uploaded Winter Solstice 2007
Jim Parks, AKA 'The Legendary,' writes about The Good Old Days
And so, to tell the story of open land and how The Man and his Empire struck back against a children's crusade fueled by laughter, sunlight, sweat, joy and peace.
It all happened here and now. Nothing was lost. All was gained.
Badaba! All hail the Mighty Avengers!
The place was high on a ridge above the Pacific in rolling hills. It had no name other than "the land," and long-haired freaky people lived there together.
Since they were down to rags, anyway, they rarely wore clothing of any conventional type, just enough to stay warm at night.
They lived in shanties built of scrap lumber and used window sashes that took advantage of the southern light for warmth. Woodstoves were fed by crosscut two-man saws and wedges pounded by mauls.
Everyone carried water in buckets and helped with baking, gardening and taking care of the kids.
It all definitely represented a threat to national security.
Undercover spooks, pukes, narcs and secret policemen of every combination in the alphabet soup wandered through the milieu on a routine basis.
Therefore, no one had anything like a conventional name. Huckleberry kids in a throwaway cycle of a rich nation that was eating its young, they danced and meditated their days and nights away, sometimes making music in the city when the mood hit them.
One night at a place that no longer exists except in the minds' eyes of some rapidly aging people, a small group of them stood up to sing out rollicking tunes about strikes and wars, feuds and sailing ships.
The crowd called them back for more once, then again. If there had been a curtain, it would have been a curtain call. As it was, it was merely a bunch of people having a boozy good time amid the smoky haze of a North Beach saloon in a San Francisco evening out of the fog.
When it came time to load up and leave for the land in Cadillac Mike's old Chevy pickup, she looked at him and said, "I've called a taxi. I'm going to the airport, man. I'm pregnant, and I can't raise our child this way. I'm going to my sister's house. You can join me after the baby is born, but there will be no more of this."
Thirty-five years later, they are still apart, but he does have a tape of the little boy who grew to six feet, two inches in height and a muscular two hundred sixty-five pounds playing guitar and singing Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm."
To him, it all seems like it happened the month before last.
Look how wrong you can be.
Up on that ridge top, there were blackened trunks of burned trees - bay, madrone, eucalyptus - that stuck up through the fog like minarets.
You could walk along in the clammy air and feel moisture bead up on your nose and moustache, tripping on the beat of congas and a marimba coming from somewhere in the foggy wall of white vapor that formed at knee height and surrounded in all directions equally visual, aural and conceptual.
Out of the fog Snakepit Eddie materialized, smiling, his Afro gleaming with foggy beads of dew.
"Come on, man. We jammin'. Don't be walking around out here by yourself. Come on."
Inside his domed house, a dozen dudes and dudettes jammed up a righteous hullabaloo, chanting and singing, clapping their hands, making it last, dragging out every bar in syncopation and progression blue, bent, blasting for the horns and the flutes and keening, wailing women to augment, diminish and accentuate.
We transcended ourselves, and you became part of it, standing on slightly bent, flexed knees, snapping your fingers, swaying from the hips, beginning to sing as clearly as ever, filled with the clear light of the soul, reaching for and touching the face of God.
Outside, the fog lifted and the hills, the ocean and the sky had melded into a thousand shades of blue, each worth something in terms of perception of the minds's eye, each to be called up in some cosmic jukebox at will through only God knew what fabulous combination of electro-colloidal patterns of recognition.
It was a moment, born of a moment, holy, sublime and pure.
As such, it will never end. It will last forever.
- The Legendary Jim Parks
These were the people of the first century. They called themselves only by their first names.
Mary. Bart. Coyote. Shadow. Peggy. Mike. Tex. Lou. Bill. Rosalie. The list goes on, but the faces remain in the clear light of what is the truth and what is reasonable.
Bart and Coyote turned the young man on to the concept as we sat on a log waiting for the sunset over the ocean, waiting for flutes and drums, guitars and dancing.
It was the day after the fish.
The fish, according to Bart, was the secret sign of the Christians. One who found the sign of the fish could be assured of fellowship and reasonably sure one would not be betrayed.
There were certain rules that applied, chief among them that of good will and honesty.
The goal, of course, was to reduce or operate in spite of the ego state, that executive of the personality which finds so much time to question the motives of others, what they may be thinking of one's image, how much is in the pocketbook, fear of one's enemies, or one's own image and self esteem.
"Would you like to be free? Really free?"
He struck a chord on his Martin guitar.
I supposed I would, but I still had reservations about the non-injury concept, the idea of living without injuring all things living through thought, word, or deed.
How does one defend one's self?
They laughed at the young man.
If one is living in the absence of the ego, one finds little need to defend oneself.
Bart told this story. The young man thinks he got it from Lou who got it from a master guru in India.
A certain cobra was devastating in his attacks on villagers in a region of India. He did not bite and kill just to protect himself or to get food for his young. He did it out of the compulsion of a vicious soul.
