Saturday, March 28, 2015

Out In The 1960s Be-Bop Corner Boy Night-Dimmed Elegy For Peter Paul Markin-Take Two


From The Pen Of Bart Webber   

My old friend and corner boy the late Peter Paul Markin got as caught up in what he called the jailbreak of the 1960s counter-cultural movement as any man I knew from that time.  You know, and if you don’t know you can look up the information on Wikipedia or take a chance that somebody has put something about the times so I will just give a little shorthand, the “hippie”-tie-dye-far out, man-drugs, sex, rock and roll-live fast and stay out of the fast lane-angry, gentle people-seek a newer world-turn the world upside down-we want the world and we want it now-Nirvana crash-out thing. While everybody did not go through all the connected hyphens enough did enough of most of the ideas described to form a significant mass movement, for a while. That “for a while is” is important because Peter Paul stuck it out through thick and thin a lot longer than most, stuck with the “new age” ideas for a while after the ebb tide having caught him sort of flat-footed could no longer hold back those “wanting” hungers that flashed through his life (and the rest of us his corner boys too). That tension between the new world that he invested his “angel-heart” in when he threw the dice of his life against the back alley boards and the satan-demon” he suppressed temporarily just could not stay inside that fragile man for too long and in the end he went under.

I was there through some of it, the early part mostly when Peter Paul  was driven more by the “better angel of his nature.” When he sensed that the fresh breeze coming through the 1960s land might wash him clean, might give him some breathing room, during the school part from late elementary school on through our first couple of years out of high school when a lot of the stuff was getting into high gear. Then I drifted away with a little junior college time, an early marriage, a quick first child, some responsibilities starting up a small restaurant but, frankly, because I was never as invested in the successful outcome of what was going on then as Markin. Got tired of the constant on the road hitchhiking, sleeping on some off-beat bus, somebody’s kindly floor, or curled up in a sleeping bag against the wide oceans, and tired of the drugs, sex, and rock and roll run through although for about two years I was with Markin almost every step of the way. Some people, and thinking about those days over the years since I am one of them, were not built to be a merry prankster, to “be on the bus” as some guy used to say and Markin picked it up and would say it every time somebody jumped off the bus.

I might have drifted away, got caught up with the family ways but until a few years before the end we would stay in contact, or I would get messages from him through other old time corner boys like Frankie Riley, Sam Lowell, and Jack Dawson. Just so you know what I am talking about in case you were not washed, washed clean I hope, by that tide Peter Paul got caught up in the anti-establishment/anti-Vietnam War/don’t trust anybody over thirty/live free and communally on greens and love/hippie/drugs, the more the better/louder the better acid rock/strobe light dreams/seeking a newer world/turn the world upside down and see what shakes out scene and if you didn’t know I have laid out the briefest of outlines here. Some of those trends around our town, North Adamsville down by the shore about thirty miles south of Boston, Markin, or he and Frankie once Frankie stopped harassing him and began to be swept up by the tide too started or heard about from the grapevine and started.  But you have to know this, and I didn’t really get the full weight of what this meant until recently when I felt compelled to write a little something about the bastard and had to think about all the things I knew about him directly and what I picked up from other sources that he was a man of profound contradictions.

Hell, like many things that sprang up from nowhere then and had to be dealt with like the war, like your relationship with your parents, your view of success and an interesting life, and the way events totally outside their control twisted many people, from that time he was nothing but a walking contradiction. Would go from talking kick ass about the heathen commies and taking them down a peg in Vietnam one minute when we were hanging around idly against the brick wall in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alley in high school, no, for longer than that until he had to face Charley on his own turf when he got dragged into the Army and practically became a red-front street fighter with the NLF flag in his hands running through the streets of Cambridge, Washington, San Francisco the next. Really after he got out of the service but it seemed strange to see him switch up like that. Maybe that experience, the whole panorama of Vietnam, the war that broke apart our generation, hell, broke the country apart is the prime example I can give about Markin’s contradictions or better those tussles that crammed his brain for almost as long as I had known him, although I will give you more. See Markin  would yell and scream about the commie menace, like the rest of us caught up in the red scare Cold War are we going to last until next Wednesday or is the world going to go up in a puff.

