Tuesday, March 24, 2015

***“You Are On The Bus Or Off The Bus”- The Transformation Of “Foul-Mouth” Phil Into “Far-Out” Phil- With Mad Hatter Writer Ken Kesey And His Merry Pranksters In Mind

Introduction to the series by 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. Peter Paul, who we always called Markin and never that WASP-ish three name thing like his forbears had come over on the Mayflower or something rather than he to the housing projects born, or once Frankie Riley our leader anointed him we began calling him 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 two thousand facts to make anything Frankie did seem like the Second Coming, and maybe with his frenzied pen Markin actually believed that.

Markin, Frankie, me  and a bunch of other guys basically came of age together 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, 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 Salducci’s Pizza Parlor near-by where Red Riley held forth with his corner boys. Pretty early on Markin caught this fresh breeze idea, influenced a little by some “beat” stuff he read which was just winding down as a cool movement and was then being commercialized to hell, 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.

Markin was the bell-weather, the first guy to head west to check out what was happening after high school and while he was in college before he got drafted which clipped his wings for a couple of years. Got caught up in the acid-etched music from the Dead, the Airplane and a million other minute niche rock bands (that acid being not “throw in your face” acid but LSD okay), the drugs from ganja to peyote although not LSD he always claimed 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, the madcap adventure of hitchhiking west, the bummer of riding freight when he tired of the hitchhike road and which he often said 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, or, hell, me starts going on about “wasn’t that a time” but brought me, Frankie Riley, Jack, 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, 1968 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). Josh 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, well, Markin, as we all expected, once his Army time was up 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 father’s would say when we tried to asked about World War II with them, 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) 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 in that 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 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). Cocaine then was pretty expensive and so if you got your “wanting habits” on with that stuff, if you liked running it constantly up your nose 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, meaning 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 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.        

That brings me back to my purpose here. I mentioned above that in the early 1970s Markin did a series of articles about the old days and his old corner boys in North Adamsville and we, Frankie, Josh, Sam and I agreed that a few of them were worth publishing if only for ourselves and the small circle of people whom Markin wrote about. So that is exactly what we are doing here. 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. Since I was able to find a copy of the following sketch (and a couple of others too) up in the attic of my parents’ home I got “elected” to start things off.      

[I have added The Byrds Fillmore West-driven summer of love before the wave crested and it all turned to ashes classic wa-wa song, So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, from YouTube making this a multi-media experience not possible back then when he wrote the piece but something Markin would have jumped for joy to have included to set the mood. B.W.]

Just below is the introduction that Sam Lowell wrote for this article trying to put what Markin was about in content and the article itself The Transformation Of “Foul-Mouth” Phil Into “Far-Out” Phil is below that:  

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 LA 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:  

The Transformation Of “Foul-Mouth” Phil Into “Far-Out” Phil


From The Pen Of [The Late] Peter Paul Markin


Everybody, well everybody who checks things out here, check out what I have to say here, or in other publications dedicated to the retrieval of retro-1950s and 1960s memories know that I am dedicated to swapping a few lies with other denizens from back in the old days. The two by the way are not always the same since the former sensibility involved an undying love for all things classic rock and roll and could have a perfectly sane man  doing something like back street Elvis imitations of One Night With You or one of the fifty songs that are worthy of imitation at some lounge lizard on “open mic” night out in some inner suburban shopping mall or if female throwing your panties at said imitator in a déjà vu moment or getting ready to make your twenty-seventh pilgrimage, and that is the right word, to Graceland and the other involved drugs, sex, acid rock and an undying fondness for tie-died apparel and that receding manly hairline fading ponytail or womanly ironed straight now greying hair while attending the one hundred plus reunion concert of the Buffalo Wings, the Rocking Ramrods or the Monterey Airplane this time without the acid/peyote buttons/mescalin/LSD or whatever turned your daydreams into amoebic forms before your eyes, so yes too very different things which depending on the vagaries of a few years age difference set the two on two very different trajectories. Guys like the Phil of the title of this  sketch under  either of his monikers, Jack Dawson, Josh Breslin, Frankie Riley, Bart Webber, Sam Lowell, Jimmy Jenkins, and me, corner boys all, guys who under normal conditions would  probably be out right now buying Elvis wigs to cover up the non-ponytail receding hairlines for Thursday’s open mic at the Dew Drop Inn, guys born in 1946 or 1947 kind of caught the edges of both waves, and lived to tell about it, lived to see both tides ebb as well and thus my various literary contributions if you like to publications dedicated to the whole mix of aging baby-boomer growing up times.

