I’m not sure if this really happened, or it was just a bad dream.

Either way, it made a powerful impression on my young soul.

Michael row the boat ashore . . . sister help to trim the sails . . . the River Jordan is chilly and cold . . . chills the body but not the soul . . . the river is deep and the river is wide . . . milk and honey on the other side . . .

Michael and I grew up together. We went through grade school together, then on to high school together. But halfway through the 10th grade, we decided we didn’t want to pursue a “higher” education. We wanted to travel to broaden ourselves, as the terminology was in those days. At the time, we thought good would always win out over evil. But we were yet to be taught our lessons of the real world.

Michael James was six feet tall. He had straight blond hair and deep blue eyes. The bluest eyes I ever did see. If limpid means clear, as I think it does, then Michael’s eyes were limpid pools of blue. The color was of a chilled, clear winter sky. Upon meeting Michael for the first time, one was taken aback by his eyes. They did not bore into your soul—they lit up your life. Then there was his smile. I had known Michael for many years and I don’t think I ever saw him without that shit-eatin’ grin on his puss. That grin, and its persistence, was amazing, given the fact Michael suffered from a skin problem. His skin was covered with large red patches, which would come and go. Sometimes they were there, other times they were not. I think the name of the disease was psoriasis, but of that I am not certain.

Michael had no mother. She died when he was quite young … before I knew him. He had no siblings; he had been reared by his father who taught him how to be a man. His father instilled in him the belief that: “You do what you have to do.

Michael row the boat ashore . . .

Though we both had the travel bug, my case was more pronounced than his. During the summer between our junior and senior years of high school, I took off and bounced around the country while Michael held down the fort, so to speak. When I returned to finish my last year of high school, I regaled Michael with tales of my adventures while on the road.

After hearing what a wonderful world awaited us out there, Michael could not wait to get started. He wanted to leave immediately, but seeing as how I had just come in from a three-month run, I prevailed upon him to wait a few months and allow me to at least try to get my diploma. He said he would wait, but he couldn’t manage it. A few weeks later, he quit school and hit the road, looking for his place in the sun.

the River Jordan is chilly and cold . . .

Michael was hip, and the only place for a hip young guy in 1968 was San Francisco. He fell in love with the city. And that was the end of Michael’s roaming. He had found his place in the sun. I endured my senior year as long as I could, but two weeks shy of graduation I said, “The hell with it!,”stuck out my thumb and headed for San Francisco to rendezvous with my friend. I didn’t know where he was living. However, I knew if I hung out on Haight Street long enough, I’d see him. It took less than two hours.

This will tell you something about my friend Michael: He always had a place to live out there and never paid rent. People were always inviting him home and, once there, he just moved in. They were always glad to have him. And later, whenever I would hit town, he’d take me to wherever he was living. The person who actually owned the domicile never looked askance when he brought me through the door. They all loved Michael … and any friend of Michael’s …

chills the body, but not the soul . . .

San Francisco was Michael’s town. I, however, could not stay in place for more than a few days. I was like a pinball, rebounding from coast to coast, from Canada to Mexico. While on the road, I felt alive. While on the road, I interacted with humanity—good and bad. I had to live by my wits. I loved being on the road. But I always had a home, of sorts, in San Francisco as long as my friend Michael was around.

On one of my forays to San Francisco, I was introduced to Linda, the love of Michael’s life—his soul mate. They had met at a Clint Eastwood marathon. A movie house down on Market Street had been playing the three Sergio Leone films: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly … non-stop, twenty-four hours a day. Michael had scored a bag of Red Acid, and in 1969, what girl wouldn’t swoon toward a man who was into Clint Eastwood and had a bag of LSD? It was love at first sight.

sister help to trim the sails . . .

Now that Michael had himself a woman, he got his own digs. Every time I hit town, they were living in a new place. It wasn’t always easy to find them, but somehow we would always meet up on Haight Street. I stayed with them on Geary in the Tenderloin. We camped out south of Market in the low-rent district, on the second floor of a flophouse that had been built before the Civil War. We lived for a while across from Golden Gate Park and hit the free concerts every Sunday. At the end of our run, we found ourselves once again in the Haight-Asbury district.

