One-eyed Jacks are better — Trips to Win
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"Virgins that live near the sea kiss better", say sailors and vagabonds through the ages of time, a knowledge concerning women that was passed down from their ancestry. Simple paradise: soft lips, round hips, and eyes that burn with desire each and every moment. My friend Lewis always said he liked girls who reminded him of Sophia Loren, he thought she should have been in Cleopatra, instead of Elizabeth Taylor, or Greta Garbo, who stopped making films before she got wrinkles. One could say he appreciated women in their holistic sense, at least he wanted to. It wasn’t easy to keep his attention when he engaged himself with the gait of a natural beauty. We always thought he was just horny, but he would, nonetheless, go into detail that it wasn’t a physical thing. "Women can tell you with a laugh, a sneer, or a twinkle in their eye, exactly where you stand" he often said. Lewis was in pursuit whenever he thought the cards could go in his favor. "Harmony is union", he’d exclaim, as he stalked every possibility with renewed fervor. He might try his luck on any street corner, and because of his undaunted charm, he did quite well picking up on the opposite sex.
When I first met Lewis it was during the psychedelic craze, lots of people were experimenting with all kinds of chemical variations of LSD and chocolate mescaline, and listening to Dylan, Hendrix, Joplin, the Stones, the Beatles, the Dead, the Doors, Pink Floyd and the like. He was living with a portrait artist at the time, Donna Mason, who was about the sexiest thing in blue jeans, and her best friend Rhonda Brackin, who happened to be studying Dada, Hitler, and witchcraft. Rhonda saw these respective manifestations as mysterious links unifying the essential elements to design a modern philosophy for contemporary man. She was a rich girl from the south, very attractive, sometimes hard to get along with, and we never knew her to have a boyfriend. Rhonda and Donna were inseparable soul sisters, together they had some secrets which were never discussed in front of us. We caught wind of it anyhow by the way Donna cast a mesmerizing glare across the room that was obvious, to us, something heavy was going down between them, and it was no concern of ours. At that time, Rose Martino was one of my most enduring female companions, and though we weren’t sexually involved, I loved her black hair. Together we looked more like a circus attraction, because she was a bit overweight and I was under, and to say we were born to be wild was putting it mild. She had a red and white Ford station wagon and we were always bombing around, sometimes stoned on acid, or passing joints and drinking beer, it was a party on wheels. Occasionally, we would have sporting competitions tossing the empties at the road signs going 50 miles an hour out in the country. I was fairly good at this maybe hitting 3 out of 4, but Lewis rarely missed. We played a lot of poker in those days too, but only for small stakes, nobody liked to lose their money. Usually it was a foursome, Rose, Lewis, myself, and one of my High School friends, Mike Noy. There were a number of games we played, but each of us had a favorite, so when it came around to the dealers choice Rose would call out "Seven Card Stud, nothing wild", with a little smile on her big face. Noys’ game was Baseball, though he detested the sport. He called out the rules every time the same even though we knew them by heart, however, when someone else called it there would be a variation to Noys’ version — 3s & 9s are wild, 4s get another card, 7s-up you’re out. In this game it was rare to have anything less than a Full-House, more often going to five of a kind. Lewis would choose ‘Jacks or better, trips to win’, where if nobody had at least a pair of Jacks the cards would be returned and dealt again, thus doubling the ante. If someone could open, then everyone asked for how many cards they needed, but at this point of the game, after getting your second round, and if nobody had three of a kind or better, the game would start again with yet another ante. The stakes could get quite high under this ruling, but I have always thought the reason Lewis selected this game was not because of his first name, Jack, but rather to the point in fact that he had more opportunity to practice his fancy shuffling tricks when the game proceeded slowly. He was a card shark alright, it was good to keep an eye on him too, because he had this nasty habit of dropping a card or two underneath his chair that he could snatch up for the next round when the others weren’t paying attention. His favorite wild cards were the Jokers and the one-eyed Jacks, but never in the same round. My favorite was seven card Low-Ball, laid out like Seven Card Stud, and taking the worst five cards, aces counted as one. To make the best hand was keep your lowest numbered cards — ace, two, three, four, six was the ideal hand, but sometimes you could even win with a Jack high. Noy could never cast a poker face like Lewis would, who often bluffed his way to victory. Sometimes he’d catch Noy off guard though, with the winning hand, and Noy would yell out loud, "Shit be boogers!" None of us ever really understood this expression, but we used it when he wasn’t around.
Lewis had an old Martin guitar that he took just about everywhere. He serenaded Donnas’ girlfriends, played when he went to the toilet, sometimes strutting around naked, especially when Naomi and Janice visited, imitating Chuck Berry and Elvis. Donna would tell him to get dressed and act decent in front of her friends, but he would still find some way to intimidate them, because they were such prudes. After things loosened up, he would grab me, and encouraged me to sing our favorite hit "Back on the Road, Again". Now this wasn’t an ordinary tune, and there was no reference to the Canned Heat version, it was more a spontaneous dialog of epic proportion, telling stories of desperados seeking asylum and, of course, love. These musical ventures often distracted folks from their immediate surroundings for up to an hour, as Lewis danced and I sang with my eyes rolled back. Sometimes hypnotic, like a dark dream, other times it was light, humorous, and jovial.
This first started when Lewis and I hitchhiked together trying to fight off the boredom of waiting for the next ride. If we were deep into it we didn’t care if someone stopped or not, and if they did Lewis would cry out "Glory Hallaluya". One time we had just smoked a joint and a car pulled over, I asked "where ya headed?" "Seattle", said the driver, and we hopped in. "We are going to the Pikes Place Market to make some money through our minstrelsy" said Lewis. The driver sped off and then a moment later said he could smell dope, we glanced at each other not saying anything, then he said "I work for the FBI, I could easily turn you in, but it’s not worth the trouble, all that paper work". We tried to relax, then he added "personally I don’t care if you kids smoke that stuff, we had to sample it at the academy, it’s the hard drugs that destroy people and their will". Then, Lewis nudged me to notice the speedometer — 90 mph! "You boys could never imagine the kind of life it is to be a G-man, for good, or for evil. You guys are alright though, when we get to Seattle I want to buy you a drink".
We arrived in record time and proceeded to "The Hen House Lounge". We thought he came here to make a contact or find a prostitute, though we never found out. He bought us several rounds in which Lewis and I got so drunk we didn’t notice that he paid our bill and left. About the time we were about to drag ourselves out of there three girls came out topless, prancing through the crowd and onto the stage. "My God", I said to myself. "Glory Hallaluya" cried Lewis, and the last thing I can remember was that 3 or 4 guys threw us out into the street after Lewis jumped on stage trying to kiss the bouncing tits.
After a long week of lots to drink, little to eat, and even less to sleep, we decided to return home. We hitched rides faster than the Greyhound could get us there, but when we finally arrived in front of Lewis’ house there was a "For Sale" sign in the front yard. The landlord had come by the day before to announce that he was turning it over to a Realtor, which meant they could be expecting some unwanted visitors. Donna was upset with Lewis because he didn’t try to call her, and she had been worried sick. If there was anybody who could get under his skin, it was Donna, and Jack’s head hung down temporarily with a dejected expression on his face before they retired to the bedroom to make up for lost time, and left me with a six-pack of beer. I was just relaxing when a knock came upon the door, I opened it and there stood Glenn Hubbard. ‘Hub’ was a Vietnam veteran who kind of reminded me of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, except he had his nose broken in a couple of places during a barroom brawl, and now it was crooked and permanently swollen. Hub always wore a T-shirt under his Levi jacket, no matter if it was summer, spring, winter, or fall. He also liked to get high and beat the streets until dawns early light, but this time he a had his family with him. They were asleep in the car, so we talked for a couple of hours before his wife woke up saying she was hungry. Then Hubbard and I walked out the back, down the alley to the neighborhood grocery store to buy some snacks and more beer.
Around midnight Lewis came out of the bedroom to see who was there, "HUBBARD, you fuckin’ hillbilly, what brings you to this neck of the woods?" Hubbard said he had some good acid and that we should take some right then, Lewis and I looked at each other, shrugging our shoulders in a way that suggested, "why not?" Lewis helped Hubbard put his wife and kids into the extra sleeping room. "Let’s stop and pick up Rose, she gets off at 2 in the morning", I said, so we went down and ate Pigs-in-Blankets, and drank coffee while we waited for Rose. Hubbard and Lewis took the car back to the house and Rose and I picked them up in her station wagon, and then we headed for the mountains to catch the sunrise. In the summer dawn cracked at about half past four, skies were clear, the moon was nearly full, but beginning to wane, so the signs were in our favor.
Naches Pass was rough country after partying for a week on the road and not getting much rest, but upon our arrival Lewis and Hubbard took off like mountain men, and Rose and I followed. Many men would have had a tough time keeping up with those two, but Rose was exceptionally strong, she must of had the blood of mythological gods, and she had no problem maintaining her pace with the others. On our trek we discussed the ‘ancient art of wandering’ and the ‘sorcerers way of running’ as we hiked nearly four miles until we reached a ridge that overlooked a valley to the east, maybe 15 minutes before sunrise. "Glory Hallaluya", said Lewis, "what a glorious morning — what a glorious life". We were coming onto the ‘window-pane’ and Rose said "come on boys — let’s march" as she took the lead over a hillside and a crossed a couple of riverbeds. There we found a place to rest our bones. I started a fire, Lewis took a nap, Rose gathered some firewood, and Hubbard caught three trout. Everyone was off into there own world, sometimes laughing, sometimes silent and motionless. Hours went by before Hubbard said he had to get back to his family. We avoided taking our previous route, to blaze another trail back to the car, and as we approached the final ridge Lewis suggested that we just run straight down the steep incline that was directly in front of us. It looked like a good quarter-mile downhill, an obstacle course at that with boulders and bushes set out like the defensive backfield of the Green Bay Packers. Rose decided to stay on the normal path, but the rest of us applied the theories of an ancient art and set off down the ravine. Hubbard stepped boldly forth and yelled "Geronimo" as he started down the steep incline. After we had taken only a few steps we had gathered an inertia that became uncontrollable. To think about how to make the next move you would end up biting the dusk. The ‘animal’ instinct overwhelmed our bodies, stepping high, and bouncing along like antelopes down the canyon in two or three minutes, managing it with only a few minor scratches. We had to wait for Rose though, who had opted to stay on the trail, for at least a half an hour before we could return to Lewis’ house. When we pulled into the driveway Hubbards’ kids were playing in the yard, and Rhonda gave us one of those disapproving looks as we entered the living room, before we crashed hard in the basement where it was cool and dark.
"Noy’s on the phone" I heard someone yelling, "hey man, come on by, Slim’s here, and Hubbard is here with his family", then I recognized it was Jack. "How the hell are you?" said Lewis, "Ok, well if you can’t get on the road any time soon, we’ll slide by in an hour or so", and he hung up the phone.
Hubbard had to contend with his wife for a spell, but in the end he always did as he damn well pleased. His wife was petite, and in general quiet, but now she was irritated that Hub kept trying to avoid the fact they were originally on their way up to visit her family in the Okanogan Valley, and she didn’t like being left in limbo. Hubbard had his way of dealing with situations, sometimes like a hopeless romantic, and sometimes like a true warrior. "Go ahead and get in the car, I’ll be there in a minute", said Hub. He sweet-talked her for a minute or two, and then he ran, and got in the driver seat with a big smile on his face. He revved up the motor, popped the clutch, the tires squealed, and we sped off in a cloud of dust and smoke.
Hubbard had this uncanny ability of recognizing danger before it happened, usually before it was too late. Maybe he had learned that in Vietnam. After all, he was a survivor so-to-speak, he had seen some heavy fighting in North Vietnam where they were up against Red Chinese divisions as well as ‘Charlie’. Never got wounded from bullets, bombs, mines or mortars, but came back home with an over-dose of Agent Orange. He had seen a lot of young men die in the worst ways, their heads severed like JFK, or the lower half of a soldiers’ body disappear into thin air, because they had stepped into a booby-trap, or a mine. In the end, he received the medal of honor, the GI bill followed, and he was planning to go to a community college once he and his family got squared away up in the Okanogan.
Noy was living at the other side of town, referred to more often as "the other side of the tracks". When we arrived Noy had a barbecue started up, with meat laying on the grill, and his girlfriend, Jane, was tossing a salad. Noy shouted out, "Jack Lewis, you ol’ dog, good to see you. Hubbard, Slim, everything alright?" "Nothing, but no-good," said Hub with a little chuckle. "Smells so good", I said, "I think I’m developing some kind of fierce appetite."
We downed a few beers in the course of our meal, and decided to make a move. "Let’s go throw the friz over at the park, where we got lots of running room", I said. Here, on the other side of the tracks the vibe wasn’t too friendly. A mixed neighborhood with all its connotations. The people next door obviously didn’t like us, I guess we brought a bit too much excitement into the already existing tensions on their street, that’s probably why I recommended we should go to the park. Lewis strummed a few chords, and I said, "let’s hit the road, Jack". Hubbard suddenly came in from the back porch and sat quickly, and quietly on the couch. Something had changed in his normal, cocky, everyday self. I asked him what was the matter, he was even pale. He was still for a moment, then he leaned over and said "there’s two Mexicans outside, and one has a sawed-off shotgun". We thought he was joking, because we were accustomed to his long winded antics, and telling another one of his ‘leg-pullers’. So not thinking much about it I asked Noy and Jane if they wanted to come along, but they insisted on staying home. Jane said, "Glenn, you look like you could use some fresh air". The country gentleman side of Hubbard swung into action, thanking Noy and Jane for the delightful evening, and by the time he was finished there wasn’t anything left to add, so we said "Adios", and jumped in the car and went to the park, which was of course, back on the other side of town.
The next day Lewis got another call from Noy. He said he was robbed five minutes after we left. He had started to shave, of all things, and he was so startled that he cut his face pretty good when he noticed a guy with a shotgun standing in his bathroom. "They had Jane on the floor with a knife, and telling me to give them all the money and valuables in the house. They got away with nearly 700 bucks. Shit be boogers!" Lewis looked at Hub while his kids were crawling all over him, and told us what had happened. The only other time I had seen Hubbard like he was at Noys’ just before we left was when we had been on a hiking ‘trip’ up above the snowline, and he had spotted some tracks of a mountain lion. Lewis and I didn’t think much about it when Hub said — "Fresh". All the blood had run out of his face as we walked care-free and fool hardy down the trail without any weapons, not even a knife. He was the only one who had sensed the immediate danger, but never led on to it, instead he said, "Let’s double-time it back home, forgot that I have to take care of the kids, ‘cause my wife wants to play bingo tonight."
Eventually, I decided I had to take a job that had been offered to me down at the bowling alley, working six nights a week until 2 am. This, in general, would cut off my night life for quite some time, it was one of those sacrifices. Nevertheless, I’d go to Sambos for an early breakfast and wait until Rose got off work. We went more often than not to her place to listen to jazz records and drink cocktails, or single malt scotch, depending on the weather. Didn’t leave town for a year and a half, however, invited friends to come down to the bowling alley between 1 and 2 in the morning for free recreational activities — bowling, pool, but the pinball still cost money. Midnight tournaments for unconventional applications of the game, seeing who could get the highest score rolling the ball from behind the back, or between the legs. We devised another game called ‘Make or Break’, the idea behind this was to see how many bowling balls one could roll down the alley, it was also permissible to use the gutters, before the gate of the automatic machine came down, as the first of several balls that were in motion hit the curtain and triggered the cycle. However, if one or more of the balls hit the gate after it had fallen it was a foul, no score. This competition required timing by starting the first ball at a snails pace, waiting a moment, then the second at slightly a greater speed, until the final toss bounced across the pin deck. The only oversight was the fact that Lewis got carried away sometimes, heaving the ball at light speed, smashing it into the sweep. This would make me angry, and I yelled at him, " God damn it, Lewis! You break it, you fix it!", though it didn’t do any good. Needless to say, I had to put on the overalls, and get my hands all greasy. The records were, of course, held by Lewis at nine for the best frame, and 67 in a game, but he could have done better, if he really had only wanted to concentrate.
During my alley days Lewis was driving a white Buick convertible in cherry condition. He started pimping, and dealing large amounts of marijuana. Even bought himself a gun thinking it was good for protection. One night he was out ‘dragging the strip’ and whistling at the girls, he crossed over the center line. There had been a cop tailing him, who flashed his lights, and pulled Lewis over. Lewis started to act smart to the cop, but the cop had seen the gun and put him into handcuffs. In searching the car he found two kilos of pot in the trunk, then took him into custody and booked him. Fortunately, it was his first major offense outside of speeding tickets, or disturbing the peace, which he had a real knack for. The verdict came four months later — 16 months in jail with 2 years probation. Jail time was tough on free-spirited souls, and Lewis was no exception. He went through some psychological transformations, not necessarily for the better, but the ‘system’ seemed to approve. He managed somehow though to make an agreement with the parole officer that he would rather enlist into the Marines than feel like someone always had him under a microscope during his probation period. Miraculously, his wish was granted and he was shipped off to boot camp three weeks after he was released from the county jail.
I was sorry to see Lewis leave for his military tenure, could this be a dream? Lewis in army fatigues, and a helmet? It can’t be true! How could a genuine rebel survive the martial law mind-set, and all of that aggressive brainwashing, or would he single-handedly, with the help of a few good men, overthrow the government? Never in this world could I comprehend the notion of Lewis in the military, it was simply too much for my understanding of human nature, and I asked myself - "What’s wrong with this picture?"
