THE TUNE WEAVERS
"Happy, Happy Birthday Baby"
Happy, happy birthday, baby
Although you're with somebody new
Thought I'd drop a line to say
That I wish this happy day
Would find me beside you
Happy, happy birthday, baby
No I can't call you my baby
Seems like years ago we met
On a day I can't forget
'Cause that's when we fell in love
Do you remember the names we had for each other
I was your pretty, you were my baby
How could we say goodbye
Hope I didn't spoil your birthday
I'm not acting like a lady
So I'll close this note to you
With good luck and wishes too
Happy, happy birthday, baby
From The Pen Of The Late Peter Paul Markin
With A 2015 Introduction By Sam Lowell
If you did not know what happened to the late Peter Paul Markin who used to write for some of the alternative newspaper and magazine publications that proliferated in the wake of the 1960s circus-war/bloodbath/all world together festival/new age aborning cloud puff dream, won a few awards too and was short-listed for the Globe Prize this is what is what. What is what before the ebb tide kind of knocked the wind out of everybody’s sails, everybody who was what I called “seeking a newer world,” a line I stole from some English poet (Robert Kennedy, Jack’s brother, or his writer “cribbed” the line too for some pre-1968 vision book before he ran for President in 1968 so I am in good company.) I will tell you in a minute what expression “the Scribe,” a named coined by our leader, Frankie Riley, which is what we always called Markin around the corner we hung out in together in front of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor in our hometown of North Adamsville, used to describe that change he had sensed coming in the early 1960s. Saw coming long before any of the rest of us did, or gave a rat’s ass about in our serious pressing concerns of the moment, worries about girls (all of the existential problems angst including about bedding them, or rather getting them in back seats of cars mainly), dough (ditto the girl existential thing to keep them interested in you and not run off with the next guy who had ten bucks to spend freely on them to your deuce, Jesus) and cars (double ditto since that whole “bedding” thing usually hinged on having a car, or having a corner boy with some non-family car to as we used to say, again courtesy of the Scribe via scat bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, “doing the do.” The Scribe though wanted to give it, give what we were felling, you know our existential angst moment although we did not call it that until later when the Scribe went off to college and tried to impress us with his new found facts, his two thousand new found facts about guys like Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Like I said we could give a rat’s ass about all that.
All I know is that ebb tide that caught Markin kind of flat-footed, kind of made him gravitate back toward his baser instincts honed by every breathe he took as a kid down in the projects where he learned the facts of life, the facts of fellaheen life which is what one of our junior high school teachers called us, called us peasants, called it right too although we were the urban versions of the downtrodden shanty peasants but they were kindred no doubt, is still with us. So maybe being, having been a “prophet, ” being a guy who worried about that social stuff while we were hung up on girls, dough and cars (him too in his more sober moments especially around one Rosemond Goode), wasn’t so good after all. Maybe the late Markin was that kind of Catholic “martyr saint” that we all had drilled into us in those nasty nun run Sunday catechism classes, maybe he really was some doomed “n----r” to use a phrase he grabbed from some Black Panther guys he used to run around with when he (and Josh Breslin) lived in Oakland and the “shit was hitting the fan” from every law enforcement agency that could put two bullets in some greasy chamber to mow down anybody even remotely associated with the brothers and the ten point program (who am I kidding anybody who favored armed self-defense for black men and women that’s the part that had the coppers screaming for blood, and bullets).
Here is a quick run-down about the fate of our boy corner boy bastard saint and about why stuff that he wrote forty or fifty years ago now is seeing the light of day. I won’t bore you with the beginnings, the projects stuff because frankly I too came out of the projects, not the same one as he did but just as hopeless down in Carver where I grew up before heading to North Adamsville and Josh who was as close as anybody to Markin toward the end was raised in the Olde Saco projects up in Maine and we are both still here to tell the tale. The real start as far as what happened to unravel the Scribe happened after he, Markin, got out of the Army in late 1970 when he did two things that are important here. First, he continued, “re-connected” to use the word he used, on that journey that he had started before he was inducted in the Army in 1968 in search of what he called the Great Blue-Pink American West Night (he put the search in capitals when he wrote about the experiences so I will do so here), the search really for the promise that the “fresh breeze” he was always carping about was going to bring. That breeze which was going to get him out from under his baser instincts developed (in self-defense against the punks that were always bothering him something I too knew about and in self- defense against his mother who was truly a dinosaur tyrant unlike my mother who tended to roll with the punches and maybe that helped break my own fall from heading straight down that Markin fate ladder) in his grinding poverty childhood, get out from under the constant preoccupation with satisfying his “wanting habits” which would eventually do him in.
