NOW WE KNOW HOW MANY HOLES IT TAKES TO FILL THE ALBERT HALL
In the waning days of 1968, for some reason never very specific and now nearly obscured by time, the prime movers from the Dead Center made arrangements with the Beatles at Apple to send over to London a sampling of psychedeloids.
A kind of cultural lend-lease, heads across the water and all that.
There were thirteen of us in all – hippies, hoopies, and harpies; Hell's Angels and their hogs; a few serious managers with lots of plots and proposals… one prankster without plan one.
I was happy to be getting out of the U.S. That book about me and my Kool Aid cronies had just come out and I felt the hot beam of the spotlight on me. It burned like a big ultraviolet eye. The voltage generated by all this attention scared me a little and titillated me a lot, and I needed a breather from it before I became an addict, or a casualty. Stand in this spotlight, feel this eye pass over you. You never forget it. You are suddenly changed, lifted, singled out, elevated and alone, above any of your old bush-league frets of stage fright, nagging scruples, etc. Self-consciousness and irresolution melt in this beam's blast. Grace and power surge in to take their place. Banging speed is the only thing even close. Drowsing protoplasm snaps instantly to Bruce Lee perfection -- enter the dragon. But there's the scaly rub, right? Because if you go around to the other end of that eye and look through at the star shining there so elevated, you see that this adoring telescope has a crosshair built in it, and notches in the barrel filed for luminaries: Kennedy… King… Joplin… Hemingway… Anyway, we headed to London, flying high (as Country Joe put it) all the way. As the DC-8 began to hum down through the thick English fog, everybody realized that after our transatlantic antics a customs check was almost certainly coming up, and what couldn't be flushed had better be swallowed.
Up to the bustling British customs table we floated, a big-eyed baker's dozen from America, in leather and furs and cowboy hats and similar fashionable finery. The weary officer sighed sorely at the sight, then politely searched us for three hours, even the cylinders of the two Harley-Davidsons. It was well into the afternoon by the time our fleet of taxis headed for London, escorted through the wrong-side-of-the-road traffic by Angels Old Bert and Smooth Sam Smathers on their two huge choppers. It was clammy gray twilight by the time we all arrived at Apple.
There was a small flock of the faithful at the door, waiting with that radiant patience of reverent pilgrims. Frisco Fran, a long blond mama of thirty-five, with a feeling for Old Bert and Old Bert's new Harley, and a $6,000 mink coat over her T-shirt and greasy jeans, looked at the little gaggle of fans on the Savile Row steps, then up at the crisp white office building, and observed, "I feel like I'm going to see the Pope, or something."
In the outer lobby a chubby receptionist welcomed us with a cheeky wink for the men and an embossed invitation for each of us. She looked like Lulu in To Sir, With Love. After a confirming call from higher up, she let us into lobby #2, where all the rock & roll managers greeted each other – Yanks, Limeys, even a visiting Frog – embracing and slapping five and jiving each other rock- &-roll-wise. This got us through lobby 2's door into the crimson-carpeted keep of lobby #3, where George Harrison finally came down to shake everybody's hand and escort us into the very core of the Apple organization – endless offices, wandering halls with gold records on all the walls, a huge recording studio in the basement that looked like Disney had designed it for Captain Nemo and hired Hugh Hefner to decorate it – finally to a doorless doorway upstairs opening on a large room that we could use as our digs, we were told, during our stay. All eyes popped at the accommodations. The room was full of food: roasted pigs suckling apples, smoked turkeys, cheeses, breads, cases of champagne and ale stacked to the ceiling… for the big Apple Christmas party coming up, we were told. Old Bert immediately dropped his ratty bedroll to the floor and booted it beneath a table full of glazed goose and stuffing.
"Looks like home to me," he proclaimed.
Ringo dropped in for 'arf a mo' to welcome us, and once we thought we caught a glimpse of Paul down the hall, though some said it wasn't Paul, that Paul was in New York getting engaged. But he was bright-eyed, lovable, and barefoot so it might have been Paul. Also, he was small.