In case you didn’t know the geographic location of the corner boy old days they were spent initially in late elementary school across the street from the school at Doc’s Drugstore on River Street for the very simple reason that Doc would let us hang around after school and on weekend nights as long as we did not scare away the people who needed whatever drug he was dispensing to get them through the night and, a very big and, gave him some business. That business early on before we were corner boys was buying sodas and assorted candies which was nothing to him for dough but later, but later in the fifth and sixth grades did amount to something since Doc had the “max daddy” of all the latest rock and roll stuff, stuff that drove some of those who listened back then to the Dew Drop Inn and Graceland but was forever associated with the first blush of girls, girls changing from nuisances to people you actually talk to, could dance wit if it came to it. And not only did Doc make a pile off of us at the jukebox but since none of the older kids ever came in we would stay around and by ice cream sundaes and other stuff from the fountain Doc had installed as he saw the tide rising.  Later in junior high when, as is inevitable in the course of such things,  we moved on to Gino’s Sub Shop and would have no truck with Doc and the kids from elementary school who hung out there and although he had no jukebox he made great sandwiches and just liked us around as long as hung around with his son Rico who hung with us for a while before he went to live with his grandmother. But the place where we got our corner boy seasoning, the place where we defended our honor by claiming that space as against other corner boy contenders before the owner sold out and the new owners did not corner boys hanging out and make “police take notice” hell about it was Salducci’s Pizza Parlor up in the Square. After that, basically from senior year until a couple of years later when everybody started heading in about seven different directions at Jack Slack’s bowling alleys over on Thornton Street on the way to Adamsville Beach, since Timmy Slack was in our class, hung around with us for a while and would when he worked at the alleys let us bowl for free which when, as was more usual than not, we had no dough and a hot date bailed us out more than once. Thanks Timmy.   

Of course, if one wants to swap lies about those old days, or any days, for that matter, then one needs a, well, foil, or foils. Needless to say via the “miracle” of having enough money to do so and enough ability to make the words enticing, all one has to do is take a fair-sized ad in the Adamsville Daily Times inquiring about the whereabouts of such and such corner boys, naming names, mentioning the locations cited above, give the time frame of ten to fifteen years before when the guys hung around together, giving a get in touch address and some stay in town parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, irate neighbors, will spread the grapevine news and before you know it a bunch of thirtyish guys, like lemmings from the sea, our home land the sea, every surviving corner boy with enough energy to lift his stubby little fingers will be at your door before you can say, well, say, be-bop night.

Frankie Riley, our lord and chieftain was the first, although he has lost much speed in his pitch since the old days. I won’t bore you with the details of his “exploits.” You can fumble through the back copies of the East Bay Other or Boston Rising at the library for that. Nor will I speak of fast-talking Johnny Silver, except to point out that he is the culprit, there is no other way to put it, who started the sexual revolution. No, not the real one that started with “the pill” in the early 1960s and continues through the counter-culture free nights to today with the struggle for women’s liberation, liberation from all kinds of second-class citizen stuff from jobs and wages to help with childcare and housework. No, Johnny, very married to the former Kitty Callahan, his high school sweetheart started the North Adamsville-version of the sexual revolution-very married guys with wanderlust eyes looking for love, looking for love in all the wrong places, if you ask me but nobody is, asking that is. Those gripping tales can also be found in those library archives.       

