Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When the road was sometimes longer than the love (Part Two)

I can't remember the name of the truck stop at the intersection of I-80 and I-35, but they laid on the bacon and eggs and homefries and coffee in a manner that was intended to keep you coming back. We needed a good breakfast, after a night of switching off driving in pairs and sleeping in the back of the station wagon in pairs.

Ina had not been interested in entertaining any snoopy truck drivers who might pass us by on the highway, but we still hadn't gotten a whole lot of sleep back there. It turned out she wasn't that interested in entertaining me, either, but don't let's get ahead of ourselves here. She was still a very good snuggler and we needed the coffee. 

Des Moines is southwest of Waterloo and Independence is about 25 miles northeast of Waterloo and another 40 miles south of Wadena. And, since it was also where Dean's parents lived, Independence was a good place to stop after our all-night drive from Boulder.

His little sister was extremely jealous as we freshened up and made ready to head out to the rock festival. The concert had been all over local media and she was old enough to want to go but not old enough to do it without her parents' permission, which certainly wasn't going to happen.

My memory of driving through the tangle of local roads to Wadena is that the Three Dog Night song "Mama Told Me Not To Come" was in extremely heavy rotation on the local radio stations.What I can't remember is why we didn't throw in a tape; my car was outfitted with a cassette player, which was cutting edge technology in an age when 8-Traks were just getting up to speed. I suppose we were making sure there weren't any warnings about road closures on the local stations.

Traffic wasn't bad at all, and, in fact, we parked quite near the farm where the concert was going on. Ina and I set up a blanket on the hill overlooking the stage, while Dean and Linda pitched a lean-to farther back at the edge of the woods. I don't think we had brought anything other than bedding, and little of that -- we assumed food and drink would be available on site. We assumed wrong, as it turned out, but we had the first 12 hours or so covered in that respect, since we didn't expect to be particularly hungry or sleepy for awhile, but did expect the music to sound extra nice.

And the music was rather good -- mostly B-list, but very high on the B-list. No Doors or Stones or Airplane, but the line-up did include Johnny Winter, Leon Russell, Savoy Brown, Rotary Connection, Little Richard, Poco, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Everly Brothers, the Sons of Champlin, Joan Baez, REO Speedwagon, Lee Michaels, Ian and Silvia and the Great Speckled Bird, Albert King, Mason Profit, Illinois Speed Press, the Chambers Brothers, the Doobie Brothers and the Siegal-Schwall Band. There are some real memories in those names, though I have to admit we were building memories in random snatches at the moment.

Let me explain something about rivers, rock festivals and nudity. I suspect that Scorsese and the gang did some pretty selective editing at Bethel the summer before, or else East Coast girls are a lot more uninhibited than Midwestern girls. Which I know is not the case. The Volga river -- the one in Iowa, that is -- is shallow and warm and very inviting, but the only naked people in it were 19-year-old boys, which, when you think about it, is hardly surprising. There was one very tripped-out couple walking naked in the river, but they were so odd that they hardly counted. At least when we were down there, the girls were in cutoffs and bikini tops and I would have seen a lot more nudity if I'd stayed home in Boulder.

Being a 20-year-old boy, I was content to sit back and be with the statuesque girl with the auburn braids, headband, bikini top and tan body that everyone else was looking at. Dr. Hook aside, there is something odd about being out with a genuinely beautiful woman, because, on the one hand, you're too cool to consider it a reflection on yourself, and, on the other hand, you're too human not to. Everybody wanted to talk to Ina, but she was with me, man.

Even when some people from Wadena came in to check out the scene, they managed to pick their way through the 30,000 people on the hill and hunker down at our blanket to ask Ina what it was all about, and she was happy to tell them and we had a nice conversation with some farmers who were very amused by the whole thing and were playing up their rube roots to comical effect: "Hey, ain't that one of them Mexican ceeg-arettes?" one of them gasped in mock horror, and there was plenty to be horrified about, if that's what you wanted, but they didn't, particularly. They talked to Ina for awhile, listened to a little music and then scored some weed and went back home to report on the strange goings on.

Meanwhile, as we stretched into the second day, we were finding that the beverages available appeared to be the muddy water of the Volga or else quarts of Boone's Farm Apple Wine, neither of which were what you really wanted for rehydration in the middle of a sunny hayfield. There was some chicken being cooked, or partially cooked, but the lines were long, and I can't really remember what we did once we got to the point where we began to be hungry.