He had been furious when that war got started up in earnest in the early 1960s while we were still in school and practically wanted to join the Green Berets sight unseen although given his physique and lack of co-ordination he would have washed out about the first day, and would tell one and all that we needed stop the bad guys in their tracks. At the same time he was very influenced by his grandmother who was loosely associated with the Catholic Workers movement, you know the social justice and peace people, Catholic version, who are still around, Catholic version, and actually would some nights rant about the Russkies and their nefarious doings around the world and in the next topic talk switch up about how we needed to make a more peaceful world and do something about it. If that doesn’t give you an idea of what he was about, maybe is too vague, I remember in 1960, the fall, when we were just starting high school, he would go door to door for hard anti-communist Jack Kennedy (one of our own Irish to boot) every weekend who was spouting in debates and where ever he could on the stump about the “missile gap” meaning the United States needed more bombs, more nuclear bombs,. Except one weekend, one Saturday, to placate his grandmother, his Irish Catholic grandmother although she was a little less enamored of the “chandelier” Irish Kennedys doing any “bog shanty” Irish proud, he went to a  Catholic Worker-sponsored nuclear disarmament (along with the Quakers and a bunch of little old ladies in tennis shoes as we used to call the grandmotherly do-gooders who you would see in Adamsville Center passing out leaflets once in a while for some worthy cause, and maybe some Universalists and Unitarians before they joined forces together but don’t hold me to that last group, except they did join together for some reason).We all gave him hell about that not seeing, me as hard as anybody else since I was as anti-red as the next guy, being clueless, about how the events of the world were twisting him back and forth. The rest of us, except maybe Sam Lowell a little, were either not consciously conflicted about the big events in the world. We  were so tied up in corner boy midnight creep small larcenies, turf wars with other corner boy cohorts (except for Red Radley and his biker boys who hung around Harry’s Variety Store, nobody, nobody still living, messed with those guys and their whip-chains and we never went within ten blocks of them even if we needed a soda desperately on a hot day, no way, Jesus, no way), getting girls to “do the do” or having many male fantasies about that idea, especially the ideas, read lies, come Monday morning before school cafeteria talkfest about who did or did not do what over the weekend, yes read mainly lies, getting winos or older brothers to get booze for us, no lie, although with the winos you had to make sure they got their bottle of Ripple or Thunderbird and watch them in and out of the liquor store to make sure that did not break on you, that that the fate of the world or the vagaries and rages of our small town existence passed us by, then anyway.              

But see maybe it is best to give some other examples so that nobody gets the idea that I have overdrawn that Markin contradictions business. No question from early on, junior high anyway from what I remember since I only knew him in sixth grade in elementary school having moved up from Carver when my father changed jobs, Markin had an idea about seeing himself as a up and coming politician, what he would later where he had shifted to that street fighter stance after the Army call a bourgeois politician at one point in order to satisfy some fierce childhood wanting habit as he called what ailed him and a fiery renegade street fighter facing down the cops at another (after the Army and after he got what he called “hip” he got arrested more than a few times for acts of civil disobedience including in the big bad mass arrests down in Washington on May Day in 1971). A desert-seeking latter day hermit slated for the slab or sainthood actually having gone out into the caves near Joshua Tree in California for a while one month and king hell orgy satyr the next (he was not happy, despite his  failed marriages complete with divorces, unless he had a few girlfriends at the same time to lie to). Consumed tanks-full of Irish working class kick ass (kick ass the commies I guess but mainly kick ass for me to get into an occasional fistfight when somebody crossed me) low-shelf Johnny Walker whiskies on sleepy Cape Cod beach strewn nights and a warrior avenging angel “walking with the king” peyote button visions on electric Joshua Tree days. Was as truthful as God one minute and the devil’s own hell and fire liar the next. Got as sentimental over women as an Romantic poet one day and despite needing those women friends then proceeded to cold-heartedly betray about four women in two hours the next. Peter Paul by his whole being, just by his very existence, was twisted up with each new social convulsion, twisted by who he was, who he wanted to be but most of all by his over-sized  puffball dreams of his own future, and the world’s. No wonder Sam Lowell who knew him as well as any guy except maybe Allan Johnson ( who knew him from about third grade when they had lived in the same four unit housing project complex with together him and used to write on various blogs and websites a few years ago using Markin’s name as his moniker as a sign of respect for his long lost memory), used to said he was a man not of his times but of some earlier time when the world was small enough that the weight and fire of one man’s rages could set the world right.