Markin had made a foolish decision when he decided to drop out of college (Boston University) after his sophomore year in 1967 in order to pursue his big cloud puff dream, a dream which by that time had him carrying us along with him on the hitchhike road west in the summer of love, 1967, and beyond. Foolish in retrospect although he when I and others asked about whether he would have done things differently if he had known what the hell-hole of Vietnam was all about was ambivalent about the matter. Of course 1967, 1968, 1969 and other years as well were the “hot” years of the war in Vietnam and all Uncle Sam and his local draft boards wanted, including in North Adamsville, was warm bodies to kill commies, kill them for good. As he would say to us after he had been inducted and had served his tour in ‘Nam as he called it (he and the other military personnel who fought the war could use the short-hand expression but the term was off-bounds for civilians in shortened form) and came back to the “real” world he did what he did, wished he had not done so, wished that he had not gone, and most of all wished that the American government which made nothing but animals out of him and his war buddies would come tumbling down for what it had done to its sons for no good reasons.
And so Markin continued his search, maybe a little wiser, continued as well to drag some of his old corner boys like me on that hitchhike road dream of his before the wheels fell off. I stayed with him longest I think before even I could see we had been defeated by the night-takers and I left the road to go to law school and “normalcy.” (The signposts: Malcolm X’s, Robert Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King’s assassinations, hell maybe JFK’s set the who thing on a bad spiral which kind of took the political winds out of any idea that there would not be blow-back for messing with the guys in power at the time, the real guys not their front-men, the politicians; the rising tide of “drop out, drug out, live fast and die young” which took a lot of the best of our generation off giving up without a fight; the endless death spiral of Vietnam; the plotted killings of Black Panthers and any other radical or revolutionary of any color or sex who “bothered” them; and, the election of one master criminal, Richard Milhous Nixon, to be President of the United States which was not only a cruel joke but put paid to the notion that that great unwashed mass of Americans were on our side.)
Markin stuck it out longer until at some point in 1974, 1975 a while after I had lost touch with him when even he could see the dreams of the 1960s had turned to dust, turned to ashes in his mouth and he took a wrong turn, or maybe not a wrong turn the way the wheel of his life had been set up but a back to his baser instincts turn which had been held in check when we were in the high tide of 1960s possibilities. (Josh Breslin, another corner boy, although from Olde Saco, Maine who had met Markin out in San Francisco in the summer of love in 1967 and who had also left the road earlier just before me was in contact until pretty near the end, pretty close to the last time in early 1975 anybody heard from Markin this side of the border, this side of paradise as it turned out since Josh who lived out in California where Markin was living at the time confirmed that Markin was in pretty ragged mental and physical condition by then).
Markin had a lot invested emotionally and psychological in the success of the 1960s “fresh breeze coming across the land” as he called it early on. Maybe it was that ebb tide, maybe it was the damage that military service in hell-hole Vietnam did to his psyche, maybe it was a whole bunch of bad karma things from his awful early childhood that he held in check when there were still sunnier days ahead but by the mid-1970s he had snapped. Got involved in using and dealing cocaine just starting to be a big time profitable drug of choice among rich gringos (and junkies ready to steal anything, anytime, anywhere in order to keep the habit going).
Somehow down in Mexico, Sonora, we don’t know all the details to this day a big deal Markin brokered (kilos from what we heard so big then before the cartels organized everything and before the demand got so great they were shipping freighters full of cold cousin cocaine for the hipsters and the tricksters and big for Markin who had worked his way up the drug trade food chain probably the way he worked his way into everything by some “learned” dissertation about how his input could increase revenue, something along those lines) went awry, his old time term for something that went horribly wrong, and he wound up face down in a dusty back road with two slugs to the head and now resides in the town’s potter’s field in an unmarked grave. But know this; the bastard is still moaned over, moaned to high heaven.
The second thing Markin did, after he decided that going back to school after the shell-shock of Vietnam was out of the question, was to begin to write for many alternative publications (and I think if Josh is correct a couple of what he, Markin, called “bourgeois” publications for the dough). Wrote two kinds of stories, no three, first about his corner boy days with us at Salducci’s (and also some coming of age stories from his younger days growing up in the Adamsville Housing Authority “projects” with his best friend, Billie Bradley before he met us in junior high school). Second about that search for the Great Blue-Pink American Night which won him some prizes since he had a fair-sized audience who were either committed to the same vision, or who timidly wished they could have had that commitment (like a couple of our corner boys who could not make the leap to “drugs, sex, rock and roll, and raising bloody hell on the streets fighting the ‘monster’ government” and did the normal get a job, get married, get kids, get a house which made the world go round then). And thirdly, an award-winning series of stories under the by-line Going To The Jungle for the East Bay Other (published out of the other side of the bay San Francisco though) about his fellow Vietnam veterans who could not deal with the “real” world coming back and found themselves forming up in the arroyos, along the rivers, along the railroad tracks and under the bridges of Southern California around Los Angeles. Guys who needed their stories told and needed a voice to give life to those stories. Markin was their conduit.
