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*****When The Pictures Got Small-With Gloria Swanson and William Holden’s Sunset Boulevard In Mind
From The Pen Of Sam Lowell
Yeah, Joe, Joe Anybody if you really want to know, Joe just another guy who went through the traumas of World War II like a lot of other guys although don’t ask him about those traumas because you will get the pat “I did my duty, I did what had to be done and that is that,” yeah, a pat answer if that is what you want, if anybody in this cuckoo world is asking about yesterday’s news. Yesterday’s news is exactly the way Joe expressed it one time back in 1947 to a guy he worked with, a sports writer a couple of years older than Joe but who somehow ducked out of the war like a lot of guys for reasons they are not discussing, not discussing this side of a bottle, so a guy whose closest call to combat was the battle of the barroom stool he fought most nights after work dribbling down low-shelf whiskies in order to come up with yet another superlative to fawn over some Triple A baseball prospect, on the Daily Tribune, a newspaper, or rather the newspaper of record if you will in Lima, Ohio where Joe landed feet first after he got his discharge papers and headed home.
Yeah in this cuckoo world only supply sergeants, class clowns, and barroom stool heroes tried to trade off their war experiences for so much as a drink when things were back to normal, normal as they were going to be, tried to bring what they did or did not do up from the dregs now that everybody else, everybody including our own Joe Average, don’t worry we will give Joe a last name in a minute, once we get this issue of what we are never going to know about what Joe did in the war, beyond what he had to. Yeah, stick with the pat answer, brother, stick with the pat answer. See though back in 1941, and maybe I don’t need to say more than that but if I do let’s say after Pearl, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 for the forgetful, or those too young to have remembered what that was all about a lot of Joe Average guys, guys who were working out in some factory making whatever they were making, other guys were plowing fields for hungry mouths out in the plains, and guys like Joe, literary types, were going to places like Big Ten Ohio State where they expected to move up in the world, move past those parents who got their dreams decapitated, there is no other word for what happened and if Joe had written that word he would not have been far off in his own family history.
But Pearl put the world on hold for Joe Average guys who flocked to the recruiting stations forming big long lines to get into uniform just like our Joe Average did when he got the word, when Roosevelt put the word out. Not that they, those Joes, expected to get a hell of a lot of whatever the war’s conclusion would bring but they were kind of funny about a bunch of night-takers in places like Tokyo and Berlin trying to crowd them, trying to make them cry “uncle” and holler. Yeah, they whatever else they ready to they were ready to lay down their heads in some mephitic swamp, on some salted atoll, storming some heavily defended beach, traipsing through the dusty roads of wherever they had to go to give the night-takers the short stick. That is the stuff that our Joe Average was made of, don’t mistake that by his cavalier attitude now that the war was yesterday’s news. If you don’t believe me a quick look at the fruit salad on that laid away uniform up in the closet of his parents’ house in Lima, Ohio will disabuse you of that notion.
All that said now is time to take our Joe Average out of the shapeless clay of Joe Average-dom, give him a name, a namefit for a guy on the move in the hustle-bustle. Joe Gillis is the name he went by, Joseph Francis Gillis is what it said on the birth certificate, later adding an Xavier when the Bishop came down from Cleveland to confirm him so he was brought up at least that far Catholic but don’t to run that Joseph Francis Xavier Gillis by him, not if you don’t want a ration of shit like that drunken sports writer did one night to bait Joe when he got a commendation from Charley Squire, the city editor, for a big story he did on returning veterans who had no place to live, had not housing except the damn county farm after all they went through in the Atlantic and Pacific wars. Don’t ask him either, except maybe if his mother was around, if he still had the religion, still was a believer in the message of the Roman Catholic Church because you will get another pat answer, one you may not like if you are sensitive about your religion, or anybody’s.
So Joe Gillis, to bring everything and everybody up to speed,is the name that the studio, or better studios since he was strictly a free-lancer, strictly on “spec” in those days put on the couple of screenplays he got some credit for anyway, although the story lines he had submitted had been totally flipped by the screen-writers from what he had originally written. Don’t ask him the wrong way what he thought of that maneuver, not if you want the same fate as that ill-advised sports writer back in Lima. See before the war, while Joe was at Ohio State he majored in English (mainly because in high school he could tell stories in English class that both the teachers and his fellow students were spell-bound by and he was nobody from nowhere in math, science and history but he certainly had literary ambitions). Of course the war had put a big detour on that vocation, except Joe would write like crazy when he had five minutes to collect his thoughts and the bullets were not whizzing over his head. So when the war ended he landed that job in Lima, a job that was practically promised him at the time of his enlistment. Joe though only thought of that assignment, that city desk assignment, as a stepping-stone to becoming a serious writer, a screen-writer at least. Like a lot of young men who served their country in the war, who had left their small towns, city neighborhoods, villages, who had lost their moorings once out in the big world, and who could no longer be contained in the Limas of the country Joe drifted West, drifted to see what a couple of guys in his unit were talking about when they said that California was the future, and by that Joe took what they said to mean for him the dazzle of Hollywood, to see if he was made of the right stuff. He sold some stuff, some “spec” stuff but as we pick him up on in Hollywood he is trying to figure if he can borrow another ten bucks from his old buddy Artie who had showed the ropes when he hit town and was clueless how the “system” worked except stay by the phone, stay healthy and stay ready to eat crow to get off the ground.
Here is the funny about Joe, maybe about a lot of guys like Joe, he wouldn’t give you the time of day about his war record, about his bouts of religious faith and faithlessness but given the slightest encouragement and maybe a nice shot of high-shelf liquor to tide him over, in short set him up the right way, he would give you chapter and verse about the ups and downs of his life in Tinsel-town. Some guys are funny like that, the literary types are built that way, no question. They say with Hemingway and Fitzgerald it didn’t even have to be high-shelf liquor if there was no quality around, with younger guys like Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac slip them a joint andthey would go on and on.
So you would, will, get a full answer from Joe about that little tragedy, small size in the great movies scheme of things but meaning a lot to a guy like Joe who just knew he had the stuff to make it, after all his schoolmates and his city editor tapped him on the head, people who go to movies in any case if not interested in great literary squabbles, about the miserable fate of his scripts though, and a little harangue about Hollywood, its producers, directors, assistant directors, not a few stars, or starlets (although he, a good-looking guy, with that Gary Cooper “ah shucks” handsomeness one would expect from a corn-fed Midwestern boy that the jaded ladies of Hollywood were eager to try on so he had had had a few rather nice casual affairs on some very downy billows with a few on the way up, his way up, theirs they were on their own about but mainly they would go back to Davenport, or whatever Lima they had to get the dust off their shoes from), hell, even the best boy and grip not knowing true literature, true art if it hit them in the face with a cannon (and wouldn’t he just like to). Apparently nobody told Joe, or he didn’t listen, probably the latter if he was invoking his heroes Hemingway and Fitzgerald as literary giants and not just their skills with the bottle, that “the cinema” was filled to the rafters with guys and dolls who had that right stuff, join the line brother, join the line.
