My only chance: robbing a bank.The ride from New York City dumped me
on Albuquerque's outskirts. Desperate, tossing a crushed Dorrito bag, my last
food, into the wastebasket, I'd no other choice but bank-robbing.
Lost in fear, trying to make it to Northern California, I thought of Jim
Morrison's song, The End: "The West is the best." That was 1968, when I
cranked up the record-player's volume in the mental ward of the same hospi-
tal I'd been born.The group therapist asked why I played it so loud.
"I want to really get into it," I said. The question struck me as manipulative
and oppressive. I screamed at the therapist, "Power to the fucking people." Since
then my life had twisted away. "It is the human that is the alien." I agreed with
Wallace Stevens. I always conflated birth and death since then.
Less than a nebbish, robbing banks seemed a hip career move. I heard a
vehicle park outside the room. It was the couple from NYC. I forgot we'd made
arrangements for the California trek. I, like Ishmael, was buoyed and saved. Only
not a coffin, but a Volkswagen van for me.
We finally arrrived at the coastal town near the Oregon border. I slept that
night above an organic health food store. A NYC friend, JJ, set me up.
The owner, Tony, came from the East. His mobbed-up father had $2,000
stashed for him. For any reason necessary. Tony used it for a down payment
and his new business thrived.
The next morning I ate two McDonald Whoppers, plus a large order of fries.
I craved greasy food, its NYC, industrial poison still had appeal.
"Don't eat that junk in my backyard," Tony said. I knew he hated me for the
transgression, but McDonald's was a half-block away. I couldn't help myself. I
finished, left the picnic table ( the store, a converted house, had a yard ), and
began acquiring new, West Coast food values.
Upstairs, I took a vast shit. Coming out, I heard great metallic clacking and
very aggressive profanity. I saw a man whacking a small radio with a carpenter's
hammer. Much too big, I thought. Long hair matted his sweaty face. He turned
toward me and said, "I rob banks." Those mad eyes: Amphetamine? Cocaine?
Acid? I'd never seen one like him before in NYC. Dangerous terrain, California.
In fact, I learned from JJ that Doug had been sentenced for that very crime.
Once, he dated a beautiful and successful accountant named Molly. She must've
enjoyed his coke connections, telling her friends all about Doug. At least my
prying imagination filled in an elusive gap in Doug's life. JJ told me Doug had a
counterfeiting scheme in the works. I never asked questions about Doug after that.
JJ and Doug once split $50,000 after their sensi crop produced dynamite bud.
I sat in the motel room as LA buyers sampled the bud. Doug and JJ snorted big
city coke, and for the first time with silver spoons donated by the slickers. JJ
invested in a few, secluded acres, with a good south slope and a year-round,
flowing creek. The land provided a good cash crop the following year.
Later, after Doug's release from prison on the counterfeiting charge, he
soon was sentenced for another crime. A minor offense, but in California
it was the Three-Strikes-You're-Out kind. Now, an incorrigible criminal,
Doug would be locked up for life. He should've invested his share of the pot
sale in a printing shop, perhaps. Counterfeiting methods still worked in
Doug developed liver cancer, the prison system not exactly an institution
specializing in oncology, chemo therapy and radiation treatments. No liver
transplants available, the authorities only allowed codeine. Benign neglect,
another era's phrase, might've described Doug's end. Serendipitous execution,
bureacratic jargon, seemed better adapted in OEW ( Our Euphemistic World ).
Whenever I heard the Richard Thompson song, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning,
I flashed to Doug: "I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man," sang Thompson.
Doug never saw those "angels on Ariels in leather and chrome," more lyrics.
Doug had a chance---$25,000 was good money thirty-five years ago.
Neither Doug nor I found in California "a thing of fable and beauty," Thompson's
George Sparling has been published in many literary magazines including
words describing that British motorbike. But I'd downloaded all Thompson's music
noir. I sat in low-lighted rooms, dark music ran through memories, through crimes.
Tears in the Fence, Lynx Eye, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Red Rock Review, Hunger,
Paumanok Review, Word Riot, Rattle, Pindeldyboz, nthposition, Snake Nation
Review, Thieves Jargon, and Prose Toad. He has a short story in the winter,
2004 issue of Slow Trains and one in the January, 2005 issue of Laura Hirdís
He has had many jobs including a welfare caseworker in East Harlem, a lumberyard
laborer, a placer gold miner in the northern wilderness of California, a bookstore
clerk, a postal mail carrier, a crab butcher on the early morning killing docks
(those were the days of big hangovers ), and a salmon processor ( I flung fish
around all day ).
He has a degree in English from Iowa Wesleyan College, is now in early retirement
and is writing short stories as well as working on a memoir about his relationship
to his father, focusing on the years after leaving home. He tries through prose to
give all dark things the light they require to exist unconditionally.