"They're all so… so…" – Spider, a tall ex-UCLA-track star gone hip and hairy and thirty, searched for the precise word – "diminutive."
"They're all the size I thought Ringo was," Smooth Sam added.
"I know," said the mama in mink, eyes shining with tender solicitude. "It makes me want to hold an umbrella over them, or something."
We didn't see John until later, at the famous Apple Christmas Debacle. What happened that night has been run down in a bunch of books, both pro-Yank and anti, so no one else needs to go into that. I only want to give you the setting for Lennon's entrance, for drama's sake…
As the day drifted toward the festive eve ahead, we drifted out of our little food-filled office to stroll the Christmasy London streets and drink stout in the pubs – work up an appetite for the feast to come. When we ambled back to 3 Savile Row and past the pack of cheeky fans that cluttered the steps with their little autograph books (they all looked like Lulu) and through lobbies #1 and #2 to the hallowed lobby #3, we found that another coterie of Yanks had established a beachhead right in the middle of the lush crimson carpet. What kind of pull they had used to bore this deep into Apple I couldn't imagine, because they were even scruffier than we were. There were half a dozen big bearded dudes with ragged grins, a bunch of naked noisy kids, and one woman – a skinny redhead on the sinewy side of thirty sporting a faded blue dress of hillbilly homespun with matching hicky twang.
"We're the Firedog Family," she informed us. "We come here to see the Beatles all the way from Fort Smith, Arkansas. I had this dream me and John was running side by side through the electric-blue waters of the Caribbean and he looked at me and says 'Come Together.' 'Ticket to Ride' was play in'. We was naked. We was on acid. We ran right out of the water right up into the sky. And my given name is Lucy Diamond. Let's chant again, children."
The pack of kids stopped fussing and settled themselves obeli diently in a circle and began chanting.
"John and Yo-ko Ring-go too-ooo. John and Yo-ko Ring-go too-ooo…"
The woman snaked across the carpet to the rhythm, all knees and elbows and freckles. "We know they is in the building. One of the kids was running in the hall and seen them carrying a big red sack. This chant will bring us together."
Her eyes fluttered shut a moment at the divine prospect, then she stopped dancing and gave us a look faded as her blue dress.
"Y' know, don't you, that the Beatles is the most blessed people on earth? They are. For instance, how many times have you been coming down with the blues and heard a Beatles tune come on the radio and thought to yourself, 'God bless the Beatles.' Huh? That's exactly what I said when I saw Yellow Submarine after my last abortion. 'God bless the Beatles.' And how many folks all over the world have done the same thing more or less, blest the Beatles? So, you see – they're all saints. Blessed saints. I mean who on this miserable earth, in this day and age, who can you name that has been blest more times than the Beatles?"
We couldn't think of a soul. We were hungry and tired and not very interested in playing Name the Saints. When the door was finally opened to us and we left lobby #3 the kids were still chanting "John and Yo-ko Ring-go too-ooo" and the woman was swaying and the bearded dudes were nodding to the beat. We walked up the hall to our assigned room without a word, stomachs grumbling, only to find the food had been completely removed. Nothing left but the smell. It seemed like a hint. Grumpily, Old Bert gathered his bedroll from beneath the empty table.
"Blessing them's all right, but I don't guess you have to get right up in their faces to do it."
"Yeah," Frisco Fran agreed. "Let's cut."
Back down in the main sanctum the night's crowd was gathering – toffs in worsted flannel and sandalwood cologne, birds in bright beads and bouffants by Vidal Sassoon, executive types in tie-dyed Nehru shirts and Day-Glo tennies – and the champagne was flowing. Old Bert decided a little snack might be nice before leaving. His nose told him the grub couldn't be far away. He sniffed up to a parted door where a natty lad in a plaid weskit was positioned as guard.
"Whatsye, myte?" Bert had picked up a nice cockney accent in the afternoon pubs. "That I grabs me a drumstick for the road?"
"Cawn't, I don't think," the boy answered, nervous and vague. "Supposed to save it for after. The invited, rather. You understand – for later."
