Wednesday, September 09, 2020
Yeah, Cowgirl In The Sand-With Neil Young (and Crazy Horse) In Mind-Take Two
Yeah, Cowgirl In The Sand-With Neil Young (and Crazy Horse) In Mind-Take Two
By Sam Lowell
[I come by this remembrance of Zack James not directly but through my friendship with his oldest brother, Alex, with whom I had been a corner boy in our old growing up hometown of North Adamsville south of Boston. A corner boy for those not in the know since you do not see such sights around small towns and urban neighborhoods anymore was a guy who hung around with other guys at some variety store, pizza parlor, bowling alley or some such place with a corner for a young man, young men, to stand against on weekend nights when cash, cars, and cuties were as sparse as hen’s teeth, maybe sparser. Alex and I had been brought together in ninth grade in high school by a mutual friend the late wild man Peter Paul Markin known as “The Scribe” back in the day and the three of us and a few others were bosom buddies for several years before we went our separate ways.
I recently reconnected with Alex around the commemoration of the Summer of Love, 1967 which San Francisco and other places is making a big deal out of in its 50th anniversary year after he had come back from a trip there, a business trip, and tried to get all the old corner boys still standing together to honor the Scribe. He had seen an exhibition at the de Young Museum there called the Summer of Love Experience and had flipped out. His idea was to put together a book of remembrances in honor of the Scribe and had contacted his youngest brother Zack, a writer, to edit and spruce the thing up.
The reason for the book of remembrances? See the Scribe is the guy who went out to San Francisco during the early spring of 1967 and after a few months came back and got a bunch of us, Alex and I included to go back out with him. The Scribe wound up in the hellish Army the next year, and would serve in Vietnam which fucked up his sweet short life for the few years he had left after that experience but Alex and I stayed for a couple of years. While Alex and I were cutting up old touches he mentioned this story about Zack just so I would know a little about his youngest brother who way too young for me to even remember when we were corner boys. Sam Lowell]
Zack James when he was younger, much younger back in the early 1960s younger, now too for that matter was, well, how can we put it, maybe women-addled would be best. Ever since the end of high school, the beginning of college except for one short period he had always had some kind of woman relationship to confuse his sweet ass life (he hadn’t been very successful in high school too shy and too poor to make a hit with any of his female fellow high-schoolers so the end of high school seems the right place to start his women-addledness [sic, I assume]). Of late that streak had taken a sudden stop his latest flame of the past few years, Loretta, had flown the coop, had given him his walking papers, had decided that they had drifted too far apart, that she wanted to find herself, see who she was and what she would do with the rest of her life. Fair enough although the pain of her departure for parts unknown left a big hole in his heart, left him bereft for a while. But had also given him time to see what he was about, where he wanted to head.
A lot of what Loretta had said about the need for her to cut Zack loose was dead-on, was right as she had been usually right about what ailed Zack. He always found himself behind the curve when it came to what Loretta was thinking about, what he was able to reflect in the lonely hours that he had recently spent in the house they had shared together over the previous several years. Had had to agree that the last year of so as his health had declined with some fairly serious medical issues which had required that he take some medicines that seem to pile up on each other and had made him, well, grumpy and cranky, a grumpy cranky old man if the truth be known especially as those medical problems dove-tailed with his turning three score, turning sixty to not be cute about it. Had made him aware as never before of his own mortality and instead of taking it easy, instead of increasingly relaxing, instead of being at peace with himself, instead of trying to put out “the fire in his head” he was more driven than ever to find his place in the sun, to have his life have meaning at the end. As to his relationship with Loretta he had let himself drift apart, left her unattended, and okay left her to seek her own newer world.
