Saturday, April 03, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘60s Song Night-Out In Pooh’s Corner

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘60s Song Night-Out In Pooh’s Corner

By Allan Jackson

[As I mentioned in the introduction to the last sketch, the one about the bakery smells that have memory aflame even fifty years  later the spirit that animated this whole series of sketches had a name-a name of Peter Paul Markin, always known as Scribe, who was our mad monk driving force to break out of the old Acre working class neighborhood of growing up North Adamsville where we all might have stayed like a lot of others unto this day and “died” on the vine in the process. The “pooh’s corner” reference is from a Jefferson Airplane song from the days when we all went, one way or another, one time or another, out to California to see what was what in those crazy 1960s days. None of us, probably not even Bart Webber, would have gone out there on our own without Scribe’s imprimatur his influence that way was so strong. We had some wild times, some bad times, but mostly memorable times, although all agree that when we think of those time we not only shed a small tear for our lost youth but for the lost Scribe.

Part of my recent taking on the by-line to this series was the hard fact that I wrote or seriously edited almost everything in the series. Probably worked one way or another on every freaking line. However I didn’t write everything as the by-line below for Josh Breslin indicates. On this sketch I did not want to do it myself since it involved a lot about me and my relationship to “pooh’s corner” and it would ring false if I wrote it in the third person. So I contacted Josh as he will explain below and since he was a writer on his own dime for half the small press and off-beat journals on the American landscape I asked him to do the project. Moreover Josh was there almost every step of the way including “stealing” my surfer girl girlfriend of the time Butterfly Swirl right from under me one night when we were on our “honeymoon” (Josh will explain below) so who better to write it.

Not only was Josh there in those turbulent 1960s times but he also knew the Scribe, had met him out there before any of the rest of us had gone out the first time so he too will shed a small tear for our lost comrade-and curse the bastard to high heaven too for leaving us in the lurch. Josh, by the way, has added gravity since we have always since those days called him one of our own, one of the North Adamsville corner boys. Nobody ever complained about it either. Allan Jackson]  

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin

A while back, maybe three years ago now, I was sitting in the Sunnyvale Grille in Boston where I was visiting my old time merry prankster friend, Allan Jackson, where we got into a hot and heavy discussion about the kind of songs that turned us on back in the 1960s when we had come of musical age. We had young kids’ stuff grown up on the classic Elvis-Jerry Lee-Chuck-Bo-Roy stuff but that was mainly copped from our older brothers and sisters, the ‘60s sounds and their attendant political connections were our real age time. I had met Allan out in California after I had hitched out there in the mid-1960s just after I had graduated from high school up in Olde Saco, Maine. He was going under the moniker Flash Dash then , don’t laugh, for a while I was the Prince of Love, those monikers used in abundance as a way to break from our traditional-bound pasts, to break from the old neighborhood corner boy stuff, on the a way to make our own newer world. (Allan would later in a fit of nostalgia or something go back and us Peter Paul Markin as his moniker on the Internet in honor of his our fallen comrade so it wasn’t just in seeking new worlds 1960s where alias worked their magic.) That night Allan had a couple of his recently reunited North Adamsville High old corner boys, Jimmy Jenkins and Sam Lowell, and a guy he met after he had just graduated from high school, Frank Jackman, who was from Hull about twenty miles south of North Adamsville all of whom I had previously met one time or another out in the “Garden of Eden,” which is what we called our search back then and which came up California for all of us then whatever happened later.

Now the reason that I have mentioned who was in attendance at that “meeting” (really an occasion to have a few drinks without the bother of womenfolk around for a short time and without the lately more pressing need not to drink and drive impaired since Allan was in town for a conference and had been staying at the Westin a short walk down the street) is that each and every participant was a certified member of the generation of ’68. That generation of ’68 designation meaning that all were, one way or another, veterans of the political wars back then when we tried to “turn the world upside down” and got kicked in the ass for our efforts and, more importantly here, veterans of the “hippie” drug/drop-out/ communal experiences that a good portion of our generation imbibed in, if only for a minute. And thus all were something like “experts” on the question that was pressing on Allan’s mind. That question centered on what music “turned” each guy there on. Not in the overtly sexual way in which the question asked might be taken today but while they were being “turned on.” Turned on being a euphemism plain and simple for getting “high,” “stoned,” “ripped” or whatever term was used in the locale that you frequented, for doing your drug of choice.              

See Allan, full name Allan Chester Jackson but nobody in his old high school corner boys crowd called him that, nor did I or do I here, had this idea that rather than the common wisdom Beatles, Stones, Doors, Motown influence that when the deal went down the Jefferson Airplane was the group that provided the best music to get “turned on” by. By the way since she will enter this story at some point the only one that I can think of who called Allan that three name combo was a girl, what we call a young woman now, whom we met, or rather he met, and then I met and took away from him, Cathy Callahan, out in La Jolla in California, who went under the moniker Butterfly Swirl back in the 1960s. She thought, clueless California sunshine ex-surfer guy girl, the three name combo was “cute” like Allan was some Brahmin scion rather than from his real working-class neighborhood roots. But that was a different story because as he said, she “curled his toes,” curled mine too, so she could call him (or me) any damn name she wanted.     

Naturally there was some disagreement over that premise but let me tell you what the mad monk Allan was up to. See, as a free-lance journalist of sorts, he had shortly before our meeting taken on an assignment from a generation of ’68-type magazine, Mellow Times. A ’68-type magazine meaning that it was filled with full-blown nostalgia stuff: New Mexico communes where kids strictly from suburban no heartache homes tried to eke, the only word possible for such exertions, an existence out of some hard clay farming; outlaw bikers who guys like gonzo writers like Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe made infamous, or rather more infamous; acid head freak-outs in the Fillmores of the East and West sipping weird drug concoctions out of Dixie cups and getting twisted to the high decibel music up front; merry pranksters riding shotgun to the new dispensation taking more than a few over the high side with them; the Haight-Ashbury scene from the first “all men and women are brothers and sisters” days of sharing on the soup kitchen lines to the gun, drug shoot-up bitter end; Golden Gate Park days when that park had more kites, more bubbles, more wha-wha than any other park in the world; psychedelics from drugs to art; retro- art deco styles like the lost children were channeling back to the “lost generation” Jazz Age jail-breakers as kindred; and, feed the people kitchens in the good days and bad, Sally or Fugs, that kind of thing from that period.

Allan, well known to a select audience of baby-boomers for his previous work in writing about the merry prankster hitchhike road, what he had called in one series that I had read-The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- in which he had used me as a stick drug-addled figure from Podunk who didn’t know how to tie his own shoes until he came under the god-like Jackson spell, was given free rein to investigate that question under the descriptive by-line- Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘60s Song Night -that was to head the series of articles the magazine proposed that he work on. Here is Allan’s proposed introduction to the series that he gave us copies of that night: 

“This is another tongue-in-cheek commentary, the back story if you like, in the occasional entries under this headline going back to the primordial youth time of the 1960s with its bags full of classic (now classic) rock songs for the ages. Now many music and social critics have done yeomen’s service giving us the meaning of various folk songs, folk protest songs in particular, from around this period. You know they have essentially beaten us over the head with stuff like the meaning of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind as a clarion call for now aging baby-boomers back to rise up and smite the dragon, and a warning to those in charge (not heeded) that a new world was a-bornin’, or trying to be. Or better his The Times They Are A-Changin’ with its plaintive plea for those in charge to get hip, or stand aside.  (They did neither.) And we have been fighting about a forty year rearguard action to this very day trying to live down those experiences, and trying to get new generations to blow their own wind, change their own times, and sing their own plainsong in a similar way.”