Take that corner boy designation that I started out with, a designation let’s be very clear, which was separate from friendships, a distinction which every corner boy knew, every corner boy who hung out on our corner. At the end senior year in high school and for a couple of years after that before the group started going its own ways that corner was in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alleys. Before that starting out at Doc’s Drugstore in late elementary school, maybe fifth grade according to Frankie Riley, Gino’s Sub Shop in junior high (when Frankie, a character worth writing about in his own right back in those days if not later, became the acknowledged and undisputed leader of our corner boy cohort) and before the place changed ownership in high school and the new owners did not want corner boys hanging around their place, Salducci’s Pizza Parlor, up in North Adamsville Square. Serious business. Serious corner boys hanging out most of the time, especially early on, because we were flat out busted, no dough, no way to get dough, except our little midnight creep petty larcenies, some not so petty like the time we hit it big on a big jewelry box in one house we crept into,  and maybe hitting Ma’s pocketbook for change when times were tough and most of us just couldn’t stand being cooped up all the time with no space to breathe brothers and sisters (me four sisters) coming out of the rafters. So weekend nights mainly and almost any night during the summer you could find at least a few of us holding up whatever age-appropriate wall we were holding up. And many nights Peter Paul was the guy who glued us together, the guy talking a mile a minute (or if he wasn’t talking writing something two miles a minute) about everything under the sun that he had read that day, or sometime.

Of course Peter Paul was also the glue guy when our larcenous hearts were on fire, he had a few contradictions even then to work out. I don’t want to get into those larcenies but I will give one example from our early days, kids’ stuff days, when we figured the “clip,” you know, the five-finger discount up the Square where in those days all the stores were not in the malls like now in most places, especially the jewelry stores and department stores. Here was the beauty of Markin, he worked out the “clips,” who to hit, how and where, although Frankie was the “on-site” organizer I guess you would call him. Funny the way Markin got started he said one night a few years later when we were at wits’ end about dough to get a car and be mobile for once, was he was trying to impress some girls and didn’t have dollar one and so he and some kid who left the neighborhood before I got there went to Kay’s Jewelry store and grabbed an onyx ring with a diamond set in the middle, cheap stuff but all the rage then for boy-girl “going steady” and the girl loved it. I don’t know what happened after that with those “clips,” before I got into town, how many and for what purpose, but that probably gave Markin just the flame he needed whenever he was in a tight corner. The basics of the clip were simple, have one guy clip and another lookout (which I did mostly since I was kind of nervous and would get sweaty palms) and then clear out slowly like nothing happened. Markin was beautiful in his planning (although as Frankie said no way could Markin run the operation or we all would have been in reform school or prison) but the really beautiful part was how we made money off the stuff. Obviously we couldn’t go to a pawn shop or something like that so Markin would sell the stuff to high school kids who had dough at a nice discount. Really beautiful, and here is where we might have been unconscious socialists, we pooled all our monies together for whatever entertainment we were going to use the money for.  


Here’s the difference between corner boys and friends though, okay. Friends could be anything from some “nod” thing where you were cool with another guy (sometime I am going to write something up about the meaning of the “nod,” in the hierarchy of the gestures of the time because you would never nod a fellow corner boy, no way, and no way, no way in hell, would you nod a girl, Jesus, they wouldn’t know what it meant but I will leave it as this “cool” between guys for now), maybe played sports together, worked together, but corner boys were expected to be more than that, were expected to be willing to go to the mat for the other guy, and did, and although we did not have anything as corny as some ceremonial blood oath like some corners had that we had heard about and had dismissed out of hand we were tight.

Peter Paul Markin was a key guy in the great firmament of the different configurations that we morphed into (I had only caught the sixth grade at Doc’s to start my corner time but Peter Paul, Allan and, I think, Sam all started to hang out at Doc’s in the fifth grade when they “discovered” rock and roll and Doc’s big ass play everything, five, can you believe it five selections for a quarter jukebox on their way home from the elementary school that was just down the block). He was as stand-up a corner boy as the next guy, probably more so than me, since he whole blessed life depended on that link to the world then. He took more than a few punches and kicks defending his brethren, including me one time when Frannie Desoto was after my ass, when he could have looked the other way. He really never was much of a fighter then, too runty and awkward but game. Thing was Peter Paul could never be the leader, he was far too bookish for that with his eight billion facts ready to drown out any argument with the light of pounding reason when other skills were more necessary like how to get money fast for whatever enterprise was at hand from date money to car money. Skills which required somebody like the larcenous Frankie Riley and his midnight creep operations which were done with style, however everybody especially Frankie appreciated him, called him the “Scribe,” mostly a high honor in our corner.                   

