Weird Stuff

Note: Here’s another snippet of my youth. I don’t know why I’m writing so much about myself these days. Perhaps all those people who have, throughout the years, told me it wasn’t all about me were wrong. Maybe it is all about me. If not, I gotta get back to writing fiction. I’m feeling a need for a spurned lover to take his revenge. In the meantime, here’s a story that is true down to its last word.

*****

How to convey something that I know, down to my very soul, to be true? How to put into words something that no one is gonna believe? How indeed?

I reckon I’ll get right to it and see what happens, see who believes what.

I’m out hitchin’. I’m twenty years old. I’m a robust young man in the prime of his life. It’s early morning. The sun has just cleared the horizon to the east, and I’m heading west on Interstate 80, a brand new super highway. I’m on my way to San Francisco, the year is 1970. As I write this, I don’t remember where I slept the previous night. Probably in some bushes off the side of the road, snug in my sleeping bag.

I’ve been eating, at least as well as one can while on the road. Perhaps my last meal was the night before. Perhaps it was only an hour earlier. I can’t remember, but I do know that I am not hungry. There are two of us in the car, me and the guy that picked me up that morning. We’re shooting the shit as the vast, flat lands of Nebraska speed by.

The guy tells me he’s getting off at the next exit and that it’s out in the middle of nowhere. He suggests I get out at a rest area that’s coming up ahead. There’s nothing there yet … no restrooms, no nothing; the road is too new. But if someone pulls in there, my chances of getting a long haul would be a lot better than if I stood at the entrance ramp outside of Nowhere Town. I agree and my host pulls into the rest area and lets me out.

I look around. The land sure is flat. I can see for miles and miles, all the way to the horizon, so far away. Then I notice there is one thing at that rest stop: A small plaque telling me that particular portion of Interstate 80 was built on the old Oregon Trail. Big deal. I had never heard of the Oregon Trail.

This sucks. No one is pulling into the damn rest stop. I’ll never get to San Francisco. Only one thing to do, get back out to the highway and stick out my thumb. It’s about a hundred-yard walk, so I heft my bedroll and start walking. I’ll have a ride in a few minutes. Maybe if I’m lucky, the guy will offer to buy me lunch.

But then something funny happens. One minute I’m filled with vim and vigor and the next, I’m getting really tired. Funny, but not worrisome. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Get out to the highway. That’s where the cars are, that’s where your next ride awaits you.

With each step, I’m slowing down. It gets to where it takes all my willpower to take one lousy step. My feet weigh a ton each. My bedroll weighs two tons if it weighs an ounce. I’m almost to the highway. Gotta get there. Standing here ain’t gonna get me anywhere.

But it’s no use. I’ve come to the end of the line. I couldn’t take another step if my life depended on it. I just want to collapse. It takes all my strength just to keep upright. My feet are mired in the asphalt—cemented in place. I feel my soul wanting to leave my body. I won’t be heavy any longer. What a weird thing to think.

Just then a car pulls up next to me. It’s coming from the rest area. The passenger window is down. The driver leans over and offers a ride. I want the ride, but I can’t move. But if I don’t move, I know I’m going to die. How do I know that? With my last bit of energy, my last ounce of strength, I reach out and open the car door. But that’s it. I’ve got nothing left. The only thing I can do is fall into the passenger seat. The guy doesn’t wait until I’m all the way in before he accelerates. It’s a good thing that he did. It closes the door for me. I sure as hell couldn’t do it.

He wants to know where I’m headed. I answer in a weak whisper. It’s all that I can manage.

The guy’s really moving. The land is flat and there are no other cars around. We’re tearing up miles. But the funny thing is, the more miles we tear up, the farther I get from the rest area, the stronger I get. My strength is returning. Four minutes and five miles later, I’m restored. I’m once again a strapping, youthful guy with his whole life ahead of him. I don’t know why I think that, but I do.

I put the whole thing out of my mind. Never to think of it again. It was just something that happened. I’m looking forward to my sojourn on the West Coast. I love hitchin’ up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. I always meet interesting people who take me into their lives for a few minutes, a few hours, or even for a few days. Whatever.

Fast forward twenty-seven years.

I’m now middle aged, forty-seven years old. Out of nowhere, I start having this recurring dream. In it, I’m on the plains of America. The sky is blue, very blue. The sun is warm, it’s summertime. Things are quiet. I hear not a sound. I stand behind a covered wagon, I’m at the tailgate. I’m feeling weak, very weak. It takes all my willpower, all my energy, just to keep standing upright. My folks and my sister are at the front of the wagon. They are dead. We tried to cross the continent on our own. We did not provision properly. We ran out of food, I think. The details are murky. Maybe something else killed my family. I don’t know. All I know is that they are dead and I’m dying. I want to bury my family, I should bury them. But I just can’t. I’m standing, holding on to the tailgate for support. But not for long. In a few seconds, I’m going to fall to the ground and die. I don’t think I am scared. The last thing I see in that life is the rough, grey, weathered wood of the tailgate and the tall, brown grass of the prairie as it comes up to meet my face.