And so we, his Jack Slack’s bowling alleys hometown corner boys, Frank, and I were the “masses” for the purpose of Allan’s work. Free labor if you like for his little nostalgia music piece. And here is his rationale, or at least part of it that he sent in an e-mail trying to drag me from Portland down to Boston to beat the thing over the head with him:

“…Like I said the critics have had a field day (and long and prosperous academic and journalistic careers as well) with that kind of stuff, fluff stuff really. The hard stuff, the really hard stuff that fell below their collective radars, was the non-folk, non-protest, non-deep meaning (so they thought) stuff, the daily fare of popular radio back in the day. A song like Out At Pooh’s Corner. A song that had every red-blooded American teen-age experimenter (and who knows maybe world teen) wondering their own wondering about the fate of the song’s narrator. About what happened that night (and the next morning) that caused him to pose the comment in that particular way. Yes, that is the hard stuff of social commentary, the stuff of popular dreams, and the stuff that is being tackled head on in this series”

And so after succumbing to his blarney we sat at that table in the bar of the Sunnyvale Grille sipping high-shelf scotch and trying to work through this knotty problem that Allan had put before us. This problem of what moved us though the squeeze that we put our brains through back then. Allan brought something up that kind of set the tone for the evening. He mentioned that coming out of North Adamsville in 1964 he, Jimmy, and Sam, if they had been prophetic, could not have possibly foreseen that they would, like about half of their generation, or so it seemed, have imbibed deeply of the counter-culture, its communal values, its new-found habits, its ethos, its drug-centeredness, or its music. He explained (and Jimmy and Sam chimed in with comments as he proceeded) that in strait-laced, mostly Irish working- class neighborhoods like where they grew up in North Adamsville anything other than working hard to get ahead, “getting ahead” being getting some kind of white-collar city civil service job and finally breaking the string of factory worker generations, since they were in some cases the first generation to finish high school and have enough knowledge to take the exam to white-collar-dom, getting married, maybe to your high school sweetheart or some such arrangement, and eventually buying a slightly bigger house than the cramped quarters provided by the house you grew up in and have children, slightly fewer children than in the house you grew up in, was considered scandalous, weird, or evil.

But as Jimmy said after Allan finished up it wasn’t so much the neighborhood ethos as the ethos of the corner boy life, the life in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alleys up on Thornton Street. That life included plenty of under-age drinking, plenty of talk, mostly talk, of sex with pretty girls  (certainly more talk than any activity that actually happened-except in bravado Monday morning before school banter with every guy lying, or half-lying about what was done, or not done,  after the weekend’s exertions), and a view of the world perhaps slightly less rigid than the parents but still scornful of people of the opposite sex living together unmarried (and in high Catholic North Adamsville even divorced people were subject to comment, and scorn), scornful of guys who didn’t want to get married, sometime, and of the opinion that those who did dope, that dope being heroin, opium, or morphine which they knew about and not so much marijuana which just seemed exotic, were fiends, evil or beatniks. Not the profile of those who would later in the decade grow their hair longer that any mother’s most outlandish nightmare dream, wear headbands to keep the hair back, grow luxurious and unkempt beards, live in communes with both sexes mixing and matching, smoke more marijuana, snort more coke, and down more bennies, acid, and peyote buttons, and play more ripping music than the teen angel, earth angel, Johnny angel music heard down at Jack Slack’s jukebox. Everybody laughed after that spiel from Jimmy.

Those old time references got me to thinking about the days when we had headed west in the mid-1960s days, Markin first and then later Allan with various combination of corner boys including Sam, Frank and Jimmy, me, the first time solo and thereafter with Markin and others, the days when we were in search of Pooh’s Corner. Thinking along the lines of about Allan’s “theory” of the great turn on song for our generation, thinking about the search for the “garden,” the “Garden of Eden,” that we had picked up from a line in a Woody Guthrie song, Do Re Mi (meaning if you did not have it, dough, kale, cash, forget California Edens although at our coming of California age money was not a big deal, nobody had any and so we didn’t worry about it, unlike now). Of course everybody then knew the reference from the Jefferson Airplane’s song which contained those Pooh Corner references. I remember I first heard the song one night at the Fillmore, the rat’s end concert hall where everybody who had any pretensions to the new acid-etched music either played or wanted to play, and that was the Mecca for every person who wanted to think about dropping out of the rat race and try to get their heads around a different idea.

We had in any case all headed west maybe a couple of years after the big summer of love 1967 caught our attention. Markin had already been out there for a few months having hitchhiked from Boston in the early spring, had wound up in La Jolla down by the surfer Valhalla and had run into Captain Crunch and his merry band, a band of brothers and sisters who had been influenced by Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters to drop out, drop acid and “see the world” and their legendary former yellow brick road school bus, Further In, earlier in the decade and whose adventures had been the subject of a Tom Wolfe book. That Kesey-led experience, especially noticeable on the California coastal roads was multiplied a thousand fold once the jail-break hit full speed and Captain Crunch and his companion, Mustang Sally, had followed suit. It was never clear whether the Captain actually knew Kesey but he sure as hell was knee deep in the drug trade since the reason that he and the bus load had been in La Jolla was that he and his crew were “house-sitting” a safe house used by one of the southern drug cartels while the Captain was getting ready to head north to San Francisco and find out what was happening with the scene there. Markin had “signed on” the bus (in those days a common expression was “you are on the bus, or you are off the bus,’ and you were better off on the bus) since he had wanted to head to Frisco town from Boston anyway but the vagaries of the hitchhike road, a couple of long haul truck driver pick up the first which left him in Dallas and the second San Diego had brought him farther south. (In those days as I well knew you took whatever long haul ride you could get as long as they were heading west and got you some place on the California coast. I remember telling Markin, and he agreed that, I had never realized just how long a state it was, had been  clueless, until I had my first San Diego ride when I was looking to get to Big Sur several hundred miles up the coast which took me a couple of days of rides to get to.) 

This is the time when Allan (via Markin by the way) met Cathy Callahan, Butterfly Swirl, from Carlsbad up the road a few miles from La Jolla and who was then “slumming” in La Jolla after breaking up with her perfect wave surfer boyfriend and looking for, well, I don’t know what she was looking for in the end and neither did Allan, maybe just kicks, momentary kicks to see what she might be missing because after she got through with us she went back to that perfect wave surfer boyfriend. Go figure. But then people like Butterfly Swirl, ex-surfer boy girls, working-class guys like me from Podunk, Maine, ex-soldiers unable or unwilling to adjust to the “real world” after Vietnam, hairy-assed bikers who had taken some dope and mellowed out on their rage trip, college professors who saw what they were teaching as a joke , governmental bureaucrats who knew what they were doing was a joke, or worse, con men getting all worked up seeing all the naïve kids from nowhere who wanted to be hip and were easy marks for bad dope and bad karma , corner boys trying to break out of their corners looking for easy girls , the derelict doing what the derelict always do except not being castigated for it by those seeking the newer world, hot-rod junkies tired of their midnight runs and death, and the like were all taking that jail-break minute to see if they fit into the new dispensation so maybe it was just that. Most of them went back to whatever they were doing previously once the ebb began to catch up with us, once the bad guys put on a full-court press.

So Allan and Butterfly Swirl met, met at a party Captain Crunch was throwing at that safe house, a mansion from what Markin had told me.  This Butterfly Swirl was all legs, thin, blonde a then typical California surfer girl waiting on dry land for her surfer guy to get that  perfect wave and then go ball the night away before he/they got up the next day to look, he, for the next perfect wave. Definitely in the normal course of events not an Allan-type of young woman, his running to sad- sack Harvard Square intellectual types who broke your heart a different way when they were done with you, or mine either, French-Canadian or Irish girls, all virginal and pious for public consumption any way, also heart-breakers, but chalk it up to the times. So they met, got turned on to some great grass (marijuana, for the squares) and hit one of the upstairs bedrooms where she “curled his toes.”  And they were an item as the Captain and crew ambled north for the next few months until they hit a park on Russian Hill where they parked the bus for a few weeks.