During some of those lonely hours in that desolate house which creaked eerily to his ears Zack began to think through his whole life, who was he kidding his whole relationship with the women who had festooned his sweet ass life, had made life bearable for him. What he had found out, was trying to think through is that he really needed, very much needed the companionship of a woman, and if it was not going to be Loretta, hell, she essentially left no forwarding address all he had was her cellphone number so she could be anywhere, then it had to be somebody else. Rather than go right out and jump into the “meat market,” that is what they called it when he was younger and if they had a different name for the process it was still the same ordeal he decided that he had better take stock of himself and where he has been, and what he wanted out of a relationship now. Any reflection on his apart about failed relationships, and there were plenty, always, always, always led him back to the “cowgirl in the sand,” always led him back to Mariah Welsh, back when he decided he wanted his first serious relationship.
That “cowgirl in the sand” was no cute inside joke and it still pained Zack to even think about Mariah and how she led him a merry chase in that one summer, the summer of 1976, they had stayed together. See Mariah was actually from the West, had grown up on a big cattle ranch just outside of Cheyenne out in Wyoming country and had some certain set western ways for a young woman of twenty. He had met her down in Falmouth, down in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts about fifty miles from where he lived, down near the beach in the summer of 1976 just after his sophomore year in college. He had been renting a place with several other fellow college students for the summer who were as dedicated to partying as he was and that was that. He had actually seen her a couple of times on the beach at Falmouth Heights near where they had rented the cottage and thought that she looked very fine in her skimpy bikini (then skimpy which today would be considered modest) but was not sure how to approach her. One day he decided to go up and invite her to the weekly weekend party that his cottage put on and see what happened. (That weekend party almost literally true as the party would start early Friday afternoon and end at some Happy Hour bar early Sunday evening inevitably a few people, including Zack, would carry over until Monday or Tuesday if the spirit moved them or they had some hot date that kept the fires burning that long).
As Zack approached her she had brought him up short when she saw him coming and shouted out “Here comes the boy who had been checking me out, checking out my shape as far as I could tell and who knows what else he was thinking about, but was afraid to come up and say hello.” Yeah, that was the kind of girl, young woman, Mariah was all through that hot summer relationship. She claimed one night when they had gotten better acquainted that unlike uptight people from the East Coast people from the West, from cattle country, were more plainspoken, less hung up about speaking out about what they wanted-or who they wanted. Needless to say Zack and Mariah spent the rest of that afternoon talking about this and that, mostly dreary college stuff since Mariah was also a student at the University of Wyoming studying art. (She was an exceptionally good artist, had drawn a couple of charcoal drawings of him which he had kept for years afterward even when he was married to Josie, his first wife, and Josie had asked who had done them and he had foolishly told her and he had to hide the damn things. Josie had later when they were separating torn the works up-yes, it was that kind of breakup).
As they talked Mariah made no bones about showing off her very fine body, slender, small but firm breasts which he was attracted in woman, well-turned long legs and thin ankles, blondish brown hair, sea blue eyes and a wicked smile that would melt butter on a cold day. They made that primal connection that said they had something to do together what it would be who knew but something.
Mariah had told Zack that she had come East with a couple of her college girlfriends since none of them had ever been east of the Mississippi and had been thrilled when they first saw the ocean, had frolicked in the waves and one girl had almost gone under when a sudden riptide which they were totally ignorant of started pulling her down. But that scare was soon over since the girl had allowed herself to drift until the current subsided. They were staying for the summer over on Maravista a few blocks away from the beach (and maybe half a dozen blocks away from Zack’s cottage) in a tiny cottage in back of the landlord’s yard which he usually let out to students who worked in the restaurants and such places for the summer. As the hot tanning sun began to fade a bit by four Zack then popped the question of whether she and her girlfriends were up for a party that weekend. All Mariah asked about though was would there be booze and dope there. When Zack answered yes Mariah said they would surely, her word, be there and she had better not see him talking to some other girl when she arrived. Bingo.