This is where those eight billion, maybe before the end nine billion, facts did come in handy. See Peter Paul had out of some almost mystic sense, or maybe just through his overweening desire to see the thing happen, called the breeze that was palpably running through the country beginning with the election of our own practically neighbors but Irish in any case even if chandelier Irish “new thinking” President Kennedy in 1960 and that fresh breeze got translated by many of us in lots of ways from social activism to outrageous self-indulgence, not all of them in the end worthy of remembering, not all of them thought back on with fondness. But remember we were fighting what Peter Paul later on termed a rear-guard action in a cold civil war that I feel goes on to this day and if Peter Paul were around he would be sure to remind us not only of his call on the breeze but of who we were up against and why, and name names for the forgetful, so good or bad that breeze is part of the chronicle of our time.

Peter Paul, who we always called Markin early on and never that WASP-ish three name thing like his forbears had come over on the Mayflower or something rather than he to the low-end housing projects born, or once Frankie Riley our leader anointed him in high school we began calling him, sometimes by me just to get under his skin, “the Scribe” since he was basically Frankie’s flak, always writing stuff about Frankie like it was scripture and Frankie did nothing to dissuade anybody about its worthiness as such. You could always depend on the Scribe with his infernal facts to make anything Frankie did seem like the Second Coming, and maybe with his frenzied pen Markin actually believed that.

Markin, Frankie, Allan, Sam, me  and a bunch of other guys basically came of age together, the fresh breeze trying to figure out the world and our place, if any, in it in the early 1960s when we po’ boys used to hang around the corner in high school, the corner right next to Jack Slack’s bowling alley on Thornton Street where sometimes we would cadge a few free games if Jack’s son, our fellow classmate in the North Adamsville Class of 1962, was working and if not then just hanging out, Frankie talking a mile a minute, Markin taking notes at two miles a minute, maybe gathering in some girls if we had money to head to Jimmy Jack’s Dinner up on Atlantic Avenue near-by where Jimmy Jenkins who would later join with us held forth with his corner boys and on most nights would welcome us there if there was no beef brewing between our respective corners. Jimmy Jack’s after Doc retired and closed his drugstore was the place to be if you wanted the best jukebox in town (although only three selections for a quarter but Markin, big idea Markin, figured out a way in tenth grade to take some slugs the size of a quarter that he got from an older brother who worked in a metal stamping shop and play for free, how about that, as long as we didn’t get too greedy and Jimmy Jack would pull the plug on the jukebox).

Most nights though no dough, no girls, we would endlessly banter back and forth about whatever was on our minds, maybe girls, girls who did or did not “do the do” and you can figure that out, whether some Frankie midnight creep thing would work out or whether we would wind up in the clink, maybe somebody’s take on sports or politics the latter mostly when some big event shook even our corner complacency. A lot of times it would be Markin spouting something, maybe, to give you an example, how religion was a joke, especially our Roman Catholic religion that didn’t make sense to us a lot of the time and we lots of times skipped Mass as we got older. Except of course going to Mass was just fine with Markin when he got the “hots” for Minnie Callahan and he would sit a few rows behind her at eight o’clock Mass and watch her ass the whole time, and she knew he was watching her that way as she told him later when he asked her for a date. Nobody jumped on him for that contradiction after all it was about a girl and that was fair enough. But get this, and the more I write about the guy the more I see the terrible contradictions that he was always bouncing around in his head and I keep coming back to that one day, that one fall day, that October day, the October before the 1960 elections, he had heard that the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day’s social justice operation out of New York City, was going to be part of a nuclear disarmament demonstration on the Boston Common with some Quakers and other little old ladies in tennis sneaker and he was going to march with them. Jesus did he take a razzing from the rest of us, Catholic do-gooders, Quakers and quirky old grandmothers for Chrissakes. Classic Markin though.

Pretty early on Markin caught this fresh breeze idea, caught and wouldn’t let it go, influenced a little by some “beat” stuff he read, you know big Jack Kerouac and his on the road travels along with some other New York guys in what sounded like great stuff when he told us about its beginnings in the late 1940s but which was just winding down as a cool movement in our time and was then being commercialized to hell, was a goof on television and subject to silly jokes about guys with long beards, berets, and bongos and girls dressed head to toe in black, maybe underneath too something for erotic fantasy in those days. He would tell us too on those nights when no corner boys were around like sometimes happened in the summer with dopey family vacations and he had had it with his mother’s endless harping on him or his three brothers doing stuff to disturb his reading or something he would fly out the back door and walk to the bus stop which took him to the subway which took him to Harvard Square when he would hang out in the Hayes-Bickford and just observe stuff. Stuff like goofy guys singing songs, folk songs as it turned out when he got brave enough to ask, that he had never heard of or guys reading poets or stories to a few people in front of them, mostly girls. Stuff that the first time he told us about it sounded weird, Frankie made jokes for days about Markin winding up like some lonesome hobo, being some Harvard goof’s mascot, being some kind of a court jester to the winos, drunks, hipsters and con artists ready to make him jump. Markin got mad, said it was not like that, refused to write stuff about Frankie for a while but kept pushing the point that maybe this was what we were spending all those lonely ass nights yakking about, that we might get swept up in it too. A fresh breeze he said that was going put all our talking points dreams about schools, jobs, marriage, kids, everything in the shade. We laughed at him, although as the decade moved on the laughter subsided.