The dream comes again and again and again. Then, one time, for the first time, I look around in the dream. I look behind me. I see the prairie. It hasn’t changed. And I know, with a calm certainty, that I am standing on the exact spot where I stood rooted to the ground on that day in 1970. It’s the same damn place. The exact same place! The same two square feet of earth—just different times.

After that … after I came to understand what had happened to me as a twenty-year-old kid, back when I was on the road … the dream has never returned.

How I Met Terry

NOTE: This is an edited excerpt of a much longer story. This was the beginning of a five year stretch that took my life, turned it upside down and made of me a completely different human being than I was before I met Terry. I was once so young and innocent. As all the tales of my youth, this one is also true. Regrettably. 

It was a few days before Christmas. I don’t recall the exact year, but I was about twenty-seven and I was at one of my accounts, a “head shop” … you know, where “drug” paraphernalia was sold. The shop was on the beach, so I left Henry in the car; the passing parade of beauties was enough to keep him occupied.

I hadn’t been through the door for more than a second before I fell in love. There she was, looking into a display case of hash pipes. Red hair, petite, a figure a woman half her age would kill for. She was fortyish, but to me she was the sexiest woman I had ever seen.

Prior to meeting Henry, I was shy around women. But, after spending two years hanging around with him, I had finally learned how to speak to the opposite sex. Now that I knew the ropes, I walked right up to her, gave her the killer smile that never failed and said, “Howdy, may I help you?” I figured if she thought I worked there, she’d be more likely to talk to me.

She told me she was looking for a hash pipe for her son, for a Christmas present. Well, to make a long, embarrassing story short, I came on to her with everything I had. But she wouldn’t give me the time of day. As far as I got was to learn her name and where she worked.

I remember walking outside, getting into my car, and just sitting there. I said nothing to Henry; I just stared at the door of the shop, waiting for her to come out. Henry looked at me and said, “What’s happening? Let’s blow this pop stand.”

“I can’t, I’m in love.”

She came out of the shop, gave me a half-smile, and turned her back on me.

I’ll tell you what I didn’t know at the time. Her name was Terry; she had just gotten out of prison. She had done five years of an eleven-year rap. She had been a member of the infamous “Murph the Surf” gang, named after Jack Murphy, the leader. Jack got all the press; they even made a movie about him. But there were two leaders of that gang. The other was Bobby Greenwood, Terry’s old man. You older folks might remember the “Star of India” heist from the American Museum of Natural History. It was one of the biggest jewel thefts in history. Well, my little love was in on that. The gang all got light sentences because everyone loves a jewel thief.

However, the main reason she would have nothing to do with me was the fact she had a sugar daddy paying her bills. She had three kids from three different men, and I guess it can get scary out there, especially if you’re on parole and all alone in the world. But I didn’t know any of this at the time. All I knew was that I had the hots for a woman that wouldn’t give me the time of day.

I’ll spare you the details on how I won Terry’s heart and got her to throw over the sugar daddy in favor of me.

All right, now we can get down to the nitty gritty. Terry and I got hot and heavy, and eventually I got to know “associates” of hers from the old days. These were second-tier members of the gang. At the time all the shit went down, they were young. But when I met them, they were Terry’s age and just getting out of prison.

Back at that time, almost everyone was smuggling marijuana into South Florida, even the “good old boys” on the west coast, shrimpers, fishermen, and the like. They referred to the bales of pot as “square grouper.” That’s where Sonny, an old friend of Terry’s, was based out of; he had done eight of a twenty-year sentence. So, Sonny and the other guys fell right into the smuggling thing. They were bringing pot in every week. They had a squadron of boats that would go out and pick the stuff up from the Bahamas. They were making money hand over fist with nowhere to put it. That’s where I came in. They thought my business was just the place to invest some of their ill-gotten gains.

Now I’ve got these wise guys as partners. And I have to admit; as far as partners went, they weren’t so bad. Every Saturday, another briefcase of cash was flung onto my desk. It got so I told them enough already. I remember one Saturday I had stayed on my boat because I was trying to avoid that week’s stipend. Well, ol’ Butch tracks me down and says, “What’s the matter with me? Why won’t you take my money?”

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I said, “Okay, Butch, just this one time.”

And with that, he tosses me a brown paper bag and says, “Here’s fifty large ($50,000.00). Thanks for taking it.”

“Don’t worry about it, Butch. Maybe you can do me a favor someday.”

