Friday, August 28, 2020

Bet, Bet Straight Up-With The Old Riverdale Neighborhood Corner Boys In Mind

Bet, Bet Straight Up-With The Old Riverdale Neighborhood Corner Boys In Mind





By Film Critic Emeritus Sam Lowell

As everybody familiar with this space (or with the on-line version of the American Film Gazette )knows I have retired from the day to day grind of writing film reviews and have handed over that chore, at least temporary, to my in the not too distance future retiring old friend, colleague and competitor Sandy Salmon. I noted when I posted my retirement notice that I, like old time military men, would just fade away. I also noted that I would as the occasion warranted write a little something, a little commentary if the subject interested me. That is my purpose today.        

Recently Sandy Salmon reviewed a 1947 film, a murder mystery of sorts that had a long prior pedigree, Seven Keys To Baldpate, which had been based on a play by the same name back in the early 20th century which in turn was based on a crime novel by the great crime writer Earl Derr Biggers (whose popular Charlie Chan series is perhaps much better known). Sandy did a good job of reviewing this film which hinged on the idea of a guy, a crime writer, making a bet with his publisher for five thousand cash that he could write a crackerjack mystery novel in twenty-four hours. As he attempted to do such out in the boondocks at an allegedly closed down inn with the only key to the place all hell broke loose, a couple of off-hand murders and such, by people who had collectively mysteriously come up with the six other keys of the title. One of those six people was a ringer, was the good-looking blonde with well-turned legs secretary to the guy who the crime writer made the bet with. No, not a sex lure like would be included in such a plotline now, at least not publicly, not in 1947 but to distract him anyway she could to make him miss his deadline. What the hell that ain’t fair, no way, especially when after the smoke cleared and the crime writer solved the whole mystery of why the other five people were there she flopped herself on his lap when he went to write that story to win the bet and dared him to ignore her. Needless to say the other guy won the bet        

Sandy mentioned at the start of his review that some guys will bet on anything, any proposition to pass the time. That got me to thinking after I had read the review about what the deal was in the old days in my growing up hometown of Riverdale about forty miles west of Boston when me and my high school corner boys who hung around Sal’s Pizza Parlor would to while away the lonesome, girl-less, no dough, no serious dough to not be girl-less bet on all kinds of propositions for a couple of bucks, maximum five probably. Certainly not five thousand which as Sandy mentioned is nothing but walking around money now but then was a number which we could not get around, couldn’t believe existed, not in our neighborhood where rubbing nickels together was a tough enough battle.

Now a lot of the bets with guys like Sammy Young, Billy Riley, Jack Callahan the great school football player before Chrissie McNamara did her own flop down on his lap and dared him to move her which he had had absolutely no inclination to do, Sid Green, Pat Murphy and Ian Smith were on the outcome of various sports events. You know back in those days whether the hapless Red Sox would finish last in the American League (or how long a losing streak the team would go on once they started their inevitable losing), how many points would the golden age Celtics score (or allow). We also did our fair share of betting on football games, no so much the games themselves as each play, pass or run, stuff like that, which sounds exotic but except for one time when I got on a bad streak and lose twenty-two bucks which took me about six weeks of caddying for the Mayfair swells to pay was usually the difference of two or three dollars.         

Other bets were a bit racier. Like whether Sally, who was going out with Pat, would let him “touch” her, and you know what I mean and don’t ask how we verified such bets but just know that we did do so. Or whether such and such a girl, a hot girl usually, would take the bait and give one of us a date. Hell, sometimes when the girls came into Sal’s to have some pizza, Cokes and to play the great jukebox that he had over in the corner we would bet on what song a girl would play. There was a certain art to that proposition for instance if a girl had just broken up with her boyfriend there would likely be some slow sad song chosen. You get what I mean. Sometimes it would be whether the notoriously late local bus would arrive on time or not. So anything was up for betting purposes.         
         
That ringer secretary in the film though got me thinking about the strangest bet I ever made back then, maybe ever. One Friday night, another one of those girl-less ones, Jack Callahan, this is before fetching Chrissie McNamara snagged him, bet me on how high Sal would toss the pizza dough when he was kneading and stretching it to make his great pizza pies. Jack’s idea for calling the bet, mine too for taking it, was that one of us but not both could have enough kale for a date with Laura Lawrence on Saturday night. We were both interested in her and she liked us both well enough although Jack as the football hero probably had the edge aside from the money factor. So the bet was on. Oh, I forgot to tell you that if one of the corner boys made a proposition the other guy (or guys depending on the nature of the bet) had to take the bet, or lose and pay up anyway. So naturally I said “bet.”      

The time of the bet was probably about seven o’clock so we had to wait a bit for Sal to start making more pizzas for the crowd that would be coming in around eight or so for their slice and soda before heading to some date or to the local lovers’ lane. Sal did eventually get going, maybe a half an hour later. The idea for who would win any individual bet on the toss was whether Sal flipped the dough above or below the Coke sign directly behind him. I got to call the first bet. Low. I won and the race was on taking my shots at high or low. I did pretty well for a while, was up maybe seven or eight dollars which would be enough to take Laura out, maybe a movie and something to eat. I figured I was in. Then my luck began to change, change dramatically and before long I was down about ten bucks before Sal stopped tossing the goddam stuff.

Jack smiled a knowing smile, knowing that he was going to escort Laura around and maybe get to “touch” her and you know what I mean by that and I don’t have to spell it out. Here’s where everything about that film review by Sandy comes into play. Sal was the ringer. Remember Jack was a football hero and Sal loved football, loved Jack’s prowess on the field and Jack had told him the situation earlier in the day before I showed up there. They had planned to let me win early to draw me in and had set up a silent signal about which position I had taken. How about that. Don’t you think now that I am thinking about it and getting burned up all over again that the next time I go over to Jack and Chrissie’s house in Hingham that I should ask for that ten bucks back-with interest. Yeah, Sandy had it right some guys will bet on anything.             



The Search For The Great Blue-Pink American West Night-Part 32-With Western Artist Ed Ruscha In Mind

The Search For The Great Blue-Pink American West Night-Part 32-With Western Artist Ed Ruscha In Mind





By Art Critic Si Landon


Just then Bart Webber was in a California state of mind, was ready to chuck everything and go back on the road, the road to perdition to hear his wife, of thirty plus years, Betty Salmon, tell it when he went off on his tirade about the old days, and worse, the old guys, guys like Markin who had dragged him out West kicking and screaming. Now to hear him tell it Bart was the guy who propelled the sluggish Markin westward. We will get to the why of Bart’s new found interest in retracing his youthful fling in the bramble-filled West, out there where the states are square and you had better be as well on the way to the edge of the continent and the dreaded Japans sea for failure but first the what.

It seemed that Bart had jumped the gun somewhat because he found himself out in San Francisco, the place where he met up with Markin and some of the other North Adamsville corner boys in that fateful year of 1968 when he rode for a few months with the guys on Captain Crunch’s yellow brick road converted school bus come travelling caravan home, at a printing and media conference, what would be his final conference since he was putting his printing business in the capable hands of his youngest son who truth be told had been handling the day to day operations of the shop anyway and was itchy to run the operation himself. While riding on the BART into the city he noticed on a billboard that the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park was featuring a retrospective by the Western artist Ed Ruschua, an artist that Bart had always admire ever since he had seen his series on gas stations and their role in the great post-World War II golden age of the American automobile, the wide open highways and cheap gas.             