Joe had a little system about how much he would tell you depending, no matter how good the scotch, on whether he was on an “up” or on a “down” meaning that he was either borrowing or not borrowing money from Artie, this according to Artie who had a pretty good idea what Joe was about since he had done everything from nurse-maid him when he, a raw kid out of the sticks Lima came to town with googly eyes to getting him laid from among the bevy of starlets he knew from the casting couches of the studios since Artie had with lots of hard work raised his own position in the Hollywood firmament meaning that he did all the real work on the birthing of a film.
If Joe was the chips he would give you every detail of his time in the town, “in the chips” meaning he had some gainful work and was not collecting that measly unemployment that barely got him by in that crummy two-bit rooming house and that junk heap of a car he was still paying money on, and was found at The River, a favorite watering hole for the Hollywood back lot crowd either on their way up or down because the booze was cheap and Hank, the bar-tender owner, was not stingy with his drinks, or with credit if you had some decent hard-luck story to throw his way, once or twice no more.
One of Joe’s stories, his baby, From Hell and Back, that he had brought out to Hollywood with him, had written the piece while at that city desk during slack time to reflect what Tinsel town was buying and producing just then, had written the outline under fire in Europe when the 1st Division, the Big Red One, his division, was on the move east, ever east, male-centered war movies or Westerns which were really the same thing except taking play about one hundred years earlier but with that same male lonely introspective brooding to capitalize on the good feelings for the guys coming out of the war and the women who continued to fill the seats with their guys in tow were looking to see what it was all about since their guys were as silent as the grave, as silent as Joe Gillis about what they had done for Uncle and home (one guy from Joe’s unit passing through Lima on his way to the West s had over drinks at Harry’s across the street from the Daily Tribune toldJoe that it was almost like every guy signed a pact that they would keep their wounds, physical and mental, to themselves as one final act of “being buddies,”). Joe’s baby was a Western since it was easier to deal with that a war movie where his own emotions but bungle the plotline beyond repair was about a high plains drifter, a guy who came out from the East to see what the West was all about and got his fill of it, just wanted to stay in one town long enough to see his shadow, who came into some wild ass desert town, maybe a town like Tombstone the way Joe had it figured in his head, and tamed it like some old Wild West desperado character or some long-bearded biblical prophet who could call the judgement day, call the angels home (and bed the local whorehouse owner, Ella, a good-looking redhead, too but that was a shadow he was willing to cut if it did not make it by Hayes) turned into a romance about a minister (with Henry Fonda in the lead) and the virginal but fetching girl next door (Priscilla Ford, the classic “girl next door” even if she was turning the high side of thirty).
The other script, Two To Go, started out as romance, always worth a try if you are short of script ideas as Joe was then, from hunger in other ways too when he hatched that one, about two writers, one a she, the other a he, who worked together in the script rooms of Hollywood film mill of the 1940s, fell in love after the usual boy meets girl stormy arguments before they realized, happy-ending Hollywood realized that they were meant for each other and thereafter produced great story lines. That perfectly serviceable script, maybe with a little work on the background of the two writers, he had in mind a Waspish guy from the Midwest and a Jewish girl from Brooklyn maybe with the two worlds colliding, maybe work through some deeper issues about literature and life before they hit the sheets got turned into a murder mystery based on one of the stories Joe had them working on in the script about some failed fading actress from the 1920s, from the silent movie days when good looks and gestures carried the day but whose voice turned out to sound a train horn and she was unceremoniously dumped by MGM, who had a thing for younger men, had had a notorious stable of them to keep her young while “keeping” the guys since she had a ton of dough made and invested when that was easier to do to avoid taxes, and who was insanely jealous when the younger women came around was just “keeping a soda jerk” she ran into at Liggett’s, the one over on Hollywood and Vine naturally since “from hunger” writers could make a milkshake or a cheese sandwich as well as anybody else and off-handedly shot him on the rumor that blew her way that he was seeing somebody in wardrobe, also a job that “from hunger” writers could do as well as anybody else.
Here’s how weird the revised plot got though they, the coppers when they came to the faded actresses house up in the secluded hills, since there were no witnesses, any that would come forward once the studios pulled the hammer down, never did find out who killed the soda jerk although every teenager in America, the audience the studio was going for with the gratuitous violence since the studio bosses felt that they were losing older women, those women who would have a few years before gone for the original script and brought their ex-servicemen with them, to motherhood and the newly emerging television, could see plain as day on the screen that it was that faded actress who did the deed. The old dame must have still had some great connections to pull the tent down on that one.
Joe swore to himself on more than one occasion that he should have done like Jack Donne and Joan Ditto, a couple of top shelf screen-writers on the lot had done (the models for his small idea movie) who he would have drinks with in their Malibu cottage and walked away from their own stories when they became unrecognizable in the “mill.” But because he was three months behind on his rent, a fatal two on his car with the repo man breathing down his back, the cupboard was bare and because he no longer had stardust in his eyes he, what did he call it to a co-worker, Betty Smith, you might have seen some of her work on Some Came Running a while back, a fellow screen-writer working in the word “sweatshop” on the United Majestic (U/M) studio lot he let those “revisions” go by since he had to “make a living.”
Funny the original stories Joe had submitted and which had been reworked out of existence by the time he got his moment in the sun credit later, later after he was long gone and wouldn’t be around to fuss over copyrights and royalties won a few art house kind of awards and nominations (the coveted Globe among the literary set and the Lawrence from the high-brow cinema set). But by then the scripts were the property of U/M and some smart guy in accounting figured that the studio could cash in to on the notoriety around Joe’s name. Still when the deal went down Joe Anybody, no, Joe Gillis buckled under, got in the payroll line on pay day. This is how a guy who knew Joe, pieced the price that Joe would wound up paying for getting in line like a million other hard-bitten guys:
Yeah, Joe Gillis, Joe from Anywhere Ohio, Lima, to give the place a name, the guy with the stardust in his eyes coming out of World War II all alive and everything, a college boy after all was said and done on the big ass GI Bill finishing out at Ohio State that was the ticket out of the doldrums night city desk reporter for the Daily Tribune and later the Steubenville Sentinel had dreams just like every other guy (girls too if anybody was asking although not that many were then, not after that boomerang of guys coming off the troops ships needed jobs and space). See Joe saw what a lot of guys and gals saw, saw that there was nothing but gold waiting for them in the hills above Hollywood, gold sitting there just waiting for them to come west and pick it up.