"We are invited, old sport." Bert produced the card we'd been issued. "And maybe we ain't staying till later. Furthermore" -- he jerked a thick-knuckled thumb over his shoulder, indicating a place in the past – "I ain't ate since the airport."
The boy looked at the thumb with all that carbon and grease still under the thumbnail from reassembling the bikes, and at the leather wristband with its battered studs, and at the big, vein-laced forearm with those terrible tattoos of knives and nooses, and it appeared to me that he was about to see his way clear to advancing Old Bert an early taste of turkey. But just then one of the tie-dyed higher-ups sidled by in long muttonchops and a snide smile. He was eating a macaroon.
"Don't give it to them, Clayburn," this colorful creature advised through a long bony nose as he chewed his cookie. "I don't care how much chanting they do." Then, very foolishly, he added, "They're nothing but leeches and mumpers anyway."
"What was that, myte?" Bert asked with a wide grin, turning slowly from the turkey to what promised to be juicier fare. "What did you sye?"
"I said, 'Leeches and mumpers.' "
Pow! The executive went somersaulting backward all the way to the wall, where he slowly slid down in a pile against the baseboard and lay there, like a rumpled rainbow. The room suddenly polarized, all the Englishmen springing to one side of the carpet to surround their clobbered countryman in an instant display of British pith, all the Yanks to the other.
"Anybody else," Bert asked the group glaring at us from across the room, "thinks we're leeches or mumpers?" – in a challenge so specific that everybody knew it would have to be answered or none of the home team would ever be able to look the statue of Admiral Nelson in his steely eye again. I took off my watch and put it in my pocket. The music stopped. The two factions tightened and gathered, readying for the rumble.
It was into this smoldering scene, right between these two forces about to clash, that John Lennon came, in a red Santa Claus suit and a silly white beard.
"Awright, then," he said, not loud but very clear, and reasonable, and unsmiling, that thin, bespectacled face pale yet intensely bright, polished by more time spent beneath the blast of that high-voltage beam than any face I have ever seen, the thin hands coming out of the white fur cuffs to hold back the two sides of the room, like Moses holding back the waters – "That's enough."
And it was. The rumble didn't erupt. He stopped it, just like that. Old Bert was so impressed that he apologized at once to everyone, even bent down to help the young executive brush the bloody coconut crumbs out of his muttonchops. Everybody laughed. A cork popped. The music resumed. Yoko emerged from behind John, as though cloned from his yuletide image, in matching beard and red Santa suit with a big red sack over her shoulder. She began passing out gifts. Blond Mama Fran decided to take off her mink and stick around awhile after all. Spider began to eye the nervous Lulus. The caterers swept in with trays of sliced meats and pickled crabapples. The party went on.
Oo blah dee.
After New Year's Day, I returned to London with my family. We took a flat in Hampstead and I tubed daily to Apple to work on a spoken-word record that was to be called Paperback Records. It never happened. Fell apart. Administrative shake-ups. I didn't mind. It was a fun time, hanging around the action in the Apple orchard in those days when the bounty was still unblighted.
I saw John Lennon every once in a while after that first night – on the roof watching the sky, in the halls, playing the piano in the studio, at Albert Hall for his over-hyped "Alchemical Wedding" when he crawled into a big bag with Yoko for forty uncomfortable minutes of public humping while the packed and petulant house hooted and whistled and called out things like " 'Ow's the revolootion goin' then, John?" – but never again saw anything as bright and clear and courageous as when he stepped between the two sides at the Christmas party.
He was something.
When he said "Peace," even the warring angels listened.
But this isn't a nickel valentine to a dead superstar. What this story is really about is not so much John Lennon as about all the stuff his passing stirred up around our farm, effluvia both bygone and yet to be, tangible and chimeral… mainly about these three visitations I had that week of his death, like the three ghosts from A Christmas Carol.