Taking an afternoon off he went over to Golden Gate and viewed the exhibit, a show that had well over one hundred paintings, photographs, prints and petro-maps. One set of photographs taken on one of Ruscha’s trips from his native Oklahoma to Los Angeles via the southern desert-etched route drove Bart to distraction as there he saw gas stations in places like Needles, on the California-Arizona border, Kingman, Flagstaff, Gallup, and a few other places he had passed through on one of his hitchhike or car-sharing trips to California. Saw too coyotes, Native American reservations, buffalos roam. Saw a series of prints and paintings of the famous Hollywood sign that told him the first time that he had seen the sign up in the hills that he had arrived in the land of sun and fantasy. Saw a darkly troubling painting all done in dark somber colors of the death of the Joshua trees in the high desert, a place where he had performed under the influence of serious dope inhalation the “ghost” dance with Markin, Jack Callahan, Josh Breslin and Frankie Riley. Saw plenty of photographs and paintings detailing the degradation of that part of California Ruscha had travelled through on those golden age trips. He was, well-known as a man not to show much public emotion, shaken almost to tears at the vistas that he witnessed. Could not get the thoughts of his old “hippie” minute out of his mind. (That “minute” then signifying that he finally came to a realization after a few months that unlike Markin, Josh, or Sam Lowell another late arrival in California from the corner boys who stayed on the road for a few years that he was a stationary person, missed old North Adamsville and missed old ball and chain Betty Salmon.)             

Here’s how the whole thing played out back then and maybe, just maybe you will begin to understand why Bart was shaken almost to tears for visions of his long lost youth. Despite the urban legend Bart tried to create lately around his role in sending Markin westward Markin, and only Markin was the guy who led the charge west. Had been the guy of all the guys on the corner who predicted, predicted almost weekly from about 1962 on that a big sea-change was coming and they had better be ready to ride the wave. They all, Bart included blew Markin’s predictions off out of hand because frankly if the subject around Tonio’s Pizza Parlor come Friday night wasn’t about girls, cars, money, getting drunk or any combination of those subjects they didn’t give a rat’s ass as Frankie Riley would say about some seaweed change.        

Things pretty much stayed that way all through high school although that didn’t stop Markin from his predictions especially when the blacks down south got all uppity (signifying that the corner boys except Markin didn’t give a rat’s ass about that subject either and maybe worse-around use of the common “n” word) and folk music, the urban folk revival minute as Markin called it, took off. All that meant and this was stretching it was cheap dates with girls who might “put out.” Bart was even less interested in the latter since Betty was still stuck in some Bobby Rydell crush and did not like folk music (and still didn’t so Bart only played it when she was out of the house). Stayed that way for a couple of years after high school as they went their separate ways except the Friday night reunions at Tonio’s to, well, kill time. Then the Vietnam War came on strong which they did give a rat’s ass about, wanted to see the commies bite the dust although except for Sal Russo and Jimmy Jenkins who laid down his head over there and whose name now is on black granite down in Washington and in granite in North Adamsville, they did not volunteer. (Those who were called eventually all went including Markin who lost a lot over there, had serious troubles with the “real” world coming back and in the end couldn’t shake whatever it was that took the life out of him.)

Then in the spring of 1967 Markin did two things, one, the fateful decision to drop out of Boston University after his sophomore year to go “find himself,” a characteristic of the times, of the generation, of the best part of the generation and the other, the less fateful but still fraught with danger decision to head west, to hitchhike west to California after he had read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road about six times and declared that now was the moment that he had been talking about all those Friday nights in front of Tonio’s. So he headed west with no compulsion, wound up hooking up with a caravan out there. The Captain Crunch yellow brick road caravan that would eventually be composed of at least a half dozen North Adamsville corner boys turned “hippies” for varying lengths of time. Bart was pretty late on that “train” didn’t go out until the summer of 1968 after he found out that due to a childhood injury that left him with a pronounced limp despite a couple of surgeries was declared 4-F, unfit for military service by the friends and neighbors at his local draft board. That pretty late also meant that Markin who shortly after he got out to San Francisco received his own draft notice and was an additional reason why Bart left the road early since he knew the ropes.  

Bart, despite whatever happened later, was happy to be heading out and once he decided to go he also decided that he would hitchhike out like all the other guys except Sam Lowell who to placate anxious parents, really an anxious mother went out by bus. Even Sam after five plus days on a stinking Greyhound bus with the usual screaming kids left to wander the aisles and the inevitable overweight seatmate who snored and despite a couple of pleasant days from New York to Chicago with a chick who caught his eye and whom he flirted like crazy with said later that he would have rather hitched than go through that again (and all his later trips would be done that way). Bart figured that although the road might be slow with the many false starts and being left in some strange places where grabbing a ride was not easy that it would be interesting once he got past the stifling East and Great Plains to see what was what in the West (that stifling Ruscha could attest to since he was nothing but a child of the Great Plains, hell, an Okie so he knew he had to head west in that big old Chevy Bart had heard he went out to L.A. in that fateful 1956 year when he entered art school out there).

Bart thinking about the experience, that first road out, that always served as a hallmark for every guy’s trip out remembered more or less vividly all those dusty side roads he got left on after his own trip through Oklahoma. Although the big Eisenhower-driven national security Interstate highway system made it easier in the mid-1960s to travel the hitchhike road than all the back roads and Route 66 that Bart had read about in Jack Kerouac’s travel the open road book On The Road that Markin made everybody read when they all were in high school even though he wasn’t much of a reader, didn’t think as much of the be-bop beats as Markin did who thought they were the max daddies he was waiting for even though by their time the “beat” thing was passe was old news, ancient history it was actually easier to get rides on the smaller roads where people could see you from down or up the road. In any case you were sure to be left off on more than one back road since that was just the way it was, nobody who was say going to Denver was going to let you off in the middle of Interstate 80 when you saw the sign for Cheyenne just ahead.  

Funny all the strange signs he saw out on the open back roads like  the mere fact of putting a sign up would draw people to your Podunk town , or your Podunk store. He had had to laugh when he saw Ruscha’s photograph of a town out in nowhere which probably had a population of less than one thousand but which had a sign documenting all the about ten church denominations that kept the good people of the town on their feet. He had seen more Jesus Save signs and the like than you could shake a stick at the further west he went until they stopped, stopped  dead the closer you got to coastal California. Saw more signs for cigarettes, beer, whiskey, dry goods (quaint), no trespassing, no loitering, no anything than he ever noticed back home. He wondered if people travelling through North Adamsville had that same feeling about his own Podunk town. He knew for sure that there were not top-heavy signs about all the religious denominations of the town at least not in the Acre where all you saw was a fistful of Catholic churches, Roman Catholic for the unknowing about differences.               