This fresh breeze thing was not just goof talk although there was plenty of that toward the end of the night if we had been drinking some Southern Comfort purchased by Allan’s older brother or maybe like we did more than a few times by getting one of the town winos to go to the liquor for us and who could care less about our ages as long as he got his bottle of Thunderbird, Ripple or some such rat poison wine. Markin was an intense reader of the news, of what was going on in the world and maybe the rest of us should have been a little more world-wise then too but I think what we got caught up in then was the notion that we were born into a world that was already fixed, that somebody else had the strings too and that down among the fellahin like one of our history teachers called us peasants, including himself, that deal was done. (By the way that was the first time I heard the word fellahin and was surprised later when Markin almost forced me to read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, he a fellow working-class guy from up in Lowell, used the word too). We, maybe Allan and Sam most of all, were what Markin called alienated although he did not use that word then but rather called us hung up on the James Dean sullen nobody cares thing. Hell, Allan, a big lumbering guy, used to do his James Dean tee shirt, rolled up sleeve cigarette pack, blue jeans, engineer boots completer buckles and a whip-chain hanging out of his back pocket sulk all the time, and had used that whip-chain for more than ceremony as Frankie could tell you when we got into a few scrapes with Leo Russo and his corners up in the Square. So maybe we were but like Markin said, and who could be as sullen as the rest of us especially when he had his battle royals with his mother, a lot of young people around the country were feeling the same way and were trying to break out of the Cold War we-are-going-to-die tomorrow thing what with nuclear bomb threats being thrown around every other day by one side or the other. Stuff like that Markin was hip to, stuff like the fight for civil rights in the South where young white people were joining in the fight although Frankie Riley would say some very derogatory things about black people, and about how they better not show up in North Adamsville looking for anything and some guys, me too for a while, felt the same then, felt we didn’t want n----rs around our way. That was the hard reality fed to us by parents and everything else in our cramped little lives. Of course the big thing for Markin was the music, the rock and roll we came of age to but also this new folk stuff that he would hear in Harvard Square. Most of it I hated, still do, but that music was another move away from the old stuff that Markin kept saying had to change. Yeah, later we each in our own way grabbed some of what that madman speaking about forty miles an hour would run by us but when he presented it at first he might as well have been on the moon.       

Markin really was the bell-weather, the first guy to head west to check out what was happening in the summer after high school. He had been accepted into Boston University on a wing and a pray since as bright as he was he was slightly indifferent to grades preferring to wrap himself around the eight million facts knowledge of what interested him, mainly literature, history, and math and neglected the rest. Neglected it too because at least for public consumption we corner boys were not supposed to be too “book smart” but needed to be “street smart,” a very big different especially when the deal was coming down.  (Strangely, although I personally was never much of a student and only went to junior college for a couple of years to learn business administration in order to help me understand that aspect of the printing business, guys like Markin, Frankie and Sam, Jack Dawson, went to four year colleges in a time when that was unusual around our way and they all were the first in their families to do so, hell, Frankie and Sam went on to be lawyers, Frankie mine until this day.). That first trip out in the summer of 1964 Markin did not hitchhike whatever he may have told the girls around Adamsville, Boston, and Harvard Square trying to cash in in the “romance of the road” residue from the Jack Kerouac-induced fervor which fired all our imaginations after Markin force-fed us to read his big “beat” book On The Road. Markin and some of the rest of us did the hitchhike road later to save money and just to do it but the first time out he took the Greyhound bus which he said was horrible going out over several days of being squeezed in by some fat ass snorer, some mother who let her child on her lap wail to the high heavens, and some wino who along with his dank urine smell was drifting west. He said though despite his feeling like some unwashed hobo as he got off the bus it had been worth it once he got to ‘Frisco and saw right in front of him the wild west show stuff at places like Golden Gate Park that put the “hip” action in dingy staid Harvard Square in the shades. Had his first taste of dope, several kinds, had a few quick, easy and non-committal affairs (that was his term, okay, like he was a guy out of a Fitzgerald novel), and that non-committal was on the girls’ parts unlike in old North Adamsville where every girl in those days, especially the “do the do” girls expected marriage and kids and white pickets fences and everything that Markin said we would leave behind, and gladly. 