Meanwhile, back at the bowling alley, I started practicing saxophone late at night after everyone was gone, unless somebody came down to roll a few games. Sometimes I would even play while I was working in the back, behind the machines. One time my boss asked me over the intercom, while I was practicing, to check out the machines, because he heard a strange squealing sound that was foreign to his ears. I gave it a thorough once-over, and then I realized he must have heard me giving the horn a workout in the upper registers. In my spare time I read lots of music magazines, dreaming about fame and fortune, not to mention the decadent nightlife. In one of the classified adds I read about a saxophone workshop for "Jazz and Improvisation". I got excited and asked my boss if he would lay me off for three months so I could prepare for the course and spend some time in Chicago. He thought I was wasting my time, said I should go to college and study accounting, or management, in order to earn a good living. In the end he said it was alright, wishing me good luck on my adventure, and fortunately he had someone else lined up to train for the job. After teaching the new guy for six weeks I bought my plane ticket.
Chicago was an awesome sight, especially compared to my little hometown out in the middle of Nowheresville, U.S. of A. City life was not for me, I always liked a little elbow room. I figured that Chi-town must be at least a hundred times bigger than what I was accustom to, and never could get used to it. In general, I stayed out of trouble, partly due to the fact the workshop had been stimulating, and if we weren’t playing, we were listening to music around the clock. Records by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, and John Coltrane got the most air-play. A couple of times a few of us went down to a Blues club in southeast Chicago where ‘whities’ stuck out like a sore thumb, but we never encountered any problems. Maybe they sensed we were musicians too, I don’t know. Just before I had to return home there was a Jazz Festival with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Sun Ra Arkestra in the program, so I had to check it out. The highlight of the evening, for me anyway, was a solo by the tenor saxophonist in the Arkestra. Sun Ra had stopped the rest of the band and John Gilmore stepped forward, and as he played I was looking around to see who else was playing, because I heard two distinctive parts, but there was only him.
The three months went by fast, but I was full of new ideas and lots of things to work on. I headed back to my old romping grounds, looking forward to seeing the gang, and find another place to sleep. That is how I viewed it anyway, as I was rarely ever home. To create some quick cash flow again, I went back to the bowling lanes, and the boss put me back on part-time. That was ok with me, because I was very inspired after my trip to Chicago, and wanted to practice my sax as much as possible, ‘woodshedding’ they called it in the "Windy City".
Another season passed, and late one night I heard a knock on the back door of the bowling alley. Only a few of my friends knew this entrance, and thought it must be Rose Martino. I opened the door, "Low and behold, Lewis, what are you doing here? You’re the last person on earth I was expecting to see tonight," I said. "I got thrown out of the Marines, landing on my ass. They gave me a dishonorable discharge in Japan. I had this notion that they wanted to fly us over for a holiday in Cambodia for some clean-up duty, but by then I couldn’t stomach the military anymore, so I started marching around mimicking Buster Keaton. They sent me to the psychiatric ward, and then it was One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest Revisited, I was having the time of my life. It was fun acting like an imbecile every chance I could get. Finally, they didn’t want to deal with me anymore either, and shipped me home. Glory Hallaluya!"
We talked for a little while, then Lewis helped me do the clean-up so I could get out of there early. We went back to my apartment, I was tired, but Lewis, on the other hand was pumped full of energy. I was trying to relax on the couch, and he practiced his martial arts. After a couple of beers I began to doze off, that’s when Lewis pulled out his bayonet. "Look at my little souvenir" he said as he danced around with an over-sized Bowie knife. "Come on man, you can’t go to sleep" as he started tickling my feet with his razor sharp toy, and I became quite, needless to say, uneasy. "Ok, ok, what do ya say", I said, "let’s smoke another joint?" "Alright, my man", and he concluded with — "Glory Hallaluya." At least he put his weapon away, for the time being, and I felt relieved. "This is the first pot I’ve smoked since I was in Japan. Up in the Northern regions of Japan the weed grows wild, and it’s been a good half-a-year, that was before they certified me as CRAZY! Slim, you don’t know how good it is to see your friendly face, I’ll be damned. Shit man, how’s your music coming along? I got my guitar, what do ya say — one for old times sake?" He laid down a few chords on the guitar and we kicked into a thirty minute jam, "Back on the road, again." As we faded out of this he was finally relaxed and I was ready to hit the hay.
When I woke up Lewis was preparing breakfast, and had the coffee ready. He said he had spoken with Noy the day before yesterday who had apparently landed a new job as a foreman at one of the largest apple orchards in the Lower Valley. "Noy will give me a job picking during the harvest, you wanna learn how to knock some apples? I’ll teach you the tricks of the trade. By the way, did you ever read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck?" "Can’t say I have", I answered. Sounded crazy to me, but I needed the extra money because I wanted to buy an old vintage saxophone that was in the window of a pawn shop down on Front Street. Besides, I was kicking around the idea of traveling to Europe after the new year.
After breakfast we went out to where Noy was working to get the lowdown, he said we could start in a couple of weeks. The job would last nearly two months, as there were many varieties that followed one another, starting with the Golden Delicious and ending up with the Winesaps. Lewis mentioned that he knew of another orchard in the middle of Oregon where we could start in five days, work there for a week and get warmed up for our long stint here with Noy. I called my boss and told him my plan, and that I could only work the next three nights. He was disappointed, but he said, "a mans’ got to do, what a mans’ got to do." When payday rolled around he had even given me a little bonus, wished me luck, and said, "birds of a feather-flock together. Try to stay out of trouble Slim, those migrant workers are a tough bunch".
Lewis and I hitched south about two hundred miles into Oregon. The farm was near an Indian reservation and there was hardly a soul to be seen. Lewis had been here before, his father brought the family here to work for half of his two-week vacation, and then they would drop down to Reno to gamble for as long as the money they had earned held out. It was only expensive if you never had the odds in your favor. Everything was cheap, the hotels, motels, restaurants, and entertainment centers for the kids, the main trick was not to gamble, but that, of course, was the fun of it. Lewis made this kind of work look like a ‘cake walk’, hauling-in on the average of four tons of apples, making about $100 dollars a day. At first, I was lucky to pick a third of that, but he showed me the best methods that he knew how, and continually talked about the Zen mind in relationship to the work at hand. By the end of the week I had doubled my quantities from that of the first two days. Finally, we got our paychecks, and hitchhiked back up to our two month run in apple heaven, or would it be apple hell? I guess it depends on how you looked at it.
When we arrived back on our home turf, we looked up Noy immediately. He set us up with a cabin in a camp area that was primarily Mexican, with six Japanese agricultural exchange students, and a token black. We were the only ones’ with a shower and a toilet, all the others had to use the utility shed which was equipped with several sinks and stalls. After we unpacked our backpacks, and made sandwiches, we borrowed Noys’ Chevy pickup, went back to town and stocked up on groceries and beer. By the time we returned I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to get a good sleep. Lewis was still wound-up like a toy soldier and decided to take a couple of quarts of beer to the neighboring cabin which housed three Mexicans in their early twenties, and they drank and laughed until midnight.
Six o’clock came early enough, you didn’t need an alarm clock, the camp was waking up with voices and noises, and the birds made it a symphonic overture. "Lewis — let’s go, Let’s go, LET’S GO, GO, GO!!! Let’s do the Go-Go". "Fuck you", said Lewis as he turned over on his other side, so that his back was facing me. I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine, so I took a piece thread and tickled his ear. He finally got annoyed, and sat up, mumbling, "is the coffee ready?"
On our way out into the orchard Lewis pulled out a joint and said, "Slim, now remember this. We have some pride to protect here. We have to pick like all hell has broken loose, because the Mexicans are coming into our territory, and taking up all the jobs, look at our camp for example. When my father was our age there were only whites and Indians. Times are changing quick, so we have to make a good showing, otherwise, they will snag up all the jobs and the ‘tramping way of life’ will become extinct, just like some exotic bird. In five years there won’t be a job for us, because the Mexicans will work hard for a low wage, and the farmers won’t hire us anymore, then we’ll be the outsiders, White Trash!" I said I didn’t care, I was stoned and to pick apples was about the farthest thing from my mind, but after a hour or so I started getting into a good rhythm, dancing through the trees.
Sure enough, Lewis out picked all the Mexicans, only one other had done better, a white professional named Henry Cole. Everyone called him "Coalburner". He was kind of a legend in his own right. He was already in his mid-forties, but nobody could touch him. Coalburner was a born-again Christian, and he always preached the gospel. He had been a hard alcoholic, raising hell, getting into scraps, until one day when he was so intoxicated that he saw the light, while laying on his deathbed. "Praise the Lord! Rise up from your sins, before the devil does you in!", he’d proclaim on the sidewalks adjacent to the local taverns. We called him the "rattlesnake preacher", because he liked to hunt snakes, and barbecue them. He showed us his snake skin collection, and said the meat tasted better than chicken. He was always trying to save Lewis and some of the Mexicans too, who were actually good Roman Catholics.
The harvest was the longest two months I can remember, my body felt like it had been through a meat-grinder. My back was sore all of the time, and I wanted to sleep for a week if I could. In the orchard I tried to exercise my high school Spanish while I worked next to the Mexicans, and even made up a little song in Spanish to humor them. They started to ask me to sing everyday, and after a while this got boring, because my vocabulary was so small, nonetheless, they loved it, and wanted more. "Ay Chihuahua", they cried.
At the end of the harvest we had enough money to rock and roll. Henry said he could get us a job down in the orange groves outside of Orlando. Lewis and I thought it over, and decided to go for it, calculating that by mid-spring I would have sufficient funds to fly over the Atlantic — "April in Paris", I thought out loud. He gave us the address and phone number, and told us oranges would start up in a couple of weeks. "I’m buying that horn I told you about down at the pawn shop, it’s got a sweet sound, and it’s silver," I informed Lewis, "but before we hit the road I want to have it checked out, maybe it needs some new pads and springs".
"On the road again, waiting for that big, white chariot, an’ ride it on in, to the promised land", I sang as Lewis beat out a few chords on his Martin. "Chariot! Promised land? You must have been listening too much to that rattlesnake preacher", Lewis screamed out, and we cracked up laughing. We had our thumbs out for Florida, via California, Texas, and maybe New Orleans with any luck. "Glory Hallaluya", yelled Lewis when a car pulled over. "LA", said the driver. We jumped in, and were on our way, relaxing in the back of a yellow Mercedes-Benz. Sitting in the passenger seat was a woman, whom we suspected to be the wife of the driver, and she was telling us about their new real estate transaction, which was a dream come true. They had been on vacation on the Olympic Peninsula, and found a plot of land with a moderate two-story house overlooking the Puget Sound, and fell in love with the area. They were now on their way back to Santa Monica to put their house up for sale. As they discussed their details, we planned out ours as well, agreeing on the Salton Sea for a five day retreat before heading eastward. As we closed in on Orange County they asked us where we wanted to be left off. Lewis said, "Disneyland", with a gleam in his eye, and I knew what that meant. The first leg of our journey seemed to pass by quickly, could our luck hold out? In all my years of hitchhiking I had only once a long shot coming back from New York that out distanced this ride. We thanked our lucky stars.
Lewis was determined to relive part of his childhood and spend a day at Disneyland. "We’ve been cooped up in a car for the last 26 hours, we can stretch our legs, and have a little fun while we’re at it", said Lewis as he produced two sugar cubes from his shirt pocket. We soon lost track of space and time, entering the microcosms of fantasy and wonder. We ran around like we were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, without a care in this world. Seven hours went by when we were approached by two pirates who told us it was closing time and that we had to leave. We asked where the bus station was, and fortunately we caught a midnight coach to Phoenix, leaving behind the idea of a retreat at the Salton Sea.
The sunrise was magnificent as we pulled into the Greyhound bus depot in Phoenix. Now that we were way ahead of our schedule we decided to take a motel at the edge of the city limits, from there we could walk over to a freeway ramp when it was time to put our thumbs out again. Phoenix was a red-neck metropolis, we were already used to it somewhat, but not of this magnitude. In the evening we went over to a place called the Camelback Lounge to shoot some pool and drink some beer. There was a little stage at one end, and around 10pm a slightly overweight gal came out to do some topless dancing, entertaining the cowboys and roughnecks the best she could. Lewis said we should sit near the stage. I was reluctant, but followed suit. She seemed to like Lewis, staring at him, and bending over to let her tits hang near his face. Then she pulled out a napkin from her panties, placed it on his head, and the audience began to cheer. After the show Lewis went to talk to her, disappeared shortly thereafter, and I didn’t see him again until mid-afternoon the following day.
Three days in Phoenix was all I could handle, and pressured Lewis into the next leg of our trip. We set off to an early start the following morning, grabbed some doughnuts and coffee, and walked over to the on ramp of Interstate 10. We stuck our thumbs out for Texas, and sat there at the edge of the road for five hours without any luck. Our hopes began to dwindle, I was getting hungry again, and Lewis suggested that we go back over to the Camelback Lounge. I said, "Forget it!" All of a sudden we heard a pickup slam on the brakes, "I almost didn’t see you there, was looking at the road map trying to find my way out of this here hellhole," said the driver. "You’ll have to ride in the back though, ’cause I’m full up here in the cab with stuff I don’t want blowing around. I’m a goin’ to Jackson — Jackson, Mississippi. How far you boys headed?" "Florida", I said, "Thanks for stopping." We threw our belongings into the bed of the pickup and climbed aboard.
Arizona, New Mexico and into Texas, and our butts were getting sore! We did the best we knew how to entertain ourselves. Lewis grabbed his guitar case, and I said "T is for Texas, T is for Tennessee", in kind of a Western call. He retorted with, " I’ve seen miles and miles of Texas", and we both laughed. "Slim, how many miles is it across the Lone Star state?", Lewis inquired. "I dunno, about 900 is my guess, can you imagine crossin’ Texas on a horse? Jesus H. Christ! We’re lucky to get a ride in a pickup going straight through, could be stuck out here somewhere for who knows how long", I replied. Then, Lewis tuned his Martin to the speed of the pickup and started strumming some mesmerizing chords like Richie Havens did at Woodstock, and I started singing, "The desert is long, and the desert is wide. The sun’s hot and my lips dried. There were snakes in the sand, and vultures in the sky. It’s the last place on Earth that I’d want to die. The Cactus stood strong, like they were made of stone, but fear had me believin’, my remains would be bone. My horse was tired, no water in sight. No trees in the distance, to take shelter from the light. So I called out to God, and I prayed for the night." Then I started to improvise in some kind of modal chant using only syllables that worked with the rhythm Lewis had set up, and I rolled my eyes back. We were so engaged in what we were doing that we didn’t realize that we were pulling into a truck stop. Lewis was sweating profusely with his head hanging over his guitar when I opened my eyes, it was like waking up from a dream. He said, "That was great Slim, it was one of our best jams yet. What shall we title it, Requiem for an Apache?" We both laughed, and I said, "Come on man, let’s get some coffee and donuts", as I jumped out of the back of the pickup.
Two full days through the warm and dry climates, and now into the warm and humid, entering the Bible-Belt, deep into the South, where everyone sweats in their sins, and don’t bother anymore with asking for salvation. Mel, the man behind the wheel, carried himself like a Marlboro Man, with a cowboy hat that was cropped down in the front and back, and dark brown cowboy boots, but he smoked Camels. We got to know him pretty well, because we had just spent nearly three days traveling with him, and at the end he gave us some advice: "Down here in the deep south it’s no place to be standing on the side of the road, white or black. You never know who’s gonna happen along. I recommend you guys take the Greyhound from Jackson to Florida, it’s safer to hitch once you get that far". "Yeah, reminds me of the time Noy Boy went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. He asked me to join him." I started off, trying to remember myself, and continued, "Couldn’t make it though, there was a state tournament in town, and they needed me to work four weekends in a row at the bowling alley. In the meantime, he met a lady on Fat Tuesday, and she invited him to visit her in Alabama. Noy had a hot ’65 Impala, it was all hopped up and everything with more than 400 horsepower. Anyway, he arrived in Birmingham late one evening, deciding to give the girl a call, pulled up to a phone booth, and left the car idling. Three black guys happened to mosey by, suddenly they jumped in the Chevy, and stole the car right from under his nose.
Lewis, too, understood his warning, after being in the Marines for ten months. He said it was still difficult to mix with the blacks, and in the south the segregation was imbedded into the culture. Henceforth, we bought tickets to Orlando! So far, we hadn’t spent much money, and decided to take it easy on our bodies after sitting in the back of a pickup for three days, bumping along at 55 mph.
The Garden State was a sight for sore eyes. The sun was shinning, flowers were still blooming, and the temperature was in the mid-70s’. We went to a restaurant neighboring the bus depot, I had catfish, and Lewis ordered fried chicken. Lewis mentioned the fact that there was a Disney World under construction, and he would like to check it out once it was completed. We checked into a motel, with a plan in mind to head over to the citrus groves in the morning. Lewis, always burning the midnight oil, said he wanted to go out for a drink. I was, however, reluctant. He told me he would be back in a couple of hours, but he never returned. I waited until noon the next day, and there was still no sign of him, so I went about finding my way to The Orange Blossom Ranch, looking for a man named Dusty Rhodes.
"Well, if it ain’t the ol’ rattlesnake preacher, — Coalburner —, good to see you’re still alive", I said, always liked to jive him a little, just to stir him up. Henry Cole was sitting there on the porch and stood up to give me a warm hand shake. "Thought we’d be seeing ya’ll, where’s your buddy?" He asked, "did the devil take him?" "Maybe so," I responded, "expected to see him last night or this morning, but he never came back, maybe he found a woman, or got drunk and ended up in jail." "We’ll start the day after tomorrow, a little earlier than they had anticipated. What ya say we go fishin’ in the mornin’?" he proposed, "I know a good spot." I agreed, and in the meantime I set up my tent, and worried about what might have happened to Lewis. Henry invited me over for rattlesnake, but before we ate it he christened the meal with the Lord’s Prayer, and I must say, it wasn’t bad.