Had seen above all the signs that directed you to the nearest gas stations, almost a ritualistic sign that you were still in the golden age of the automobile, of the superhighway and of cheap gas. Hell even in North Adamsville right across from the high school he remembered the service station owners who had business right next to each other would have “gas wars,” would have signs out with prices like 30 cents per gallon versus say 29 cents. Yeah, cheap gas, and plenty of service too. Lots of guys, guys who needed to support their “boss” car habits worked as gas jockeys filling up tanks, checking oil and tires and wiping off windshields. Saw every kind of gas station from the one franchised out by Esso and Texaco to little fly-by-night operations with no name gas, a rundown coke machine that barely worked and bathrooms with stained sinks and broken plumbing and had not been cleaned since Hector was a pup. You had to use your own handkerchief to wipe your hands. Even some of the diners, diners like Jimmy Jack’s back home where all the guys hung out after leaving off their dates if they didn’t get lucky and wind up down at the far end of Squaw Road on Adamsville Beach fogging up some “boss” car into the wee hours of the morning had gas stations or at least pumps out on those long stretch deserted roads so nobody would get stranded on in the hot sun (and the owners probably figured that while stopping for gas the little family might as well have something to eat at the high carbohydrate steamed everything counters and booths).

Saw plenty of weird natural formations along the way getting twenty mile rides here from ranchers or farmers going up the road, fifty miles there from high-rollers taking the high side to Vegas, a few miles from high school kids joy-riding to while away the afternoon to avoid the dreaded chores that awaited them at home. Saw every kind dusty dried out tree seeking nourishment from the waterless ground. Saw rock formations hounded by the winds and sheered to perfection. Saw every color of brown, of beige, of grey. Saw too in Joshua Tree of a thousand tears, tears for the creeping civilization that was choking them away and tears one high doped up night when Markin and a few others channeled the shamans of the past in a ghost dance off the flickering canyon walls, hah, walls of brown, of beige, of grey. Bart never got over that experience, never saw what the white man, what his people had done so clearly even if he wasn’t about to do anything about it except load up on peyote buttons and ancient dreams of mock revenge.  
Saw above all as he grabbed that last one hundred, maybe one hundred and fifty mile stretch to Frisco town the refuge of the high speed road, the broken glass, the road kill, the busted fences where some fool had gone off the highway drunk or doped up so he didn’t feel a thing, saw stripped off bare truck tires blocking easy passage on the road ahead. Saw the bramble, the flotsam and jetsam of modern day life. Saw too though as he got closer to Frisco, as he could almost smell the ocean, the land’s end, the Japan seas or back home that the West was very different, that those who had make the trek, maybe were forced to make the trek were very different from the East that he knew. But maybe too they would have to run from a thing which they had built.

Later. after he arrived in San Francisco, met Markin, Josh and Frankie on Russian Hill and then joined them on the journey south for a few months (with a couple of trips back home in between) he would see Ruscha’s L.A. would see those luscious Hollywood signs, and would like any tourist from Podunk image that he had the wherewithal to make it as a star, or something like that name in lights. Got to know L.A. too well, couldn’t handle the freeway craziness, couldn’t handle the sameness of the endless strip malls, the endless rows of tickey-tack houses, couldn’t handle the sprawl that was turning a small town into a mega-town. Yeah he knew exactly what Ruscha was driving at, was trying to chronicle. Bot still he missed the opportunity to see if he did have what it took to survive in California, to have drunk in the scenes.     


And you wonder why Bart just then as he approached retirement as he approached his seventh decade was in a frenzy to repeat his past.    

An Encore Salute To The Untold Stories Of The Working- Class 1960s Radicals-“The Sam And Ralph Stories”- Hard Times Come Again No More -From The Sam Eaton-Ralph Morris Series-From The Pen Of Sam Lowell


An Encore Salute To The Untold Stories Of The Working- Class 1960s Radicals-“The Sam And Ralph Stories”- Hard Times Come Again No More -From The Sam Eaton-Ralph Morris Series-From The Pen Of Sam Lowell





Allan Jackson, editor The Sam And Ralph Stories -New General Introduction

[As my replacement Greg Green, whom I brought in from American Film Gazette originally to handle the day to day site operations while I concentrated on editing but who led a successful revolt against my regime based on the wishes of the younger writers to as they said at the time not be slaves to the 1960s upheavals a time which they only knew second or third hand, mentioned in his general introduction above some of the series I initiated were/are worth an encore presentation. The Sam and Ralph Stories are one such series and as we go along I will try to describe why this series was an important testament to an unheralded segment of the mass movements of the 1960s-the radicalized white working- class kids who certainly made up a significant component of the Vietnam War soldiery, some of who were like Sam and Ralph forever after suspicious of every governmental war cry. Who also somewhat belatedly got caught up in the second wave rock and roll revival which emerged under the general slogan of “drug, sex and rock and roll” which represented a vast sea change for attitudes about a lot of things that under ordinary circumstances would have had them merely replicating their parents’ ethos and fate.        

As I said I will describe that transformation in future segment introductions but today since it is my “dime” I want to once again clear up some misapprehensions about what has gone on over the past year or so in the interest of informing the readership, as Greg Green has staked his standing at this publication on doing to insure his own survival, about what goes on behind the scenes in the publishing business. This would not have been necessary after the big flap when Greg tried an “end around” something that I and every other editor worth her or his salt have tried as well and have somebody else, here commentator and my old high school friend Frank Jackman, act as general introducer of The Roots Is The Toots  rock and roll coming of age series that I believe is one of the best productions I have ever worked on. That got writers, young and old, with me or against me, led by Sam Lowell, another of my old high school friends, who had been the decisive vote against me in the “vote of no confidence” which ended my regime up in arms. I have forgiven Sam, and others, as I knew full well from the time I entered into the business that at best it was a cutthroat survival of the fittest racket. (Not only have I forgiven Sam but I am in his corner in his recent struggles with young up and coming by-line writer Sarah Lemoyne who is being guided through the shoals by another old high school friend Seth Garth as she attempts to make her way up the film critic food chain, probably the most vicious segment of the business where a thousand knives wait the unwary from so-called fellow reviewers.) The upshot of that controversy was that Greg had to back off and let me finish the introducing the series for which after all I had been present at the creation.               

That would have been the end of it but once we successfully, and thankfully by Greg who gave me not only kudos around the water cooler but a nice honorarium, concluded that series encore in the early summer of 2018 he found another way to cut me. Going through the archives of this publication to try to stabilize the readership after doing some “holy goof” stuff like having serious writers, young and old, reviewing films based on comic book characters, the latest in video games and graphic novels with no success forgetting the cardinal rule of the post-Internet world that the younger set get their information from other sources than old line academic- driven websites and don’t read beyond their techie tools Greg found another series, the one highlighted here, that intrigued him for an encore presentation. This is where Greg proved only too human since he once again attempted an “end around,” by having Josh Breslin, another old friend whom I meet in the Summer of Love, 1967 out in San Francisco, introduce the series citing my unavailability as the reason although paying attention to the fact that I had sweated bullets over that one as well.      

This time though the Editorial Board, now headed by Sam Lowell, intervened even before Greg could approach Josh for the assignment. This Ed Board was instituted after my departure to insure the operation would not descend, Sam’s word actually, into the so-called autocratic one-person rule that had been the norm under my regime. They told Greg to call me back in on the encore project or to forget it. I would not have put up with such a suggestion from an overriding Ed Board and would have willingly bowed out if anybody had tried to undermine me that way. I can understand fully Greg’s desire to cast me to the deeps, have done with me as in my time I did as well knowing others in the food chain would see this as their opportunity to move up.  