Hell Joe had said to himself more than once, and told the guys on the night desk too when around two in the morning the bottom drawer whiskey bottles came out that he could out write whatever hacks wrote up the screenplays passing for good work in the studios in a day and still have time for cocktails and diner. Could write, for example, one he always liked to give, circles around whoever wrote that silly story about some smart-ass detective out in Frisco town back about 1930 whose partner got iced on a case out job getting taken in, getting blind-sided about six different ways by some bimbo wearing some jasmine scent that had him up in the clouds and who admittedly had some charms got him all worked up about some statute worth a mint and figured to use his services to get the damn thing. And then flee leaving him to take the fall, maybe take the big step off if it came to that. Kids’ stuff.
And so our boy Joe borrowed fifty bucks from his mother (promising to have her paid back in a month, a long month as it turned out since Joe never got around to paying her back), another twenty-five from his brother Jim on the sly (ditto on the payback), and took another twenty five from his old sweetie, Lorraine (no need to pay that back she said after he had taken her down to the river front shoreline one Saturday night and gave her a little something to remember him by if you got his drift when he told the boys at the news desk about his conquest) he was off and running to sunny California. Got himself a room, small but affordable filled with many, too many, people who had the same stardust in their eyes as Joe (and if any of them had bothered to look closely many, the rooming house not only had the latest immigrants but too many long in the tooth denizens who had missed the big show only they were not smart enough to know it. Or if smart enough decided the stardust was better to live with than what beckoned in Tulsa, Odessa, Kansas City. Moline.)
Got himself a typewriter too, rented, and re-wrote those two stories that U/M hired him to work the screenplays on. And so our Joe was on his way. Onward and upward. Then the roof caved in, not literally but it might as well have. See U/M and a lot of places made plenty of room for returning GIs and so Joe squeezed through the door on that basis (and the fact, which had not come out until later, until that too late mentioned before that his stories were excellent and that some reader, a reader being a smart Seven Sisters college girl who could sniff out a few gems among the million scripts left at the studios’ doors from hungry guys like Joe, had recommended to her boss that they go with those original stories as is but he too could see their possible later value and see that Joe was from hunger enough to stand the gaff for the big rewrites that would turn his work into dross).
But that door only remained open long enough for the studio to “fill their quota,” take the government heat off, and once those conditions were smoothed over they began laying off writers (and others too). And Joe found that he was just another payroll number to be blanked out, pushed out on to the mean streets of Hollywood, the streets of surly repo men, sullen landlords and sharp-eyed grocers. So Joe sat, sat like the thousand other guys looking for work, at Liggett’s Drugstore, the one near Hollywood and Vine, close to the studio lots just in case job calls came in while Mister Liggett was getting rich off of selling cups of coffee to the “from hunger” clientele hanging out.
And then she came in, came in like a rolling cloud of thunder, she who he would later find out, later when it was almost too late that those who had been around a while, had been long in the tooth on those stardust dreams maybe turned to cocaine sister dreams if you asked a certain night pharmacist nicely and were discrete enough to keep that information on the QT, called the Dragon Queen, came in with her teeth bared that night. Joe, a movie buff of long standing from the Lima Theater re-rerun Saturday afternoon black and white double features from the 1930s just after they started to talk on the screen days when he and his other from hunger friends would sneak in the back door and slip up into the balcony and while away a lazy afternoon (and later when he came of age taking that same Lorraine mentioned above for some heavy petting although they did not sneak in the back door then), though he recognized her, but for a moment could not place her name.
Then Artie, a fellow screen-writer whom he would pal around with when Artie was not out with his girlfriend, Sarah, also a writer although over on the Paramount lot, said in a low voice “Here comes the Dragon Lady she must be on the prowl.” Joe asked “Who is the Dragon Lady, I recognize her but I can’t place her name.” Artie answered that Joe must be losing it, whatever stuff was in his brain because the Dragon Lady was none other than the legendary actress Norma Desmond who won three, count them, three golden boy awards back in the day. Joe turned red not knowing her since while she had in her turn gotten long in the tooth there was some kind of commanding presence about her still, the way she carried herself, the way the room hushed a bit when she breezed in along with her “secretary” Maxine, a real terror in the old days protecting Miss Desmond, no question (rumored to be her lover, her Boston marriage partner, her Isle of Lesbos companion, her Sapphic muse, you know her “love that cannot speak its name friend, hell, her dyke pal, although that information would also come a bit too late).
Joe should have taken that hushed room lack of sound and the silent actions of lots of the guys drinking up their last gulps of coffee (or bit of sandwich because under the circumstances of being reduced to Liggett’s luncheonette fare one was not sure when or where the next meal would come from), of the sudden need to head to the telephone booth with a bag full of dimes to check with your merciless agent, your merciful mother, your have mercy baby, or heading toward the magazine section with bended head looking at the latest from the scandal sheets more seriously, or making it look that way. Or he at least have checked with Artie who knew what she was there for. But no stardust boy had to step forward to “impress” Miss Desmond with his arcane knowledge of every film she ever starred in back in those re-run 1930s Strand days and asked her-“Aren’t you Miss Desmond.” And she returned his question with her brightest viper smile with a simple “yes.” Then to go in for the kill he asked “Haven’t seen you in a picture lately, too bad for you were a big star.” Of course vanity personified (and maybe necessary to get through the day when you have convinced yourself that film studios and the “day of the locust” common clay depend on seeing your every feature) Norma answered “she was still big, it was the pictures that had gotten smaller.” And with that Joe Anybody, yes, I know, Joe Gillis got caught up in the spider’s web. (What he didn’t see that night were the daggers in Maxine’s eyes once Norma began her peacock dance.)