The first came the day before the killing, Sunday evening, while we were waiting for my mom and Grandma Whittier to come out for supper. This specter was the easiest to comprehend and deal with. In fact, he was almost classic in his immediate comprehensibility; versions of this spook have probably been around since the first campfire. He poked his bearded kisser in out of the night, all shaggily a-grin. He had a bottle of screw-top Tokay in his right hand, a battered black boot in his left, and a glint in his gummy eyes that could have been bottled and displayed in the Bureau of Standards: the Definitive Panhandler Come-on Glint.
"Greetings the house!" he called through a curtain of phlegm. "This is Bible Bill, ol' Bible Bill, come in the name of the Main Redeemer, praise Him. Anybody home?"
I didn't have to give it a second thought. "No," I said.
"Dev? Brother Deboree? Greetings, brother, greetings!" He held forth the Good Book and the bad wine. "Compliments of Bible Bill, these -"
"No," I repeated, pushing right on past the offerings. I put one hand on his chest and held the door open with the other, pushing. Behind him, I could make out an entourage of shivering teenagers, unhappy in the December wind. Bill wasn't pleased with the prospect of getting shoved back out in it, either.
"Dev, don't be like this, dammit all! I promised these kids -"
"No." I pushed.
"Give it up, dude," one of the teenagers said to him. "Can't you see you're bugging the man?"
"But kinfolks -"
"But my butt," another kid joined in. "Let's go."
With me pushing and them pulling we moved him back to the Toyota they'd come in, him hollering, "But cousins! Brothers! Comrades!" and me hollering back, "But no! No! No!"
The second visitation was a little more complex. For one thing, he was likable. He showed up the next morning while I was out in the field with Dobbs, fixing the fence where the cows had broken through during the night. Whenever it's real cold Ebenezer likes to lead her herd in an assault on the barnyard, hoping to break into the hay sheds (for cussedness and comfort more than food), and it was real cold. The ruts and tracks raised by their midnight raid were still hard as iron. Dobbs and I were long-johned and overalled and leather-gloved and still too cold to be able to effectively hammer in staples. After a half-hour's work we would have to head to the house for a gin and tonic to warm us up. After the third try, we haywired a hasty patch and came in for good.
I saw him standing by our stove, bent to the open door, moving his hooked hands in and out of the heat the way a man does when they're numbed so stone hard he's afraid to thaw them back to feeling. I left him alone. I peeled out of my overalls and boots and mixed Dobbs and me a drink. The guy never moved. When Betsy came downstairs she told me she had let him in because he was obviously about to freeze to death and didn't seem the slightest bit worried about the prospect.
"He says he's got something for you."
"I'll bet he does," I said and went over to talk to him. His hand was as hard as it looked, a calloused claw, beginning to turn red with the heat. In fact he was turning red all over, beginning to glow and grin.
He was about thirty-five or forty, like Bible Bill, with a lot of hard mileage in his eyes and scraggly hair on his face. But this hair was the color of berries on a holly bough, the eyes sharp and green as the leaves, merry. He said he was called – no lie! – John the Groupie, and that we had met once fifteen years ago at the Trips Festival, where I had given him something.
"I got good and turned on," he confided with a big limber-shouldered shrug, "and I guess I never been able to get turned off."
I asked him what in the dickens was he doing this far north at Christmastime with nothing on but ventilated sneaks and kneeless jeans and a Sunset Strip pink pearl-button shirt? He grinned and shrugged his carefree shrug again and told me he'd caught a ride with a hippie kid outta LA over the Grapevine, and the kid said he was headed all the way to Eugene, Oregon, so John the Groupie says, well, what the hell… never been to Oregon. Ain't that where Old Man Deboree hangs his hat? Maybe I'll go check him out. Met him once, you know, over a tab or two, ho ho.
"Besides," he added, trying to get that big red claw down a hip pocket, "I got something here I knew you'd want."
This made me back off two steps, I didn't care how carefree his shrug or merry his eye. If there was one thing I had learned in Egypt, it was Don't take nothing free, especially from ingratiating types who come on "My friend please be accept this wonderful geeft, my nation to yours, no charge" – pressing into your palm a ratty little scarab carved out of a goat pellet or something, a little hook by which the hustler can attach himself to you. And the less you want the goddamned thing he forces on you the more attached he becomes.