And that is where I had met Markin, Allan, and eventually Butterfly Swirl. I had stopped off at the park because somebody I met, a guy who had been on the Haight-Ashbury scene for a while, on Mission Street said that I could score dope, some food, and a place to sleep if I asked around up on the hill where the scene was not as frantic as around downtown and in Golden Gate Park. There was the bus, painted in the obligatory twenty-seven day-glo colors, just sitting there when I walked up and asked about a place to sleep. Allan, looking like some Old Testament prophet long unkempt hair and scraggly beard, army jacket against the chilled Bay winds, bell-bottomed trousers as was the unisex fashion then, beat-up moccasins, and looking like he had hit the magic bong pipe a few times too many, said “you can get on the bus, if youw want[A1] .” But mainly I remembered those slightly blood-shot fierce blue eyes that spoke of seeing hard times in his life and spoke as well that maybe seeking that newer world he was seeking would work out after all, he no longer has that fierce look that “spoke” to me that first time. That introduction started our now lifetime off and on comradely relationship. I think for both of us the New England connection is what drew us together although he was a few years older than me, had seen and done things that I was just getting a handle on. And strangely I think that being older helped when I “stole” young Butterfly Swirl away from him one night at the Fillmore where the Airplane were playing their high acid rock he was mad, mad as hell, when he did find out about us but he did get over it (and I, in my turn, got over it when she about a year later she went back to Carlsbad and her surfer boy).

The “strange” part mentioned above came about because Butterfly Swirl and Allan had been “married,” at the time, no, not in the old-fashioned bourgeois sense but having been on the bus together for a while one night Captain Crunch in his capacity as the head of the band of sisters and brothers “officiated” at a mock wedding held under his authority as “captain” of the adventure ship. While this “marriage” ceremony carried no legal weight it did carry weight on the bus for it meant that the pair were to be left alone in the various couplings and un-couplings that drove the sex escapades of all bus dwellers. Moreover Captain Crunch, a rather strange but upfront guy who was all for couplings and un-couplings at will, oh yeah, except when it came to his own barnyard and he would rant and rave at Mustang Sally, his longtime companion who as a free spirit in her own right made a specialty of picking up young guys who played in one of the burgeoning rock bands of the times, “curled their toes” and too made connections to get them gigs and stuff like that. The Captain was fit to be tied when Sally got her young guy wanting habits on. But what could he do, if he wanted her on the bus.

In any case the Captain who was not only mysteriously connected with the drug world, knew the mad max daddy of acid, Owsley, himself as well as the hermanos down south who trusted him as much as they could trust any gringo, but also had connections with the rising number of rock promoters on the West Coast decided to spring for a “honeymoon” for Allan(who was still going by the moniker Flash Dash at the time) and the Swirl. The honeymoon was to be a party before and during the Airplane’s next gig in San Francisco where had copped twenty tickets from the promoter for some service rendered, maybe a brick of grass who knows. But here is where things got freaky, this was also to be something of an old time Ken Kesey “electric kool-aid acid test,” particularly for Swirl who never had done LSD before, had never done acid, and was very curious. So the night of the concert a couple of hours before it was to start Captain gathered all around the bus then headquartered in Pacifica about twenty miles south of the city at another cartel safe house and offered whoever wanted to indulge some blotter. Flash and Swirl led things off, she trembling a little in fear, and excitement.  Then one and all, including me, took off in the bus for amble the Airplane show. (An amble which included picking up about six people on the Pacific Coast Highway road up, offering them blotter as well, and on the in-bus jerry-rigged sound the complete (then) Stones’ playlist which had people, including me, dancing in the back of the bus.

That was a very strange night as well because that was the night, the “honeymoon” night when Swirl freaking out on the acid trip. Good freaking out after she got over the initial fear that everybody has about losing control and about the very definite change in physical perspective that are bound to throw you off if you are not used to that pull at the back of your head, or you think is at the back of your head, after seeing gorgeous colors which she described in great detail, feeling all kinds strange outer body feelings as well. See she and I got together as I helped bring her down after Flash took off with some woman. Well just some woman at the time, although he eventually married her (and divorced her), Joyell, Joyell of the brown-eyed world. He had met Joyell initially in Boston but he had been seeing quite a bit since she had come to Frisco, come to get her Master’s degree at Berkeley, and whom he had run into at the concert. Yeah the times were like, a guy or gal could be “married,” or married and then have a million affairs, although usually not on their “honeymoon” but that was Allan, Allan to a tee, and nobody thought anything of it, usually, or if they did they kept it to themselves. We tried about six million ways to try to deal with breaking from our narrow pasts and I think we saw what would be scandalous behavior back in the neighborhoods as a way to do so, although in the end all Allan (and I) got was about three divorces, a bunch of love affairs and many, too many, flings. Here’s the laugher though the thing that brought Swirl back to earth that night was her “grooving” (yeah, we had our own vocabulary as well and you can check Wikipedia for most of the meanings) on the Airplane’s music, on Grace Slick’s going crazy on White Rabbit and assorted other great music from After Bathing At Baxter’s. (Swirl said she felt like Alice-In-Wonderland that night.) So in a way I have to agree with Allan about the effect that band had on us but I will be damned if fifty years later I am going to side with him after he left his “bride” standing at the altar. Even if I was the guy who caught her fall. Yeah such was life out in Pooh’s Corner, and I wish it were still going on, wish it a lot.                   


Thursday, April 01, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Out In The 1960s North Adamsville Corner Boy Night-The Smells, Ah, The Smells Of Childhood- Ida's Bakery

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Out In The 1960s North Adamsville Corner Boy Night-The Smells, Ah, The Smells Of Childhood- Ida's Bakery

By Allan Jackson

[I mentioned in my last introduction that I would no longer use this precious space to scotch the many rumors that flew around my name after I was “purged” from the leadership of this site. And I won’t but use this reprieve on this series which I was instrumental in creating to make comment about the genesis of the idea in sketch where I feel I have something to add since these first appeared several years ago.  I mentioned in the last sketch dated dealing with Frankie Riley’s carnival experience back in the early 1960s that the totally false rumor of my trying to put together a drug deal with some notorious Mexican drug cartel to make some money to get out from under my debts that such a plan would have been stopped in its tracks by the memory of my, our fallen comrade the late Peter Paul Markin. The Scribe as we always called him went off the rails in the mid-1970s when after seeing all his dreams of a newer world evaporate with the evaporation of the 1960s energy and whatever troubles had had coming back to what we Vietnam veterans called the real world and developed a serious cocaine addiction when led him to a fatal decision to try to do some kind of major drug deal down in Sonora, Mexico. All he got for his efforts when the thing went bad was a couple of slugs to the head in some back and a potter’s field grave down there. That and plenty of unanswered questions about what exactly happened which we were warned off of by everybody from the American consulate to some nasty “representative” of some intermediate drug dealers connected with whatever went off down there.

If there was a spirit that animated this long seven hundred plus page series including some seventy some sketches it was the memory, the wild and wooly spirit and demeanor of the Scribe back in the 1950s and 1960s when we in the poorest of the poor Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville were coming of age in the great rock and roll night which formed us more that we would have ever believed. The Scribe, Peter Paul Markin, a name that I used for years on this site as my on-line moniker was the guru, the guy who guided us through a lot of it. I swear I have never found another guy, gal either for that matter, who combined a truly larcenous heart, some kind of dream newer world coming that he was the herald of around our way, and a sullen bookish guy who under other circumstances would been beaten up by Frankie Riley, hell maybe me too, the minute he tried to bust into our corner boy world with of our fistful of dreams about “boss” cars and willing girls. Frankie took him under his wing and the rest of us followed suit. Yeah, and each and every guy who is still standing all these years later misses the bastard, misses him and brings and unashamed tear to the most hardened heart.  