Nothing happened that night except upon request about his employment status Joe had answered Norma that he was a writer, currently unemployed (later she would tell him she already knew he was not working since why else would he be at Liggett’s at nine in the evening rather than slaving away trying to save some stinks-to-high-heaven script at one of the studio writers’ cubbyholes and why else would she go into Liggett’s on her own when she could buy and sell Mister Liggett ten times over), that he had a couple of scripts to his credit (he did not mention the butcher job done on them and she did not ask), and that “no” he was not looking for work as a reader for some seemingly corny sounding script about some gypsy woman with seven veils that Norma said she wanted help on in order to make her big comeback on the screen. Frankly as she got more animated about her project, got more flirtatious for an old dame (he at twenty-five, good-looking and despite his Hollywood stardust eyes with many sexual conquests under his belt was fairly repulsed by the thought of an old dame of at least fifty if he figured her career right, he was only off by a couple of years when the deal went down, coming on to him so graphically and sexually), and more urgent in the need to have him come out to her place on the high number end of Sunset Boulevard (the numbers where the mansions begin and the hills rise away from the heat of the city but he did not know either fact then) and at least read the script before he refused her offer he seriously balked. Told her he was not the boy for her.
And for a few weeks that resolve held out, until that inevitable wave of bill notices, rent due, repo man madness and food hunger got in the way and he made his way to Sunset Boulevard. He hadn’t bothered calling because until Maxine answered the door with a vagrant smile he was not at all sure he was going to go through with the whole thing. Artie had filled him in on what he knew about the Dragon Lady which while correct as far as it went was far from being very knowledgeable although toward the end he did not blame Artie who was after all deeply in love with Sarah, hell, Joe was half in love with Sarah himself since she had said some very kind things about a few sketches of his Artie had shown her and although he was not usually attracted to the Sarah “ girl next door” type there was something very refreshing, not all jaded and facing the world just for kicks, about her even though she had been born in the devil’s kitchen, born on Vine Street a few blocks from Liggett’s. So when that Maxine door opened he was on his own.
Sure when the blats got a hold of the story later when it really didn’t matter, or would not have helped they drew a bee-line picture that Joe, a war veteran and not some skimpy-kneed kid like a few of the “soda jerks” (literally) that Norma had picked up over the years and threw over like some much trash when their number was up, knew the “score” all along and just got on the gravy train and rode, took the ticket, took the ride so no one should bleed for him, except maybe Artie who took it hard (and apparently Sarah too who Artie suspected was half in love with Joe too although he never mentioned that idea to her, and they did in the end get married so make of that what you will).
Forget about the blats, forget about what Hedda Hopper had to say about the whole mess, and that was plenty, none of it having Joe as anything as just another gone boy on the hustle from nowhere Ohio (hah, and her out on Podunk Indiana) here is how it came down though. Joe went into that open door, into that opulent if run down mansion with his eyes open, once he figured out the score, figured it to his advantage. And for a while it worked, worked out kind of nice. That script of Norma’s, her ticket back to the top was a stinker, strictly nothing except a poor rehash of half the films she had ever been in back in the days when her every expression was plastered over every newspaper review and imitated by every young girl (and not a few boys) who had nothing but stardust in their eyes. But Joe figured that the “salary” she was giving him made it easy to believe that he was working “legit” that he was not just a “kept man,” Miss Desmond’s pet poodle. And for a while that illusion held up, although Artie began to suspect when he showed up at a New Year’s Eve party all decked out in fine top shelf Hollywood clothing that something more than earning a screen-writer’s salary was going on up in high number Sunset Boulevard.
And there was. Joe could see after a few weeks that Norma was going for him in a big romantic way, and he was playing into that a little, playing into her vanity that she still had something that a younger man would want. Although at first he was repelled by the idea that he would bed somebody his mother’s age he began to get a feel for the moral climate of Hollywood where the stage hands might titter over the age difference but would just nod it off as another gold-digger story like ten thousand others up in the hills, and on the lots. And so one night he took the plunge, went walking slowly to her sullen bedroom and to his fate.
Here is where the story got mixed up, got all balled up if you believed the blats who had their own reasons to play the story as a gigolo playing way over his head. After they “did the do” Joe no longer figured in the script-writing for Norma business but rather they made the rounds among her old time friends in the new Hudson she had custom-fitted for him so she could show off her new trophy. And for a while, a long while, that worked out just fine but Norma, maybe as a former actress used to getting whatever outlandish wishes of hers met, maybe just as a woman of a certain age who knew her limited appeal over the long haul or maybe that crazy streak that she had which drove more than one producer crazy in her wake Joe could not keep up, could not phantom the idea of forever being Norma’s fancy man, never to get out from under that decaying set she was parading him around to.
So Joe started taking long rides out to Malibu at night in his new Hudson to get the “stink blowed off” as his farmer grandfather used to say. That is where he met Cara, young sweet new star on the horizon Cara. And that was his fatal mistake, or part of it. One night along the Pacific Coast Highway parked in a parking lot who came up to them in her own Hudson (or rather Norma’s) but Maxine. Maxine told the startled pair that she has been following them for weeks and that they had better break it off or she would tell Norma. Fair enough if the world ran in Norma time, Joe was no longer happy with being Norma’s pet poodle now that the wrinkle-free Cara (and gymnast in bed which he appreciated since Norma was like a corpse one minute and then “do this, do that” the next) but Joe was tired of Norma time.
That tiredness is what really did Joe in. When Joe would not break it off with Cara (and from her description in the papers and a quick glance off her going to court on the television why would he, why would any guy) then Maxine told Norma the tale. Norma was livid, was ready to kill the ingrate, ready to ship him back to Steubenville or wherever he hailed from in a body bag-minus the three piece suit she had just purchased for him- let him go back in that foolish Robert Hall’s sport jacket he showed up at her door in. But here is where things got dicey. Norma for all her Dragon Lady reputation, all the headaches she gave every even sympathetic director had portrayed every kind of villainous woman from axe murderer to midnight poisoner hated the sight of blood. The sight of blood sickened her and maimed bodies revolted her, even stage dummies. So she held her grief in, almost.
Here is where the rumors about her and Maxine and their illicit love nest got all kinds of play. Although the rumor about their love was false, at least on Norma’s side, Maxine really did love Norma in that straight Boston marriage way and once Norma seemed so prostrate that she could barely move, seemed like she would never get over the Joe betrayal (that is the way Norma constantly pitched her grief) Maxine went into action. She had a final confrontation with Joe, told him to break off with Cara or she would personally do something about it. Joe, now ready to leave, ready to face the scorn of society about being an older woman’s kept man, was now ready to laugh in Maxine’s pathetic face as he walked out the door to his room toward the swimming pool to take his daily exercise.