That part I had no problem with, told Greg exactly that. What bothered me was the continuing “urban legend” about what I had done, where I had gone after that decisive vote of no confidence. Greg continued, may continue today, to fuel the rumors that not only after my initial demise but after finishing up the Roots Is The Toots series I had gone back out West to Utah of all places to work for the Mormons, or to Frisco to hook up with my old flame Madame La Rue running that high-end whorehouse I had staked her to in the old days, or was running around with another old high school pal, Miss Judy Garland, aka Timmy Riley the high priestess of the drag queen set out in that same town whom I also helped stake to  his high-end tourist attraction cabaret. All nonsense, I was working on my memoir up in Maine, up in Olde Saco where Josh grew up and which I fell in love with when he first showed me his hometown and its ocean views.          

If the reader can bear the weight of this final reckoning let me clear the air on all three subjects on the so-called Western trail. Before that though I admit, admit freely that despite all the money I have made, editing, doing a million pieces under various aliases and monikers, ballooning up 3000 word articles to 10,000 and having the publishers fully pay despite the need for editing for the latter in the days before the Guild when you worked by the word, accepting articles which I clearly knew were just ripped of the AP feed and sending them along as gold I had no dough, none when I was dethroned. Reason, perfectly sane reason, although maybe not, three ex-wives with alimony blues and a parcel of kids, a brood if you like who were in thrall to the college tuition vultures.

Tapped out in the East for a lot of reasons I did head west the first time looking for work. Landed in Utah when I ran out of dough, and did, DID, try to get a job on the Salt Lake Star and would have had it too except two things somebody there, some friend of Mitt Romney, heard I was looking for work and nixed the whole thing once they read the articles I had written mocking Mitt and his white underwear world as Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential candidate. So it was with bitter irony when I heard that Greg had retailed the preposterous idea that I would now seek a job shilling for dear white undie Mitt as press agent in his run for the open Utah United States Senate seat. Here is where everybody should gasp though at the whole Utah fantasy-these Mormons stick close together, probably ingrained in them from Joseph Smith days, and don’t hire goddam atheists and radicals, don’t hire outside the religion if they can help it. You probably had to have slept with one of Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s wives to even get one foot in the door. Done.              

The helping Madame La Rue, real name of no interest or need to mention,  running her high-end exclusive whorehouse out in Half Moon Bay at least had some credence since I had staked her to some dough to get started after the downfall of the 1960s sent her back to her real world, the world of a high class hooker who was slumming with “hippies” for a while when it looked like our dreams were going to be deterred in in the ebbtide. We had been hot and heavy lovers, although never married except on some hazed drug-fogged concert night when I think Josh Breslin “married” us and sent us on a “honeymoon” with a fistful of cocaine. Down on dough I hit her up for some which she gave gladly, said it was interest on the “loan: she never repaid and let me stay at her place for a while until I had to move on. Done

The whole drag queen idea tells me that whoever started this damn lie knew nothing about my growing up days and had either seen me in The Totem, Timmy Riley’s aka Miss Judy Garland’s drinking with a few drag queen who worked and drew the wrong conclusions or was out to slander and libel me for some other nefarious reason. See Miss Judy Garland is the very successful drag queen and gay man Timmy Riley from the old neighborhood who fled to Frisco when he could no longer hide his sexual identity and preferences. To our great shock since Timmy had been the out-front gay-basher of our crowd, our working-class corner boy gay-bashing crowd. I had lent, after getting religion rather late on the LGBTQ question, Timmy the money to buy his first drag queen cabaret on Bay Street and Timmy was kind enough to stake me to some money and a roof before I decided I had to head back East. Done.

But enough about me.  This is about two other working- class guys, Sam Eaton and Ralph Morris, met along life’s road one from Carver about fifty miles away from where Seth, Sam, Timmy and a bunch of other guys grew up and learned the “normal” working-class ethos-and broke, tentatively at times, from that same straitjacket and from Troy, New York. Funny Troy, Carver, North Adamsville, and Josh’s old mill town Olde Saco all down-in-the-mouth working class towns still produced in exceptional times a clot of guys who got caught up in the turmoil of their times-and lived to tell the tale. I am proud to introduce this encore presentation and will have plenty more to say about Sam and Ralph in future segments.]

***********

Hard Times Come Again No More -From The Sam Eaton-Ralph Morris Series 

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell



As long as Sam Eaton and Ralph Morris had known each other they never spent much time or effort discussing their early lives, the events and happenstances of their coming of age. Maybe it was because they shared many personal similarities. Like their doggedness in pursuit when something important was on the line as it had been when Sam had vowed to fight against the war in Vietnam after his best friend, Jeff Mullins, who had been killed on the benighted battlefield there begged him in letters home to tell people what was really going on if he did not get back and Ralph having served in Vietnam had turned against the war that he had fought and tried to stop it every way he knew how and both men now in their sixties having put their lives on the line back then had stuck with the better instincts of their natures and were still fighting the good fight against the American government’s endless wars. Like their willingness to forgo life’s simple pleasures in order to provide for their families, a trait they had picked up from their own hard-working if distance fathers (they in turn if truth be told, or if you asked the collective broods of Eaton and Morris kids, courtesy respectively of two marriages and two divorces apiece, were hard-working and distance as well, more than a couple of them mad as hell about it too and the cause some periodic mutual estrangements). Like, to speak of the negative side, to speak of the effects of their hard-scrabble existences and the pull of other guys when they were young their delights in the small larcenies of their high school corner boy existences in their respective growing up towns in order to satisfy some hunger. Those “sins” (since both had been brought up in the Roman Catholic religion, a religion known for categorizing sins, great and small), made a close call, six, two and even, whether they would succeed or wind up in some jail doing successive nickels and dimes in the “life” (really not so small larcenies when one realizes that these were burglaries of homes, one of which in Sam’s crowd had been committed with at least one gun, if in the pocket, at least at the ready).

Maybe it was the Catholic reticence to speak of personal matters, personal sexual manners with another male (probably Catholic female too on that side but let’s stick to male here) both having come up “old school” working-class Catholics when that meant something before Vatican II in the 1960s when the “s” word was not used in polite society, not used either, God no, from the pulpit (even when discussion came up of the obligation to, unlike the bloody Protestants with their two point three children, propagate the faith; have scads of children to bump up the Catholic population of the world). Maybe closer to home, to domestic home life, it was the “theory,” probably honored more in the breech that the observance, of “not airing one’s dirty linen in public” drilled into them by their respective maternal grandmothers, especially when the “s” word was involved (certainly no parents gave the slightest clues on that subject probably assuming that the birds and the bees story line would suffice and both men learned like millions of their generation of ’68 kindred about sex on the streets, most of it erroneous or damn right dangerous).