A lot of stuff that the Scribe talked about beyond that seeking the newer world he would drive us crazy about when all we cared about was whether we could get into some girl’s pants was what I now was literary stuff-stuff he learned in books and put his own spin on it, made it make some sense. As in the sketch below it could have been something as simple as the night, must have been a lonesome no money, no car, no date Friday night, when he started going on and on about childhood memory smells. The whole Ida’s Bakery question. And a few years ago as I describe below I could still remember past those freaking dope-etched days, those horrible Vietnam sweats, those lonely Friday nights to my own memories of those childhood smells. That was the Scribe’s influence to a tee. Allan Jackson]           
In memory of Peter Paul Markin, 1946-1976?, North Adamsville High School Class of 1964:

This is the way the late Peter Paul Markin, although he never stood on ceremony and everybody in the corner boy night at Jack Slack’s bowling alleys down near Adamsville Beach called him plain old ordinary vanilla Scribe, would have wanted to put his response to the question of what smell most distinctly came to his mind from the old neighborhoods if he were still around. Many a night, a late night around midnight usually, in the days and weeks after we got out of high school but before we went on to other stuff, maybe some of those nights having had trouble with some girl, either one of us, since we both came from all boy families and didn’t understand girls, or maybe were afraid of them, unlike guys who had sisters, who maybe didn’t understand them either but were around them enough to have figured a few things out about them we would stand holding up the wall in front of Jack Slack’s and talk our talk, talk truth as we saw it although we never really dignified the jive with the word truth. Or maybe dateless some nights like happened a lot more than either of us, hell, any of us if it came right down to it, would admit to (I won’t even discuss the shroud we placed over the truth when talking, big talking, about “making it” when we were lucky to get a freaking kiss on the cheek from a girl half the time) we would talk. Sometimes with several guys around but mainly Markin and me, since we were the closest of the half dozen or ten guys who considered themselves Frankie Riley-led Slack’s corner boys we would talk about lots of things.

Goofy stuff when you think about it but one night I don’t know if it was me or him that came up with the question about what smell did we remember from the old days, the old days being when we were in school, from around the neighborhood but I do remember we both automatically and with just a couple of minutes thought came up with our common choice- Ida’s Bakery. Ida’s over on Sagamore Street, just up the street from the old ball field and adjacent to the Parks and Recreations sheds where the stuff for the summer programs, you know, archery equipment, paints, sports equipment, craft-making stuff, how-to magazines and all were kept during the summer and after that, between seasons. Since both Markin and I when we went to Josiah Adams Elementary up the next block (named after some guy related to guys who ran the town way back when) would each summer participate in the program and as we grew older (and presumably more reliable) were put in charge of the daily storage of those materials during the summer and so got a preternatural whiff of whatever Ida was baking for sale for the next day. So yeah, we knew the smell of Ida’s place. And so too I can “speak” for old Markin just like if he was here today some fifty years later telling you his story himself.        

Unfortunately Markin laid down his head in a dusty back alley, arroyo, or cul-de-sac we never did really find out which with two slugs in his heart and nobody, not even his family, certainly not me and I loved the guy, wanted to go there to claim the body, worse, to start an investigation into what happened that day back in 1976 down Sonora way, that is in Mexico, for fear of being murdered in some back alley, arroyo, or cul-de-sac ourselves. 
See Markin had huge corner boy, “from hunger,” wanting habits back then, going back in the Jack Slack days. Hell I came up with him and had them too. But he also had a nose for drugs, had been among the first in our town as far as I know although I won’t swear to that now since some kids up the Point, some biker guys who always were on the cutting edge of some new kicks may have been doing smoke well before him to do, publicly do right out on Adamsville Common in broad daylight with some old beat cop sitting about two benches away, marijuana in the mid-1960s. That at a time, despite what we had heard was going on in the Boston Common and over in high Harvard Square,  when the rest of us were still getting our underage highs from illicit liquor (Southern Comfort, cheap gin, cheaper wine, Ripple, more than a few times, Thunderbird, when we were short on dough, nobody, including  our hobo knight in shining armor who “bought” for us as long as he got a bottle for his work, wanted to bother lugging cases of cheapjack beer, say Knickerbocker or Narragansett, out of a liquor store and pass it on to obviously under-aged kids  so we all developed a taste for some kind of hard liquor or wine).

Markin did too, liked his white wine. But he was always heading over to Harvard Square, early on sometimes with me but I didn’t really “get” the scene that he was so hopped up about and kind of dropped away when he wanted to go over, so later he would go alone late at night taking the all night Redline subway over, late at night after things had exploded around his house with his mother, or occasionally, his three brother (and very, very rarely his father since he had to work like seven bandits to make ends meet for the grim reaper bill collectors, which they, the ends never did as far as I could tell and from what I knew about such activity from my own house, so he was left out of it except to back up Ma).

One night, one night some guy, Markin said some folk singer, Eric somebody, who made a name for himself around the Square, made a name around his “headquarters,” the Hayes-Bickford just a jump up from the subway entrance where all the night owl wanna-be hipsters, dead ass junkies, stoned out winos, wizened con men and budding poets and songwriters hung out, turned him on to a joint, and he liked it, liked the feeling of how it settled him down he said (after that first hit, as he was trying to look cool, look like he had been doing joints since he was a baby, almost blew him away with the coughing that erupted from inhaling the harsh which he could never figure out (nor could I when my mary jane coughing spurt came) since he, like all of us, was a serious cigarette smoker, practically chain-smoking to while away the dead time and, oh yeah, to look cool to any passing chicks while we were hanging out in front of Jack Slack’s.

Of course that first few puffs stuff meant nothing really, was strictly for smooth-end kicks, and before long he had turned me, Frankie Riley, our corner boy leader, and Sam Lowell, another good guy, on and it was no big deal. And when the time came for us to do our “youth nation,” hippie, Jack Kerouac On The Road treks west the five of us, at one time or another, had grabbed all kinds of different dope, grabbed each new drug in turn like they were the flavor of the month, which they usually were. And nobody worried much about any consequences either since we all had studiously avoid acid in our drug cocktail mix.  Until Markin got stuck on cocaine, you know, snow, girl, cousin any of those names you might know that drug by where you live. No, that is not right, exactly right anyway. It wasn’t so much that Markin got stuck on cocaine as that his nose candy problem heightened his real needs, his huge wanting habits, needs that he had been grasping at since his ‘po boy childhood. And so to make some serious dough, and still have something left to “taste” the product as he used to call it when he offered some to me with the obligatory dollar bill as sniffing tool he began some low-level dealing,  to friends and acquaintances mainly and then to their friends and acquaintances and on and on.

Markin when he lived the West Coast, I think when he was in Oakland with Moon-Glow (don’t laugh we all had names, aliases, monikers like that back then to bury our crazy pasts, mine was Flash Dash for a while, and also don’t laugh because she had been my girlfriend before I headed back east to go to school after the high tide of the 1960s ebbed out around 1971 or so. And also don’t laugh because Moon-Glow liked to “curl my toes,” Markin’s too, and she did, did just fine), stepped up a notch, started “muling” product back and forth from Mexico for one of the early cartels. He didn’t say much about it, and I didn’t want to know much but for a while he was sending plane tickets for me to come visit him out there.

Quite a step up from our hitchhike in all weathers heading west days. And of course join him in imbibing some product testing. That went on for a while, a couple of years, the last year or so I didn’t see him, didn’t go west because I was starting a job. Then one day I got a letter in the mail from him all Markiny about his future plans, about how he was going to finally make a “big score,” with a case full of product that he had brought up norte (he always said Norte like he was some hermano or something rather than just paid labor, cheap paid labor probably, and was too much the gringo to ever get far in the cartel when the deal went down). Maybe he sensed that and that ate at him with so much dough to be made, so much easy dough. Yeah, easy dough with those two slugs that Spanish Johnny, a guy who knew Markin in the Oakland days, had heard about when he was muling and passed on the information to us. RIP-Markin          

No RIP though for the old days, the old smells that I started telling you about before I got waylaid in my head about the fate of my missed old corner boy comrade poor old Markin. Here’s how he, we, no he, let’s let him take a bow on this one, figured it out one night when the world was new, when our dreams were still fresh:

“There are many smells, sounds, tastes, sights and touches stirred up on the memory’s eye trail in search of the old days in North Adamsville. Tonight though I am in thrall to smells, if one can be in thrall to smells and when I get a chance I will ask one of the guys about whether that is possible. The why of this thralldom is simply put. I had, a short while before, passed a neighborhood bakery on the St. Brendan Street in a Boston neighborhood, a Boston Irish neighborhood to be clear, that reeked of the smell of sour-dough bread being baked on the premises. The bakery itself, designated as such by a plainly painted sign-Mrs. Kenney’s Bakery- was a simple extension of someone’s house like a lot of such operations by single old maid, widowed, divorced or abandoned women left for whatever reason to their own devises trying to make a living baking, sewing, tailoring, maybe running a beauty parlor, small change but enough to keep the wolves from the door, with living quarters above, and that brought me back to the hunger streets of the old home town and Ida’s holy-of-holies bakery over on Sagamore Street.