The people were at a loss as to what to do. A certain traveling man advised they send for the master of the Ahimsa faith, a man who understood all things living or inert and the concept of non-injury to them all through thought, word or deed.
He arrived, found the snake and remonstrated with him. He overcame his normal aggression and willingness to attack by placing him under the hypnotic spell of the rhythmic sound of his voice and of drums and the clapping hands of the people.
The cobra saw the error of his ways. He was contented. He began to live under the strictures of ahimsa, and he was satisfied and at peace.
Some of the people soon learned of the snake's new ways. They learned they had nothing to fear from. Out of their original resentment, they beat him with sticks, stoned him with rocks, jumped on him and strangled him, stomped on him, tried to twist his head off.
Bedraggled, near death, the snake sent for the guru to find out how to handle this new challenge in living in light of his past deeds and the new attitude of the people toward him now that they no longer feared him.
The guru thought for a moment or two, and said "I never told you not to hiss."
Thus, the young man learned that the land was called The Ahimsa Church of the Morning Star Faith. As such, the land had been deeded to God.
Lou Gottlieb and Bill Wheeler, the former corporeal owners of this real property, had engaged God in a cosmic game of chess in which the neighbors, the cattle ranchers, the building inspectors, the cops, judges, politicians and media representatives on the one hand, and the people, the hippies in the city, dwellers on open land all around the nation and in the world on the other hand, served as the chessmen.
Suddenly, the world turned into a giant red and chrome tool box, the kind mechanics in automotive garages have with dozens of drawers, shelves and bins, and the young man found himself sitting on a plane of black and white checkered squares, the ground floor of some fantastic temple of which he had never before known the existence.
He had been transported to a new time and place, which was at once both ancient and fantastically new to him.
Just as the sun set, a submarine surfaced on the ocean beside a destroyer and fired five green flares which hung in the air and descended slowly on parachutes.
So mote it be.
None of the blackened trees of the ridge top were to be cut because of their beauty where they stuck up out of the morning fog. Burned out trees on the sides of the mountain and down in the canyons were the proper fare for feeding the stoves.
They were felled by axes, pointed uphill and levered off the face of the earth with poles cut from saplings. Rocks and rounds from previously cut trees were placed under the trunks to allow them to stand above the surface and to take advantage of the pull of the planet's magnetic field.
The double crosscut saws went to work, a sawyer at each end. As the blade's serrations bit into the wood, the cut opened up wider and wider through gravity, and the saw began to swing between the two men as if it was a pendulum attached to their arms slicing through the tree trunk with all dispatch. Knots caused complications, caused the blade to falter and bow enough that a man could lose his footing on the slope. Jerking the saw could result in its teeth cutting through a man's trousers and into his flesh.
So the sawyers spent much time and exercised much diligence selecting the spots for the cuts to be made. This work was done in the morning after coffee and cursory meditation. Not much sacrament for the head was partaken. A man could get hurt or hurt his companions.
In the course of a morning's work, a team of three or four could cut and split enough wood to cook and heat the little houses built on stilts on the hillsides for another day and a night.
Getting the split wood up the hill and stacked on the decks outside the doors was a chore for all the people who lived in each house. Some households had wheelbarrows, others two-wheeled carts similar to those used by delivery men to ease the way up the steep paths and across the ridge top.
Once the work was done, there was time for breakfast - a mess of greens and squash with peppers and mushrooms, eggs and potatoes fried together, tomatoes sliced with vinegar and black pepper and a side of cheese slices.
People slimmed down, their eyes became clear and healthy, their hair shone in the sun, muscles toned and taut, skin bronzed and free of blemishes.
The people were very beautiful.
* * *
A well on the ridge top yielded good water, and there was a network of black plastic hose spread out to the gardens and some of the houses that fed through gravity. Not everyone had direct access, so it was necessary to fetch the water in buckets, pails, spouted plastic cans and bladders.
In the noonday sun, the water in the black plastic hoses became very warm, and a person could catch a wash basin of it, let it cool, and wash in pleasantly warm water before an afternoon nap.
Sadly, something happened to the cedar water tank at the front gate. Parasites infested the water, and some people became very sick from drinking it without first boiling it.
One lives and learns.
* * *
In search of hippie legends, a young man in the company of the Avengers, all hail the Mighty Avengers, decided to take a walk to a spring at the bottom of the canyon where he found some of the people taking a mud bath together, merrily coating each other with the mud and scrubbing their bodies with the warmed water.
"Come on in, man. The mud's fine," an apple-cheeked young woman with strawberry blonde hair said, her blue eyes trusting and kind.
The young man declined and walked on to the creek, feeling his way down the steep hillside through the brush with a stout walking stick of the length of his body as high as the shoulder.