He also went west the first couple of years when he was in college, a few times with me along until I tired of it and by then we were all pretty much going our separate ways and I was starting up my first small print shop in the Gloversville Mall. So I missed a bunch of what Markin was about before he announced to the world one night at Jimmy Jack’s where we were grabbing something to eat and trying to find some non-Beatles tunes on the jukebox that he was tired of college, that he wanted to pursue the fresh breeze that was starting to build a head of steam while he could and he would probably catch up with college later, later when we had won, when the “newer world” as he called it after some English poet, was the implication. Unfortunately poor old Markin had made his what might have previously been reasonable decision just as all hell was breaking loose in Vietnam and every non-college guy was being grabbed to fill the ranks of the army and he got drafted which clipped his wings for a couple of years (I was exempt as the sole support of my mother and younger sisters after my father died in 1965).



But that Army death trap was a little later because I know he got caught up in the summer of love in 1967, before they clipped his wings with that freaking draft notice. That was the summer that he met Josh, Josh Breslin from up in Podunk, Maine (Josh’s expression, but really Olde Saco by the ocean up near Portland ) who has his own million stories that he could tell about that summer, about being on some Captain Crunch-led merry prankster ex-school bus riding up and down the coast, getting high about thirteen different ways, playing high decibel music coming out a jerry-rigged stereo on the front top of the bus, picking up freaks (later called hippies, male and female), got “married” to one Butterfly Swirl and had a Captain-sanctioned acid-blessed “honeymoon,” and stayed on the bus for a long while after Markin headed back east to face the music. Yeah, Markin while out there got caught up in the acid-etched music from the Dead, the Airplane and a million other minute niche rock bands (I just realized I had better tell you that acid being not “throw in your face” acid but LSD, colors, man, colors, okay, just in case you were worrying), the drugs from ganja to peyote although he always claimed not LSD but with some of the stuff he did toward the end I don’t know, the sex in about seventeen different variations once he got the hang of the Kama Sutra and a couple of adventurous West Coast women to indulge him (although in the end I heard that he betrayed them as well, if that is not too strong a word for the loose but mainly sincere attachments of the time, left them high and dry with the rent due and their drug stash gone once he was ready to move onto some new woman, a woman he had met in La Jolla), the madcap adventure of hitchhiking west which the times we went out together could be a subject for more than a few pages of interest, the bummer of riding freight when he tired of the hitchhike road (and had sworn off cross-country buses as had I after one jaunt to Atlanta), which he often said when we would run into each other periodically later was not for the faint-hearted , not for those who didn’t breathe train smoke and dreams the way he put it to me one time when he was in high dudgeon.

Markin not only got caught up in all the commotion of the counter-culture that kids today scratch their heads about the minute some old geezer like Josh Breslin, Jack Dawson, Sam Lowell, Jimmy Jenkins, or, hell, me starts going on about “wasn’t that a time” but brought me, Frankie Riley, Jack, Allan, Jimmy Jenkins, Josh, Sam, Phil Ballard and a few other guys from around our way (except Josh who was from Olde Saco up in Maine although in the end he was as much a corner boy refugee as the rest of us from North Adamsville) into the action as well. All of us (again except Josh whom he had met out on Russian Hill in Frisco in the summer of love, 1967 version) at one time or another travelled west with the Scribe, and lived to tell about it, although it was a close thing, a very close thing a couple of times, drug times and wrong place at the wrong time times.

But as the 1960s decade closed, maybe a little into the early 1970s the luster faded, the ebb came crashing in, and most of the old corner boys like Frankie and Sam who took the lead back to the “normal” went back to the old grind (both of them to the law, lawyers if you can believe that, Frankie mine of course). Markin could have or Josh can tell more about what happened when the fresh breeze gave out about somewhere between 1971 and 1974, when the Generation of ’68 as both of them liked to call it for all the things that happened that year, although Markin was on the sidelines or rather he was trying to keep his ass from being blown away by  Charley (name for the enemy in Vietnam, usually in some guerilla unit) when he, Charley, decided to come up over the hill some dark moonless sweaty night (Charley, that’s what he called them too, the enemy, at first he said out of spite and disrespect but after Tet in 1968 he said it with respect, lots more respect). According to stuff Markin wrote later for some journal that was interested in such things (and I think Josh said he had “cribbed” some stuff from Markin’s article to fill out an article he was doing for Esquire and for once some big money) a lot had to do with political confusion, a lot believing that we were dealing with reasonable opponents when they didn’t give a damn about us, their sons and daughters, when they let us to hang out to dry when they decided to pull the hammer down. But he insisted we were also done in by our studious refusal almost on principal to listen to the old-timers the guys and gals who fought the social and labor battles in the 1930s and 1940s and could have helped figure out which way to go, how to defend ourselves when a fast freeze cold civil war was brewing in the land.