All of this, foreplay, or at least that is what the corner boys would taunt me with when I got on my “soap box” and started on about some pressing subject to while away the lonely Friday no dough, no girl nights when I would hold forth trying to tell them something besides sex, music or how we were going to get some dough fast and with no hevay lifting, of course, is prelude to the real subject here. Phil Larkin’s transformation from corner boy “Foul-Mouth” Phil (and he really was, as he would tell you in that moment of candor that he is occasionally capable of) in early 1960s North Adamsville to “Far-Out” Phil on one of the ubiquitous “Merry Prankster-” inspired converted yellow brick road school buses that dotted the highways and by-ways of the American be-bop heading west night from about the mid-1960s to the first couple of years of the 1970s (maybe a little earlier than that in the ‘70s). When last we hear from Phil lately in response to that ad I placed in the Daily News   he was heading to Pennsylvania to meet up with some doctoral program research addict whom he “met” on in the “personal” section at the back of the Boston Phoenix. That tale, ah, can also be found in the library archives if they have not discarded it in the interest of protecting the morals of the youth in order to avoid Socrates’ fate.   However, unlike these seemingly endless “haunting the personals” school boy antics from guys old enough, well I am no snitch, so let’s say old enough to know better, looking for the fountain of youth, or whatever this Phil transformation story, the one from the 1960s which when I think about it was not that long ago although some ten years later it seems like ancient history , actually interests me. And so here it is. As usual I edited it lightly but it is Phil’s story, and I am pleased to say a good one.     


Phil Larkin here. Jesus, The Scribe [Markin: Like I warned the other guys, Phil, watch  that scribe, or The Scribe thing] actually liked this idea of me telling about riding the, what did he call it, oh yah, the yellow brick road bus, back in my prankster days [Markin: Just to keep things straight, since Phil still likes to play a little rough with the truth, not the famous Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters bus made famous through Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but certainly inspired by it]. I barely got by his prudish “censorship” with my stories about real stuff that people want to read like the trials and tribulations of a slightly older guy trying to “hook-up” with the ladies on what amounted to the  sexless sex pages of the Phoenix and my rendezvous with Amy (and she is not a research addict, Markin, no way, although she is an addict another way but you don’t want to hear that real stuff story), my lovely sociology doctoral student down at Penn State (Go, Nittany Lions!). But he is all over, all f—king over, some little bit of “cultural history” stuff that nobody, except faded hippies-stiff guys (and dolls) would do anything but yawn over, even stuff that guys like Frankie, Sam, Markin and me actually lived through.  And those hippie -guys (and dolls) are too busy trying to “hook-up,” to grab some sex before is too late to spent more than two seconds on ancient history. So this one is strictly for The, oops, Peter Paul Markin.             

What got the whole memory lane thing started was that somewhere Markin picked up, probably second-hand off at Sandy’s Record Store  over in Cambridge when he was here last if I know him, a record from some commercial music compilation with a title something like Shakin’ It Up: 1966. Now the music on the compilation, the music in the post-British invasion, heart of acid rock night, was strictly for laughs. But the artwork on the cover (as Markin told me was true on other records in the expansive rock era series) featured nothing more, or nothing less, than a Day-Glo bus right out of my prankster days, complete with some very odd residents (odd now, not then, then they were righteous, and maybe, just maybe still are). That scene gave us a couple of hours of conversation one night and jogged my memory about a lot of things. Especially about what Markin, hell, me too, called the search of the great American freedom night. (He put some colors, blue-pink like just before the night turns dark, dark out West anyway, in his but we, for once. were on the same page.)  


Naturally, Markin as is his wont [Markin: “wont” is my word not Phil’s. His, I prefer, strongly prefer, not to mention in polite society], once he played the record and plied me for information (I know this guy, remember) ran off like a bunny and wrote his version as part of a review of the record for some silly alternative newspaper that will probably be out of business by the time they get around to thinking about printing the screed. Of course, being, well, being Markin he got it about half-right. So let me tell the story true and you can judge who plays “rough” with the truth.       