However, the third day took care of itself, because that morning Ina announced that she needed to go home, because her boyfriend was arriving back in Boulder from wherever the hell he had been. Since I didn't know he existed, it is understandable that I also didn't know where the hell he had been. What I did know was that there was considerable music yet to be played and also that I suddenly was hanging out with somebody else's girlfriend, and had been for the past two and a half days, which made a lot more sense than her maidenly protestations about truck drivers and others around us on the hillside and suchlike modest impediments to true love or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Dean and Linda weren't that pleased to be leaving early, except that the lack of food and drink was starting to have an effect and two days of music is, after all, quite a bit of music. So we gathered up our gear and went back to the car and drove to Dean's parents' house. The car wasn't air-conditioned, but it was plenty cool enough in the front seat where Ina and I were sitting.

I was miffed about the whole undisclosed-boyfriend thing, and she was upset over the whole criticizing-the-beautiful-girl thing. And we were 875 miles from being able to simply walk away from each other.

We got back to Dean's and showered, and Ina came out in a black halter-top cocktail dress and full warpaint. The rest of us, even Linda, were in jeans and T-shirts, and there she was doing a credible impression of what you might get if you crossed Ginger Grant from "Gilligan's Island" with Lisa Douglas from "Green Acres." She looked terrific, but, at that point, all I could do was wonder what kind of dumbass would bring a stupid cocktail dress and all that make-up to a rock festival in the middle of a cornfield?

Dean had decided to let us go on ahead so that he could spend some time with his family, which was a good idea in that it got him out of what was now a very crowded car, but a bad idea in that his father read him the riot act over rock-and-roll and long hair, which led to him leaving the house, putting out his thumb and actually beating us back to Boulder by several hours.

This is probably because his rides didn't run into an abandoned spare tire under a swooping underpass in a driving rain in Omaha on a Sunday night when the garages were all closed and spin out into a ditch whereupon he was told by the pretty girl in the cocktail dress what an idiot he was. I've got to say, it's pretty amazing that Linda didn't get out and start hitching. If it hadn't been my car, I sure wouldn't have stayed for the rest of the ride.

But it was my car, and I got it out of the ditch and we did alright, even though Ina picked up the smelly hitchhiker in the buckskin clothes with the monkey and then, while I was napping, proceeded to take I-80 North towards Cheyenne instead of I-80 South towards Denver. As I recall, the resulting exchange was something to the effect of "Boulder is north of Denver," followed by, "Yes, but it's not in fucking Wyoming."

By the time we got back to the correct state, Ina -- who had joyfully sung along with me on the eastbound trip -- now sharply asked if I had any goddam tapes of songs to which I did not know the goddam lyrics, in response to which I put on Bizet and proceeded to do the "L'Arlesienne Suite" in "bom-bom-BOM-ba-bum-ba-bum-bum-bum" fashion.

I would have played the side of the tape with highlights from "Carmen," but there was a knife in the car and I didn't want either of us to get any ideas.

We got back to Boulder, I dropped her off at her apartment, dropped Linda off at her apartment and then went back to the house where all the people who had previously said, "So, you're taking Ina?" and then smiled, now asked, "So how was your date with Ina?" and began laughing even before they heard the details.

Three months later I took a much nicer girl a much shorter distance and finally got to hear Poco, who had played at Wadena, but only after we had left. When we got home from the concert, we discovered that someone had gone into my apartment and stolen my ... but never mind. It's a long story full of police and airports and construction workers and car chases and it's late.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

When the road was sometimes longer than the love

Creamcheese didn't get to come to the Wadena Rock Festival, 40 years ago. But we had one hell of a great summer anyway.

Creamie belonged to my girlfriend from the summer of 1969. We had broken up in typical 19-year-old fashion: She took up with my roommate, and disregarded the old folk tune, "Tis best to be off with the old love, before you have on with the new."

It was a spectacular break up in which everyone behaved badly, me no better and perhaps worse than some others. As one of the collateral damage people remarked to me, with no little bitterness, "You could have come out of this with everyone's sympathy ... "

But I didn't, because nobody is that self-contained at 19. And a few weeks after the dust had settled, my now very-much-ex called to say that she couldn't keep her dog on campus and her (new) boyfriend couldn't keep him either because he wasn't a real man. She didn't phrase it quite like that.