Just as he prepared to step across the narrow stream, he spotted the flash of a big silver fish and impulsively smacked it with the bottom end. It stunned the fish, which sought shelter under the bank of the creek. He held it there with the shaft of his stick, reached under and grasped it through its gills.
He felt the elation of the hunt as he climbed the hill back to the house where the Avengers were staying, the fish hanging down from his hand held at the shoulder and the tail coming just to his hips.
They ate well that evening, frying the steelhead's flesh in corn meal and vegetable oil. The sweet, tasty salmon was salty and good - twice as good because he had caught it with his bare hands and a stick.
* * *
He didn't live anywhere.
O.B., the only name by which I ever knew him, lived wherever he pleased as he walked around the land in padded and quilted clothing he shed during the day for long johns and thermal shirts. In rainy weather, he rigged tents from plastic sheeting and stashed his gear in wickiups he made from bushes and more of the same type of plastic. He slept in a down mummy bag on the ground. He lay on a thin foam rubber pad he rolled up during the day and stashed out of the sight of other people.
Asked how one would best describe his role, he once said, "I am a Zen Buddhist monk."
The statement stood for the record after a moment of awkward silence in which the young man tried to form a question and O.B. just nodded emphatically and smiled from his side of his white wisp of beard and hair and said, "Yes, that's right." The young man went on about his business in that conversation with no further questions asked while O.B. told him all about meditation and the need to unify with all things living and inert in body, spirit and mind.
Over the years, one learned that O.B. was a veteran of the Marine Corps in World War Two, had toured Japan and learned much about the way of Zen there, once worked in the shipyards as a welder, and seemed to have been from Oklahoma in a past life.
Someone once told the young man that O.B. was actually "Mr. Natural," that the cartoonist had fashioned that character in his honor. There was a strong resemblance, except that the young man never saw O.B. dressed in a long, white robe.
He loved to smoke herb, always had some, and it was always something that would make you sit for several hours staring at dust motes swirling in the sunlight or watching a column of ants crawl across the ground, the shimmer of leaves high in the trees, or the shifting shapes of clouds coming from over the ocean.
It was that good. Tall, tall gage, brothers and sisters.
He never asked me or anyone I knew for anything in return. The herb was a sacrament, and it helped one get a spiritual grip on what was happening at the moment, which is always now.
He came to the little house with windows that faced east one afternoon and lit pipe after pipe after pipe of the stuff, shotgunning everyone to the point of laying about the place.
The young man stood and leaned over to take a last shotgun of the smoke and went into a state of vertigo in which there was no up, no down, no round and round - nothing but a stumbling St. Vitas dance of altered perception in which long, silver trumpets hit high notes in stone cathedrals hung with blazing banners and heraldic designs, beautiful women danced in sheer gowns of silk that men had killed and died to obtain, and midgets did tumbling acts across floors bestrewn with pillows.
Someone kept saying something, and their tone kept becoming more and more urgent before, finally, the young man came to himself and realized it was O.B. saying "Sit down. Sit down, boy! Sit down."
So, he sat down in a stupor as the world whirled round and round, and he felt long rushing and tingling sensations from his scalp to his toes and back again flashing like fire with the frequency of cyclical electric energy, an energy all his own.
Outside, he sat in the long grass and laughed and laughed and laughed. He laughed until he wished he could stop, but couldn't. He laughed until his sides were tired and sore.
Then he laughed some more.
He has rarely been afraid since then, though he does bristle in the face of priggish and brutal behavior on the part of bullies and never fails to question authority.
* * *
The mother cat, Miss Rosabel, ignored me as I scooped the kittens up and put them in the tow sack. She rubbed against my legs and shot out of the shed door, chasing a hoodoo.
I came out into the sudden sunlight and chattering summer cicadas of the back yard.
There she stood in her four-year-old sun dress, curls brushing her bare shoulders, her dirty, naked baby doll tucked under one arm.
"Where going, daddy?"
"I'm going out to play," I said, opening the pickup door.
The kittens were mewing inside the bag, crying out, tumbling over one another.
She looked very curiously at the bag, dug a bare big toe in the dirt.
"I'm just playing with them."
"Me come, too."
I set the bag down at my feet. The kittens were already scrambling like mad to get out. They came crawling out of the bag one by one, their tails held high.
She came running into my arms, laughing. I threw her up, up in the air over my head, catching her and hugging her.
"Me love daddy."
"Me love you, sugar. Me love baby girl."
# # #
By: Jim Parks published 11/07 in "Writer's Corner," Dublin, Ireland, Marie Lynam Fitzpatrick, editor
By Jim Parks
She wrote something hard and scratchy, a she cat with the blues wearing a red slip, something worthy of any woman's worst wrist-cutting moods.
Billie’s ghost lolled in the doorway.
“Pluck the flowers, cultivate the thistles, make them bleed a bit to hear your eight bars, sugar. They deserve it.”