Some stuff, frankly had to do with the overweening self-indulgence that set in once we took a few hits to the head from the powers that be, drugs to the point of stupor, a half-baked “theory” that music is the revolution that even I balked at although Markin said he went through a stage where he thought that might do the trick, know thyself in one of a hundred forms, new age stuff, before you go out to slay the dragon while he or she in the meantime is arming to the hilt, and a whole segment just withdrew literally to the hills, abandoned any thought of confrontation, heavy, man, heavy. Josh told me a few years ago to go to the back roads of Maine, Vermont, Oregon, places like that to see what happened to the remnant of that crowd, he said it wasn’t pretty, not pretty at all. But Markin said after the hubris and defiance of any coherent political strategy settled if you wanted to really understand what went wrong you could point to the fact that we never despite appearances, despite half a million strong Woodstock nation or million-massed marches in Washington, get to enough people to get seriously into the idea of turning the world upside down. Could not despite the baloney main media stories, turn all those who did not indulge in the counter-cultural life, did not have a clue where Vietnam was, did not jail-break out in any real sense when there was plenty of  cover and mobility into active allies. People like Josh’s friends up in Maine who went into the dying textile plants just like their fathers and mothers, or like ours in North Adamsville who also went on the traditional school-job-marriage-three kids-two dogs and that coveted white picket fence (which I wound up doing after the road tired me out). We were pariahs in some spots in town, seen as commies or some exotic wild life, and that attitude got repeated many places when the steam ran out, or people had their drug minute (or longer) and that was that, that was enough.

That last idea hit home with me. I had been, despite a few flings at the west with Markin or one of the guys and some weekend hippie warrior action around Harvard Square or on the then tent city new age Boston Common, grinding away at that printing shop I had built up from scratch after high school which was starting to take off especially when I made one smart move and hired a professional silk-screener out of the Massachusetts School of Art and grabbed a big chunk of the silk-screening trade which was starting to mushroom as everybody needed, just needed, to have some multi-colored silk-screen poster hanging from their walls or have their tee-shirts, guys and gals, done up the same way. Or a guy like Allan who took the trips west too but who was just on the cusp of the new wave and had gone into the almost dying shipbuilding trade, as a draftsman if I recall, since although he was not much of a student he had been the ace of our drafting classes even in junior high and took it up in high school as well. Even Josh, a late hold-out with Markin, went to writing for a lot of what he called advanced publications (meaning low circulation, meaning no dough, meaning doing it for the glory to hear him tell it now, now that he is out of the grind).

And Markin, the last guy standing, well, Markin, as we all expected, once his Army time was up, once after that he had crisscrossed the country in one caravan or another, indulged in more dope than you could shake a stick at, got into more in-your-face-street confrontations with the cops, soldiers, rednecks, never went back to college but also took up the pen, for a while. Wrote according to Josh some pretty good stuff that big circulation publications were interested in publishing. Wrote lots of stuff in the early 1970s once he settled down in Oakland (Josh lived out there with him then and I know Sam and maybe Frankie visited him there) about his corner boys, his old working class neighborhood, about being a screwed-up teen filled with angst and alienation in the old days. Good stuff from what I read even if I was a little miffed when he constantly referred to me as a guy with two left feet, two left hands and too left out with the girls which wasn’t exactly true, well a little.

One big series that Markin did, did as homage to his fellow Vietnam veterans, although he never talked much about his own experiences, said he did what he did and that was that just like our fathers would say when we tried to asked about World War II with them, Vietnam veterans who had trouble getting back to the “real world” and wound up under bridges and along railroad tracks mainly in Southern California where he interviewed them and let them tell their stories their way called Going to the Jungle (a double-reference to the jungle in ‘Nam and the railroad “jungle” of hobo legend where they then resided) was short-listed for some important award but I forget which one.                    