Markin had it just about right when he described that old bus:

“A rickety, ticky-tack, bounce over every bump in the road to high heaven, gear-shrieking school bus. But not just any yellow brick road school bus that you rode to various educationally good for you locations like movie houses, half yawn, science museums, yawn, art museums, yawn, yawn, or wind-swept picnic areas for  some fool weenie roast, two yawns there too, when you were a school kid. And certainly not your hour to get home daily grind school bus, complete with surly driver (male or female, although truth to tell the females were worst since they acted just like your mother, and maybe were acting on orders from her) that got you through K-12 in one piece, and you even got to not notice the bounces to high heaven over every bump of burp in the road. No, my friends, my comrades, my brethren this is god’s own bus commandeered to navigate the highways and by-ways of the 1960s come flame or flash-out. Yes, it is rickety, and all those other descriptive words mentioned above in regard to school day buses. That is the nature of such ill-meant mechanical contraptions after all. But this one is custom-ordered, no, maybe that is the wrong way to put it, this is “karma” ordered to take a motley crew of free-spirits on the roads to seek a “newer world,” to seek the meaning of what one persistent blogger on the subject has described as the search for the great blue-pink American Western night.”       

“Naturally to keep its first purpose intact this heaven-bound vehicle is left its mustard yellow body surface underneath but over that primer the surface has been transformed by generations (generations here signifying not twenty-year cycles but trips west, and east) of, well, folk art, said folk art being heavily weighted toward graffiti, toward the psychedelic day-glo splashes and zodiacally meaningful symbols.  And the interior. Most of those hardback seats that captured every bounce of childhood have been ripped out and discarded who knows where and replaced by mattresses, many layers of mattresses for this bus is not merely for travel but for home. To complete the “homey” effect there are stored, helter-skelter, in the back coolers, assorted pots and pans, mismatched dishware and nobody’s idea of the family heirloom china, boxes of dried foods and condiments, duffle bags full of clothes, clean and unclean, blankets, sheets, and pillows, again clean and unclean. Let’s put it this way, if someone wants to make a family hell-broth stew there is nothing in the way to stop them. But also know this, and know it now, as we start to focus on this journey that food, the preparation of food, and the desire, except in the wee hours when the body craves something inside, is a very distant concern for these “campers.” If food is what you desired in the foreboding 1960s be-bop night take a cruise ship to nowhere or a train (if you can find one), some southern pacific, great northern, union pacific, and work out your dilemma in the dining car. Of course, no heaven-send, merry prankster-ish yellow brick road school bus would be complete without a high- grade stereo system to blast the now obligatory “acid rock” coming through the radiator practically.”

That says it all pretty much about the physical characteristics of the bus but not much about how I got on the damn thing. Frankly, things were pretty tough around my house, things like no having much of a job after high school just working as a retail clerk up at Raymond’s Department Store in Adamsville Plaza. Not really, according to dear mother, with dear old dad chiming in every once in a while especially when I didn’t come up with a little room and board money, being motivated to “better myself,” and being kind of drift-less with my Salducci’s Pizza Parlor and Jack Slack’s corner boys long gone off to college, the service, or married, stuff like that. Then too I was having some girl trouble, no, not what you think juts regular the battle of the sexes stuff when my honey, Ginny McCabe, practically shut me off because I didn’t want to get married just then. But I knew something was in the air, something was coming like “the Scribe” was always predicting. I wanted in on that. But the specific reason that I split in the dead of the North Adamsville night was that I was trying to avoid the military draft, now that the war in Vietnam was escalating with nowhere else to go. I knew my days were numbered and while I was as patriotic (and am, unlike that former gung-ho crazed anti-commie Markin turned parlor pinko, commie, after he did his time in the service) as the next guy. I was not ready to lay down my life out in the boondocks right then. So I headed out on the lam.

[Markin: Phil, as he related this part of the story that night, had me all choked up about his military plight and I was ready to say brother, welcome to the anti-imperialist resistance. Then I realized, wait a minute, Phil was 4-F (meaning he was not eligible for drafting due to some medical or psychological condition in those days for those who do not know the reference. A prima facie example, I might add, of that playing rough with the truth that I warned you about before.]      

Hey, I am no slave to convention, whatever the conventions are, but in those days I looked like a lot of young guys. Longish hair, a beard, a light beard at the time, blue jeans, an army jacket, sunglasses, a knapsack over my shoulder, and work boots on my feet (sandals would not come until later when I got off the road and was settled in a “pad” in San Francisco and anyway boots were not the kind of footwear that would carry you through on those back road places you might find yourself in, places like Deadwood, Nevada at three in the morning with a ten mile walk to the nearest town in front of you). I mention all this because that “look” gave me the cache to make it on the road when I headed out of the house that Spring 1966 be-bop night after one final argument with dear mother about where I was going, what was I going to do when I got there, and what was I going to do for money. Standard mother fare then, and now I suppose.  