Quiet. So quiet you could hear the St. Charles Avenue streetcar go by two blocks away. Somewhere on the little park on Coliseum Street she could hear a female cat screaming at her lover.
Her image in the speckled old mirror peered back at her out of red-rimmed eyes.
She picked up the spoon with the handle bent back on itself, shook the smack out of the little baggie Murphy had brought her earlier and lit her Zippo under the water she had drawn up in a cap of a Coke bottle and squirted in the spoon.
It cooked, turned brown, brown as shit, bubbled, cooled. She put a cotton ball over it and drew it up in the syringe. Tied off her upper left arm with a piece of latex surgical tubing Murphy had scored for her.
“That’s why they call it shit,” he’d said her first time. The abscess had gotten worse where she had missed the vein a week before. It throbbed.
She thumped her arm, found the vein and slid the needle in, found blood, plunged the handle with her thumb and slipped the tubing off her arm.
Warm. So warm in the pit of her stomach and flowing out through the nerves of her arms and legs, under her tits and over her shoulders to center under her ears and around her eyes.
She nodded, nodded off, her forehead resting on an emaciated knee crossed over the other.
Her heart slowed, her gorge rose and she toppled sideways off the stool before the dressing table.
Billie’s ghost strode over and took her by the hand. There were blisters on her first two fingers from trying to hold the spoon over the flame of the Zippo.
“You poor hootchie, had it going for awhile.” She grabbed the piece of note paper, folded it and thrust it into her bra.
They floated away, through the screen door and out over the courtyard.
“Fuck Murphy, honey. He never was no good for you, anyway.”
They disappeared into the air.
# # #
Outside on the red brick walls of the place next door, moonlight and the harsh amber street lamps projected swaying, clawing outlines in shadows and shapes - hydrangeas, pyrocanthas magnolias, azaleas, jasmines - they all looked like monsters and witches posing and posturing in the night.
Murphy stroked on up Prytania Street, bouncing and weaving like a boxer on the balls of his feet the way he hit his bars on the tenor, feeling the pavement and the shock of its contact all the way through his frame. He wore his sunglasses and a stingy brim porkpie hat over a top coat in the late night cold. The rumpled sharkskin suit let the sharp March winds through its creases and seams. The tails of the topcoat streamed out behind him in the wind. Murphy was field hand big and strong; his hands were splayed and calloused, easily able to span the keys of the tenor. His barrel chest filled the big horn with wind and his massive shoulders bore its weight on the neck strap easily, as if it was a toy, something he’d found in a box somewhere just waiting for that one special dude to come play with it.
Murphy was in a hurry to get back to the pad. They’d been away for a couple of weeks, he in Parish Prison and she - Mizmoon - in the detox unit at the infirmary in Charity Hospital. They’d both been very sick. Then, when he got out, he found her back at the crib off Coliseum, clean, crying and trying to heal up the abscessed lesion on her left arm. He doctored her with epsom salt baths, antibiotics and clean bandages.
They had worked a scam on a square at the Hilton. Murphy, his street name because he was adept at the game, had beat a fool for his American Express card. He’d told a lame, a little business guy from Detroit he had met in a jazz gin mill, that he could score him some hash down a dark side street in the Quarter and socked him in the back of the head with a padlock wrapped in tape inside a sock. It made a sick little thud when it hit him.
They’d checked into a room in the hotel, then he’d done a cash advance number to get enough to pay the bell captain off.
Just like clockwork, the mark, another horndick daddy’o from the expense account business world, had arrived in the room. Mizmoon had phoned for a half pint of whiskey. Murphy showed up shortly after, screaming his outrage at finding this poindexter with his “old lady,” brandishing a .38 and bitch slapping the guy around with his other hand.
The man gave up all he had, his eyes flashing wildly from side to side like a steer driven before a herd to slaughter, and it was more than two thousand dollars. It was enough to get his horn out of the pawn shop, pay the rent on the place, and score her a little taste to get her over feeling so sick while he went downtown to get a stash. They could live.
Meanwhile, the mark fled into the night with the cooperation of the house detective and the bell captain. After all, they were trying to help him keep from getting involved in a scandal. He’d hidden his face and eyes when they put him in a taxi at the service entrance in an alley behind the hotel.
His first split down at the shotgun house off Elysian Fields made him sick, so sick the world turned into an old black and white television doing horizontal flips in a nightmare motel world and getting fuzzy while he nodded on a couch filthy with animal hair and food stains. A dog licked his face.
It was amazing, but the heavily muscled two hundred-fifty pound man could do nothing about a twenty pound dog licking his face.
“Go ‘way. Get th’fuck ‘way f’m me, mothafucka’,” Murphy said, lolling on the couch and making half-hearted attempts to backhand the dog.
It had been a little while since he’d gotten down and the dope hit him hard. It happened that way sometimes. His resistance was down after kicking cold turkey in the cell at Orleans Parish Prison, his bowels squirting and his nose running while he scratched at imaginary bugs on his skin and had cold chills and hot sweats.