Maybe, and this was probably closer to the core than the other possibilities, men of their generation, men of the generation of ’68 as Sam, the more literary of the two called their generation after the decisive year when all hell broke loose, for good or evil, mostly evil, did not as a rule speak much about private hurts, about personal issues unlike the subsequent generations who seemingly to both men’s  amazement (and occasional chagrin) kept their lives as open books in a more confessional time. That “generation of ’68” designation by the way picked up from the hard fact that that seminal year of 1968, a year when the Tet offensive by the Viet Cong and their allies put in shambles the lie that we (meaning the United States government) was winning that vicious bloodstained honor-less war, to the results in New Hampshire which caused Lyndon Baines Johnson, the sitting President to run for cover down in Texas somewhere after being beaten like a gong by a quirky Irish poet from the Midwest and a band of wayward troubadours from all over, mainly the seething college campuses, to the death of the post-racial society dream as advertised by the slain Doctor Martin Luther King, to the barricade days in Paris where for once and all the limits of what wayward students could do without substantial allies in bringing down a reactionary government, to the death of the search for a “newer world” as advertised by the slain Robert F. Kennedy, to the war-circus of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago which put paid to any notion that any newer world would come without the spilling of rivers of blood, to the election of Richard Milhous Nixon which meant that we had seen the high side go under, that the promise of the flamboyant 1960s was veering toward an ebb tide.

So the two men never spoke of various romantic interests. Never spoke of little rendezvous or trysts, never spoke of their two respective divorces much beyond recording the facts of the disengagements, and the animosity of the settlements which made nobody happy except the lawyers (although neither men were gripping since Sam’s old corner boy leader Frankie Riley performed “miracles” to get both men out from under the worse initial terms). Never spoke much about the difficulties of fatherhood for men who were so driven by the “big picture” world around them and, never spoke about the deep-seeded things that drove them both to distraction. At least that stance was true in their younger days when they had more than enough on their plates to try to keep the dwindling numbers committed to an all-out fight against the American military behemoth that had in a strange manner brought them together.   

Maybe too it could have been the way that they had “met,” that strange manner, a story that they have endlessly repeated in one form or another and which had been told so many times by Sam mostly in the old days in small alternative presses and magazines and more recently in 1960s-related blogs that even they confessed that everybody must be “bored” with the damn thing by now. So only the barest outline will suffice here since their meeting is not particularly relevant to the story except to help sort out this reticence about relationships business. Sam, an active opponent of the Vietnam War, and Ralph an ex-soldier of that war who had turned against the war after eighteen months of duty there and become an anti-war activist in his turn with Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) after being discharged from the Army “met” in RFK Stadium in Washington on May Day 1971 when they were down there with their respective groups trying to as the slogan of the time went “shut down the government, if the government did not shut down the war.”

For their ill-advised efforts they and thousands of others were tear-gassed, billy-clubbed and sent to the bastinado (ill-advised in that they did not have nearly enough people on hand and were incredibly na├»ve about the ability and willingness of the government to do any dirty deed to keep their power including herding masses of protestors into closed holding areas to be forgotten if possible although Ralph always had a sneaking suspicion the government would not have been unhappy seeing those bodies floating face down in the Potomac). Sam and Ralph met on the floor of the stadium and since they had several days to get acquainted were drawn to each other by their working-class background, their budding politics, and their mutual desire to “seek a newer world” as some old English poet once said. And so they had stuck together, almost like blood brothers although no silly ceremony was involved,  stuck politically mostly, through work in various peace organizations and ad hoc anti-war committees fighting the good fight along with dwindling numbers of fellow activists for the past forty plus years.                              

There were thick and thin times along the way as Ralph stayed close to home in Troy, New York working in his father’s high-precision electrical shop which he eventually took over and had just recently passed on to his youngest son and Sam had stayed in the Greater Boston area having grown up in Carver about thirty miles south of Boston building up a printing business that he had started from scratch and from which he in turn had just turned over to his more modern tech savvy print-imaging son, Jeff. The pair would periodically take turns visiting each other sometimes with families in tow, sometimes not and were always available to back each other up when some anti-war or other progressive action needed additional warm bodies in Boston, New York or when a national call came from Washington. Lately now that they were both retired from the day to day operations of their respective businesses and also now both after their last respective divorces “single” they have had more time to visit each other.

It had been on Ralph’s last visit to Sam who now resided in Cambridge that he tentatively broached to him his interest in the genesis of a term Sam had always used, “wanting habits” as in “I had my wanting habits on” when he was talking about wanting some maybe attainable, maybe not but which caused some ache, some pain, created some hole in him by not having the damn thing just in the way he said it. Of course maybe Ralph had been “rum brave” that night since he had asked the question while he and Sam were cutting up old touches at “Jack’s” in Cambridge a few blocks from Sam’s place and were drinking high-shelf whisky at the time. That high shelf whisky detail is important to the story if only by inference since in their younger days when they were down on their luck or times were tight they would drink low-shelf rotgut whisky or worst to get them through some frost-bitten night. Now they could afford the booze from the top-shelf behind Jimmy the bartender’s back. Of course as well since both men had been attached to music since childhood the reason besides being close to home that Sam liked to hang at Jack’s was that it had a jukebox stacked full of old time tunes that you could not find otherwise outside of maybe Googling YouTube these days.

The selection on the juke when Ralph posed the question had been the Mississippi Sheiks’ Rent Day Blues, a personal favorite of Sam’s, about how the narrator in the song had no chance in hell to make the rent and the rent collector man was at the door. Ralph had mentioned to Sam that at least his family had never had to worry about that problem, as tough as money times were before his father landed some contracts to do electrical work for the biggest concern in the area, General Electric. Ralph’s family had been the epitome of 1950s “golden age” working-class attitudes buying into the Cold War red scare every child under the desk in case the Russkies blow the big one, the atomic bomb, keep the damn n----rs out of the neighborhood, get ahead but not too far ahead and all the other aspects of that ethos but they also had enough dough to not need to have every penny accounted for and begrudged. Sam looked stunned for a moment as Ralph described his childhood existence and told Ralph that while they were both working-class guys coming up that his family lived much closer to the depths of society, closer to the place where the working poor of Carver met the con men, rip-off artists, drifters, grifters, midnight sifters and refuge of society, down in the projects, not a pretty place.  

Ralph, at first, could not see where Sam was going with the talk but then Sam let out some of the details. See his father, Thornton, had been nothing but an uneducated hillbilly from down in the coalmining country in Appalachia, Kentucky, had worked the mines himself. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he had jumped in with both hands and feet as a Marine seeing action, seeing plenty of action although Sam who had been off and on estranged from his family for many years before they had passed away did not find this out until later after his father died from an uncle, in all the big Pacific War battles they teach in high school. Thornton never ever talked about his war that much but did say one time when they were on speaking terms that between fighting the “Nips” (Thornton’s term popular among American G.I.s who faced the Japanese on the islands) and the coal barons he would take the former, the former gladly. Before Thornton was demobilized he had been assigned to the big naval shipyard over in Hingham, not far from Carver where his mother grew up. His mother, Delores, due to wartime shortages of manpower had worked in the offices there. One USO dance night they met, subsequently fell in love and were married and thereafter had a brood of five boys close together. Maybe not a today story but not that uncommon then.