So short on dough, and long on nerve and fearlessness then I started to hitchhike with the idea of heading west to California like about eight million people, for about that same number of reasons have been heading there since the Spanish, or one of those old time traveling by boat nations, heard about the place.  Of course, nowadays I would think to do such a thing in such a dangerous world after crazy guys like Charlie Manson wrecked it for everybody else), unless I was armed to the teeth and that would take a little edge off that “seeking the newer world” Markin has been blabbing about since about 1960. But then, no problem. Especially no problem when a Volkswagen mini-bus (not in the same league as the yellow brick road school bus but okay for a long ride, and definitely okay when you are in some nowhere back road, hostile territory dominate by squares, squares with guns and other evil implements and they, stoned, stoned to the heavens stop to ask you directions because they are “lost” and invite you on board) stops on Route 128, backs up, and a guy who looks a lot like me, along with two pretty young girls says “where are you heading?” West, just west.  (Okay, okay, Markin, young women, now that you are a pinko feminist or a feminist pinko or whatever you call yourself, alright?)

Most of the road until the Midwest, Iowa is the Midwest right, was filled with short little adventures like that. A mini-van frolic for a few hours, or a few days. Maybe a few short twenty miles non-descript rides in between but heading west by hook or by crook. Did I like it? Sure I did although I was pretty much an up-tight working-class guy (that was one of those pretty girls called me and , hell, she was from Clintondale about ten miles down the road from Adamsville for chrissakes) who liked his booze, a little sex, and just hanging around the old town waiting for the other shoe to drop. But I could see, after a few drug experiences, no, not LSD, that I was starting to dig the scene. And I felt every day that I was out of North Adamsville that I was shaking off the dust from that place. Then one night, sitting in the front seat of a big old Pontiac (not everybody, not every “hip” everybody had the mini-bus, van or school bus handy), Big Jane between us, the Flip-Flop Kid driving like god’s own mad driver, smoking a joint, laughing with the couple in back, Bopper Billy and Sweet Pea, we headed into a pay-as- you go roadside camp near Ames out in Iowa. And at that campsite parked maybe five or six places over from where we planted ourselves was god’s own copy of that Day-Glo merry prankster bus that Markin described before. I flipped out because while I had hear about, and seen from a distance, such contraptions I hadn’t been up close to one before. Wow!      

After we settled in, the Flip-Flop Kid (and the guy really could never make up his mind about anything, anything except don’t go too close to Big Bang Jane, no kidding around on that), Bopper Billy (who really thought he was king of the be-bop night, but, hell in the North Adamsville corner boy night Frankie Riley, hell, maybe even Markin, would have out be-bopped him for lunch and had time for a nap), Big Bang Jane (guess what that referred to, and she gave herself that nickname but, I never tried to make a move on her  because she was just a little too wild, a little too I would have to keeping looking over my shoulder for me then, probably later too when things got even looser. And then there was the Flip-Flop Kid’s warning ), and Sweet Pea (and she was a sweet pea, if Bopper Billy, wasn’t around, well we both agreed that there was something there but in those 1966 days we were still half tied up with the old conventions of not breaking in between a guy and his girl, well that was the convention anyway whether it was generally honored or not, I did) we headed over once we heard the vibes from the sound system churning out some weird sounds, something like we had never heard before (weird then, little did we know that this was the wave of the future, for a few years anyway.  Naturally, well naturally after the fact once we learned what the inhabitants of the bus were about, they invited us for supper, or really to have some stew from a big old pot cooking on a fireplace that came with the place. And if you didn’t want the hell-broth stew then partake of some rarified dope (no, again, no on the LDS thing. It was around, it was around on the bus too, among its various denizens, but mainly it was a rumor, and more of a West Coast thing just then, a year later, in the Summer of Love and after that is when the acid hit, and when I tried it but not on this trip. This trip was  strictly weed, hemp, joint, mary jane, marijuana, herb, whatever you wanted to called that stuff that got you high, got you out of yourself and got you away from what you were in North Adamsville, Mechanicsville or whatever ville you were from, for a while.             

