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Freedom Songs Index
Part I - College
Freedom Songs -
my Journey through 1964
part II - Hitchin' East
I sat on a grassy hill in Tennessee. My ride had made a turn and I was taking a break before getting back to thumbing. I was writing a letter to mother about how I was watching some cows grazing in a field across the highway. I described them as carefree and munching and said that I too was munching - on some nuts and carefree because I'd dropped out of college and was hitching to the East Coast. I'd tried college as she'd asked and had gone as far as I could. I remember her response. She said thanks for trying and she was sure that I was on a good path. No matter what I did or how out there I got, she always expressed that sort of confidence. I don't remember ever telling her thanks for her great attitude or even feeling grateful - except for now. I was used to it. We can't help but take our blessings for granted.
Unconcerned about getting stuck out there off a country road all night, I wrote to my roommate Bob. Bob. Wow. Our relationship was distinct from everything else at Austin College. When I went in our room in the dorm I entered another universe. "How on earth did they know to put the two of you together?" Jackson remarked one day. It was generally agreed that Bob and I were fated to be roommates because we were the two weirdest people in the whole school.
Bob was a couple of years older and was a light shade of pink except for his hair which was white. He wore sunglasses. "Hi!" he said enthusiastically when I met him. He took off his glasses. His eyes were pink too and wiggled around. His head wiggled too. "I'm a blind albino," he said. "But I can see you anyway." He stuck his face close to me. "I'm legally blind but illegally inclined. Oh - you're white. I'm used to living with black people." I stuck out my hand. "Careful," he said. "Don't grip. I've also got hemophilia. If you've got a manly handshake it might be lethal." He made a quirky smile and twisted his head and rolled his eyes. "Do I have blindisms?"
"What's that?" I asked.
"That's the way blind people move their heads."
"Hmm. Maybe," I said. "But I have sightisms so we're even."
Bob and I talked a lot, sometimes while he dripped blood from his nose into a metal trash can. His older brother was also a hemophiliac but not an albino. Bob said they had a rare and fortunate type of the disease in that they had some clotting ability. But still it was serious. One morning he asked me to help him get to the hospital because he'd rolled over on his arm at night.
He grew up in an African village. He said the grass in the fields there was sharp and sometimes he'd run through it and come home bleeding and it took a long time for his bleeding to stop. He said once he ran through a glass door and that almost killed him. His parents were missionaries. He said his family learned more from the Africans than they learned from his family. If a crime was committed a drum would sound, everyone would have to run as fast as possible to a gathering place where the witch doctor (we didn't know the word shaman then) would go around smelling people. Nervous or fearful sweat apparently smells different and if someone smelled that way they were the culprit. He said there was a missionary who told a woman to cut the tree down in front of her hut to prove her faith in Jesus and not in the superstition that if the tree died someone in the house would die. So she cut down the tree and the competition in the form of the village witch doctor came over and danced in front of her house and she died.
Bob treated his life-threatening delicate physical condition with fearlessness. He rode a bicycle. The first time I saw him on a bike I figured he was borrowing one to ride for a few feet and I ran up to him and reminded him he was a blind hemophiliac.
"Oh...is that so?" he answered. "I'd rather be a necrophiliac. Goodbye! I'm off to the graveyard!"
One night being driven back to school on a dark two lane road, I told mother to stop the car. I was sure I'd seen Bob riding his bicycle. It was him. I offered to put his bike in the trunk and give him a ride. He said he liked the exercise. It must have taken him several hours to get to Sherman from Dallas. And it was a soft shoulder, nothing paved there. Dark. So much litter along the road, so many hazards. Good lord.
Bob put up signs on the walls with nifty sayings he'd created. One was, "To be immune from evil you must first be vaccinated." Another was, "For the arrow to fly forward, you must first pull it back."
Bob would read slowly with the help of a heavy magnifying glass contraption that he'd place the reading material under. He'd also use a large private eye type magnifying glass. One day he said he'd just come from the library where he'd had an interesting experience. It was his 21st birthday. "And today I read that I'm not supposed to have lived this long." He tilted his head and smiled.
I can hardly remember what happened on that trip to the East Coast. I wore a sport coat and tie when I hitched cause I'd get better rides. People were so good. They'd buy me meals and sometimes go out of their way. Hitchhiking was better back then I think. People weren't as fearful as now. Money was bigger, went further, seemed to grow in pockets compared to these times. Got picked up by a guy my age in Arkansas who invited me to a dance. OK. We picked up his girlfriend who brought a friend so the four of us went to a roller rink in the country and danced and drank beer in the parking lot. My date and I made out while the other couple got into a fight which led to him driving ninety and screaming.
Men would pick me up and proposition me. I remember one guy telling me it would be fine with him if I masturbated. Some would be oblique and, for instance, offer me a place to stay for the night, others would be up front and say, "How'd you like a blow job?" I'd politely decline their suggestions. Sometimes they'd drop me off then and go looking for someone else, but more likely we'd just talk and sometimes, maybe appreciating that I wasn't uncomfortable with them, maybe hoping I'd change my mind, maybe lonely, they'd drive way further than where they were going.
Another key category of rides was those who wanted to talk about Jesus. I could talk Jesus and would say yes, I believe in Jesus. I could do this without lying too because of how I understood the actual meaning of the terms. I might say that yes I take Jesus as my personal lord and savior, but that might not mean the same thing to me it does to you. I did make things up at times to break the monotony - like when they'd ask what church I went to. The Quadrangle Church. What's that? Well, you know there's the Trinity. We believe in the Quadrangle which is the Trinity plus the Bible itself. That always went over big. People love worshiping graven images.
In St. Louis I went to a country club, hung out for a while, and got a free meal. I spent a lot of time in country clubs growing up so I knew how to blend in. But it wasn't always easy. I stood for 12 hours on the road in the rain before someone picked me up.
Went to Washington and Lee University where my high school friend Roger was a freshman. I loved to trip Roger out. Something about him just demanded the naughty from me. Found out where his room was in what dorm. Slowly opened the door. Roger was sitting on his bed talking to a friend who was in a chair. He leaned over to see whose face was half hidden. I stepped out. "David!" he exclaimed. "Hi Roger," I said in a monotone waving my hand. "David!" he called out again. "Bye Roger," I said, shut the door, leaped down the stairs out the front door, hid in the bushes, and watched Roger running out across the spacious lawn desperately calling my name. That night over dinner he told me it had happened so quickly he'd wondered if he'd imagined it.
I got to Washington DC and walked around from site to site. It got dark. Not far from the Capital, a police car pulled over and an officer cautioned that it was a dangerous neighborhood and I'd better get out of there. I went to a greasy spoon, ate some crackers, drank water with ketchup in it, and ducked out. Ended up spending the evening with a crowd lined up at the Mint. They were there to get a new coin that was coming out the next day, maybe for Kennedy. That night was an education in crowd dynamics. There were maybe 200 people. Rumors spread. People were convinced that the coins they'd receive the next day would be of great value. Some people thought they'd get coins for free. The president would come. A secret police force was watching us. One's place in line was important. The coins would run out. There were two men who walked up and down the line and asked for money to protect your place. Numbers were assigned to each person so we could walk around and gather together. There were speeches, arguments, fights, peace, excitement, fear, hope, even voting on rules and agreements. Order won out till the doors opened at nine and everyone rushed for the entrance without any regard for what had transpired before. I hitched back to Fort Worth.
next - part III - Picks N Chooses
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