Friday, December 26, 2008

Leaving Los Angeles: 1985

Life in L.A. had deteriorated. It had become, basically, Mike Jeff and Me living together at Oakwood in West Hollywood (Burbank, really). I was already looking for a way out--had kicked myself for not moving down to Key West where Brock and Matt were--and knew it was only a matter of time (of telling Mike who had asked me to come out to L.A., who had given me a job and shelter) before I sped off and away from SoCal. Then Mike met some girl--the lifeguard at the apartment complex's pool--and he got a house and she moved in with him. That was the end of our stay at Oakwood, which was month-to-month, and also, by that time, Jeff had met a girl (another girl, when we first met him he was living with a woman--Sherri, common-law-wife--and had a little boy from her) who was pregnant with his child and she lived way out in some suburban area west of Burbank, she lived with her mother and some other younger siblings (no father--it was common to find no father in the house in SoCal). So, Jeff moved in with her. But he and she and her mom were gracious enough to let me stay at their chaotic place until I left town--because by that time, I'd set a date.
I was waiting to finish one last construction job for Mike, then was flying to Pensacola and going to some small town on the beach in Florida to see Matt and Holly.
I had Mike's work vehicle for transportation, so I could get around. I had friends at Oakwood and said goodbye to them. Had friends in Burbank and at the Pago Pago Lounge and said goodbye to them. I stayed, illegally, at the apartment (still had the key and it had not been rented and no one came to clean it or check it) for a few nights, but it was lonely and I felt guilty and worried someone would find me and how embarrassing it would be to get kicked out of there. So, as said, I moved in with Jeff and his pregnant girlfriend at her mom's bungalow with her other kids and these three little girls who her mother--no, Jeff's girlfriend--babysat about every day. They were funny little kids and I think that was the first time I ever enjoyed being around little kids and got me thinking that, hmm, maybe, I'd have kids some day. But I stayed there--actually a very pleasant neighborhood with a park across the street--feeling displaced and miserable and antsy and ready to leave. . . It wasn't more than a week, but felt longer.
Then the day came, or rather, the day before the day. That night, Mike took me around to the old haunts he and I had invented for ourselves. We drank. Hung with some old pals--Jeff, Bob and Brenda, maybe James (no, James was gone by then). He had some coke (yes yes, we did coke in L.A. in the 80s) and for some reason we had a cheap motel room on Olive in Burbank (I must have flown out of Burbank, but I seem to recall it was LAX) and we drank and did coke in the room and then never set the alarm and we woke up late and I missed my flight (which set up a round of problems for when I was supposed to get into Pensacola and when Matt was supposed to pick me up) and so Mike dumped me off at the airport and I got another flight but had to wait around and try to inform Matt I was going to be late--I could only leave messages. Matt had no phone--only the restaurant where he worked as a number--and there were no cell phones and I used Mike's Dad's credit phone number to make these long distance pay phone calls. And so, finally, I tumbled into the sky and flew to New Orleans. Then a puddle jumper prop plane to Pensacola--where it was night and I had not heard from matt and I still left messages and waited and waited because he was at work in Grayton Beach--over an hour east--and had to finish the shift and the Pcola airport became empty empty except for a cleaning woman who kept her eye on me and asked if I was staying or what or something (she mainly spoke Spanish and my Spanish is very poor) and finally i got a message from him that he was coming and he showed up and around 1am or so we drove out of pensacola, headed for Grayton which I'd never seen and had barely even envisioned in my head.
It was dark and in my mind it was all just one big city, Pensacola to Grayton, with some unlighted spots in between.
And then in Grayton there was some massive young person party going on (they'd stolen the liquor from some bankrupt bar that had failed to pay them) and it was quite crazy crazy crazy. And then, when the sun came up, I got to see what a fantastic place Grayton Beach was.
But what I remember most about those last weeks in L.A. was staying at the old Oakwood apartment by myself. I felt very alone--almost abandoned--and like a homeless person. I was careful not to turn on lights at night or to make much noise. Had to stay indoors because I was there past the lease, was squatting. I had known--knew--a lot of people there. I don't know why i didn't call one of the woman I knew and stayed with her or ask them to come see me. There was the Lebanese girl whose father was a millionaire living in Greece, there was the musicians daughter (who liked me but she was only seventeen and I refused to mix it up with her because of that) and there were others. But part of it was I wanted to be alone, liked my cold self-pity, and also I knew I was leaving, was going away and would not be back and that my life was no longer connected to these people. Just another transient stop with transient relationships. So, I sat alone with the lights out, listening, squatting in an empty apartment in L.A. That pretty well sums it all up. I never felt connected to the city or region, I was always fighting it, never embraced it much.
But Los Angeles taught me some things. I don't dislike it and did go back a few times. I learned to drive in city traffic there. Learned that I couldn't abandon a wife and kids if I ever had any--something I honestly thought I could do, marry and sire and leave, but seeing Jeff's life and so many other people's in L.A., I realized I did have a level of morality and duty in me that would not allow that (which was why, I guess, I was in no hurry to marry or settle and was very picky about where I invested my deepest emotions). I learned about small bars and their patrons as second families and also learned about alcoholism and lives slipping away in dark dank drinking holes. I learned many things that come with living in a city and ones specifically that come with living in L.A.
But I was glad to leave. Never had a great desire to return.
I'll leave that for others.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Leaving New York City: 1988

It was mid-March when I decided to leave. I'd been in NYC for over a month, living in Queens with Jimmy, playing in Manhattan--the East Village mainly--drinking and goofing around with new friends and old (Donna from Iowa City). But I was broke. It was winter, still, and had snowed and Jimmy and I lived on beignet-mix pancakes and cheap whatever-we-could-find-and-afford foodstuffs. I actually had a job lined up--construction--but the madhouse of NYC was already getting to me. I'd lived in L.A., Seattle, spent plenty of time--weeks--in Chicago, but they did not match the density and intensity of New York. That's not to say I disliked it--far from it, New York was like an addictive cocaine-cocktail, such energy in a relatively small package. But I was broke. I was in love and that love lived in Illinois.
Fru did come out to visit while I was in NYC. She and Don flew out for a week (or was it just a long weekend?) and Fru loved it. She told me she'd quit her job and move to the city with me, if I wanted to stay. But, after she went back home, I thought it over deeply and decided I didn't want to stay. Even broke, New York was fun, exhilerating, but the idea of finding a place to live (we sub-letted in Queens), of riding the subway each day back and forth to a real job, of scrounging in a city where mucho dinero was, ultimately, necessary made me have second thoughts. Especially compared to a quiet life with Fru in her duplex on Ivy Court in little boring Champaign. If we were to move, I'd rather live with her back in Grayton, or somewhere out West. So, I decided to leave New York City. It had been but a life-experience experiment anyway. A lark that had presented itself during a cold midwestern winter.
I'd been hanging with Donna quite a bit, learning the larger city and hitting small bars in the East Village, eating Rays Pizza at St. Marks Square, visiting museums, took a long lone subway ride out to Coney island one cold day. So, the last night--before my flight the next day out of La Guardia, (a flight that Fru lent me the money to fund because I was honestly seriously broke)--Jimmy and Donna and I went out, caroused with some poets and other ne'er-do-wells , and I got very drunk. I spent the night on the floor at Donna's little shotgun hole-in-the-wall expensive knock-down apartment on some street in the village (east, that is). I was committed to Fru and did not sleep with Donna (though had, numerous times, back in Iowa City) and I can't recall if I took a cab--yes I did take a cab--to the airport the next day, hungover like a bad vampire bat.
I never flew much in those days, but I was feeling low, broke, cold, ready to get back to a sane existence with Fru, find a job in Champaign and pay off my debts (not too much), eat big hearty midwestern meals, sleep and sex with the woman I'd come to love. And so I did. Got on the jet, said goodbye to New York (never to return until over a year ago--almost twenty years) and off I went in the sky.
What I recall about the flight is that it's the first time I ever had that sinus-afflicted headache you can get as the jet ascends or descends--that shift in cabin pressure. And it was so painful. Man, it hurt on top of the hurt of the hangover. But I landed--in Indianapolis. (One rarely flies into Champaign--adds $$--usually it's Indy or Chi-Town.) And there Fru and some pals picked me up. I recall, they took me downtown and we went to Union Station, a cafe there, and I ordered a pork tenderloin sandwich--a midwest thing, really an Iowa-and-Indiana-only kind of sandwich. It was huge but I was hugely hungry. I ate it up. The waitress came out and asked if I'd eaten the whole thing, and I said yes--the cook was looking at me from the kitchen--and she said no one ever eats the whole thing. I was actually surprised, because I probably could have eaten another one after the time of almost starving in New York.
After that we wandered Indy a bit. I was disinterested. It seemed small, pedestrian. Some old homeless guy stopped me in the street, was trying to tell me something that was important to him but I interrupted, asked if he wanted some money (by then, I was quite used to panhandlers--a lot in Seattle, some in L.A., even a few in Santa Fe, and of course many many in NYC). The old man, unstable, began to shed tears, accepted my dollar or so, but still tried to tell something (I can't recall what it was he said, exactly or even inexactly) so I listened a little more--it was more interesting than the city of Indianapolis--and then moved on . . . Eventually, we drove back over the barren landscapes to Champaign.
And in Champaign I readjusted. Hadn't spent much time there, really, since I came up from Florida to stay in January. I looked for work. Finally found full time employment at a nursery just east of Urbana. Later I got on a concrete construction crew. 
Sure. It was but a foray. It was a smidgen of a moment of a drop-in-the-bucket when it comes to knowing and understanding New York. I don't know the city. Yet, I do. Sort of and almost. I was more traveller than tourist. One and a half months, not working, living in Queens. A short stay but not a weekender, not a one or two week tourist. Sure. I'm a novice when it comes to the Big Apple. But New York was with me, is with me. The true Big City was and is part of my brain pan. And I'm glad for it.
Allow me this, at least.

