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Freedom Songs Index
Part I - College
Freedom Songs, 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 though I don't know where or when or how I got it. 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. He went on to be head of the Peace Corps in Central Africa. 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. I think - can that be? Maybe that's a newly created memory. I asked what he was doing there and he said his parents were missionaries. He said his family learned more from the Africans than they learned from his family. 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 called out. He stopped. 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. 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 was pleased and surprised when he came to a booksigning of mine in Dallas in 1994 or maybe 1999. I drove him to work that night. He was a dispatcher for triple A. He came with his father who gave me a book he'd written. He was the head minister of a large Presbyterian church near SMU. It was Ross Perot's church. I was never a fan of Perot and have been especially irritated by his nasal tone of voice with that snide attitude which reminded me of certain people where I came from. But I told Bob I admired him for hiring mercenaries to get his employees out of Iran back in 78 or so and Bob said that Perot had been good to his family. Bob's brother Bill got AIDS from a transfusion and when he was dying in Australia, where his wife was from, Perot paid for Bob and his parents to fly there and be with Bill during his last days.
My mother's mate Dick who died recently was a lawyer who helped young boys in trouble in Dallas. I told him about Perot helping the Pruitts and Dick said that's typical of him, that he helped people in times of need and often helped Dick get boys placed in homes and get jobs and so forth. Dick said with Perot you had to talk quick get to the point, better be prepared. He said Perot had to meet the wife before hiring her husband and told her she had to make sure his hair was short and he was well groomed. Employees loved and hated him and got good benefits.
I kept up with Bob for a few years. I remember the next year he got sort of crazy wild and was drinking heavy and smoking cigars, sort of suicidal for him, and ended up in a mental institution for a while. Some AC friends and I went and checked him out for a day and we drank lots of beer. He came once to visit me at Tassajara. Loring was in from the city for a brief visit. He joined Bob and me on a walk to Grasshopper Flats on a big moon clear night. Loring naturally had some hash and turned Bob on for the first time to cannabis. (I know I said this in the last story I posted, but I swear that such substances were rarely used there) Bob was amazed. He said he could see clouds - for the first time. Bob just sent me a note on Facebook with a wistful comment about that experience.
I can hardly remember what happened on that trip to the East Coast. I remember I wore a sport coat 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 on trees compared to now. I'd leave home with a nickel and come back with a dime.. I remember mother on the front porch asking me to please take twenty dollars. I remember now a date I got somewhere along the way. Got picked up by a guy my age, late teens, in Arkansas who invited me to a dance. We picked up his girlfriend who called 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 and the last thing I recall is the other couple getting into a fight and him driving ninety and screaming.
Men would pick me up who would 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've been saved. I could do this without lying too because of how I understood the actual meaning of the terms. I did make things up quite a bit though - like the Quadrangle Church - cause they'd ask what church I went to. 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 and hung out for a while and got a free meal there. 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 to get out of that city.
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 the 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 calling my name. That night over dinner he told me it had happened so quickly he'd wondered if he'd imagined it. I could say a lot more about Roger but not now except that he's had an illustrious career in Republican politics, is in the oil business, lives in Dallas, has a ranch near San Antonia, a wonderful family, we're still in touch, he's thoughtful, and he's doing well.
I got to Washington DC and walked around from site to site. A police car pulled over and an officer talked to me from his seat through the window. It was night, not far from the Capital. He said it was a dangerous neighborhood and I'd better get out of there. I went to a greasy spoon and drank water with ketchup in it and ended up spending the evening with a crowd lined up at the Mint - I guess - to get a new coin that was coming out the next day, maybe for Kennedy. That night was an educational experience in crowd dynamics. There were maybe 200 people there. 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. 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 walked off.
In Greenwich Village I heard Ramblin Jack Elliot sing. I can't add any filler to this paragraph from back then or bring this trip to an end because right now that's all I remember. I do have a post note though. Ramblin' Jack lives over on the coast right here in Marin County. My mate Katrinka is host at the Panama Hotel and Restaurant here in San Rafael. She's books the music acts that play there Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. Lot of jazz but also some blue grass, folk, light rock. Ramblin' Jack comes in every few months to hear a band and usually plays something with them at the end of the night. I think the lead singer is his girlfriend. When I see him I always say hi and then as the musicians packed up I spent some time talking to him the other night. He used to hang out in the bar at Marshall and had a reputation as a heavy drinker. Think he got over that because he was clear and fun to talk with. We talked about legendary producer Bob Johnston who I've known and who helped me out with music and Jack said he'd done an album with Bob. Bob was an early producer of Dylan and Jack was a mentor to Dylan and a protégé of Woody Guthrie. I asked him if he read much and he said he read a lot. Another sign of not drinking. He gave me his address so I could send him a copy of Crooked Cucumber, a PO Box with RJE for the name. I had to buy it. I vow to send that right away. [It came back unopened and marked "refused." Now am just going to deliver it to him personally, not sure when.] He said Woody Guthrie had taken him to a home in Topanga Canyon- he said they met a guy there in about 56 who was into Zen.
I asked him about another famous tie-in I'd heard about him. Said I'd heard that he was playing on the street in London and a crowd was listening to him and then the cops were hassling him and that Mick Jagger was twelve years old and in that crowd and that had been his inspiration to play music. He said yes it's true but that it wasn't on the street and there was no problem with cops, that he had been bumming around Europe for five years or so with his mate, being a busker and getting by, and that one evening in London he was standing on a platform waiting for a train and there were some boys on the other side waiting for their train. He said he played them a half dozen cowboy songs and then rode off. Twenty years later he met Mick Jagger who told him he'd been one of those boys and yes, he said the first thing he did was go buy his first guitar.
next - part III - Picks N Chooses
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