"I got right here," John the Groupie announced proudly, holding out a wad of white paper, "Chet Helms's phone number."
I told him I had no need for Chet Helms's phone number, that I had never needed Chet Helms's phone number, even during Chet Helms's San Fran Family Dog promoter days, hadn't even seen Chet Helms in ten years!
John stepped close, becoming intimate.
"But I mean this isn't Chet Helms's answering service, man," he made me to realize, delicately holding forth the little chit like it might have been a spindle of the purest Peruvian. "This is Chet Helms's home phone number."
"No," I said, holding both hands high and away from the offered morsel, which I wanted about as much as I wanted a goat turd or a hit off Bible Bill's bottle. "No."
John the Groupie shrugged and put it down on the coffee table.
"In case you get eyes for it later," he said.
"No." I picked it up and put it back in his hand and folded the freckled fingers over it. "No, no, no. And I'll tell you now what I have to offer: I'll give you something to eat and I'll let you sleep in my cabin, out of sight. Tomorrow I'll give you a coat and a hat and put you back on I-5, on the southbound side, with your thumb out." I fixed him with my sternest scowl. "My God, what a thing to do – just showing up at a man's place, no invitation, no sleeping bag, not even any damned socks. It's not courteous! I know it's inhospitable to turn a wayfarer out like this, but goddammit, it's discourteous to be tripping around unprepared this way."
He had to agree, smiling. "Like I said, I never been able to get turned off the trip. I guess I do get turned out a lot, though, ho ho hee."
"I don't want to hear about it," I kept on. "All I want you to know is I'm offering warmth and sustenance and a way back to Venice Beach if I don't have to listen to you run any numbers on me, savvy?"
He put the paper back in his pocket. "I savvy like a motherfucker, man. Just point me to this outasight abode."
Like I say – likable. Just your basic stringy, carrot-topped, still-down-and-it-still-looks-up-to-me acidhead flower child gone to seed. Probably no dope he hasn't tried and, what's more, none he wouldn't try again. Still grooving, still tripping, he didn't give a shit if he was barefoot in a blizzard. I left him rolled up in two cowhides, thumbing through the latest Wonder Warthog while the pine flame roared and rattled in the rusty little cabin woodstove like a caged Parsi firedemon.
When he wandered back up to the house it was dark. We had finished supper and were on the other side of the room watching Monday Night Football. I didn't turn but I could see Betsy in the mirror setting him a place. Quiston and Caleb had been duck hunting the day before, and we'd had two mallards and a widgeon for supper, stuffed with rice and filberts. A whole mallard and two half-eaten carcasses were left. John ate the mallard and picked all three carcasses so clean that red ants wouldn't have bothered over the leavings. Plus a whole loaf of bread, a pot of rice big enough for a family of Cambodian refugees, and most of a pound of butter. He ate slowly and with bemused determination, not like a glutton eats but like a coyote who never knows how long it might be before the next feast so he better get down all he can hold down. I kept my eyes on the game, not wanting to embarrass him by letting on I was watching.
It was the Dolphins against the Patriots, the fourth quarter. It was an important game to both teams, as they fought for a playoff berth, and a tense series of downs. Suddenly Howard Cosell interrupted his colorful commentary and said a funny thing, apropos of nothing discernible on the screen. He said, "Yet, however egregious a loss might seem to either side at this point in time, we must never lose sight of the fact… that this is only a football game." A very un-Howard-Cosell-like thing to say, I thought, and turned up the sound. After a few moments of silence Howard announced over the play-action fake unfolding on the field that John Lennon had been shot and killed outside his apartment in New York.
I turned to see if John the Groupie had heard the news. He had. He was twisted toward me in his seat, his mouth open, the last duck carcass stopped midway between tooth and table. We looked into each other's eyes across the room, and our roles fell away. No more the scowling landowner and the ingratiating tramp, simply old allies, united in sudden hurt by the news of a mutual hero's death.
We could have held each other and wept.