To Whom It May Concern #3

Okay. No one still reads this blog--out of what, a million readable blogs out there--but that's okay. I have done no work--no links or self-promotion--to get anyone to even take a peek at this site. And--as said--that's okay. But I'll just pretend. (Eventually I'll do some groundwork, maybe, to get a few readers.) 
Anyway, 2009 is a-coming. So far I've stuck to the 1980s for subject matter; pretty much anyway. My plan is--come January or February--to shift the focus, to open it up to a real scramble of scattered little trivial memories. By no means have I "wrapped up" those wandering years--have barely scratched the surface on the places and people, the internal understandings of it all--but it's time to get on, get back further to childhood and high school years, and on to the 90s, maybe the Ought-Oughts. Yes, yes: no one cares but me. But that's kind of the theme, the point, of this memoir blog. Trying to be honest. Can I help it that I never did anything interesting or earth-shattering? (Okay, don't answer that.) It's all nuance and interpretive. How do I take the mundane and make it interesting?
The answer to that remains to be seen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Leaving Des Moines: 1987

Throughout the Eighties I'd always kept my Iowa drivers license and kept Iowa plates on my car (when I had a car). Officially, I should have had a New Mexico license, a California one, a Washington State one, Illinois (maybe even Alaska and New York), definitely Florida. I never did switch until Montana in late 1988. But in the summer of 87 I was back in Des Moines trying to find work. I did my usual temp jobs--at warehouses and offices, a stint moving things around downtown where I showed up the first day still drunk and everything swayed and shimmied as I toiled). But then my old friend Kevin got me a full time job mowing lawns with TrueGreen and I was set until I left--heading back to Florida once again.
But I was down, felt rotten inside, but was writing. Living in the basement but working, seeing some woman--women--I knew and had met that summer in the bars. The difference, this time, was that I was using a computer, was rewriting about all my stories and my novel and starting new stuff (some of which eventually showed up in scenes of my third novel--the one that got published many years later). But my parents--though I didn't quite see it--were a bit dismayed. 
Here I was, a grown man in my late twenties, a college grad and a capable human being, romping about and returning to the parental nest and, basically, going around in my own static circles. 
But I worked the summer, got physically fit and saved a chunk of cash, got back on the writing trail. I got back in touch with my longest of friends, met new ones, stayed in touch with Matt and Brock (to some degree--these, my deepest friendships of those years, were beginning to fray) and with some people in Iowa City.
In fact, Roger--from the first Grayton days--was living in Iowa City (as he had when I came back for grad school in 86) and I went over to see him a couple of time, him and others I'd met less than a year ago. But eventually the time came to move on and that meant going back to the panhandle, to south Walton County FL.
So I made my plans, let some people know. I was going to drive straight south--take small roads down through Missouri, down through Arkansas and Louisiana and over: see some new country. But then I heard from Margaret--out of the blue--a letter or maybe a phone call and she was living in Champaign, Illinois and wanted me to come out and see her. Margaret was a friend, she had been Cin's roommate in early Iowa City college days. So, I decided I'd go see her, which meant a different route to Grayton, which also meant a stop in Iowa City.
All of which I did.
(And in Champaign I met her friends and co-workers, one of which was Fru; but that's a longer, different and involved story.)
But before I left, my mother came to me and wanted to talk to me. She seemed nervous, concerned, a little grave. She said, "I don't think you can come back here. You can't keep coming home."
That was all. And in many ways, it was a big statement. My father had always run a rather open family home, raised us to take our time and be practical to some degree, but mainly that our lives were our own yet the house would always be our home. But I quickly surmised that they had been discussing this--not exactly kicking me out (I was leaving on my own free will), but that this avenue of my indirection was now closed to me. I knew it had been a topic of deep concern and contemplation between them and that my mother had been sent to give me the bad news. But I didn't take it as such.
"Okay," I said. Was all that I could say. I mean, I interpreted it that quickly and understood it and thought it was--really--a good and necessary policy. So I had no complaints or quibbles. It didn't shock me and maybe even pleased me or satisfied me in inner ways. And we never discussed it further, never said more than those few words. It was understood and accepted and not an issue.
So, I left. Drove away. Left Des Moines for the last and final time--as far as living there goes. Of course I came back and visited, even stayed at the house for a few days, but never worked and lodged there again.
I really hadn't lived in Des Moines--saw the city as my home--since I went away to college and spent my summers in Iowa City in the early 80's (if not 1980 itself). I really wasn't even an Iowan anymore by then. I was just some itinerant gypsy vagabond nomad wanderer writer driver kind of strange guy, living mostly in my own head. . . Yet, that's not entirely true, because in my mind Iowa was still the center of my world, and Des Moines the center of that center. It was my home port, my pinpoint of comparison from which everything else was judged. So leaving it--essentially for good--had its profundity. It was--or should have been--a watershed event.
And it probably was.
But I refused to recognize it as such. Maybe I still refuse to do so.

I returned to Des Moines just a month ago for my Mother's 80th birthday (my father passed away in 2001). I spent about a week there, some of it on my own. My three brothers and my lone sister came into town for two to three days. I stayed on Grand and hung out on Ingersol, just west of the downtown core--even saw Scott and Larry, high school pals who are still there--and then downtown itself, east of the river near the state capitol, and got to see, re-learn the city while I was there. I was strangely impressed. Des Moines has grown up. It has its own level of sophistication yet still retains its Iowa-ness--a good Iowa-ness. I like it.
Who knows, maybe I'll go back someday. Back to stay?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Leaving Seattle: 1987

Spring came to Seattle and I was doing better. It was still gray and rainy most of the time, but there were days of sun, days of seeing the Olympic range out our window and towering Mt. Rainier from the streets. I began to write. And draw. And go for runs along Puget Sound at Seward Park where the big ships came in to unload grain and whatnot.
I was still depressed, but it was a more positive depression.
When I'd first come to the Emerald City, I worked as a busboy at Dukes, not far from our crazy apartment/house in Queen Anne on 1st Avenue West near the Space Needle. Then I'd worked for Brock's dad at his print shop next door (ADSCO Printing). But then I'd gone to Bellingham and failed and came back and then Matt had convinced Brock's dad that we should remodel the apartment (which he owned--a house really with upstairs and down, the down used as storage for the shop, the up a great place because it looked out over the Sound and was in a newly hip part of town), so I went to "work" doing just that.
You've got to understand the living situation. Brock had a room and Matt had the couch and I had the floor. There was one bathroom with only a tub. There was an attic, which we eventually made into a new bedroom, which Matt took and I got the couch. The only kitchen was downstairs among the stacks of printing supplies, so we'd cook downstairs, go out the front door and then in the second door which led up a narrow staircase to the door which led into the bombed-out apartment. When I say bombed-out, it's because the place was old and a wreck and was a complete toxic disaster when we started remodeling it. Matt had worked construction but didn't really know everything he was doing. We had walls torn down and sheets of plastic up and bare floors and dust and debris always everywhere. We lost half of our living space on day 1. But we muddled through. Matt and Brock worked days somewhere else (Brock for his dad) and I stayed at the "house" setting my own hours, drinking lots of coffee and writing. When I came back from Bellingham, I set up Brock's card table in a corner, got out his typewriter and began a few stories. I also began to draw a lot. Not that I'm very good, but I'm a decent sketcher and I drew a series of nudes--many of them funny--and began to post them on the wall each day or so. (Brock's father came in once, glanced over, glanced again, looked, and was embarrassed by the many nudes, some quite graphic, some cartoonish.) But I was doing better, but it became time to leave.
I wasn't broke. I loved Seattle. Was still friends with Matt and Brock (though the relations were starting to strain, Matt was starting to head into troubled substance abuse). But, it was time. Was going nowhere and when I'm going nowhere my urge is to go somewhere different. I knew I'd end up going back to the panhandle in Florida, but first I thought it best to go back to Des Moines (not exactly going somewhere different, but you get the idea). So, I said my goodbyes, packed and got in my ugly powder blue Ford Maverick and drove east, to Montana.
I must have spent the night somewhere, but from Missoula I headed south, down I-15, past Dillon and the state line and into Idaho where it became dark. Dark and lonely. A night at a very cheap motel in Pocatello. From there I drove to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, looked around, hit the road on little highways under clear skies. Took my shirt off and drove, school bus full of girls drove past, they all staring at me smiling and I so lonely and horny I stared back even though I was virtually an old man to them. It was a long drive. Took the route through Sundance into Nebraska and that groovy country around Scottsbluff and back into the familiar farmlands of the midwest and to Des Moines.
Once again, I lived in my parent's basement, worked weird jobs, saved some cash and caught up with my old buddies and women (those left). But I also wrote. Used a computer for the first time--borrowed from my older brother Michael, an Apple--and made some headway on that front. But I dreamt of Seattle, put it in perspective, and also dreamt of Grayton Beach, Florida.
I chose Florida by August or so.
But that's a different story among many piecemeal stories that all have connective tissue and a similar ring when put together. Sure, I returned to Seattle--as a visitor--when I lived in Montana with Fru. We were even married in Seattle. And though my times there were a comeuppance in a way, a demarcation from the fun days into more serious ones, a taking of stock as to who I was and where I was headed and what I really wanted to do, a bad time masked in good--maybe a good time masked by bad--I still love Seattle.
It's my favorite American city.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Pleasure and Pain of Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma: 1982

