I had not been back to America for over five years. When I returned, it was with my Scottish wife and little daughter. We did the rounds of my family for a month and then flew back to London just a few days before Christmas. It was a hectic journey resulting in classic jet lag. We rented a car at Heathrow, leaving our luggage and gifts for Christmas in the auto because I had an early morning appointment with a trust fund near Piccadilly Circus. That night we stayed with friends in a suburb miles from London's city center. I had not counted on such heavy traffic in the morning. By the time I was only half way, I knew I was going to be late. I parked the car at Elephant Castle subway station and got to the appointment on time. Afterwards, I met our friends at a nearby pub. They took me back to the car when we finished our drinks. When we got to where I had parked the rental car, it was not there. It was then I realized I had not only left all of our luggage in the car, but also Christmas gifts, our passports, money and what was worst of all, my 1959 Gibson guitar I had retrieved in America. We called the police, but they had no record of it being impounded. Maybe I mixed up the street where it was parked so we drove around and around looking for it. I was not only jet lagged but hysterical. I told my friends to wait in another pub, while I walked retracing my steps from the morning. Ten minutes later, I concluded the obvious; the car had been stolen. I started to walk back to my friends when I realized I was totally lost. I wondered back and forth for a half hour before I began to sob. An old lady came up to me and said, "What is the matter, my son?" I moaned like a little boy, "I'm lost and I don't know where to go." She kindly led me back to the pub, where on entering, one of my friends remembered there were two stations at Elephant Castle. We went to the second station, and sure enough, the rental car and everything in it was where I had parked it hours before. I could hear my guitar, who I called Molly, hum Merry Christmas as we drove away.