I think Michael knew he did not have much time in this world. He could not wait for anything. Back then, we were doing acid all the time. Normally, you would swallow a pill and wait for it to kick in, but not Michael. The twenty minutes or so it took was just too long a wait for him. He had to shoot the acid directly into a vein and get off instantaneously. But he was no drug addict. He had his shit together, much more so than I did.

the river is deep and the river is wide . . .

The last time I came into San Francisco and saw Michael and Linda was in July of 1970. They were living in the Haight. It was a crummy neighborhood; the Summer of Love was three years gone by then. All the shops on Haight Street were boarded up with sheets of plywood, and the denizens of the street were the dregs from that long-ago summer.

He and Linda were living with a guy named Bobby. He was a likable enough fellow. He just didn’t know bad men when he met them. He had set up a “drug” deal to buy two pounds of marijuana. Nowadays it seems ridiculous to term buying two pounds of pot a drug deal, but in those days, I guess that was heavy shit.

It was my first night in town. We were sitting in the living room, smoking a joint, when Michael told me he was going to be a father. I looked over at Linda; she was radiant … she was also blushing. I was just about to say something appropriate when the front door crashed open, and two guys burst through the entrance. The guys Bobby was supposed to buy the pot from.

Michael row the boat ashore . . .

Only one of them had a gun, but that was enough for us. When told to lie on the floor, we did so without protest. One of them said to Bobby, “Where’s the cash?”

Bobby answered, “In my pocket.” The guy covering us with the gun told the other guy to get the money. Bobby, trying to be helpful, reached into his jeans and pulled out a wad of cash. At the time it seemed like a lot of money, but now, as I look back on that night, it couldn’t have been more than $500.00.

As soon as the money was in the asshole’s hand, the one with the gun walked over to Bobby, placed the gun to the back of his head, and squeezed the trigger. Michael and I looked at each other and knew we were gonna be next.

the river is deep and the river is wide . . .

I was frozen with fear, but Michael bounded to his feet and rushed the guy with the gun. When Michael went into action, it released me from my paralysis, but not soon enough to save Michael. As he took a bullet to the chest, I picked up a lamp from a table and smashed it over the gunman’s head while his partner stood frozen in place.

chills the body, but not the soul . . .

The gunman went down, hard, the gun falling from his hand. All this went down in a blur. I panicked. I had no time to think. I picked the gun up from the floor before the other guy could get it and shot him dead with two shots. The one on the floor was beginning to move. He was trying to stand up when I put a bullet into his head.

sister help to trim the sails . . .

By then, Linda was bent over Michael, screaming her head off. I dropped the gun and went to them. He looked up at her and smiled, then looked at me and said, “Get her out of here.” Linda and I yelled “No!” at the same moment. Then Michael closed his eyes and left his body.

Michael row the boat ashore . . .

It took a full minute—which at the time seemed like an eternity—for me to make a decision. I grabbed Linda and pulled her into a standing position. She was numb. I told her we had to get out of there; that this was a drug deal gone bad. “There’s dead bodies—four of ’em! For God’s sake! You wanna have your baby born in a prison? That’s why Michael wanted you out of here.”

if you get there before I do . . .

I ordered Linda to collect everything of hers and Michael’s that could identify them. I had the presence of mind to wipe the gun clean, but not to pick up the cash lying on the floor. Linda could have used it with a baby on the way. I took Michael’s wallet. He had never been arrested so I knew they couldn’t identify him by his fingerprints. After I had Michael’s wallet, and while Linda went about collecting their things, I took the time to vomit all over the blue shag carpet.

tell all my friends I’m coming too . . .

I hitchhiked with Linda to the East Coast, her folks lived in New Jersey. She was in a state of shock the whole way. Michael’s last words to me, though not explicit, were to look after her, and that’s what I did. After getting her to her parents, I stayed in the Northeast for the next seven months. I kept moving around, but would drop in to see her every once in a while. Seven months later, when the baby was born, I was there—I was there for my friend Michael. It was a boy and I was asked to be his godfather.

milk and honey on the other side . . .

Once Linda had the child, and I knew she was in the good hands of her parents, I said good-bye. And every now and then, while still on the road, I’d drop in to see her and my godson. But I’m sorry to say I lost contact with her a few years later. I haven’t heard from her since.

There are three people extant on this earth today because of my friend Michael James. I am one of them.


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