It was supposed to be just a short long-weekend road trip. It was Matt and Clyde and I. Clyde and I worked for the university as housekeepers/janitors/maintenance workers, matt worked for his uncle. It was summer in Iowa City in 1982. . . It was supposed to be just a larky jaunt to Colorado Springs to camp and take in Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods. I think, maybe, it was a three day weekend of some sorts, then again, I could be wrong about that.
It was a great trip, a lousy trip. What happened was, we drove on out there, found a private campground outside of Colorado Springs. We hiked around the Garden of the Gods--all those spiky sandstone monolithish rocks and the mountains and the pines. We swam in a cold pond. Drove up to Pikes Peak where it got cold, snowed a bit and me in shorts. We drove up a dirt forest road and had to turn around precariously. We decided to hike up to a spot on tall mountain--stood there from the camp, picked out a spot, started hiking without any topo maps or food or water, thinking we could get up there in a few hours. Foolishness. After about one hour, barely maiking it up and down small hills and through trees, we knew it was impossible (mountain distance is always elusive to flatlanders). But it was sunny and sweet--dry thin air and the smell of pine; a vertical horizon. We went into Colorado Springs to drink, accomplished that, even danced a little. But I got a hankering for something else.
The Sangre de Cristos run through southern Colorado down into New Mexico. I'd read about the Great Sand Dunes area of Colorado, so I talked Matt and Clyde into heading down there and it was a beautiful spot: fields of wildflowers on the plain, the rise of the Sangres--brown and green and grey and purple--the field of huge dunes, golden and rough up against the mountains and trees. We hiked back in to the San Juan Valley--the National Forest--crossed a stream and made camp in a large clearing off the trail. We put beers in the stream that was there, hiked up a small, craggy-topped mountain, found some elk antlers, came back and drank the now-cold-beer and made dinner. We hiked the dunes. It was all rather stunning, fun for the young. But that evening--night--a huge thunderstorm came in and it rained volumes of rain. We had a huge fire, that crackled in the downpour and eventually drowned. The tent leaked. We sat in our ponchos, hunched above the ground on our heels, under the cover of pines as lightning scratched the air, thunder exploded, rain rained like an impossible faucet. But it was miserable fun. And the next day we decamped, walked out under gray skies, and I had a hankering to see New Mexico.
I'm not sure where I got in my head to go to Santa Fe, but I said to them, "We need to find the REAL Santa Fe.", which was sort of a joke but also a serious quest. And, with no objections, off we went. Now, I should say that we had borrowed Matt's sister's car for this trip. That we all had to be back to work on, what?, Tuesday or someday. But off we drove, hitting good sunlight by the border, dipping and bopping through the dry hills and mountains of northern New Mexico, stopping at a state park--Rio Grande State Park--where we hiked to a big gully/canyon where the small baby Rio Grande ran steel-colored far below. We took in the sun, headed south and down and into Santa Fe. 
(Okay, we did stop in Taos and drank dark Australian beer at a place called Ogalvies, sitting outside with shirts off soaking up the Zia sun.)
In Santa Fe we found downtown and found the Plaza with it's adobe buildings and trees and tourists and Indians selling turquoise on blankets under the ramparts of the old Government Building. Man, we liked it. And so we resumed our beer drinking at a place called the Plaza bar. It was a hole-in-the-wall dive of a bar, full of drinkers and drunks and it's not there anymore. I tried to speak Spanish to a couple of very inebriated hispanic men. We bought them shots of tequila--bought ourselves shots of tequila--and one of them would genuflect before each gulp. Fun. Overheard some youngish guys talking about the Whore House and we asked where this said whorehouse was and they explained it was the ORE House, a bar, almost next door. So, we went to the Ore House.
And it was jumping. It was a fancy place compared to the Plaza Bar, with music and dancing and a youngish crowd. Talked to a guy in cowboy garb, danced with some women, talked to those women, went outside--drunk as a skunk--where kids rode their bikes in the street, talked to them, tried to speak my mangled Spanish and they called me terrible names that I didn't understand, went back into the bar and talked to the women again until they said they'd take us to their place. But I didn't understand the directions and they pretty much ditched the three of us out in the parking spaces along the Plaza. So drunk, we headed out of town.
We did have the sense to stop at a diner and eat and study our bible: The Rand McNally Road Atlas of the United States of America. We figured our route and hit the road with full bellies and warped minds, driving driving across northern desert with the moon out like a giant hamster wheel, knocking our way into daylight and the empty Texas panhandle--Amarillo--then angling into Oklahoma City by two p.m.. Where we had lunch downtown, a downtown empty and silly and boring and I said it was time to discover the real Tulsa. Had a hankering for Tulsa, Oklahoma.
We were supposed to be back for work in Iowa City in maybe two days. We again found a campground outside of Tulsa--some long green pasture place with an artificial lake--them went into town. . . We never really made it into the downtown, but stopped at some neighborhood, ate, and hit a small bar called the Buccaneer Lounge. There we played pool and drank with the day crowd. Night fell. (We had to make a trip to the liquor store to buy whiskey and bring it to the bar for them to sell it back to us due to some oddball/Christian-minded alcohol laws in Oklahoma). We drank beer and whiskey and young people mobbed the place. Played pool, met people, met women, I almost went home with an African-American girl, some Spanish girl kept calling Matt El Diablo and Clyde just watched with bemused drunkenness because he had never traveled with Matt and I before (and never did again) but we closed the place, got back into Matt's sister's car, Clyde up from, Matt in back and me driving and I ran into a telephone pole.
Okay, I swiped the pole. Went over the curb and put a good dented scratch along the right front fender. Car was still drivable, so we headed for the camp, made it, went to sleep. The next day, sheepish and hung over, we headed for home. But of course, the clutch went out.
We were stuck along the highway, somehow got a tow truck to come get us (no cell phones, you know) and traveled into Bartlesville, Oklahoma where Matt's sister's car was taken to a Sears Auto who did not have the part we needed and had to order it. And we were stuck. It was hot hot over 100 degrees in Bartlesville and we had no money, no car, no nothing. We called our parental units and they agreed to wire the cash we needed to fix the car (and eat) (and sleep), but the money could not be wired to Bartlesville, only Tulsa (serious) and the only way to get to Tulsa with the money we had (no one our age carried credit cards in those days) was to take a Greyhound Bus and the bus station was on the opposite side of town. . . So, we hoofed it. Walking walking, thumbs out but no takers, stopping to buy bologna and bread and mustard and drinks and ate in the parking lot and walked and walked in the 100 degree heat, across town, to the bus station, where we bought tickets and waited and took the lousy bus back to Tulsa--near the airport--where we got our Western Union money from the folks and got a cheap motel room and took the bus back to Bartlesville the next day where the part came in and the car was fixed (except for the telephone pole mar). 
So we paid up and got the hell out of Oklahoma. Had to stop in Kansas because the bolts on the car where it had been repaired had not been tightened, had a mechanic do that, paid him five bucks that we needed, but we were off. Rushed to Iowa and Iowa City. I'd borrowed a backpack and walked from my apartment on Van Beuren, carrying the pack, to the U. and work--late. My boss chuckled, told me to go back home. I did. Walked back and slept and ate and slept. Went to work the next day.
So, it was quite the road trip. One of many in those college days. Usually it was Brock, Matt and I. Often Mike (Cheech) and there were others. Usually it was to Florida--Daytona and Key West--but also to Mississippi, New Orleans, Texas and eventually the big drive out to Seattle and up to Alaska. And after school was done, we split and continued our own version of those road trips. Santa Fe and L.A. and Grayton and Seattle and more. They were just, really, extended road trips, complete with jobs and apartments and loves and friends. A drawn-out horsing around with our lives. Matt and Brock and I meeting up again in Grayton and Seattle. Yes, we were ignorant. But we also understood what we were doing--this jumbled bumble against-the-grain-of-common-society, immature living. It was stupendous fun, idyosyncratically profound, a waste of time and a powerful tattoo upon our lives. 
I did it. We did it. And here I am to prove it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Riding A Roller Skate Down Old Santa Fe Trail: Santa Fe 1984