The next morning Henry and I headed out to his favorite fishin’ hole, and it was a beautiful spot alright. Nature has its means of balancing things out though, with beauty comes the devil in disguise, in the first place – mosquitoes, not to mention the poisonous snakes and alligators lurking about. Henry already had a jar of worms that he bolted out of the ground with an electric shock, another reason why we called him the rattlesnake preacher. In a short period of time Henry had caught four trout, and myself two, which was enough for the day, but Henry loved to fish! He was standing in the water up to his knees with his string of fish dangling down beneath the waters surface. About this time an alligator surfaced and was closing in on Henrys’ catch, its big eyes and snout advancing slowly. "Don’t you think it’s time to split," I said losing interest rapidly. "One time I had a string of fourteen with a ‘gator staring me down like that one, then it went under, and a moment later it swallowed the whole string. The Lord is my Savior," and he continued to recite, from memory, other verses of the New Testament. It had to come out sooner or later, the rattlesnake preacher was alive and well.
Coalburner and I had a big fish fry that evening. He was always bouncing back and forth between telling me stories he’d had in migrant camps, and reading something from the bible. He told me about the time when he was a relentless alcoholic, and never felt good unless he was drunk. He even made a confession which surprised me, that once a Mexican had out worked him a day in the field, resulting to the fact he was unable to sleep that night, and that was the last time anyone burned his butt. I had studied a little about Eastern religions and tried to talk to him with references to Taoism or Zen Buddhism, but he wouldn’t listen. His preconception was that one has to die before they could ever get to the ‘Pearly Gates’, and I contested that one has to realize that heaven was here on Earth, which is a primary step towards spiritual awareness. Henry only shook his head from side to side. Then he looked over at me again like I was a hopeless case until he stood up abruptly to grab a hot coal from the fire pit and turned back to me, hypnotized by the ember in his hand, he said sternly, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, ‘cause thou art is always with me." Just for good measure Henry tossed the sizzling coal over in my direction so I could get a glimpse of it, and topped off the evening with, "I feel safe in the arms of Jesus! Goodnight, Slim, see you in the morning."
The alarm clock destroyed a good dream, long before I was ready to start the day. I heard Henry banging on some pots and pans, and then caught a whiff of the brewing coffee. I crawled out of my tent and Henry said "get it into gear, Slim, ‘cause the bus will be here in twenty minutes." Many mornings would be just like the first one. Hopping on an old school bus with some thirty-odd workers, mostly Jamaican or Cuban, but some other professionals like Henry as well. If someone coughed along the way, Henry would always say out loud, "give that man a cigarette". When the bus stopped everybody jumped out running like hell, banging their ladders, everyone, that is, but Henry. He walked causally, singing his gospel songs, the others worked their asses off trying to surpass him, but he was the undisputed King.
After three months of picking citrus, and seeing oranges every time I closed my eyes, I called it quits, and headed over to Sarasota on the Gulf coast, where Bobo, a musician that I had met in Chicago, was living. He, his wife and two kids moved to Florida, after I had seen him last, down from Connecticut. They had a little summer trailer I could sleep in, so it would be my refuge for the next two months. Bobo was a good drummer and we would practice two or three times a week in a warehouse, where he worked, in the evenings or on the weekends. He had developed an original approach to the ‘trap set’, between tuning the heads of his drums very flat, along with an array of cymbals, and an odd collection of metal pieces that he struck, or played with a violin bow. One would have to describe him more as a percussionist than a drummer. His wife, Sue, was an expert at cooking a variety of vegetarian casseroles. She is actually what I would call a hardcore vegetarian, meaning that even their dog was vegetarian, but between the warm climate and the casseroles I had gained some weight, and became a bit curious if the folks back home would even recognize me. Eventually, I took a part-time job at a Car Wash, so I wouldn’t dip into my savings. The wages were low, but I had a lot of fun working there. Bobo was also a good swimmer, so every chance we had we went to the Gulf coast with his family and dog. On one occasion I swam out too far before I realized the tide was going out and the undertow was too strong for me to get back. Bobo saw that I was in trouble, grabbed a life preserver, swam out to where I was, told me to kick my way back in at a steady, but not at a strenuous pace, and he returned like a dolphin in the open sea. When I finally made it back to shore I thanked him for saving my life, and laid out on my beach towel feeling the heat of the sun and saying to myself "it’s great to be alive ladies and gentlemen". Then Bobo told me a story about how he had beaten Mark Spitz before he had an accident on his bike, injuring his shoulder, which put him out of the sprint competitions for good.
Florida’s population consisted of nearly 15% snowbirds, that is, people who lived in the northern states or Canada during the warmest months, and migrated south from November until April. The younger generation often said they thought there were too many retired people in Florida, maybe so, but everybody seemed to radiate a lot more sunshine. I was beginning to fall in love with Florida and it’s holiday climate, but my sights were set on Paris for the springtime. By mid-April I had saved more than six thousand bucks, and I scouted out the cheapest flights to Europe. One day when I was reading through the classifieds, someone had advertised they were looking for a person to drive their car up to Boston, with four days to make the delivery, so I called them and got the job. I had never seen this stretch of Highway before, and took the opportunity to see some national monuments and tourist traps. Besides, I had nothing to lose and I would save more than a hundred dollars flying to Amsterdam from Boston.
All the arrangements had been taken care of, the car was packed, and I thanked Bobo and his wife for their hospitality as I waved good-bye pulling out of their driveway. Time passed quickly rolling up the east coast. Savanna, Georgia was one of the most memorable places that I have been through, and thought I will have to return there one day. Once I got near D.C. I lost interest in stopping until I had the chance to take another slice of the Big Apple. I knew a cheap hotel over on Riverside, in west Manhattan, so I parked the car in a garage which had some security, checked in to the hotel for a night, and later went down to the Lower East Side for some Indian food. "Green acres is where I’d rather be", singing to myself. A nice place to visit, but never in a million years would I want to live here. Two days later, after returning the automobile to its rightful owner, I boarded a Boeing 747 and flew over the Atlantic for the first time. The anticipation was killing me, I could hardly sit still, and then flashed back, what in the world could have happened to Lewis. Oh well, he was old enough to take care of himself, just as a voice came over the intercom, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the islands you see below now belong to Great Britain."
The flight had been basically turbulence-free, except when we were being served dinner, everyone was holding their plate with one hand, and trying to put their fork into their mouth as the plane bounced around like they were riding a horse. Flying was always a strange feeling for me, especially on a long haul like this one, where there’s only water underneath you for about six hours. We hit the runway with a bounce, which startled a few, but the plane came to a halt, and I heard the sighs of relief around me. I was truly excited, never been this far from home before, "It’s a long ways to Texas" I was thinking out loud, moving along to the Baggage Claim. Europe was fascinating from the word ‘go’. Once I left the airport, arriving via commuter train at the Central Station in Amsterdam, I felt like I had entered some kind of time-space continuum, not to mention a heavy dose of jet lag. At the Tourist Information Center, which was just out side of the train station, I inquired for a cheap hotel, one-step above ‘dirt’, or anything that resembles a youth hostel. The Bohemian they informed was in a good location and was economical, just that I had to use a communal shower and toilet. Sounded a little like some of those ‘camps’ I’d witnessed in my submission to farm labor. At least I knew a couple of the tricks, the water is hottest in the morning, and the stalls are cleaner then too, so I made it a point to get an early start. Amsterdam was a complex city, built inside the dikes, and architectural around its canals, nothing went in a straight line. After the second day I expected to get lost, but that became part of the excitement. I had always thought I had a good sense of direction, but I was proven wrong daily within the first week. Tourism was rampant, though mostly younger people between twenty and thirty, and a little too artificial for my taste, as everyone seemed to be trying to make the scene with their tambourine. In Honolulu there’s your Sun and Surf mentality, but in Amsterdam it’s your run-of-the-mill ‘party animal’ society, they come here to get fucked, or fucked up, and then go home. The Dutch knew how to deal with it though, and they capitalized on it. After all, that’s what it’s all about!
The eminence of history and culture ornamented the narrow streets, often of cobblestone, and some buildings dating back to the tenth century. At first, I decided to see the major museums and focus on the European refinements in relation to western civilization as I knew it, but being American and all, I immediately went down to one of the hash bars, and then over to the red-light district. To top off the day, I decided to take in the Torture Museum before grabbing something to eat, and then to a disco near my hotel after that, but when I came out of these Chambers of Horror my appetite had vanished, what I needed was a good, stiff drink. For the life of me, I couldn’t fathom that the human imagination had such deep-rooted conceptions of cruelty, and perversity, to invent such implements for retribution in wrong doings. It was a haunting realization that people were punished and tormented by these grotesque methods. It made one think that the Church and the State are two powers that could never be reconciled with, as they are the heart and lungs of the ever-present suppressive incumbent system. "We are all prisoners of the mind", I thought, "that’s the problem with the white man’s world, they have been brainwashing us since Day One".
Nearly two weeks had went by, and I came to the conclusion it was time to move on again. After being in Florida about five months the climate here was too melancholic, so I bought a train ticket southbound. One of the nice things about traveling in Europe is that you can buy a one-way ticket and get off a few times along the way as long as it is in a straight line. First stop was Brussels, en route to Lisbon, via Paris, however, if I had planned it all out better I would have arrived in Europe a couple of weeks later, and making a slight detour which enabled me to stop in Pomplona for the Running of the Bulls. It had completely slipped my mind. Ever since I read some of Hemingway’s books I had wanted to be there for the run, oh well, "C’est la vie", as they say.
Crawling off the train in Brussels the craving for a Belgium waffle set in and I spotted a marquis that was especially attractive to tourists. Though it was relatively empty, I walked in and ordered my first original, with whipped cream. My nervous system hit the ceiling, it was so sweet, and needless to say, it was my last waffle to date. Their chocolate, on the other hand, was the worlds finest, and their beer, considering myself somewhat of a connoisseur, covered every taste bud in the book of brewing, from the most basic and standard recipes to concoctions that make your face twist around, and you ask, "this is beer?" The Trappist beer, in general, was a good bet, strong and rich. I never understood how the monks could include beer into religious practice, but some how they found a loophole. In the Dark Ages everyone was dying from the Plague, the water passed on the epidemic, and the monks discovered that if they drank beer, in which they had to boil the water, they stayed free from the disease. "Praise the Lord, and Glory Hallaluya!" Well, Jesus changed the water into wine, so alcohol can’t be all that bad," I thought to myself.
Paris came into the picture, but April had long passed. I met a couple from Australia on the train, they were planning on buying a car in order to travel more freely, but had stalled in doing so until they were closer to the French Riviera. We shared a room in a hotel to cut the cost, as it was too expensive in Paris to find a private place to sleep off of the streets. We went bar-hopping throughout the night, and woke up with serious hangovers. The coffee had a sweet aroma, but we could only stir it, and the traffic roared, so that you couldn’t ignore it. Paris was embellished with ornamental architecture, a quality unsurpassed, only rivaled. Napoleon had surrounded himself with artifacts which he had collected through his conquests, and everywhere you went, there was something he had pillaged for.
The two Aussies decided to move on towards Marseilles with the intention to find a car there, while I decided to take a room at a pension and stay a little longer before heading on to Lisbon. I went into the Metro stations during the day and played my saxophone to make some pocket money. On one occasion, while I was playing, a man approached me, at first I thought he was going to ask me to stop, but he said he had heard me the day before at another station, and liked my sound. He invited me for a coffee at a street cafe where an accordion player was serenading the tables. We ordered, enjoying the scenery, as those two-legged creatures from the opposite sex promenaded by. Finally, we introduced ourselves properly, "My name is Pierre", he said. I answered, "You can call me Slim, everyone else does". We tipped the musician when we left to keep our karma clean, and caught a bus to Pierre’s studio to take a look around. As Pierre unlocked the door I noticed he had underplayed his cards as he laid them on the table, "Nice place you got here", I remarked. For a home built recording facility it was pretty sharp: synthesizers, electric guitar, trap set, percussion rack, and some handmade instruments, accompanied with a 4-track tape deck and mixing board in an isolated control booth. He explained to me that his real forte was tape manipulation. In his laboratory he composed soundscapes that were oftentimes commissioned by one of the local modern dance companies. He nonchalantly asked me, "Would you like to lay down some tracks of sax, and we will see what we can do with it?" "Let’s go for it", I answered, and he accompanied me on some percussion instruments. After he mixed my sound with his ‘musique concrete’, and manipulated it, I could hardly recognize my contribution, but the end result was captivating, like a film collage, incorporating several moving images to complete the picture.
Coincidentally, I noticed Pierre had collected an assortment of newspaper clippings on the wall concerning the Kennedy assassinations and Marilyn Monroe, something I had also followed with a personal interest. Pierre asked me for an opinion to the JFK conspiracy, as he wanted to hear my perspective, due to the fact I was an American. "The day John F. Kennedy was shot I was eleven years old, in my 6th grade history class, when someone came in and told us the news that sent tremors around the world", I started off. "I remember when we saw the film of the shooting on national television, over and over again, and I will never forget that there was some blue smoke hovering in and around the car. As the years went by I read more and more books, and articles concerning the Kennedy assassination. He was simply a politician that was too far ahead of his time. He challenged and/or was challenged by three power centers: 1) the CIA; because they wanted his support at the Bay of Pigs, but he was already negotiating with Castro on his own terms, and he didn’t provide the back-up like they wanted, so they had a vendetta; 2) the Military; with special interest from the National Security and the Defense Department, as Kennedy wanted to terminate fifty U.S. military installations around the world, and they couldn’t grasp this strategy, it would put them out of business! Therefore, they wouldn’t stand behind it. Meanwhile ‘they’ briefed LBJ to what was going down, and what measures that had to be taken, that was no problem because he had connections to the Dallas police department; 3) the Mafia; they helped him win the election, Kennedy needed the electoral votes of Illinois and Texas, he won in Texas with LBJ, and needed the support from Mafia affiliated organizations in Illinois, and though he got it with some help from his father, there were other ‘families’ involved. He went on to win by a narrow margin against Nixon, and so the Mafia wanted something in return. That something was Jimmy Hoffa, but Bobby Kennedy wasn’t willing to make any concessions, maybe it was his fatal mistake — ‘never kick a gift horse in the mouth’. The Mafia, apparently feeling neglected, got pissed off and took revenge." I continued, "On that day in Dallas there was a lot of firepower, with agents, hit-men, and impostor cops. Oswald was the Patsy, bullets flew everywhere to divert the attention of the onlookers, so they wouldn’t notice the man sitting next to the driver in Kennedys’ limousine turn around and shoot the president at point blank range. That is why there was blue smoke in the car and Jackie tried to escape the peril by climbing out of the back of the car, but one of the security personnel ran up from behind and pushed her back in. The more instinctive thing would have been to duck down in the back seat. For what other reason would she want to get out of the moving automobile?" I concluded, "I rest my case."
We talked about Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, who along with the Kennedy’s were all murdered. However, in the case with Marilyn there was no obvious blood shed. Only in the instance of the Malcolm X homicide was it out of religious jealousy, where he had threatened the leader of the Muslim church due to his overwhelming popularity, and they wanted him taken care of. The others were maneuvers in reference to government covert operations, on one level or another.
"Do you need a place to stay?" Pierre finally asked. "If you want, you can stay some days at my house, we have plenty of room. We also have a German woman staying with us, if you decide to, then I won’t be out numbered," he said with a smile. "She is studying sculpture, design, and art history, so she is pretty busy most of the time, but I think you will like her." "Sounds like an offer I can’t refuse," I said dryly, and we both laughed. On the way back to Pierre’s flat we stopped by the pension where I had been sleeping and I gathered up my belongings. He said we should buy some bread and cheese on the way, in addition I selected two bottles of red wine and insisted on paying for all of it.
We returned to Pierre’s place, his wife was just coming back from work, and as Pierre opened the wine and set the table, we introduced ourselves, "Hi, I’m Slim, can’t speak French yet, but it’s nice to meet you." She retaliated in like manner, "My name is Marie, welcome to Paris. It is a beautiful city, but most of the people speak French." "Touché," I said, and we all laughed. Pierre poured the wine into ornamental glasses and we made a toast. I held my goblet forth and pronounced, "To a long life with lasting friendships", as we clinked our glasses. We started getting acquainted, sipping our wine, when all of a sudden the door swung open and a young, brown-haired woman came through, looking as though she had been crying. Her eyes were large, but now they were also swollen, and she was unable to hide her emotional state. Pierre tried to console her, then introduced her, "Hildegard, this is Slim, he is from America." "Oh please," she said, "call me Hillie, Hildegard is too old-fashioned." Well, hilly wasn’t the word for it, she was built like a brick shit-house, and with my mouth hanging open, I tried to compose myself saying "Hi Hillie, Pierre tells me you are studying sculpture." Pierre broke in to announce the news, "Slim is going to take the other spare room for a few days." His wife was a little shocked and Hildegard excused herself for being in a bad mood. "Hillie, would you like a glass of wine?", I asked while offering her a glass. "Oui", she said as she sat down, trying to relax, and started talking about all the problems she was having with her previous lover. He apparently like to beat on her when he got drunk, which was apparently way too often. That’s why she moved in with Pierre and Marie, but he still wouldn’t leave her alone. They had just met by chance on the street, so that explained for her being upset. "God only knows why I lived with that man for two years, both my studies, and my life have suffered from his abuse. I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore, but he’s just too blind to see that he is making me miserable", she said while looking down into her glass of wine. Pierre subtlety changed the subject, as he was already tired of this scenario, and started talking about cheese, describing the difference between people who prefer young, sweeter tasting cheese, to those who like seriously aged cheese which is hard and concentrated, compared to those that buy the moldy kind that stink up the refrigerator like a crusty pair of socks that had been worn for at least a week. Here was my new home away home, at Pierre and Marie’s, with Hildegard. It was awkward at first, but they didn’t seem to mind me being there, and in a short time it was comfortable. I did my best to contribute towards the shopping and household duties, doing the dishes more often than not. I had my own little room which had a small window, and when I felt like I was in someone’s way I isolated myself in there to read, or write letters back home inquiring if there was any word of Lewis, as his welfare was a subconscious concern of mine.