That booze and dope stuff needs a little explaining since Zack and his fellows were all under official drinking age (as were Mariah and her friends at least in Massachusetts) so they “hired” an older guy who was living with a bunch of his older friends up their street to “buy” for them and he would get a big bottle of liquor, usually scotch, as his service charge. The dope thing was a little more problematic since dope, marijuana, maybe some speed when a connection could be made, were not that widely used then by the youth fresh college generation he hung around with although that movement was beginning to build up a head of steam. At that time “booze heads,” representing a more working class ethos and “dopers” were at loggerheads something that would get settled out later. Jazz, one of his roommates at their cottage and at school, had connections in Cambridge and so they never lacked for dope although more than a few girls would back off once they smelled the dope and didn’t know what the hell they were in for. So Mariah already was ahead of that crowd.
As they were getting ready to part company after Zack gave Mariah his address and had told her to come by anytime on Friday afternoon or later Mariah told him to wait a minute until she put her street clothes on and they could walk off the beach together toward her car (Zack had walked over to the beach since he unlike several of his roommates did not have a car and was driven down by Willy another roommate). Zack was shocked, mildly shocked anyway, when Mariah put on her blue jean shorts, a frilly lacy cowgirl-type blouse, and, get this, her cowboy boots, and her cowgirl hat what he would later find out was called a Ladies’ Stetson. She looked like she had just gotten ready to go to the rodeo, or the state fair. Something told Zack that this was going to be an interesting ride indeed. Mariah must have sensed that because as they approached her car for her to leave she asked Zack whether he liked her outfit, and then said in her plain spoken Western way, “Maybe you can play cowboy with me if things work out.” Giving Zack a soft sexy look like if things worked out she would give him a ride he would not forget. Whoa!
That Friday evening Mariah and her two girlfriends arrived, guess what, dressed up very similarly to the way Mariah had been dressed as she and Zack left the beach a few days before which caused a sensation, a sensation at the novelty of the garb in Falmouth in the summer and also that the two girlfriends were “hot” as well. Zack fortunately was alone when they entered (he had earlier been talking to Cissie, an old flame whom he figured to rekindle a flame with that night since he had frankly given up the idea that Mariah was going to show, it would not have been the first time, or the last, some young thing had promised the moon to him and never showed up. Mariah came right over and asked if he had a joint, a joint she said to calm her nerves, make her feel good among the party-goers all of whom were eying her the guys for obvious reasons the women also for obvious reasons if they were with a guy.
Zack called over to Jazz who delivered a huge joint from the bag of dope he had “connected” with only that afternoon which made Mariah eyes widen and after taking a few “hits” said to Zack “You may be playing cowboy tonight after all.” In that instance her statement proved not to be true because she got so “wasted” that she fell asleep but the next night’s party, or really a continuation of Friday’s party she and Zack got it on in one of the empty bedrooms upstairs (not his room, the room where he had all his possessions, but nobody was particular about such arrangements when a “hot” date needed a place to put her head down).
What struck Zack about Mariah (beside that Western plain-spokenness that he was not used to with the local girls, mostly Irish girls who descended on the Cape with as the saying went “ten dollars and their virtue” and left with both intact or standoffish WASPish girls from the better colleges who were sometimes more trouble than they were worth in trying to get next to them if you were not seriously looking to be upward mobile after your college hijinks) was how sexually experienced and into doing sex she was even that first night when she did a lot of stuff that most other girls he knew were not into, like giving a good blow job. When they talked about it later Mariah told him that those cowboys out in the West, the ones who worked for her father broke her in early at thirteen and she liked it, liked it enough to read books in high school about various sexual positions and practices from a manual. (It turned out to be the Kama Sutra, the ancient Indian bible of sex for those who are clueless).
So for several weeks that summer Zack and Mariah were what would be called an “item” today, were almost inseparable. Went to the beach, partied, had great sex (mostly based on her knowledge and Zack’s willingness as a subject) and Zack assumed would find some way to continue their relationship at summer’s end. When that time came though Mariah told him straight out that theirs was a summer fling and that she was heading back to school in Wyoming and back to her boyfriend. The night they parted though, despite Zack’s futile pleading that they stay together some way and then giving up when she cut him off which she said was also a Western way, she gave him a parting sexual bout that he still remember forty years later. Yeah, Zack was women-addled, always was being played by them. Praise be.