So I lived in an old adobe on Camino de la Luz up in the hills east of town and got a job waiting tables at the Forge Restaurant downtown. I used to walk the mile or more to and from work each day, down Alameda along the trickling tree-shaded Santa Fe River. I only knew one person in Santa Fe--Joel, whose house I lived in--but after I landed the job, I fell in with a group of characters.
Though I got to know about, say, a dozen people just from work, it was mainly two young guys, John and Alex, that I hung out with. They were both locals, both going-no-where kind of young men. Nice guys, though. John was a cook, from a broken family who rarely saw his father (I recall we were out and around one night and some leather-clad fellow buzzed by on a Harley and John yelled out and the guy waved to him; "That's my dad," John said to me. "He's a freak." and this was kind of shocking to me, that you would casually wave to your father on a motorcycle in the street as if he were but an acquaintance), kind of a drinker/drugger ne'er-do-well. John was a bit of a harmless scammer, scrappy and interesting. Alex was a little more refined, a drummer and musician; he lived in a studio apartment at his mother's house but didn't see much of her because, as I was told, his brother had been killed which broke his mother's heart and she put a great distance between her and Alex because of that tragedy. But, they were guys--like most young guys--who liked to stay up late and bound about and look for things to do.
When I say stay up late, I mean real late. We often worked the night shift at the restaurant and it got to where they started inviting me out afterwards to hit the bars, to go to Club West (where Alex's girlfriend was manager, where I eventually worked as a bouncer). Then, even after the club closed, say three, four in the morn, they'd take beers and wander downtown Santa Fe looking for things to do. Like I said, they were both natives of the city and they knew it block by block. But what I also found out was that they were both into roller skating.
Now, sure, I'd roller skated. Had last skated in Iowa City when I was a freshman and we'd arrange to go to a rink in Coralville with a another dorm floor--girls, of course. But I had a rather low opinion of it. But I'd walk and they--having brought their skates to work--would glide along, up and down sidewalks and empty late night streets, skating and spinning the concrete spaces around the state capitol and other government buildings. And invariably there'd be other characters about--cab drivers, hooligans, bar workers--who they knew and would stop to talk to and introduce me to. But otherwise, the city was empty and dark. Sometimes, downtown along the plaza, we'd even climb up to the roofs of the buildings. I recall one time we hopped up--I think on top of the bank--and looked own on the plaza below and there was a street bum wandering around and John--ever full of mischief--decided to toss quarters into the street. Alex and I watched as he did this, the quarters pinging down to the pavement, the unfortunate homeless bum hearing it, searching as another quarter came down, now the man seeing it, picking it up as more quarters and other coins began to rain from the sky. I admit I laughed. The bum finally figured it out, looked up, said, "Very funny". But at least he got to keep the change.
I remember one night after work I went out with them. We did the usual--drinking till Club West closed--taking beers and hitting the deserted town, walking while they skated. Then they said I should try. "No way," I said. "Your skates are too small, anyway." True, I was much bigger than both of them, maybe even put together. "You can ride on it," they told me. Ride on it? "Like a skateboard," Alex said, "you can use one skate and I'll use the other." I was more than skeptical. I was also sloshed. "Okay," I said. "I'll give it a try."
We were up on Santa Fe Trail, a main drag that ran as a hill down--eventually--into the center of downtown. So, beer bottle in one hand, I sat down on the tiny skate, balanced myself, and off I went . . . Indeed, I glided downhill, gaining speed, learned I could control it like a board or toboggan by shifting my weight, and I went a long long way. Just drinking and skating, sitting on one single tiny roller skate, bopping along in the dry night summer air of Santa Fe, the four am buildings brown dark and empty, stop lights flashing only yellow, trees full-leaved and dusky, the whole city empty and quiet and but a playground for fools like us.
We did it again, on different streets, until the sun came up. In fact, I had to be at work for the breakfast shift, so I never did sleep or get home, but went straight from drunk and sit-skating to my locker at the Forge, where I changed into waiter attire, and started my shift. 
But I was in pretty bad shape, though made it till about noon, then--after the initial rush--I begged off work. Sherri--the manager--let me go home. And as I walked, down some of the same streets I'd been wandering all night before, everything was surreal and strange, my mind bamboozled, my sensations discombobulated in a pleasant, if worn down, way. And, I discovered, it was the Fourth of July.
I'd forgotten. And as I tramped along the street I came across a crowd, across the Fourth of July Parade route and here it came, floats and clowns and Shriners and cowboys with horses and kids and wagons and red white blue bunting and me. Me strung-out stranged-out happy tired heading past the parade and up the long-walk hill to my temporary home in New Mexico.
Oh, it was just a dumb little thing. One of many dumb little things out of many dumb little days spread out over lo' these many years. If only I could get paid for such foolishness, I'd be a rich man. But, I still remember such trivial frivolities, can still conjure them up quite well, like a movie reel in my head that entertains me in my own idiosyncratic way, allowing me to laugh at myself.
Maybe that's payment enough.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Working in Montana: 1988-1990

I had a number of jobs in Missoula, none of them splendid. Montana, even a vibrant city like Missoula, wasn't exactly a employment mecca kind of place. As I recall, the Forest Service and the state government were the biggest employers in the state--probably still are--with mining and timber extraction following them up. I was a student, not a ranger or lumberjack or office worker, so I looked for my usual hand-me-down jobs when I lived there. And when Fru and I were in the cabin in Stevensville, we found no work.
Stevensville, like the rest of the small towns lined up along the Bitterroot Valley, had few jobs, even in the small business' and cafes and such. Fru and I looked for work in Missoula, but employers were reluctant to hire us because we would have to drive into town, because we were not really Montanans, because we were both students at the University of Montana, I guess. Don't blame them, really. So, it wasn't until we moved into Missoula--a little cottage of a house on Rollins Street--that we found employment.
Fru found temp work doing books at All West Tractor. I landed a job as dishwasher at the Old Town Cafe on Front Street or First Street, up near the railroad yard, near the Double Front. It was owned by two guys who--by the time I worked there--hated each other. But it was a great cafe--sold mounds of good food, especially breakfast, at decent prices. It was popular and I enjoyed working there at first. Restaurants have a sense of energy and camaraderie, a necessary team effort, to function. But there's also a lot of stress. Cooks and chefs are well known to have hot tempers. And the two owners, who were both the main cooks, taking different shifts, together at times on weekends, were jerks most of the time. There was a lot of negative energy, a lot of negative reinforcement to urge employees to do their jobs (which was not needed--positive reinforcement would have worked better). Most of us there came to love/hate the place. But, there weren't a lot of jobs in town, so you buried that anger and kept your mouth shut and did the work. Eventually people exploded. I quit--walked off the job, essentially (with the owner's blessing) because of it. Had never done that before and still have a lingering dislike for both of those jackasses.
By then Fru had a steady part time job with the university. Any job with the U was considered a plum one. So, we were in Missoula, poor, essentially happy, in love and I was out of work. I went right to it and landed a job at a truck stop off I-80 just west of town.
Officially I was a pump jockey.
Though I was working for minimum wage, wore a silly Conoco polo shirt uniform, at times I liked the job. I was outside a lot, near the big highway with its traffic and trucks and sense of "the road", could see the mountains and the valley each day. I'd handle the pumps for the big trucks, do small jobs, sometimes had to clean showers but otherwise just tumbled around doing what was needed. But I knew I wanted to get out of it and, come summer, I applied for a landscaping job, put down my landscaping/nursery experience (from Urbana) and concrete experience (from Champaign) and turned out one of the owners (a good group of youngish guys) was from Illinois originally, so I got the job. And it was fun. They had a contract to plant trees for the city, so I got to go around town doing just that. Loved being outdoors, loved the plants, the hard work, the guy-stuff. A few people from the cafe saw me out there, so it was sort of revengeful to know that they'd seen me working like that--a job like that was also considered plum. We did yards and gardens all over town and down in the Bitterroot, did driveway and trash can pads of concrete. I recall one day, one of the owners had me hop in the pickup with him and we drove up Highway 12, up towards the Blackfoot River, looking for rocks. That's right, getting paid to go looking for rocks. Big ones, with moss or lichen, for someone's new garden. It was sunny, warm for Montana, country music on the radio, out on the dipping curving road in Montana. Nice work if you can get it. But, Fru and I were poor and the U wouldn't give me a Teaching Assistantship, so I quit school and looked for a job that would pay better, would give me benefits, and that's how I became a janitor at the University of Montana.
I looked around for better paying work, applied at the U and got the job. I'd spent time in Des Moines, at Younkers department store, being a maintenance man, also had worked such work at the University of Iowa in the summers, so I passed my test on how to strip and wax floors, on how to use a buffer (actually had to do a buffer test, that is, they had me change a pad, run a buffer--which I did one-handed and which honestly impressed my two bosses-to-be: "Wow, look, one hand."). So, I worked afternoons to evenings as a maintenance guy, a janitor, at the U. Went from student to janitor in one year--great! But it was boring and fun. Easy if embarrassing. It was also considered a good job in Missoula--anything that was full time, paid over the minimum and had benefits was a plum (again, a plum!). Other janitors were college grads, were Vietnam Vets, were local small business owners supplementing income and health insurance and future retirements. I eventually fell in with a group who, on Fridays, disappeared from their stations, went up upon the roof on one of the buildings (where they had lawn chairs and coolers) and drank beer for the last few hours. It was that kind of a job. But it was sweet--on the roof at the U, Mt. Sentinel looming above us, under the stars drinking beer at work. Nice bunch of guys, too.
I also was in the newspaper business. That is, I got a paper route one winter. I wanted to go to Mexico and needed some extra cash, so I got a route. Had to get up around what? 4 or 5 am, walk my route in below freezing temps in the dark. One time, around Xmas, my brother--Youngest Brother--came to town with friends. They gave me a bottle of Bushmills Irish Whiskey and I drank it down. Was still drunk when I got up to do my route. But did it. Threw up in the bushes twice. Had one customer come to the door, he complained about where I left the paper but I was too hungover-drunk to comprehend what he was saying, really, and just smiled, said, "Merry Xmas" to him. Another time a dog followed me on my route and then followed me all the way home to my neighborhood (it was a ways away). I tried calling the owner off the dog's tag--it was a nice dog--but they were out. Finally got a hold of someone who was feeding the pooch and they didn't care. Eventually the dog went home (I think). But that job only lasted a few months and I went to Mexico by myself and that's another story.
Fru got a decent job offer back in Champaign and we made the decision to return there and that was the end of my work in Montana. But I still dreamt of Missoula for many years. Still do now and then, but it's rare. I could, though, go back to Montana, to Missoula, but don't know if I could be so poor. Definitely would not go back into the newspaper business.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Night of the Mosquitos: Grand Isle, Louisiana 1981