But go back to that part about Sam’s father’s heritage, about coal-mining country. Where the hell in all the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was there room for a hard-working coalminer, a coal miner’s son. Delores had made it clear she was not moving down to the hills and hollows of Kentucky after one brief shocking humiliating trip there to meet Thornton’s kin, his expression, and he had no feeling for the place after being out in the big world so their fates hinged on Carver, or Massachusetts anyway. They took a small apartment in the Tappan section of Carver, the section on the edge of where the poor, the poor in Carver being the “boggers,” those who worked the cranberry bogs in season that the town was famous for, and the, what did Marx call them, the lumpen, the refuge of society meet. As more boys came they doubled up on everything but there is no air to breathe when seven people trample over each other in a small space. Moreover Thornton in the throes of the 1950s “golden age of the American worker” got left behind; was inevitably the last hired, first fired and was reduced to whatever was left, including time served in the bogs ( a personal affront to whatever dignities Delores had since she had been taught to despise the “boggers” in her polite society home).

That hand-to-mouth existence took its toll. At some point after repeatedly dodging the rent collector man the Eaton family was evicted from their small private apartment and they were reduced to the heap, the Carver public housing projects, the lowest of the low and recognized by one and all as such. Here is where that view of the world Sam assimilated got formed. The never having money, the battle of the six nights straight of oatmeal for supper and no lunch (in those days before the school lunch programs mercifully spared the worst of the hungers), some days  of nothing to eat but patience, the passing down of the too larger-sized older brothers’ clothing bought by a desperate mother at the Bargain Center and which had been out of fashion for many a year (causing baiting by the non-projects classmates who lived up the road about shanty Irish and worse, about being a “bogger’s” son).

While Sam was talking he suddenly remembered, as an example of how tough things were, one time to impress some girl, a non-projects girl, a daughter of a middle class professional man he thought, he had cut up his pants to seem like a real farmer at some school square dance and Delores beat him with a belt buckle screaming how dare he ruin the only other pair of pants that he owned. And that was not the only beating Sam took as Delores, who handled discipline, to spare the ever weary hard-pressed Thornton, became overwhelmed with the care of five strapping boys. And so Sam graduated to the “clip” at first to get some spare dough and later those larcenies that almost got him into the county clink doing nickels and dimes. After that spiel Sam buttoned up, would say no more as if to say that if he did then he would be far too exposed to the glare of the world’s eyes even if only Ralph’s.     

Ralph, ever being Ralph, thought for a couple of minutes about what Sam had disclosed and then simply said-“Sam, you earned your ‘wanting habits,’ earned them the hard way. I don’t need to know any more” Enough said.               

An Encore Salute To The Untold Stories Of The Working- Class 1960s Radicals-“The Sam And Ralph Stories”- Road Song Blues-From The Sam Eaton-Ralph Morris Series-From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

An Encore Salute To The Untold Stories Of The Working- Class 1960s Radicals-“The Sam And Ralph Stories”- Road Song Blues-From The Sam Eaton-Ralph Morris Series-From The Pen Of Sam Lowell



Allan Jackson, editor The Sam And Ralph Stories -New General Introduction
[As my replacement Greg Green, whom I brought in from American Film Gazette originally to handle the day to day site operations while I concentrated on editing but who led a successful revolt against my regime based on the wishes of the younger writers to as they said at the time not be slaves to the 1960s upheavals a time which they only knew second or third hand, mentioned in his general introduction above some of the series I initiated were/are worth an encore presentation. The Sam and Ralph Stories are one such series and as we go along I will try to describe why this series was an important testament to an unheralded segment of the mass movements of the 1960s-the radicalized white working- class kids who certainly made up a significant component of the Vietnam War soldiery, some of who were like Sam and Ralph forever after suspicious of every governmental war cry. Who also somewhat belatedly got caught up in the second wave rock and roll revival which emerged under the general slogan of “drug, sex and rock and roll” which represented a vast sea change for attitudes about a lot of things that under ordinary circumstances would have had them merely replicating their parents’ ethos and fate.        
As I said I will describe that transformation in future segment introductions but today since it is my “dime” I want to once again clear up some misapprehensions about what has gone on over the past year or so in the interest of informing the readership, as Greg Green has staked his standing at this publication on doing to insure his own survival, about what goes on behind the scenes in the publishing business. This would not have been necessary after the big flap when Greg tried an “end around” something that I and every other editor worth her or his salt have tried as well and have somebody else, here commentator and my old high school friend Frank Jackman, act as general introducer of The Roots Is The Toots  rock and roll coming of age series that I believe is one of the best productions I have ever worked on. That got writers, young and old, with me or against me, led by Sam Lowell, another of my old high school friends, who had been the decisive vote against me in the “vote of no confidence” which ended my regime up in arms. I have forgiven Sam, and others, as I knew full well from the time I entered into the business that at best it was a cutthroat survival of the fittest racket. (Not only have I forgiven Sam but I am in his corner in his recent struggles with young up and coming by-line writer Sarah Lemoyne who is being guided through the shoals by another old high school friend Seth Garth as she attempts to make her way up the film critic food chain, probably the most vicious segment of the business where a thousand knives wait the unwary from so-called fellow reviewers.) The upshot of that controversy was that Greg had to back off and let me finish the introducing the series for which after all I had been present at the creation.               
That would have been the end of it but once we successfully, and thankfully by Greg who gave me not only kudos around the water cooler but a nice honorarium, concluded that series encore in the early summer of 2018 he found another way to cut me. Going through the archives of this publication to try to stabilize the readership after doing some “holy goof” stuff like having serious writers, young and old, reviewing films based on comic book characters, the latest in video games and graphic novels with no success forgetting the cardinal rule of the post-Internet world that the younger set get their information from other sources than old line academic- driven websites and don’t read beyond their techie tools Greg found another series, the one highlighted here, that intrigued him for an encore presentation. This is where Greg proved only too human since he once again attempted an “end around,” by having Josh Breslin, another old friend whom I meet in the Summer of Love, 1967 out in San Francisco, introduce the series citing my unavailability as the reason although paying attention to the fact that I had sweated bullets over that one as well.      
This time though the Editorial Board, now headed by Sam Lowell, intervened even before Greg could approach Josh for the assignment. This Ed Board was instituted after my departure to insure the operation would not descend, Sam’s word actually, into the so-called autocratic one-person rule that had been the norm under my regime. They told Greg to call me back in on the encore project or to forget it. I would not have put up with such a suggestion from an overriding Ed Board and would have willingly bowed out if anybody had tried to undermine me that way. I can understand fully Greg’s desire to cast me to the deeps, have done with me as in my time I did as well knowing others in the food chain would see this as their opportunity to move up.  
That part I had no problem with, told Greg exactly that. What bothered me was the continuing “urban legend” about what I had done, where I had gone after that decisive vote of no confidence. Greg continued, may continue today, to fuel the rumors that not only after my initial demise but after finishing up the Roots Is The Toots series I had gone back out West to Utah of all places to work for the Mormons, or to Frisco to hook up with my old flame Madame La Rue running that high-end whorehouse I had staked her to in the old days, or was running around with another old high school pal, Miss Judy Garland, aka Timmy Riley the high priestess of the drag queen set out in that same town whom I also helped stake to  his high-end tourist attraction cabaret. All nonsense, I was working on my memoir up in Maine, up in Olde Saco where Josh grew up and which I fell in love with when he first showed me his hometown and its ocean views.          
If the reader can bear the weight of this final reckoning let me clear the air on all three subjects on the so-called Western trail. Before that though I admit, admit freely that despite all the money I have made, editing, doing a million pieces under various aliases and monikers, ballooning up 3000 word articles to 10,000 and having the publishers fully pay despite the need for editing for the latter in the days before the Guild when you worked by the word, accepting articles which I clearly knew were just ripped of the AP feed and sending them along as gold I had no dough, none when I was dethroned. Reason, perfectly sane reason, although maybe not, three ex-wives with alimony blues and a parcel of kids, a brood if you like who were in thrall to the college tuition vultures.
Tapped out in the East for a lot of reasons I did head west the first time looking for work. Landed in Utah when I ran out of dough, and did, DID, try to get a job on the Salt Lake Star and would have had it too except two things somebody there, some friend of Mitt Romney, heard I was looking for work and nixed the whole thing once they read the articles I had written mocking Mitt and his white underwear world as Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential candidate. So it was with bitter irony when I heard that Greg had retailed the preposterous idea that I would now seek a job shilling for dear white undie Mitt as press agent in his run for the open Utah United States Senate seat. Here is where everybody should gasp though at the whole Utah fantasy-these Mormons stick close together, probably ingrained in them from Joseph Smith days, and don’t hire goddam atheists and radicals, don’t hire outside the religion if they can help it. You probably had to have slept with one of Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s wives to even get one foot in the door. Done.              
The helping Madame La Rue, real name of no interest or need to mention,  running her high-end exclusive whorehouse out in Half Moon Bay at least had some credence since I had staked her to some dough to get started after the downfall of the 1960s sent her back to her real world, the world of a high class hooker who was slumming with “hippies” for a while when it looked like our dreams were going to be deterred in in the ebbtide. We had been hot and heavy lovers, although never married except on some hazed drug-fogged concert night when I think Josh Breslin “married” us and sent us on a “honeymoon” with a fistful of cocaine. Down on dough I hit her up for some which she gave gladly, said it was interest on the “loan: she never repaid and let me stay at her place for a while until I had to move on. Done
The whole drag queen idea tells me that whoever started this damn lie knew nothing about my growing up days and had either seen me in The Totem, Timmy Riley’s aka Miss Judy Garland’s drinking with a few drag queen who worked and drew the wrong conclusions or was out to slander and libel me for some other nefarious reason. See Miss Judy Garland is the very successful drag queen and gay man Timmy Riley from the old neighborhood who fled to Frisco when he could no longer hide his sexual identity and preferences. To our great shock since Timmy had been the out-front gay-basher of our crowd, our working-class corner boy gay-bashing crowd. I had lent, after getting religion rather late on the LGBTQ question, Timmy the money to buy his first drag queen cabaret on Bay Street and Timmy was kind enough to stake me to some money and a roof before I decided I had to head back East. Done.
But enough about me.  This is about two other working- class guys, Sam Eaton and Ralph Morris, met along life’s road one from Carver about fifty miles away from where Seth, Sam, Timmy and a bunch of other guys grew up and learned the “normal” working-class ethos-and broke, tentatively at times, from that same straitjacket and from Troy, New York. Funny Troy, Carver, North Adamsville, and Josh’s old mill town Olde Saco all down-in-the-mouth working class towns still produced in exceptional times a clot of guys who got caught up in the turmoil of their times-and lived to tell the tale. I am proud to introduce this encore presentation and will have plenty more to say about Sam and Ralph in future segments.]
***********