The weather broke that night. It rained awhile, then cleared. The sun sneaked through the overcast after breakfast, looking a little embarrassed for the short hours it had been getting away with during this solstice time. Betsy bundled John up and gave him a knit cap, and I drove him to the freeway. I let him off near the Creswell ramp. We shook hands and I wished him luck. He said not to worry, he'd get a ride easy. Today. I saw somebody stop for him before I had gotten back across the overpass. On the way home I heard a report on Switchboard, our local community-access program, that there was no need to call in to try to scam rides today, that everybody was picking everybody up, today.
When I got home the phone was ringing. It was a Unitarian Minister from San Francisco who was trying to put together some kind of Lennon memorial in Golden Gate Park, needed some help. I thought he was calling to ask me to come speak or something – deliver a eulogy. I started saying that, sorry, much as I'd like to I just couldn't make it, I had fence to fix and kids' Christmas programs to attend and so forth… but he said, oh no, he wasn't wanting that kind of help.
"What is it you need, then?" I asked.
"I need some organizational help," he said. "I've never done anything like this before. I need to find out about permits and the like. So I was wondering if you might know how I could get in touch with Chet Helms? The guy who did all those big be-ins? You happen to have Chet Helms's phone number anywhere?"
Many such memorable scenes from the last decade and a half of our onreeling epic have been underscored by Beatles music: "With a Little Help from My Friends" was playing when Frank Dobbs and Houlihan and Buddy helped hold my acified atoms together one awful night. During my six-month sojourn in the outer reaches of the California penal system, I used a Beatles record as my mantra, a litany to lead me safely through the Bardo of Being Busted. The record was "All You Need Is Love." I listened to it so many times that I came to count the number of times the word "love" is used in the mix. It was 128 times, as I recall.
Now, as I run my eyes over these three ragged runes of Christmastime in the Eighties, looking at them for whatever message or augury they might offer, I cannot help but view them to the accompaniment of Guru Lennon's musical teachings.
The lesson learned from Bible Bill and his ilk is simple. I already had it pat: Don't encourage a bum. Attention is like coke to these bottomless wraiths – the more they get the more they want.
The epiphany taught by the visitation of John the Groupie is simple enough on the surface: Don't forget the Magical Summer of Love in the Chilly Season of Reagan. I think even John the Limey would have agreed with this interpretation.
What complicates the lesson is that in its wake washes up the third apparition.
This final visitor is still a mystery to me. I knew how to deal with Bible Bill. I know now how I should have dealt with John the Groupie. But I still don't know what to do about my third phantasm, the Ghost, I fear, of Christmases to Come: Patrick the Punk.
He was on the road alongside my pasture, shuffling along in army fatigues and jacket and carrying a khaki duffel over his shoulder. I was headed to town to pick up some wiring and exchange a video tape. When I saw him I knew there was no place he could be headed but mine. I stopped the Merc and rolled down the window.
"Mr. Deboree?" he said.
"Get in," I said.
He tossed the duffel in the back and climbed in beside me, heaving an unhappy sigh.
"Fuckin Christ, it's cold. I didn't think I'd make it. My name is Patrick."
"Hi, Pat. How far have you come?"
"All the way from New York State on a fuckin Trailways bus. Took every nickel I had. But fuck, you know? I mean I had to split. That East Coast-shit, all they want to do is fuck you over or suck you dry. I'm dry, Mr. Deboree. I'm broke and I'm hungry and I haven't been able to sleep in three days from this fuckin poison oak."
He was only a few years past voting age, with a soft unblinking stare and a gray mold of first whiskers on his chin. The whole right half of his face was covered with white lotion.
"How'd you get poison oak?"
"Running through the woods from this murderous old bitch in Utah or Idaho or someplace." He dug a Camel out of a new pack and stuck it in his swollen mouth. "She thought I was trying to rip off her fuckin' pickup."
He didn't even shrug. "Hey, I was terminally drug with that fuckin' bus. Who can sleep with all that starting and stopping? Bums and winos, maybe, but not me."