In 1981 I was in school at the University of Iowa. Brock and Matt (and Mike) were my fastest friends. And we lived for the bars, books, women and new landscapes. Road trips were a great staple to our sense of adventure and discovery. So, that summer, we decided to head south.
We went to Mississippi first--Gulfport. We camped at a private campground (Gaylord's Camp or something like that), under tall trees--walnuts or something--and pines. Sure, it was hot but the hot didn't bother us. We scooted around town in Matt's car, swam in the Gulf of Mexico, hit a beachside bar named Spiders. (I went back to Spiders a few years ago--yes, it was still there--while Bill M. and I visited Mike P.. But have since learned it was blown away by Hurricane Katrina.) So, we drank us some beer, played games of pool with the locals while watching the sun descend into the calm Gulf waters through the bar's windows. We got to know a small group, one guy and two girls, and they invited us to do a little hopping in the night. And we went to a couple of odd bars back in the woods, then to a big place called the White House in Biloxi. This was before the casinos and it was really just a glorified disco. We had our drunken fun, then went back to crash in our tent. Then, sun up, we headed for New Orleans.
Being from Iowa (essentially, though I'd lived in three states before Iowa, Brock was from Seattle, Matt an Iowa Boy from Sioux City) and being young, driving through new places, new states and "cultures"--even within the confines of the USofA--was a pleasing internal adventure all its own. The slow rivers and stagnant bayous, cotton fields, kudzu-covered trees and fences, the snakes, gators, buzzards, the sleepy dilapidation and drawl-talking folks all interested us greatly. And the city of New Orleans was like a foreign world to us. Yes, it was Bourbon Street Viuex Carre French Quarter tourist land, but that mattered little to us as we hit the bars and restaurants, talked to people, listened to music, gawked at the veranda and wrought iron balconied buildings, the tawdry strip clubs, painters in the street, mimes and such, Jackson Square and Jax Beer and the Mighty Mississippi, banana plants and magnolias and stunted palms and moss-laden live oaks, the seedy neon old-world hustle-bustle tourist trappiness of it all. It was wild and strange fun, even if we did nothing particularly wild or strange. And as the night wore thin and our drunkenness became greater, we realized we did not have a place to stay for the night.
We stumbled the streets, considered a few hotels. But we were cheap bastards (even if we had had the cash, I doubt we'd of shelled out more than $20 bucks for a room if we could find one that cheap). But we were car people, nomads, drivers of America's highways (and campers), so we tromped back to Canal Street where we'd parked the car and--despite our inebriation--decided to drive away.
It wasn't really a problem. We found our way to I-10 and headed west. We got about halfway to Baton Rouge before we called it quits, before our drunken splendor turned into asleep at the wheel. Pulled into a rest area and slept in the car. Actually, at one point, I got out of the car and slept in the parking lot, using the curb as a pillow. I don't know if anyone saw me, but they must have, because it was daylight when I woke up in the parking space.
Unbowed, we headed south again, this time taking the small roads, headed for the Gulf again and a small town called--and island--called Grand Isle.
The drive down was amazing: a reel of flatflat land and drooping trees, plantation homes with those mossy oaks like toppled Ferris Wheels, sad little towns under the baking sun, Donaldsonville, Houma, Raceland, Cut Off, Leeville, mosquito-riven canals with traps and detritus and big paint-peeling shrimp boats, the highway getting skinnier and skinnier under a relentless sun and soupy humidity. Yes, it was summer down in the delta land of Louisiana and we were going to camp on the beach.
Grand Isle itself was shuttered and asleep, vacation homes boarded up against heavy humid light and torpor, everything standing still and slow of breath, hanging on in the oppressive impossible heat. Yes, a few places were open, but the streets were peopleless and animal-less. We found the campsite. It was right on the placid grey water. There were a few others there, all in motor homes with air-conditioning. We were the only tent campers. Yes it was hot as hell, dry and humid at the same time. No breeze. But we swam, showered to escape the heat and sweat. We went back into town and entered some weird little bar--black and sealed tight against the day, coldly cold air-conditioned. We had a few drinks, then went back to the beach and ate cold chili out of cans. Drank all the fluids we could get our hands on. But it was not enough. We were running out of dollars and spent them at the vending machine by the showers, but no matter how many cans of soda we bought it was not enough. Two days of drinking--maybe three--and the deep south Louisiana heat were drying us out. The sand was full of ghost crabs, too. Little whitish creatures that scuttled everywhere under our feet. There was no shade to be had on the beach, where our three-man tent sat wilting and broiling.
Dusk came. A man from a motor home talked to me, asked about us camping. He said that the mosquitos would eat us up. "Them's red-eye mosquitos. They'll come out of that brush," and he pointed to the sea oats and weeds, "and bite the devil out of you." I didn't quite believe him. But, as dusk fell into night, they came.
We'd never seen such bugs. They were small, they were a million if they were a one. Maybe a billion. And they were relentless. They clouded and buzzed and attacked without guile. We swatted and smeared and killed them by the dozens, the hundreds, thousands, but there were always more. We ran to the showers and they followed us, even attacked while the water streamed upon my parched, baked burnt tired body. Kamikaze mosquitos. We ran back to the tent and got inside. It was an oven. And the mosquitos had followed us inside. We killed as many as we could, but there were more. There was no breeze. No rain. No air. The tent--cramped world of canvas--had to have everything zipped tight because the bugs were still after us, could slither through the tiniest of openings and even the tattered screens. It was miserable crazy insane and we were seared, burnt and dead tired.
We headed for the car. Killed the mosquitos that followed us inside. The car was an oven too, but we slept a little. Woke up and ran the air-conditioning, but we couldn't just leave it running. We slept some more, but it was impossible. Too hot, cramped, too infested. Couldn't take it. So, I bolted from the car. Grabbed a towel. I paced the beach swinging the towel around me to keep the carnivore-bugs at bay. It worked. Of course, I couldn't sleep. I was still hot, sweaty, hungry, thirsty and bone-tired, but the damn mosquitos couldn't get me. They didn't stop trying, but they couldn't quite make it past my flailing towel. Matt and Brock soon joined me.
We walked, towels swinging, until daylight. Eventually the mosquitos retreated back into the weeds and we retreated from Grand Isle.
We packed up, got in the car, and left town. We drove all the way back to Iowa City in one shot.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Buying A Gun: Missoula 1988

Actually Fru and I lived in the Bitterroot Valley--in the fall/winter of 1988--in a blond-wood cabin just up the mountain outside of Stevensville, Montana (or Stevi, as it was known). And actually, it was not me who bought the gun (though officially it was, in my name, because I was a Montana resident), it was Mike (Chicago, Iowa City, Los Angeles Mike, that is). It happened in late October--Fru and I were students at the University of Montana in Missoula--when Mike decided to come up from L.A. to visit.
Fru and I were essentially settled--were in classes, had the drive up and down Highway 93 down pat, life in the cabin serene and pretty and isolated. The weather was cooling. Leaves turning, crisp nights, patterns of snow in the high elevations. And then Mike flew in and I picked him up at the airport in Missoula. He stayed with us, of course. I can't recall if it was the first time he'd met Fru or not, think maybe it was. But we hit the bars, of course, drinking beer at Reds and Charlie B's in Missoula, drinking beer at the Sportsman Lounge and the Stevi Bar in Stevensville, drinking beer in the cabin too. But after that, what else was there to do? Walk in the woods? Check. Go up the Rattlesnake? Check. Drink more beer? Check. . . That's when Mike decided to buy a gun.
We lived in the woods on three acres, only a scattering of neighbors on their own acres, we were in Montana and in the mountains, so why not buy a gun? So into Missoula we went, to a gun shop on First Street, up near the Northern Pacific tracks. We walked in, asked to see the guns, asked to see used guns, Mike chose an old Browning rifle, he was from out of state so I signed for it, bought it, bought some ammo, and we walked out with the gun. . . In a lot of towns, it would be strange to walk down the street carrying a rifle, but not in Missoula. Not in most mountain state towns or small cities. So, we walked back to the car, got in, drove all the way back to the cabin in the Bitterroot, loaded it and shot some trees. We shot trees, then we shot potatoes placed in trees, then shot our many beer cans, then I shot my truck.
I had a red Chevy Custom Deluxe (Kurt's old work truck from Champaign, IL) pickup and it sat in the gravel drive near the cabin and it was an easy target. It was a beat-up pickup, but I liked it and thought a bullet hole or two would only add to it's dilapidated beauty. So, I sighted up its tailgate--from an angle--and Mike stepped back (just in case I hit the gas tank) and squeezed off a shot. Ping. The bullet hit and ricocheted away, leaving a thin groove. That wasn't good enough (the rifle--what, a 22?--wasn't powerful enough) so I aimed again, this time straight on, no angle. Ping-pow. It left a neat little splintered-paint hole in the back of my truck. Nowadays, I see all these bullet-hole decals on trucks. Fake silver splinters on the gates or sides. But I had the real thing, Baby.
So, Mike was there and then Brock decided to come to town from Seattle. Not just Brock but also Margaret, who was in Seattle visiting Brock (they married years later). They decided to take the train over from Washington, but the closest station was in Whitefish, a ways north of Missoula. So Mike and I got in the bullet-hole red Chevy and we made the drive up to Whitefish. It's a long drive by most standards--Missoula to Whitefish--but by Montana ones (where long distance drives are de rigeur) it was like going to pick up a loaf of bread. But we were picking up Brock and Margaret at the Amtrak station. And there they were on a sunny not-yet-afternoon in funny-cool Whitefish. We ate, hit the road, bought some beer and drove (another Montana tradition) and only stopped for outdoor piss-breaks (poor Maragret could not take those breaks) came down out of the last pass and into Missoula and a stop at Reds for more beer. Then we drove to the university and picked up Fru and drove--my truck full, full, full of friends and one lover--to the pretty cabin in the Bitterroot. Where we shot more potatoes with Mike's gun.
But it was a great visit. Good to have old friends, even if Fru and I were not lonely by ourselves. It snowed that night. A big puffy snow like you see in picture books and we walked up the rarely-used forrest service roads among the white-laden pines and frosted rocks. Mike, Brock and I went into Stevensville, got drunk at the Sportsman, attacked each other with a plunger and were the talk of the small town for a few days. I had a paper that was due and maybe a test, so I had to curtail some activities. Mike went home to L.A. and he could not take his gun with him, so I kept it. Brock and Margaret also went away and it was just Fru and I. But come Thanksgiving, we had a dinner with newly minted pals and I got out the gun and we shot more potatoes out of simple malice and boredom.
Yes, I kept the gun. Until 1990. In 1990 I took the bus down to L.A. on my way to Mexico and I brought the 22 Browning rifle--packed it in my duffel, surrounded by clothes and whatnot. Gave it to Mike. . . I own an old shotgun now. A Parker Brothers. It was my grandfather's from my dad's side--a man I never ever met. It's an antique and worth a thousand or more, I guess. I got it after my own father died some seven years ago (has it really been seven years?). I'm not a gun guy. Never was, doubt I ever will be. But I'll hang on to the old shotgun. I think Mike still has that Browning, too. My truck? I sold that, when we returned to Champaign.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Special Edition #1: Chicago