I may have given you the wrong impression about the timeline. It wasn’t until two years into my relationship with Terry that I got to know “the boys.” By then, Terry was living in Los Angeles. I had opened an office out there and rented an apartment. Once there, Terry went Hollywood on me and refused to come back to Miami. She was having a ball; she had hooked up with an old girlfriend, a “fence.” You know, someone who buys stolen goods. Her name was Irene and she once sold me a diamond ring I wanted for Terry, three carats. Got it for $1,000.00! One time, Terry and I were fighting and she took the ring off and threw it at me. I picked it up, put it in my pocket and said thank you. You should have seen the look on her face. Well, being the sport that I am, I gave it back to her. Needless to say, it never left her finger again.

Then things got kinda interesting. But that’s a story for another day.

 

Getting Through

I once met Kris Kristofferson at Johnny Cash’s house. I’ve written about it and maybe some of you have read of that meeting. I was eighteen years old and didn’t know him from Adam, he wasn’t famous yet. He offered to give me a ride back to the highway (I was hitchhiking to New York) but I declined his offer. Now I want to tell you about my second encounter with the man.

I had spent the last four and a half years of my young life hitchin’ around the country. I left when I was seventeen and came in off the road just before my twenty-second birthday. I had decided to start a new life for myself—a new life in a new town, someplace where I knew no one.

The town’s name and the reason I chose it ain’t important. It was a midsize city. The year was 1972. Got myself an apartment and found a job right off. I was all set to start my life in earnest. No more going from town to town and living off the land. I had got the roaming out of my system.

I went to work every day and then went home every day to an empty apartment. I was never much into watching TV, so I’d read books. I’d go for walks in the woods across the street. I played Frisbee by myself. I had no human contact outside of work. And work wasn’t all that great either, because I worked alone and had limited contact with other people.

I was so lonely I’d sit on the front steps of the apartment building so I could say hi to the other tenants as they came in, hoping they would stop and talk with me. There was a dive bar in the neighborhood and I’d go there in the hopes of a little conversation, man or woman, I didn’t care. But it never happened. It got so that I could really relate to the Hank Williams’ song I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.

You wanna know how bad it got? One day a guy came by selling magazine subscriptions. I invited him into the apartment and sat him down and listened to his spiel, enraptured to hear a human voice. I bought subscriptions to magazines I didn’t even want to keep him there longer.

There’s a special kind of lonesome for the young. When we’re young, we want to be a part of what’s going down. We want to meet up with our friends at the local pub. Get together for get-togethers, for parties, for going to the beach, to laugh and cavort. Maybe not so much in later life, but when we’re young, there’s a fire in us. And whatever that something is, I had it bad. I was so lonesome I could have cried. And on occasion, I did.

Now this is where Kris comes into the story. I was browsing through the bins of a record store one day and came across the album The Silver Tongue Devil and I. I took one look at his picture and thought: What the hell? I know that guy! I remembered sitting across a kitchen table from him as he sang one of his songs for Johnny. He had just written it and he wanted Johnny’s take on it.

I definitely was gonna buy the record, but did the cat have any others? Sure enough, in the same bin I found Border Lord. I took them home and put them on the turntable. From that moment on, the loneliness I’d been living with started to ease. It wasn’t overnight, but the clouds slowly parted as I listened to Kris sing When I Loved Her. When I heard him sing about that wasted guy on the sidewalk, searchin’ for a shrine he never found and wearin’ yesterdays’ misfortunes like a smile, I realized that I wasn’t the only lonely person on earth. I would find myself and get my shit together on that “lonely way back home.”

He sang about the lonesome, the misfits, he sang about me … he sang to me. He brought me sunshine. He got me through my darkness.

Well, long story short: Here I am in my dotage. But in the half century since I wore the grooves off those two records, I’ve never been lonely again. And I think if Kris were to offer me a ride today, I’d take it.

If you’re interested in reading about my first encounter with Kris, you can do so here:

https://andrewjoyce.wordpress.com/2018/05/26/john-kris-and-me/

When It’s All Up

When it’s all up, whatcha gonna do?

When it’s all up, you gonna cry, you gonna beg?

When it’s all up, what will you be thinking?

You be thinking of your long fine car?

You be thinking of your diamonds and your cash?

You be thinking of the power you had over others?

Or you be thinking of other things?

You be thinking that you never had enough?

You be thinking if only you had more, then you’d be truly happy?

You be thinking of the anger you felt that others had more than you?

Or you be thinking of other things?

You be thinking of the beauty of a sunrise?

You be thinking of the time you dallied with your young love in a sunlit-dappled grove?

You be thinking of the love you shared in your short life?

When it’s all up, ain’t no more time for high hattin’.

When it’s all up, ain’t no one gonna come to your rescue.

When it’s all up, you’re gonna have to go back to Mother Earth.

When it’s all up, what are you gonna leave behind?