Stoned out, he drifted in and out of remembering scenes with Mizmoon. The way she used to look at him on the bandstand while he played his breaks in her blues tunes.
He’d gone for coffee one night with a crowd in Chicago, rapping away the hours before dawn in the diner after gigging in a South side club, and they’d found out they were both river trash - he from Cincinnati, she from Paducah.
River trash. It was a feeling, a pose against the world, a remembrance of when people and things moved by water, the flow of the rivers.
He really dug her looks, curly red hair and freckles, a big rack, blue-blue big eyes and a little girl laugh. But when he heard her sing, he flipped. It was a fey little lady voice that would suddenly turn hard and mean, then hurt and wild by turns, moaning, screaming, outraged, placating, babyish and purely sexual with each turn in tone and timbre.
“Where’d you get that?” he’d asked her one day in a crummy little hotel room in the Loop after an el train had passed clattering by.
“Get what?” She was hanging up her stockings on the shower rod and she looked at him over a naked shoulder with an evil angel tattooed on its back side.
“That. That song you were just singing.”
“Oh, that.” That little girl laugh. “I just wrote it, just now, while we were screwing.”
“While we were screwing.”
“Yeah, while we were screwing.”
She screamed his name, called him a whore dog, a fuckin’ tramp, a lowlife fool, told him to sock it to her, to hurt her with his “thing.” She clawed at the skin of his back, beat her little fists against his chest, slapped at his face, then demanded more and more.
He liked to make love to her while she still wore her stockings and a garter belt, her glorious femininity spilling out of bra, blouse, skirt, shoes, jewelry. She was just right for the part and dressed for it, too.
She sang it again and it was solid. In fact, it was dynamite. He did an arrangement, fiddling around the piano in an old church, and they did it that Sunday afternoon at an open jam in a club where he gigged a lot during the week. The cats got into it. In fact, the dude running the session started getting guys up to join in and they did chorus after chorus of the tune. When they were finished, everyone in the joint was on their feet, shouting.
They both felt that glory train people feel sometimes, that thing that’s actually bigger and better than anything a dude or dudette has to offer alone. It pulses and pushes and takes over, and in the total rush it leaves a trail of psychic joy and total immersion in the beat, the harmony and the rhythm and realization that it is something that actually brings the people together as one big being before it is over.
When it’s over, it isn’t really over.
There is an afterglow. There’s an obsession that one can get it back, that glory train feelng. People will do almost anything to get it, keep it, get it back again.
They had been looking for it ever since, holding on to each other through one junkie scrape after the next and they drifted on down to New Orleans, gigging, scamming, hustling - looking for that last chance union with God, with the divine. Looking everywhere, in the music, in time, the river, the sound of marching feet, the tones of horns and singers and the cadence of drummers, cooking smells, and spicy sauces.
He swung up the stairway, sprung the screen door and half kicked it in, all the while talking to her in soft tones.
“Yo, honey, I got the stuff and wait until you get a taste. We can get right and stay that way. You know what? I want to work on that new song you wrote just before I got busted? You know, the one about how I looked the first time you saw me blowing my horn and...”
He saw her in the mirror first, stretched out on her back with spit drooling down out of her mouth and her eyes rolled back in her head. It wasn’t really her, was it?
Mizmoon in her red slip with filmy, milky blue dead eyes looking way up over and behind her forehead at a spot on the ceiling where there was nothing, really, to look at.
He grabbed her up and tried to make her stand. Threw her on the bed, slapped her face, raked his knuckles down her breastbone, breathed air into her mouth while he pinched her nostrils, massaged her heart through her chest, pushing down on the ribcage with all his might.
All he heard or felt were some hideous bowel sounds from this cadaver, this body that was once her and now would never be her again. Mizmoon was no more. He grabbed his horn, threw a few things in a plastic bag, some shirts and socks, a toothbrush and razor and got all the way down the stairs before the shock wore off and he started to cry.
By the time he caught the St. Charles Avenue trolley, he was starting to get over the panic of the thing that had just happened, that he had just discovered. After all, it could have been him and he couldn’t afford to get caught with a dead girl in his room, not the way things had been going, certainly not with what had just gone down - the Murphy game on the mark, the American Express card, the dope in his pocket he couldn’t afford to lose.
He jumped the first thing northbound. Memphis would do for starters.
The three crouched around the coals of a fire built of an oaken pallet by the tracks. The couple fussed with a thick soda bottle in which they brewed tea.
Just as it boiled, the woman in a long black skirt pulled a leather bag on a string out of her bodice and shook out three small seeds. She dropped them in the bottle and the man, who had the neck of the bottle wrapped in a twisted bandanna, resumed heating it over the coals.
"Beautiful Lady," she told the tramp. "It's a living dream, the way witches flew."