Pierre and I spent a lot of time in his studio making tapes and mixing them together, either scientifically or randomly. When we needed a break we sat at one of our favorite Cafes drinking espresso and discussing philosophy that oftentimes ended up in laughter, because we were both hypocrites. Hildegard and I also started doing some things together, so Pierre and Marie could have some quality time alone. We would go shopping at the African market on Fridays and sometimes she invited me to go dancing at a disco with her friends. She loved to dance, it was therapeutic for her I guess, once she got on the dance floor she wouldn’t stop, working herself into a trance. I would get thirsty just watching her, but she would grab me by the arm and drag me out there to join her.
I cooked a variety of soups for the household, beans and peas were my specialties, and they seemed to appreciate my efforts, but Marie was a gourmet cook, when she decided to make the dinner it was a real treat. I donated for the wine and Pierre would make the selection for these occasions. Being more a connoisseur of beer I wasn’t much help, even though I tried to make wine when I was fifteen years old out of grape juice concentrate, and when I told them this story they never let me choose the wine again. On one of these fine evenings of drinking wine and devouring Marie’s delicious meals we were all relaxing and Pierre mentioned that there was a Jacques Tati film on the television, so we moved from the table into the next room and Hildegard and I sat on the couch. Whatever overcame me to take off her socks and massage her feet I’m not sure to this day, but as I did so her eyes began to glisten and she giggled. Halfway through the film she started to kiss my ear and my pulse picked up a notch or two, and before the end of the film she whispered to me that we should go into her room. Upon waking the next day with Hillie asleep beside me, I decided to post a notice that I would sell the remainder of my train ticket to Portugal for a cheap price, now was not the time to be planning that leg of the journey southbound. For the next two months it was like an extended honeymoon, because we rarely left the bedroom, unless she had to study, or go to class, running out the door she would be saying, "Stop that, or I’ll be late!". I would blow her kisses from the bed, and would counter with, "better laid than never", as I propped my head up on the pillow reminiscing those hills and valleys I had traversed throughout the night.
Finally, I had received a letter from back home, Noy had written to say hi and to give the low-down on what happened after the disappearance of Lewis in Orlando. Apparently he ended up at a party playing poker with a couple of thugs, and through the course of the night they led on to the fact that they were smuggling cocaine from Panama, inviting Lewis to come aboard. After all, he had the credentials, spending a little time in the Marines, and proudly mentioning his dishonorable discharge. He eventually got into it over his head so-to-speak, heavy into the coke, but realized before it was too late that he was in a vulnerable position of being a ‘fall guy’ and escaped the potential danger in the nick of time. He left Florida on the run and returned to the Pacific Northwest, but this wasn’t all. Upon his return he was suffering from his addiction to cocaine, and consequently would lose his cool easily. One night while he had been out trying to score Lewis went a little crazy, making some kind of scene, when two policemen came along and arrested him for disturbing the peace. Reverting to his old ways he started to act like a lunatic, he was convincing in any case, and remarkably ended up in a rehabilitation center, because he had served some time in the military, which in my opinion, was the real source of his lunacy. Little did they know that was normal for Lewis, and I could imagine the hell he must have raised. They gave him medication to control his continual fits, and in a short time he got wise to that. He was released after three months, but was still on the medication, which was more devastating than the coke in the long run, turning him into a zombie. Noy regretted he had been too busy to help Lewis in this recuperation phase, but said he was slowly coming back to life.
The letter sat heavy in my mind, and for the next few days I was preoccupied with what really went down. Lewis — a gunner on a dope smuggling schooner? He always wanted to ride First Class. It wasn’t easy telling Hillie that he was one of my closest friends and that I was deeply concerned about his well-being. "Well, I have calculated my money situation, and if I went back to the U.S. now I wouldn’t be under pressure to find work for a month or so," starting off the debate and biting my lip. I tried to support my argument by saying that she had not accomplished that much work in the last couple of weeks, because we were having too much fun, and that she should concentrate on her studies, to complete the semester in good standing. She more or less agreed, but didn’t want me to disappear out of her life, saying "It’s a long way from Paris". I nodded, "You can say that again, but you can come and stay with me when you have finished your courses. By then I should have secured something suitable to live in." It wasn’t easy, but with some smooth talking she supported the fact I had to rescue a good friend.
For the next couple of days I checked into a dozen travel agencies trying to book a flight. In the meantime, Pierre mentioned we should make a performance somewhere before I left Paris. He knew of a few potential venues and would ask around. "Would you like to work with a dancer? I know a woman, we have made street theater together in former times, and she is very good", he proposed. "Sounds great to me", I retorted. Pierre suggested we make a story about the intimate relationships of Marilyn Monroe with JFK and his brother Bobby. "Yeah, we can prove that the C.I.A. was behind the scenes of their passion, and later their lives. Furthermore, acknowledging the fact that the Kennedy Dream was breaking down the Republican war machine and their domain," I added. "That’s it! I will give Monique a call, she is very creative and has a powerful stage presence, I think you will like her," concluded Pierre. Monique was thrilled to hear the news and jumped on the bandwagon, so things were falling into place, and we were on the roll. The next day Pierre and I spent some time at two of the major libraries in Paris looking through periodicals covering the president’s assassination, inspecting the photos carefully, and reading many interviews that were published over the years in regards to the Conspiracy, the Cover Up, and the Controversies.
Through our research we discovered Lee Harvey Oswald was a first class double agent, you would never guess that by looking at him, as he was no James Bond prototype, but he simply knew too much. Therefore, he was set-up to be the fall guy, or "the patsy" as he himself called it at the Dallas police station. The C.I.A. knew at the time he was working undercover at a book depository in Dallas and arranged that the motorcade procession to pass his place of employment, so he was a sitting duck. JFK, and Bobby for that matter, being the Attorney General, had acquired many enemies, but the magnitude for a coup de’-tat had to be masterminded on many levels to be carried out properly, and it was! The media was covered directly, they brought out the story of Oswald being a Russian spy in less than a day, in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty. The investigations committee — the Warren Commission, set out to prove that Oswald was the one and only shooter, and on the other hand, they completely ignored the facts that were produced through independent investigators, dismissing them with insufficient evidence, and clinging to the "the magic bullet theory". Moreover, many people in that crowd waiting for the president in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, took photos and home-movies, but the films and even some of the cameras were confiscated by what seemed to be security cops, so they could destroy any incriminating evidence that could oppose Oswald as the lone assassin. Pierre and I started looking at the photos with a magnifying glass and made speculations that more than 50% of the onlookers at this point of the motorcade must have been affiliated to the coup de’-tat, and were needed to create the commotion required to divert the attention of the innocent bystanders. The bullet that killed JFK came from the front, it’s a simple law of physics, that the inertia from the impact jolted the president’s head backward, thus proving a conspiracy of the highest order. Pierre and I had seen enough, and we had our doubts reflecting upon the Warren Report.
In the evening Pierre and I took the Metro to Monique’s place. We sat around her kitchen table conceptualizing, and sketched out a basic script to work from. Monique had a good imagination on how to epitomize cliches and she made a little storyboard. Pierre took responsibility for the sound system, and he wanted to do the set design as well, because he wanted it to appear like a brothel. I was to be the over-conspicuous G-man with a trench coat, sunglasses, a black umbrella, and, of course, my saxophone. Pierre would play the part of JFK, and naturally Monique would be Marilyn. She insisted on bleaching her hair, not just blond, but white, with fire engine red lipstick and high-heeled shoes. We decided we still needed Bobby Kennedy to be present in this affair, so we dressed up a mannequin with a white shirt and tie, and we would make a mask with the face of Bobby to complete the picture.
In the course of the next few days I made my flight reservations to Seattle, and had come to grips with the fact that it was a conflict between fate and destiny. To confide with the part of me that must accept the decision being made for the sake of brotherhood, in relation to that of companionship. Things were beginning to bubble in Paris, in more ways than one, but it couldn’t go on forever. Change was on the horizon, it was just to figure out which way to turn.
Meanwhile, Pierre arranged a performance date at a gallery that was run by a small collective, so it would be possible for us to present our work-in-progress, "Modus Operandi", before my departure. We spent some time at a couple of flea markets to find the props we needed. We even bought an American flag for our backdrop. However, I still had to reconcile with Hillie, and because she wasn’t very happy that I was leaving I had to console her. She would throw little tantrums on the street, in the Metro, and at Pierre’s when they weren’t around. Needless to say, the pressure was on. She wanted to make appointments with me even though we lived in the same flat. I was busy with the project and wanted to see it through, because Pierre had become a comrade in the line of duty. So, she in turn volunteered to help with the technical aspects of the project as a crew member to run the lights, slide projectors, and the sound system. We still found some time to be romantic, though suffered from the lack of sleep.
One morning while I was preparing breakfast for Hillie and myself, Pierre came home unexpectedly, with a gleam in his eye. "I met with one of my old friends earlier who has collected many newsreels over the years, and he just so happens to have the TV footage of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald in the Dallas police station," he said with a big smile on his face. "We can make a video loop of it so that it repeats itself throughout the performance," I interjected, and we laughed. The heat was on and the ideas were coming together easily under our given time limitation, perhaps we worked better in the clutch. The clock was ticking and we only had three days before our world premiere, ‘M.O.’, as we called it, and less than a week before my flight back home, so time was of the essence. After some bread and marmalade, and lots of coffee, Pierre and I excused ourselves from the table. I kissed Hillie on the cheek and we headed once again to Pierre’s studio to work on the soundtrack.
We worked into the late night constructing a soundscape that filled a side of a 90 minute cassette, blending traffic sounds, a few gun shots, screams, and some famous speeches JFK gave during his tenure. "Check this one out," said Pierre, "Kennedy was in Berlin and he says ‘ich bin ein Berliner’, and the crowd goes wild. You know what a Berliner is? It is a pastry, like one of your donuts, with a jelly filling". In addition we mixed in "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what can I do for my country!" We had a lot of fun overlaying tracks of God Bless America and the national anthem played by Jimi Hendrix.
When we finished I came back with Pierre looking for Hillie, but she apparently went out to meet a friend, so I asked Pierre if he wanted to go out to get something to eat. He said he would make some spaghetti if I could open the wine and give Monique a call to see what time we should rendezvous at the gallery the following day to prepare the set, and have a dress rehearsal. After our meal I told Pierre that I felt like retiring to bed, because I was exhausted with all the things going on in my life for the moment. He said he was going to do the same. I laid down in my bed with a book about Marilyn Monroe and read about her autopsy report. Everybody had already assumed that she died from an overdose of sleeping pills, but the report said the capsules had not totally dissolved in her stomach, or at least not enough to commit suicide. It was the old needle mark in her armpit trick, a place that was easily overlooked by the police, and concluded that she had been given an injection, probably before the pills were administered. I was just about ready to turn off the light, when there was a little knock on my door. "Come on in," I said, and Hillie stumbled in, it appeared she had one too many of whatever it was she had been drinking. "Tonight is going to be a night you are not going to forget. I don’t want you to be thinking about another woman until I come to America," she announced, as she peeled off her clothes and jumped into my bed. She started down low and I thought to myself, "better laid than never". Then she took me into her mouth, I sighed, "Oooooouuu, La La", and turned out the light.
The next morning I was so sore I could hardly walk, nor for that matter did I get the rest I really needed, but we dragged ourselves out to the kitchen and had breakfast. On the table there was a note from Pierre which read that Hildegard and I should meet him down at his studio to help pack up the equipment at 2pm, that gave me less than an hour to do my morning rituals before we had to hit the road. By the time we unloaded everything at the gallery it was 4pm, and Monique showed up moments later with a thermos of coffee. We arranged ourselves at a little table in front of what would be the stage area and began to organize in our minds everything how we imagined it. We outlined our game plan for Hillie, so she would know how and when to operate the technical end of things, and discussed the last minute changes in the script, minimal as it was. After agreeing on the order of events we attempted a couple of technical run-throughs to check our timing and transitions, before we went to get a bite to eat, and to return again for our dress rehearsal. That evening we were all running around like chickens with their heads cut off, making the final preparations. Pierre was putting Bobby together, Monique displayed her glamorous gown and applied her make-up, and I hung the American flag upside down against the back wall. Earlier in the week I had found an old chalkboard, so when I wasn’t playing "My Funny Valentine" I could draw diagrams on the board showing the procession of the Kennedy motorcade, and where the gunmen were strategically placed when the president’s limousine would pass through the fatal vortex. Pierre said he wanted to rig-up Bobby’s mouth with a foot pedal so it would look like he was involved in the conversations. Bobby should be facing JFK, and appear to be delivering a semi-rapid monologue, except when JFK would reply with something like "Good idea! I will assign one of the staff to go into Cuba to buy five hundred cigars before we commence with that embargo," or, "You are absolutely right! The C.I.A. has been smuggling too much heroin from southeast Asia, especially in Laos. I want them to find an alternative to subsidizing their operations, it’s such a dirty business." Marilyn would be making small talk, asking both of the Kennedy’s affectionately if they wanted a cup of coffee, or what they would like for breakfast. She would be pacing around and bending over in ways to highlight her femininity, creating a little of that animal magnetism. JFK would answer her politely, targeting her behind with a love tap whenever the opportunity presented itself. As the evening progressed everybody was getting more excited, but we finally decided it was time to call it a day, so we would have the energy for the premiere.
The performance was well attended, surprising enough, considering the time element. On the set we placed a lamp with the 25 watt bulb and masked it, reducing the light to a bare minimum, because we had four slide projectors full of places and faces, a super 8 film projector with the motorcade set to show one frame at a time, and a video loop of Ruby firing his pistol into the stomach of Oswald at the Dallas police station. I lurked around in the outer perimeters, obviously incognito with my saxophone, walking in and out of view from the audience, and I would always focus my attention on Pierre, and, of course, Monique, because she was so outrageous. Pierre would turn the lamp off every five minutes or so, and Monique made sounds like she was having an orgasm, then Pierre would turn the light back on. The soundtrack lasted forty-minutes with a slow fade-out, this was Hillie’s cue to stop the projectors, and Pierre was to turn off the lamp, producing a complete blackout. At this point I shot several rounds from a gun with blanks, and Pierre and Monique fell to the ground in silence. Nobody moved for two minutes, then Hillie turned on the general lights, then Pierre and Monique got up, and we took our bows together on stage. The audience seemed to love our multi-media spectacle. Afterwards, the people from the gallery opened a few bottles of champagne, and we celebrated into the early morning hours.
Hillie had been a real trooper through this whole affair, her help was invaluable, and yet she didn’t get the credit she deserved. Pierre and I thanked her after we put the equipment back in the studio and sat down around the coffee table to share the last bottle of champagne. We were all exhausted, but there were still traces of adrenaline in our blood from all the excitement. We made a toast to each other, "To those simple successes in life", and when the bottle was empty we caught a taxi back to Pierre’s and crashed.
We slept until noon and everyone was moaning about how lousy they felt. I never liked the side effects of bubbling alcoholic beverages, thinking I had to vomit. I looked over at Hillie, she seemed to be in a similar condition, and I said with a groan, "it was fun while it lasted," as I raced for the toilet to eliminate from both ends. "Oh god, what a way to spend my last day in Paris", I said to myself hunching over the porcelain bowl. Hillie was getting up as I crawled back into bed and put a pillow over my head, to make some coffee, and prepare the table for brunch. She came back though, not feeling so ambitious, and laid down next to me, and we dozed off for another hour or so when we heard someone knocking on the door. "Are you just going to lay around the whole day? Aren’t you hungry yet? I have made some fresh bread, it should be cool enough to eat in 20 minutes," said Pierre. "Good", said Hillie, "I will be there in a couple of minutes", and I turned over and groaned some more.
I finally felt brave enough to venture out to the table, inquiring, "Do you have any aspirin?" Still feeling ‘green’ I joined the others, nobody was looking at anybody, but Pierre was about to reveal another game plan. "There is a great African group playing tonight, King Sunny Ade with a twenty-piece band", was his proposition. Hillie was immediately excited, "Come on, Slim, let’s go dancing!" "First, I’ll try to make it through a cup of coffee", was my reply.
My flight back to Seattle would be departing in less than 24 hours, and I was feeling like leftover dog food. I crawled underneath the shower, and stood there for about 20 minutes. The others got angry with me, because they hadn’t showered yet. It was one of those things about being American that Europeans had a hard time understanding, why we need to use up so much water? "Sorry about that, just a bad habit I guess", trying to excuse myself and changing the subject at the same time, asking, "What’s on television?" Nobody answered. Finally, Pierre said he would buy my ticket if I recuperated in time, and Hillie offered to buy another bottle of champagne. "Anything but bubbles, please", I announced.
I eventually rallied for the concert, but in the end insisted upon buying the tickets for Pierre, Marie, and Hillie. The concert was held in an open-air amphitheater, and the atmosphere was captivating. Everyone was wearing a big smile, some Africans were in their tribal dress, and once we started to dance we couldn’t stop. The place was steaming, with a crescent moon hanging at about eleven o’clock. After the concert Pierre bought a round of drinks for us, and then we returned to their flat, because we were so tired from the night before. It was the last night I could sleep with Hillie before my departure.
The following day, on our way to the airport, I invited Pierre and Marie, who were chauffeuring me direct to the flight counter, to come and visit once I got settled again. Sorrow was beginning to enter my heart as I realized how nice it had been in Paris, and it was getting close to saying all those good-byes, especially to Hillie. When we arrived at the airport she started to cry a little, while trying to smile at the same time. Pierre had dropped us off in front of the sign that read Arrivals, and went to park the car. Hillie and I went to check my bags in and get my seat reserved, always preferring the aisle over the window, due to my long legs on long distance flights. Marie wandered over to one of the bakeries, and bought some chocolate filled croissants and coffee. Our last hour together was spent imagining what kind of lives the other people in transit, toting their luggage, were leading, and chuckling between ourselves until that dreadful moment came when I had to ‘walk the plank’. I thanked Pierre and Marie for their wonderful hospitality, and gave Hillie a big hug and a kiss before boarding the plane, now the tears were running down my cheek. "Back on the road, again", thinking to myself, "or is that — a fool on the run?"