Of course one could not dismiss, or could dismiss at one’s peril just ask Frank, that invigorating smell of the salt-crusted air blowing in from North Adamsville Bay when the wind was up hitting us in front of Jack Slack’s bowling lanes and making us long to walk that few blocks to the beach with some honey who would help us pass the night. A wind too once you took girls out of the picture, although you did that at your peril as well, that spoke of high-seas adventures, of escape, of jail break-out from landlocked spiritual destitutes, of, well, on some days just having been blown in from somewhere else for those who sought that great eastern other shoreline. Or how could one forget the still nostril-filling pungent fragrant almost sickening smell emanating from the Proctor &Gamble soap factory across the channel down in the old Adamsville Housing Authority project that defined many a muggy childhood summer night air instead of sweet dreams and puffy clouds. Or that never to be forgotten slightly oily, sulfuric smell at low- tide down at the far end of North Adamsville Beach, near the fetid swamps and mephitic marshes in the time of the clam diggers and their accomplices trying to eke a living or a feeding out of that slimy mass. [Sorry I put those smelly adjectives in, Markin would have cringed.] Or evade the funky smell [A Markin word.] of marsh weeds steaming up from the disfavored Squaw Rock end of the beach, the adult haunts with their broods of children in tow.

Disfavored, disfavored when it counted in the high teenage dudgeon be-bop 1960s night, post-school dance or drive-in movie love slugfest, for those who took their “submarine races” dead of night viewing seriously and the space between the yacht clubs was the only “cool” place to hang with some honey. And I do not, or will not spell the significance of that teen lingo “submarine race” expression even for those who did their teenage “parking” in the throes of the wild high plains Kansas night. You can figure that out yourselves.

Or the smell sound of the ocean floor at twilight (or dawn, if you got lucky) on those days when the usually tepid waves aimlessly splashed against the shoreline stones, broken clam shells, and other fauna and flora or turned around and became a real roaring ocean, acting out Mother Nature’s high life and death drama, and in the process acted to calm a man’s (or a man-child’s) nerves in the frustrating struggle to understand a world not of one’s own making. Moreover, I know I do not have to stop very long to tell you guys, the crowd that will know what I am talking about, to speak about the smell taste of that then just locally famous HoJo’s ice cream back in the days. Jimmied up and frosted to take one’s breath away. Or those char-broiled hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on your back-yard barbecue pit or, better, from one of the public pits down at the beach. But the smell that I am ghost-smelling today is closer to home as a result of a fellow classmate’s bringing this to my attention awhile back (although, strangely, if the truth be known I was already on the verge of “exploring" this very subject). Today, after passing that home front bakery, as if a portent, I bow down in humble submission to the smells from Ida’s Bakery.

That’s good enough for the Markin part, the close up memory part. Here I am for the distant memory part: 

You, if you are of a certain age, at or close to AARP-eligible age, and neighborhood, Irish (or some other ethnic-clinging enclave) filled with those who maybe did not just get off the boat but maybe their parents did, remember Ida’s, right? Even if you have never set one foot in old North Adamsville, or even know where the place is. If you lived within a hair’s breathe of any Irish neighborhood and if you had grown up probably any time in the first half of the 20th century you “know” Ida’s. My Ida ran a bakery out of her living room, or maybe it was the downstairs and she lived upstairs, in the 1950s and early 1960s (before or beyond that period I do not know). An older grandmotherly woman when I knew her who had lost her husband, lost him to drink, or, as was rumored, persistently rumored although to a kid it was only so much adult air talk, to another woman. Probably it was the drink as was usual in our neighborhoods with the always full hang-out Dublin Grille just a couple of blocks up the street. She had, heroically in retrospect, raised a parcel of kids on the basis of her little bakery including some grandchildren that I played ball with over at Welcome Young Field also just up the street, and also adjacent to my grandparents’ house on Kendrick Street.

Now I do not remember all the particulars about her beyond the grandmotherly appearance I have just described, except that she still carried that hint of a brogue that told you she was from the “old sod” but that did not mean a thing in that neighborhood because at any given time when the brogues got wagging you could have been in Limerick just as easily as in North Adamsville. Also she always, veil of tears hiding maybe, had a smile for one and all coming through her door, and not just a commercial smile either. Nor do I know much about how she ran her operation, except that you could always tell when she was baking something in back because she had a door bell tinkle that alerted her to when someone came in and she would come out from behind a curtained entrance, shaking flour from her hands, maybe, or from her apron-ed dress ready to take your two- cent order-with a smile, and not a commercial smile either but I already told you that.

Nor, just now, do I remember all of what she made or how she made it but I do just now, rekindled by Markin’s reference to that sour-dough yeasty smell, remember the smells of fresh oatmeal bread that filtered up to the playing fields just up the street from her store on Fridays when she made that delicacy. Fridays meant oatmeal bread, and, as good practicing Catholics like my family going back to the “famine ships,” and probably before, were obliged to not eat red meat on that sacred day, but fish, really tuna fish had that on Ida’s oatmeal bread. But, and perhaps this is where I started my climb to quarrelsome heathen-dom I balked at such a tuna fish desecration of holy bread. See, grandma would spring for a fresh loaf, a fresh right from the oven loaf, cut by a machine that automatically sliced the bread (the first time I had seen such a useful gadget). And I would get to have slathered peanut butter (Skippy, of course) and jelly (Welch’s Grape, also of course) on oatmeal and a glass of milk. Ah, heaven.

And just now I memory smell those white-flour dough, deeply- browned Lenten hot-cross buns white frosting dashed that signified that hellish deprived high holy catholic Lent was over, almost. Beyond that I have drawn blanks. Know this those. All that sweet sainted goddess (or should be) Ida created from flour, eggs, yeast, milk and whatever other secret devil’s ingredients she used to create her other simple baked goods may be unnamed-able now but they put my mother, my grandmother, your mother, your grandmother in the shade. And that is at least half the point. You went over to Ida’s to get high on those calorie-loaded goodies. And in those days with youth at your back, and some gnawing hunger that never quite got satisfied, back then that was okay. Believe me it was okay. I swear I will never forget those glass-enclosed delights that stared out at me in my sugar hunger. I may not remember much about the woman, her life, where she was from, or any of that. This I do know- in this time of frenzied interest in all things culinary Ida's simple recipes and her kid-maddening bakery smells still hold a place of honor.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind- “The Best Of The Chicago Blues”

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind- “The Best Of The Chicago Blues”

YouTube film clip of Muddy Water's performing his classic Chicago blues tune, Mannish Boy.

[I have decided to cast the rumor mill struggle to the wind after this last blast since I really do want to comment in these introductions about how they came about or what incidents from back in the 1950s and 1960s brought them to mind. If the reader does not know why I am chucking the rumor mill it has to do with my demise as site manager of this site and my subsequent “disappearance” to the West (as Jim Morrison of The Doors said in one of his signature songs The End “the West is the best, get here and we will do the right”) to find work when I was frozen out of the publishing business in the East as the kiss of death “hard to work with.” The rumors flew fast and furious as everything from I was done in by the “victors” in the internal struggle that I lost like we were back Stalin-Trotsky times to my appointment as Utah (now Utah anyway) Senatorial candidate Mitt Romney’s press secretary to my “pimping” some surfer girl waitress out in La Jolla (I did meet a surfer girl waitress, Damask, but I wasn’t pimping her for the real story see the last published part of this series dated March 19, 2018) to living with a drag queen in San Francisco getting sky high on opium. (See that same archive story for the real deal on that.)