A black crow coasted on silken wings. He landed at their feet, cocked his head to regard them with a beady bird's eye and cawed loudly. Then he snapped his beak shut, turned into a smiling man under a black slouch hat, and danced away.
One morning she whistled. Reclining atop a driftwood log, she crooked a finger, said "Call me Jane." In a redwood grove atop the cliff, she reclined and pointed a leg at the sky. I straddled the other, holding on for dear life. I shouted her name when I could no longer contain myself.
Butterflies whirled amid shafts of sunlight streaming down among the ancient trees.
I sprouted wings, flew.
It's well to get the concept of open across and get it out of the way. Open meant open. This was not a gated community; it was a community with a gate, true, but it was no country club.
There was no membership committee, no investigation into one's morals, employment history, credit rating, education, politics or even whose crotch they pulled one out of. I don't think birth certificates were of the highest priority on the land; at least, I never heard any totemic recitation of lineage, begets or begats.
People, many of them old souls, came and went through your life routinely, and you accepted them as if you had known them all your life. You started up the most amazing conversations and continued them a day, two weeks or several months later on the bus to town, in the garden, waiting for the horseshit shower, or standing in line at the feast.
Take Superman. He wore post office uniforms, the kind of stuff that wears like iron - very warm. I never bothered to ask him if he'd been a postman, or where he was from, what he'd been doing with his life - any of that stuff.
It didn't matter.
Digging his conversation was good enough to satisfy a lifetime of searching around for someone with whom to rap.
One did not gaze, glance, look, scrutinize or stare, in Superman's parlance. Folks "lamped" the objects and plants, persons and animals which held their interest, even for a moment.
It was, like, Superman "rolled on up, strolled on up, man - I had a little mad money in my motherfuckin' pocket, too - and there she was, man, long, tall Sally of a good-lookin' thing, big-legged and real fine, man. I lamped her once, I lamped her twice, and she caught me peekin', too, you know. Y'unnerstan' what I'm talkin' about, brother."
In the background, chorus after chorus riffed out in cascades of horns on top of horns double and triple-tonguing sixteenths, thirty-seconds and sixty-fourths be-bop, be-bop, be-bop and rompa de bomp de bompa de bomp de bompa de bomp - and everything.
Dark men banged on the bongos, timbales and congas, feet stomped, hands clapped, and he did it all with sound of his gentle voice and the glance of his lamps.
One never knew with cats like Superman and O.B., Gordon Guru, the Nude Dude, or any of dozens of such characters, if you were actually in the presence of Bodhisattva, the one who has fulfilled all requirements to attain nirvana and yet stayed behind to help others to escape their suffering and go beyond the pale.
It was well to listen, to really, really look, and to wait with patience any time one was go about an ordinary journey anywhere bearing the wood or bearing the water.
One day while we waited to take a shower, he struck up a conversation. You see, after someone showered, you had to wait awhile for the water in the black plastic pipe coiled in the manure overhead to heat up. For some reason, I suppose because of the microbial action of the decomposing cow or horse shit, the sunlight, all that, it enhanced the heating of the coil.
"I thought your old lady said you folks came up here from New Orleans, man."
He said it out of the side of his mouth, his massive mustaches pumping up and down as he spoke around them.
"Well, we were down there for awhile."
We dapped, exchanged names.
"You ever heard of the Olympia Jazz Band from New Orleans, Louisiana, man?"
Yeah, I said. They were famous for marching to and from jazz funerals in the St. Louis cemetery.
"Well, they have a beer commercial you hear on the radio sometimes. This old soul brother says, 'This is so and so from the Olympia Jazz Band of New Orleans, Louisiana, and when we comes to California (he said it Cali-fawn-ya) we likes to drink that Rainier Ale.'"
Superman went basso profundo on the Rainier Ale part of the announcement.
He chuckled and said it several more times.
Ray-ne-ah Aaaaallllllleeeee, man!
Then this perfect young woman walked up, cut in line with her child, washed the baby, then herself, and proceeded to do fabulous yoga postures on the path beside the garden and shower. She stood on one leg and placed her other foot right over her head, keeping perfect balance while the baby slept fitfully on a pallet in the sun beneath the shade of some pole beans. Then she went through a series of tortuous postures, each one more amazing than the last, while Superman and I stood agog and agape, having forgotten all about our showers. In fact, we had forgotten time, our names and everything but the beating of our hearts.
When she walked on, we turned and looked at one another.
He said, "Some of them believes in torture, baby brother. You ready for that?"
"Sock it to me, mister."
We cracked up.
It must have been a month later that I ran across him smoking and joking with some people who had a half gallon of Early Times in a house down in the canyon.
He looked at me and said, "This is so and so from the Olympia Jazz Band in New Orleans. And when we comes to Cali-fawn-ya, we likes to drink that Rainier Ale."
It was as if we had never parted.