In any case, I ended up with Creamcheese as a roommate, and he was a great guy. She'd gotten Creamie from the boyfriend before me, down in Clearwater, Florida, which is where he lived. But when they broke up, she demanded, and received, the dog, and so he ended up in South Bend, Indiana, and then he ended up living with me. Creamie was a great dog, in no small part because he had survived being named "Suzie Creamcheese" by college students who weren't sure how to roll a dog over and examine the evidence.

So Creamie lived with me throughout my junior year, and a very good year it was. And so, at the end of the 1969-70 school year, I called my by-then-long-ex several times, to find out when she wanted to accept custody of the dog. And she didn't return my calls, so, when I was ready to pack up and head out to Boulder for the summer, I said to Creamcheese, "Get in." And, behold, he did, and we drove out to Boulder for a writer's conference at the University and had a great summer.

On our way to Boulder, we picked up two guys who were hitching to Oakland, California. One of them had just completed his masters in marine biology diving for brain coral off the coast of Aruba, and the other had just shot Tricia Nixon for a photo layout in Ladies Home Journal. And none of it seemed strange, in that era. If you weren't there, it's impossible to explain. If you were, it's unnecessary. Onward.

So we got out to Boulder and the two hitchers hung around for a few days and then continued their quest to Oakland and I tried to figure out what to do next. I had about 10 days before the writer's conference began and didn't want to spend it sleeping next to the car, so I found a house with a great many very friendly people, because that was how Boulder was.

It was not a commune. Communes had philosophies. What we had was ... well, not a philosophy, except to the extent that having a good time is a philosophy. Which it isn't. Which we knew. So we referred to ourselves as "a house" and not "a commune."

And, behold, it was a blast.

At some point in all this, I went off to the University of Colorado for my writer's workshop, and I was something of a curiosity, but I survived it but spent most of my nights back at the house, because the dorm room at CU was a little strange, with a roommmate who kept calling his wife to tell her how it was going. It was fine, man.

And I went out a few times with Annie, who had lived in the basement apartment at the house before I showed up, and who was gorgeous and militant and under active FBI surveillance, and who insisted on splitting the bill down the middle, though, I have to say, she was willing to let one person pick up the meal and another person pick up the movie.

We did a fundraiser for the striking farmworkers in the San Luis Valley one night, when poet Denise Levertov was doing a reading for the community. Denise, who was a lecturer at the workshop, was very supportive. But we couldn't make love because Annie had "the Revolutionary Clap" which she had gotten from a Black Panther, and which she was taking medication for, but had to abstain from everything for a few weeks.

Later, she joined the Weather Underground and left Boulder with a load of explosives. Some time later, I found out that the fool who gave her the clap was a poseur who was no more a Black Panther than I was.


It became clear that Annie was far more political than I was, and I was far more apolitical than she was. I called her my Maude Gonne while I was poor Willie Yeats, but, in any case. we moved on with genuine regret. And somehow, I met Ina through her. Which is strange, because Ina was hardly in Annie's flow. But that was the Sixties, where friendships overlapped political lines.

So I ended up asking Ina to go with me to the Wadena Rock Festival, which took place between August 1 and 3, 1970.

Ina was stunning. She had auburn -- not red, but auburn -- hair, and was probably 5'8", with broad shoulders and the accoutrements thereof, and high cheekbones with a light scattering of freckles. Ina was a babe and a half. And everyone who heard I was taking Ina to the rock festival was somewhat jealous.

Which is to say, they said, "Oh, you're taking Ina?" and then kind of chuckled and gently backed away. Okay, "jealous" might not be the exact word here.

Let me be clear, however:  Ida was gorgeous. Whatever they thought of her, nobody ever disputed that she was gorgeous.

So Dean and Linda, and Ina and I, set off for Wadena, Iowa, leaving Creamcheese to sort out his own world in our absence.

Stay tuned. The story is far from being told.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A decade on, the bigots triumph

I was on my way to deliver some newspapers to a classroom on September 11, 2001, when I walked through the newsroom and saw everyone focused on the TV reports. At that point, the news was that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It was, of course, a tragedy, but a plane had hit the Empire State Building in 1945. These things happen.

I was in the car and about to pull out when the second plane hit and it became clear that Something Else was going on. My first thought was to help kids understand what had happened, and my second thought was "Dear God, anyone who wears a turban or hijab in the USA is in some deep shit right now."

We had just introduced a new educational feature, "Around the World with Nellie Bly," with a cartoon dog doing geography-in-the-news. It was normally a mid-sized feature, but I also had a full page feature that ran Mondays. I pulled that full page, and a version of this piece ran on September 17, less than a week after the attacks.