So there is no wonder that I have had it with defending myself against the water cooler rumor mill here and in half the publications in the East from people trying to besmirch my reputation and to enhance their own. I knew I was doomed when somebody I think from Women Today stated flat out that my surfer girl defense story was made of whole cloth and that I probably did take advantage of the young woman to make some money so I could get out from under some alimony and college tuition payments (that young women by the way was not some naïve twenty-something although she admittedly look younger than her thirty-something years and is working on her degree in physical therapy). The writer was trying to tar me with the same brush as all the big time celebrity sexual predators who have been hung out to dry in the recent past and maybe rightly so. Reason. I did not let Damask tell her side of the story. Jesus what is this supposed to be a police gazette tabloid complete with lurid fuzzy photographs.

You know Seth Garth a film reviewer here had it right in a recent review of a James Bond 007 film (why this Bond series is being reviewed is beyond me but I will let it pass) where he got embroiled in the middle of a “controversy” about who played the James Bond role cinematically in the long 50th plus years of the series when he mentioned that the film review profession was dog eat dog. That every reviewer is always angling to move up the food chain by downgrading the opinions of the competition, even though who work for the same outfit.

What you may not know is that at the publication level, among publishers, hard copy or these days on-line, that same fierce dog eat dog ethos applies as well. Except the publishers do a lot of things by indirection, a lot by having their stooge writers take up the cudgels against the opposition and do what they can to diminish whatever is being put out by those publications. This is where I think that attack from Women Today is coming from. See a long time ago Leslie Dumont was a stringer here when she was Josh Breslin’s companion and feeling, maybe rightly frustrated she left for a by-line in Women Today. Recently she was “lured” back to this publication and in time-honored tradition she had been bad-mouthed as now incapable of writing a complete English sentence, stuff like that. Naturally to get at me, a man well known in the industry as a founder of this publication, since I no longer run things they took a run at a simple introduction to defend myself against some pretty loony charges like “pimping” for a surfer girl out West. That gives you an idea of the general climate in the industry these days and why I have thrown in the towel in trying to scotch every half-baked rumor that has come down the pike.             

There are a couple of very nasty rumors I want to mention and be done with this and put me to the rack if you want but let me just finish this series with some serious insights and not blather. While I was explaining my relationship with that surfer girl, with Damask, I mentioned that I actually did need money and so after she and I agreed that she would come East at some point when I was settled I went up to San Francisco to see if I could raise some money from two sources-Miss Judy Garland, a drag queen who I have known since he was Timmy Riley back in the old working class Acre neighborhood in growing up town and who I sent money to for years to keep her nightclub afloat and a gal I know going back to Summer of Love, 1967 days out in San Francisco who subsequently became Madame La Rue running a high end brothel for mostly Asian businessman with a kink for the wild side in Frisco town. I have helped her as well. As I noted in the last posting I got most of the money from Miss Judy but I also got some from the woman known as Madame Le Rue. On the basis of that kindness I was accused of helping her run a whorehouse in any place from Buenos Aires to Hong Kong. Jesus.             

All the previous rumors though went to my reputation, went to my standing in the industry and such but the worse rumor of all since it involves my legal situation is the vile rumor that I was “fronting” or “muling” for some Mexican drug cartel looking to broaden their markets in American and I was to be a prime distributor. Frankly I don’t know what to say about this except I think Jack Callahan hit it right on the head. I might have been a big dope-imbiber back in the day, may have done a little dealing/swapping when I needed dough for something but that is ancient history. But the number one thing that would have prohibited me from even thinking about doing some kind of deal with some nefarious cartel is the fate of my, our old friend from the Acre the Scribe, Peter Paul Markin who for a whole lot of reasons which I will not go into now since others have written about the subject already went off the tracks in the mid-1970s and while trying to get out from under wound up with a couple of slugs to the head in some back alley in Sonora, Mexico and a potter’s field grave there. Allan Jackson]          

CD Review

The Best Of The Chicago Blues, various artists, Vanguard Records, 1987

Johnny Prescott daydreamed his way through the music that he was listening to just then on the little transistor that Ma Prescott, Martha to adults, had given him for Christmas after he has taken a fit when she quite reasonable suggested that a new set of ties to go with his white long-sleeved shirts might be a better gift, a better Christmas gift and more practical too, for a sixteen year old boy. No, he screamed he wanted a radio, a transistor radio, batteries included, of his own so that he could listen to whatever he liked up in his room, or wherever he was, and didn’t have, understand, didn’t have to listen to some Vaughn Monroe or Harry James 1940s war drum thing on the huge immobile radio downstairs in the Prescott living room. Strictly squaresville, cubed.

But as he listened to this the Shangra-la by The Four Coins that just finished up a few seconds ago and as this Banana Boat song by The Tarriers was starting its dreary trip he was not sure that those ties wouldn’t have been a better deal, and more practical too. Ya, this so-called rock station, WAPX, had sold out to, well, sold out to somebody, because except for late at night, midnight late at night, one could not hear the likes of Jerry Lee, Carl, Little Richard, Fats, and the new, now that Elvis was gone, killer rocker, Chuck Berry who proclaimed loud and clear that Mr. Beethoven had better move alone, and said Mr. Beethoven best tell one and all of his confederates, including Mr. Tchaikovsky that rock ‘n’ roll was the new sheriff in town. As he turned the volume down a little lower (that tells the tale right there, friends) as Rainbow (where the hell do they get these creepy songs from) by Russ Hamilton he was ready to throw in the towel though.

Desperate he fingered the dial looking for some other station when he heard this crazy piano riff starting to breeze through the night air, the heated night air, and all of a sudden Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 blasted the airwaves. But funny it didn’t sound like the whinny Ike’s voice so he listened for a little longer, and as he later found out from the DJ it was actually a James Cotton Blues Band cover. After that performance was finished fish-tailing right after that one was a huge harmonica intro and what could only be mad-hatter Junior Wells doing When My Baby Left Me splashed through. No need to turn the dial further now because what Johnny Prescott had found in the crazy night air, radio beams bouncing every which way, was direct from Chicago, and maybe right off those hard-hearted Maxwell streets was Be-Bop Benny’s Chicago Blues Radio Hour. Be-Bop Benny who started Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino on their careers, or helped.

Now Johnny, like every young high-schooler, every "with it" high schooler in the USA, had heard of this show, because even though everybody was crazy for rock and roll, just now the airwaves sounded like, well, sounded like music your parents would dance to, no, sit to at a dance, some kids still craved high rock. So this show was known mainly through the teenage grapevine but Johnny had never heard it because, no way, no way in hell was his punk little Radio Shack transistor radio with two dinky batteries going to have even strength to pick Be-Bop Benny’s live show out in Chicago. So Johnny, and maybe rightly so, took this turn of events for a sign. And so when he heard that distinctive tinkle of the Otis Spann piano warming up to Spann’s Stomp and up with his Someday added in he was hooked. And you know he started to see what Billie, Billie Bradley from over in Adamsville, meant when at a school dance where he had been performing with his band, Billie and the Jets, he mentioned that if you want to get rock and roll back you had better listen to blues, and if you want to listen to blues, blues that rock then you had very definitely had better get in touch with the Chicago blues as they came north from Mississippi and places like that.

And Johnny thought, Johnny who have never been too much south of Gloversville, or west of Albany, and didn’t know too many people who had, couldn’t understand why that beat, that da,da, da, Chicago beat sounded like something out of the womb in his head. But when he heard Big Walter Horton wailing on that harmonica on Rockin’ My Boogie he knew it had to be in his genes.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Time Of Frankie’s Carnival Time

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Time Of Frankie’s Carnival Time

By Allan Jackson

[I hope the need to constantly introduce myself and my circumstances are old hat by now that I have been permitted by the man who replaced me in my job on this site Greg Green to finish up this series with my own by-line and do not have to keep repeating that pronouncement. That agreement (negotiated by my old friend Sam Lowell from way back in high school days and those days an occasional writer on this site as well) while restricting what I might have to say about the internal struggle here in 2017 does allow me to comment, to defend myself, against some of the outrageous and frankly loopy rumors that have surfaced around my name after I was “purged.” I will continue to bat does these rumors working around the edges of last year’s internal struggle since in the last posting apparently I did not touch enough on last year’s fight to warrant a big red-pencil by current site manager Greg Green.    