I've never really lived in the city of Chicago, but I have a close relationship with it. I know and love Chicago. I've spent weeks at a time there, spent weekends, spent hours. As a child--not more than five years old, in the early 1960's (for god's sakes)--my family went to Chicago because my father had a meeting there. I do remember some of it. I remember the buildings and streets, I remember my being very afraid and refusing to ride the el/subway, I remember a man offering me candy in the street (butterscotch) and I took it from him but then recalled being told to never take candy from strangers and so I threw it in the street. But after that, I didn't go to Chicago until my twenties, when I was at the University of Iowa.
Cin was from Chicago--from the north burbs: Highland Park. Later she had an apartment in Skokie and she worked--for her father--off Addison in Wriglyville. Cin, who I'd met at Iowa, quit school and returned to Chicago but our relationship continued, so I'd go visit her often enough (and she'd come visit me). I lived with her for about a month in Skokie, after I was done with college, and I'd take the El along Clark Street and go downtown and around. I'd go to Cubs games, the Art Museum, the Loop and other places. We'd go places, too; the Brookfield Zoo.
Fru was from Chicago, though by the time I met her she'd been living in Champaign, Illinois for many years. Still, we went up to the city quite often. Don--our good friend--moved to Chicago and, over the years, Fru and I would go up and visit him, stay with him (even after we moved to Montana). Fru loves Chi-town and she'd planned to move there before she met me. She'd still love to live there. 
Seattle is my favorite American city, but of the big three true cities--New York, Los Angeles, Chicago--I'll take Chi-town hands down. I can't deny NYC's energy and excitement, it's stately and labyrinthian beauty; L.A. is way down my list, but it has it's cool factor and a cultural, landscaped beauty of its own. But Chicago is a solid town, a rough but cleanly beautiful place. I've known it intimately in winter, in summer, have been there for spring and fall. It's archtecture--the Carbide and Carbon Building is my favorite, black and coal-looking with graces of gold, tall and thin yet solid, beautiful in a non-beautiful way, and only slightly ornamental. That's Chicago. I feel the city's vibe each time I'm there and I can't even count how many times that has been. . . I like their sports teams: Cubs, Bears, Bulls. I don't follow the Blackhawks, but I'd root for them.
I remember the first time I went to the city as an adult, as a young man. I'd gone to see Cin and she took me downtown--sightseeing--with a couple of her local friends. It was winter and the clouds were low, gray, foggy. You couldn't see the tops of the buildings. The streets were packed, but everyone wore big coats, breath trailing as they hugged themselves along the sidewalks. News paper vendors, crowds, traffic, cabs, the soot-like city air and low winter light, the raised tracks of the El racked above some streets, streets like tunnels, and the real tunnels (so much of the city is literally underground, the streets having been raised after the great fire), the sun-blocked streets of downtown, the cold lake looking like an inland sea. . . Sure, it would have been nice to see the sun, to have bright views and a warm cleansing wind, but that first view (since I was a very small child) was a proper one. Chicago is not a bright and sunny city; it is a sternly beautiful, stoic and serious city.
Fru went to Chicago this summer, while I went to Iowa, to Des Moines.
Dang. Now I wish I'd gone to Chicago.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Coming Into Los Angeles: 1985

I had no intention of ever going to Los Angeles.
By September of '84 I'd come back from New Mexico--Santa Fe--and had gone to Iowa City, then Chicago to stay with Cin, then back to Des Moines by the onset of winter. I was working, planning my next move (I don't recall where), when I got a call from Mike, who had graduated from Iowa and was back in Chicago himself. He called me out of the blue and asked if I'd like to go out to California with him and work for him. . . Like I said, I'd had no intention. Southern California, L.A. in particular--like New York and the Northeast--was a place to be avoided. To me, it was too big-cityish, too American Dream-like. I liked smaller venues, more unusual in the thought-scape of most people: New Mexico, Mississippi, Idaho (even Colorado was too common), the Florida Keys (not Miami or Fort Lauderdale or Daytona). But, having been asked and knowing there was work in-hand, I said, "Sure."
So, by New Years Eve, I was back in Chicago, spent time in the loving company of Cin, and come New Years Day 1985, I said goodbye to her once again and Mike and I took off in his little brown Mazda RX7, headed for Californyiaye.
We made it to Lawrence, Kansas before the car broke down.
The RX7 was a speedy little sports car and we'd driven it on the winter midwest roads with no problems, and it was a new car, but there was--it turned out--a factory problem with the gears and it became disabled and the local shops didn't have the part, it had to be shipped from somewhere to Kansas City and then shipped to Lawrence. So, we holed up in a cheap motel and Mike rented a car. Lawrence was the home of the university of Kansas, so we wandered around on the campus, feeling at home among students and young people. But the bars in Kansas were not like Iowa or Illinois--they had restrictions on alcohol sales, had bars and clubs and such. It was strange. But we figured it out and in the days were were there had a routine down, had met some people. I met some girl who was home for winter break from Vassar (whose parents were both professors at UK) and we hit it off. It was a pleasant diversion. But Mike was tired of being stuck in Kansas, so eventually we took the rental up to Kansas City to get the part ourselves (saving a day or two for it to be shipped to Lawrence) and they fixed her up and we were on the road agin. That is, until the snowstorm in Flagstaff.
 In northern Arizona it began to snow like crazy. It was also crazy beautiful: the sharp green pines, the red earth and hills against the bright white snow. I loved it. And I liked Flagstaff. Flagstaff was more the kind of town, the type of landscape, I was drawn to rather than L.A. But the snow was so bad--a blizzard, really-- that we barely got off the road and into another motel. From the motel we called a cab and told the driver to take us to some bar. He took us to this big old log cabin-like bar--very western--where Mike and I drank beer and played pool and had a groovy time. Then we took a cab back.
The next day the snow was clear enough for us to take off. And off we took, stopping in Needles Ca, then towards L.A., hitting the San Gabriel Mountains where it was sunny and warmish. Mike sped that car up to a hundred MPH. And he got pulled over. Cop gave us a ticket: Welcome to California.
We made it into L.A. at night, down to a hotel around Santa Monica where Mike's dad was. Mike's dad was setting the business up--construction--for Mike in California and he had flown out from Chicago and was waiting for us to make it there. We had drinks by the pool, dinner by the pool, everything warm and delightfully SoCal, lights twinkling, palms rustling. You get the picture. Of course I was enamored (but I still preferred Flagstaff).
We spent the next days looking for an apartment--found a month-by-month one in West Hollywood, near Burbank, the Oakwood complex. I think Mike's dad found that for us. Then we went to work, remodeling, changing some place in Santa Monica into the very first Jenny Craig Weightloss Center in the USofA. Jenny Craig and her husband were there, in from Australia. After a while we had to go find a work vehicle--got a big red windowless extra-long van. Called it the Sex Oven for reasons I won't go into at this time.
So, I settled in. Worked for Mike, but I was never astounded by L.A. (unlike the way I was with NYC years later). Even in those first months, I knew I'd leave. I mean, I learned to like and appreciate Los Angeles. I had a great time and met interesting people, but it never really stuck with me. Too big and noisy and money-oriented.
The thing was, though, when I went back to Iowa and said I'd been living out in L.A., people were very impressed. I'd been gone before, living in Key West, Santa Fe, Alaska. No one seemed too impressed about those places, really. But mention California, mention Los Angeles and Hollywood, they were all curious and jealous. . . Oh well, the American Dream is a dream of fame.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coming Back to Grayton Beach: 1986