This last part is under any theory of the story that Norma and Maxine would later tell other than as an “act of god” which in high Babylon got no play is frankly filled with too many holes, has too many moving parts to make sense. Allegedly Maxine, in broad daylight, heard noises coming from the pool area, loud noises which frightened her and she grabbed the gun that Norma kept in the house to prevent burglaries (although how a pearl-handled .38 was going to stop serious breaking and enterings raised a few eyebrows. Out of her wits she saw what looked like a huge man in the shadows and just fired, fired five times in that direction. Then she called the cops who found one Joe Gillis in the pool face down with five, count them, five slugs in his body. That is the story she swore to and no one could shake her, or Norma’s story then or later at the inquest. So Joe Anybody, no, no definitely no, Joseph Gillis, Junior went to sleep as another killing, a domestic dispute after the papers got through with the war-circus that ensued like a million others nothing more.
Nothing more except to Artie, Artie Shaw to give him a name the only guy who every tried to stop Joe Gillis in his tracks, in his wrong tracks. One day a few weeks after they laid Joe to rest and went to put some flowers on his poor misbegotten grave out in the hills Artie said to Sarah that although he knew that there would never be an end to the stardust eyed kids coming to Hollywood to pursue whatever dreams they were dreaming for God’s sake Joe’s story should get out there in the hinterlands. And so it has. That and Artie’s reminder for all that stardust to keep the hell away from the high numbers on Sunset Boulevard.
Reposted from the American Left History blog, dated December 1, 2010, updated December 2014.
I like to think of myself as a long-time fervent supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, an organization committed to social and political defense cases and causes in the interests of the international working class. Cases from early on in the 1970s when the organization was founded and the committee defended the Black Panthers who were being targeted by every police agency that had an say in the matter, the almost abandoned by the left Weather Underground (in its various incantations) and Chilean miners in the wake of the Pinochet coup there in 1973 up to more recent times with the Mumia death penalty case, defense of the Occupy movement and the NATO three, and defense of the heroic Wiki-leaks whistle-blower Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley).
Moreover the PDC is an organization committed, at this time of the year, to raising funds to support the class-war prisoners’ stipend program through the annual Holiday Appeal drive. Unfortunately having to raise these funds in support of political prisoners for many years now, too many years, as the American and international capitalist class and their hangers-on have declared relentless war, recently a very one-sided war, against those who would cry out against the monster. Attempting to silence voices from zealous lawyers like Lynne Stewart, articulate death-row prisoners like Mumia and the late Tookie Williams, anti-fascist street fighters like the Tingsley Five to black liberation fighters like the Assata Shakur, the Omaha Three and the Angola Three and who ended up on the wrong side of a cop and state vendetta and anti-imperialist fighters like the working-class based Ohio Seven and student-based Weather Underground who took Che Guevara’s admonition to wage battle inside the “belly of the beast” seriously. Others, other militant labor and social liberation fighters as well, too numerous to mention here but remembered.
Normally I do not need any prompting in the matter. This year tough I read the 25th Anniversary Appeal article in Workers Vanguard No. 969 where I was startled to note how many of the names, organizations, and political philosophies mentioned there hark back to my own radical coming of age, and the need for class-struggle defense of all our political prisoners in the late 1960s (although I may not have used that exact term at the time).
That recognition included names like black liberation fighter George Jackson’s now deceased after a brutal prison murder class-war prisoner Hugo Pinell’s San Quentin Six comrade; the Black Panthers in their better days, the days when the American state really was out to kill or detain every last supporter, and in the days when we needed, desperately needed, to fight for their defense in places from Oakland to New Haven, as represented by two of the Omaha Three (Poindexter and wa Langa), in their younger days; the struggle, the fierce struggle, against the death penalty as represented in Mumia’s case today (also Black Panther-connected); the Ohio 7 and the Weather Underground who, rightly or wrongly, were committed to building a second front against American imperialism, and who most of the left, the respectable left, abandoned; and, of course, Leonard Peltier and the Native American struggles from Pine Ridge to the Southwest. It has been a long time and victories few. I could go on but you get the point.
That point also includes the hard fact that we have paid a high price, a very high price, for not winning back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when we last had this capitalist imperialist society on the ropes. Maybe it was political immaturity, maybe it was cranky theory, maybe it was elitism, hell, maybe it was just old-fashioned hubris but we let them off the hook. And have had to fight forty years of rear-guard “culture wars” since just to keep from falling further behind.
And the class-war prisoners, our class-war prisoners, have had to face their “justice” and their prisons. Many, too many for most of that time. That lesson should be etched in the memory of every pro-working class militant today. And this, as well, as a quick glance at the news these days should make every liberation fighter realize; the difference between being on one side of that prison wall and the other is a very close thing when the bourgeois decides to pull the hammer down. The support of class-war prisoners is thus not charity, as International Labor Defense founder James P. Cannon noted back in the 1920s, but a duty of those fighters outside the walls. Today I do my duty, and gladly. I urge others to do the same now at the holidays and throughout the year. The class-war prisoners must not stand alone.
*Free The Last of the Ohio Seven-They Must Not Die In Jail
ONE OF THE OHIO SEVEN -RICHARD WILLIAMS- RECENTLY DIED IN PRISON (2006). THAT LEAVES JAAN LAAMAN AND TOM MANNING STILL IN PRISON. IT IS AN URGENT DUTY FOR THE INTERNATIONAL LABOR MOVEMENT AND OTHERS TO RAISE THE CALL FOR THEIR FREEDOM. FREE ALL CLASS WAR PRISONERS.
Free the last of the Seven. Below is a commentary written in 2006 arguing for their freedom.
The Ohio Seven, like many other subjective revolutionaries, coming out of the turbulent anti-Vietnam War and anti-imperialist movements, were committed to social change. The different is that this organization included mainly working class militants, some of whose political consciousness was formed by participation as soldiers in the Vietnam War itself. Various members were convicted for carrying out robberies, apparently to raise money for their struggles, and bombings of imperialist targets. Without going into their particular personal and political biographies I note that these were the kind of subjective revolutionaries that must be recruited to a working class vanguard party if there ever is to be a chance of bringing off a socialist revolution. In the absence of a viable revolutionary labor party in the 1970’s and 1980’s the politics of the Ohio Seven, like the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, were borne of despair at the immensity of the task and also by desperation to do something concrete in aid of the Vietnamese Revolution and other Third World struggles . Their actions in trying to open up a second front militarily in the United States in aid of Third World struggles without a mass base proved to be mistaken but, as the Partisan Defense Committee which I support has noted, their actions were no crime in the eyes of the international working class.