"Man, where did you learn to sing 'Do, Lord?'? That ain't no song white boys usually sing."
I told him I had learned it at church.
"Man, I thought that was just something they sang at the Holiness and the African Methodist."
We sang a few bars and several other soul brothers joined us.
I got a home in Beulah land that outshine the sun.
I got a home in Beulah land that outshine the sun.
I got a home in Beulah land that outshine the sun.
Lord, it's way beyond the blue.
Oh, do, Lord, do, Lord, do remember me.
Do, Lord, do, Lord, do remember me.
Do, Lord, do, Lord, do remember me.
When I'm way beyond the blue.
It was then that I looked around that dusty little group and realized I had seen some of them before on the hill at the Golden Gate Park with the drums, some at Resurrection City in Washington, D.C., across the street from the White House and just down from the Lincoln Memorial, when I had first been informed that Massa would no longer be obeyed as to the pounding of the drum, that the drum would henceforth speak, that the brethren and their women would go natural and let their African hair grow, and that many things were due to change in the world as a result.
Well, after all, I went there to ask them what they wanted. I was no fool from Liverpool, no square from Delaware. I knew as well as any big mouth high shouter jazz man that you can't get anywhere without a rhythm section.
We had another libation and took it all under advisement for the afternoon. It all seemed so reasonable, to be a cat in a funny hat looking for a tune to sing.
Somewhere in the atmosphere, coming from far away and across a long frequency, a poet crooned, a capella on the b-flat blues scale, double four,
Resurrect me, baby,
when I'm down on the street,
when I'm dead on my feet,
resurrect me, baby.
Of course, under these conditions, as beautiful as they were, there was nothing like the kind of privacy money and prestige can buy. It was if we were each others's children, begging the forbearance of one another when one strolled in on another in the middle of what would have been an unconscionable invasion of another's space.
The young man was sitting in Mary's house one afternoon staring into space and doing nothing much more than enjoying sitting at ease after bearing wood and water before maybe getting a bite to eat if she chose to feed. Mary was a woman of medium stature and build with the pragmatic good common sense to handle a boho at the door begging for a handout.
She ignored the young man and went about the business of washing her body, powdering herself and dressing in clean clothing.
When the Frenchwoman walked in the door, she was bent over to step into a pair of drawers, giving the world - or anyone in her house, that is - perfect look at her very feminine parts couched between voluptuous buttocks stacked on top of muscular legs below small of a petite back connected to flaring hips.
The Frenchwoman blushed, turned and fled, jumping off the porch, apologizing profusely.
Incensed, Mary chased her partially nude, shouting at her. "What's you problem, lady? Damn. It's no big deal. Don't act like there's anything wrong. There's not. Everything is okay. Come back. What do you want?"
The Frenchwoman, who was dressed in a maroon turtleneck and low-rising black denim bell bottoms with a very wide leather belt, stopped, pirouetted on a toe, and came back wide-eyed, appearing very much like a timid little deer under her black hair cut pixie style, her blue eyes wary.
"I just, how you call, be afraid to be rude. I am too much shame for..."
Forget about it, she was told in Mary's no nonsense northeastern accent.
The young man made himself scarce when he saw the tea pot go on the stove. They would make girlfriends. The boho might be fed later, but not now.
Later, when it was time to go to the ridge top and watch the sun set, the young man found the Frenchwoman again, seated facing the sun, meditating and listening to the drums. He sat near her.
Where are we from, you and I? The entire social game of sniffing one another out and showing liking and approval, such a pleasant part of one's day.
She was from Belgium and not France. She was just one of the Belgians who speak French.
The young man was from Houston, Texas. Space City, U.S.A., petroleum production capital of the world, extruder of pipe, welder and forger of tools and equipment manufactured to be shipped worldwide for the extraction of the black gold, the crude fossil remains of ancient life.
"I was in Houston briefly one time," she said, suddenly, as if someone had flipped a switch and a light had suddenly flooded the small area around the two of them.
Making an airline connection in Houston in 1965 and bound for Idlewild in New York to continue to Dublin and Europe, the flight was delayed for several hours.
"But piecemeal, you know, one hour at a time," she said, gesturing with her hands as if breaking bread into small bits.
She had asked another woman from the convent, she was a novitiate at the time, and she said it was because "The beetles are on the tarmac."
The date of August 13th, 1965.
Having entered the cloistered life in 1961, she told the young man, laughing, she had no idea that her companion was speaking of The Beatles.
"My ability to accept such a phenomenon as a possibility probably says something about my religious conditioning to that point."
They both sat back agape, staring at one another, suddenly lost in what had been said. The young man was stricken by Superman's earlier testimony about jazz funerals, the notion of reincarnation of beetles as Beatles who could be on the Houston airport tarmac and stymie international air travel by their mere presence.
"Weird as it seems, I thought that she was talking about an invasion of insects."
Rebirth was taking place on a moment to moment basis in those days. There was no stopping it.