Before I was allowed to have my own by-line in this series I had prevailed upon Jack Callahan, my old friend also from high school days and a big financial backer of this publication, to swat what rumors he could on my behalf. He did a great job but even he did not get all of the facts right in the rumor that I was “pimping” a twenty-something shapely blonde surfer girl out in La Jolla met where she was working as a part-time waitress to make ends meet while she searched for the “perfect wave.” Jack at least got it part right that I wasn’t pimping for her but he seems to have missed a communication from me about her real age, about what she really did beside her hobby of surfing and that no, she was not teaching me to surf. (Me a guy who truly loves the ocean but has been hesitant to swim over my head ever since I was eight years old and almost drowned and would have except the quick reaction of the woman lifeguard who saved my stupid young ass when I drifted too far out on a vagrant log that was carrying me along with the ebbing tides. So no, not at all on that surfing rumor.)

After that fiasco in Utah with those perfidious Mormons, hell, I might as well tar the whole lot with Mitt Romney’s brush when all is said and done, I was a bit desperate, a bit down thinking I would never get another job except maybe as an elderly bag guy at some suburban super-market making small change chat with the blue-haired ladies on Senior discount days so I headed where I, where we, the old high school and 1960s gang that were still around would head, to California. To Carlsbad first when my third wife, Mimi, and I had a condo time share arrangement which I gave up when we were divorced but the memories were too much and I drifted south toward La Jolla another well-known refuge spot for the old gang.

One day I really was famished and I decided to head over to Dave’s Diner where I knew that I would get a good generous portion meal and would not have to wash dishes to pay the freight. One great thing about diners is they universally have counters and swivel seats for single diners which I always appreciated since I would have felt foolish sitting alone at a table or in a booth. I sat down as usual and started looking at the menu as the waitress, yes I know waitperson or wait staff, came by and asked if I wanted coffee. Normally I would just say no and that would be it but that day feeling out of sorts I mentioned that I loved coffee but my system no longer could take it after years of drinking about ten cups a day.      

She, Damask, her name a true California-type name, responded that she couldn’t drink coffee either despite serving all day and that the two of them would put Starbuck’s out of business. Something in the way she said that was appealing, and since the place wasn’t every busy at that hour they chatted in and out of servicing time at her station. The long and short of it was that I just told my story, told it in a funny enough manner that she appreciated what I was talking about. As I paid my bill and was ready to leave I just threw caution to the wind and asked her if she would like to have dinner with me since I was all alone and would appreciate the company. She surprised me when she said yes but also when she suggested that Scudders well-known to me and the old gang as well would be nice. Nice and pricey as well but my credit cards were still in good shape.  

The dinner went great and as we parted she mentioned that she was going surfing in the morning at La Jolla Point and maybe I could join her and she could show me how to surf. Naturally I said yes. That next morning I did some shoreline surfing but I never really got the hang of the thing. That wasn’t important anyway since what was important is that we spent that whole day together and the night too. The delightful night but you knew that already.

What you don’t know because Jack got it wrong somehow was that Damask was not some twenty-something blonde surfer girl bimbo, sorry, of legend that the old gang, including me used to dream about in those 1960s Beach Boy summer nights. She was blonde, California blonde so it is always up in the air about the origins, shapely and thirty-something, late thirty-something although I guess whoever saw her on Facebook though she was younger and I did too. Here is the part that is hard to get around if you are not a serious California denizen. There is a whole sub-culture of people of all ages, male and female now, whose central lifestyle focus revolves around the sun and surf. That was, is, Damask’s situation. Moreover she is not some dimwit but a person who is working on a degree in physical therapy so she can get out of the diner racket knowing that is a dead-end. Strange to people who know me, strange for the high pressure guys and gals who I have known over the years to get down on but there it is.    

The other point that got screwed up in the translation is that whole question of my “pimping” for her to get dough. Outrageous. Damask told me that when she was younger she did some whorehouse hustling but that was done long ago. What people made a deal out of was the fact that all of a sudden I had dough, dough for alimony, for those infinite college tuitions and figured what they wanted to figure. Dirty minds. The way I got the dough and this will scotch another rumor was that before I left California to head East after Damask agreed that she would come out when I got settled I headed to San Francisco looking for dough. Looking for dough from Miss Judy Garland. Not the real Judy Garland who obviously has been dead for ages but a drag queen (that is how she likes to be describes when persforming just Timmy, a gay guy when not-not Jack’s transvestite) by the name of Timmy Riley. Timmy Riley from our old growing up neighborhood who was so much in the closet in the 1960s that he had to head out to San Francisco to be among his/her “people,” among the night life of North Beach. Timmy had a very tough time of it before he opened up the Shipwreck, a venue for drag queens that has become one of the most popular spots in the town for nightlife. Timmy got the money to get the place from me and I had been sending him money for years on the sly not telling the guys what had happened to him and where he was. I went to Frisco to borrow money from Miss Judy Garland to get back on my feet. And got it. So much for living high on opium with a drag queen. Fuck the rumors. Allan Jackson]       
An old man walked, walked haltingly down a North Adamsville street, maybe Hancock Street, or maybe a street just off of it, maybe a long street like West Main Street, he has forgotten which exactly in the time between his walking and his telling me his story. A street near the high school anyway, North Adamsville High School, where he had graduated from back in the mist of time, the 1960s mist of time. A time when he was known, far and wide, as the king, the king hell king, if the truth be known, of the schoolboy be-bop night. And headquartered himself, properly headquartered himself as generations of schoolboy king hell kings had done previously, at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor as was his due as the reigning schoolboy king of the night. But that schoolboy corner boy king thing is an old story, an old story strictly for cutting up old torches, according to the old man, Frankie, yes, Francis Xavier Riley, as if back from the dead, and not fit, not fit by a long shot for what he had to tell me about his recent “discovery,” and its meaning.

Apparently as Frankie, let us skip the formalities and just call him Frankie, walked down that nameless, maybe unnamable street he was stricken by sight of a sign on a vagrant telephone pole announcing that Jim Byrd’s Carnival and Traveling Show was coming to town and setting up tent at the Veteran’s Stadium in the first week in June, this past June, for the whole week. And seeing this sign, this vagrant sign on this vagrant telephone pole, set off a stream of memories from when the king hell king of the schoolboy corner boy night was so enthralled with the idea of the “carny” life, of this very Jim Byrd’s Carnival and Traveling Show carnival life, that he had plans, serious plans, to run away, run away with it when it left town.
Under this condition, and of course there was always a condition: if Ma Riley, or Pa Riley if it came to it, although Pa was usually comfortably ensconced in the Dublin Pub over on Sagamore Street and was not a big factor in Frankie’s life when it came time for him to make his mark as king hell king, just bothered him one more time, bothered about what was never specified at least to me. Of course they never did, or Frankie never let on that they did, bother him enough to force the issue, and therefore never forced him on the road. But by then he was into being the corner boy king so that dream must have faded, like a lot of twelve year old dreams.
In any case rather than running away with the carnival Frankie served his high school corner boy term as king hell king, went to college and then to law school, ran a successful mid-sized law practice, raised plenty of kids and political hell and never looked back. And not until he saw that old-time memory sign did he think of regrets for not having done what he said that “he was born for.” And rather than have the reader left with another in the endless line of cautionary tales, or of two roads, one not taken tales, or any of that, Frankie, Frankie in his own words, wants to expand on his carnival vision reincarnation and so we will let him speak :

Who knows when a kid first gets the carnival bug, maybe it was down in cradle times hearing the firecrackers in the heated, muggy Fourth Of July night when in old, old time North Adamsville a group of guys, a group of guys called the “Associates,” mainly Dublin Pub guys, and at one time including my father, Joe Riley, Senior, grabbed some money from around the neighborhood. And from the local merchants like Doc over at Doc’s Drug Store, Mario over at Estrella’s Grocery Store, Mac, owner of the Dublin Pub, and always, always, Tonio, owner of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor. What they did with this money was to hire a small time, usually very small time, carnival outfit, something with a name like Joe’s Carny, or the like, maybe with a merry-go-round, some bumping cars, a whip thing, a few one-trick ponies, and ten or twelve win-a-doll-for-your-lady tents. On the side maybe a few fried dough, pizza, sausage and onions kind of eateries, with cotton candy to top it off. And in a center tent acts, clown acts, trapeze acts with pretty girls dangling every which way, jugglers, and the like. Nothing fancy, no three-ring circus, or monster theme amusement park to flip a kid’s head stuff. Like I say small time, but not small time enough to not enflame the imagination of every kid, mainly every boy kid, but a few girls too if I remember right, with visions of setting up their own show.