The lack of a revolutionary vanguard to attract such working class elements away from adventurism is rendered even more tragic in the case of the Ohio Seven. Leon Trotsky, a leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution of 1917, noted in a political obituary for his fallen comrade and fellow Left Oppositionist Kote Tsintadze that the West has not produced such fighters as Kote. Kote, who went through all the phases of struggle for the Russian Revolution, including imprisonment and exile under both the Czar and Stalin benefited from solidarity in a mass revolutionary vanguard party to sustain him through the hard times. What a revolutionary party could have done with the evident capacity and continuing commitment of subjective revolutionaries like the Ohio Seven poses that question point blank. This is the central problem and task of cadre development in the West in resolving the crisis of revolutionary leadership.
Finally, I would like to note that except for the Partisan Defense Committee and their own defense organizations – the Ohio 7 Defense Committee and the Jaan Laaman Defense Fund- the Ohio Seven have long ago been abandoned by those New Left elements and others, who as noted, at one time had very similar politics. At least part of this can be attributed to the rightward drift to liberal pacifist politics by many of them, but some must be attributed to class. Although the Ohio Seven were not our people- they are our people. All honor to them. As James P Cannon, a founding leader of the International Labor Defense, forerunner of the Partisan Defense Committee, pointed out long ago –Solidarity with class war prisoners is not charity- it is a duty. Their fight is our fight! LET US DO OUR DUTY HERE. RAISE THE CALL FOR THE FREEDOM OF LAAMAN AND MANNING. MAKE MOTIONS OF SOLIDARITY IN YOUR POLITICAL ORGANIZATION, SCHOOL OR UNION.
YOU CAN GOOGLE THE ORGANIZATIONS MENTIONED ABOVE- THE PARTISAN DEFENSE COMMITTEE- THE OHIO 7 DEFENSE COMMITTEE- THE JAAN LAAMAN DEFENSE FUND.
Out In The
Be-Bop Night- The Search For The Blue-Pink Great Western Night-Postscript- The
Torch Is Passed?- February 2011
By Zach James
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact
of the California night calling after too long an absence, the California be-bop
late 1960s night, the eternal California be-bop night after years of Maine
solitude, of Maine grey-blue-white washed, white-crested, white-capped,
foam-flecked Atlantic ocean-flotsam and jetsam strewn waters. After all not all
oceans are created the same, not all oceans speak to one in the same way,
although they are all old Father Neptune’s thoughtful playgrounds.
California’s, yes, white-washed,
yes, white-crested, yes, white-capped, yes, foam-flecked speak to gentle, warm
lapis lazuli blue wealth dreams of the quest, the long buried life long quest
for the great blue-pink great American West night, blue-pinked skies of course.
Yes maybe it was just that sheer hard fact that pushed me out of Eastern white,
white to hate the sight of white, snowed-in doors, Eastern gale winds blowing a
man against the sand-pebbled seas, and into the endless starless night. Yes,
maybe just a change of color, or to color, from the white white whiteness of
the sea walk white-etched night. Right down to the shoreline white.
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact
of preparing, against the timetable of that Eastern white night, this and that
for the winter California day, and night, the ocean California that set the
thoughts of the be-bop night, and the quest for the blue-pink skies humming
once again in the, admittedly, older-boned voyager, voyeur of dreamed once
sultry, steamy nights. A different proposition, a different proposition, on
most days, from preparing to face fierce Maine winter mornings, unaided by the
graces and forms nature provides its hardier creations. No thoughts today of
heavy woolen coats, double-stitched, double-plied, doubled-vested, old nor’
easter worthy, or heavy woolen pants, same chino pants of youth, same black
chino pants, no cuffs, except winter weight, not the always summer weight of no
knowledge youth, or heavy boots, heavy clunky rubberish boots mocking against
the snow-felt, ocean-edged soft sand streets, or maybe, more in tune with
aged-bone recipes heavy-soled, heavy-rubber soled (or was it rubber souled)
running shoes (also known in the wide world of youth as sneakers, better
Chuck’s). Of scarves, and caps, full-bodied caps, better seaman’s caps, heavy,
wool, dark blue, built to stand against the ocean-stormed waves crashing and
thrashing against ships hulls, and gloves, gloves to keep your hands from
frosty immobility I need not speak. Or will not speak.
No, today we think of great
controversies of age, well, mini-controversies anyway, between hi-tech-derived
aero-flow, toe-fitted, sheer meshed sneakers, or just old-fashioned,
Velcro-snapped criss-cross leather sandals, toe-dangling in the sand streets
ready. Or between jungle-fitted, twelve-pocketed (or so it seems), straight
from the Ernest Hemingway African safari night ( so it seems, again) else,
maybe, out of mad man gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson in full loathing
regalia, or Reebok, Nike, Adidas, New Balance free-for-all athletic shorts. Or
between hearty windbreakers, fit for eastern gales and western el ninos, versus
light denim, light blue, tight fit, well, maybe tight fit, be young Marlon
Brando or James Dean-worthy in some motorcycle hidden fantasy, jackets. All
decisions, all timed but irrevocable once inside the airport terminal, and its
maze, no beyond maze, beyond rate maze, of security and scrutiny.
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact
of just that airport invasion, the hard fact of the post-9/11 travel world. The
running the gauntlet of checkpoints, charts, human body scanning screens, magic
forgery detecting pens, bells, whistles, and surly, or maybe better,
indifferent, human scanners, human searchers, human checkers. The piles of
thrown away, seemingly harmless, harmless to these eyes, water bottles,
pure-spring-ed water bottles (Evian, Poland Springs, Belmont Springs, home-filled
reusable, filtered tap water L.L. Bean bottles, whatever) which now are deadly
weapons, or could be, are a twisted metaphor for the scene. All in order to get
from point A (east coast angry ocean waters) to point B (west coast, or hipper,
at least used to be hipper, left coast gentle, spa-like, or faux spa waters) in
less than six hours.
No more of timeless trips, or at
least of months’ long trips, aimless but aim-full in their purposeful search.
No more of Boston to Angelica Steubenville to roots Prestonsburg to Lexington
(Kentucky that is, not revolutionary battlefield Lexington, not that trip
anyway). No more Moline meltdowns and Neola corn field nights and Aunt Betty
lazy, crazy, hazy suppers or solidarity rides to the desert Native American
ghost sky night, drums beating back to primal times, and then over the last
mountains down into California blue-pink haze. No, six hours, no more, or else
breakdown against those bone-aged facts, and bone-aged stiffness rebellions. Or
worst surrender to the think better, or at least twice, of such a trip gods,
Egad has it come to that.