On the runway I began to think about the qualities of Hildegard’s character in relation to my own personal lifestyle, could she be the one? Attraction to the opposite sex was never a problem, as I always sized-up the possibilities being the hopeless romantic that I am, but too shy in the end to make any suave and debonair pursuits. Besides, I would never have enough money to satisfy those who liked big houses, fancy cars, nice dresses, or lots of jewelry. If they wore high-heeled shoes, used lots of make-up and perfume, or went to the hair dresser, they simply weren’t my type. Hillie was a real down to earth woman, she was raised in the country and cultivated a big heart. She only plucked her eyebrows to get that Marlene Dietrich effect, and I guess I could live with that.
The plane started down the runway on a gray and rainy day, and it ascended quickly into the clouds. The flight attendants served the food and this time it looked utterly disgusting, though somehow I got hungry, but the cake didn’t make it. The guy next to me turned pale, and eventually had to retreat to the facilities during some turbulence, but I was too absorbed in the feature film, "Morons from Outer Space", to know if he had eaten his dessert. After the movie I had dosed off for nearly three hours, and before I knew it we were descending into Detroit to make the switch to another plane, destination: Seattle. On the last leg of my journey I couldn’t help but thinking about Hillie, she had made my pilgrimage to Europe complete. However, my mission now was to catch up with Lewis and get the low-down.
Noy met me at the Sea-Tac International airport, and it was great to see him. He was equally excited and wanted to hear all about my experiences. Moreover, he wanted to know more specifically about Hildegard. Noy filled me in on what was happening on the home turf, and then told a story he had never spoken of before, from his childhood. "When I was eleven years old I joined the church choir, because my Mom said I had such a beautiful voice, and she wanted to raise her son to be a good Roman Catholic. Well, the following year the choir had been sponsored to perform in several cathedrals throughout Western Europe. It was great! My fondest memory was in Amsterdam. A prostitute came up to me, and I thought she was beautiful. You know what? She offered me some chocolate! I blushed, then accepted it." "Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to take any candy from strangers," I said jokingly.
"So what else is new? Gimme some gossip," I asked excitedly. Noy pondered for a moment and then broke the brief silence, "Well, get a load of this. Rose fell in love with an up and coming Sumo wrestler. One night, while she was working, a group of wrestlers stopped in to get a bite to eat. They were making a stateside tour of sorts, demonstrating their rituals, and exhibiting their physical power in Oregon, Washington and California. They were mostly Japanese, but there were also two or three Hawaiians. Anyway, to make a long story short, they went to Sambos and Rose waited their table. The big brown eyes of the youngest Hawaiian met with the big brown eyes of our Italian blooded friend, and the rest is history. He asked her if she could show him around town the following day, and naturally she agreed, but I don’t think they roamed much beyond Rose’s bedroom. Consequently, he had to stop wrestling, because he had broken his oath to celibacy. Following suit, Rose quit her job, and I saw them shortly before they flew off to Hawaii, they were arm in arm, and smiling from ear to ear. It seemed like a match made in heaven, I’d never seen Rose so happy, she was radiant. I got a postcard from them last month, they’re living on Maui now, and she hinted that they were growing dope. It didn’t take her long for to corrupt that poor boy’s soul."
Finally, I inquired about Lewis and his whereabouts, and Noy continued, "Oh, he’s back in town, but he’s been through the wringer in last few months. He was released just a couple of weeks ago from the psychiatric ward at the county hospital in Yakima. Still a little slow compared to the ol’ Lewis we know, but he’ll be glad to see you, you’re the only one he talks about. The last time I was there, it was a little while back, I told him you’d be returning soon, and I think he decided to cool it with all his daily tantrums, and they finally released him." "We gotta find him and get him off that medication," I blurted out, and at the same time thinking I was not sounding very intelligent, realizing the effects of jet lag. "He’s not going far in his present condition, don’t worry, we’ll track him down in a day or so," Noy said confidently.
Three days went by, and there was still no sign of Lewis. I started to entertain the idea that I should find some means of employment. An old friend, Tim Thomson, said I could have his old ’64 Dodge Dart, he was tired of looking at it. Noy offered his mechanic skills to make it road worthy, so with very little effort I had wheels again. Those old Chryslers with the slant 6 ran forever, and Noy and I whipped it back into shape over the weekend. After a new set of points and plugs, an over-sized radiator from the junk yard, a few hoses, a recharged battery, and four new retreads I was ready to roll. The freedom of having my own wheels again was a welcomed luxury.
Meanwhile, we heard that Lewis was staying out at his aunt’s place, twelve miles from town. The following day I woke up with the plan to drive out alone to the West end of the valley, and see if I could locate Jack. Stopping in to fill-up the tank of the Dart at a self-service gas station, I was bending over to clean the other side of the windshield when Lewis happened to be coming out of the neighboring General Store with a bag of potato chips and a quart of beer. He saw me at the same time and yelled out, "Slim, what’s taken you so damn long," with a big smile on his face. "Where the hell you been? I’ve been waiting around wondering when you’d show up," he added. "Better laid than never," I retorted. He jumped in the car and I paid for the gas and three quarts of oil. "Do you want to head back to your aunt’s?" I asked as I sat behind the steering wheel. "No! I don’t want to go back to my aunt’s, Jesus Christ, we got some things to take care of," he said with a stern look on his face. "So what do you have in mind?" I countered, and jabbed with, "Where do you want to go?" Lewis said loud and clear, "South!" Rolling with the punches I said, "Roger! 10-4, Captain," as I saluted him. "Why? You got some plans, or what? He was interrogating again, just like old times, and here I thought he was supposed to be on some heavy medication. "Well", I thought out loud, "nothing’s pressing, but it is about time to look for a job." "I have a job for you," he said as he turned around to look out the back window, as if there might be someone there following us, and concluded, "don’t worry about the money," as he turned back around to face the front. "What kind of job do you have in that scamming brain of yours now?" I inquired, "and what happened to you down in Orlando? I got worried that maybe I’d never see your silly ass again." "Before I go into that, now that I know the tank is full, are you prepared for a long journey?" He continued to probe. "Where’s your belongings?" "Everything is in the trunk, my sax, my clothes, and a few other things," I answered. "If you want, your job can start right now, are you up for it, Slim?" His inquiry seemed to drive a point home, that I was about ready to jump off the deep end, and inquisitively I repeated, "South? How far South?" "Mexico, amigo. Vamos aaahh Mexico," he said as he pointed his finger like in the manner that resembled a painting from Michelangelo, in a southbound direction. I called Noy to inform him that I had found Lewis and that we were going to make a little outing, because Lewis didn’t want anybody to know where we were going. Lewis told me he had enough money, and that he would pay me in cash when the time came, until then he would cover all of our expenses.
In less than 24 hours from the time I met Lewis, we were pulling into Reno, and we were hungry. He still hadn’t explained to me what we were actually going to do, but my intuition lead me to believe I should go along for the ride. Back on the road with Lewis, like the good ol’ days. We ate a big meal for $2.99, and found a room at a dive hotel. Lewis said he wanted to go wet his whistle, which meant he was going to find himself a piece of ass, even if he had to pay for it. He gave me a hundred dollars and told me not to spend it all in one place, like he was probably going to do, and said we should be on our way again early in the morning. I left first and played Roulette for two hours, placing only small bets, and then a bit of Black Jack before retiring to our room. When I got there Lewis was apparently busy with a girl because I could hear her panting through the door, accompanied by a few "OOOHH’s" and "AAAhh’s", and thought, what the hell, I’ll go down and have another Martini. Feeling inspired, I decided to write a little poem after having the chance to absorb the casino’s ambiance, and asked the bartender for a pen and paper.
The shadows in your mind
are nothing but
and memories of time
it’s always the same
nothing’s out of order
In the first position
even and odds
The days are few
but the nights, very long
Dogs and horses
Cards and dice
Games and lights
Atmospheric strains of flash and smoke
Hard faces, strange glances
in a reactionary pond
Silences in a storm
Follow instinctive measures
when you’re hot
Never break a winning streak
Lucid, Lucifer, Luck
Lucrative? Good luck!
Lockets of mother, or a lover
horseshoes, rabbit’s feet
and four-leafed clovers
The freedom is yours
and profits to keep
7, 11, 21
green, red, black
lemons and limes
nickel and dimes
Ladies and Gentlemen
It’s Open House
The first one is on us
After two doubles, I paid my tab and went back up to the room. When I entered the hallway there were five or six people standing outside of our room and listening, as Lewis was still pumping something. She was coming, and coming again, "Uuuaahh! OOOHHH! MmmmMM! Fuck me!" she cried. You could now hear Jack, "ppphhaah, ppoooffa, AAhhH, AAhh, oooohhh, whew!", and the people began to applaud outside the room. I slipped a note under the door, to say he could find me at the bar when the coast was clear. He came down in about a half an hour and I greeted him, "Well, if it ain’t ol’ Stonebone Jackson. What did you do to that poor girl?" "She was an equestrian, and she rode my little pony to hell and back", he said, and offered to buy me a nightcap. I tried to squeeze a little more information out of him as to what we were up against. I retreated to an old question, and a variation, "What happened in Orlando? And, where is your guitar?" "One thing at a time," he said quietly, and continued. "That night in Orlando I met a couple of guys and they asked me if I wanted to go to a party. I decided to go along thinking there might be some girls, but it turned out to be a cocaine party, and it was mostly men. I was approached by a businessman, and he asked if I wanted to work for him, smuggling coke up from Central America, said he knew my type. His clock was ticking, so I didn’t have any time to think, I just went for it. They told me I didn’t need anything that I had left back at the motel where you were, and would supply what was necessary. That scenario went on for about a half-a-year. Then, one day I caught wind of a name, James Wilson, and I started to put 2 and 2 together, realizing we were doing business with an outfit affiliated with the C.I.A. I was feeling vulnerable to the given situation, something evil was coming my way. One night I was alone to guard the boat we were working, and a guy jumped on board yelling at me. He had an attaché case, and he wanted to know where the crew was. I told him I was the only one there to keep an eye out. He pulled a gun, and wanted to steal the boat. At the right moment I went for him, his gun fell in the water, I grabbed my guitar and hit him hard over the head, which knocked him cold. I opened the attaché case and there was nearly two-hundred thousand dollars, so I closed it, and high-tailed it out of there." "Who was James Wilson?" I asked.
"We called him ‘Little Jimmy’, but that’s another story," said Lewis as he continued. "When I joined the Marines they had given us some aptitude tests, from there they had singled me out, and shipped me off to Puerto Rico. The military had built a multi-complex installation there on a small neighboring island, and I was to train in an Intelligence Sector, or should I say, how to be a spy in ten easy lessons. I never told anybody about this before, partly because it was an oath to national security. However, I learned something from Hubbard a long time ago. His stories were always changing, but at the same time he wanted to protect us from the truth. Therefore, he knew how to make a line of bullshit sound like the real thing. Anyway, James Wilson was a brown-noser who ended up at the same military outpost off the coast of Puerto Rico. He wanted to work his way up through the ranks fast, and was kissing everyone’s ass. I didn’t like him from the start, but he had family connections, and he was a sore loser to boot. At the installation they played many games with our heads, and some of it was very stimulating. First off, they gave us crossword puzzles to see if we could read something into the overall concept, like deciphering code. Then, more advanced tests were presented in the direction of abstract perception. For example, everyone was assembled, and secret teams were devised. The object was to find the other members of your own team through transmitting signals, talking mumbo jumbo, and/or displaying something of material to make the necessary links. These maneuvers took up most of the day, and were some of the more challenging moments from those days in the Atlantic. The trouble grew, however, between Jimmy and myself, partly because I was beating him regularly on the Ping-Pong table in the Rec. Center. One night, a few of us gathered to play poker, and ‘Little Jimmy’ was there too. The deal had come around to me, so I called – Jacks or better, Trips to win. I had already dealt several hands, and nobody got the cards to open. The ante alone had started to look like a small gold mine. Finally, Wilson had a good hand, he opened, and proceeded to raise the bet. I went along for the ride, called his bet, and raised it again. He got real nervous, so in turn, I had played off that. I had three Seven’s, but I knew he had me, nonetheless, I bluffed my way to victory, as if I had a Royal Flush. He had backed down on my final call and raise to his bet, and I raked in the pot. In time his envy grew, and I had become a target. The climax of this rivalry came during a guerrilla war game, exercising in the field. We were playing a variation of Hide and Seek, where teams employed tactics to capture the oppositions fortress." Lewis stopped for a moment to crack a beer, and then carried on. "In my childhood I ran with an Indian named Dancing Bear. He was a half-breed, but he lived more on the reservation than off, because he was drawn more to the ways of his ancestors rather than to the White man, who spoke with forked tongues. He taught me the preliminaries of being a Scout, that is, hunting, tracking, scavenging, and walking without being heard. ‘Little Jimmy’ lost his cool every time I infiltrated his defensive line, and I loved it. He got to be a real bad sport. In my leisure time I had covered that little island enough to find my way around in the dark. Finally, the shit hit the fan. In the third month we were in the field on another maneuver, this time I had a sneakin’ suspicion where to locate the opponents position, and I’ll have to admit, it was ideal. I crawled through the brush, or ‘the bush’ as they say in Australia. When I say crawling through the bush, that means something completely different," and we laughed hilariously. "Well," Lewis continued, "my hunch was damn near dead center, but I decided to take my time, so I climbed up into a tree and watched the other group operate. My team, on the other hand had taken a defensive strategy, sending out only two scouts. The other guy was on his way to position himself on the opposite side of our projected target, and his mission was to create a diversion to draw the attention from the group I hovered above. The ‘do or die’ moment had arrived, I swung down from that tree like Tarzan, beating my chest, and yodeling a traditional African folk song, and said ‘hands up, you, you Pinko communist’, to yours truly, James Wilson. He was so pissed off, he hit me over the head with a chair. Then I got up, struggled for his crossbow and knocked him down, confiscating his crossbow, and pointing it down his throat, telling him he was a sissy. I wanted to scare the shit out of him, and I succeeded. However, he told some higher-ups about my conduct. The Captain called me into his office and said he was impressed with my work, but he didn’t want anybody getting murdered where he would be held responsible, and in no time flat they shipped me off to Japan. From then on, the military was all down hill, and I started fucking around all the time. That’s when I finally got discharged," and Lewis went silent. We decided to call it a night, to get some shut-eye, before traveling on to Las Vegas.
Lewis woke me up that morning with a jolt, and said it was nearly 10 am, and we had to check out by eleven. "It’s time to roll, dude," he said. Neither of us talked much as we ate breakfast, packed our bags, and tanked up. The sun was hanging directly over us as we left the city limits, it was only 66° F, but we had a strong tail-wind pushing us towards the Mexican border. Intrigued, I went for the openers, "So what was your role in the smuggling ring, and what evidence connected you to James Wilson again down in the Florida Keys?" "They caught wind that I had been in the Marines, and were attracted to the fact I had been discharged without honor. I had a solid background with all kinds of weapons after Puerto Rico and Japan, and they needed someone to look after their arsenal, cleaning and oiling the guns, so forth and so on. They also found out I had a good eye with a rifle during a day of target practice, and that I could operate their big guns faster and more efficiently than the rest. Therefore, I was promoted to the front gunner, but I also had smaller assignments on occasion, to transport the coke and/or the money. I was having the time of my life, well paid, all the coke I could snort, and had lots of free time to hunt the opposite sex. A pirate in the Caribbean, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum." Lewis laughed out loud and searched for a Country and Western station on the radio before continuing. "We were doing lots of business in Venezuela and Panama without a care in the world, almost everything was coming from a high level of corruption. Our boss had established some good cartel connections, especially in Panama. One day I had returned from some dealings with one of our customers a little earlier than expected, and overheard a conversation through a porthole from our vessel. The names MacFarlane and Wilson were dropped, and I got real curious as to what was happening around me. There were a few faces I recognized from time to time on our voyages, people from that installation off the coast of Puerto Rico, but they weren’t the new recruits. Fortunately, none of them recognized me, and I could remain incognito, unless I crossed paths with ‘Little Jimmy’. Robert MacFarlane was one of the big boys though, from the dark side of the U.S. government. He had been busy as a pilot at the Bay of Pigs, and since then had become the artiste in general behind some covert operations, or co-ops as they are called. I had the gut reaction that Wilson had worked his way up through the ranks and was working for MacFarlane now, and that could be dangerous. I knew the sands in my hourglass were about to run out, so I was just waiting for the opportune time to split the scene with my mean machine. Well, it was a pity to smash my old Martin guitar over that guy’s head, but it saved my life. I had a big bike while living in Florida, an 850 Norton Interstater, it had a big gas tank compared to the 750 Commando, and didn’t waste anytime at all to get the hell out of Dodge. Didn’t even bother to pack any of my possessions, just put the attaché case in an old duffel bag, tied it down onto the back of the Norton, and spread my wings for Texas. I rode nearly two full days with hardly a break, except to piss and get some gas. Once San Antonio was behind me I decided to find a place to bury most of the money, who knows who it really belongs to, and I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. Finally, a road sign read: Langtry 17 miles, and a piece of history flashed before my very eyes. An American legend was the founder of that town, just on this side of the Rio Bravo Del Norte. You know who I’m speaking of?" Lewis was just checking to see if I had been listening, and I replied, "Are you speaking of Lilly Langtry, or that blood-thirsty gun slinger, Judge Roy Bean?" "Yeah, okay smart ass, so you think you know everything," he said with a sneer, and then we both laughed. "Then," he carried on with his monologue, "I found a place to bury the loot, not all, but most of it, and headed on to Phoenix to look up that girl from the Camelback Lounge, you remember the one? Don’t answer that! Thought I could rest up there a few days, because I was getting saddle sore, not to mention, just plain horny. She was there alright, and very happy to see me. I had been there nearly a week when somebody asked me about the Norton, and it got me thinkin’ again, so I sold it to him before being identified as the rightful owner. Then, I had to ditch the bitch, ‘cause she was getting too sentimental, and I bought a Greyhound ticket back to Square A. After all, home is where the slippers are, but it didn’t take long to disturb the balance. My mom found a small bag of pot and my snub-nosed 38, and called the cops. The good thing was, I had a good lawyer who was sympathetic to people who had served in the military. He had some previous experiences with Vietnam vets, and exploited the region of military brainwashing in his testimony. He played it to the hilt how some of those men could never return to a normal life. I ended up back in Re-Hab, where they gave me some heavy downers, and after a while I only pretended to take them, or vomited them if they ended up forcing them down my throat. Some of the money had been stashed at my mother’s, and later when I was released I moved everything over to my aunt’s. There is still a little money there in case they have an emergency, and then I’ll tell them where it is, but I have nearly ten grand here in my money belt, and there is plenty more just waiting for us down in Texas."