Then I made this version available to papers around the country, and around the world, and a little over a dozen took up the offer. I thought it was important that people realize that Islam is a very widespread and diverse religion. I wanted them to realize that there are Muslims who have never seen a camel, and who read Harry Potter and who drive Hondas.

Alas, nearly a decade later, the bigots and idiots have dominated the discussion. There is a debate over the construction of a mosque in New York City because it is near the WTC site. Fair enough, but the arguments against it are the arguments of morons. These people are idiots, with no understanding of a world beyond "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars."

This is a jpg but that's what the blogspot interface allows. If you'd like a higher res PDF, let me know. I'm not sure you can battle against what Aquinas called "Invincible Ignorance," but what choice do we have?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Another British visitor
(Colorado Springs Sun, June 20, 1982)

(I wrote this piece following a visit to Colorado by Princess Anne, which was the occasion of much excitement, including an article similar to this one which outlined the proper way we provincial cowboys should behave on the off-chance that we found ourselves face-to-face with herself. I thought I'd re-run it now in honor of her mother's visit to the colonies.)

Now that Princess Anne has left, some people think it's time to relax. Hardly!

If she were our princess, if we were still part of the United Kingdom, the hoopla surrounding her visit could now honorably die out. But since she isn't and we aren't, we are left in a bit of a quandary: We must either admit that we have been shamelessly groveling at the feet of someone paid $182,000 a year to represent a monarchy our forefathers died to banish from this soil, or we must extend the same warm welcome to every guest to this area.

Let's get down to the business of welcoming our next tourist:

Alfred George Rowles is a greengrocer from Hertford, Herts., England. He will be arriving at the Colorado Springs Airport, at 3:18 p.m. July 30.

There will be a brief ceremony at the baggage claim area, where Mr. Rowles (that is the form of address traditional in Britain) will present Miss Susan Van Zile with a set of British baggage check stubs. She will then thank him on behalf of the Colorado Springs Airport and he will proceed from the baggage claim area to the sidewalk.

There, Mr. Rowles will board a taxicab for the procession to the Dew Drop Inn motel, where he will be welcomed by reservations clerk James Sandoval and Mr. Sandoval's dog, Rusty. In a brief ceremony at the front desk, Mr. Rowles will sign an agreement formally marking his sojourn at the establishment, following which he will be presented with the key to his room.

Mr. Rowles will then proceed to his room, where he will participate in the hanging of the clothes bag and the airing of the suitcase, following by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the commode. This symbolic act commemorates the sanitizing of the facilities.

That evening, Mr. Rowles will be present at a dinner to be given at McDonald's at Wahsatch and Bijou. One hundred and seventy-five people are expected to attend.

He will then return to his motel room to rest from his journey and is expected to watch the television and have a small, private cocktail party. No guests from the community have been invited to this gathering.

There are certain rules to follow if you are introduced to Mr. Rowles. Upon meeting him, you should extend your hand for him to shake, or he may extend his first. It is not necessary to bow, bob, genuflect or put his foot upon your neck.

When first introduced, you may address him as "Mr. Rowles." He may respond, "Call me Alf," which then becomes the correct form of address. Only family and close friends are permitted to call Mr. Rowles "Alfie."

One traditional phrase which Americans may utilize in conversing with Mr. Rowles is: "Let's nip around the corner for a pint." Individuals in this case may initiate the conversation with Mr. Rowles, but should bear in mind that the "pint" in Britain consists of beer, ale, porter or stout. It is considered declasse to offer milk after the promise of a pint to Mr. Rowles.

While in Colorado Springs, Mr. Rowles will inspect the Wax Museum, Hall of Presidents and the Cog Railway. Travel arrangements for Mr. Rowles' visit to the area were made in consultation with Mr. Jack Stokes through the auspices of  the Pig 'N Whistle public house of Aldershot, England. Mr. Stokes visited the Pikes Peak region three years ago and offered his consulting services to Mr. Rowles following a football match.

Mr. Stokes was unable to accornpany Mr. Rowles, having been declared redundant following the closing of' his place of employment. He  is currently in Great Britain, serving a term in government service as a collector of the dole.

Mr. Rowles will not be attending any formal functions while in the Springs, nor will he give any formal speeches.

Greengrocers in Great Britain do not normally grant press interviews, according to a Fleet Street source.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Thoughts upon watching The Graduate at 60

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires
why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense
plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves
and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity
but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself
(the lesson of the moth, by Don Marquis, 1927)