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact
of riding a rental car, a rental car, my god, a mid-sized, almost brand new,
gadget-filled lights, horns, windshield wipers all controlled, whiplash
computer-controlled, at the touch power steering. And I like a kid, a dumb, no
California hot-rod head under the hood kid with car-ness in the very blood, but
more of a youth spent no car, not dough for a car, miles walked, sneaker miles
walked, kid, scratching my head to figure out what goes where and screaming
onto that good night about how the hell have we come to such a complicated
place where it requires seven degrees in astro-physics, at least, to get the
damn thing started. No more of drowsy early morning truck stop diner pick-ups
by benny-high, reds-low, mortgaged to the teeth zen truck-driving road masters
carrying freights from here to there (I would say from point A to point B but
that is used up already). No more of psychedelic- painted, further night,
magical tour buses, old time yellow brick road school buses converted to
living, breathing space on the endless hippie hitchhike 1960s road. No more
even of old country hay wagons named, or misnamed, trucks picking up likely
farm hands, penny-poor likely farm hands, to work for a few days before moving
on. No more of that, indeed.
Maybe, and here we are reaching
some home truths, it was the sheer, hard fact of seeing the azul ocean sea
coming over the horizon at Laguna Hills or one of those endless,
one-name-fits-all or should fit all Southern California beach towns filled with
the mandatory fake, yes, fake Spanish décor. Of the ticky-tack rows (thanks
Malvina Reynolds via Pete Seeger) of “Spanish” houses, oh, I mean, estates,
where I see kids, kids no different than I was just waiting for the jail-break
event of their generation, if it comes, and if they want long enough but not
too long. Of the million and one surf shops for the youngsters to wax and wane
on seeking of their own blue-pink nights (or days, more likely), the endless
quest for the perfect wave. Of the strip mall rows of fast food eateries, fast
clothes chanceries (swim suits a specialty), of sun-free indoor tanning against
the rages of father sun. Of the quaint (nice word, right?), yes, quaint lobster
dinner (lobster flown in from, from, ah, Maine), California fresh fish of the
day, freshly caught, beach view restaurants or other finery, and of cruising
(no, not that cruising) pedestrians of all sizes and shapes.
Shapes including show-off lovely
formed younger girls, ah, women, maybe a young Angelica waiting to splash her
first splash in mother Pacific, peaceful mother pacific. And all races and
languages and ethnicities trying to figure out the lure of the heathered
(almost like Scotland, Scotland of no burr) coastal shore to the Okies, Arkies
and Texies, who descended here a couple of generations ago, planted roots,
their migratory roots, not Eastern forever and a day roots, and never left. But
still the gnawing question, the question of questions-where to go west from
here. Not back to the okie dust bowl, that is for sure, not for those now
corn-fed, yellow-haired (maybe genetically yellow from that corn) beauties of
both sexes who are tied to the sea, to the endless quest for the perfect wave
sea, even though from the look of them if I posed the question that way, that
perfect wave search way, I would shunted away screaming in that previously
mentioned good night.
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact
of walking ancient shoreline walks, soft sand- kicking, shod-less feet kicking,
tracing new written configurations to ancient gods in the previously
clean-slated sand surface, occasionally pebble-dotted, seashell-scattered, as
the ocean screams for quiet from those walking in its space and pleads, like
some latter day librarian, not to disturb others. Of thoughts of ancient
sorrows, and ancient laughters. Remembrances of Angelica first time ocean
splashes, of riptide saves, of hero’s rewards for heroic saves, rewards better
left to the imagination, ancient imagination. Of scaled seawalls that hold back
tide, time and the brick-a-brack whims of fickle man, of humankind. Of
squirrels, everlasting, ever-present seashore-loving burrowing squirrels
filching, filching and begging, begging for human food against all good
And getting it. The food that is.
Of ocean side night campfires to protect against the force of the ocean chill,
of ocean shadows, and of ocean smokes, thinking back to the days when cigarette
smokes filled many public spaces. But better smells now of mesquite wood
smells, of charcoals broils smells, of sea-drug up woods smoothed from ocean
pounds smells. Of high ganja smells, of pellets and pills to ward off the ocean
calls to the endless sleep, of the return to the homeland, of the homeland
seas. And of skies of daytime blue, blue, blue enough to make a pair of pants
out of, cloudless in afternoon after fogged-down mornings. Ah, but you know
what’s coming, what the whole shore line walk means. Yes, the night, no, not
the night night, the dark, starless night of the poet’s lament, of ancient
times wonder, and of modern no night human-crafted light beams breaking the
will of the dark night. No, not that night but rather the earlier part, the
part after the sun goes on its business below the horizon and leaves as a
reminder the blue-pink night hanging over the ocean, tourist taking pictures,
taking camera, digital camera pictures today, instant, mainly, but, hell who
need such tacky reminders when the mind’s eye reeks of blue-pink memory,
ancient blue-pink memories.
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact
of leaving, of returning east fast, faster as it turns out that heading west,
west to the blue-pink night, to the be-bop night. I will not speak of that
airport maze, rat-like or not, again it does not vary on the way back any more
than going to. Now I speak of those haunts, those dreaded ancient haunts of
having to return to eastern concerns, eastern worries, eastern woes, and a
feeling, an old feeling an old Joyel-time feeling of having to go back to
routines, not the regular routines that make life bearable but the routines of
routines that drive one out on the midnight run to wherever, whenever. And to
see, although see only in a flash, the contours of the American night, of the
sense of the American landscape, of roads and rivers it took months for ancient
pioneer Conestoga wagons to traverse, and weeks for ancient hitchhike roads to
All blaze past in a flash, all
lighted strange patterns civilization.
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact
of grabbing a midnight-like cab for the ride home, eastern home, eastern
snow-drenched home that had not changed in sight but changed from still present
blue-pink memories as always, from leaving but still necessary to face. On such
cab rides, such youthfully scorned cab rides, and truth be known youthfully
unaffordable rides, I now take when language is no barrier to asking for cabbie
stories (although many times such is a problem as this is now a profession, a
city profession, by recent immigrants, dominated, seemingly oxymoronic, since
how would such fellows know the ancient trails of the east, at least in
pre-techno- GPS days) in the hopes of finding some gem story to feed the
literary lights, not blue-pink lights by any means, just fill-in road stories.