Road Song Blues-From The Sam Eaton-Ralph Morris Series 
From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

“What your all-time favorite road album, Sam?” asked his old friend Ralph Morris as they were driving to Washington for the nth time in order to place their warm bodies on the line once again for some progressive cause, this time the struggle against escalating war in the Middle East by the Obama administration. They had been doing such anti-war duty since they had “met” each back on May Day 1971 when they, Sam a very activist anti-warrior and Ralph a returned Vietnam veteran who had turned on a war that he had fought, among the thousands arrested for trying to “shut down the government if it would not shut down the war” (the Vietnam War then for those too young or those who have forgotten). By the way while it might have been the nth time they had driven down to D.C. on these missions of mercy that was not always the way they had got there. In their youths they were as likely to have thumbed from either Boston, Sam’s base in those days, or Albany, Ralph’s base picking up rides from others heading that way for the same purposes or friendly truckers looking for somebody, anybody to talk to at seventy miles an hour having been on the road probably sixteen straight and going stir crazy. 
In any case Sam and Ralph making sure they cleared the vicious Connecticut State Police on U.S. 95 or else they could expect, at the least, some serious hassles. Maybe they had taken the dreaded Greyhound bus with its eight million stops and the inevitable winding up beside (a) some scatter-brained mother who let her child run wild on her lap and who then exploded into your space as well, (b) some severely over-weight snoring behemoth, male or female, (c), some lonely-heart girl who you could tell if you had given any thought at all to talking to her had some serious mental health issues or she would be sitting in some “boss” car with some max daddy and not travelling alone on some forlorn public transportation. Maybe worse riding down with a busload of activists aboard a “movement” rented bus and the other denizens wanted to stay up all night talking politics, not bad in itself, but talk politics like they just invented the profession and wanted to fill your empty vessel with every arcane fact they had gleaned from the latest alternative newspapers or from Professor so-and-so in some introductory political science class. Hell, the Marxists were the worst, some obvious products of the leafy suburbs and elite colleges always talking about the class struggle and working people which is exactly the roots that both men had come from and so knew from day one of their respective existences exactly what the class struggle was even if they could not have named the phenomenon as such back then.
Ralph reminded Sam that a couple of times they had gone “bourgeois,” (Sam’s expression since he actually did hang with some radicals and reds in Cambridge in the early 1970s when he was at his wits end about how to stop the “fucking,” also his word, Vietnam War before he met Ralph) when Sam had latched onto a Mayfair swell daughter from Radcliffe who insisted they all fly down to National Airport on Poppa’s credit card (“Poppa” her term of endearment). Her argument-they by flying rather than travelling the roads for ten hours up and then ten hours back would save time for other things, movement things of course since she was one of those leafy suburbs radicals that Sam was fatally attracted to at the time. Like then they didn’t have anything but time since they were that minute “full-time” activists. 
But this early Saturday morning spring day Sam and Ralph were as they had the majority of times after the big gold rush of the 1960s uprising ebbed into nothing driving in a car, this time Sam’s, down to D.C.  A call had come out from the National Anti-War Network headquartered in that town for all peace-loving groups and individuals to make their voices heard against the very most recent escalation of the war situation in the Middle East, in Iraq, with the announcement by the Obama administration that the government was upping the ante on the number of “advisors,” read troops on the ground being sent in. The ostensible reason given by the administration was to help, once again, to stem the panic of the Baghdad government over the constitutional inability of its own armed forces to not flee the minute an enemy cannon (or maybe any cannon) was heard in the distance. The enemy de jus now a nasty Islamic fundamentalist outfit called ISIS, and called about seven variations of that designation including the “self-proclaimed Islamic State” depending on which news source you got your news from.
The funny part, at least Sam when he mentioned the “self-proclaimed” moniker that the newscasters were using ever since ISIS starting coming out of the hills of Syria and Iraq like bats out of hell, to Ralph back in the summer of 2014, was that they actually controlled enough land in the area to be de facto rulers of those regions. To be the Islamic State they claimed to control. Nobody then could claim they were not a state, except maybe the government in Baghdad whose writ barely extended beyond the city limits. Ralph thought that was ironic as well, especially since the regime in Baghdad was barely even holding the city itself at that point.    
That gives the “why” of why they were on the road that early morning. Hell the sun had not even come up and Ralph had not even had time to grab a cup of coffee when Sam drove up to his house in Troy where he had been born and grew up, raised a family and all of that. Sam had stayed with a cousin whom he had not seen in a while that Friday night in Albany and they agreed to get an early start for the long ride south. The “why” of the question though needs a little further explanation. Both men had  been immersed in the music of their generation, the generation Sam, the more literary of the two, had called the Generation of ’68, in recognition that that seminal year was decisive in many ways, not all good, for the fate of a small but significant segment of their generation. Of course that musical bonding meant for both of them the classic rock of their coming of age in the mid-1950s. The time of Elvis, Carl, Chuck, Bo, Buddy, Wanda, Jerry Lee and a whole cast of lesser names and one-note johnnies and janies. For Ralph it had also meant a small appreciation of the blues, mostly Chicago blues of the Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Slim, James Cotton strand and for Sam a very big appreciation of the folk music minute of the early 1960s. Folk, a genre that Ralph sneered at every time Sam, or anybody mentioned the word, or the times on trips like this when he hoped to high heaven that Sam would not go on and on about some folkie road songs when he had asked the question.