Crossing the Leon River and its pecan bottoms, well into West Texas on the back way to San Antonio from that country, the young man and the little boy hit the part of the highway that cuts like a knife across the prairie between the buttes.
The Chevy pickup hummed along the smooth highway, the radio quietly crackling out a tune from a far away Dallas FM station, something the disc jockey had been babbling about as a "rare live recording" of Neil Young that was made at a bar before one of his albums had been released.
Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the coloured balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon.
Young's plaintive, conversational vocal style quietly cut through the electronic interference and the rush of north wind that promised a cold snap indicated several days in a row by horse-tailed cirrus clouds.
The young man smiled remembering a former lover who many years before used to toss her proud head and flip her red hair when he'd put any of the old boy's stuff on the turntable.
"Oh, it's the man with the quaalude voice again? Gimme something that rocks, man. Make it swing, lover. Let's get it on."
Hippie days didn't last long. They were over before anyone knew they had begun and the short, sweet season left many signs incomprehensible to those who were never in a position to see them to begin with, many chalk marks hard to discern with unitiated eyes, much fervency unfelt in the absence of ignition, no zealousness in unfertile clay.
The mystery of it all. Traveling east where east meets west.
The little boy had nodded off to sleep, as he always did when he got still in the pickup on these journeys as yet a mysterious to him.
This time they had won a sales contest.
An official-looking check had arrived in the mail in what looked like a brown government envelope.
They had won so many things it was hard to sort through it all. There was the Mercedes Benz worth $47,000. Then there was the BMW and the Porsche, both worth equal amounts as the Mercedes. One might also have won $40,000 cash, a $1,500 dollar shopping spree at Saks Fifth Avenue, $500 cash, trips to the Bahamas, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or Jamaica. None of it was possible unless one acted today. Now. Time was of the essence. Urgency was the watchword.
The little boy, of course, got lost in the details very quickly. He just stared at the color brochures of the ultra-blue water and white sugar sand beaches, the pictures of wedding cake cruise ships with decks stacked up as high as any luxury hotel.
None of that had anything to do with what was for sale, which was time share condominiums at locations throughout the sunbelt and Mexico. Vacation spots located on Florida's beaches, Georgia's piney golf courses, the Texas hill country, Missouri's Ozarks, California's mountains or Mexico's jungles - all to be paid for, with interest, by the month.
The tour would take a couple of hours and the salesmen worked the room like professionals selling any big ticket item. There was the walkaround, the demonstration, price quote, turnover to the sales manager, and closing.
There were swimming pools and hot tubs, marinas, floor plans, health spas, miniature golf courses, electronic games arcades, ping pong tables and picnic grounds to be considered; one could not forget the mix and match worldwide buy-back and trade leasing program, the equity rollover feature, or the upgrade trade-up in new units sprouting out of the hillsides constantly.
The little boy listened respectfully. He often turned and smiled at the young man, to whom he referred as his "third daddy."
His first daddy was a Vietnam veteran he never knew. His second died of a sexually transmitted disease that came on the tip of a hypo. The young man was briefly married to his mother.
They, the sales associate and the manager, got together with the "sales team" on a "reduced price from previous owners inventory," and the young man bought the deal, happy to give the little boy a place to look forward to going to play.
The salesman gave the little boy a handful of balloons of many colors. It turned other sales associates's heads when he proudly presented them to the child to play with while the young man signed the ridiculously complicated stack of documents. It was a signal to those in the room that he had closed his deal.
Earlier he had showed the young man pictures of the untouchables in India for whom he was building an orphanage. Hewers and bearers of wood, they were confined to that form of work by their caste, unable to feed their children, unable to trade up to any skilled trade or swap to another unskilled form of work.
He had made a mission there when he "burned out" in a conventional ministry, found himself "just pastoring for a paycheck" while killing time looking through the internet for something that would interest him.
So he traveled to India, built a cinder block building where he housed the children of untouchables who had abandoned them to their fate, left them to be fed by others more fortunate than they.
Driving home through the west Texas Saturday night, the honky tonk air filled with guitar-twanging cheating songs, beer drinkin' music, and truck-drivin' hillbilly rousers on the crackling radio, the young man struggled to move the balloons out of his way at an intersection to see if there was any oncoming traffic, irritated that the sleeping kid in the passenger seat was obscuring his vision after the long, high pressure day.
Suddenly he realized he was on sugar mountain with the barkers and the coloured balloons.
He had never left, long trip though it may have been.
Hot tears stung his eyes, his normal adult face crumpled in nameless grief, something akin to self pity but born of a need to feel and be a part of the world and its great family.
He was a child again, but a new born sprung from the heart of the adult.
He ruffled the sleeping little boy's hair. He felt a tightness in his throat. The pain in his chest was a healthy one. It told him all he needed to know about love.
He was going home. He would be there soon.