We pulled into Las Vegas in the late afternoon. Lewis wanted to paint the town red that evening, and said not to worry about the money, that we were there to have a good time. "You see I got this idea in my head, it’s like living out one the fantasies that my father had, although he never had the chance to experience it. Tonight we’re going full regalia Slim, the full 9 yards! After we’ve checked in to a hotel we’re going down to get us a haircut and manicure, rent a couple of tuxedos, and head over to ‘Geisha’s Galore’ for a sauna and massage. Guaranteed satisfaction, or your money back! I heard my father talking about that place a few years ago, it’s one of the hot tips, if you catch my drift. Then, my friend, we’re gonna check out a couple of high rolling casinos, and I’m gonna walk in there like James Bond – 007," Lewis exclaimed, and summed it up with a question. "Who you gonna be, Slim?" "I’m feeling patriotic," I said, and completed the answer, "I guess I’ll be ‘Our Man Flint’, James Coburn." "Alright" and he continued, "here’s the game plan. We’re gonna go into the First Class joints tonight, take in the sights, and place a couple of high stake bets like a rich man without a care in the world about his money. Don’t worry, be lucky!" "What ever you say Jack," I said, "it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing ain’t it?" "That’s right, Slim, you only live once," he said.
We found a little hotel called "The Paridiso", and checked in to room 17. Lewis said he was footing the bill for the entire evening, and when he said we were going high class, he meant it. We got our hair cut and styled, and a manicure on top of that. It was the first time I had been through that ordeal, I had never been a good boy scout, but Lewis said this routine was partly on behalf that we would be entering Mexico in a couple of days, if we were clean cut they wouldn’t be asking so many questions when we inquired for our visas, and so forth. We proceeded through the itinerary Jack had laid out. Next stop was to be ‘Geisha’s Galore’, a place where everyone was treated like a king. Strong little sexy Asian women bathing you, drying you off, massaging you, and the full tilt extravaganza, if you wanted it. Lewis said, "Don’t say no!"
Afterwards I felt like a limp noodle in more ways than one, but Lewis said it was time to catch some grub at a Texas-style Steak House to tank-up for the evening. When we were finished with dinner we headed back to "The Paridiso" to change into our tuxedos. It took ten minutes to stop laughing before we could compose ourselves again, and then Lewis recommended a place he knew called "The Tender Trap", where we could drink some rather entertaining cocktails. It was one of the most sophisticated topless dance clubs one could ever expect to find, moreover, a place where the dancers demanded respect. We took a table next to four guys about 21 or 22 years of age, and they started howling as the girls did their thing on stage, just like we used to do. Eventually, one of the dancers became furious, and screamed over towards the table with the boys, "I have never been so humiliated in all my life." That kicked off a new scenario, as a stud with a big brown moustache went over to the table, and said, "I just got out of San Quentin, I’m an ex-Golden Glove champ, and I wanna beat the shit out of you!" Perhaps, he was trying to impress the dancers with his gallant, macho behavior, but then Lewis stepped in and told the dude to cool it, "They don’t know any better," he said to the tough guy, and then turned and addressed the four at the table, "do you boys? Maybe you should be on your way, and don’t worry, I’ll pick up your tab. Now, go on, get lost!" The guys rose quietly from their table and slowly meandered out the front door of the "Tender Trap". The mustached man returned to his seat, realizing his unexpected opponent would be no easy pushover, and Lewis joined me again at our table asking me like nothing happened, "Would you like another dry Martini, Slim?" "Well, I could stomach another one of those doubles", I replied, and continued, "the olives are especially good. I don’t think they’re Californian, maybe they’re from Greece or Italy. I must say, Jack, you handled that pretty easily." "It wouldn’t have been any fun at all if that asshole had really wanted to start a fight. Look at me, I’m in my tuxedo, and I didn’t want to spoil the night sitting down at the Las Vegas Police Station," was his response.
There was a short pause now with the entertainment program, which was just as well after that excitement. Then, there was a change in atmosphere taking place, the lights were being dimmed, focusing more at the center of the stage as two musicians entered. They were wearing Persian robes, maybe they were from Saudi Arabia. One carried an Oud, a Middle-Eastern string instrument, the other had a ceramic hand drum, and they sat off to one side, more or less in the background. Finally, a woman appeared wearing an elegant costume full of gems that reflected the light as she took center stage. The musicians started to play, and the woman started to sway. At first it seemed very relaxed, and meditative, but the tempo was increasing, until it caught your attention. The dancer was performing some exotic ritual that only the best belly dancers could attempt and execute properly. Every movement was in sync with the music. The hypnotic gestures were becoming more and more erotic, the audience was catching flies, with their mouths hanging wide open. She was taking off her garments little by little, exposing more of her body, and in these moments at the "Tender Trap" there was nearly a complete silence. I began to sweat a little under the collar, and noticed the trousers belonging to the tuxedo were too tight in the crotch and I was getting uncomfortable. I remembered that classic line from May West, "is that a rocket in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?" I looked over at Lewis and his eyes were practically bulging out of his head, and I tried to nudge him, but he didn’t even budge. That woman seduced everybody in the club, not only the men, but the women too, as she made love to an imaginary counterpart, constructing fantasies that most people never even dreamed about. When the performance was over Lewis stood up and announced, "Sensational!" Many others followed suit, rising from their seats to give the performers an overwhelming round of applause. I leaned over to Lewis and said, "I think I need a cold shower after that, Jesus Christ." Lewis, in a cool manner responded, "Slim, I’m gonna go back stage, I gotta talk to that woman!" I contended, "Not now James," but Lewis wasn’t listening. He said, "I’ll see you back at the hotel, Slim", without taking his eyes off the dancer as she collected her clothing. "Forget it, man!", this time I was more reprimanding, "You said it yourself, that you don’t want to spoil the evening sitting down at the police station. Come on, let’s get out of here, it’s time to check out a couple of the other casinos." Lewis was reluctant at first, because he had his ‘mojo workin’, and wanted to cast a spell of his own on that Middle-Eastern female, but finally he yielded, and we set off into the night.
Lewis and I stepped out onto the boardwalk, the skyline was full of neon light: casinos, clubs, restaurants, and parking lots. We decided to try the Golden Wheel, but what actually sold us was the marquee that read "Tonite, Nancy Sinatra". However, the tickets were very expensive, $200 dollars a head without the meal. I personally was more prone to head directly to the gambling tables, but Lewis said, "hold your horses, okay, wait here a second Slim, I’ll be right back, just gotta go to the can". When Lewis came back he leaned over a bit and said, "Follow me, the kitchen entrance to the stage and lounge is right next to the Men’s room. Act cool, we got our tuxedos on, nobody is gonna notice." We ducked back into the toilet to check ourselves in the mirror, combed our hair, and psyched ourselves up with secret agent auras to enter the joint like we owned the place. Lewis led the way, turning to me sometimes and making gestures like we were talking big business, as we casually wandered back to the bar and he ordered our drinks. "A double dry Martini and a Scotch on the rocks, please", like it was a ritual. Nancy was about to make her grand entrance as we found a seat off to the side, all the good tables had already been taken. We waded through four or five Kitsch Classics and then she finally kicked into her big hit, "These boots are made for walking", and Lewis sang the chorus as the song progressed, "these boots gonna walk all over you". I realized then it was time for another change of scenery, and suggested that we get out of there before we’re thrown out on our lips. Lewis sensed somehow that it was the appropriate time as well, and said, "Let’s make a stage left and get the hell out of here." As we were leaving one of the guys at the front entrance said that he didn’t recognize us, and Lewis replied, "We’re with Nancy, don’t you know she likes younger men?", making our way out of the ballroom and into the gambling area.
In the game room there was a different ambiance altogether, people standing around in a deep concentrated state, eyeing the action upon their respective tables, and wagering bets against the house. Lewis laid out six grand for gambling chips, gave me half, and we strolled through the joint watching how things were progressing, like we had been there a thousand times. Lewis decided to try his luck at the Black Jack table, although I was drawn to Roulette, I followed him over to the crescent shaped table where they played 21, and watched over his shoulder as he placed a bet for two thousand bucks. I got nervous just thinking about it. On the first hand Lewis received two aces faced down, and he chose to show and split, so he was actually playing two hands against the dealer. The dealer had a nine showing, and a card in the hole. Two more cards came to Lewis faced down, and he said, "I’m good, I’m so fucking good". To one of the aces he turned a 10 of Diamonds, and to the other he turned one of the two one-eyed Jacks, the Jack of Spades. "Double Black Jack", I cried out, as the dealer collected the cards and starting shuffling again, and Lewis stood up, raking in his chips. "Beginners Luck", he said to me, "I’m gonna quit while I’m ahead. If I lose it all now I’ll tear the place apart." After all, he had just given me three thousand, and now he’s got more than he started with. "Well if that’s beginners luck, then I guess I’ll try my hand at it," I answered, taking his place at the table, "Maybe it’s a lucky stool sitting here. May the cosmic forces cast upon my sweet little ass a good fortune tonight." Hesitantly, I laid all three grand on the table, thinking it was now or never, easy come – easy go. The cards were dealt, I was holding a three and a six, and the dealer had one down with a Queen showing. I asked for another card, it was a five. I asked for another card, this time it was another three, so I had seventeen. I had to take another card, because if the dealer had been holding an Ace he would have shown it, therefore, if he had an eight, nine, ten, or a face card I was still beat. The cards were in his favor, and I noticed I was beginning to perspire, calling for the next card. A two landed in front of me and I said, "Where I come from that’s five cards under 21, it’s equal to Black Jack." The dealer remarked, "The same rules apply here, you’ve won." I followed in the foot steps of Lewis, collecting my chips, and offered to buy him a drink as I moved away from the table. "I think that was enough stimulation for one night," I said, and concluded, "Now, I would rather smoke a good cigar and relax in the corner with another double dry martini." Lewis agreed, though of course, he always preferred the single malt Scotch. We retreated to a seating area near the Ladies Room, where we could watch the traffic, and told jokes and stories the rest of the night. Finally, I announced that I was going to retire, and thanked Lewis for the marvelous night on the town. Lewis said he was happy where he was and would hang his pole out a little longer.
The next morning I was startled by Lewis as he came stumbling into the room. Turning to the clock I noticed it was just a quarter past eight and said, "Jesus Christ, man, I was in the middle of a strange dream. Are you just now getting back?" "Yeah, man," Lewis said, "ran into a little black chick not long after you left. She was some kind of starlet princess on the ice skating circuit – Gospel on Ice, was the name of the show, and she had just got off work. She said to me "Howdy Stranger", after she noticed I was getting an eye full, and asked if she could buy me a drink. Well, one thing led to another, and before long I was taking off her little white panties in the blinking of neon light. She had strong legs and tight cheeks from all those years of skating, and seemed to have developed a taste for white meat. It was fun while it lasted, but after the third go round, it smelt a little too much like fish, so, I made my getaway when she finally fell asleep. By the way, you said you were having strange dreams, what was that all about?" "Oh man, it was kind of heavy," I started off. "I was traveling alone, walking along carrying a satchel and a soprano saxophone, up ‘til now I’ve only played alto. I encountered several episodes where I had been walking, or floating across vast territories, all kinds of vivid landscapes from the desert, to the sea, to the mountains, and in every case I was greeted by a master musician. At first, they never came close, but stood afar and played on their instrument to introduce themselves, like it was some kind of ceremonial rite, or something. Then I, in return, played on the soprano in a way that was in reference to what I heard the other had played. The first man was an African, he played on an elephant tusk which was beautifully engraved. The second guy had a drum with two heads, like the ones from India or Pakistan. After the exchange of the musical dialogues they would advance, and motion me to follow them into their village where I was immediately accepted, and respected." "Shit be boogers! Sounds more like a vision than a dream, Slim, " Lewis remarked, and continued. "You have a quest, my man, though you might not recognize it at the moment, but it sounds like you have to follow up the implications of that scenario. Now, I’m gonna try to get some shut-eye, if you don’t mind. Wake me up at a quarter to eleven, Okay?" "What implications?" I asked, but Lewis was already beginning to snore, or at least pretending to, you never really knew with him.
We checked out of the hotel exactly at 11am and returned our monkey suits to the rental. We gassed up, and had some breakfast before Lewis grabbed the road map to outline our route. "You’re not gonna like this Slim", Lewis said, as he leaned over with a big shit eating grin on his face. "Here’s Las Vegas", pointing to it on the map, "and here — is Langtry. It just so happens we’re traveling through Phoenix on the way". "Oh my god, you gotta be kidding," I gasped. "How many days do you want to spend there?" "Just relax, and point the Dart in a southerly direction, and drive!" Lewis exclaimed as he crawled into the backseat, and then he mumbled, "Remember, you’re on my payroll, you can quit anytime you want. Otherwise, quit being a wimp, there’s work to be done. For your information, we’re only stopping in Phoenix long enough to make a phone call. Meanwhile, I’m gonna get comfortable here in the back, and we’ll talk more about it later."
The Dart purred down the highway with the sun overhead. Lewis was talking in his sleep, and I was counting cactuses as we came into the next desert basin, closing in on Phoenix. Lewis began to move again after a four hour nap, and asked me to turn on the radio, "Hey Slim, see if ya can’t find that good C & W station again, would ya?" I searched the dial, and sure enough, just in time to catch the signature of Bob Willis ring out with his famous peacock call "Aaaahh Hhhhaaaaahh," and the Texas Playboys version of San Antonio Rose. Lewis then remarked that we were going to be close to San Antonio in a couple of days. "We’ll cross the border in Laredo, over to Nuevo Laredo, and head south from there by train." Inquisitively, I interrogated, "What’s the plan, Stan?" "Everything in it’s own time, my boney boy, everything in it’s own time," Lewis replied while imitating W.C. Fields, and then he grew quiet again for a spell.
As we entered the outskirts of Phoenix, Lewis led on with a little of his game plan. "I —— have —— a — dream!" Lewis shouted out, and then cooled down to continue, "It’s like this, Slim. Got this thing about buying a good piece of property, and building a hotel. Naturally, there has to be a restaurant in it as well. I wanna make it all down in Belize, you see? Now, this chick in Phoenix is a damn good cook, and I just want to offer her a job, that’s all. If I sleep with her once a week, she’ll be happy ‘til the cows come home". "Belize?" I sounded shocked, "Why on earth? How did you ever come up with that idea?" "Well Slim," he started off, "when I was smuggling in, and around the Caribbean I spent some time in Mexico and Belize. Merida is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever known, but Belize is a better place to start a business, simply because there’s more wide spread corruption. Besides, they speak English, though it’s a dialect that has something to be desired. I know a man from a small provincial city called Orange Walk Town, he was a so-to- speak affiliate of mine, for a period of time. He’s got a pretty daughter, seen her photograph and she looks sweet. He thinks I should marry her. There’s still plenty of time to think it over, but hey, after marrying, I’d be legal. First the hotel and restaurant, then a casino, and then girls, girls, girls. We’ll have to do some promoting to attract some tourists, and then buy another hotel, or invest into a recording studio, it’s like Monopoly, Slim. You can be a shareholder if you want. Take your time, and think it over. That’s just the beginning." "I’ll be damned!" I said, and winding it up with, "Jack Lewis, outlaw by nature, now destined to be — The Gringo Tycoon!"
We took the off ramp to gas up, and Lewis made his phone call. Lewis went on to tell that this woman friend of his had an Indian scout for a father, a descendant from a line of Chiefs in the Navajo tribe. Once upon a time, he had been selected to an International Native American Indian Council which toured through Europe in the late fifties, and happened to meet her mother in a department store in Rome of all places. It was love at first sight. He named his daughter Two Feathers, because she was a child of two cultures, and from his culinary background she learned how to barbecue rabbit and goat over an open fire. Meanwhile, her mother was Spanish, who came from Castello de la Plana, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea, and she named her daughter Maria. The mother spoke in the Catalonian dialect, and though her father spoke Spanish in a layman’s Castilian, the language barrier was easily overcome, because she could speak Castilian as well, it was normal from that region of Spain. Anyhow, the mothers parents had owned a restaurant, and she learned some cuisine secrets from the family kitchen. The hard thing was that it was difficult for her mother to leave her family, being Spanish, not to mention Catholic and all, to live in the desert, far away from home. Nonetheless, she loved her man, and raised a good family, but she was always a little melancholic due to her homesickness for the Mediterranean climate and culture, not to mention her mother tongue.