Every once in a while somebody, in this case Bart Webber, from the old corner boy crowd of our youthful times, will see or hear something that will bring him thoughts about our long lost comrade who kept us going in high school times with his dreams and chatter (although Frankie Riley was our leader since he was an organizer-type whereas Markin could hardly organize his shoes, if that). Now with the speed and convenient of the Internet we can e-mail each other and get together at some convenient bar to talk over old times. And almost inevitably at some point in the evening the name of the Scribe will come up. Recently we decided, based on Bart’s idea, that we would, if only for ourselves, publish a collection of whatever we could find of old-time photographs and whatever stories Markin had written that were still sitting around somewhere to commemorate our old friend. We have done so with much help from Bart’s son Jeff who now runs the printing shop that Bart, now retired, started back in the 1960s.
This story is from that first category, the back in the day North Adamsville corner boy story, although this one is painted with a broader brush since it combines with his other great love to write about books, film and music. This one about music, about doo wop, women’s side which always both intrigued him and befuddled him since the distaff side lyrics (nice combination term that Markin would have appreciated especially that distaff thing for women who also as this piece will speak to, befuddled him, befuddled him straight up). It had been found in draft form up in Josh Breslin’s attic in Olde Saco, Maine where he had lived before meeting Markin in the great summer of love night in 1967 and where he had later off the road stored his loose hitchhike road stuff and his writerly notebooks and journals at his parents’ house which he had subsequently inherited on their passings. We have decided whatever we had to publish would be published as is, either published story or in draft form. Otherwise, moaning over our brother or not, Markin is liable to come after us from that forlorn unmarked grave in that Sonora potter’s field and give us hell for touching a single word of the eight billion facts in his fallen head.
Here is what he had to say:
Damn he never should have sent that note, that short, silly, puffed-up cry baby note trying to worm his way back into Lucy’s arms with memory thoughts about this kiss, or that embrace. And bringing up old seawall sugar shack beach nights holding hands against the splashed tides, against full moons, against tomorrow coming too soon; double date drive-in movies, speakers on low, deep-breathing car fog-ups on cold October nights, embarrassed, way embarrassed, when they surfaced for intermission's stale popcorn or reheated hot dogs; and, that last dance school dance holding tight, tight as hell, to each other as the DJ, pretending to be radio jockey Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsberg, played Could This Be Magic? on that creaky record player used at North Adamsville high school dances since his mother’s time, ancient Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday times.
Damn, a scratchy, scribbly note, a note written on serious stationary and with a real fountain pen to show his sincerity, and not the usual half- lined sheet, pulled out a three-ring subject notebook, and passed to Lucy during their common study class. Notes the passing of which sometimes got them severe looks from the study monitor, Miss Green, and giggles and taunts, usually some lewd or luscious remarks fraught with sexual innuendo from their fellow students, boys and girls alike, about fogged-up cars and trash talk like that who also tried to intercept those precious notes without success. Yah, “the note heard round the world” that would expose him to all kinds of ridicule, endless be-bop jive patter, and snide questions about his manhood from guys, and probably girls too, around the school, hell, all around North Adamsville and maybe already had if Lucy decided to cut his heart out and tell one and all what a square he, Luke Jackson, was when all was said and done.
He could hear it now, and could hear the words ringing in his ears. What a soft guy Luke Jackson really was, a guy known to be a love ‘em and leave ‘em guy before Lucy. A guy, a used to be sharp guy who shrugged off more things that you could shake a stick at and came back swinging but who was getting all misty-eyed and cry baby just because some dame, a good looking dame in all the right places, yes, a dame all the guys were ready to pursue once he was out of the picture, but still a dame, a young high school dame, when all was said and done, got under his skin, like they were married or something. Hell, he thought, thought now too late, to himself, that he would have been better off, much better off, leaving it at calling Lucy on the telephone every few hours and either hanging up before she answered or when she did answer freezing up. But that was costing money, serious add up money, since he had to use a public pay telephone up the street from his house because the telephone service had been turned off for non-payment as his family could not afford to pay the bill the past few months.