I still hadn't resumed driving. I realized I didn't know what to do with him. I didn't like having him in the car with me – he stank of medicine and nicotine and sour unvented adrenaline, of rage – and I didn't want to let him stroll onto my place.
"I came to see you, Mr. Deboree," he said without looking at me. He seemed in a kind of shock. The Camel just hung there.
"What the hell for? You don't know me."
"I've heard you help people. I'm fucked and sucked dry by those vampires, Mr. Deboree. You've got to help me."
I started to drive, away from the farm.
"I never read Sometimes a Cuckoo Nest, but I seen the flick. I did read what you said in the Whole Earth Catalogue about believing in Christian mercy. Myself, I'm an antagnostic, but I believe everybody has a right to believe in mercy. And I need some, Mr. Deboree, you can fuckin believe that! I'm no wino bum. I'm intelligent. I've got talent. I had my own little C & W group and was doing real good for a while, but then, them fuckin vampires – I mean, man, you know what they -?"
"Never mind. I don't want to hear. It'll just depress me. If you'll promise to spare me your tale of woe I'll buy you lunch in town."
"Lunch isn't what I had in mind, Mr. Deboree."
"What exactly did you have in mind?"
"I'm an artist, not a mooch. An experienced singer/songwriter. I need a job with a good little country-and-western group."
O, dear God, I thought, as if I knew a country-and-western group, or as if any group would want to take on this whey-faced zombie. But I kept quiet and let him ramble on in general about the shitty state of everything, about all the fuckin psychedelic sellouts and nut-cutting feminist harpies and brain-crippling shrinks and mother-raping bulls who run this black fuckin world.
It was a week or so after the Lennon killing, a day yet before the winter solstice, so I tried to listen to him without comment. I knew he came as a kind of barometer, a revelation of the nation's darkening spiritual climate. Still, I also knew that, as black as it might be, the Victory of the Young Light could always be expected after the darkest time, that things would get better again, and I told him so. He didn't look at me, but I saw the side of his mouth move to make a smile, or a sneer. The expression was unpleasant, like an oyster lifting a corner of a slimy lip from a cold cigarette, but it was the first that had crossed his puffy puss and I thought maybe it was a hopeful sign. I was wrong.
"Get better? With seventy percent of the nation voting for a second-rate senile actor who thinks everybody on welfare should be castrated? Hell, I been on welfare! Food stamps too. It's the only way a legitimate artist can survive without selling out to the fuckin vampires. Fuck Jesus, if you knew the rotten shit I been through, with that bastard bus driver and that trigger-happy bitch in Idaho and now this fuckin poison oak -"
"Listen to me, punk," I said, gently. For I figured that anybody who doesn't have anything better to do than travel 4,000 miles to try to get a fat old bald retired writer who he hasn't even read to get him a job as a singer in a country-and-western band that doesn't even exist is in dark straits indeed; so I decided to give him the benefit of some of my stock wisdom. "Don't you know you got to change your mind? That the way you're thinking, tomorrow is gonna be worse than today? And next week worse than this and next year worse than last? And your next life – if you get another one – worse than this one… until you're going to simply, finally, go out?"
He leaned back and looked out the window at the passing Oregon puddles. "Mister, I don't give a fuck," he said.
So I gave him three bucks and let him off at a Dairy Queen, told him to get something to eat while I did my shopping. For the first time his eyes met mine. They were pewter gray, curiously large, with lots of white showing all the way around the pupil. To certain oriental herbalists, the white of the eye showing beneath the pupil means you are what they call sanpaku, "a body out of balance and bound for doom." I concluded that Patrick's curious eyes must indicate a kind of ultra-sanpaku, something beyond just being doomed.
"You're coming back to get me, aren't you?"
Something both doomed and dangerous.
"I don't know," I confessed. "I'll have to think about it."
And handed him his duffel. As I pushed it out the door at him, I felt something hard and ominous outlined through the canvas. It gave me pause.
"Uh, you think you'll need more than three bucks?" I felt compelled to ask. He had turned and was already walking away.