Lewis returned to the Dart after his call. "What did she say?" I asked impatiently. "She said she would be there after she received a sign," said Lewis as he continued. "I told her I would send a postcard from Merida, when the time was right." We pulled out, back onto the highway, and set our compass this time in a south easterly direction, headed for Langtry. Neither of us had anything to say for a couple of hours, and then Lewis broke the silence. "About that dream of yours, meeting master musicians in foreign lands," then he paused for a moment to collect his thoughts, "why don’t you return to Europe, Slim? Seems like you could do well there, maybe even find yourself a good wife." "Well man, it’s never gonna be that easy," I started off. "Pierre, the guy I stayed with in Paris, said it would take ten years to get some recognition. Like Donovan singing ‘First there was a mountain, then there was no mountain, then there was’. It seems to go easy at first, because you have a fresh energy, but the Art world is a tough business, business don’t get much tougher. You know what I’m saying? Lots of tongue and cheek politics — where’s the money, where’s the dope? Pierre finally decided to direct his energies into a slightly different direction, and invested into the development of his own home studio. He said it’s more profitable to work alone, composing for an advertising agency, or for dance companies, and the like. To work with, and depend upon other musicians is altogether another planet of mental realities. Especially, when you are a foreigner, then you have the perpetual position of an outsider. That is, unless they just absolutely adore you, but then, look at me. Am I not lovable?" Lewis began to laugh and said, "You’re not exactly the kind of guy I would buy a water filtered vacuum cleaner from, but Slim, in the end, the thing that endures in the Art world is quality, and when there is quality, then, they can’t deny it any longer. Remember those old reel to reel recordings we did? We always thought it was great after we had played, but when listening to the tape we thought it was shit". "Yeah, but," I said, "there’s one great tape, we recorded it at Hubbard’s house on Halloween, remember? You had a pickup on your Martin, Hubbard was on the drums, and I was screaming into the microphone, Mohawks in a Pontiac — coming down the street. My Mom is one of them — she’s in the back seat." "Oh yeah, that was the birth of Punk in the Yakima Valley," Lewis exclaimed, and we started reminiscing over the old days, before Lewis had enlisted into the Marines, as we drove into the night, laughing and singing all along the way. The time seemed to pass quickly as we entered New Mexico and Lewis asked to drive a shift, and he took us on into El Paso around 11pm to tank up and get a bite to eat at a popular truck stop. I told Lewis I wanted to phone Noy, to let him know I’m headed south of the border, down Mexico way, and to see if there was any news. Lewis announced that it was his turn to fill up the car, and that he would park it over by the restaurant afterwards.
Lewis was engaged in a conversation with the waitress when I returned from my call, but she retreated with a giggle when I sat down to join him at the table. "How’s ol’ Noy Boy? Lewis inquired." "Good!" I said. "He just got promoted to a supervisor position. Now, he only has to travel around to the job sites and see that everything is moving along smoothly. What’s interesting though, is ... is that some guy from Belgium called. John something or another, works for the Sugar Daddy Express Record Company, said he heard a recording of mine, undoubtedly one with Pierre, and wanted to hear more." "Now, what was I just saying a little while back?" Lewis probed and poked. "You gotta put yer mind to it, Slim. That dream you had recently was relevant in a way that you can’t ignore it. The question is, how to realize it?" "You got that right," I said, "everything in it’s own time. First, I intend to make an investment into your hotel, what’s the name of it, anyway? "Hotel Oasis", Lewis proclaimed, and went on. "There’s lots of work to be done, first a swimming pool, then, exotic gardens, a card room — I’m gonna call that ‘Aces and Eights’, in honor of Wild Bill Hickok for starters, and the list goes on. You wanna be an investor, huh? Well buddy, in the first place, you’ll have to use your backbone more than your mind, but then it’s all down hill from there. I’ll bet your sweet ass you’ll be set up for retirement, house included, before you’re forty, and the rest of your life to invest into your music." "Yeah? Sounds alright to me, everything under the sun finds it’s way, don’t it. After all, — time is Monet", I said, trying to sum it up.
After our meal, Lewis said he wanted to high-tail it to Langtry, because he wanted to be there before daylight. I jumped behind the wheel and turned on the radio. Lewis dialed in a station and there was a flash news report that Marty Robbins had just passed away, and they aired a tribute on his behalf. First, they played his biggest hit, "El Paso", following it with "Big Iron" and "The Hanging Tree". "That’s the real stuff", remarked Lewis, and then he started singing, "I left my heart —— on the hanging tree." Then, he calmed down a little and said, "Every time I’m down here in Texas I get a strange feeling, like I’ve been here before, you know what I mean, Slim? Maybe, I was a cowpoke, or a gun slinger in one of my past lives. I have always been attracted to those cow towns of yesteryear, like Wichita, — Abilene, — Tombstone, — Waco, and Laredo, but maybe that comes from all those TV Westerns we watched when we were kids. Now, in retrospect, I believe they were trying to program us, maybe brainwashing is a better word, during the McCarthy era, and Big Brother was planting subliminal information to remind us what it means to be an American, moreover, patriotic. For example, the morality behind "The Rifleman", he had to keep law and order, but beyond that, he had to raise his motherless child, right?" Then, Lewis stopped and pondered for a second, and started up again, "But, the more I think about the possibility of past lives, I must have been an cowboy. What about you Slim, do you believe in reincarnation?" I replied casually, "To believe, or not to believe, is that the question? Well, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead it’s common knowledge that after you die it takes forty-nine days, and then you are reborn, into one creation or another, depending on your karma. After the spiritual masters die, the cycle of rebirth is underway, and then people keep an eye out for the return of their guru. From my own experience, well, yes, I’ve had a few things happen, but more like a Déja vu. One time in particular, when I was playing music with Bobo, and some wildman from West Virginia, named Woodruff, who was always in contention with the boundaries of our existing world as we know it. We had just stopped after a long session of music making and nobody said a word, in a certain way we had already said it, and as we cleaned our instruments and packed our cases, I had a flashback, or something to that effect. I had the impression that we had been together before, but that was the first time I had ever met Woodruff, and the image that came into my mind was that we were cleaning our pistols and rifles, like we were preparing to do a job, to rob a stagecoach, a bank, or something. Kind of a funny inkling, I will always remember that, but I know for damn sure, I’ve never been here before." "You were probably called ‘Swifty’, the southpaw", laughed out Lewis, "I can see it all as clear as a church bell." I had to let out a laugh or two as well, and my side started to ache, and tears started to run down my cheek. "Lewis," I said, "you’re gonna have to drive now, my eyes are all blurry, I can’t see shit," and I pulled the car over onto the shoulder and stopped. I decided to take a piss being we had stopped and everything, meanwhile, Lewis scooted over behind the steering wheel and drove the car off down the highway, leaving me standing there in the desert, in the middle of the night, with my fly open. "Christ Almighty, I don’t believe it," I said to myself. Just in that moment Lewis squealed on the brakes, put it in reverse, and picked me up again saying, "To live, you almost have to die. It’s my advice Slim, don’t trust anybody! Come on now, get in, there’s no time to be pissing around". I jumped in and closed the door as Lewis put the pedal to the metal, and the Dart laid a little patch of rubber.
Two hours later we finally saw a road sign that read – Langtry 26 miles, and there was still time to be sneaking around in the dark, at least an hour, maybe two. Lewis said it was my turn again to take the wheel, so we made the switch. He instructed me in what to do once we entered Langtry: First, I’m to drop him off near a cemetery at one end of town; secondly, I’m to drive down to a gas station, though it wouldn’t open until 7am, park at the pumps until they opened, and tank up; and thirdly, drive to the other end of town, in the direction of Big Bend National Park, and he would be waiting for me there. "Gotcha, ten-four good buddy, and out," I said aloud, but what I was really thinking was, "You’re outta yer God damn mind, Jack".
The cards must have been in our favor, because Langtry was still sleeping on that December morning. We executed our plan flawlessly. The man at the gas station only asked how long I’d been waiting, and I replied "‘bout half n’ hour. Got a gal named Rose livin’ over yonder in San Antonio, don’t want to keep her waiting, if you catch my drift." He filled it up and cleaned the windshield without saying another word, and I was back on the road again. As I approached the edge of town I saw Lewis coming over a little hill with a duffel bag, he apparently had seen me coming too, so I slowed down, and stopped, until he hopped into the car. "It’s all here Slim, Glory Hallaluya," Lewis screamed out. "Well, I’ll be damned," I responded, and then we sped off again, making our way down to Del Rio to take refuge in a Best Western Motel, to get some shut-eye, and general R&R, before crossing the Rio Grande.
Del Rio was established at the southern end of a large reservoir, which made it an ideal place to take safe harbor, or a ‘port in the storm’ as pirates used to say. We had been on the go for five days, and finally there was some time to kick back and relax. We ate and drank like kings for three days before making our way towards Laredo, and the border of Mexico. In Laredo, Lewis was attracted to a big box guitar he saw in a pawn shop, so he sat down and tried it out, strumming a few chords, and singing something by Willie Nelson, "Cowboys —— ain’t easy to Love —— and —— they’re harder to hold". Telling me later that his intention was to fill the inside of it with the money from the attaché case which was still in the duffel bag. He also suggested that we should sell the Dart, adding that he would give me five times over what the auto dealer offered, and I cashed in at eighteen hundred dollars. I was rather well set up with enough funds for the time being, but had to discard the last of my unnecessary possessions, donating them to the Salvation Army, to travel light through Mexico, en route to Belize.
We crossed the border early in the evening without a problem, and caught the night train towards Orange Walk Town, via Monterrey, Tampico, Veracruz, through the land of Tabasco, the Yucatan, and finally making our last connection in Mexico at Chetumal, in Quintana Roo. From there we had to take a bus into Belize, however, we were dead-beat tired from two full days of riding the rails, and decided to get a room for the night. Lewis was on the path to realize one of his dreams, you could see it in his eyes. It was already in the cards that he would marry a pretty gal named Anita, though he had only seen a photograph. She was the youngest daughter of Rafael Sanchez, a Mexican from the Yucatan who hitched up with the daughter of an English sea merchant. Rafael was Jack’s ace-in-the-hole, someone who he could confide in as a trustworthy partner, with an advantage that he was bilingual, being that most of their business would be done with Spanish speaking scalawags.
Lewis had sent a telegram to Orange Walk before we left Laredo, announcing an estimated arrival, even though we knew better than to trust the Mexican train schedules. Finally, we pulled into our final destination nearly three days after we crossed the border, and I had noticed two boys running around to all the gringos at the station, tugging on shirt tails, asking questions very excitedly. Then, they made their way over to me, "Hey Mister, are you Jack Lewis?" said the older of the two boys in a very peculiar dialect. He was maybe twelve, tall and skinny, with big brown eyes, and it must have been his younger brother with him, because they had similar features. "No", I answered, "why are you looking for a man named Jack Lewis?" "My uncle Rafael has sent us here to fetch him when he gets to town, he is too busy to wait here himself." "Oh! Well, in that case, you see that man over there at the ice cream vendor? That’s the one you are looking for, and maybe if you hurry over there he’ll buy you a treat, too." They quickly scampered over to Lewis, and poked him on the arm with their fingers to get his attention before inquiring. At last, Mission: Accomplished! After the cones were devoured, we flagged down a taxi, and the older boy gave the driver directions. As we cruised through Orange Walk for the first time I had a good feeling, the sun was shinning, and people were smiling, but the neighborhoods we went through seemed relatively poverty stricken. The taxi eventually took a left onto a little dirt road, and after a half mile or so we descended upon a nice ranch house, that just so happened to be decorated with flowers strung across the porch. The kids jumped out immediately, and I grabbed the stuff from the trunk, as Lewis paid the taxi driver with a healthy tip included into his fare.
It was a week before Christmas, but you would have never known it, because the thermometer read 72° at high noon. When we were greeted, first by Anita and her mother, Lewis had his trap door hanging wide open, ready to catch some flies upon meeting Anita’s eyes for the first time. Things were already looking like paradise. They led us through the kitchen, and we could smell something with cilantro cooking away in a big kettle on the stove. They informed us that Rafael, and some others, were in the back preparing a barbecue pit, so we wandered out to say hello. "We thought you might have arrived late last night, but we had planned the festivities for today," said Rafael as he hugged Lewis, and continued. "We are just about to put a deer over the fire. Would you like some coffee? It’s Guatemalan!" Then he held out his hand to me, and I introduced myself, "Hi Rafael, I’m Slim." He replied with his warm handshake, "My house – is your house. Make yourself feel at home." He asked us if we wanted something from the liquor cabinet, but we took him up on his first offer, and the coffee was delicious. Lewis couldn’t keep his eyes off Anita, and you could see that she was blushing beneath her natural, light brown skin. "What more could a man want?" I said quietly to myself, and Rafael smiled at me with his eyes as if he knew what I was thinking.
That evening Lewis met one of Rafael’s distant cousins who had gone bankrupt, and was seriously in debt. He had an old hotel in town, but he had apparently run it into the ground, so it was in desperate need of repair, to say the least. After they had their meeting, Lewis called me over to the side and gave me the low-down. "Slim, I’m gonna buy a hotel, the man wants forty-eight grand, but I wanna give him fifty," said Lewis. "Well, that’s mighty big of you," I said in return. "How you feel ‘bout being an investor... podner?" He asked in a country drawl. I agreed, naturally. After all, he had given me most of the money in the first place, so I made my initial investment with five thousand dollars, cash on the barrel-head. 10% of Hotel Oasis would secure my living situation for an indefinite period of time, with the freedom to come and go as I pleased, Carte Blanc, providing we didn’t go bankrupt, or something.
The Oasis became an obsession with Lewis, and being roped into this deal we ended up spending most of our time working on restoring the wreck, because it was our baby now, taking great pride in pepping it up. We hired a few of the locals to do some of the dirty work, but paid them well, and this in turn worked in our favor to create a good vibe in the community. Lewis had an architectural plan which would temporarily turn Orange Walk upside-down: Sculptured gardens, with a mini-golf course; a card room; swimming pool; and a small ballroom for dancing to live music every Friday and Saturday night. Not to mention the bar, which specialized in rum, and a grill that leaned towards fish and chicken.
A week before the Grand Opening, Anita and Lewis were to be married, and practically half of Orange Walk was invited. Anita was already two months pregnant, due to their premature honeymoon, and although nobody said anything, I think just about everybody knew it. The gossip moved like wildfire, but Lewis was exhibiting a dream exercise, and Orange Walk was his witness. At the wedding many families made their contributions with food and beverages, and three large tables were full of gifts for the newlyweds. A local band called Mountain Magic provided the musical entertainment. They had an accordion player who was somewhat a legend in the area, and when he played a solo everybody listened, like some kind of aural magnet, you were sucked into his sound. It was as if his music stopped the movement of time, and everything that revolved around it. The reception itself was one of the most colorful and thrilling occasions in my life. Everyone was dancing, or mingled joyously, with sunshine radiating off all the faces present, and teeth casting reflections of happiness. It seemed like a perfect omen – Lewis had captured their hearts.
After the wedding, Lewis and I didn’t spend that much time together except to work around the hotel. He had too many family responsibilities, and there was always something going on behind the scenes - you could smell it! He often excused himself by saying there was something important to do, there was always something, as far as his interests were concerned. He preferred that I should remain free from those ordeals, which suited me fine, but in the end it paid off, because when he profited, I reaped some of the benefits.
The work at hand had kept me pretty occupied, and I hadn’t realized how the time had flown by until the day I received a postcard from Hillie. She said that she had succeeded in her studies, and was merited with the highest standing in her class when given her diploma. Coincidentally, this had opened a door directly to a teaching job in Hamburg, and she accepted the offer. However, before she was willing to pledge her nose to the grindstone, she wanted to come and see me! "I’ll be damned", I said to myself, "guess it’s time to do some housework." Lewis had given me the go-ahead to make the old storage shed that was out behind the hotel, and free from the pedestrian traffic of our guests, into my little abode, but I didn’t really find the time to spice it up. So, now was good as time as any to make things spic-and-span. I spent the next two weeks scrubbing the floor, painting the walls, and hired some women in town to make some nice curtains for the windows. I bought a new refrigerator, because the relic I had couldn’t keep the beer cold enough, at least to what I was accustomed to back home, though the locals didn’t seem to mind it that way. Then, I bartered for some new linen sheets, and a Guatemalan blanket at the street market with some fish that I caught one morning. Everything was beginning to look in shipshape a week before she was due to arrive at the airport in the city of Belize. I was getting so excited that I had trouble sleeping at night. Sometimes waking up in a cold sweat, dreaming about peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which I use to have a craving for from time to time, or hearing the melody and lyrics to a Cab Calloway tune: "Hey Man, I heard somebody say. It’s Minnie the Moochers’ wedding day". This got me to thinking, let me tell you! Seeing the new transformations that entered into Lewis’ life, not only dealing with the hotel, but because Anita couldn’t hide the fact that she was pregnant any longer, and he seemed more nervous than his usual self. Maybe he wasn’t quite ready to accept this new paternal role on the horizon, and the upcoming responsibilities he was faced with, being a free spirit at heart. I flashed back to thinking about Hubbard. He always said, "Keep ‘em barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen", which made me a little more restless, remembering that Hillie would be showing up soon.