Or maybe it was when this very same Jim Byrd, a dark-haired, dark-skinned (no, not black, not in 1950s North Adamsville, christ no, but maybe a gypsy or half-gypsy, if that is possible), a friendly guy, slightly wiry, a slightly side-of-his-mouth-talking guy just like a lawyer, who actually showed me some interesting magic tricks when I informed him, aged eight, that I wanted to go “on the road” with him first brought his show to town. Brought it to Veteran’s Stadium then too. That’s when I knew that that old time Associates thing, that frumpy Fourth of July set-up-in-a-minute-thing-and-then-gone was strictly amateur stuff. See Jim’s Carny had a Ferris wheel, Jim had a Mini-Roller Coaster, and he had about twenty-five or thirty win-a-doll, cigarettes, teddy bears, or candy tents. But also shooting galleries, gypsy fortune-telling ladies with daughters with black hair and laughing eyes selling roses, or the idea of roses. And looking very foxy, the daughters that is, although I did not know what foxy was then. Oh yah, sure Jim had the ubiquitous fried dough, sausage and onion, cardboard pizza stuff too. Come on now this was a carnival, big time carnival, big time to an eight-year old carnival. Of course he had that heartburn food. But what set Jim’s operation off was that central tent. Sure, yawn, he had the clowns, tramp clowns, Clarabelle clowns, what have you, and the jugglers, juggling everything but mainly a lot of whatever it was they were juggling , and even the acrobats, bouncing over each other like rubber balls. The big deal, the eight- year old big deal though, was the animals, the real live tigers and lions that performed in a cage in center stage with some blonde safari-weary tamer doing the most incredible tricks with them. Like, well, like having them jump through hoops, and flipping over each other and the trainer too. Wow.

But now that I think about it seriously the real deal of the carny life was neither the Associates or Jim Byrd’s, although after I tell you about this Jim’s would enter into my plans because that was the carnival, the only carnival I knew, to run away with. See what really got me going was down in Huntsville, a town on the hard ocean about twenty miles from North Adamsville, there was what would now be called nothing but an old-time amusement park, a park like you still might see if you went to Seaside Heights down on the Jersey shore. This park, this Wild Willie’s Amusement Park, was the aces although as you will see not a place to run away to since everything stayed there, summer open or winter closed. I was maybe nine or ten when I first went there but the story really hinges on when I was just turning twelve, you know, just getting ready to make my mark on the world, the world being girls. Yes, that kind of turning twelve.

But nine or twelve this Wild Willie’s put even Jim Byrd’s show to shame. Huge roller-coasters (yes, the plural is right, three altogether), a wild mouse, whips, dips, flips and very other kind of ride, covered and uncovered, maybe fifteen or twenty, all based on the idea of trying to make you scared, and want to go on again, and again to“ conquer” that scared thing. And countless win things (yah, cigarettes, dolls, teddy bears, candy, and so on in case you might have forgotten). I won’t even mention that hazardous to your health but merciful, fried dough, cardboard pizza (in about twenty flavors), sausage and onions, cotton candy and salt water taffy because, frankly I am tired of mentioning it and even a flea circus or a flea market today would feel compelled to offer such treats so I will move on.

What it had that really got me going, at first anyway, was about six pavilions worth of pinball machines, all kinds of pinball machines just like today there are a zillion video games at such places. But what these pinball machines had (beside alluring come-hither and spend some slot machine dough on me pictures of busty young women on the faces of the machines) were guys, over sixteen year old teenage guys, mainly, some older, some a lot older at night, who could play those machines like wizards, racking up free games until the cows came home. I was impressed, impressed to high heaven. And watching them, watching them closely were over sixteen- year old girls, some older, some a lot older at night, who I wondered, wondered at when I was nine but not at twelve, might not be interfering with their pinball magic. Little did I know then that the pinball wizardry was for those sixteen year old, some older, some a lot older, girls.

But see, if you didn’t already know, nine or twelve-year old kids were not allowed to play those machines. You had to be sixteen (although I cadged a few free games left on machines as I got a little older, and I think the statute of limitations has run out on this crime so I can say I was not sixteen years or older). So I gravitated toward the skee ball games located in one of those pinball pavilions, games that anybody six to sixty or more could play. You don’t know skees. Hey where have you been? Skee, come on now. Go over to Seaside Heights on the Jersey shore, or Old Orchard up on the Maine coast and you will have all the skees you want, or need. And if you can’t waggle your way to those hallowed spots then I will give a little run-down. It’s kind of like bowling, candle-pin bowling (small bowling balls for you non-New Englanders) with a small ball and it’s kind of like archery or darts because you have to get the balls, usually ten or twelve to a game, into tilted holes.

The idea is to get as high a score as possible, and in amusement park land after your game is over you get coupons depending on how many points you totaled. And if you get enough points you can win, well, a good luck rabbit’s foot, like I won for Karen stick-girl one time (a stick girl was a girl who didn’t yet have a shape, a womanly shape, and maybe that word still is used, okay), one turning twelve-year old time, who thought I was the king of the night because I gave her one from my “winnings,” and maybe still does. Still does think I am king of the hill. But a guy, an old corner boy guy that I knew back then, a kind of screwy guy who hung onto my tail at Salducci’s like I was King Solomon, a guy named Markin who hung around me from middle school on, already wrote that story once.

Although he got one part wrong, the part about how I didn’t know right from left about girls and gave this Karen stick girl the air when, after showering her with that rabbit’s foot, she wanted me to go with her and sit on the old seawall down at Huntsville Beach and according to Markin I said no-go. I went, believe me I went, and we both practically had lockjaw for two weeks after we got done. But you know how stories get twisted when third parties who were not there, had no hope of being there, and had questionable left from right girl knowledge themselves start their slanderous campaigns on you. Yes, you know that scene, I am sure.

So you see, Karen stick and lockjaw aside, I had some skill at skees, and the way skees and the carny life came together was when, well let me call her Gypsy Love, because like the name of that North Adamsville vagrant telephone pole street where I saw the Byrd’s carnival in town sign that I could not remember the name of I swear I can’t, or won’t remember hers. All I remember is that jet-black long hair, shiny dark-skinned glean (no, no again, she was not black, christ, no way, not in 1950s Wild Willie’s, what are you kidding me?), that thirteen-year old winsome smile, half innocent, half-half I don’t know what, that fast-forming girlish womanly shape and those laughing, Spanish gypsy black eyes that would haunt a man’s sleep, or a boy’s. And that is all I need to remember, and you too if you have any imagination. See Gypsy Love was the daughter of Madame La Rue, the fortune-teller in Jim Byrd’s carnival. I met her in turning twelve time when she tried to sell me a rose, a rose for my girlfriend, my non-existent just then girlfriend. Needless to say I was immediately taken with her and told her that although I had no girlfriend I would buy her a rose.

And that, off and on, over the next year is where we bounced around in our “relationship.” One day I was down at Wild Willie’s and I spotted her and asked her why she wasn’t on the road with Jim Byrd’s show. Apparently Madame LaRue had had a falling out with Jim, quit the traveling show and landed a spot at Wild Willie’s. And naturally Gypsy Love followed mother, selling flowers to the rubes at Wild Willie’s. So naturally, naturally to me, I told Gypsy Love to follow me over to the skees and I would win her a proper prize. And I did, I went crazy that day. A big old lamp for her room. And Gypsy Love asked me, asked me very nicely thank you, if I wanted to go down by the seawall and sit for a while. And let’s get this straight, no third party who wasn’t there, no wannabe there talk, please, I followed her, followed her like a lemming to the sea. We had lockjaw for a month afterward to prove it. And you say, you dare to say I was not born for that life, that carnival life. Ha.