Besides it was getting kind of creepy going in and out of the house at all hours, midnight by the telephone waiting like some lonely, awkward girl, walking up the street like a zombie, half mope, half dope, then hesitating before deciding to make the call, making it, or not, and then scurrying like a rat from the public glare of the booth. Christ, one time the cops looked at him funny, real funny, when he was calling at about midnight. And he had to admit that he might have called the police station a few times too after he looked at himself in the mirror upon returning home.
That note, sent the day before and probably in Lucy’s plotting hands right now, was a minute, a quick minute, brain-storm that he had thought up when he was just plain miserable, just plain midnight telephone tired too, and anyone could make such a rash decision under love’s duress, teenage love’s duress. Right then though all he could think of was all the notes, the cutesy, lined-sheet paper school-boyish notes, that he had sent her when love was in full blossom, full blossom before Jamie Lee Johnson came on the scene, came on the scene with his big old ’59 Chevy Impala, his money in his pocket, and his line of patter and stole his “sweet pea” Lucy away from her “sugar plum” Luke. And that picture sent him back to thoughts of when he and Lucy first met, when their eyes first met.
“Let’s see,” Luke said to himself it was probably at Chrissie McNamara’s sweet sixteen birthday party that he first laid eyes on her. Hell, who was he kidding, he knew that it was exactly at 8:32PM on the night of April 25, 1962 that he first laid eyes on her, big almost star-struck staring eyes. Or maybe it was a few seconds before because, to break the ice, he had gone up to her and asked her for the time, asked in his then bolder manner if she had time for him, asked her to dance, she said yes, and that was that. Oh, yah, there was more to it than that but both of them knew at that moment, knew somewhere deep down in their teenage hearts, they were going to be an “item,” for a while. And they were indeed sweet pea and sugar plum, for a while. Although Luke would get mad sometimes, fighting mad, fighting break-up mad, when Lucy teased, no, more than teased, him about his not having a car so that they could go “parking” by themselves and not always be on some clowny double-date down at the seashore on Saturday night (or any night in the summer). And Luke would reply that he was saving money for college, and besides sitting on the seawall (and sometimes in love’s heat down beneath its height), their usual habit, was okay, wasn’t it.
That simmer, that somehow unarticulated simmer, went on for a while, a long while. But Luke had noticed a few months back, or rather Lucy had made her sugar plum notice, that now that they were high school seniors sitting on the seawall was nothing but nowhere kids’ stuff and why did he want to go to college anyway, and wasn’t going to work down at the shipyard where he could earn some real dough and get a car a better idea. The real clincher though, the one that telegraphed to him that the heavens were frowning on him, was the night she, no bones, stated that she had no plans for college and was going right to work after graduation, and maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t be able to wait for him. And that’s where things started to really break down between them.
Enter one Jamie Lee Johnson, a friend of Lucy’s older brother Kenny, already graduated from North Adamsville two years before and working, working steady with advancement possibilities according to the talk, as a junior welder down at the shipyard making good dough. Making drive-in movies and even drive-n restaurant good time dough, and driving that souped-up, retro-fitted, dual-carbed, ’59 Chevy, jet black and hung to the gills with chrome to make a girl breathless. And before Luke knew it Lucy’s mother was answering the phone calls for Lucy from Luke saying that she wasn’t in, wasn’t expected in, and that she, Lucy’s mother, would tell Lucy that he had called. The runaround, the classic runaround since boy meets girl time began, except not always done over the telephone. And while Lucy never said word one about breaking it off between them, not even a “so long we had fun,” Luke, although not smart enough to not write that sappy note, knew she was gone, and gone for good. But see she had gotten under his skin, way under, and well, and that was that.
Just as Luke was thinking about that last thought, that heart-tearing thought, he decided, wait a minute, maybe she didn’t get the note, maybe he had forgotten to put a stamp on it and as a result of those maybes he fished around his pocket to see if he had some coins, some telephone coins, and started out of the house prison to make that late night pilgrimage creep, that midnight waiting by the telephone creep. Walking up the street, walking up the now familiar night street-lighted against the deathless shadows Hancock Street he noticed a jet black ’59 Impala coming his way, coming his way with Jamie Lee and Lucy sitting so close together that they could not be pried apart with a crowbar. Luke thought about that scene for a minute, steeled himself with new-found resolve against the love hurts like in the old love 'em and leave ‘em days, threw the coins on the ground without anger but rather with relief, turned back to his house wondering, seriously wondering like the fate of the world depended on it, what pet names they Jimmy and Lucy had for each other.