Monday, February 08, 2016

If You Ain’t Got The Do Re Mi-With Woody Guthrie’s Song Of The Same Name In Mind

If You Ain’t Got The Do Re Mi-With Woody Guthrie’s Song Of The Same Name  In Mind 


By Sam Lowell

Peter Markin, Peter Paul Markin to his mother and a high-brow first wife, Sarah Jenkins of the Puritan three name Boston Stock Exchange Jenkins, who was trying to impress her Wellesley leafy suburban parents, with his three names to no avail since they sensed instinctively he was not to the manor born, not close since he could not recite his family tree unto the fifth generation and had unfortunately one night in his cups at dinner mentioned his maternal bog Irish “famine ships” roots always had a hard time living in California, hell, even his short visits always seemed to go over the edge. The way things worked out, or didn’t work out, which is perhaps a better way to say it, on that marriage business neither did Sarah when she split up with him, deserted him really for a fourth-cousin Puritan three name stockbroker from Connecticut.

Of course Peter, no, let’s call him Markin like all of his corner boys down in North Adamsville did and everybody else thereafter when the deal went down was always on edge financially every time he went out to California, every time he lived there which was sporadically over the course of his short not sweet life, a few months here, six months there. A couple of years straight toward the end but by that time he was knee-deep in the booming and expanding cocaine traffic which he thought would finally end that wanting habit craving for dough that had haunted him since childhood but which got him nothing but that short not sweet life when he mixed with the wrong hard boys down south of the border.

That thought, that California dreaming thought which had driven Markin to make so many wrong decisions, to go off the edge in the end, was what Josh Breslin a guy from Olde Saco, Maine who had met Markin out in San Francisco in the summer of love, 1967 was thinking about when he had one of his periodic Markin moans, moans even forty years after the sainted bastard had passed to the great beyond. Back then Markin had hitched his wagon to Captain Crunch’s big ass yellow brick road converted school bus and was staying in California for what he thought would be an indefinite time once he had broken free from his growing up town and from a couple of years of college to go West to “find himself” as it seemed half his generation was doing just then. Josh who had himself hitched from Maine to “find himself” before heading to freshman year at State U.  had also hitched his wagon to the Captain’s travelling commune of a bus as well had gone up to the bus when it was parked on the hill across from a small park on Russian Hill and, green at the time to the ways of hippie-dom and probably acting like the 49ers, the Okies and Arkies later thinking the streets of California were paved with gold, asked the first guy he saw for a joint (marijuana, for the clueless or the too young to know). And that first guy was Markin who passed Josh a big old blunt of a joint and that symbolic transfer started a friendship that lasted until Markin went over the edge.

(It is not too early to say that whatever way guys met Markin, guys who were on the same wavelength, guys who knew Markin, guys like Frankie Riley and Jimmy Jenkins from his hometown of North Adamsville, Bart Webber and Jack Callahan from Carver, down about thirty miles south of that town and of course Josh to this day would get wistful, maybe a little teary-eyed these days when they thought about all the promise he had, about all the funny schemes he cooked up, all his stockpile of two million facts that he laid on an unsuspecting  world before his baser instinct got the better of him).

Thinking back Josh thought maybe Markin was guy who never should have hit California, maybe his stars were ill-lined up that way. Maybe he should had done as Woody Guthrie suggested in his California Garden of Eden song Do Re Mi  that he had heard out in Concord the previous summer which still troubled him. Yeah, out in Concord where the New England Folk Song Society held its annual Woody Guthrie Tribute at the Old Manse which he had attended in the company of Sam Lowell and his lovely long-time companion Laura Perkins (whom he had had half a flame for since who knows how long but who made it clear to Josh on more than one occasion that she was true blue to Sam although she thanked him for the attraction compliment, damn) Jason Reed had done the cover with the chorus line that would have fit Markin when after busting out the first time he should have gone back to Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee, gone back to his growing up Massachusetts after that first California time in 1967. Maybe stayed the summer and then split and gone back to where no dough guys had a chance to live okay with less filthy lucre than you needed in the Golden State. But Markin was a guy who always seemed to head toward the danger, didn’t always have a good sense of when to back off so he stayed in California that first time until he got his induction notice for the Army in late 1968 (except a for couple of weeks’ worth of trips back and forth to deal with his North Adamsville Draft Board).       