It had felt about the size and shape of an army.45. But, Christ, I couldn't tell. I didn't get much wiring purchased, either. I couldn't decide whether to leave him at the Dairy Queen, or call the cops, or what. I kissed off the electrical shop and went on to the video rental to trade in "Beatles at Shea Stadium" for a new tape, then I circled back by the Dairy Queen. He was already out on the curb, sitting on his duffel, a white paper bag cradled under his chin as though to match the chalky swatch on his cheek.
"Get in," I said.
On the way back to the farm he started coming on again about the hard-hearted Easterners, how nobody back there would help him whereas he had always helped others.
"Name one," I challenged.
"One of these others you've helped."
After some thought he said, "There was this little chick in New Jersey, for example. Real sharp but out of touch, you know? I got her out of the fuckin hypocritical public junior high and turned her on to a true way of living."
Made me mad again. I turned around and drove the little bastard back to the freeway. That evening when I came back from dropping my daughter off at her basketball practice, there he was, hunching along Nebo Road with his duffel over his shoulder, heading toward the farm.
"Get in," I said.
"I wasn't going to your place. I'm just looking for a ditch to sleep in."
"Get in. I'd rather have you where I can keep an eye on you."
So he ate supper and went to the cabin. He wouldn't let me build a fire. Heat bothered his rash, and light was starting to hurt his eyes. So I turned out the light and left him lying there. While we were watching our video tape I couldn't help but imagine him, stretched out down there in the black and cheerless chill, eyes still wide open, not scratching, not even brooding, really, just lying there.
The movie we were watching was Alien.
The next day Dobbs and I loaded up the pickup for a dump run to Creswell and I went down to stir Patrick up.
"You better bring your bag," I told him. Again he gave me that you-too-huh-you-fuckin-vampire look, then lifted his duffel from the floor and sullenly swung it up to his shoulder. The harsh right-angle object was no longer outlined through the khaki.
He was so peeved at being hauled away he barely spoke. He got out while we were at the dump unloading and wouldn't get back in.
"Don't you want a ride to the freeway?" I asked.
"I'll walk," he' said.
"Suit yourself," I said and backed the rig around. He stood in the mud and gravel and Pampers and wine bottles and old magazines, the duffel at his side, and watched us pull away, his round gray eyes unblinking.
As I jounced out of the dump I felt those cross hairs on the back of my neck.
The next day he phoned. He was calling from the Goshen Truck Stop, just down our road. He said his poison oak was worse and he was considerably disappointed in me, but he was giving me another chance. I hung up on him.
And last night my daughter said she saw him through the window of the school bus, sitting on his duffel bag in the weeds at the corner of Jasper Road and Valley. She said he was eating a carrot and that his whole face was now painted white.
I don't know what to do about him. I know he's out there, and on the rise.
Dobbs and I went carousing this afternoon with ol' Hunter S. Thompson, who's up to do one of his Gonzo gigs at the behest of the U of O School of Journalism. We stopped at the Vet's Club to help him get his wheels turning in preparation for his upcoming lecture – his "wiseman riff" he called it – and we talked of John Lennon, and Patrick the Punk, and this new legion of dangerous disappointeds. Thompson mused that he didn't understand why it was people like Lennon they seemed to set their sights for, instead of people like him.
"I mean, I've pissed off quite a few citizens in my time," the good doctor let us know.
"But you've never disappointed them," I told him. "You never promised World Peace or Universal Love, did you?"
He admitted he had not. We all admitted it had been quite a while since any of us had heard anybody talk such Pollyanna pie-in-the-sky promises.
"Today's wiseman," Hunter claimed, "has too much brains to talk himself out on that kind of dead-end limb."
"Or not enough balls," Dobbs allowed.
We ordered another round and mulled awhile on such things, not talking, but I suspected we were all thinking – privately, as we sipped our drinks – that maybe it was time to talk a little of that old sky pie once more, for all the danger of dead ends or cross hairs.
Else how are we going to be able to look that little bespectacled Liverpudlian in the eye again, when the Revolutionary Roll is Up Yonder called?