I'd left Grayton (the first time) in December of 1985, going back to Iowa. The Paradise Cafe had closed for the season and I was ready to hole-up for the winter, write and get some cash in my pockets, then be off wandering again. I'm thinking I took the bus to Chicago, where I looked up Cin but Cin wanted nothing to do with me, so I headed on to Des Moines. In Des Moines I got a job at Younkers at the Merle Hay Mall (again) and lived at my parent's house. (I did go to Iowa City for a spell, staying with Matt and Roger, who had made their way there after being in New Mexico for a spell.) I'd been reading a lot of Henry Miller and Norman Mailer, a little Knute Hamsun, and so my plan was to take off on my own for Eugene, Oregon with little money and do whatever I needed to do when I got there. But as spring approached, I got a call from Johnny--chef and kitchen king at the Paradise--and he asked if I wanted to come back and work at the cafe.
So, I went to Iowa City first for a few days, then took the Greyhound down to Grayton.
The bus trip itself was strange. Long hours sitting, stopping in small towns, seeing and feeling the shift from cold untrustworthy weather to the sleepy drooping-leaved trees of the Deep South. I recall stopping in Dothan, Alabama where the bus station was like a place back in time. It had a little cafe attached to it with worn formica-topped tables in swirling green and homemade sandwiches in plastic that looked like they'd been sitting on the shelves since the 1950s, and beans and cornbread and gravied meats and all that very southern atmosphere and voices and just old old foreign world stuff (to me). Along the ride we'd picked up some guy in Alabama and he said he'd been in jail and the bus driver let him off on the side of the road, where his car sat--evidently he'd been jailed for drunk driving and now he was taking the bus from the town to where he'd had to leave his car. And in Florida, in the panhandle, the bus only had a few people in it and the driver talked with us about his experiences, about hitting a mule once, about a buzzard flying, crashing through the windshield once and he--the driver--had to grab the big ugly bird to take out the door and it was still alive and it puked on him (a natural defense of buzzards, it turns out): "Ain't nothing stinks worse than buzzard puke. High heaven," the driver said.
Finally, in Walton County at night, the driver could only let me out at the IGA store in Santa Rosa on Highway 98 (not in Grayton on little 30A) because, after the stop in Panama City, his next scheduled one was in Ft. Walton before heading to Pensacola. So he let me off the bus and said I'd have to get my bag in Ft. Walton when I could (he wouldn't unload it). So, I was left there--no car, no luggage, little money--and I used the pay phone to call Johnny. He sent Ron to come pick me up.
It was great to be back in Florida, in Walton County: the warmth, the fetid smells and heavy humid air, the southern voices and talkative southern people, the beach and sea and pines and magnolias. Friends who had not become truly close friends yet. Yes, I was down in the panhandle essentially by myself: no Matt or Brock or Holly, just the semi-local folks I'd met and worked with the year before. But I was glad to be back and not starving in Oregon.
And there was a party going on.
Much like the first time I'd come into Grayton Beach, the young people were whooping it up at Sam's place outside of Grayton, some second floor spot in Seagrove Beach, I think it was. Ron took me there, straight from the long bus ride and my baggage-less wait at the IGA. And inside were some of the same people but also some new ones as I was handed a beer, a cigarette, some smoke, maybe a bump of coke. They were happy to see me and I happy to see them and I fell right back in to the hedonistic laid back beach world. It was Sam's place and she had a roommate whose name I can't recall, some southern lass who had a boyfriend named Melvin but everyone called him Smellvin. Doug was there, Tommy and Jack and maybe even Brad, Randall and Van and others. There were two other new people who were going to work at the Cafe: Eva and Shumae, both Asian--which was very unusual for the beach there. A good guy named Chas--a smart southern man who wanted to get into the restaurant biz (and did end up owning a cafe, with Shumae, years later (I think he's still down there). So, I partied with everyone, reacquainting myself with them, with what had changed. I had a room in Grayton--an apartment upstairs on the main road which Johnny was letting me use. But eventually I rented my trailer (also on the main drag).
So that was my first return to Grayton Beach. And it was actually the last time I lived in town, last time I worked for the Paradise Cafe. I came back twice more, living in Gulf Trace and Seagrove Beach. I saw Monica again for a while, but not Gretchen, I met Pat and her daughters, I met Tee and Tee ended up moving into the trailer with me (as did Matt, as he returned also). Maybe Holly was still there. Good old Duke and his wife, Rebecca. Bobby and a host of other characters from the cafe and not. Keith, who we called Chief, who was an African-American down from Detroit, he and I became good friends. It was all fun and disastrous. But I left in August to go to the Iowa Writers Workshop, which was also disastrous in its own way.
The next two times I returned to "Grayton" were different, but I still came back.
I'd still go back, I think.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Coming Back To Des Moines

I don't know how many times I came back to Des Moines. I guess it depends on what you mean by "coming back". That is, I came back the first two summers from Iowa City, when I was in college, to live and work and I returned to Des Moines after I graduated. But like all other times, Des Moines was but a way station, a place to go between going to other places, a place to be when I didn't know where else to be.
In Des Moines I almost always stayed with my parents in Urbandale, at their house, usually in the basement. Yes, I know it sounds bad, cliched, insipid, but that's what I did. I could live rent free, eat for free, had the use of a car when I didn't have a car and I could work, save money, write, visit old friends. I always had a lot of friends in Des Moines (though now they have all moved on, except for Scott and Larry, it seems). In Des Moines I could touch base with who I was or used to be. In Des Moines I could make my plans to leave Des Moines.
I love Iowa. I love Iowa City and other towns and have a begrudging affection for Des Moines. I like Iowans and, though I was born in South Dakota, had grown up in Washington State and Tennessee and didn't live in Iowa till I was thirteen, Iowa is still "home" to me and Des Moines is a hometown in its most emotional sense of the term. Still, I don't live in Iowa and have not "come back" to Des Moines in over twenty years. Just visited.
It's hard to piece together each return and what happened and who I hung out with and where I worked because I returned so often. I know I worked full time at Younkers twice--once at the department store at the Merle Hay Mall, another time--after graduating from the U. of Iowa--at the 9th Street Warehouse. Maybe I worked there one other time, maybe not. I also worked full time mowing lawns for Truegreen, I worked many many temp jobs, worked construction, for UPS unloading trucks late at night, worked washing dishes at a company cafeteria for the Meredith printing plant and other simple, often strange, jobs. Usually there was Kevin and Larry and Bill still in town. There was Scott and Keith and an assortment of their friends--like Lowell--who I got to know and went around with. There were also Yonkers pals: Mark, Bruce, Tim, Craig.
Kevin, Keith, Scott and Lowell lived in different old big falling-down houses at different times in the north side of Des Moines when I'd come back and I hung with them. They had other people living with them too, like John and Randy. John was a furniture salesman, a drunk driver and drug user and a Christian. Randy was a cocaine addict who spent all of his time alone up in his room snorting away--nobody knew he was doing it because it did it all alone and by himself. I barely knew him. He worked for his father's Tv appliance store and would steal TVs from his father's business--sell them in the street--to fuel his addiction. John was funny and a good person to drink with but was a wreck of a young man. Don't know what ever happened to him. Lowell got married--after dumping his long time girlfriend--and moved to Topeka, Kansas ( I think). Kevin, who was one of my best friends coming out of high school, eventually married and moved to Wichita, Kansas. Keith married, moved to Cleveland, Ohio, divorced, remarried and still lives outside of Cleveland. Scott, after a bit of rambling and an MBA at Iowa and being jobless for a long spell, bought a house in Des Moines, across from Waveland Park. Larry married, worked with computer programing, met another woman and has lived a dual life for as many years as I've been married. Very Weird. He lives in Windsor Heights. Bill is married and is a gentleman farmer in Kansas also. (I don't have the slightest idea why in the hell anyone would move to Kansas.) My Yonkers friends left and stayed and I lost touch with them as easily as I had made friends with them.
Hanging out really meant drinking. Drinking cheap beers at their houses or going to the small bars of the city. The Waveland Tap was a favorite, but there was the Bon Ton, Sully's, the Duckblind, Wellmans, the Greenwood Lounge, King Tut's, the Alpine, the Westend and others. Johnny's Hall of Fame Lounge, downtown. I do recall one day drinking beer at Keith and kevin and Scott's house where they had a big front porch with a fat porch rail. The wooden rail was big enough to stand on and so I initiated some contest to see how far we could jump from the rail out into the weed-grass yard. The railing was at least three feet high with a broad top, and it was another, what, two feet at least down from the porch to the yard, So I clambered on up there, stood, swung my arms back ready to jump big. And as I jumped, pushed off from the rail, the whole thing collapsed. The balustrade became disengaged from the pillars and porch and went down into the shrubbery and I went down also. We all laughed. I wasn't hurt.
I saw Scott just a couple months ago in Des Moines and he brought this up, said Keith had been in town and Keith had retold the incident. Had to have been there, really, for it to be that memorable.
But Des Moines is a good city. Most people have heard of it or driven through it. To some friends--who were from the small towns of Iowa--it is the Big City. But overall, I don't think Des Moines gets much respect in a national sense. I like it, but was always ready to get out of it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Greatest Game of Pool: Seattle 1987