So that night was the introduction to the large economy size search for the freedom we all, as it turned out were looking for. I remember saying to Sweet Pea as we went back to our campsite (and wishing I wasn’t so square about messing with another guy’s girl, and maybe she was too, maybe wishing I wasn’t square about it.) that we had turned a corner that night and that we had best play it out right then for the chance might not come again. 

The next day, no, the next night because I had spent the day working up to it, I became “Far-Out” Phil, or the start of that Phil. Frankly, to not bore you with a pipe by pipe description of the quantity of dope that I smoked (herb, hashish, a little cocaine more exotic then than it became later) or ingested (a tab of mescaline) that day, I was “wasted.” Hell I am getting “high” now just thinking about how high I was that day. By nightfall I was ready for almost anything as that weird music that crept up your spine got hold of me. I just, as somebody put a match to the wood to start the cooking of the tonight pot of stew to keep us from malnutrition, started dancing by myself. Phil Larkin, formerly foul-mouthed Phil, a cagy, edgy guy from deep in corner boy, wise guy, hang-out guy, never ask a girl to dance but just kind of mosey up world started dancing by himself. But not for long because then he, me, took that dance to some other level, some level that I can only explain by example. Have you ever seen any of the Doors stuff on film, you know the one that highlights the max-daddy rocker of the late 1960s night, the late Jim Morrison (of the sacrificed trinity-Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendix, Jimmy Morrison who lived fast and died young and who went way too early but that was the price we had to break free, the price we felt we had to pay) Picture this if you haven’t-a scene at one of the concerts; head for of dope, practically transformed into a shaman. Yah, one of those Indian (Markin: Native American, Phil] religious leaders who did a trance-dance. That was me in late May of 1966, if you can believe that.     


And see, although I wasn’t conscious of it first I was being joined by one of the women on the bus, Luscious Lois, (and Markin had it right before describing her as luscious, she really was), whom I had met, in passing the night before. This Lois, not her real name, as you can tell not only were we re-inventing ourselves physically and spiritually but in our public personas shedding our “slave names” much as some blacks were doing for more serious reasons than we had at the time. [Markin: nice point, Phil]  Her real name was Sandra Sharp, a college girl from Vassar who, taking some time off from school, was “on the bus” trying to find herself. She was like some delicate flower, a dahlia maybe, like I had never encountered before. I won’t bore you with the forever have to tell what she looked like thing because that is not what made her, well, intriguing, maddeningly intriguing, like some femme fatale in a crime noir film that Markin, from what I can gather, is also always running on about these days now that he has re-discovered Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and seen a couple of tough guy Bogie movies. She was pretty, no question, maybe even a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty if it came to a fair description in the light of day but what made her fetching, enchanting, if that is a different way to say it, was the changes in her facial expressions as she danced, and danced provocatively, dance half-nakedly, around my desire. And I danced, shedding my shirt although I do not remember doing so, and also danced half-naked around her desire. Then, faintly like a buzz from some hovering insect, maybe a bee, and then more loudly I kept hearing the on-lookers, half-mad with dope, and with desire themselves, yelling “far out, far out.” And Far-Out Phil was born.

Oh, as for Luscious Lois and her desire, well, you figure it out. I might not have been wise to the ways of the Vassar world as I should have been in those days when such places were bastions to place the young women of the elite by justifiable worried wealthy families who feared unto death that their nice stockbroker-worthy daughters might run off with some gritty biker on a Vincent Black Lightning, and keep them too away from clawing upstarts from the corner boy night but the rest of my time on the bus was spend hovering around Lois, and keeping other guys away.  I even worked some plebeian magic on her one night when I started using certain swear  words in her ear that worked for me with every Sunday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Millie Callahan, back in the day. Far-Out Phil got a little something extra that night, proper Vassar girl or not. 