And this night, this night when thoughts have been whirling for weeks about
ancient things, ancient things described above, I find a kindred. Cabbie X,
ancient cabbie X, fires back in full-bodied, “I don’t have any cabbie stories
to tell, but I have some hitchhike stories.” Hell, hell on wheels, be still my
heart, tell, brother, tell kindred tell all, and drive slow, stop at every
traffic light slow, I have dough in my pocket and a hunger, an unspeakable,
unquenchable just now hunger, to hear your tales, your ancient 1960s hitchhike
Tales about his road from
Missoula, Montana to New Haven, Connecticut. (Yes, avoid hitching on those
Connecticut roads, and Arizona’s too. Agreed). Of Truckee truck stops. Of truck
stop road side diners, and endless cups of coffee, and badgering truckers for
long-haul rides. Of hard driving, get to the coast, benny-high truckers seeking
to spill their guts to some lone stranger in order to keep awake and pass the
hard highway mile. Of Pacific Coast highways brimming with converted magical mystery
tour school buses, converted to living housing for the broken-hearted, the
love-lorn, the be-bop nighters. Ah, memory. “Hey, you almost didn’t stop at
that last traffic light, brother.”
More, more please. Of Nevada
desert stops, waiting by lonely crossroads for hours, reading scrawled signs
from ancient forbears, maybe those very Conestoga folk, warning that one may
wait for a ride to perdition there. Of dope smoke, of friendships, many
fleeting, but a feel for that good moment. And at the close of that cabbie
night a thought , a cabbie thought- we made it, we were better for it, and we
can survive in this old world because we made that venture. No need to speak of
the blue-pink night to this brother, such words would be wasted. This is that
now dwindling fraternity that sought, maybe still seeks that good night, and
that is all that needs to be said. A revolutionary brotherhood handshake, a
handshake too hard to describe here but fraught with meaning back in those
days, at my door seals our night’s work. Yes, memory almost like a yesterday
memory, finely-etched in our collective minds, recallable at an instant.
Maybe it was the sheer, hard fact
of carrying around , winter long, winter, snow-blasted long, a song/story in my
head, a story recorded by Red Sovine and which I heard by way of the
inscrutable Tom Waits, Big Joe and
Phantom 309. A story of a fellow hitchhike roader caught out in one of
those lonely crossroads to nowhere that every seeker knows about, although they
are not always windswept and rain-drenched. Sometimes they are snow-frozen,
sometimes, heat-drowned, sometimes, not enough times, just plain, ordinary
sunny-dayed. Out of the mist comes the mythical trucker, Big Joe will serve as
well any other name, although when I think trucker I always think Denver Slim
as he was neither slim (far from it) nor from Denver, and that tells a tale
right there. So they ride the night away telling lies and other stories until
they come near a truck stop and Big Joe freaks, and the hitchhiker is left,
after Big Joe pitches him a dime, to go in for a cup of coffee on Big Joe. Said
hitchhiker goes in and tells his story of the ride and with whom and gets the
lowdown from a waiter. See Big Joe died, truck-faithful, Phantom 309 faithful
died, when he avoided a school bus filled with kids out on that lonely pick-up
crossroad. But see Big Joe did another favor, a hitchhike brotherhood favor as
the waiter says “have another cup of coffee and keep the dime, keep the dime as
a souvenir of Big Joe and Phantom 309.” Great story and I have my own just like
it, and Brother Cabbie X had his own, and every man and woman who ever hit the
road, by force or desire, has that same story just mix it up a little.
Maybe it was just the sheer, hard
fact of listening, listening attentively, listening eagerly on the rented car
California roads to old road warrior, Wobblie, kindred of tramps, bums, and
hoboes of an earlier age, an age which intersected with the hippie hitchhike
road of the 1960s, the late folksinger/songwriter Bruce “Utah” Phillips and his
definite Songbook. Listening to old songs of struggle from prairie days, of
hobo jungles by the railroad tracks (not today’s high speed ones, no way), and
train-jumpers (a different breed that we highway hitchhikers but still searchers.
I never had much luck on the trains, and got tossed off a few by the railroad
bulls, so I will leave that mode of transportation alone), skid row nights,
sidewalk sneers, and destruction of the western hobo night by gentrification.
Of paperless street benches, of paper-filled bus depot benches, of public
bathroom stenches, of half-way house snores and hostels bland food that dotted
the old transient landscape, and have seemingly faded from memory, except on
twilight California streets as the homeless hoboes make way to the beach and
night time sleeps, sleep it offs, mainly.
Yah, maybe it was all those
sheer, hard facts, collectively or individually, that brought me back to
memories of the ancient hitchhike road, especially that brother cabbie scene
but, finally, here is the real reason. Let me go back to those California roads
for a minute, no, not the Pacific Coast highway freedom road (Routes 1 and 101)
but the high volume, hard-driving, eighty billion-laned (okay, I exaggerate)
Interstate 5 that, one way or another, goes up and down the length of the
state. Actually let me go back to the one of the entrances, one of the
Oceanside entrances, where beyond belief I spy two youths, a male and female,
two youthful Markins and Angelicas maybe, standing on the corner, waiting,
waiting for a what. A hitchhike ride of course. In the second it took me to
realize that this is what they were doing (they held out no thumb, nor had a
sign indicating where they were heading, obviously “green” at this work) and slammed
on the brakes I was beside them. “Where are you heading?” asks ancient seeker
narrator of this tale. “L.A.,” they shoot back. “Get in.” And they do, the guy
(Brandon) in the front and the gal (Lillian) in back. At least they have enough
sense to make that configuration, that pair male –female configuration, like we
did in the old days just in case things got weird. And I had no intention, no
intention in hell, of going back to L.A. that day, except one million questions
about their purpose, their reasons for being on the road, and ancient
courtesies that dictated that I pick up hitchhikers, a rare, incredibly rare
occurrence these days. I will let them tell their stories some other time
because this after all is my story but their quest, in any case, involves
nothing as grandiose as the search for the blue-pink night although it involved
Generation X dreams, and that will have to do.
So the torch is passed, maybe…
Or maybe it is the sheer, hard
fact of that knapsack, old Army surplus olive green knapsack, moth-eaten,
maybe, moldy, well hitchhike-traveled, well-worn, a lasting memento to that
1969 Angelica-paired road trip sitting in some back closet, up in the attic, or
worst, down in the forlorn cellar crying to get out, or maybe some old sea
shell of infamous origin also back there calling me back, back to our homeland
the road, and the eternal, now I know it is eternal, search for that blue-pink
great American West night.