But after accepting his induction fate, accepting his cannon-fodder fate (his term), after ‘Nam Markin could not really go back home anymore, had broken off most of his family relationships, particularly with his hard-assed, hard luck, hard scrabble mother, had gotten himself married to that first wife Sarah in a mad frenzy of not being left with nobody left behind but who had essentially abandoned him for that Puritan three name stockbroker after he left for ‘Nam and did Dear John on him before he got back. (Jesus, what a bitch Josh thought since he had met her a couple of times, had disliked her from the start and sensed that if it had not been for the war and Markin’s overweening need to be married in case he died over there was not a marriage made in heaven. And it wasn’t.) So Markin drifted out to California again. Met up in Big Sur in early 1971 with Josh again who had also drifted back to California after he had gotten a half-serious job on an alternative journal in the East Bay. Had met up with first Annie Dubois in Golden Gate Park whom he should have married and gone back to Lima, Ohio with which she had done once she realized that she was not built for the communal vagabond life and then Josie Davis, the latter who turned out to be his second wife and another holy hell of a woman who abandoned him for some guy from Los Angeles who promised her some kind of job in the film industry. Josh agreed though that she had better grounds for splitting once Markin started into his fatal involvement in the international drug trade.      

Get this though about the man’s contrary instincts. After ‘Nam Markin was rabidly against the government that had sent him and a lot of guys from places like North Adamsville, Portsmouth, Nashua, New Hampshire, Harlem, Detroit, the prairies of Kansas and the like so he got caught up (as did Josh) with the anti-war struggle, But more importantly, since he and Josh were living in a vaguely communal house on the Oakland-Berkeley line at the time after Josie split, supporting  the Black Panthers who were square in the gunsights of the cops from the rabid local Oakland cops to the feds and needed dough, plenty of dough for bail and legal expenses. Of course Markin, as usual had nada for dough to help himself much less the hard-pressed Panthers. That was the first time Markin got caught up in the drug trade. He ran into Rancho Rick, a well-known San Francisco drug-dealer (in those naïve days just grass, marihuana, maybe some bennies, an odd lot of LSD), in Golden Gate Park who got to like and trust Markin after a while. What happened was that Markin became Rancho’s “mule,” the upfront guy who went down to Mexico to bring back the “product” as they called it. Once in a while Rancho would let Markin bring some stuff, a couple of bricks or so, a suitcase full maybe, on his own account. That “independent” dealer thing got to Markin’s head-eventually. What Markin would do was sell his stuff and then give some big percentage to the Panther Defense Fund (they didn’t know the source of Markin’s dough but they probably suspected he was dealing in any case they were so hard-pressed especially around the various BP leader Huey Newton cases that they would not have as Markin said given a fuck about how the money had been made).    

That was, more or less, the way that Markin held himself together in those days when everybody knew the ebb-tide of the 1960s was in full play but that California was still a better to live that North Adamsville, Lima, Nashua, Harlem, and so he staked himself on his cunning, and maybe his on some magic karma that he thought he had after doing about fifteen drug deals on his own account and never having been caught. But it was one thing to deal in grass, even smoke your brains out on the product without undue duress but another thing once the cocaine trick started being the new drug of the month choice among the hipper crowd.

See Markin had a crazy mixed psychic make-up. Bright, street bright too, but always with that freaking hunger, worse that sense that he was a moonchild. So as the trend moved to a harder drugs he got caught up doing the product, lots of it. One time so much he could hardly breathe out of his nose and told everybody he just had a cold. Yeah, lost his judgment. No longer were the honchos guys like easy-going Rancho but hard boys from down south of the border who wanted to control the whole traffic. And control it they did, right over Markin’s ill-fated head. Nobody knows to this day what really happened and now it is too long past to worry about. But not to moan over. Yeah, California is a tough dollar if you don’t have the do re mi. Just listen to Woody.     

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