No offense against Iowa, well only a little offense for not being near an ocean, I think. No offense against the university there, well only a little offense for not being Berkeley but after about a week of that campsite and its environs I was ready to move on and it did not matter if it was with Flip-Flop and his crowd or with Captain Crunch (the guy who “led” his merry pranksters, real name, Samuel Jackman, Columbia, Class of 1958 who had long before given up searching, searching for anything, and just hooked into the idea of taking the ride). Captain Crunch, as befitted his dignity (and since it was “his” bus paid for out of some murky deal, probably a youthful drug deal, from what I heard), was merely the “leader” here. The driving was left to another, older guy. Like Markin said before this driver  was not your  mother-sent, mother-agent, old Mrs. Henderson, who prattled on about keep in your seats and be quiet while she is driving (maybe that, subconsciously, is why the seats were ripped out long ago on the very first “voyage” west) but a very, very close imitation of the god-like prince-driver of the road, the “on the road” pioneer, Neal Cassady, from the generation before us, the wayfaring “beats,”  shifting those gears very gently but also very sure-handedly  so no one noticed those bumps (or else was so stoned, drug or music stoned, that those things pass like so much wind). His name: Cruising Casey (real name, Charles Kendall, Haverford  College Class of ’64, but just this minute, Cruising Casey, mad man searching for the great American be-bop night under the extreme influence of one Ken Kesey, the max-daddy mad man of the great search just then). And Cruising was, being just a little older, and about one hundred years more experienced, was also weary, very weary of co-eds, copping dope and, frankly, staying in one place for so long. He, also, wanted to see his girlfriend or his wife I am not sure which in Denver so I know where we are heading. So off we go.   

And the passengers. Nobody from the Flip-Flop Express (although Flip-Flop, as usual lived up to his name and hemmed and hawed about it), they were heading back east, back into the dark Mechanicsville night. I tried, tried like hell, to get Sweet Pea to come along just in case the thing with Lois fell apart or she took some other whim into her head. See re-invented or not I still had some all-the angles boyhood rust hanging on me. We did know for sure that Casey was driving, and still driving effortlessly so the harsh realities of his massive drug intake had not hit yet, or maybe he really was superman. Other  whose names I remember: Mustang Sally (Susan Stein, Michigan, Class of 1959, ditto on the searching thing), Captain Crunch’s girlfriend, (although not exclusively, not exclusively by her choice, not his, and he was not happy about it for lots of reasons which need not detain us here). Most of the rest of the “passengers” have monikers like Silver City Slim, Penny Pot (guess why), Moon Man, Flash Gordon (from out in space somewhere, literally, as he told it), Denver Dennis (from New York City, go figure), and the like. They also had real names that indicated that they were from somewhere that has nothing to do with public housing projects, ghettos or barrios. And they were also, or almost all were, twenty plus some number that have some highly-rated college years after their names, graduated or not. And they were all either searching or, like the Captain, at a stage where they were just hooked on taking the ride.

As for the rest. Well, no one could be exactly sure, as the bus approached the outskirts of Denver, as this was strictly a revolving cast of characters depending on who was hitchhiking on that desolate back road State Route 5 in Iowa, or County Road 16 in Wyoming, and desperately needed to be picked up, or face time, and not nice time with a buzz on, in some small town pokey. Or it might depend on who decided to pull up stakes at some outback campsite and get on the bus for a spell, and decide if they were, or were not, on the bus. After all even all-day highs, all-night sex, and 24/7 just hanging around listening to the music is not for everyone. And while we had plenty of adventures, thinking back on it now, they all came down to drugs, sex, and rock and roll with a little food on the side. If you want to hear about them just ask Markin to contact me. The real thing though, the thing that everybody should remember is that dance night in Ames, Iowa when Phil Larkin got “religion,” 1960s secular religion. He slid back some later, like everybody does, but when he was on the bus he was in very heaven.       

Markin note: No question that this story, except perhaps for hormonal adolescents, is better than those dreary old hapless guy searching for young love tales that he ran by us before. By the way Phil, you don’t happen to have Luscious Lois’s, ah, Sandra Sharp’s phone number or address. And don’t lie and say you don’t have it. You never crossed off a woman’s name from your book in your life. Give it up.

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