But coffee, or no coffee, as Ralph (who during the first stretch of the drive was the “co-pilot” and therefore in charge of the musical selections and the CDs in the car’s CD system) the question was on the floor. Was on the floor like it had been ever since they started driving down to D.C. some forty plus years before. It had become something like the rituals kids go through counting numbers of various states’ license plates on the road, or kinds of automobiles, or kinds of signs, you know to pass the time away. Although for Sam and Ralph it had more meaning since at any given point in their relationship the answer might have varied.      
Here are some examples. About ten years before, 2004,2005, when they were travelling down to protest the then “early” phase, another one of those escalations during the Bush administration of the now seemingly never-ending war in Iraq, Ralph had been in a second coming of Elvis phase. Somehow through YouTube or some Internet site he had heard Elvis’ One Night Of Sin and had flipped out(the original more sexually suggestive song not, One Night With You, the one released to the panicky parents public worried about the dreaded unnamed “s” word creeping up on their Jimmys and Marys). See while he was a child of the rock and roll 1950s he didn’t like Elvis or his music for the very simple reason that every girl in Troy (and probably America, if not the world) would have nothing to do with (a) guys who did not slick their hair back, (b) guys who could not swivel their hips, and, (c) who did not have Elvis’ patented sneer for them to take off his face. So it was personal (and Ralph was not alone as Sam mentioned one time about a schoolboy friend his, Bart Webber, who felt the same way at the time). But once Ralph heard that song he went out to Tower Records and got every Sun Recording Studio CD he could find (Sun, the recording studio of early Elvis, Elvis when he was lean and hungry and probably wore that sneer in earnest). So that trip was filled with Elvis, Elvis, Elvis all the way down including such classics as That’s Alright, Mama, Jailhouse Rock, and his version of Shake, Rattle and Roll. That turned out to be okay since Sam liked him too after not paying attention to his early music since about 1958, or whenever Elvis stopped being lean and hungry and started recording nondescript songs and ugly strictly for the dough movies.  So you know what Ralph’s answer would have been during his Elvis sighting.          
What had not been alright was during the first Gulf War (the one Bush I got heated about when Iraq went into Kuwait of all places) Sam had gotten back into a folk thing which Ralph though he had gotten over. Apparently Sam had, between marriages, he had been married and divorced twice (as had Ralph), gone on a “date” with some woman he met in a Harvard Square bar and she had wanted to go to the Club Passim (the then and current incarnation of the old Club 47 which spawned Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Tom Rush, Tom Paxton, The Jim Kweskin Jug Band and a million other one song folkies) to see, Jesus, to see Dave Von Ronk (Ralph’s expression). He had dated that woman, Leslie, for several months so he/they would cut up old touches about that folk minute of the 1960s. As a result when it was time to head to Washington in the early winter of 1991 Sam told Ralph that he had been saving the three CD set of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music he had just purchased (at a steep price for that was the early days of CDs and such “exotic” staples cost aficionados) for the trip down.  For those who do not know that compilation has over eighty songs from the hills and hollows, down in Appalachia and places like that.
Ralph, an ex-Vietnam War soldier who had served eighteen months and as a result had turned drastically and dramatically against that war, and the American government’s endless wars ever since, was ready to lose his pacifistic feelings, ready to take up the gun again which he hadn’t shouldered since late 1969, as Sam told him that bit of news. And he, Ralph, would have to as co-pilot place the bloody things in the bloody CD player. That one is best left forgotten.             
Not to be forgotten though was the time when they went down to D.C. to protest Ronald Reagan’s merciless support for the Contras down in El Salvador (and Nicaragua when the American military spotlight hit that small nation) in the mid-1980s. Ralph had “re-discovered” the Doors a rock group which had provided the background music for a million midnight parties when the booze and drugs were being freely passed around. Sam was more than happy to have Ralph place those tapes in the tape-deck and blast away Light My Fire, L.A. Woman, The End, Spanish Caravan. And you know the time flew on that trip for some reason which need not detain us here.  
So you get the picture of the substance behind the “why” of Ralph’s question. And you might have also guessed although Ralph is not a lawyer by profession (he ran a high-skill electrical shop before he retired recently turning over the day to day operations to his son) that he had an answer to the question he was asking Sam on that trip. Just the week before he had been listening to WXKE, a country, a progressive country radio station according to Ralph when Sam asked about the kind of music played by the station, when he heard some lonesome cowboy voice singing a song called Colorado Girl. He liked it right away, liked it a lot and so waited for the DJ (a guy who called himself Sleepy LaGrange) to announce the song title and singer. Turned out to be a guy by the name of Townes Van Zandt, a guy who had had a disturbed life down in Texas and places like that and had died back in the mid-1990s from a heart attack probably brought on by heavy drug use but who had written a ton of songs that many other singers had covered. Ralph admitted (as did Sam) that he had never heard of the guy before. But he was the guy who wrote Pancho and Lefty that Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and a bunch of other singers had covered and which both men knew about. But Ralph was intrigued enough to go on YouTube and find out what else he had written. There was a ton of stuff on the site by him (or covers by others). Some very good, most kind of lonesome prairie dog sad, mostly with a very close call with reality. But Ralph was hooked. He did not have time to run over to Albany to the last remaining brick and mortar record store in the area to get some CDs for the road so he went on line to Amazon and downloaded a bunch on his iPod and so you know Ralph’s answer to his own question.     
As Sam stops at a truck stop diner off of U.S. 87 South so Ralph could get that desperate cup of coffee he needed to keep him awake for the next several hours they were listening to Van Zandt’s If I Needed You. The road ahead is long so we will have to wait for Sam’s answer…