Let me set this up properly. When I was in Seattle I was in a deep no good drunk-and-stoned-most-of-the-time depression. I'd dropped out of the Iowa Writers Workshop, I'd gone back to the beach in Florida's panhandle (Walton County) to live with Tee and that had ended very badly. I'd driven by myself in my ugly powder blue Ford Maverick from Pensacola to L.A. and up to Seattle in the middle of winter. Seattle was--of course--gray and rainy and I lived with Matt and Brock in a junked-out apartment in Queen Anne next door to Brock's father's print shop (where I worked briefly). I slept of the floor. The downstairs of this building was used for storage for the shop, but the only kitchen was down there and so when we made meals we had to take our plates and silverware and drinks and go out one front door, turn, go inside the other front door and up the narrow stairs into the dusty unkempt old place. There was no shower, just one bathroom with a single white unclean tub. I lived out of my duffel bag. I was down, almost out, and we wandered the slick streets of Seattle being absurd and acerbic and getting drunk in lowly bars (many which are no longer there).
I was a failure. Unhappy, forlorn and not even getting laid.
I first worked at a restaurant (Duke's) as a damned busboy when I got to Seattle, then at the print shop. I'd left, went up to Bellingham to live and write to stay, but that fell through and I came scurrying back. I worked remodeling the apartment, which only made the place worse as rooms were sealed off with sheets of plastic and dust and debris settled everywhere. I was going broke and getting worse.
We had our places: the Mecca for late breakfasts and Bloody Marys; the Ginza, Sorry Charlie's, the Otter--the rundown Seafarer's Lounge on 1st Street--and other bars whose names I can no longer recall for drinking; the Safeway up the street on First Avenue West for groceries (cheap fatty bacon cuts with grits was a staple) and cases of cheap cheap Heidelburg beer; Matt got pot from some source or another. But the main watering hole we went to was an Irish bar. A pub, maybe Dave's Irish Pub, and I can't for the life of me remember it's name. Maybe I've purposely placed it out of my memory. Anyway, the Irish Pub was where we hung out and knew the bartenders (Greg was a true Irishmen and became a great friend of Matt's--he also was a alcoholic and eventually almost died from it and he and Matt got into great amounts of serious trouble, even wanted by police at one point, over the years) and some of the cliental. 
  So I was deep into my internal misery by the time--at the Irish Pub--I played my greatest pool game ever.
The bar was half-crowded and a group of younger people came in, two guys and two girls. Like I said, I wasn't getting laid in Seattle and of course I perked up seeing the females. I was drunk. They were semi-drunk, maybe not even so much as that. Matt and Brock were there, but we were playing singles and I had the table. I've never been the best pool player in the world. I could be quite good, but had a tendency to get bored with the game, to lose interest down the stretch. (I recall the days in Iowa City, at the Vine especially, when Brock and I would team up and win and win all night long even though we were bad players; we had some kind of good game karma at the Vine.) And, as said, I was not in a good frame of mind personally, so even my pool game had been off for months. But we talked to the new group of people. I tried flirting with one of the girls--even though they were with the guys--but it went nowhere. Big surprise. But that girls guy put his quarters down and we started the game of eight ball at the Irish Pub.
And I played horribly. Stinkily. Bad bad bad. I hadn't sunk a single ball and he had made all of his but one. I watched me beating me and quaffed my Red Hook beer--expensive beer I shouldn't have been buying--and knew I was going down to an embarrassing defeat. And the girl was watching the game the whole time. Finally the guy missed a shot, on the eight--my many balls in his way, no doubt--and I went up for my last round.
I hadn't made a ball. I was gone if I didn't make some now, at least to save face.
But the feeling came over me. A feeling like at the Vine in Iowa City. I had nothing to lose, really. I had nothing but open green, since he had conveniently shot all of his balls into the pockets. And I hunkered down, aimed my cue, and began to drop my spheres into the pockets like they wanted to go there. Like gravity was pulling them into the six black holes on the table. Man, I could not miss.
I just smiled. Took a shot. Drank some beer. Smiled. Took a shot. Drank some beer. He and his girl watched me and I could see him sweat. Could see the girl interested in me now. I was down to a few balls left but felt no pressure. And I made one, made one more, so that all that was left on the green felt was the eight.
"Call your shot."
"Call the shot. Or do you want to play bank it only?"
"I was going to call my shot," I said. "It's a little late to play bank the eight but . . ." And I didn't give a damn. I thought I'd lose and I'd redeemed myself, so, if he wanted to add late rules, so be it. "Okay."
My only possible bank was a long one--across the far table and back to hit the eight and drop it in--the long-cue-ball-first kind of bank. And, without further ado, I let it fly.
In went the eight. Cue ball was safe. I'd won the game. The patrons of the Irish Pub in lower Queen Anne in Seattle cheered (those that were watching, that is). And I was delighted.
My competitor was pissed. The girl came over, facing me, said, "That was great", her eyes lit, swimming with alcoholic intoxication and admiration, sexually flirtatious, until her partner gently grabbed her by the shoulders and directed her away.
And that was it. My big game. My single savory moment of an otherwise unsavory existence that year. . . Oh, sure, I had plenty of fun and good times in Seattle--I love Seattle, as I've said before--but that was a moment I still recall quite clearly out of the rainy gloom. And it isn't much, really. So I came from behind, ran the table, and won a freaking pool game? So some girl briefly shined her bright eyes at me? So the people at the bar on that one miserable night gave me a little cheer? So?
So, it was a goddamn great game of pool, that's what it was.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bob and Brenda: Los Angeles 1985

So Mike and I moved out to L.A. and we didn't know anybody. Mike's dad put us up in a month by month apartment off Barham Boulevard in North Hollywood (or West Hollywood or somewhere very close to Burbank)--Oakwood Apartments--and from there we were on our own. We worked by ourselves: Mike was the boss and I was the underling. Our first job was a series of remodeling old places into Jenny Craig Weightloss Centers, and the first of those was in Santa Monica. That was fine. But we were just down the street from Burbank's main drag--Olive Avenue--and we had seen a little hole-in-the-wall bar there called Charlibar. I don't recall why exactly, but one day after work, we stopped in.
It was a dive. Kind of hapless. It had been owned (we found out) by a guy named Charlie, who died (I think) and then it was sold to two couples who had been regulars at the bar. Their daily cliental had slowly dissipated so that by the time Mike and I showed up, they were very happy to see some young people patronize the place. One owner-couple--whose names I can't recall--were nice enough. He worked at the studios, maybe with lighting or something, and she worked somewhere as well. The other couple were Bob and Brenda.
Brenda was from Ohio, Bob was from Gary, Indiana originally. They were in their forties, had two kids (boy and girl) and lived across Olive in Burbank, on Keystone Street. As Mike and I began to hang out at Charliebar, it was Bob and Brenda who we related to, who we got to know. Charlibar is also where we met Jeff--a guy our age with a common-law wife and young son, who ended up working with us, who lived across the street from Bob and Brenda on Keystone. But Bob ran the bar rather loosely as we became regulars. (And why did we become regulars? Because we didn't know anybody and did not want to go to the usual clap-trap meat markets that were around, but preferred the down-and-out dives of the area.) It got to where we could go behind the bar and grab our own beers from the cooler, where he let us smoke pot in the little concrete court yard out back, where--as the bar lost even more customers--he'd close up and let us stay late, drink for free with him and Brenda, play pool for free (usually nine ball) and punch as many songs on the juke box we wanted, again, for free). Yes, Charlibar became a failed business, especially when a new landloard took over and raised the price of their lease.
After Charlibar closed, we followed Bob over to the Pago Pago, right across the street from the Disney Studios in Burbank. The Pago was a lively dive with a good strong low-life customer base. Again, we played pool, drank and smoked and got to know new people (Jeff transported to the Pago also, having broken up with his "wife" and child), customers and bartenders. Some of these new people also ended up working for Mike now and then and I became a Crew Chief for a while. Even Bob--who was a tile setter at times--worked for us.
I liked Bob and Brenda. We went to their house now and then--mainly to drink and smoke dope. Brenda got a job at the cosmetics counter at the Sears in Burbank, but mainly they hung out at the bar (their poor kids went a little wild on them due to the lack of governance, I must admit). Bob was, essentially, a James Dean imitator. he had the hair cut, the same face, wore the same types of jeans and t-shirts--even if he was in his early forties. Bob was also an alcoholic, Brenda one by default as she was loyal to him. Because as we got closer to them, to him, he took us to many other bars: the Forge in Glendale, the Viking in the San Fernando, the Blue Room and other spots in downtown Burbank. He had a string of bars, it turned out, where he and Brenda were quite well known. But as I said, I liked him and did not pass judgement. He was intelligent, really, but careless with his health, family and ambition. Or maybe, he was just an alcoholic. But what interested me, personally, was that it was the first time in my life that I had become good friends with someone out of my age bracket. I was in my mid-twenties and here I was talking to a man in his forties just like I would anyone else--this is a small thing, but I was conscious of it. I also struck up friendships with men older than Bob while in L.A., women too, and I guess I was mildly surprised to find out adulthood wasn't too much different than young-adulthood in many personal ways.
But I recall once, at the Pago, after a night of debauchery and when I saw him at the bar the next day, I said, casually, man you were drunk last night. Now, saying you were drunk to my friends was common, a half-joke, almost a badge of honor. But Bob took great offense, insisted that he was not drunk, that he did not get drunk. "Okay, okay," I said. But to me, that revealed that he could not admit to a drinking problem, despite his world slowly crumbling about him.
When I left L.A., I stayed in touch with him and Brenda through letters. Then it was only Xmas cards. But he was good at staying in touch that way, at least. Many years later, when I lived in Montana and I was heading to Mexico for a visit, I stopped in Los Angeles to see Mike and talked him into finding Bob and Brenda. We stopped at the Pago and asked around and Lenny, the bartender still there, told us Bob was a regular at the Blue Room, downtown, now. So we went to downtown Burbank, went into the dark shimmering light of the Blue Room Lounge and sure enough, there was Bob sitting languidly at the bar.
He was pleased to see us. We were pleased to see him. But Bob was cold towards Mike. When I talked to him alone, I saw that he was against Mike because Mike had moved out of the Burbank area (was in Thousand Oaks, I think), had bought a house, was making money. Bob didn't like success, I guess. But I said he was still the same old Mike, that Mike was just doing what he wanted to do and where was the harm in that? So, Bob settled down and became friendlier . . . We didn't stay too long, but Brenda did come up to the bar. She said that her kids were now "bad": drugs, sneaking around, staying away from home. I gave sympathy, but thought, 'what did you expect?'. They were the children of alcoholics living in L.A.. There was a certain amount of neglect going on. But, I liked Bob and Brenda and life is tough and parenting is tough and I just hope everyone turned out just fine. I can think that, can't I?
Bob did ask when I was coming back to SoCal to stay. I said that I wasn't. "Oh, you'll be back," he said. "Everyone always comes back." Intimating that the lure of Los Angeles, of sunny Hollywood beachy Southern California, was too great for anyone to stay away.
But it wasn't.
I never did go back again--not even to visit--and I never saw or heard from Bob and Brenda again.