And then he stopped. Fell off the earth. No, not really, but the way I got the story mostly from Josh and Sam, with a little stuff from Frankie thrown after the dust settled is what the thing amounted to. Markin had always been a little volatile in his appetites, what he called in high school (and we started calling too) his “wanting habits” coming out of the wretched of the earth North Adamsville deep down working poor neighborhoods  (me and Sam too). At some point in about 1976 or 1977 but probably the earlier date he started doing girl, snow, you know, cocaine that was no big thing in the 1960s (I had never tried it and has only heard about it from guys who went to Mexico for weed and would pick up a couple of ounces to level out with when the pot got weary as it started to do when the demand was greater than the supply and street hipsters and junkies were cutting what they had with oregano or herbs like that, or maybe I heard one time all oregano and good-luck to your high, sucker). Cocaine then was pretty expensive so if you got your “wanting habits” on with that stuff, if you liked running it constantly up your nose using some freshly minted dollar bill like some guys did  until you always sounded like you had a stuffed up nose then you had better have either started robbing banks, a dicey thing, a very dicey thing the one time me and a couple of guys tried to rob as little a thing as a variety store or start dealing the stuff to keep the demons away. He choose the latter.           

Once Markin moved up the drug dealer food chain that is where things got weird, got so weird that when I heard the story I thought he must have taken too much acid back in the day no matter what he claimed. He was “muling” a lot for the boys down south, for what was then a far smaller and less professional drug cartel, meaning he was bringing the product over the border which was a lot easier then as long as you were not a Mexican or a “hippie,” or looked like either. From what Sam said things went okay for a while but see, and this I know from my own story, those kid “wanting habits” play funny tricks on you, make you go “awry” as Markin used to say. In the summer of 1977 (we are not sure which month) Markin went south (Mexico) to pick a big (for him) two kilogram batch of coke to bring back to the states. And that was the end of Markin, the end that we can believe part. They found his body in a back alley down in Sonora face down with two slugs in his head. Needless to say the Federales did next to nothing to find out who murdered him.

Frankie, then just a budding lawyer, once the news got back to Boston, sent a private detective down there but all he was able to find out from a shaky source was that Markin had either stolen the two kilogram shipment and was going to go independent (not a good idea even then when the cartels were nothing like the strong-arm kill outfits they are today, Jesus) or the negotiations went bad, went off the track, and somebody got offended by the gringo marauder. Life is cheap in that league. To this day that is all we know, and old Markin is buried down there in some potter’s field unmarked grave still mourned and missed.        

I mentioned above that in the early 1970s Markin before we lost contact, or rather I lost contact since Josh knew his whereabouts outside of San Francisco in Daly City until about 1974, did a series of articles about the old days and his old corner boys in North Adamsville.  A few years ago we, Frankie, Josh, Sam (Allan had passed away before this) and I agreed that a few of them were worth publishing if only for ourselves and the small circle of people whom Markin wrote for and about. So that is exactly what we did having a commemorative small book of articles and any old time photographs we could gather and had it printed up in the print shop my oldest son is now running for me. Since not all of us had everything that Markin wrote, what the hell they were newspaper or magazine articles to be used to wrap up the fish in or something after we were done reading them, we decided to print what was available. I was able to find a copy of a bunch of sketches up in the attic of my parents’ home which I was cleaning up when they were putting their house up for sale since they were in the process of downsizing. Josh, apparently not using his copies for wrapping fish purposes, had plenty of the later magazine pieces. Unfortunately we could not find any copies of the long defunct East Bay Other and so could not include anything from that Going To Jungle series.   

Below is the introduction that Sam Lowell wrote for that book which we agreed should be put in here trying to put what Markin was about in content from the guy who knew him about as well as anybody from the old neighborhood:  

The late Peter Paul Markin, also known as “the Scribe, ” so anointed by Frankie Riley the unchallenged self-designated king hell king of the schoolboy night among the corner boys who hung around the pizza parlors, pool halls, and bowling alleys of the town, in telling somebody else’s story in his own voice about life in the old days in the working class neighborhoods of North Adamsville where he grew up, or when others, threating murder and mayhem,  wanted him to tell their stories usually gave each and every one of that crew enough rope to hang themselves without additional comment. He would take down, just like he would do later with the Going To The Jungle series that won a couple of awards and was short-listed for the Globe award, what they wanted the world to hear, spilled their guts out as he one time uncharitably termed their actions (not the veterans, not his fellows who had their troubles down in L.A. and needed to righteously get it out and he was the conduit, their voice, but the zanies from our old town), and then lightly, very lightly if the guy was bigger, stronger than him, or in the case of girls if they were foxy, mainly clean up the language for a candid world to read. Well I have said enough except I like Bart still miss and mourn the bastard. Here is what he had to say:  

Tell me, damn it, try to tell me this is not an elegy worthy of a fallen corner boy, yeah, go on and tell me. BW

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