Lewis and I had thrown some money into an old ‘54 Willys’ jeep, and put quite a bit of time and energy getting it running good again. It was the perfect set of wheels for the surrounding terrain. Having a 4-wheel drive was essential, especially after a heavy rain, because some roads could get washed out, and without it you could get stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Three days before Hillie was flying in, I asked Lewis if we could paint the jeep, so it looked a little special. He said he didn’t have time, but I could do what I wanted, as long as it wasn’t to weird for the natives. We were constantly getting too much attention, and wanted to find a way to camouflage ourselves, or better yet, become invisible, because everywhere we went people stared at us. So, I ended up painting it beige, it looked good enough for government work, and when Hillie first saw it, she asked me if it was new. "No," I said, "it’s about the same age as I am", with a big smile on my face. It was great to see her again, like an angel descending from heaven, to take a little ride on the wild side. We were both very anxious to hear each others stories as we left the airport, we talked and talked, and before I knew it we were pulling into Orange Walk. Hillie was exhausted though, so I took her around to the side of the hotel where my pad was, opened the door, and she flopped on the bed almost immediately, asking me to join her. "Would you like a beer?" I asked. "Yes, please," she answered, "and could you close those nice curtains? It is too bright in here!"
Neither of us left the hideaway until noon the next day, this was only just the beginning of a long, and very romantic episode for a Hollywood movie. We spent most of her first days over at the coast, hanging out on the beach, because that is what she really liked most, just sunbathing, and kissing in the sand. In the afternoon, the sun would usually be scorching, so we visited different little restaurant huts made out of coconut trees and bamboo, which served fresh seafood, to get out of the sun for a couple of hours before jumping back in the water again. It was always a playful outing, but we weren’t getting enough rest, plus Hillie demanded a lot of attention. After dancing one night to the Mountain Magic band at the Oasis, she said she didn’t want to go to the beach the following day, but would rather hang around the hotel to spend some hours in the garden, to make some sketches from the landscaping that Lewis and I had created. I was flattered, but Lewis deserved most of the credit, it was something he brought back with him from when he was stationed in Japan, serving in the military. He had his sensibilities, and I had mine, so with a few arguments, a lot of sweat, and a little blood, we made a pretty good go of it, if I don’t say so myself.
Two days later, Hillie and I got cabin fever, and decided to take the jeep on a sightseeing tour of some Mayan ruins that were in the area. The first day-trip was in a southern part of Belize, a place called Lubaantun, near Punta Gorda, where we had dinner, before returning to Orange Walk in the twilight. The second excursion was over the Guatemalan border, to Tikal, which wasn’t too far away either, so we were back at the Oasis to watch the sunset. We ate barbecued chicken, and had a bottle of white wine, before going back to my digs for some R & R. On the third trip we decided to go north, up into Mexico, taking our time along the eastern seaboard, where there were lots of nice spots to swim. This journey was to include Tulum, the only Mayan temple that overlooked the coastline, and then on to Merida before nightfall. However, not long after we had been at one of the beaches, Hillie started getting a case of the runs, in other words, Montezuma’s revenge! Now, Montezuma was the emperor of the Aztec nation by the time Christopher Columbus sailed his last voyage to the New World, though it was actually the other way around, being that the great civilizations in Central America were there long before the nations of Europe had advanced enough to figure out that the earth was not flat, but round. Moreover, the Aztecs had been considered to be barbarians at one point in time, a few centuries earlier. It was first the Toltecs which laid down the influential ground work that established their way of life, but more importantly, their spiritual beliefs and practices throughout this part of the world. That is, until the dreadful day when the Aztecs came down from the mountains, wreaking havoc upon the Toltecs. The Mayans somehow survived, at least until Cortez sailed over to kick Montezuma’s ass, and anything else that moved. Anyway, while Hillie was off trying to find some toilet paper, I had the time to solve this riddle, Montezuma’s Revenge? I had the same problem a few times after Lewis and I had set foot into Orange Walk, and it can happen to anybody. Nonetheless, Hillie decided she would rather retreat back to the hotel again, if possible, before it was too late. I put the pedal to the metal, and the ‘54 Willy’s catapulted itself, once again towards the Oasis. When we pulled into the hotel, the radiator hose blew, so the jeep created a little smoke screen for those who were dinning just inside the restaurant. It was like a classic scene from a black and white film by Jean-Luc Godard.
We were both exhausted, and Hillie wasn’t talking much. A knock came upon my door, and Lewis was standing there, greeting Hillie, but up until now he had pretty much left us to ourselves, so we could have quality time together. "Slim, can I talk to you in private for a minute?" He said. "Sure, man." I replied, and then turned to Hillie to say I would be back in a few minutes. Lewis and I walked outside, and he said, "Houston, we have a problem!" I looked at him and realized he wasn’t joking, it was the first time since we had been there that he had given me that look, so I said, "What’s up?" "The shit is about to hit the fan, man! I just got word from somebody up in Merida, that a couple of dudes have been snooping around, and asking about me. An innocent bartender, if there ever was one, told him I was running a hotel down here. Well, I’m supposin’ it’s some of those guys from Florida, and they’ll be on their way down here to fuck me up, one way or another. I can only suggest that you and Hillie high-tail it out of here, the sooner the better. I need the jeep though, so you’ll have to take the bus." He said, summing it up. "Great!" I said cynically. "Hillie has diarrhea, not to mention real tired, plain and simple!" I concluded, while handing him the keys. "Well, I can only recommend that you get this through your head! It’s not going to be safe for you two hanging around here", Lewis said sternly, and finished up with what he had come to tell me, "Think of an alternative where it might be good for the both of you, before it gets embarrassing, or ugly for that matter. I’m giving you ample warning, so don’t take any unnecessary risks, and if you smell a rat, don’t look back!"
All of a sudden, my head went into a tailspin. I had to think fast, because it seemed like I had to come up with some kind of heroic maneuver, and keep it secretly to myself, simultaneously. Upon rejoining Hillie, I proposed that we should fly over to Kingston, Jamaica for a few days, offering to pay for everything, before she had to catch her flight back to Europe. She liked the idea, but needed to rest up a little first. The next day I reserved two tickets to Jamaica, although we had to wait a couple days before we could fly. I was getting more and more tense by the minute, watching the sands in the hour glass. Hillie, however, was an angel, and somehow we were being guided by the light. Glory Hallaluya! On Jamaica everything went better than we could have expected. We played volleyball in the sand with some rastafarians, who were smoking real big joints, and flattering Hillie all the time. We danced in the discos at night, and made love by moonlight, until the day we flew back to the city of Belize, so she could catch her plane. Once again, it was sad to be parting, but before Hillie boarded the airplane, she invited me to come to Hamburg to stay with her, and making it clear that she wasn’t going to wait around forever. I told her it might be sooner than she thinks, and she smiled with big tears running down her cheek. I gave her a big hug and a kiss before we waved our good-byes, and as she disappeared I said to myself out-loud, "How sweet it is!"
On the bus back to the Oasis I read from the newspaper headlines across the aisle to my right- Orange Walk Hotel Burns Down. All of a sudden I got real nervous again, after managing to forget about the whole thing. Lewis’ premonition had been on the money, the shit hit the fan! Arriving in Orange Walk, I directly went to the hotel to check-out the aftermath. Only one wing of it was still standing, but the rest had gone up in flames. Fortunately, my room had enough distance from the remains not to have gone up in smoke, too. I tried to track down Lewis, but he was no where to be found. I went over to where Lewis and Anita had been living, but to no avail. So, I called Rafael, he said Anita was there with them, and that Lewis took the jeep, though he didn’t know where he had gone, or he wasn’t about reveal any information concerning his whereabouts. It was probably just as well to be left in the dark, so I returned once again to what was left of the hotel and gathered up some belongings, i.e., my saxophone and the cash that I had stashed away. From there I headed once again to the bus station to buy a ticket to Mexico City, and catch the first possible flight back to Seattle. When the bus pulled out of town I caught myself reminiscing on how all of our designing efforts, and back breaking labor had all been in vain. It was especially sad to see Lewis’ dream end up in the dust and ashes, it was just too good to be true. As far as I was concerned, it was fun while it lasted, even though I sweated through most of the winter and spring turning the Hotel Oasis into a local attraction that was just getting off the ground.
By the time I landed back in the Pacific Northwest, I had come to grips with working in the orchards for two months, before flying off to Hamburg to live with Hillie. Meanwhile, it was great being in Seattle again, with thousands of thoughts running through my head I decided to find a place down in Pioneer Square to spend a couple of days to check out the scene. In the evening there was some jazz coming from across the street, so I went over to see who was playing. Upon entering the club I read ‘Bert Wilson and Rebirth’ on the marquis, they were playing Donna Lee as I made my way over to a table, and I was amazed with what was coming out of this guys’ horn. They stormed through the whole set, tune after tune. This is what I had been missing living in Orange Walk, and it was a reminder to get serious about music again.
On my way to central Oregon, to pick Golden Delicious apples, I stopped in to see Noy. He had been Tuna fishing out in the Pacific Ocean, pulling in a fat one himself, and so he was tickled to tears, grinning from ear to ear when I saw him. "Hey Slim, take a look at this photo", he said as he handed me a Polaroid snapshot. "Damn, Noy! It’s nearly as big as you are! How long did it take to reel that puppy in?" I retaliated, sharing in his excitement. He lifted his arms, animating how fast and easy it was, and said, "Like greased lightning, Slim. Greased Lightning!" Then he let out a big laugh, slapping his knee, and finalized it with, "Shit be boogers!" A moment later he changed the subject, and solemnly said, while taking a deep breath, "Hubbard has been admitted into a V.A. hospital back in Kentucky, about two months ago. They don’t know if it has something to do with Agent Orange, or because he loved to get into fights just to stretch his muscles. He was complaining about headaches for quite a while, until finally he went to see a doctor, and now they are running tests on him in Louisville." "Sorry to hear that about Hub," I said softly, "he was dealt a lot of bad cards over the years, but he always came through everything alright, thick or thin." We talked on and on for a few hours, drinking beer after beer until Noy stood up and said, "Oh! By the way, before I forget. That guy from Sugar Daddy Records in Belgium called again, his address and phone number are over there on the table, next to the lamp. I’m gonna hit the hay, Slim See you in the morning." "Goodnight!" I said, while walking over to look at the message, and thought things might be falling into place for me over in Europe, but first I had to get through the harvest.
The first two days of picking were very hot, and the second day is always the worst! I hadn’t realized how tired I was, until reaching into the medicine cabinet, pulling out a bottle of Tennessee Sour Mash whiskey, and taking a big swig. There was no better way to sooth the pain, at least in the mind of this migrant worker. I went to bed early that evening, and woke up feeling a little num. "The day is still young", thinking to myself, as I downed a couple of aspirin with a big glass of water. Dragging my feet, I set out towards the orchard again to find the place where I had left off from the day before, and started to pick just as some crows cawed in the neighboring field, almost like laughter. It seemed like a strange morning anyway, somehow, and I was startled when the foreman was standing at the foot of my ladder without knowing he was there, greeting me with, "Good morning, Slim. We got a new picker. He came in late last night. I put him on the row next to you, and he is moving along pretty good, even though he has only one eye. You probably noticed that the next line is loaded, so you will have to speed it up if you want to be in the gravy tomorrow." I looked back over my shoulder, and could see a guy in a large straw hat, with a patch over his left eye, at the beginning of the row next to mine. I worked as fast as I could under the circumstances, but he was gaining on me, so I turned on the after-burners, and still he was closing in. I was sweating out the whiskey from the night before, and then, out of the blue came a heavy nasal voice, "Ooooohhh llaaaaaahhh, aaahh Mmeee go!" I turned around, and there was Lewis with a big smile on his face, standing in the morning sunlight. "Jack Lewis", I yelped, even surprising myself. "How the hell did you get here?" I whined, "and... what happened to your eye?" "I don’t want to bore you with the details, but it is not as bad as it seems, I can still see. Besides, if you think I look bad, you should see the other guy!" He replied. "Can I take a look at it?" I inquired naively, and then Lewis lifted his patch. "God! That looks like it hurts. You kinda remind me of a Picasso." I concluded in astonishment. "Yeah? Shudda seen it last week, a knot as big as a golf ball!" He said, and went on, "It’s just that less people stare at me if I am wearing the patch. Maybe they feel sorry for me, or something? I dunno." He took a big drink of water from his U.S. Army canteen, and wiped his mouth before continuing again. "Anyway, in answer to your first question, I’m goin’ back to Orange Walk after the harvest. Anita is due to have the baby in mid-November, and I wanna be there when she does. And... sold the Oasis, what’s left of it anyway, to Rafael for dirt cheap, with the stipulation that you still control 10%. You paid your dues! You probably got some other things brewing now, but you’re always welcome. In the meantime, it’s better to lay low, you know, ‘outta sight – outta mind’. Rafael will keep an eye on everything while I am gone, the Oasis isn’t out of the picture yet."
Lewis went back to work, and I watched him climb his ladder to pick again, he always took two in each hand. Why only put one apple in, when you can take two, or even three, if they’re small? He used to tell me, ‘it’s better to start at the top and work down, than to bottom out the tree first, because after you pick what you can reach from the ground, there is too much time wasted running around, up and down the ladder, to fill the bag with the leftovers’. That was one of my weaknesses being I had long arms, but now that Lewis was there it prompted me into following his example. I wanted to be on that next row of apples, but he was one of those super tramps, like Coalburner, a pickin’ machine. Then, he started to sing, "I’ve been six days on the road, and gonna make it home tonight", as he emptied another bag into his bin. Sure enough, he finally passed me up, but when he had only one tree left on his line, he came over to help me finish mine, just as the sun started to set in the western sky near Mt. Hood. It was the perfect setting for a picturesque postcard. "Thanks for helping me knock out my row, Lewis." I said, and then added, "Whaddaya say? Let’s hit the road, drinks are on me tonight!"
The crows started to caw again, this time in the poplar trees at the edge of the orchard, as we laid our ladders underneath a tree, and started back to the camp. A wind came down from the canyon, blowing a few leaves to the ground as Lewis picked an apple, and took a bite out of it. He slapped me on the back, with a little smile on his face, kind of laughing under his hat, and said, "Slim, from one fruit tramp to another, here’s a word to the wise: It’s better to fly with the eagles, than to hoot with the owls!" Then, Jack stared into my eyes with his one, until suddenly, he peeled off his eye-patch, as he began to sprint down the slope towards the trailer camp, holding onto his hat, and yelling over his shoulder, "Last one down gets a cold shower!" It took a second for it to sink in, and then the next thing I knew was that my long legs were racing after him, thinking out-loud to myself, "Here we go again!"
A Personal Note from the Author
Growing up in one of the most productive agricultural regions in Central Washington, of all the God forsaken places, there was always farm work available. In this neck of the woods, when I was a teenager, it was considered to be the Apple Capitol of the World, there were more apple trees per square mile than anywhere else on the planet, maybe even still today. Practically everyone had an apple tree in their yard. Golf courses were landscaped with apple trees, and at harvest time, just about everywhere you looked, you could see apples, even in the middle of the night.
When I was in the 9th grade at West Valley High , we had two days off from school in the early autumn to go out and pick apples if we wanted, because pickers were needed to haul in the harvest. So, I went with two of my classmates, Rick Rousso and Charles Berg, to work in the orchard for the first time. Back then they used 16-foot wooden ladders, because the trees were enormous, and aluminum was not yet in fashion. I don’t know which was more difficult, to move the ladder, or to try to stand on top of it to pick an apple. At that time, they paid six dollars for a bin of apples, which is about 850 lbs. of fruit, and the three of us together picked two bins, totaling out to twelve bucks to be split three ways. I will have to admit that we threw a lot of apples at each other to break up the monotony, and general frustration from the work at hand, but after that I never picked apples again for years. That is, until the day came where I needed to earn some money, and quick. There were many signs posted throughout the valley that season, "Pickers Wanted", and so I decided to give it a second try, making about $25, in a nine hour day, at the beginning, but averaged around $40 by the end of the season. The price per bin had gone up only fifty cents over a period of about ten years, due to the infiltration of the Mexican agricultural work force, which kept the wage controlled, and minimized. It was the beginning of the end for a dying breed, the professional fruit tramp, because inflation was hitting hard, good paid jobs weren’t easy to find, and the competition was getting tougher all the time. I returned nearly every season for the following fifteen years, witnessing new trends in the growing technology, and the domination of Mexicans in the field. The farmers eventually preferred them, because they worked hard, and never complained. Besides, they worked for less money, therefore, allowing the farmers to increase their profits. However, this made many of the white professionals angry, the price per bin has now only doubled in the last 30 years, whereas, the price of gas and cigarettes have been multiplied by about 7.
I met people from all walks of life: gamblers; gold-diggers; poets; musicians; philosophers; religious fanatics; retired corporate executives that were gypsies at heart; and some intelligent drunks that liked to play chess. Every year I got a little faster, eventually bringing in over a hundred dollars a day on the average in an eight hour day. The last time out, I was in one of the only "picker’s paradise" that I know of. It is on the Columbia River, south of a truck stop called Vantage, and 20 miles from the nearest grocery store. Before the white man came into this territory, it was one of the hunting grounds for the Indians during the winter, and many artifacts have been found there in the riverbed. It has the perfect micro-climate to grow apples, however, the property adjacent to the orchard is owned by the U.S. government, and the military is constantly running ‘war games’ in the area. Sometimes, even the helicopters flew over us while we were picking, as if we were the enemy.
Once upon a fateful day, one of the foremen was wondering how I could be out picking one of his Mexican aces, being he was also Mexican, so he came by to inspect my work. Now, when someone dips down into your bin and finds four bruised apples he will give you a warning, and if you get three warnings in a day they will either tell you to go home and get some rest, or fire you on the spot. The foreman carefully laid an apple on each corner of my bin, and said I was bruising the apples. I picked up one of the apples that he had set out as evidence, and looked at it. There was a dark spot on it, and I used my fingernail to scrape the peel of the apple to show him that it was already brown underneath the skin, and that it was not possible for it to turn that brown in the last ten minutes. The apples were so ripe that they were bruised in the tree from the wind, knocking against each other. In this moment, something strange overwhelmed me, and my temper flared. I threw the apple to the ground, telling the foreman that I quit, went to the office to get my pay check, and packed up my car and left. Needless to say, I haven’t picked apples since, though I think about it from time to time.
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